In America Halloween is celebrated on October 31st. I don’t particularly like Halloween, especially its occult aspects, but that’s a message for another time.
I want to tell you a brief story of God’s grace.
You see, October 31st is also Reformation Day, when we celebrate the light that dawned when the so-called Reformers began to break out of the darkness of Roman Catholicism, and once again began to preach salvation by grace through faith.
It was more than 490 years ago [1517 A.D.] that Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the big wooden door of the Wittenburg Church, denouncing the sale of indulgences by the Roman Catholic Church, in which the souls of dead people were supposedly purchased out of the mythical Purgatory, or their time in Purgatory was shortened.
It was an evil practice, which preyed on the fears and superstition of the people, and made them poorer as the so-called Church grew richer.
But I want to begin our story much farther back in time, to a man called Abraham.
Abraham was called by God out of Ur of the Chaldees, a pagan land with a pagan superstitious culture. God called Abraham away from his people and his culture, to begin a whole new people and culture, which eventually culminated in the nation Israel, and eventually the promised Messiah of Israel, the Lord Jesus Christ.
And the reason I want to begin with Abraham is because of a covenant that God made with Abraham. And this covenant became the forerunner to what we now call the New Covenant.
God promised Abraham that he would become a mighty nation, that he would have millions of descendants, through which the world would be blessed. Now the whole story is too long to tell here, but there was one little problem.
Abraham’s wife Sarah was barren, childless. And the years had passed, and Abraham had assumed that his heir would be someone from his household staff. This was customary when there was no offspring.
Let’s read the promise of God from Genesis Chapter 15, verse 4 and following:
“Then behold, the word of the Lord came to him, saying, ‘This man will not be your heir; but one who shall come forth from your own body, he shall be your heir.’ And He took him outside and said, ‘Now look toward the heavens, and count the stars, if you are able to count them.’ And He said to him, ‘So shall your descendants be.’”
Now Abraham could either believe that or not. Did he believe it?
Well, let’s fast-forward to the book of Romans and see what Paul wrote to the Romans about it, and at the same time we’ll learn a very important Bible truth about salvation.
In Romans 4:3,5 we read,
“For what does the Scripture say? And Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness.” “…but to the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is reckoned as righteousness.”
Through the story of Abraham we learn something that has always been true:
Salvation is a free gift from God, through believing God. Or as the Bible says, by grace (that’s the free gift), through faith (that’s believing God).
And this salvation was paid for by Jesus Christ on the cross when he paid for our sins. The Bible says He became sin for us, so that we could become the righteousness of God.
In other words, He paid the price, so that we could be declared or reckoned righteous by God, Who gave us the gift of His own righteousness, when we believed in Jesus Christ.
There is no other way, and there never has been.
Even the blood of bulls and goats could not take away sin, the Bible says in Hebrews 10:4. All the blood of the sacrifices of Israel did were to temporarily cover the sins of the people until the time that the Messiah could shed His blood to pay for and take away sins.
But salvation was always by grace (a free gift) through believing God. Now let’s fast-forward a few hundred years beyond Paul and the other Apostles, who taught this beautiful Gospel, good news, that whoever believes in Jesus Christ would be saved by grace through faith.
The Roman Catholic Church
The organized Church became infected more and more with the world’s view of religion. What is the world’s view of religion? It’s simply this: we must DO something, some obedience, some ritual, some work to EARN the favor or love or salvation of God. Salvation couldn’t be a gift, so it must be earned in some way.
And every religion of the world, except true Christianity, has that in common. Some aspects of doing good works or rituals to attain heaven, or Nirvana, or eternal life, or whatever.
And although the Church has always had that evil Legalism influence knocking at its door, after around 400 A.D. it became more and more of an organized Legalism, built into the very documents and teachings of the Church.
And on into the rightly-called Dark Ages, and into the Middle Ages, it became the norm. The headquarters of the organized Church became Rome, with its Bishop known as the Pope, and the Roman Catholic Church held its grip on most of the then-known world.
And without going into great detail, the basic doctrine of the Roman Catholic Church was that of works plus “grace”, or what they called “grace”. It really wasn’t grace at all, because as the Scripture says,
“But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works, otherwise grace is no longer grace.” (Romans 11:6)
In other words, if you add works to grace, as a requirement for salvation, then it’s not really grace at all. Because grace means “free gift”, and if you have to add works to get a free gift it’s not a free gift.
