Tag Archives: lordship sanctification

The False Branch Theory and John 15


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


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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FAITH ALONE OR NOT…are you one of those awful Antinomians?

What a big issue!

The Gospel, is it (?) —

Faith + Nothing

Faith + Works

Faith (that Works) + Nothing

The reason this is a big deal is that it (a) Will affect how we explain / offer the gospel to others; and, (b) Undermine our assurance as believers in Jesus Christ.

If you tell folks they must add works to their faith, then please know you do not believe in faith alone.  This has been the mainstay and understanding of Bible believing Christians since the Reformation, however, the debate has has raged since then about what to do with works.  Normally there is an incongruence in operation where it sounds like ‘faith alone’ at time, and like ‘faith + works’ at other times.

I think it is simple, but largely unrecognized:

Works have nothing to do with our salvation, but much to do with our sanctification (spiritual growth). Normally in the discussions those who disagree start throwing out labels such as “antinomianism”.  Antinomianism has been used as throughout history as an inflammatory charge.  The funny thing is that it has been used by Roman Catholics against the Reformers, by the Reformers against Evangelicals, and even Arminians against Evangelicals.

If you don’t know all these groups and terms don’t worry about it.  Antinomianism simply means ‘against law’ and nothing more.  So, any group which is against your group’s ‘law’ is antinomian to you.  I really am fond of A.W. Tozer (who did not believe in the eternal security of Christians), but he misses it here:

“Fundamental Christianity in our times is deeply influenced by that ancient enemy of righteousness, Antinomianism. The creed of the Antinomian is easily stated: We are saved by faith alone; works have no place in salvation; conduct is works, and is therefore of no importance. What we do cannot matter as long as we believe rightly. The divorce between creed and conduct is absolute and final. The question of sin is settled by the Cross; conduct is outside the circle of faith and cannot come between the believer and God. Such in brief, is the teaching of the Antinomian. And so fully has it permeated the Fundamental element in modern Christianity that it is accepted by the religious masses as the very truth of God. Antinomianism is the doctrine of grace carried by uncorrected logic to the point of absurdity. It takes the teaching of justification by faith and twists it into deformity.” (from Paths to Power)

In other words, Tozer offers that it is WRONG to say, ‘We are saved by faith alone; works have no place.”  but that is exactly what Romans 4, Romans 11:6,29,  and Ephesians 2:8&9) says (please read them yourself).  Yet, simply put, if you look at your works rather than Christ, then you will doubt because your works will always be flawed.  Looking at Christ alone (l00k = believe here), will always lead to assurance because of His promise (see John 3:16, 5:24).

So what do we do with being called ‘antinomian’ in the debate?  Well I’ve suggested one solution as promoting our belief in Lordship Sanctification; however, there is another option.  We can simply be against antinomianism, and pass it along as belonging to the the universalists (the ones who believe everyone is accepted by God with out regard to faith or works) where it belongs!

Another option is to explain what we really believe.  I offer a fresh term called Necranomian.  Necranomian means one is ‘dead to the law’ (see Romans 7 and 2 Corinthians 3) not ‘aganst’ the law.

I’ve explained this more completely in an appendix of Back to Faith (go get a copy).

In the meantime, it really is Faith Alone in Christ Alone.  Please don’t drift.  The truth is that our growth relates to works, but our acceptence and forgivenss comes through simple faith in Jesus Christ.


Fred Lybrand

P.S.  Here’s the Appendix on Antinomianism from Back To Faith (c) Fred R. Lybrand :  Is This Antinomianism?