CALVINISM'S THREEFOLD IMPUTATION
Tom M. Roberts
The theological system known as Calvinism originated in the voluminous works of John Calvin entitled “Institutes of the Christian Religion.” This man popularized concepts expounded earlier by Martin Luther and others dating back to Augustine (354-430 A.D.). In order to reduce these massive works to proportions that the average student can understand, Calvinism has been summarized into five major points that are usually represented by the acronym “TULIP.” Each of these letters represents one of the five major points taught by John Calvin in his explanation of man’s fall and his redemption. They are: Total hereditary depravity, Unconditional election, Limited atonement, Irresistible grace and Perseverance of the saints. The reduction of these concepts into the simplified five points has encouraged many to study this basis of the Protestant Reformation who would not otherwise have been able to do so. Current events within the church of Christ, as well as a revival of Calvinism among Protestant churches, has caused a further study of another of Calvin’s concepts: the imputation of the personal righteousness of Christ to the believer. Without a doubt, Calvin’s idea about imputation is the glue that holds the five points together which were mentioned earlier. Since he denied the ability of man to do anything good due to his inherited depravity, Calvin was convinced that in some manner the personal righteousness of Christ, His moral excellence (in today’s vernacular, the “doing and dying of Jesus”) was transferred to the sinner so that, as man was lost due to Adam’s sin, he was saved due to Christ’s perfection. In this view, Adam’s sin was a corporate sin (involving the whole race and not just himself) while Christ’s perfection was corporate perfection (involving all believers, not just Himself). As Adam was the fountainhead of sin for lost mankind, Jesus was the fountainhead of righteousness for all believers. And, Calvin taught, since the guilt of Adam became our guilt (by inheritance through the flesh), the righteousness of Christ became our righteousness through a process known as imputation. To be sure, the Bible speaks of imputation and the scheme of redemption includes this as an integral part of our salvation. But there is a vast difference between the scriptural doctrine of imputation and Calvin’s doctrine. We need to be able to grasp the difference between what Calvin taught and what the Bible teaches. To do this, Calvin’s concept of imputation has been summarized in to three main points even as his “Institutes” have been summarized into five points. The three-fold imputations of John Calvin are: 1. the imputation of the sins of Adam to mankind, 2. the imputation of the sins of mankind to Christ, and 3. the imputation of the personal righteousness of Christ to believers. Some preachers among churches of Christ have been guilty of teaching the third of these three points as though it is Bible doctrine. Either they fail to realize the implications of what they are accepting and teaching or they are just unwilling to be consistent and accept the entire trilogy. But to be consistent, all three of these points must stand or fall together. It makes absolutely no sense to teach that the personal righteousness of Christ is imputed to us unless we believe that Adam’s sins are imputed to mankind. If I do not have Adam’s guilt, I have no corporate guilt for Christ to bear, there is no corporate righteousness for Him to return to the believer. To understand these matters, let’s study each of the three imputations.
Imputation Number One - The Imputation of the Sins of Adam to Mankind
The original fallacy in this system of theology is that the sin-guilt of one can be imputed to another. Augustine, Luther and Calvin all failed at this crucial point of their study. It is useless to speculate what direction their later views might have taken had they not been mistaken here, but it is safe to say that once they accepted this hypothesis, the rest of the system follows quite logically. In fact, the whole system is designed to explain their view of redemption based on the assumption of “original sin” and “inherited total depravity.” Remove this error and the rest of “TULIP” become superfluous. Briefly, imputation number one teaches that Adam’s sin is “imputed” or “transferred” to all posterity by natural generation (by fleshly birth). Let us note here at the beginning that “imputation” never means “transfer” in the Bible but is so used by Calvinists. The Bible teaches that God does impute sin (Romans 4:8), but He never transfers sin from one person to another — sin is imputed to (put down to the account of) the one who commits it. It is absolutely essential that this is understood by one and all. God puts sin to my account when I sin, but He never puts someone else’s sin to my account — Adam’s or anyone else’s. If I repeat myself on this point, I do so with the intention of stressing its importance. In Galatians 6:5 Paul says that “each man shall bear his own burden.” Ezekiel 18:4,20 states: “The soul that sinneth, it shall die. The son shall not bear the iniquity of the father, neither shall the father bear the iniquity of the son; the righteousness of the righteous shall be upon him, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon him.” Underline the statement about the“righteousness of the righteous” and we will return to that later. For now, let us emphasize the part about “wickedness.” From this passage (and others), it is quite evident that sin is not and cannot be inherited from a previous generation nor passed from one person to another. Being ignorant of this truth, Calvinism teaches total hereditary depravity by imputation of sin: the guilt of Adam’s transgression is imputed (transferred) to us. There are two points that need to be understood clearly right here. First, we need to see that when God imputes sin, He imputes sin to the sinner who commits it and no one else. “The soul that sinneth, it shall die.” That I have sinned is undeniable. That sin has been put to my account is a fact. God saw my sins (not Adam’s; not my father’s; not somone else’s) and imputed them (put them to my account) because the guilt was mine. Nothing has been transferred but something (sin) has been imputed. It is in this manner that my guilt is established. Secondly, we need to pin down that “imputation” never means “transfer.” If we permit an arbitrary definition of terms anything can be proven. Allow Calvinists to define “impute” as “transfer” and they will sutain their position. However, this is not an accurate definition in any of the three points under consideration. Albert Barnes, who wrote a commentary on the entire Bible, was a Calvinist. However, his scholarship was such that when he came to the doctrine of imputation he defined it correctly. In his exegetical analysis of Romans he struck down the definition of transferring guilt or innocence from one to another. In his notes on Romans 4 (page 102), he states, “The word is never used to denote imputing in the sense of transferring, or of charging that on one which does not properly belong to him … No doctrine of transferring, or of setting over to a man what does not properly belong to him, be it sin or holiness, can be derived, therefore, from this word.” Now it is of the utmost importance to this study that every student of the Bible get what he said. Imputation never means transfer. It simply means putting down to one’s account what is properly his — whether sin or holiness! (Let none imply from this that we are saying that holiness is intrinsic to man. We will discuss this point later). Some brethren are trying to make impute mean one thing when talking about Adamic sin and something else when it refers to Christ’s personal righteousness and man’s salvation. However, there is only one accurate meaning for imputation and we have presented what it is and what it is not in its use in the scriptures. It is interesting to note that some brethren of late have tried to make Barnes teach imputation to mean “transfer” when they quote from him. But by so using Barnes, they reveal the slip-shod method of their study and actually end up agreeing with those Calvinists who understand the importance of their definition and who take issue with Barnes. You see, after Barnes died, his commentaries were republished. However, the publisher disagreed wtih Barnes’ definition of imputation and inserted editorial comments to that effect. The small print inserted beneath Barnes’ original notes are those of a Calvinist editor who takes issue with Barnes and who seeks to establish a more orthodox Calvinist position. When our brethren quote from Barnes to the effect that imputation means transfer (and some have done this), they are in reality quoting from main-line Calvinists. In the Publishers’ Preface to the volume on Romans, we find this statement: “The principal point, in which Barnes is supposed to differ from orthodox divines, in this country, is the doctrine of imputation; which occupies so conspicuous a place in the opening chapters of the Romans, and is argued at great length in the fifth chapter. In some points also, of less moment, he may be accused of using inaccurate or unguarded language. To rememdy these defects, supplementary Notes have been addded in several places throughout the volume…” (emph. mine, TR). For this reason, when brethren refer to Barnes to prove their use of imputation to mean transfer, they are using men who regarded him “defective” as a Calvinist on this point or who felt him to be guilty of using “inaccurate or unguarded language.” Barnes did not believe in this use of the word and went to great lengths to prove the proper definition. His list of scriptures where this word is used (also on page 102) is valuable to those who would like to do more research in your personal study. We conclude our consideration of this first point by saying that Adam’s sins were imputed to no one but himself (to whom they properly belonged). Our sins are imputed to us (to whom they properly belong). Imputation number one is simply denominational error.
Imputation Number Two -The Imputation of the Sins of Mankind to Christ
Fallacy number two in Calvinism’s triad of error is that the sins of mankind are imputed to Christ. And it is quite amazing to see brethren quote scripture on one hand and then shift gears in their definitions of terms to read “transfer” instead of “impute”. Many who would not accept Imputation Number One seek to change definitions and accept Imputation Number Two. They teach that in order for man to be free from the guilt of sin, sin must be transferred to Christ. Thus, one will hear them speaking of passages that refer to Christ taking upon himself our sins, bearing our offenses, our iniquity being laid upon Him (Isaiah 53, etc.) as teaching imputation even though the word itself is not used. Once a faulty definition is substituted for imputation, it is but a small step to accept words similar in meaning to “transfer” to mean the same as imputation itself. Improper word usage is a favorite dodge of false teachers and it is essential in this instance for all to realize that such is being done. But the Bible simply does not teach that the sins of mankind are transferred to Christ in any sense. All the Bible passages that refer to Christ taking upon Himself our sins, bearing our offenses, our iniquity being laid upon Him, etc., (Isaiah 53, et al) are simply teaching that Jesus Christ died for our sins. The “stroke was due us” (Isaiah 53:8); He died for “our transgression,” was “bruised for our iniquities.” But Note: the sins had been imputed to us — put to our account. That is why the “stroke was due us.” Jesus took our punishment upon Himself but He did not take our guilt upon Himself. To say otherwise is to deny that passage in Ezekiel 18:20. When Paul said in 2 Corinthians 5:21, “Him who knew no sin he made to be sin on our behalf,” he was showing that Jesus took the penalty and punishment for sin (death) that we might live. If sins were imputed to Christ, they properly belonged to Him and He would have been actually a sinner. He was sinless therefore no sins could be properly imputed to Him. But through love, He took our punishment for sins that were properly charged to us. Let us not destroy the beauty of the vicarious suffering of Jesus by teaching that He actually had sin imputed to Him.
