Luther, Erasmus, and Weird Things Done With Grace

The next book on my pile is a book that’s been there a long time: The Bondage of the Will by Martin Luther. I haven’t read much of it, I’m still in the Introduction. The Introduction is long. I’m going to be reading this book for a long time!

Luther’s Bondage of the Will is him responding to the ideas of Erasmus, a theologian type who didn’t like stuffy theologians. Erasmus was more of a mystic than an academic. Luther represents academic theology. They liked each other but had disagreements about grace and free will.

The Introduction says:

Erasmus followed Jerome in interpreting the justification by works against which Paul writes as merely justification by outward ceremonial observance. Luther, believing that any kind of effort or any contribution man may attempt to make toward his own salvation is works-righteousness, and therefore under condemnation, preferred the thorough-going exegesis of Augustine, who magnifies the grace of God.

Let me just pause to let you know how much I’d like to puke now.

This is going to be a long book.

I’m no scholar on Erasmus, I imagine I will learn more about what he taught by reading this book. I am not defending him since I don’t know what he said.

I would like to point out the trend I’ve noted in my time in Christianity that is plainly evident in the above quote.

Human effort is the opposite of God’s grace.

That’s the underlying assumption of the quote. Therefore, the more you emphasize grace; the less you’ll emphasize human effort.

This is a handy way to promote sloth and laziness as spiritual virtue.

This has been my experience in the church. I’ve seen Grace-Happy people try to outdo one another in how little they do. Their complete absence of any virtuous effort proves how much they love God and His grace.

In fact, some even go so far as to say that sinning is better than doing good works. Sin requires grace; good works make grace unnecessary and lead to self-sufficient pride.

“Should we sin that grace may abound?” Paul asked. His answer was no. Much of Christianity’s answer has been, “Yeah, actually, that sounds reasonable.”

It is clearly true we are not saved by works. It is also equally clearly true that good works always come out of salvation. Ephesians 2:8-9 are always followed by an Ephesians 2:10.

“Faith without works is dead” is how James put it.

Luther wanted to throw the Book of James in the furnace.

Faith without obedience and works is not faith. It just isn’t. By faith people do what God says. If you don’t do what God says, then you’re not exercising faith.

The Bible is clear on this point.

People who like to sin muddy the clearness of the issue. We like to think that what we do doesn’t matter. God tells us what we do matters quite a bit; every judgment in the Bible is based on works. There are no exceptions.

But the popular belief in Christianity is that you doing stuff means you hate grace and are trying to merit your own salvation.

People need to read their Bibles more.

God provided the Gospel of Jesus Christ as the only means by which we can be saved. It’s the just way to justify the ungodly. We give ourselves to Him, to His grace, to save us, to deliver us from sin. One of the main reasons you come to the Gospel of Jesus Christ is to be freed from sin. Upon receiving His grace and the new birth, becoming a partaker of the divine nature, you can now use all that God has given you to pursue Christlikeness and spiritual growth.

If there is no change in character, if righteousness doesn’t show up, then you didn’t get God’s grace. If there’s no new life, you’ve not become a servant of righteousness, there’s no sanctification and progress in faith, then grace didn’t show up.

You don’t prove you have God’s grace by how little you do; you prove you have God’s grace because you are able to do, and desire to do, what God says.

And God is able to make all grace abound toward you; that ye, always having all sufficiency in all things, may abound to every good work
–2 Corinthians 9:8

Converting To What?

Christianity is divided into multiple doctrinal camps. Division reigns supreme. Many people wonder why this is the case. Many conclude it’s because the Bible is too hard to understand.

I agree there is too much division, I do not wonder why though, I think I know. And it’s not the Bible’s fault for being too confusing.

The main cause of division is that few are using the Bible anymore as an authority. Sure, they have verses and favorite passages, but few comprehensively use the Bible and fewer submit to what it says.

Today’s doctrine is largely based on what other guys said. When people argue you into their theological camps, it’s generally not out of a concern for your soul but it is 1) a defense of their doctrinal camp and leaders and 2) an attempt to get you into their camp to make their camp look bigger and better.

As we know (from reading the Bible), there is nothing new under the sun. People have long been more interested in defending and building their group than in the eternal state of your soul. Here are two biblical examples:

It is those who want to make a good showing in the flesh who would force you to be circumcised, and only in order that they may not be persecuted for the cross of Christ.  For even those who are circumcised do not themselves keep the law, but they desire to have you circumcised that they may boast in your flesh.
–Galatians 6:12-13

The main reason most stayed away from the Gospel is because it would cause them problems. They wanted to appease those who would persecute them for following the Gospel. Best way to do that is to defend the old camp.

Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye compass sea and land to make one proselyte, and when he is made, ye make him twofold more the child of hell than yourselves.
–Matthew 23:15

Pharisees of Jesus’ day are acting the same as those messing with the Galatian church. They would rather count you in their camp than get you right with God. In order to escape hell, you have to first escape the bad teaching and then embrace the good teaching, that’s my interpretation of “twofold child of hell.” You have to be saved from bad teaching and then saved by good teaching, as it were.

