Tag Archives: john macarthur

A Change of Mind about Repentance: Do you Dare?

Hi Gang,
I am getting incredibly close to settling in on what I’m doing with my life.  In particular, I want to focus on FAITH & WORKS for a while…I think it is a subject I understand and that crosses many strategic parts of theology [and on-the-pavement Christianity].
In the meantime, I just posted a blog offering some fresh thoughts on Repentance as it relates to sharing the gospel.
Check it out NOW:
http://thefreegracealliance.blogspot.com/2011/04/change-of-mind-about-repentance-do-you.html
Grace and peace,
Fred Lybrand
What is Home & School
Coaching?

 

The False Branch Theory and John 15

Okay,

So I’m in the shower (weird how we think there) and I’m going over John MacArthur’s view of John 15 about abiding (in my mind).  I listened to MacArthur at a pace of 6 tapes a week for two years in my early days after coming to faith.

He described the branches that were ‘thrown in the fire’ as false branches (Judas Branches).  Lest you think I’m making this up, I tracked it down:

There were the true branches and there were the false branches in the analogy. The true branches are represented by the eleven and the false branches are represented by Judas Iscariot. That whole thing flows out of the context of Judas’ betrayal. And at that point, the “In Me” simply means “identification.” I don’t think you can push too much theology into that “in Me” and say that it means absolute conversion. It’s attachment at that point, that’s all. And I think you have a Judas branch, and I think what it’s saying is that there will be people who will attach themselves superficially to Christ but in evidence bearing no fruit at all, will ultimately be cut off and cast into the fire because they show they have no life, because if they are had any life at all, they would have fruit. So I think it’s a graphic illustration of the whole context of what the disciples have just been through with them as compared to Judas.

(from: http://www.biblebb.com/files/macqa/1301-N-8.htm )

So, I did a little more digging and found that my old pastor and teacher Ken Gangel said something similar in the Holman NT Commentary on John 15:

15:6. Verse 6 narrows other possible interpretations of verse 2. We struggle a bit with the words, “he cuts off.” But thrown away and withers takes it further than we want to go in any reference to people who may have been true believers at one time. Certainly the words thrown into the fire and burned could never refer to those who were at one time true believers.
Blum treats this carefully and wisely:

These words have been interpreted in at least three ways: (1) the “burned” branches are Christians who have lost their salvation. (But this contradicts many passages, e.g., 3:16, 36; 5:24; 10:28–29; Rom. 8:1.) (2) the ‘burned’ branches represent Christians who will lose rewards but not salvation at the judgment seat of Christ (1 Cor. 3:15). (But Jesus spoke here of dead branches; such a branch “is thrown away and withers.”) (3) the “burned” branches refer to professing Christians who, like Judas, are not genuinely saved and therefore are judged. Like a dead branch, a person without Christ is spiritually dead and therefore will be punished in eternal fire (cf. Matt. 25:46) (Blum, p. 325).
Kenneth O. Gangel, vol. 4, John, Holman New Testament Commentary; Holman Reference, 283-84 (Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2000).

Yes, of course it is strange that fire means literal hell in an analogy…and…yes, of course, it is strange that ‘in Me’ doesn’t mean ‘in Me’ (within their own view) consistently throughout the passage.

But what really struck me under the 98 degree stream of water was the whole idea of a FALSE BRANCH.

The reason this struck me (all these years later) is that there is NO SUCH THING in reality as a FALSE BRANCH.  There are parasites (mistletoe) that look like they belong to the tree, yet Christ clearly (and easily could have said that) said the were vine branches.  Back then there were no such things as ARTIFICIAL BRANCHES either.  Artificial came along with wax and plastics and science (‘contrived by art’ around 1300AD).  Christ is using a real, live thing as an illustration.

When the Lord uses sheep, He says some of the sheep are “not His.”  He does not say that they are false sheep (you know…look like the real thing…but really aren’t sheep).  False prophets are still real people and false teeth are still used for teeth….and, we know where these things come from.

But, where would a false branch come from?  In nature (certainly in the NT era) no one had a notion or word for ‘false’ branch (any more than they would have for a false rock, stream, or fish).  The branches are real, and they are In Christ.  Obviously you must understand Him to be speaking of losing salvation or losing reward (see 1 Cor 3).

From Whence Cometh this Interpretation?