Imputation Number Three - The Imputation of the Personal Righteousness of Christ to Believers
Like our studies on the two previous points, it will be shown that the basic mistake that is continually made on imputation is to define it as “transfer” instead of “put to one’s account.” With regard to the righteousness of Christ, much ado is made about Christ’s moral excellence. To be sure, all agree that Christ was sinless, that He exemplified perfect obedience to God and that He was absolutely and infinitely pure. Had this not been true, the sacrifice he made on Calvary would have had no more effect on paying the penalty for sin than the deaths of the other two who were crucified at the same time. The difference between the two thieves (and all other men) and Christ was the difference between His innocence and our gilt. Since He was sinless, His death paid the penalty for sin in our stead — in the words of the scripture: “But now once at the end of the ages hath he been manifest to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself … so Christ also, having been once offered to bear the sins of many…”(Hebrews 9:26,28; cf. Hebrews 10:11-12ff). He was the anti-type of all the Old Testament sacrifices and it was to Him that they all pointed. His perfect life qualified Him for that sacrifice (Hebrews 7:26-28).This clearly establishes that the perfect life and death of Christ paid the penalty for sin — yet nothing in all the Bible indicates that the moral excellence of Christ (his perfect doing and dying) is put to our account (imputed to us) or that we wear a robe of Christ’s righteousness which covers our sins. Through the death on the cross, Christ propitiated the wrath of God (Romans 3:24-26) and made reconciliation possible (2 Corinthians 5:18-21). When we penitently believe on Jesus Christ, becoming obedient to His will, God forgives us those sins which have been put to our account. It is in this manner that God imputes righteousness to me. Since our sins are forgiven, they can no longer be imputed (“…blessed is the man to whom the Lord will not impute sin”, Romans 4:8). God thereby restores me to that condition of righteousness which I occupied before I sinned (Ecclesiastes 7:29), and pronounces me righteous on the basis of forgiveness. Thus, righteousness is not intrinsic to man, but supplied by God on the ground of pardon. Righteousness is not given to the sinner on the basis of Christ’s own personal righteousness being transferred . Remember our use previously of Ezekiel 18:20: Neither sin nor righteousness can be transferred. Our third imputation of Calvinism is seen to be error like the other two. None of them will stand the light of investigation.
IMPUTED FOR RIGHTEOUSNESS (Genesis 15:6)
Tom M. Roberts
“Imputation” describes a process that takes place in the mind of God, without which none of us could ever be judged sinner or saint. What may be known about this process must be known only by revelation through the scriptures, since God speaks through the Spirit to reveal His thoughts (1 Cor. 2:6-13). Difficulty in understanding our subject lies not in its obscurity or ambiguity; rather, generations of faulty exposition by sectarians and brethren alike have hidden its wonderful message. It will be our goal to learn proper definitions, relate this subject to other salvation terminology in a harmonious way, properly applying the truth to our situation.
It is true that our study of imputation is not “milk” but “meat” (Heb. 5:12-13). One cannot fully understand imputation without being cognizant of the entire scope of human redemption. Thus, imputation is related to the revelation of the divine wisdom of God, human nature (free will and responsibility), the nature of sin and of righteousness, justification, gospel and law, faith and works, the plan of salvation and, not in the least to be considered, grace. It encompasses the concept of how a righteous God can bring about the salvation of His sinful creature, man, and yet retain His own righteous nature (Rom. 3:21-26).
Generations of theologians have sought to understand man’s history, from his fall to his redemption. Many have attempted to put this research into a systematic relationship, resulting in volumes under the general heading of “Systematic Theology.” Perhaps the first, certainly one of the most influential, of such theologians to address this question was Augustine (354-430 A.D.). Drawing upon a faulty concept of the nature of man (that man inherited a sinfully depraved nature by natural generation), Augustine set in motion theological concepts that influenced and influences man throughout history until today. Not only Roman Catholicism, but the entire Protestant Reformation took direction from his ideas, however defective they were and are. For us to understand imputation in its Biblical purity and simplicity, we must not allow our thinking to be persuaded by the common fallacies of Augustinianism (later, know more popularly as Calvinism). The confusion that has arisen among our brethren on this subject has been due to the direct influence of Calvinistic definitions and ideas which are to be found in nearly all the commentaries and religious source material. We must not permit ourselves to be influenced beyond what the bible teaches. The blessing to be received by understanding imputation is great, resulting in an assurance that God’s saving grace is commensurate with man’s ability to receive it. Man is neither hereditarily morally depraved nor does he live sinlessly perfect; God is willing to extend His grace and man is able to receive it.
To understand our term properly, we must have a working and accurate definition. This is crucial since most Calvinists seek to redefine it more in line with their theology than their scholarship. But the lexicographers state that it means “…1. to reckon, count, compute, calculate, count over; hence, a. to take into account of; metaph. To pass to one’s account, to impute…to lay to one’s charge. B. to number among, reckon with… c. to reckon or account, and treat accordingly.(Thayer). Also, “to reckon, take into account, or metaphorically, to put down to a person’s account.” (Vine). It is from the Greek “logizomai” and includes “an activity of the reason which, starting from ascertainable facts, draws a conclusion…”(J. Eicheler, The New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology, p. 822-826). Without limiting this definition to either sin or righteousness, its basic meaning provided the basis for God “taking into account,” or judging. God’s judgments, by His own imputations, determine whether one is considered a sinner or saint. One is not saved or lost, therefore, due to one’s own emotional, subjective testimony but according to God’s judgment which is imputed, or put to one’s account.
Application of Definition to Sin
Let’s illustrate this definition with regard to sin, first. Imputing one to be a sinner involves the process in the mind of God whereby He considers a person’s actions, weighs them, makes a judgment, and puts that judgement to the person’s account; it is imputed. Please note that in the light of the scripture, sin is imputed to the account of the transgressor; it is never transferred to or from another person or is never inherited. This is true of both sin and righteousness (Ezek. 18:1-20; 1 Jn. 3:4). Though a Calvinist, the commentator Albert Barnes saw the truth on this point and stated in his work on Romans: “The word is never used to denote imputing in the sense of transferring, or of charging that on one which does not properly belong to him” (Albert Barnes, Notes on the New Testament, pp. 102-103). Also, “no doctrine of transferring, or of setting over to a man what does not properly belong to him, be it sin or holiness, can be derived, therefore, from this word” (ibid).Since the Bible is its own best expositor, it is possible to learn the meaning of some disputed passages by letting scripture speak to scripture. One of the proof texts of the Calvinists regarding the imputation of the sins of Adam to Christ is Isaiah 53:4-6 (cf. 1 Pet. 2:24; 1 Jn. 3:5). The key passages affirm that Jesus was “wounded for our transgressions,”“bruised for our iniquities,” and “the Lord hath laid on him the iniquity of us all.” As Peter affirmed, “who his own self bare our sins in his own body on the tree.”Does this mean that God, in some fashion, transferred our sins to Jesus? In what way did the Lord “lay on him the iniquity of us all?” How did Jesus “bare our sins in his body?”
It is easy to take the Calvinist’s “transfer” in these instances, unsupported by any lexicon or dictionary, and make a case, arbitrarily. However, since no authority recognizes “transfer” to be an accurate definition, it is folly to permit it. Further, since one scripture will often explain these questions, we need to allow the Holy Spirit to intercede. This is exactly the case as Matthew records Jesus’ ministry and work. In Matthew 8:14-17, Jesus is said to heal Peter’s mother-in-law of a fever, cast out demons, heal all that were sick “that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by Isaiah the prophet, saying Himself took our infirmities and bare our sicknesses.” Now, when Jesus cured Peter’s mother-in-law of a fever, did Jesus become feverish, transferring the fever to Himself? When He cast out demons, did He transfer the evil spirits to Himself? In what way did Jesus “take our infirmities and bare our sicknesses?” We are told that He “cast out” the spirits and “healed” the sick. Metaphorically, it can be said that He “took” and “bare” these things by “casting them out” and “healing them.” In the same manner, when Jesus “bare our sins,” He forgave them, not transferred them. Hebrews 9:26b sheds light by stating, “…but now once in the end of the world hath he appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself…So Christ was offered to bear the sins of man…” As the writer of the Hebrew letter quotes our passage from Isaiah 53 where Jesus was to “bear the sins of many,” he explains by inspiration that it means to “put away” or forgive sin. So also does every other passage (where remission, forgiveness, covering, blotting out, etc. is mentioned) agree. Jesus never transferred sins from anyone to Himself. He “bore them” in the sense that He cause them to be forgiven by dying in our stead, being “wounded for our transgressions, bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him, and with his stripes we are healed.” Yes, Jesus took our punishment for us, was treated as a sinner would be treated and died on the cross as a substitute offering for sin. But the effect was to forgive sin, not transfer it. Any other position ignores divine testimony.
Calvinism In Capsule
To illustrate the flaw of Calvinistic thinking, let us compare their use of impute to the Bible usage. In capsule form, they would have “impute” to mean “transfer” in the following sequence:
1. Adam’s sins imputed (transferred) to mankind
2. Mankind’s sin imputed (transferred) to Christ
3. Christ’s personal righteousness imputed (transferred) to believers.
The difference is distinctive and immediately apparent. They attempt to transfer the guilt of Adam to mankind to support the doctrine of total hereditary depravity. We have seen the flaw in this (Ezek. 18). Next, they attempt to transfer sins to Christ to escape guilt. But the scriptural action here is forgiveness, as we noted in Isaiah 53 and Matthew 8, not transference (which incidentally, would not solve sin by shifting it elsewhere). Finally, they attempt to transfer righteousness from Christ to the believer, covering the sinner with a layer (covering, robe) of moral perfection, under which the depraved nature yet remains. This moral perfection of Jesus (called by some His “doing and dying”) supposedly provides the basis for the believer being saved and staying saved (salvation by faith alone, and once saved, always saved). Please note, however, that nowhere in the Calvinistic system is provision made for forgiveness of sins. Sin is moved about, shuffled around or said to be covered, but it is never cured. The Bible cures the sin problem by forgiveness through the blood of Christ.
Summarizing, we have been noting, to this point, that one becomes a sinner due to God’s imputation (considering actions, weighing, judging, and putting to one’s account his guilt). But our study would not be complete without a consideration of the Christian who sins. Some claim that God imputes sin to the alien; but not the Christian. But we need to observe that God always charges transgressors with their sins, whether sinner or saint. Sin is not more palatable to God simply because the one committing it is a child of God. The Christian, therefore, may so sin as to be finally lost in Hell (Gal. 5:1-4; 1 Cor. 10:11-12; etc.). Cleansing Christians of sin is not automatic or continual, but conditional, as with aliens. Rather than to imagine some situation whereby guilt is not imputed (sins of ignorance, secret sins, doctrinal sins, etc.) We need to affirm what the Bible clearly teaches: all sin is imputed, charged, reckoned to the transgressor, whether sinner or saint. By God’s grace, provision is made for forgiveness in both instances, but let us not seek to avoid the truth on either.