That was the problem with the Galatians, and Paul minced no words when he told them that by mixing grace and works, they not only were corrupting grace, but they were believing in another gospel, which is not really a gospel at all, and those who taught such a thing were accursed.
This is still, by the way, the teaching of the Roman Catholic Church today. You will hear their leaders talk about salvation by grace, or salvation by faith, or talk about justification, or the merits of Christ, or the mercy of God, even the Bible and the authority of the Bible.
But despite the twisted terminology, the final result is a teaching that it’s not grace by itself or faith by itself by which we are saved, but grace plus works, faith plus works.
Well, we come in our story to a Roman Catholic monk named Martin.
By his own admission, there was never a monk who strived any harder than Martin to gain God’s favor. There was never a monk who worked any harder, drove himself any farther, punished himself any more than Martin Luther.
But no matter how he worked and strived and prayed and worked and strived and prayed, he had no peace. And the reason was that he understood how righteous and holy God was, and that man’s works can never gain favor from such a perfect and righteous and holy God.
He was somewhat awakened to the corruption of the Church when he saw the practice of indulgences being stepped up drastically to pay for the building of St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. The building program was financed by indulgences being sold to the people. And the chief salesman was a man named Tetzel.
Luther was appalled at the crass misuse of power and superstition, and nailed his complaint to the Church door as his 95 Theses.
But that was not Luther’s most important enlightenment. As a student of the Scriptures, he studied the books of Galatians and Romans intently. And he began to see something in the Scriptures, and finally the light dawned on him, as God opened his heart, just as he had opened the heart of Abraham, and millions of others since.
What Luther saw, what was revealed to Him by God through the Scriptures, was that salvation was not earned in any way, but was a free gift of God, through faith in Jesus Christ.
And it set Luther on fire.
In this modern day of gospel books and Bibles on every desk and shelf in America, we may take it for granted. But Luther was living in a day when the light of the gospel had almost been put out for hundreds of years. Darkness had settled in so deeply that when Luther began teaching salvation by grace alone through faith alone, HE was the one who was considered a heretic.
But by God’s grace, the Reformation had begun with gusto. Luther had meant to Reform the Roman Catholic Church, but they would have none of it. And thus the so-called Protestant Church became a whole new thing.
Through Martin Luther, and other Reformers, the Bible was widely spread in the language of the people. Formerly it had only been widely available in Latin, and many leaders had meant it to stay that way, so that doctrine could only be dispensed through them, twisted as they made it. But as people were able to read the clear teaching of Scripture, the good news spread.
One of the most influential of the Reformers was John Calvin, who headquartered in Geneva [Switzerland]. Another intense student of the Bible, by the time he was only 27 years old, he wrote The Institutes of the Christian Religion, and became one of the key streams for the spread of the grace message throughout Europe in this exciting time.
There were many others who caught fire with this light of the gospel that God blasted onto the earth in a new setting. Names like Zwingli, and Melanchton, and Knox. It was Knox who prayed, “Lord give me Scotland or I die.” And Scotland was revolutionized by the gospel.
Not to be thoroughly run out of town, the Roman Catholic Church lashed back with Inquisitions and persecutions designed to maintain its power and the false gospel of faith plus works. Many were tortured, burned at the stake, or otherwise martyred for the simple gospel of salvation by grace through faith. But the blood of these martyrs became the seed of the church, which grew rapidly.
And out of this storm survived some basic truths that we celebrate alongside Halloween, some 500 years later. Despite Halloween winning the popularity contest in our culture, I invite you to join me in celebrating what has become known as the Five Solas.
The first is Sola Gratia, by grace alone. Our salvation has to be a free gift of grace, because our own righteousnesses are as filthy rags, useless in securing our salvation in any way.
Another is Sola Fide, by faith alone. Faith will always be followed by works, but the works are never the requirement or instrument of our salvation.
Another is Solus Christus, by Christ alone. Only by the work of Christ, in shedding his blood and dying on the cross, may we be saved by grace through faith in Him. There is no other way to the Father except by Him, Jesus Himself said.