People, in general, don’t care about your stand before God; they care about their stats. Better stats means playing a people-pleasing game, winning people to our side so we win. The more we win the more we feel like we are right.

Surround yourself with your camp and you’ll never have to face reality. Unless, of course, you find a camp that deals with reality, by which I mean, the reality God explains in the Bible.

There are no shortcuts and avoid anyone who offers you one. Use zeal, effort, energy, work, toil, labor, and get this right. Beware of theological camps and doctrines named after people. Read the Word so much you know when you’re hearing false teaching.

Having the Spirit teach you the Word through His means (which can be other people with the Spirit; I’m not throwing away all people or churches here) is the only safeguard we have against false teaching and division. Pray for wisdom, then do the work to get it. Be sober, watch and pray.

The Law Cannot Justify

Repeatedly the New Testament tells us that we are not justified by the law.

“Justified” means to declare someone righteous. The law does not declare people righteous.

The law was not designed to make people righteous, nor to declare anyone righteous. The law was written to declare everyone a sinner!

Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight: for by the law is the knowledge of sin.
–Romans 3:20

The law tells you what sin is and makes you guilty

Now we know that what things soever the law saith, it saith to them who are under the law: that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God.
–Romans 3:19

The law declares people to be sinners. Paul says in Romans 7 that the law actually stirs up the flesh to sin more. The law makes sin abound.

You can’t be justified by the law because the law could never declare anyone to be righteous. The law points out how unrighteous you are.

The law has NO POWER to make you righteous. If the law can’t make you righteous; then the law can’t declare you righteous.

The only way you can be truly declared righteous in God’s eyes is if something existed that could make you righteous!

That aint the law!

But it is the Gospel!

For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so by the obedience of one shall many be made righteous.
–Romans 5:19

The Gospel declares you righteous because the Gospel makes you righteous, not just in God’s head or your head, but in actual conduct.

The law cannot do that because the law is weak through the flesh. It has no power to make you do anything right, therefore, it can never declare anyone righteous because before it; no one is righteous.

The law won’t justify you; the Gospel will. Come to the Gospel of Jesus Christ and be made righteous.

But God be thanked, that ye were the servants of sin, but ye have obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine which was delivered you. Being then made free from sin, ye became the servants of righteousness.
–Romans 6:17-18

Justification is Real

Justification is a word thrown around quite a bit by Christians. Any time Christians throw a word around a lot, expect it to have become battered and bruised.

Justification has become a legal term. It means “to declare someone righteous.” But this is more than a legal term, more than God moving you from the unrighteous column to the righteous column.

Something more is going on.

Unfortunately, for many, justification is synonymous with salvation. The Reformers are talked about “justification by faith.” To the extent that justification now means salvation.

Justification is a part of salvation; it’s not the whole thing.

Justification is a declaration that God makes based on who He has made you.

For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so by the obedience of one shall many be made righteous.
–Romans 5:19

Romans 5:19 is not talking about declaring you righteous! It says you have been made righteous through Christ’s work on the cross.

 For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him.
–2 Corinthians 5:21

Again, this is not just a declaration; it’s a real thing God has made us. We have been made righteous.

So, get this: The reason why God declares us righteous is because He made us righteous!

The common understanding of justification is that God declares us righteous even though we keep living in sin. God just ignores that. God just pretends we’re righteous even though He, we, and everyone else knows we’re not.

Justification understood this way makes God a delusional liar. Yet this is how most people understand justification.

Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind, Nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you: but ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God.
–1 Corinthians 6:9-11

You were unrighteous and doing unrighteous things, but now you’ve been made righteous. How so?

Because God has washed you [cleansed you from past sin], sanctified you [separated you from the world and called you to holy living different from the world], and justified you [declared you righteous because that’s what He’s made you].

Justification is not a mind game in God’s head. Justification is a declaration based upon what God has made you through the Gospel.

You used to live in sin, but now you’ve been washed, sanctified, and justified and no longer do those things.

Vincent’s Word Studies says about these verses:

Emphasizing the actual moral renewal, which is the true idea of justification. This is shown by the words “by the Spirit,” etc., for the Spirit is not concerned in mere forensic justification.

Justification is not the whole of salvation, nor is it a make-believe scenario. Justification is a declaration of who we are based on who God has made us through the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

God is not a liar. If He calls someone righteous it has to be because they are actually righteous, not just in His head, but in reality.

Little children, let no man deceive you: he that doeth righteousness is righteous, even as he is righteous.
–1 John 3:7

If We Believe Not, Yet He Abides Faithful

These words are found in 2 Timothy 2:13.