Application of Definition to Righteousness
Please note that our definition does not change as we now consider righteousness: it continues to be a divine process whereby God weighs our actions, judges us and puts to our account that which He judges. However, imputation for righteousness is not a wage (merit) as is sin (Rom. 6:23), but is according to grace. If we put to our account what we deserve, all would be lost. This is not to say that salvation is not conditional, for it is. God does not impute righteousness to men unconditionally, else all would be saved. Righteousness is imputed according to the conditions of grace, or as Paul stated it in Ephesians 2:8, “For by grace are ye saved through faith…” Grace is God’s part; faith is man’s part. Grace provides, faith responds. Conditions of a gift do not pay for a gift, any more than faith pays for grace. As Jesus taught, “When ye have done all the things commanded you, say, we are unprofitable servants” (Lk. 17:10). Now, having established that imputation for righteousness is conditional upon faith, let us illustrate it.
Abraham: God’s Example
When God gave up the world to a reprobate mind (Romans 1), He also instituted the plan of redemption by calling Abraham (long before the law was given) and promised salvation through the Seed (Christ), to those who believe. The faith of Abraham is used by God to illustrate how He will save all of us. “And the scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand unto Abraham, saying, In thee shall all the nations be blessed. So then, they that are of faith are blessed with the faithful Abraham” (Gal. 3:7-9). In Genesis 15:6, it is stated: “And Abraham believed God, and he reckoned it to him for righteousness.” This passage is quoted three times in the New Testament as writers use Abraham as an example of imputed righteousness. It is found in Romans 4:1-25, Galatians 3:6-9 and James 2:21-23. This helps in our understanding of “faith,” “righteousness,” and “impute.” Faith never means “faith only” in an approved sense, but includes the“works of Abraham” (Jn. 8:39), or “faithfulness,” the proving of faith by works (James 2:18, 21-23). “Righteousness” simply means to stand in a “right relationship” with God. On at least three separate occasions in Abraham’s life, God weighed the circumstances, judged Abraham’s actions and pronounced him righteous. The test in Genesis 15:6 refers to the time of Abraham’s life when he was given the promise of a child in his old age. It is also used of the time when he left to follow where God would lead him, and of the time when he was commanded to offer Isaac on the altar. As God saw Abraham’s faith in action, He weighed the circumstances, considered, drew a conclusion about Abraham as He saw his faith, forgave his sins (Heb. 9:15) and imputed (put to his account) righteousness. Thus, salvation by “grace through faith,” foreshadowing our salvation of the same order. The basis of salvation: Christ (the Seed). The condition of salvation: faith. The method of salvation: imputation. The result of salvation: righteousness. The scope of salvation: to Jew and Gentile (all nations: Matt. 28:18-20; Gal. 3:7-9).
Whose Faith Is Imputed?
The text is clear that it is faith that is reckoned for righteousness (Rom. 4:5). Typical Calvinists seek to escape the force of the fact that God accepted Abraham’s faith (since they believe that man is born totally depraved and unable to “do” anything to be saved). As a consequence, they teach that it is the “faith of Christ” that is imputed to the believer (a gift from God), not the believer’s own subjective faith, as with Abraham. But from Genesis 15:6 through all of the contexts where this passage is quoted in the New Testament, Abraham’s faith, not that of Christ’s, is under consideration. True, Abraham’s faith encompassed the Seed promise; he believed in the coming of the Messiah. But it was Abraham’s faith (subjective) that was imputed, not the object of his faith. Faith is an act one does, it is not a gift. “So then faith cometh of hearing, and hearing by the word of God” (Rom. 10:17). Faith is a work of God that man must do. “Jesus answered and said unto them, This is the work of God, that ye believe on him whom he hath sent” (Jn. 6:29).
Abraham believed on Christ, God saw his faith coupled with his obedience and, forgiving his sins, imputed or counted Abraham’s faith unto him for righteousness.This is clearly taught in Romans 4:1-12, where Abraham is used to explain salvation. The Jews sought salvation based upon a claim to proper lineage (sons of Abraham) and works (perfectly doing the law of Moses). To correct this thinking, Paul noted that Abraham was saved before there was either lineage or law. The righteousness that is imputed is not of works (perfectly “doing”all the law, Gal. 3:10) or of debt (Rom. 4:3-4). It is, however, of faith (trusting obedience, Rom. 4:56). David verifies this when he is introduced to tell us of a “blessed man” to whom God will not impute sin. Is he a man so perfect that he has no sins with which to be charged? No (Rom. 3:23). Is he a man who sins but whose sins God arbitrarily chooses to overlook? No (Ezek. 18:4, 20; Rom. 6:23). Is he a man with impeccable ties to Jewish lineage? No (Rom. 4:13). If none of these, who is this man? Clearly, the context of Romans 4 shows that the man to whom God will not impute sins is the forgiven man! The Psalmist is quoted as saying, “Blessed are they whose iniquities are forgiven, and whose sins are covered. Blessed is the man to whom the Lord will not reckon sin” (vs. 7, 8; cf. Ps. 32:1). God does not impute sin where there are no sins to impute! But no sins exist only when a man is forgiven. Thus, it is the forgiven man to whom the Lord will not impute sins. Upon what basis is sin forgiven? Upon obedient faith in Christ (Rom. 1:5; 16:25), just like Abraham had faith in God and His promises and obeyed. When a sinner comes to God in faith, meetings the conditions of grace (faith, repentance and baptism), God cleanses the sinner through the blood (Acts 22:16; Rom. 6:1-7; Acts 2:38, etc.). In faithful obedience there is no merit; God is not put in debt. Faithful obedience is but the condition; the basis of salvation remains the blood of Christ. “For we say, to Abraham his faith was reckoned for righteousness” (Rom. 4:9). And as for us today, “For this cause it is of faith, that it may be according to grace; to the end that the promise may be sure to all the seed; not to that only which is of the law, but to that also which is of the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all…” (Rom. 4:16). God imputed Abraham’s faith for righteousness; our faith will be imputed for righteousness.
Christ’s Perfect Life Imputed?
Having adopted the foundational fallacy that all men are born totally depraved, the consistent Calvinist is faced with the dilemma of accounting salvation to one so distant from God that he cannot read and understand the Bible or make a moral decision to change his life.Consequently, these theologians deny man the ability to come to God, making salvation “wholly of God” without any conditions on the part of those to be saved. How is this to be accomplished? Again, they turn to a faulty definition of “impute”(having it to mean “transfer”) and combine it with yet another error, transferring the perfect life of Christ to the one being saved. In this imaginative view, the moral perfection of Jesus (called by some the “deeds and doing” of Jesus or the “robe of Christ’s perfection”), is said to be imputed (transferred) to the believer in such a manner that God no longer sees the depravity of the individual, this being hidden under Christ’s righteousness. God only sees this “robe of Christ’s perfection” and imputes this to the account of the believer. “From this it is also evident that we are justified before God solely by the intercession of Christ’s righteousness. This is the equivalent of saying that man is not righteous in himself but because the righteousness of Christ is communicated to him by imputation – something worth carefully noting…For in such a way does the Lord Christ share his righteousness with us that in some wonderful manner, he pours into us enough of his power to meet the judgment of God…To declare that by him alone we are counted righteous, what else is this but to lodge our righteousness in Christ’s obedience, because the obedience of Christ is reckoned to us as if it were our own?” (“Brief History of Calvin’s Theory,” 1536 (first edition, 1559 final edition, Institutes of Christian Religion, John Calvin, Book, III, Chap. XI, Section, 23). Not only have those outside the church such unscriptural concepts, but some brethren have propagated this error. “Thus every man who will be saved shall not be saved as Joe Doaks, but as Jesus Christ” (Burton Coffman, Commentary on Romans). To which R. L. Whiteside replied:
“It has been erroneously assumed and falsely argued that to impute a thing to a person is to put to his account something that he does not have, or somewhat more than he has. The Presbyterian and Baptist Confessions of Faith, and a host of theologians of both schools, teach that the righteousness of Christ is imputed, or credited, to the sinner…The doctrine is wholly without scriptural support…When by the power of the gospel a man has been made clean and free from sin, God reckons righteousness to him, because he is righteous. God does not pretend that a man is righteous when he is not. The denominational doctrine of imputed righteousness reminds one of the children’s game of ‘play-like.’ And their doctrine discredits the gospel as God’s saving power, and belittles the merits and efficacy of the blood of Christ, for it teaches that some corruption remains in the regenerate, but he is counted righteous because he is clothed with the righteousness of Christ. That is ‘play-like’ theology. “But the gospel makes men righteous, just as a soiled garment may be made clean, as clean as if it had never been soiled, by carrying it through the process of cleansing. So the gospel takes the sin-defiled persons through a process of cleansing that makes him as clean as if he had never sinned. The Lord does not ‘play-like’ he is righteous; he makes him righteous by the gospel” (R. L. Whiteside, Commentary on Romans).
This speculation about the perfect life of Christ being transferred to the account of the believer provides the basis for twin doctrines that have led millions astray; namely, “justification by faith alone,” and “once saved, always saved.” “If a man is saved by the perfect life of Christ,” it is reasoned, “the perfect life of Christ will also keep him saved.” The basic fallacy in this concept continues to be the idea that sin or righteousness can be transferred from one to another. It is not a scriptural position; in fact, it violates many Bible principles.
What, then? Does the perfect life of Christ have nothing to do with our salvation? Indeed it does. The perfect life of Christ (His “deeds and doings”) provide the basis for His spotless sacrifice for sin. Though sinless when born into the world, Jesus was “perfected” through His sufferings and temptations so as to offer to God a tried and tested offering for sin. He went to the cross as the “Lamb of God that taketh away the sin of the world” (Jn. 1:29), tempted and tried yet without sin (Heb. 4:15). It was God’s merciful love that arranged “to make the author of their salvation perfect through suffering” (Heb. 2:10). Jesus was “made perfect” (mature, having reached a desired goal or end) by the “things which he suffered” becoming obedient unto death (Heb; 5:7-9). As a priest, Jesus prepared an offering (Heb. 8:3), His own body (Heb. 9:26), doing the will of God (Heb. 10:1-10). Thus, the perfect life of Christ provided what we could not, a sacrifice without spot or blemish. It stands as the perfect anti-type to all the animal sacrifices of the Old Testament types, made possible by the sinless “deeds and doing” of Jesus. Yes, the perfect life of Christ was essential to our salvation. Not, however, that His moral perfection could be “transferred” to our account or that he could live a life of legal and moral perfection in our place and for us. He was both priest and sacrifice, the One doing the offering as well as the Offering itself. By this one act, He shed the innocent blood needed for atonement for sin. It is through the blood that atonement is realized and by which reconciliation is offered. Surely no more basic foundational principle exists in the word of God than that the blood of Christ provides the basis for salvation. If we are saved by the perfect life of Christ, transferred by some mystical manner to believers, why did Jesus have to die? If His perfection becomes ours, the death on the cross is needless cruelty, a sadistic hoax. Like all false doctrines, it cannot be harmonized with the full gospel story. It must be rejected as both fanciful and erroneous while we continue to proclaim the true doctrine of imputed righteousness.