Necessity…and…it turns out to be a wonderful example of eisegesis, or imposing meaning on a text.  Since Blum/Gangel exclude any alternate meanings of the word ‘dead’ in the context, they miss the obvious nature of the warning for believers.  Therefore, with that as impossible and losing one’s justification as impossible (I agree)—all that is left for MacArthur, et al, is to make up the notion that there could exist in Christ’s mind (and on the earth) the idea that some branches (in Him) are actually fake or artificial branches.

I love these guys and I have no bones to pick, but all of us must learn to be very, very careful when we handle the Word of God.  Saying, “It must mean A because B is false elsewhere, can easily tempt us not to read the actual words of the text.”

My practice is to try to settle on a meaning from the immediate passage BEFORE I compare it to other places in the Word.  The comparison is valuable, but it is a dangerous way to interpret a passage by imposing meaning from elsewhere right off the bat!  The Analogy of Scripture is great, but you must inductively begin with the parts rather than than the whole.

So, what do you think?

Fred Lybrand

www.backtofaith.com

John Piper’s Leave of Absence — Is It the Logical Result of His Theology?

First, allow me to share my own empathy for John Piper and the struggles he alludes to (see: http://bit.ly/aTDmGg) as he takes a leave of absence from the ministry (altogether, including writing).

Having just recently retired from the pastorate, I know the strain on the soul and the family.  I suppose I should add a lecture on how abusive most churches are of the pastor’s time, life, and energies…perhaps another day.

In the meantime, I want to offer a possibility for our own lives.  Last year I released a book called Back to Faith, which explores and analyzes the mistaken assumptions about works proving faith.  John Piper’s writings were my example; in fact, an entire chapter was dedicated to him alone.  I also must add here (and you’ll see it if you get a copy of Back to Faith) that I affirm John Piper’s accuracy on the gospel…he clearly affirms faith alone in Christ alone.  On the other hand, he has an incongruity in play.

In the straightest of terms, John Piper believes that we can look at our works (or those of other people) and conclude something about our faith in Christ for our destiny.

If that is true…then fine…except, what if your works don’t match up?  In Piper’s thinking it should call your salvation into question.  Now, that seem quite despair-growing.  So, here is John Piper (in a classy and self-effacing way) looking at his faltering works and feeling grieved.  The grief, however, is much more than sadness…if Piper is true to his theology, he can’t really be sure about his eternal salvation.  Wouldn’t you need a leave of absence if you were haunted about your eternal destiny, and served as a pastor in a church?  It would be easy to misunderstand me here and think I’m psycho-analyzing John Piper; I am not at all.  I am saying, however, that one piece of his theology really does exactly match the nature of his open admissions and struggles over the past year or two.

Here are a few quotes of his from What Jesus Demands from the World [I discuss this in Back to Faith].

Sometimes I am asked whether my understanding
of Jesus implies that divorce is the unforgivable sin.
The answer is no. Jesus said that his blood will be
the basis for the forgiveness of all sins…
From these wonderful promises we learn
that forgiveness of sins is available on the basis of
the shed blood of Jesus. Forgiveness is available
for all sins, without exception. Forgiveness is
received freely through trusting Jesus to forgive our
sins. (What Jesus Demands from the World, 68)

So clearly Piper gets the importance of looking at the shed blood of Christ, which is awesome.

The only unforgivable sin is the sin that we refuse
to confess and forsake. We commit unforgivable
sin when we cleave to a sin so long and so
tenaciously that we can no longer confess it as sin
and turn from it. (What Jesus Demands from the World, 69)

Now, we are seeing a misstep here.  The tendency with this incongruent piece of theology (works prove saving faith), all we can do is see our sin as unforgivable if it keeps showing up (even on occasion)…and if unforgivable, then you remain unforgiven.  Piper knows it’s a problem because he addresses it on occasion.  The issue will always come back to whether we are looking at Jesus or looking at our works.

Here’s a full statement from Back to Faith (Piper is in bold),

In fairness to Piper, he would completely deny the
incongruence, though he seems to realize others are concerned
about it

Some readers will see this stress on the necessity of
a change in obedience to Christ as ‘justification by
works.’ But that would be a misinterpretation of
what I am saying. That is why I wrote chapter 4
and put it near the front of this book,

“Brothers, Live and Preach Justification by Faith.” Obedience
is the evidence of faith that alone unites us to Christ
who is our justifying righteousness. Nothing I have
said here contradicts that truth.