Another is Sola Scriptura, by Scripture alone. The Scriptures, the Bible, is the only authority we have from God for ultimate truth. Because it came by revelation from God, it is true, and He reveals to His children the truth of the Scriptures, and there is no other authority for doctrinal truth, including the Church itself.
And one more, Soli Deo Gloria, for the glory of God alone. That is the heart song of the redeemed, that He might be glorified in our lives. And He is.
One glimpse of the glory of the Lord makes the glory of the greatest Medieval Cathedral, or the glory of the splendor of the Vatican and its gold and fancy dress, fade by comparison.
Celebrate with me, and Abraham, and Martin and John, the Reformation, and the bright light of the gospel of grace through faith in our Lord Jesus Christ.
In Geneva, Switzerland there is a wall called The Reformation Wall. That’s it in the picture above. I’ll tell you a little about it.
But first, let me tell you a happy — and sad — and happy story on this Reformation Day, October 31.
A happy story…
The happy story is that over two thousand years ago, God came to Earth as a baby, born of a virgin, Mary in Bethlehem of Judea.
His name was Jesus (which He was named because it means something like “yahweh or jehovah saves”, and He would indeed save his people from their sins — “God rest ye merry gentlemen, let nothing ye dismay. Remember Christ our Savior was born on Christmas Day.”).
Jesus grew to be a man, was crucified and died on a cross to pay for our sins, was buried, and rose again from the dead on the third day.
And whoever will believe in Him is saved from their sins and hell, and will have eternal life forever with God.
This good news is called The Gospel, because “gospel” means “good news”. And this salvation was (and is) a free gift from God to all who believe in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. That “free” aspect is what is called “grace”, and our salvation is by grace…that is, free!
There. I’ve covered Christmas, Good Friday, Easter, and and the Gospel.
A sad story…
But there is a bad news, sort of. The bad news is that a form of religion crowded in on this good news, this gospel.
Men, in the name of The Church, began to add things to this Good News, this Gospel.
Things like Sacraments which they said could give us “grace”.
Things like priests, and popes who claimed to be “intermediaries” between God and men, even “vicars” (actual fill-ins for Christ on Earth).
Things like “good works” which they said must be mixed with “grace” in order for us to get to heaven. They wrote in official documents that the Sacraments and the “good works” gave us “grace”, contradicting the very meaning of “grace” as a “free gift”.
They even invented something called Purgatory, so that those who didn’t do enough good works and sacraments on Earth could get “purged” of their uncleanness by suffering over many many years after death, sort of earning their final passage into heaven.
The popes sold what were called “indulgences” for money, so that fearful people could buy the way out of purgatory and into heaven for their friends and relatives who had already died.
They so perverted the Good News of the Gospel, that the masses of people descended into Darkness, no longer even knowing what the Gospel was. They descended into the Darkness of trying to earn their way into heaven, an impossibility in light of the awesome holiness of the God whose standards all of us have broken.
And no doubt millions perished under this great Darkness, just as millions today perish under the dark illusion that they can merit what can only be given as a gift by God through the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
But the story becomes happy again.
After 1,000 years of this Darkness, God opened the eyes and hearts of a few…then many.
One of the first was a Catholic Monk, Martin Luther, who had his heart opened as he read the Scriptures, and realized for the first time that salvation was a free gift of grace, through faith alone, not earned by works. Alas, lacking blogging software, he posted his “95 Theses” by nailing them to the church door at Wittenburg, Germany, stating some of the errors of the Roman Catholic Church and its Pope. And thereby endangering his own life.
That day, October 31, 1517, Luther began, and joined with others, in a movement that blew open a window of Light that the Darkness folks have not been able to shut since.
I said I’d tell you about the Reformation Wall in the picture above. It portrays four others of these “Reformers” who went out and proclaimed the Light of the Gospel which had been mostly hidden in Darkness for so many years.
They are Guillaume Farel, the first to spread this Reformation in Geneva — John Calvin, a main leader of the Reformation Movement, and spiritual father of Geneva — Theodore Beza, Calvin’s successor, and — John Knox, friend of Calvin and the mighty preacher of the Reformation in Scotland.
These men were not gods. They were mere men. Fallible men. But God used them to light a fire that has still not gone out. And on this Reformation Day we “give honor to whom honor is due”, to these men whom God used so wonderfully.