Admittedly, not a great deal of preaching has been done regarding imputation. Why? May I remind you that imputation is a divine process administered by God. Since He “doeth all things well,” He does not need exhortation from us in order to accomplish His will. He has been imputing sin and righteousness since Adam and Eve and will continue to do so until time is no more. However, our preaching, of necessity, must exhort men to the “obedience of faith” meeting the conditions of grace. We have the assurance that when men “obey from the heart that form of doctrine” (Rom. 6:17), God will impute righteousness in harmony with the divine will. When men transgress His will, He imputes their sin.It is only when imputation is ill-defined and explained out of harmony with the will of God that we must deal with it more specifically. Now is one of these times and it has become controversial due to the gross misunderstanding among brethren and religionists alike. We should beware of becoming too excited about the error or too complacent about the truth. Rather, we should proceed calmly and prayerfully about our task of preaching the “whole counsel of God” to lost humanity. What God imputes will never contradict what the gospel promises so we should remain undeterred in our labor, being assured that “our labor is not in vain in the Lord” (1 Cor. 15:58). God has done and continues to do His part; it remains for us to be faithful in ours. This is accomplished as we preach the gospel, as in the past. Though charged erroneously that we do not preach about the grace of God or that we do not preach imputation, let gospel preaching be our answer to all such charges. This is the “true grace of God” (1 Pet. 5:12), and it is marvelous in our eyes.
How Was Christ ‘Made to be Sin’?
One aspect of Calvinistic doctrine is the three-fold error whereby it is taught that (1) Adam’s sin was transferred to mankind; (2) man’s sin was transferred to Christ; and (3) Christ’s personal righteousness was transferred to believers. None of these statements are true nor do they reflect accurately the Bible doctrine of “imputation.” In this article we will note the second of these errors and study the claim that the sins of mankind have been transferred to Christ.
A verse often used in this context is 2 Corinthians 5:21: “Him who knew no sin he made to be sin on our behalf; that we might become the righteousness of God in him.” The phrase “he made to be sin” is the controversial part of the text and one that is grossly misused. We need to understand in what sense God made Christ “to be sin.” Did God place our sins on Christ? Would that make Christ a sinner? Did Christ die a spiritual death as well as a physical death on the cross? Just what is meant? As in all studies, we need to consider all that the Bible says and not take one verse to mean something that would contradict other Bible passages.
First of all, we can clear the air considerably when we note that the Bible teaches that Christ was not a sinner. Our text states: “Him who knew no sin…” Additionally, we see 1 Peter 2:22: “Who did not sin, neither was guile found in his mouth.” From these and other passages, it is clear that Christ did no sin on His own. So the question before us is: “Did Christ become a sinner by a transference of our sins to Himself?” I believe the answer to this is also “No.” There is not a single Bible passage which indicates that sin from one person (or righteousness) is ever transferred to another.
If we take the position that our sins were transferred to Christ, we are faced with the fact that Christ would have been a sinner. Isaiah 59:1-2 states that “sins and iniquities separate from God.” Romans 6:23 states that the “wage of sin is death.” We are being asked to believe that Christ actually “bore our sin” and died a spiritual death in our stead. Such a position falls short of the truth and would lead one into grave error on other points. Let us note carefully what the Bible teaches about Christ “being made sin on our behalf.”
Romans 8:3 puts it this way: “…God, sending his own son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh.” Friends, there is quite a difference in something being a likeness of something and actually being it. While Christ wore a human body, it was not stained by sin, either His own or of others. When Christ died on the cross, He died a physical death and this death was a punishment for sin (“…the soul that sineth, it shall die” — Ezekiel 18:4). But He took the punishment that was due to us. He did not die because He was guilty or because He took our guilt upon Himself. He took our punishment!
Isaiah 53 sheds light on the question. Isaiah says, “Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed” (vs. 4-5). Now reason with me a little. If you can understand in what manner an innocent man suffers in the place of the guilty, you can see what this is teaching. Christ was “wounded for our transgression.” He was “bruised for our iniquities.” “Ourchastisement” was upon Him. Jesus no more actually took our sins upon Him than He actually took our griefs and sorrows upon Him. Have all my griefs been transferred to Christ? Have all my sorrows been transferred to him? No, of course not; we can easily see that. And in the same fashion we can see that our sins were not transferred to Him but that He took the “stripes” and “bruises” that were due to us because we were justly guilty. He stood in our stead. This is what 1 Corinthians 15:3 means when it states that “Christ died for our sins,” and Galatians 1:4 means when it says Christ “gave himself for our sin.” He was a “sacrifice for sin” (Hebrews 10:12) and in that sense He “bare our sins” (1 Peter 2:24) just as He took our griefs and sorrows. He was “made to be sin” in that He took our punishment and was treated as or like a sinner even while He was innocent. He “suffered for sins” (1 Peter 3:18) not His own and in that fashion God “made him to be sin” (only from the punishment standpoint) and by that act He“purged our sins” (Hebrews 1:3).
We need to be extremely careful and not take a single passage of the Bible and stretch it to mean something that contradicts other passages. Doing such arrays passage against passage, rather than harmonizing them.
To teach that 2 Corinthians 5:21 portrays Christ as receiving the guilt of our sins rather than the punishment for our sins violates this very principle. I challenge anyone to produce the evidence that teaches that guilt (or righteousness) is ever transferred from one person to another. Adam’s guilt was “put to his account” because he was guilty. My guilt is put to my account because I am guilty. By the grace of God, Jesus Christ the Righteous exposed His back to the punishment which was rightly mine. “By his stripes, we are healed.” “He was bruised for our iniquities.” “He was wounded for our transgression” and it is in that manner that “our iniquities are laid on him.” Whereas I could rightly be condemned eternally for my sins, Jesus bore my punishment and “purged” my sins by His death. This is saving grace in action and we need not confuse the issue by injecting denominational ideas and concepts into it.
Misuse Of Grace To Cover Sin
Tom M. Roberts
Intro: The pioneer preachers who blazed the trails in truth that we have come to regard as the “Restoration Movement” were able to do so only as they wrestled with sectarian doctrines and creeds and returned to the “old paths” of Bible truth. Much of the religious error of early America with which Barton W. Stone, Walter Scott, James O’Kelley; the Campbells, Ben Franklin and other noble preachers contended was that known as Calvinism.
So far as the churches of Christ are concerned, the fundamental teaching of truth during the Restoration Movement was so effective (cf: “The Scheme of Redemption,” by Robert Milligan) that it eradicated practically every vestige of Calvinism among Christians. From the early 1800’s until our generation, classic Calvinism (Tulip) has been recognized as the error it is and has not been a source of internal strife (must less a cause of division) within local congregations. However, history will record that it has become the task of our generation to combat these errors again.
Renewed emphasis by some brethren on certain aspects of Calvinism (“Neo-Calvinism”) has made it necessary to get back to basics on the Bible doctrines of the nature and grace of God, nature of man and his ability, faith, works, gospel, law, doctrine, the nature of Christ, imputed righteousness, justification, and sanctification among some of the weightier subjects. Too many brethren seem to be sitting at the feet of Evangelical scholars instead of at the feet of the inspired writers, drinking from the polluted wells of Augustine, Calvin and Luther than from the pure streams of truth. Terminology previously familiar among sectarians is rampant today, resulting in the charges of “Pharisaism, legalism, perfectionism, too much doctrine and not enough gospel, too much about the church and not enough about Christ, too much law and not enough love” against those who do no worse than preach “sound doctrine” (2 Tim. 3).
It is for our generation to fight old battles again, to root out sectarian error, to revisit the Bible basics. It must be our lot to reclaim a love for scriptural preaching, to turn the hearts of our young people to Jesus Christ and His gospel instead of toward James Dobson, Charles Colson, Charles Swindoll,F. F. Bruce, Max Lucado, Rubel Shelly or other expositors who are indulgent, tolerant and permissive toward sin but contemptible toward obedience. Indeed, many of an entire generation have gone from us, blown by “winds of doctrine” (Eph. 4:14) into fellowship with error or carried completely into denominationalism. It is too late for many; for others, we seek to show “mercy, who are in doubt; and save some, snatching them out of the fire” (Jude 22).
I. The Universal Need of Grace – Let us never tire of preaching it (Eph. 2:4-10)
A. Romans 1, 2, 3:9-18 – Gentile or Jew (thus, all mankind) unable to save self through demands of law. Result: Rom. 3:23.
B. Jewish misconception – no need of grace
1. Law-keeping perfection – Gal. 3:1-5
2. Lineage – Gal. 4:21-31
C. Abraham introduced to show grace – Gal. 3:7-14 (prior to giving of Law)
D. Man is righteous through forgiveness – not through perfection in law keeping – 1 Jn. 1:7; Rom. 6:1-7.
1. Gospel of grace is a remedial system, based on blood of Christ – Eph. 2:11-22; Heb.9:13-14, healing the sinner – Isa. 53.
2. Gospel of grace is a system of redemption, freeing men from bondage – Rom. 6:17-18, 22; Eph. 2:11-13
3. Gospel of grace is a system of atonement, satisfying the divine wrath of God against sin – Rom. 3:21-26; Heb. 10:3-7 (note: atonement, mercy seat – Heb. 9:11-12)
4. Gospel of grace is a system of reconciliation, returning men to God’s favor – 2 Cor. 5:17-20 Heb. 7:19 (“draw nigh” to God)
5. Gospel of grace is a system of imputed righteousness – Gen. 15:6 (Rom. 4:1-8; Gal. 3:8; James 2:23), based on forgiveness – Rom. 4:7.
6. Gospel of grace is a perfected system, taking its fulness from the fulness of Christ – Col. 1:12-20; 2:3-10;1 Pet. 2:9-10; 2 Pet. 1:3-4.