I have heard many interpret this verse to cancel out the previous two verses. The interpretation goes like this:

Even if we lose faith, Jesus Christ won’t get rid of us. I can deny Him or not suffer with Him and that’s ok, because Christ can’t deny Himself.

I find this interpretation to be off the mark by quite a bit.

Verse 13 does not cancel out the warnings of the previous two verses. On the contrary, verse 13 is what gives those verses their bite.

Verse 13 is saying that Jesus Christ is faithful, which means He always does what He says. “He cannot deny himself” is the conclusion of the statement.

Jesus Christ cannot go against who He is or what He has said. He can’t deny what He truly is.

People lose faith all the time. People break their promises every day. Jesus Christ never does that, because He can’t deny himself.

To take this to mean that you can lose faith and Jesus will still save you is weird. He said He can’t deny HIMSELF; it doesn’t say He can’t deny you!

In fact, look at the previous verse! He just said He could deny you!

There are many warning passages in the Bible. 2 Timothy 2:11-13 is just one.

There are many who do not heed these warnings because they sloppily interpret scripture to cancel out any need for a warning.

To use a warning passage to prove you don’t need a warning passage is the height of obstinance.

Read the words on the page. There’s a reason God put them there. God always does what He says, He’s not unfaithful like people are.

Read the words and then adjust your life accordingly. You’ve been warned. Get ready.

If We Deny Him, He Also Will Deny Us

These words are found in 2 Timothy 2:12, right after “if we suffer with Him, we will reign with Him.”

Suffering is no fun.

In the Parable of the Sower, Jesus describes seed that falls on stony ground. A little green shoot pops up, but when the sun rises to its peak, the little shoot gets scorched, withers, and dies.

This seed represents people who believe for a short time until it gets hard, a little suffering comes their way, and they quit.

Suffering has a way of weeding out the pretenders. A little persecution will show who truly believes and who is playing a game.

When you are healthy and wealthy, faith is pretty easy. But when things get tough and life falls apart, what will you do then?

For the believer, suffering increases faith and leads to spiritual growth. For the unbeliever, suffering drives them further from God, they may even blame God and resent Him.

Peter said many confident things in company with like-minded people, but when Jesus was arrested and things turned bad, Peter denied Christ.

Jesus says in Matthew 10:33, “But whosoever shall deny me before men, him will I also deny before my Father which is in heaven.

Jesus Christ was/is consistent on this issue. Paul reiterates what Christ said by saying it again in 2 Timothy.

So, what happened with Peter? Has Christ denied him?

Well, Peter repented and came back. The rest of Peter’s life shows that he did not completely disown Christ. He came back. God is always willing to forgive.

But if you deny Christ and never come back, Christ will deny you too. Stern words, but I see no aspect of Christ’s character that makes Him say things that aren’t true.

Jesus Christ always does what He says, which is Paul’s final point in this section of 2 Timothy 2.

If We Suffer, We Shall Also Reign With Him

These words are found in 2 Timothy 2:12.

Suffering is part of the deal in following Christ.

By faith we identify ourselves with Christ. Not just with Christ’s resurrection, but with His death. And not just with His death, but also with His suffering.

What Christ did, by faith, you will do too because you are following Him.

Our suffering and death are not atoning for our sins, nor are they saving us or anyone else. They are what happens when you follow the Suffering Servant!

There is a notion within Christianity that Christ did all the bad stuff, so we get all the good stuff: health and wealth, best life now, wonderful plan for your life, etc..

This notion is not from the Bible.

The Bible repeatedly says that since Christ suffered, don’t be surprised when you do. It’s part of the deal.

It’s so much part of the deal that if you don’t suffer, you can safely conclude you are not following Christ.

Paul says in Romans 8 that the witness of God’s Spirit with our spirit that we are children of God is that we suffer. If we suffer with Him, we will be glorified with Him (8:17).

Paul is saying the same truth here in 2 Timothy.

Paul told the Thessalonian church that their patience and endurance through suffering for Christ was a manifest token of their salvation (2 Thessalonians 1:4-5).

If you suffer for Christ you will have the assurance of salvation.

People doubt their salvation all over the place today. I believe this is because we rarely instruct people to follow Christ and get suffering.

We live in a happy, luxurious, comfortable age. No one is suffering for Christ, therefore, no one has the assurance of salvation.

Many who do feel assured of their salvation are merely pumping themselves with happy thoughts. They can’t prove their salvation in any tangible way other than, “Well, I’m saved because I think I’m saved.”

Suffering is proof of salvation. Suffering is proof that you are following the Suffering Servant.

Not just bad things happen to you suffering either. Bad things happen to everyone. He’s talking about suffering for Christ. About suffering the loss of all things to gain Christ as Paul did (Philippians 3:8).

People don’t like this message. We don’t like dying with Christ and we don’t like suffering with Christ. So, Paul has to address denying Christ next, because that’s what people do when they run into stuff they don’t want to do for Christ.