Making the claim that one is misinterpreted is different from being
misinterpreted. It does not seem to have dawned on Piper that he
really may be communicating something scarily similar to
“justification by works” when he claims “obedience is the
evidence of faith…” It seems his theme is that one can tell true
faith (salvation) in an individual because of obedience, but Piper
again displays his incongruity,


It does imply that one can be called a ‘brother’ on
the basis of appearances but in the end prove not to
be a brother because of failing to persevere in the
end. (Back to Faith, 219)

I wouldn’t label John Piper’s theology as evil or bad, but it does have a harmful incongruency that haunts all Hyper-Calvinists (not all Calvinists).

If your works prove you have faith,

and your works are inconsistent or weak,

then…you MAY NOT (probably don’t) have faith.

I don’t know the intricacies of John Piper’s life and issues.  I’ll pray for his leave of absence.  I do know that if I look at my works, I lose assurance…and…when I look at Christ alone I am greatly assured.   What else can you do with something so wonderfully clear?


Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.

Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. (Romans 5:1–2) ESV

Fred Lybrand

P.S. Yes, I sent John a copy of Back to Faith (which he graciously had acknowledged to me).

Listen to a more detailed explanation of some of these matters at: http://www.backtofaith.com/LISTEN.html

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LORDSHIP SANCTIFICATION

All,

This is an article I wrote this week for the Free Grace Alliance.  I’d love your thoughts!

Fred Lybrand

LORDSHIP SANCTIFICATION

Have you ever noticed how busy everyone is with getting words just right?  It turns out to be more than political correctness, it is really an issue of communication.  You may not have thought about it this way, but language is actually the most ‘democratic’ thing on the planet.  The use of words actually determines their meanings; and, of course, the use of words in a particular context determines THAT meaning.  If I tell you I love my wife, my dog, and my Kindle, then surely you can make out the different nuances.

More to our common faith, it has become a recent trend to refer to oneself as a “Christ-Follower” rather than a Christian.  The reason for this shift is that the word ‘Christian’ has fallen on hard time and doesn’t communicate the right meaning internationally or practically.  ‘Fundamentalist’ (in the faith) has fallen under the same spell of disrepute because it has been associated with certain militaristic ‘Christian’ sub-strata, as well as ‘Islamic Fundamentalism’.  So do we change words or keep working on the proper use of the terms?  Democrats and Republicans have been two groups whose names have fallen on hard times in the back-and-forth nature of popularity.  They just keep working at redefining their name.

The Context

I’ll leave it to you to solve such matters.  My concern here is with the Gospel of Grace.  The debate between Lordship Salvation and Free Grace has been muddling along for the better part of 100 years in noticeable ways.  Here’s an example that predates John MacArthur’s entrance into the foray with The Gospel According to Jesus in 1986.  A.W. Tozer in The Root of the Righteous (Wingspread Publishers, © 1955, 1986), says

There can be no spiritual regeneration till there has been moral reformation.  That this statement requires defense only proves how far from the truth we have strayed.  In our current popular theology pardon depends on faith alone.

Unfortunately, Tozer is saying exactly what he sounds like he’s saying.  For Tozer, salvation is conditioned on a commitment to reform and not faith alone.  All of this is tied up in confusing the relationship between faith and works (see Back to Faith by Fred R. Lybrand for a  thorough discussion of this matter), so Tozer can also, at times, affirm the doctrine of ‘faith alone’ as well.  Kevin Butcher pointed out the real issue back in 1989 when he asserted that the Lordship Salvation side doesn’t represent the Free Grace side’s view of the gospel accurately.  He said,

MacArthur’s first error involves a problem of perception—he doesn’t clearly understand the other view. He does well when he states his own position, describing “Lordship Salvation” as a gospel that requires a faith that commits all (cf. pp. 169ff), a repentance that gives up sin (cf. pp. 159ff) and a submission to the “mastership of Christ” (cf. pp. 203ff) before eternal life is apprehended. The Lordship gospel, according to MacArthur, speaks of a “salvation that is a gift, yet costs everything” (cf. p. 140). But the “other” view which might be referred to as the “Free Grace” Gospel is misrepresented on several counts. (Journal of the Grace Evangelical Society, Spring1989 —Volume 2:1)

The issue is rather simple:

The Lordship Salvation View: One (or many) things are required of the one desiring eternal salvation.  These things largely have to do with a commitment on the part of the seeker to pursue life-change through an abandonment of all desires, possessions, lifestyle, and choice to the Lordship of Jesus Christ.