II. What is the difference between Calvinism and New Testament Christianity that they are antithetical to each other? The New Testament is predicated on the premise that God has addressed man as a free-will, moral creature of God whose nature has not changed since Creation. Man (though a sinner by choice) has the ability to understand the word of God and respond in faith to God’s grace. Faithful obedience is blessed by saving grace (Eph. 2:8-9) and righteousness is given to man as a result. Calvinism rejects man’s ability to believe and obey since it avows man is born in total depravity; man is totally passive, God must do everything in salvation; sinners cannot read and understand the Bible without supernatural help from the Holy Spirit; grace saves, doctrine sanctifies; election is unconditional; justification is by faith alone (with faith being a gift by God to the elect only; the saved cannot be lost. The two systems of religion cannot be reconciled.
A. Note: Calvinism is a modern, popularized Augustinianism.
1. Augustine (354-430 A.D.), born in North Africa.
2. Joined Manichaean sect and learned tenets of Gnosticism regarding the nature of Christ and man; inherited depravity.
3. Became a nominal Christian during formative years of Catholic Church.
4. Writings (“City of God,” “Confessions,” etc) contributed to evolving Catholic theology.
5. Controversy with Pelagius in Rome about the nature of man and free will strengthened Augustine’s influence.
6. Augustine’s theology, given the fallacy of inherited total depravity is logical, sequential and representative of “Systematic Theology.”
7. What Augustine taught about fall of man:
a. Sovereignty of God demanded foreordination of all things.
b. Man had free choice in Garden, but his nature changed at the fall.
(1) Loss of freedom of choice in spiritual matters.
(2) Obstruction of knowledge – in spiritual matters.
(3) Loss of enabling grace by which he chose to do good.
(4) Loss of paradise.
(5) Development of concupiscence (flesh over spirit).
(6) Physical death.
(7) Hereditary guilt in posterity.
8. What Augustine taught about redemption of man:
a. Totally in hands of God; man is completely passive.
b. Grace is irresistible to the elect (predestination and election).
c. Justification by an infusion of moral perfection of Jesus by grace through the Holy Spirit.
d. Sanctification (perseverance of saints) – Holy Spirit works in Christian to secure salvation.
B. The Reformation set in motion by Martin Luther
1. Catholicism had changed through centuries to system of works (sacerdotalism).
2. Luther sought to return Catholicism back to Augustine’s salvation by faith only.
3. John Calvin reduced Augustine’s theology to “five points”
(1) Total Hereditary Depravity
(2) Unconditional Election (justification by faith only)
(3) Limited Atonement
(4) Irresistible Grace
(5) Perseverance of the saints (once saved, always saved)
b. Imputation of Righteousness of Christ
(1) Invalid definition of “imputation” (see Barnes’ Notes, Romans 4 for complete study) to mean “transfer”
(2) “Transfer” of Adam’s guilt to posterity (inherited guilt)
(3) “Transfer” of mankind’s guilt to Christ
(4) “Transfer” of Christ’s perfection to believers
(5) Error of this concept shown by Ezek. 18 (see vv. 4, 18)
4. “Calvinism” is now embedded in Protestant theology.
5. Restoration Movement confronted, opposed, defeated Calvinism. As pioneers gave up creeds, turned back to Bible, their battles were with Calvinists, as they came out of Calvinistic churches: Baptist, Methodist, Presbyterian, etc.
6. Churches of Christ free of internal conflict; debated sectarians often.
C. In our time (1970’s), Calvinism became an internal influence.
1. Commentaries, versions of Bible (NIV), Evangelical upsurge, magazines (“Verdict,” “Present Truth,”etc.) influenced a generation of preachers.
2. ACC teachers and writers (R. C. Bell, K. C. Moser, Burton Coffman, etc.) exposed generation of students to Calvin’s imputed righteousness.
3. C. H. Dodd, Church of England prelate, expounded on difference between “gospel” and “doctrine,” and had an influence on Carl Ketcherside and cohorts.
4. Seen as radicals in early years, Ketcherside & Leroy Garrett lived long enough to see their theories become popular among institutional preachers: Rubel Shelly, Max Lucado, etc.
5. Ketcherside infiltrated students at Florida College through Edward Fudge who spread Calvinism to many of his generation across the nation (Hubert Moss, Bruce Edwards, Arnold Hardin, Clyde Goff, Jack Kirby, Mark Nitz, a host of others.
D. Modern Calvinists don’t like all of Calvinism (New-Calvinism).
1. Reject imputation of Adam’s sin to mankind (total depravity).
2. Some accept imputation of mankind’s sin to Christ.
3. Most accept imputation of personal reighteousness of Christ to believer.
4. Inconsistency doesn’t seem to bother brethren any more than Free Will Baptists who differ from Primitive Baptists.
E. C. H. Dodd’s “Core Gospel” (Gospel/Doctrine distinction) led to arbitrary challenges to “sound doctrine.”
1. “Gospel” seen as essential to salvation (defined deity of Christ).
2. “Doctrine” seen as unimportant, and would not limit fellowship among those who accept the deity of Christ.
3. Provided rationale for broadened fellowship with sectarians – no doctrinal position was to be bound on others; tolerance for error and permissiveness for every shade of belief. Some accepted the fallacy that grace covered sinners evan as, and while, they sinned, a position compatible with typical “once saved, always saved.”
4. “Factionalism” (rejection of this definition of gospel) was the only sin which would limit fellowship. Sound preaching not tolerated. Charges of “perfectionism,” “legalism,” “Pharisaism,” hurled at those who opposed “unity in diversity.” “Doctrinal preaching” was not equated as “gospel preaching,” “doctrine” emphasized the “church” more than “Christ,” “creed” more than “the cross.”
F. New definition of “Gospel” used by Bill Love, “The Core Gospel” to critique preachers from A. Campbell to J. D. Tant for lack of “gospel preaching.”
“One of the most striking examples of the displacement of the cross appears in T. W. Brents’ huge volume, The Gospel Plan of Salvation (1874). It became a standard work and wisely read for decades…The only extended treatment of the atonement is a five-page section devoted to refuting the Calvinistic doctrine of limited atonement. Although one finds a few references to Christ’s death scattered throughout the book’s 662 pages, nowhere does one find any systematic or extended discussion of human need and how God met that need at the cross…In a book claiming to set forth the gospel plan of salvation, I find such omission astounding, the sign of something deeply awry in the theology of the movement” (p. 120).
G. “The Cruciform Church” by C. Leonard Allen also decried the lack of preaching on the cross and too much about the church.
H. Concurrently, a number of conservative brethren echoed the charge, nearly plagiarizing the terminology and examples of Love and Allen. A large segment of brethren seem disenchanted with doctrinal preaching, coming from the same mindset as defined by Love and Allen.
I. Brethren initiated a paper, Christianity Magazine, dedicated to “accentuating the positive and eliminating the negative.” Faithful preaching was seen as too hard, unloving, unkind, negative, too controversial. “Journalism” was sought after and scripture was limited in use; one-sided teaching refused to allow error to be reviewed. Elements for “unity in diversity” have been advocated. Doctrinal unity is described as impossible.
J. In midst of a retreat from preaching the “whole counsel” (Acts 20:28), divorce and adulterous marriages became a national and congregational problem.
K. Because divorce became so rampant, it had ramifications with Christians.
L. Debates, books, preachers advocated many positions as to why the guilty, put away fornicator could remarry.
M. Homer Hailey’s view on the “alien who would come to God” took center stage among thinking of brethren; his views advocated in book by that name.
N. Romans 14 used by Ed Harrell to defend fellowship with Homer Hailey in series of articles, “Homer Hailey: False Teacher?” (CM, Nov. 1989), “The Bounds of Christian Unity (1-16),” (CM, Feb. 1989-May. 1990), “The Parameters of Fellowship,” (CM, March/April, 1997).
O. A wave of preachers jumped on the band-wagon of “grace-unity” with its attendant errors and charges against sound preaching.
1. Grace Covers Sin
2. Obedience equated with “Perfectionism”
3. Toleration for error became a hand-maiden with criticism of sound preaching; permissiveness toward sin but caustic rejection of truth
4. Faithful preachers labeled with bad attitudes for truth-telling; branded as having a lack of integrity for identifying teachers of error; charged with fomenting trouble by doing what gospel preachers have always done.
5. Note: History of this generation (facing institutionalism, liberalism, indifference, New Hermeneutics, modernism, immodesty, worldliness) must be one of aggressive evangelism (1 Tim. 1:8-11; 2 Tim. 1:8-13; 4:1-4).
6. Soft preaching, eliminate -the-negative preaching, being tolerant of error and being willing to fellowship sinful beliefs and practices is something new. Those who charge faithful preachers with initiating a controversy among brethren over these principles should learn “who split the log,” and who is real “Troubler of Israel.”
III. God’s answer to Departures from Sound Doctrine
A. First Century and now – the same.
B. Declare the “whole counsel of God” (Acts 20:25-32); commend to grace of God.
C. Preach the word – in season and out – whether brethren like it or not – 2 Tim. 4:1-5.
D. The grace of God has appeared – Titus 2:11-15 – “speak these things…let none despise.”
E. This is the true grace of God – stand in it – 1 Pet. 5:12.
Some issues are so taken for granted that common acceptance belies their intrinsic value and native importance. Such an issue is the subject of free will. Among brethren, until fairly recent dates, free will has been an accepted doctrine, figuring unobtrusively in conclusions drawn from Biblical principles. Events of recent date in which some have taught that man has a corrupted nature have led to the recognition that we may have taken too much for granted, in fact. Theologians have debated God’s sovereignty and man’s free will for centuries, churning out volumes of commentaries from Augustine onward. Since most of us do not pretend to be theologians, we have allowed simple Bible exegesis to determine our approach to the subject more than philosophical reasoning. I have personally done little preaching on free will as a separate topic, choosing rather to include it by reference in related matters. With this discussion, I hope to stimulate others to further writing and preaching on what I believe to be a vital subject. Free will has far-reaching implications relating to human nature, ethics, moral responsibility, social issues, and theology, including the question as to whether or not man is able to respond to his Creator’s will so as to exercise choice among moral contingencies. The particular view one espouses will determine attitudes and actions in“every issue of life” (Proverbs 4:23).
Does man have genuine moral freedom, true choice among alternatives, the ability to make decisions without coercion of a genetically inherited disposition beyond individual control? Are there contingencies facing man which he will confront without determinism (the antithesis of moral freedom) or antecedent causes? Is man ultimately responsible for his actions? Can he “do” anything by free choice in response to God’s grace? Is punishment and reward fixed by God independent of any action on the part of man and by divine fiat before the worlds were formed? The very scope of these questions suggests their importance. The question that David pondered, “What is man…”(Psalm 8:4), is still very much with us today.
