Got back to one of the books in my large “half-read” pile this week: Mark Jones’ Antinomianism.
Dr. Jones, in describing the role of obedience in our assurance, offers this syllogism:
“Major Premise: Those who keep God’s commandments love Christ.
Minor Premise: By the grace of God, I keep God’s commandments.
Conclusion: I love Christ” (pg. 103).
(For the scriptural support for the major premise, see Exodus 20:6; Deuteronomy 5:10; 7:9; 11:1; 30:16; Joshua 22:5; Nehemiah 1:5; Daniel 9:4; John 14:15,21-24; 15:10-14; 1 John 2:3-5; 5:2,3.)
Jones then points to Westminster Confession of Faith 16.1,2 as the reflective of this syllogism: “Good works are only such as God hath commanded in His holy Word, and not such as, without the warrant whereof, are devised by men out of blind zeal, or upon any pretense of good intention. These good works, done in obedience to God’s commandments, are the fruits and evidences of a true and lively faith: and by them believers manifest their thankfulness, strengthen their assurance, edify their brethren, adorn the profession of the gospel, stop the mouths of the adversaries, and glorify God, Whose workmanship they are, created in Christ Jesus thereunto, that, having their fruit unto holiness, they may have the end, eternal life” (emphasis mine).
One assurance that we are saved in Christ is our desire to do what the Bible commands for our lives. How do we know that Christ is our Lord unto salvation, and that our confession is true (Romans 10:9)? We honor Him as Lord by obeying His commands and embrace His commission to teach other disciples to do the same (Matthew 28:18-20).
There is a dangerous side to this, of course, that deserves mention. What about those who are vainly pursuing a non-Christian salvation? It is only biblical Christianity that seeks salvation solely through faith in the accomplished work of salvation, apart from obedience to the moral Law. All world religions and non-biblical “christian-esque” religions seek salvation through works. This is the “impossible” human salvation spoken of by Jesus (Matthew 19:25,26//Mark 10:26,27//Luke 18:26,27). No one is justified by the works of the Law (Romans 3:20,28; Galatians 2:16; 3:11; 5:4).
Some others may seek salvation through impressive spiritual deeds that are not commanded by the Law. Remember the confession that true good works are those “commanded in His holy Word...done in obedience to God’s commandments.” Consider the words of the Lord concerning “false prophets” (Matthew 7:15) with impressive spiritual resumes: “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father Who is in heaven will enter. Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; [as it says in Psalm 6:8,] depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness’” (Matthew 7:21-23).
Neither Law-keeping nor good spiritual deeds will achieve salvation. Only by faith in Christ’s all-sufficiency will God “reckon...righteousness” to us (Genesis 15:6; cf. Romans 4:3,9,22; Galatians 3:6; James 2:23). The Law’s role is to lead us to Christ. It does this by showing us our sinfulness and the only atonement for that sin – Jesus Christ’s self-sacrifice (Romans 3:19,20; 7:7-12; Galatians 3:19-25; 1 Timothy 1:8-11).
But what role does the Law play after our salvation? This is not an easy issue, and has been one of much controversy throughout Church history. I don’t pretend to be the one to solve it to everyone’s satisfaction, but Dr. Jones’ (and the W.C.F.’s) connection between Christian Law-keeping and assurance was worth highlighting.
This Christian obedience, while a reason for assurance, is not to be a cause for our boast or self-confidence (sadly, many confuse spiritual self-confidence with assurance). We are sealed in the new covenant by the blood of Jesus (Luke 22:20; 1 Corinthians 11:25) – the precious reminder of our observance of the Lord’s Supper. We don’t hold ourselves there by our good works. We are held there by the sacrifice of Christ. One of the promises of the new covenant is God’s work in putting His Law on our hearts and a desire/ability to obey:
- “Moreover the LORD your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your descendants, to love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, so that you may live” (Deuteronomy 30:6). Apart from the work of God Himself on the human heart, we could not obey the “greatest commandment” (Deuteronomy 6:5; cf. Matthew 22:37; Mark 12:33; Luke 10:27).
- “‘Behold, days are coming,’ declares the LORD, ‘when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah, not like the covenant which I made with their fathers in the day I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, My covenant which they broke, although I was a husband to them,’ declares the LORD. ‘But this is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel after those days,’ declares the LORD, ‘I will put My law within them and on their heart I will write it; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. They will not teach again, each man his neighbor and each man his brother, saying, “Know the LORD,” for they will all know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them,’ declares the LORD, ‘for I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more’” (Jeremiah 31:31-34; cf. Hebrews 8:8-12; 10:16,17). We lay claim to this promise when we observe the Lord’s Supper, since (as we’ve already seen above), with the cup we pronounce our sealing in this “new covenant” by the blood of Jesus.
- “They shall be My people, and I will be their God; and I will give them one heart and one way, that they may fear Me always, for their own good and for the good of their children after them. I will make an everlasting covenant with them that I will not turn away from them, to do them good; and I will put the fear of Me in their hearts so that they will not turn away from Me” (Jeremiah 32:38-40). There is a connection between the fear of the LORD and obedience to the Law (Deuteronomy 17:19; 28:58; 31:12).
- “And I will give them one heart, and put a new spirit within them. And I will take the heart of stone out of their flesh and give them a heart of flesh, that they may walk in My statutes and keep My ordinances and do them. Then they will be My people, and I shall be their God” (Ezekiel 11:19,20).
- “Then I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your filthiness and from all your idols. Moreover, I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will be careful to observe My ordinances” (Ezekiel 36:25-27).
All of these passages teach a God-created obedience from the heart in His true people. In this way, obedience to God’s moral Law is a source of assurance, since it is the work of God Himself.
While the passages above were from the Old Testament, Christian obedience as a gracious work of God is a common New Testament theme, as well. I love these verses and quote them often. We need this constant reminder to daily kill the Pharisee in us all (that part of ourselves tempted to take pride in the good works, Luke 18:11,12):
- “But he who practices the truth comes to the Light, so that his deeds may be manifested as having been wrought in God” (John 3:21).
- “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them” (Ephesians 2:8-10).
- “So then, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure” (Philippians 2:12,13).
- “Now the God of peace, Who brought up from the dead the great Shepherd of the sheep through the blood of the eternal covenant, even Jesus our Lord, equip you in every good thing to do His will, working in us that which is pleasing in His sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be the glory forever and ever. Amen” (Hebrews 13:20,21).