The Free Grace Salvation View:  There are no requirements for the one desiring eternal salvation.  The ‘requirement’ is that which attends the acceptance of any gift; a willingness to accept it.  In the Free Grace View this willingness to accept is found in the phrase ‘faith alone in Christ alone’.  While the content of what is to be believed is occasionally debated,  the essential idea is that one is saved eternally by believing in Christ’s promise of eternal life for those who believe in Him.  I understand this ‘believe in Him’ have to do with the basics of His person and work, especially his dying and being raised again on our behalf.

What is missed in the debate is that Lordship Salvation proponents affirm they believe in ‘faith alone in Christ alone’ and Free Grace proponents affirm they believe in the Lordship of Christ.  I sit in the curious spot of honestly believing that the Lordship Salvation proponents really do believe in ‘faith alone in Christ alone’, and often share the message properly.  Of course, I also believe they often muddle their communication and make the gospel sound as though much more is required than faith in Christ.  I have concluded that their ‘muddling’ of the issue comes from a fundamental incongruence in their theology and thinking.  While affirming a distinction between justification (being eternally saved) and sanctification (growing spiritually to match the image and character of Christ), they also deny the distinction by affirming that believer = disciple [see Back to Faith, Xulon Press, 2009].

The topic especially becomes an issue when it gets down to sharing the gospel.  The Lordship Salvation proponents accuse the Free Grace proponents of not emphasizing the ‘lordship’ of Christ in our presentation, hence misleading people from what God requires for their eternal destiny.  The Free Grace proponents accuse the Lordship Salvation proponents of ‘adding’ to faith in such a way that the individual is not trusting in Christ, but rather in oneself (or other things) for his eternal destiny.

The Appeal

I really want to appeal to those on the Lordship Salvation side to clarify the issue we Free Grace advocates wrestle with concerning presenting a gospel with various conditions attached to faith alone in Christ alone.  However, for our part, I want to propose a fresh way to explain our view.  It uses words to force a re-thinking of what Free Grace advocates are saying.  Here’s the term,

LORDSHIP SANCTIFICATION

I believe in Lordship Sanctification, and in my 24 years of ministry I have advocated individuals abandoning themselves to the Lord.  I have begged believers to completely bring their will, desires, and possessions under Jesus Christ, the Son of God, as the Lord of their lives.  I personally and deeply believe Lordship is crucial for the one who has faith in Christ.  In no sense would I ever be against Christ as Lord.  However, I do believe that this call is directed at those who have believed (see Romans 12:1-2) already.

If this understanding of Christ’s Lordship makes sense for our growth in the Lord, then the term Lordship Sanctification turns out to be a very clarifying phrase.  I believe in acknowledging Christ’s Lordship as a necessary part of the sanctification process.  I believe that in order to continue growing in the Lord, one must, in the course of time, yield utterly to the divine oversight of Jesus Christ regarding his life and conformity to the Image of Christ (see Romans 8:28-29).

There is also one great advantage in the debate over the gospel with the use of the term Lordship Sanctification; Free Grace proponents can never again be accused by the Lordship Salvation proponents of not preaching the gospel.  Frankly, if you preach Lordship as an important aspect of ones spiritual growth in Christ, then you can only be accused of being ‘slow’, never of being wrong!  They at least must admit that ‘finally’ we get around to sharing a saving message (in their estimation).

I believe in Free Grace Salvation and Lordship Sanctification.  My appeal to everyone who acknowledges himself as promoters of grace— please begin to refer to Lordship Sanctification often in your preaching, teaching, and mentoring.  If we could infuse this term into the discussion, I am confident that a new age of conversation and clarification can arise.  I believe in Lordship Sanctification as I hope you do as well, and I always get around to explaining it.  However, with one seeking forgiveness, hope, and eternity— I always begin with the good news that Christ died for you and if you will believe in Him you’ll have everlasting life, just as He promised.  In the gospel, the word is FAITH.  In spiritual growth, the word is LORDSHIP.  Let’s grow united in our clarity and in our communication.  Eternal salvation is by faith alone in Christ alone, while progress in sanctification inevitably leads to abandoning oneself to the Lord of Glory.

Grace and peace,
Fred R. Lybrand

www.fredlybrand.org
www.backtofaith.com

To print a copy of this article click on this link: http://www.freegracealliance.com/pdf/LordshipSanctification.pdf