The Nature of Creation
God made robots of many orders: animate (fish, fowl, beasts of the field) and inanimate (planets, trees, grass). An animal is no less a robot than a star, being programmed by instinct to act only according to its species, even as a star wanders according to the laws of the universe. A spawning salmon returns unerringly to the place of its birth, not because it chooses to do so, but because it is driven by instinct: it cannot not return. A blade of grass or a flower springs forth, withers and dies, having no choice as to its existence, to bloom or not to bloom. Such creatures never weigh alternatives and choose a direction based on free, moral action. “Free” in this context is “absence of external compulsion,” action that spontaneously erupts from its subject. “Moral” denotes the “ability to know right from wrong.” Man is a free, moral creature and unique in that he is the only such creature on earth! It is this awesome uniqueness that sets man apart from all other beings and faces him with responsibilities that have eternal consequences. If man is moral, he can know right from wrong and will be held accountible for his actions. If man is but another robot, a living machine without morality, he has no more responsibility or accountibility than the animate and inanimate robots of creation. An evil man would be no more guilty than a shooting star or raging torrent; a good man would be no more worthy of praise than a blooming flower. But, in the light of the scriptures, who can accept such a position? Let us trace the Biblical answers and learn the purpose of man’s creation.
Jehovah Created Us For His Own Glory
Basic to our study is the fact that Jehovah has the inherent right of the Creator to create as it pleases Him. “Nay but, 0 man, who art thou that repliest against God? Shall the thing formed say to him that formed it, Why didst thou make me thus” (Romans 9:20)? Consequently, when God created, he did so to his own praise and glory. “Worthy art thou, our Lord and our God, to receive the glory and the honor and the power: for thou didst create all things, and because of thy will they were, and were created” (Revelation 4:11). But should we not consider that the highest order of praise and glory to God is that which is freely given? While it is true that the “heavens declare the glory of God” (Psalm 19:1), they do so by constraint (as robots) and not by choice. How, or in what fashion could the Lord bring into existence a creature that offered its Creator praise and glory not of constraint but by free choice? Is it not in the creation of a free-will being; something that could recognize the righteous nature of the Creator and, while able to act of his own will, willingly submit to God’s will? Is not man, therefore, the expression of God’s grand design to have a free-will creature, a higher order than anything on earth, to be able to choose to serve and glorify God with a free heart? “Why did God make free-will creatures? The Bible does not give an explicit answer to this guestion. We infer from other teaching in the Scripture that God’s chief purpose and desire were to have creatures who would love, serve, and glorify him of their free choice and not by coercion or manipulation. We infer this, for example, from the fact that the first and greatest commandment is that we should love God with all our hearts and minds (Matthew 22:37). The fact that this is the most important thing that we can do suggests that it is what God desires from his creation more than anything else. Giving his creatures free will was a necessary means to this end,” l We may also infer the truthfulness of this proposition from the projected destiny of those who choose to serve God: heaven. John sees the “holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, made ready as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a great voice out of the throne saying, Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and he shall dwell with them, and they shall be his peoples, and God himself shall be with them, and be their God” (Revelation 21:2-3). Though sin interrupted the grand plan of creation, it is yet achieved through Christ. Paul wrote “to fulfill the word of God, even the mystery which hath been hid for ages and generations: but now hath it been manifested to his saints, to whom God was pleased to make known what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Colossians 1: 25-27). We conclude, therefore, that God made man “a little lower than the angels, crowned him with glory and honor” (Hebrews 2:7), instilled within him free will and the ability to choose righteousness, all to His own praise and glory. Man reaches no higher goal than when he serves God. “The whole (duty) of man” is to “fear God, and keep his commandments” (Ecclesiastes 12:13). “Unto thee, 0 Jehovah, do I lift up my soul” (Psalm 25:1). “I will give thanks unto Jehovah with my whole heart; I will show forth all thy marvellous works” (Psalm 9:1). With these beautiful verses, I can add my own choice of praise, freely given, that “in me, Lord, thy purpose of creation is vindicated. I freely choose to serve thee.”
The Risk of Free Will
“A command makes sense only if the recipient is capable of doing either what is required or forbidden, in other words, only if he is a responsible being. So the divine prohibition implies that man is morally free. Adam and Eve were free to render or refuse obedience to God. Since, as we noted earlier, freedom involves the presence of genuine alternatives, God could not give man the freedom to obey and at the same time withhold the power to disobey. ‘Freedom to obey’ is nothing if it is not also the freedom to disobey. Consequently, had man been incapable of disobedience, his fulfillment of God’s requirements would not have been voluntary. And the word moralcould not apply.
“The affirmation of moral freedom requires an open view of reality. When God gave man moral freedom, He was leaving undecided whether or not man would obey. In other words, He left open man’s response to God’s expectations of him. God might, presumably, have constructed man to respond to Him in only one way. But in that case moral experience would have been impossible, because man would not have been responsible for his behavior. Man is a morally free being, and the content of his decision to obey or disobey must have been indefinite until man himself made the decision.” 2
“The fact that human beings (and angels before them) were created with free will, though, means that there was the possibility of or potential for evil. For if man is to have the ability freely to choose to love God, he must also be given the capacity to choose to hate and reject God. Thus in a sense the creation of free-will beings entailed a risk. But God was willing to risk the free choice of evil in order to have freely-chosen love and worship.” 3
With these quotations, we introduce the thorniest of the problems of free will: sin. Why did God make man with the ability to sin? Why did God not make man with only the ability to do good? Did the Lord, as the creeds affirm, in contradictory fashion, “by the most wise and holy counsel of his own will, freely and unchangeably ordain whatsoever comes to pass; (and here is the contradictory part, tr) yet so as thereby neither is God the author of sin, nor is violence offered to the will of the creatures, nor is the liberty or contingency of second causes taken away, but rather established” (Westminster Confession of Faith, III:1)? Such statements beg the question before us and raise others. Is God responsible for man’s sin as the First Cause, thereby responsible for man’s eternal damnation since all creation was done unchangeable and by foreordination of “whatsoever comes to pass?” Or is man accountible for his actions precisely because God made him a free-will creature?
Since God is sovereign, He has the absolute right to do as he pleases. Yet we must conclude that he will not act in discord with his nature, even in creation. As James says,“Let no man say when he is tempted, I am tempted of God, for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempteth no man” (James 1:12). John adds,“God is light, and in him is no darkness at all” (I Jn. 1:5). We can safely conclude, therefore, that God could not, because of his righteous nature, create immutably and unchangeably a man who must sin and cannot help himself except to do as created, then hold that man accountible for that sin. The alternative, presented in the Bible, is that God, as a sovereign, created man as a free, moral being so that man might choose to serve God, yet, by the nature of free will, provide: the potential (risk) that man would choose evil. In the moral sense, therefore, man himself is sovereign, in time (not eternity). Does not Ecclesiastes address the fact that man may act as he wills “under the sun” but that he should remember that “for all these things, God will bring thee into judgment” (11:10). Will we do that for which we have been created, or will we go astray? As the Psalmist said, “Jehovah looked down from heaven upon the children of men to see if there were any that did understand, that did seek after God” (14:2). Only man, of all the creatures of God, can say “no” to God. This rebelliousness is the risk of free will.
I believe that the story of Job is an illustration of this very principle: “Will man willingly serve his Creator as God intended?” If you recall, Satan accused Job of serving God only because it was convenient (God made Job wealthy). God had stated that Job was a “perfect and upright man, one that feareth God” The Devil’s accusation was: “Does Job fear God for nought!” (1:9)? What Satan was charging against Job (and, consequently, against all men) is that man does not choose to serve God because it is right and good, but that he serves God only for what he can get. God then permits Satan to test Job’s free will (and he is testing ours today) to see if he will serve God out of a moral sense that it is right to do so even when suffering in the world that God created. In Job’s case, God’s purpose in creation was vindicated: the creature chose to serve the Creator, glorifying the works of His hands. Our case is still pending today. Will I serve God because I am able to do so with a free will that recognizes right and wrong and chooses the right?
The Origin of Sin
What is the origin of sin; where did it come from? If God is infinite in righteousness, how could sin originate in His universe? One of the arguments of the atheist against the existence of God is the reality of evil. The creeds have not adequately dealt with this issue of sin’s origin, as we have seen, falsely accusing God of unchangeably ordaining whatsoever comes to pass, yet ignoring the consequential result that such charges God with creating sin. I believe the answer to the questions about sin lies in a proper understanding of the free will nature of man as a moral creature of God. Putting what we have found in numerical sequence for clarification, we find:
1. God is a sovereign Creator.
2. He has made many creatures that are not free or moral. These creatures glorify God by their existence (Psalm 19:1).
3. God chose to create yet another creature that would be both free and moral, man. But to be truly free, man must be able to obey or disobey, possessing the capability of and the potential for sin.
4. Man did disobey and, as an accountible being, is responsible for sin. He did not have to sin, but chose to do so (Romans 5:12), with the attendant consequences.
After affirming that God cannot be tempted with evil and that he tempts no man, James supports the above conclusions when he concludes, “but each man is tempted when he is drawn away by his own lust, and enticed. Then the lust, when it hath conceived, beareth sin: and the sin, when it is fullgrown, bringeth forth death”(James 1:13-15). Herein lies the origin of sin: within the human heart that has the highest potential of praise to God or the blackest depth of sin’s degradation. Which shall it be? That is the work of choice, will, determination. All too often, we have chosen to do wrong and are in the bondage of sin (Romans 7:24). But let there be no mistake as to the origin of sin or of man’s accountibility for it. Recognizing the potential damnation of my soul through the choice to do evil, let me rather rejoice that I have the parallel potential to to achieve a “greater weight of eternal glory” (2 Corinthians 4:17), working God’s will in my life. Heaven will surely be worth it all.
1. What The Bible Says About God the Ruler, by John Cottrell (College Press), p. 398.
2. God’s Foreknowledge and Man’s Free Will, by Richard Rich, (Bethany Press), Chap. 3, p. 38.
3. Op. Cit.
The Use of Reason to Understand the Scriptures
Or - Is Man Too Depraved to Understand?
Tom M. Roberts
Many attempt to excuse religious division on the basis that “we cannot all understand the Bible alike.” For centuries, denominations have been arguing that we must be permitted the right to individual interpretation of the word of God since no two people can possibly agree on essential points of doctrine. The result has been the “chaos of the cults.” Each man and denomination does that which is right in his own eyes and there is no sure standard in their religion.