On that wall is printed a Latin phrase, the title of this post:
Post Tenebras Lux.
It means literally “After Darkness Light”, or:
Light After Darkness.
Jesus said, “I am the light of the world.” Then He said, “You are the light of the world”, referring to us, His disciples who tell others about Him and His Gospel. As we shed the light of the Gospel of grace, God opens up more and more hearts, making disciples who desire to learn of Him.
Friend, if you don’t know Jesus Christ, I urge you to call on Him as your Lord and Savior.
After 1,000 years of darkness, God saw fit to raise up a few men, who recaptured the ancient truth:
Whoever believes on the Lord Jesus Christ shall be saved.
Note: This is re-posted from October 30, 2009. I want to add an important point: Much as I am reluctant to recommend studying the writings of neo-legalists…if you DO, you must remember one thing…they are false teachers, and false teachers almost always “blow smoke” (at best), confuse, and outright lie. This is important, because typically these neo-legalists will SAY that they believe in Justification By Faith, fooling the unstudied or gullible. By redefining “justification” and “faith”, they can say it with a straight face, and defend themselves when confronted with their own writings DENYING biblical justification, and promoting works salvation. This re-definition and deceit is similar to the statement in the document of “Evangelicals and Catholics Together” which declares that Justification is “by grace through faith”, yet is signed by Cardinals in the Roman Catholic Church — Cardinals who also subscribe to the canons declaring anathema on those who believe this.
October 31 is Reformation Day, celebrating the Protestant Reformation, when the biblical gospel of grace was re-introduced to the Church at large.
The Roman Catholic Church held an almost monopolistic grip on the hearts of millions of people for hundreds of years.
Through the Dark Ages and Middle Ages, the awful legalistic system of “salvation by works” nearly choked out the light of the Gospel of the Grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. Only small pockets of true believers in Christ escaped the dark heavy blanket of Romanism.
Then around 500 years ago came what we call the Reformation.
Men like Luther and Zwingli and Calvin and Knox, intense students of the Scriptures, rose up and shined the light of the Gospel into the darkness of European Catholicism.
These brave men brought an end to the monopoly of the Popes. They boldly proclaimed that salvation was
by grace alone, not by merit;
by faith alone, not by works;
by faith in Christ alone, not in sacraments;
under the final authority of the Word of God alone, not the unscriptural teachings of the Bishops of Rome.
The Central Point of the Reformation
The central point of the Reformation is what we call Justification by Faith. This is the sublime and simple truth that when we believe in Jesus Christ we are “justified” or “declared righteous” by God. This means that we are fully in right standing with God, our sins forgiven and no longer held against us.
This is accomplished because God judged our sins in Christ on the Cross, and gave us the “gift of righteousness” (Romans 5:17) by imputing the righteousness of Christ to us, when we believe in Christ.
As 2 Corinthians 5:21 puts it, “He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.”
Romans Chapter 5:1,2 gives us the result of this wonderful act of the Lord:
“Therefore having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom also we have obtained our introduction by faith into this grace in which we stand; and we exult in hope of the glory of God.”
The Permanence of Justification
When we are justified, declared righteous by God, it is forever. It is permanent. And it occurs at the moment when we believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, when we believe the Gospel.
The “gift of righteousness” can never be taken away, because it is part of a package deal, to put it crudely. This righteousness is given to us by grace through faith, and that is “not of yourselves” and “not of works” (Ephesians 2:8,9). Even the very faith by which we believe in Jesus Christ is a gift given by God through the New Birth, regeneration.
This “imputed righteousness” contrasts starkly with the unbiblical Roman Catholic teaching that one is actually “made righteous” (“infused righteousness”) through the sacraments like Baptism, and the Eucharistic Mass, and through meritorious good works — and that this so-called righteousness leaks out through sinning, and therefore can be lost, thereby damning the soul of the one who fails to maintain his “righteousness” by his works and attendance to the sacraments.
In Come the Neo-Legalists
The Reformation did not, of course, abolish Roman Catholicism. This cult of works salvation has continued these many years, and still thrives today.