Currently, some gospel preachers, who have (in the past) had their feet securely fixed in the “faith once for all delivered” (Jude 3), are casting themselves into the sea of human speculation through a disavowal of Bible principles which establish Biblical authority. To put it concisely, some are turning away from the use of approved apostolic examples and necessary inferences to prove what is that “good and acceptable will of God” (1 Tim. 2:3). Not only so, but they are shaking the faith of many and unsettling churches as to the limits of fellowship. Having negated the use of these two principles of Bible study, they conclude that churches of Christ are too narrow-minded and legalistic in refusing to fellowship some who disagree with us only in matters regulated by examples and inferences. The truth regarding the Lord’s supper, sponsoring churches, benevolent works, the eldership, and other things cannot be clearly ascertained, it is opined, therefore we cannot withhold fellowship from those who disagree.
The basic fallacy in this malady affecting so many is that some do not believe that God expects us to use reason in understanding His will. If it be so, as it is asserted, that only express commands have binding authority in the scriptures, man stands dumb before his Creator, unable to receive intelligent communication unless stated in primitive, elementary syllables: “thou shalt” and “thou shalt not.” Involved in this controversy is a basic misunderstanding of the nature of God’s communication with man and a misunderstanding of ability to comprehend due to total depravity. Before you jump to any conclusions and diminish your respect for examples and inferences, think this through with the native intelligence God has given to us all.
God Intends That Man Use Reason With The Scriptures
Can man reason from one point to another, drawing conclusions as he goes, arriving at a point intended by God? Does God include man’s ability to reason and deduce (which He gave to man) in the scheme of redemption? Does God hold man responsible for inferring exactly what God implies in His revelation? Is there any truth that is bound by an example? Does our Father only speak in binding terms through commands so clear as to require no reasoning before obedience? And, conversely, are doctrinal matters so complex that there is no sure right or wrong since inferences are required? Brethren, this is the root of the problem before us and we must deal with it. If the Lord has not spoken relevantly, specifically and bindingly in any way other than commands, then we must surely stop drawing lines or limits beyond that. We must stop our insistence on the use of examples and inferences and plead ignorance and inability before the throne of Grace. Nothing can become a matter of importance unless God has pointedly, specifically and beyond equivocation commanded it to us. That it applies to us must be beyond deduction. (Of course, one might ask where this would lead us, logically, if we followed it to its ultimate conclusion. Yet, we will never know, since we can’t reason it out! Makes one feel rather like a mule with blinders on, seeing neither to the right nor left, responding only to “gee” and “haw” – simple commands.) Quite frankly, such a position seems as indefensible as the man who insists only on the authority of the words of Jesus in the “Red Letter Editions.” It is the height of folly to suppose that the will of Jesus is contained only in the “red letters” and not in the“apostles’ doctrine” (Acts 2:42; 2 John 9-11). Equally foolish is the position that one is bound only by the simple commands of the Bible and that man does not have the intelligence to receive communication from God in any other form. I wish to state emphatically that:
God has spoken,
He has spoken to man in more than one form of communication and
He will hold man accountable for understanding and obeying that revealed message.
Man has an innate ability to understand since God made him upright and not totally depraved.
My position can be outlined in this manner:
God has spoken in the Scriptures through:
1. Express Commands
3. Approved Examples
to deliver “the faith once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3)
Man hears and uses
1. Native Intelligence
2. Reasoning Ability
to obey or disobey
Man’s Native Intelligence
By the use of “native intelligence” I refer to man as God made him, as a human being. In the Garden, God walked and talked with Adam and continued to talk with others after the fall and expulsion. Through the prophets, both oral and written, God has continued to speak and even now speaks through Jesus Christ (Heb. 1:1ff). There has never been a time in all the Bible, even to heathen nations (confer Daniel, etc.) when it was indicated in any fashion that man was not capable of receiving and understanding the will of God. Such an idea is inimical to the very nature of man. Benjamin Franklin, the pioneer preacher, stated in one of his recorded sermons that the “Bible, as it is, was given to man, as he is.” I believe that to be the truth. Why would God communicate with man, as He has through all the ages, if man is not able to receive intelligent thoughts? Man is not born totally depraved, unable to perceive or reason, as Calvinism teaches. Primitive Baptists and others (who accept the doctrine of total depravity) hold that it is useless to preach to men who are “dead” in sin because they are unable to understand without miraculous help from God, a direct operation of the Holy Spirit. However, the entire Bible is predicated on the innate ability of man to hear and obey God. It did not take a miraculous operation on the hearers in Acts 2, but on the speakers (it was a gift of “tongues,” not “ears”). Man is to be “not foolish, but understand the will of the Lord” (Eph. 5:17). Paul said that “when ye read, ye may perceive my understanding in the mystery of Christ” (Eph. 3:4).
Man’s Reasoning Ability
In addition to being able to receive intelligent statements from God, man is also able to reason about such messages and draw conclusions. Basic to our study, and this ancient controversy, is whether or not God holds man accountable for conclusionsdrawn from something other than (or even from) plain and simple commands. If one admits that God has spoken authoritatively and bindingly in any method other than commands, the controversy ends here and now. If it is contended that only simple commands apply, some questions need to be answered: How does one know this? By what reasoning process did one learn of it? Where is such an express command that states that principle? How can one be sure it applies to us today. Does God hold one accountable for one’s reasoning ability or not?
Definition and Use in the Scriptures
“Reason” is defined by Vine thusly: “To bring together different reasons and reckon them up; to reason.” Thayer adds: “To bring together different reasons, to reckon up the reasons, to reason, revolve in one’s mind, deliberate.” Now, brethren, “reason” with me for a minute.The question at hand is whether or not God demands that we reason (to bring together different matters, to revolve in one’s mind and deliberate as to their relevancy, making proper application) in the scriptures. I maintain that He does. And further, that He has done so in the question under consideration: examples and inferences. It seems to me that a denial of these matters and a conclusion of all truth being comprehended under commands does away with any need for deliberation toward the scriptures. If not, why not? And if one admits that deliberation is required at all, even with regard to commands, how can one deny drawing inferences from implications and examples?
Teaching by Implication
Learning by Inferences
A teacher teaches by implying a truth; the hearer draws the inference. This is a form of communication and we refer to it often as “exegesis” (as opposed to “eisegesis”). It is better stated to say that the Bible teaches by implication, rather than saying the Bible teaches by necessary inference. It should be recognized that not all inferences are “necessary,” but some surely are. When scripture binds from an implication, the inference from that becomes necessary and it is the only conclusion one can infer.Jesus definitely taught by implication and expected His listeners to understand (infer) His message, even when they were His enemies, must less disciples. The truth implied (and the inference drawn from the implication) is the standard of judgment. We are accountable for the implications of scripture. Read Luke 20:1-7 carefully. In this passage, the Pharisees asked Jesus a question: “By what authority does thou these things?” He did not answer directly, but obliquely, through another question to his enemies. “I also will ask you a question; and tell me: the baptism of John, was it from heaven, or from men?” Now, those who reject human reasoning as binding, wrestle with this. Deliberate a little. “Reckon up” some things. A question was asked and it was answered. But the answer was by implication. Verse 5 says that “they reasoned with themselves.” Did what? They deliberated the question, putting different reasons together and came up with the answer Jesus expected of them. They reasoned, “If we say ‘From Heaven,’ He will say, ‘Why then did you not believe him?’ But if we say, ‘From men,’ all the people will stone us, for they are persuaded that John was a prophet.’” Theyinferred exactly what Jesus implied! Faced with the dilemma, they took the dishonorable way out and lied, saying that they “knew not whence it was” (v. 7). But they were accountable to God for the truth they rejected.Does not the prophet Isaiah demand as much when he implored: “Come now, and let us reason together”(1:18). It is said of Paul that he “reasoned with them out of the scriptures” (Acts 17:2), that he “reasoned in the synagogues” (18:4) and he “reasoned” with Felix,“of righteousness, temperance and judgment to come” (24:25). Felix drew the correct inferences from what Paul taught and trembled at the truth it revealed. It is often said in the Gospels that Jesus’ hearers “reasoned with themselves” regarding His teaching. Did he expect anything less of them? How were they held accountable unless they inferred from Jesus’ implications? In Romans 12:1, we find an appeal (not an express command) to present our bodies as a “living sacrifice” to God. On what basis does Paul beseech this? Because it is our “reasonable” service (a service appealing to reason) and Thayer adds that the word could be translated “rational” and comes from the same root word as others in this study.
No Other Conclusion
Brethren, how can there be any other conclusion? Which among us has so little intelligence that he cannot see that God expects us to put different facts together and draw conclusions upon which we act in service to Him? Surely all can understand that when we infer just what God has implied, we will have the truth.As one writer put it so well: “Again, let me state as clearly and emphatically as possible that I am not suggesting that we are bound by my inference or any one else’s for that matter, but we are most assuredly bound by God’s implication” (The Spiritual Sword, “Binding By Implication,” Robert Camp, Vol. 1, No. 4, July, 1970, p. 49).Also, “The reason that I am bound by God’s word is not that I read it but that He wrote it. The reason I am bound by those things implicit in His word is not that I inferred it but that He implied it” (ibid, p. 50).
Godly implications and examples are not to be paralleled with opinions. We are speaking of approved apostolic examples and necessary inferences. Other studies have been (and will be) made as to which examples and inferences are binding and how to determine that; it is not to the point of this study. But it is vital to our becoming a full-grown man in Christ that we learn to “rightly divide” (2 Tim. 2:15) the scriptures. They are not always divided for us! Some things are spiritually discerned only as we study (1 Cor. 2:14-15). We must have “our senses exercised to discern between good and evil” (Heb. 5:14) and all spiritual food is not milk, but sometimes meat, which requires more “discerning” that some would permit.
Some Study Questions
Since there are those who currently question the authority of examples and inferences as binding, let us propose some questions for consideration (reasoning, deliberation). Let us know how one would handle these matters if the validity of binding truth is limited to expressed commands.
How does one arrive at the conclusion that the plan of salvation includes all these actions: hearing, believing, repenting, confessing the name of Jesus and being baptized? How do we conclude that they must be in that order?
How does one prove that we must take the Lord’s supper each first day of the week?
Is the “sponsoring church” arrangement authorized in the scriptures? Is it wrong to oppose it as unscriptural and, if so, upon what basis?
Must elders be appointed in every church or may elders be appointed over many churches in one city? Is there an expressed command that teaches on this or must we infer something?
Are there any implications in the Bible from which we must draw necessary inferences and be held accountable for the inferences?
Are there any approved examples which must be duplicated today? How do we learn of the binding force of examples?
If express commands are the only means of learning what is authoritative, how does one determine which commands apply to modern Christians and which to peculiar, historical and cultural settings of the first century Christians?
How would one prove that missionary societies are sinful?
Since our individual names are not found in the Bible, how does one determine that the Bible is applicable to anyone today?
It is recognized that binding where God has not bound has been a source of controversy, conflict and division ever since the first century itself. Certainly, only God has the power to bind and loose (Mt. 16:19). If we are guilty of either binding or loosing where God has not done so, we will be condemned and will contribute to division. Yet it is inescapable that God expects us to read and reason from the scriptures to the correct understanding of God’s will. It is hoped that this will make a contribution toward that understanding.
The "DO" Passages
Bill H. Reeves
The big issue today in so-called Christianity is conditionality. Is there something to do (conditions) to be saved (man's part in salvation) from our past sins (Eph. 2:8, through faith), or is salvation unconditional? (God does it all by unconditional predestination even before one is born, Calvinism)?
Some denominationalists speak of "sola gratia" (grace alone). These are the Calvinists who speak of "grace alone;" that salvation is wholly of God. So, man can't do a thing about his salvation; it is all of God, they tell us. From this comes the doctrine of unconditional predestination of Calvinism. Such a doctrine makes God a respecter of persons, arbitrarily and unconditionally destining some to salvation and the rest to eternal hell. Believe it who can! But Rom. 2:11 and Acts 10:34 deny this false position. Hell is for those who "obey not the truth" (Rom. 2:8).
The average Protestant church teaches salvation by faith alone ("only believe") but they must not believe it because they add other factors to the equation (one also has to hear and repent, they affirm). We read of some who believed but would not confess it lest they be put out of the synagogue, they who loved the glory of men more than the glory of God (Jn. 6:42), but the average Protestant won't say that they were saved! Why not? They believed! The devils believe and shudder (Jas. 2:19); does this obtain salvation for them? All say, No. Why not, since they believe?
Such are the contradictions of human doctrines. Dear reader, have you been deceived by them? Let's together look at the "Do" passages and learn the truth.
IF THERE IS SOMETHING TO DO TO BE SAVED, THEN SALVATION IS CONDITIONAL! This is axiomatic.
What do these passages tell us?
1. Acts 2:37, "Now when they heard this, they were pricked in their heart, and said unto Peter and the rest of the apostles, Brethren, what shall we do?"
They had heard the gospel preached by the apostles and believed that they had crucified the Son of God. They had been pricked in the heart by that reality and obviously they believed the truth because they asked what to do to be saved.
The apostle Peter truly understood them for he told them what to do! Repent and be baptized unto the remission of their sins (ver. 38). They were not told that there is nothing to do, that man can't save himself! They were not told to "pray the sinner's prayer." They were not told to "only believe," because they had already believed. What were they told to do? Were you, as a believer, told that when you wanted to be saved from your past sins?
Protestant churches today won't tell them what the inspired apostle Peter told them, lest they be (falsely) accused of preaching "salvation by works"!
When I am asked that question by people who, having heard the gospel, believe, I tell them what Peter told those many on Pentecost. There is something to do to be saved: obey the gospel. Jesus is the Author of all those who obey him (Heb. 5:8).
2. Acts 9:6, "but rise, and enter into the city, and it shall be told thee what thou must do." This is what Jesus told Saul of Tarsus on the road to Damascus. Jesus knew that salvation is conditional; there is something to do! Jesus didn't tell him there on that road what to do, because it is his will that preaching be done (1 Cor. 1:21). In Damascus a preacher told Saul what to do and he did it (Acts 22:16)! He, as a penitent believer, was baptized and washed away his sins!
If there is something that man must do to be saved, is that salvation "by works"? No, it is salvation by obedience. Is Jesus the Author of salvation to all who obey him (Heb. 5:8,9), or to all who don't obey him? The answer is simple!
Looking at Acts 9:6, Saul of Tarsus had been persecuting Jesus; now Jesus tells him that he must do something! It was not an optional matter, but a "must." Isn't that what the text says, or am I making it up? Jesus would not tell him directly and personally; a preacher in Damascus must be the one to tell him what he must do. (There's a reason for that: 1 Cor. 1:21). Paul wanted salvation so badly that he did exactly as he was told to do because he believed Jesus, showed his repentance by fasting and praying in Damascus, and being baptized to wash away his sins (Acts 22:16).
3. Acts 16:30,31 "and brought them out and said, Sirs, what must I do to be saved? 31, And they said, Believe on the Lord Jesus, and thou shalt be saved, thou and thy house." This pagan jailor recognized his lost state and asked what to do to be saved. Was he told: "There's nothing to do to be saved?" Was he told: "Quit trying to save yourself by works?" No, he was told what to do; he was told to believe. Believe is something that one does! It certainly is not something done by the law of Moses; it is a "work of God." Jn. 6:28,29, "They said therefore unto him, What must we do, that we may work the works of God? 29 Jesus answered and said unto them, This is the work of God, that ye believe on him whom he hath sent". Believing on Jesus is a work because it is something that a man chooses to do! It is not a work of the law of Moses, nor of human origin, but it is a work! It is what God wants man to do. God made salvation conditional; Calvin made it totally unconditional, having God do it all and man does nothing! Many millions have been deceived by that false doctrine since the days of the Protestant Reformation.
Some human denominations contradict themselves by telling the alien sinner that there is nothing to do to be saved and then telling him to believe. Which is it? Nothing to do, or do this: believe? My, friend, ask your "pastor" which it is! Don't take a contradiction for an answer. He can't have it both ways!
After telling the jailor to believe on Jesus (Acts 16:31) the next verse rightly says: "And they spake the word of the Lord unto him." Why did Paul and Silas do that? Because faith comes by hearing (Rom. 10:17) and he needed to hear what Jesus wants a man to believe!
The jailor did believe on Jesus, showed his repentance by washing their stripes, and he and all his family were baptized immediately, the same hour of the night, as inconveniently as that was in a pagan jail at that time in history. Why didn't they wait till the light of the next day? Because they wanted salvation immediately while they could have it! Human churches don't press urgency on baptism; most of them wait until there is a good number of "candidates" for baptism, and then they make a big show of it! Why the nonnecessity for urgency to be baptized? Because they teach that baptism is not necessary for salvation. What a shame!
After their baptism the jailor and his family prepared food and they all ate and rejoiced greatly, having believed in God (ver. 34). Question: Did they rejoice before or after their baptism? You just read the answer! In the churches, teaching salvation by faith only, the rejoicing is done before baptism, because they believe that baptism does not wash away sins (Acts 22:16), that it is not for the remission of sins (Acts 2:38). They have people rejoicing too soon! Why rejoice before being saved? The apostle Peter tells us that "baptism doth now save you" (1 Pet. 3:21), but sectarian preachers tell us that it does not. I'll take Peter's word for it, not man's! Dear reader, whose word do you take? As long as baptism, on the word of Christ, stands before salvation (Mark 16:16), I'll leave it there and let the sectarian preacher dare to put it after salvation! He baptizes "saved" people!
4. Acts 22:10, "And I said, What shall I do, Lord? And the Lord said unto me, Arise, and go into Damascus; and there it shall be told thee of all things which are appointed for thee to do." Jesus was not a Baptist for sure, because he told a man, who wanted to know what to do to be saved where to go to learn what to do! Now the Baptist will tell you that what you need to do is only believe, but in Damascus Saul of Tarsus was not told that! He was told to arise and be baptized and wash away his sins. Saul was not told to "pray the sinner's prayer," as some Baptists will tell a person. Why not simply tell a sinner what Saul of Tarsus was told? He is our example of conversion (1 Tim. 1:16)! Jesus himself, in the Great Commission, had told the apostles what to preach: "Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to the whole creation. He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that disbelieveth shall be condemned," (Mar 16:16). If I read that correctly, Jesus did not say: "He that believeth shall be saved and later ought to be baptized as a sign of his salvation." But that is the way that the Baptist preacher is taught in the Seminary. Jesus put salvation after believe and be baptized, not in between them! How do you read it? If you put it after the two commands, believe and baptized, be careful, for most likely the Baptist preacher will call you a "Campbellite." (He is taught that, also, or at least that is a common response).
Baptism is not an option, but a command (Acts 10:48). Can one expect salvation and not obey an apostolic command? Of course not. If he can, how many other commands can he disobey and be saved? The gospel proclaims the terms of salvation, and each one must be obeyed: (1) hear the gospel, for believing comes from hearing (Acts 15:7), (2) believe that Jesus is the Christ (Acts 16:31; Rom. 10:9), (3) repent of past sins (Luke 13:3; Acts 2:38), (4) confess one's faith in Christ (Rom. 10:9,10), and be baptized for the remission, or pardon, of sins (Acts 2:38). Salvation is conditional and these are the conditions. Satan is daily causing many to be deceived in the matter, believing either that there are no conditions or that the only one is belief in Christ (though they add several more: repentance, confession, say the sinner's prayer, etc.)!
Let's look at a principle set forth by Jesus. Although it represents a case that transpired during the personal ministry of Christ, and therefore under the Mosaic dispensation, and before the gospel age in which we today live, it represents an eternal principal: God's salvation is conditional!
Luke 10:25, "And behold, a certain lawyer stood up and made trial of him, saying, Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?"
This lawyer (teacher of the law of Moses), although making trial of Jesus, understood that salvation is conditional, and so he asked about what he should do to inherit eternal life. Jesus answered his question, ill asked, by asking him what the Old Testament Scriptures say to the Jew. The lawyer gave the answer according to the Scriptures and Jesus told him that the answer was correct. 10:28, "Thou hast answered right: this do, and thou shall live." Jesus affirmed that there is something to be done for salvation, even under the law of Moses.
This conversation took place before the gospel dispensation began, before Jesus died on the cross, was raised from the dead, and ascended to heaven, and telling him what any Jew under the law of Moses (and before the entrance of the gospel dispensation after the death and resurrection of Jesus) needed to do. Notice in the chapter about obedient faith, Hebrews 11, that after the phrase, "by faith," repeatedly there follows a verb of action that the person did! That is the way that salvation is by faith, man's part in salvation ("through faith," Eph. 2:8, that works, or obeys). Today, under the gospel dispensation, the alien sinner it told to believe on Jesus, repent of his sins, confess his faith in Christ and be baptized for the remission of his sins. Salvation has always been conditional. Conditionality cannot be denied! We see "do" throughout the Scriptures. Note some: Gen. 4:7; 18:19,25; 42:18; Exod. 18:23; 19:8; 23:2; etc., etc. "Do" means conditionality!
Dear reader: have you obeyed the conditions of the gospel? If I can be of spiritual help to you, let me know!