But until recently one could more or less count on Protestant Bible teachers to uphold Justification by Faith Alone. One could more or less count on Protestant Bible teachers to oppose the so-called Justification of Rome, where grace and works are mixed, making it “no longer grace” (Romans 11:6).
But back in the 1960’s and 1970’s there was a professor at Westminster Seminary named Norman Shepherd. In 1975 some of his former students were being questioned for ordination, and when the question “How is a sinner justified?” was asked, they answered, “By faith and works.” Shocked questioners traced their answer back to their professor, Norman Shepherd.
Shepherd was allowed to teach for six more years, a disgrace in itself, but was finally released in 1981, the proverbial dung having hit the fan hard enough. Even then, several professors who then agreed with Shepherd were allowed to remain, teaching hundreds of students who spread the cancer yet today.
The big foot of undermining Justification by Faith had been stuck in the door, and the result has mushroomed into several full-blown ministries and movements, some directly from Westminster, and some relatively independent.
Allow me to name some names and then I will attempt to capsulize the kernel of the heresy.
Pioneering writers include E.P. Sanders, N.T. Wright, Steve Schlissel, Steve Wilkins, Douglas Wilson, and Peter Leithart.
They have been joined by a multitude of Pastors, bloggers and other writers, and teachers in Seminaries. Many in the Emerging/Emergent Church movement have gravitated toward these men, particularly N.T. Wright. And they have infiltrated otherwise orthodox places, including R.C. Sproul’s Tabletalk magazine, where R.C. Jr. as editor published a column by Douglas Wilson for three years, as well as articles by Steve Schlissel and Steve Wilkins.
[Important note -- I would like to correct a wrong impression given by the last above statement. Since the publication of this post, R.C. Sproul Jr. has made the following clear to me...1) He loudly and publicly disavows Federal Vision, and 2) He not only published those FV gentlemen before anyone even heard of Federal Vision, but before that time and since that time has published many gentlemen who despise Federal Vision. I'm grateful to RCJR for that clarification.]
They operate under names and ministries you may have heard: Shepherdism, Auburn Avenue Theology, Federal Vision, or the New Perspective on Paul. And they lead churches in virtually every Reformed denomination.
What They Have In Common
I won’t pretend the issues and sub-doctrines are not varied and even complicated, but they have one important thing in common – a rejection of the biblical Justification by Faith (even while sometimes saying they support it).
Like most false teachers, their terminology is often the same as orthodox terminology. But the expression of their error can mostly be bunched under an important term: Covenant Nomism (sometimes called Covenantal Nomism). “Nomism” refers to “Law”.
Though their implementation of the doctrine varies (for example, some teach that one enters the “covenant” through water baptism, others through so-called “faith alone”), the basics are as follows:
1.One enters into a “covenant” of the “people of God”, through “faith” and/or baptism. This is a real covenant which makes one a real Christian.
2.Once in the “covenant” of the family of God, it is now one’s responsibility to stay in the covenant, and follow Jesus as Lord all the days of one’s life…or else (more on the “or else” in a moment). This is blatant Legalism.
3.IF one remains in the “covenant”, by assembling together and obeying the Law sufficiently, THEN, at the end of one’s life, or the end of the age, one will be truly “Justified”, or “declared righteous” ON THE BASIS OF THEIR LIFE AND WORKS.
4.Here’s the “or else”: If one departs from sufficient obedience to the Law, or (in some cases) stops fellowshiping in the local assembly, they are deemed “out of the covenant”, will never be “justified”, even though they truly believed on the Lord Jesus Christ, and were in His “covenant” and were a true Christian. Their works, or lack of them, have ultimately damned them.
What Can Be Done?
Admittedly, this is an extremely brief introduction to Neo-Legalism, or Covenant Nomism.
The men teaching these things are not ignorant, and they’re not stupid. They are biblically classic false teachers.
What would I recommend?
1.I don’t recommend studying these men, except by the most discerning and biblically knowledgeable.
2.I do recommend studying the biblical doctrine of Justification by Faith, just as the FBI reputedly studies real money, in order to quickly identify the counterfeit.
There are many good books on the subject. A thorough classic is by James Buchanan, The Doctrine of Justification. Another good one, perhaps easier to read, is James White’s The God Who Justifies.
3.If you accept true biblical Justification by Faith, have courage to say so. And don’t be afraid to mention names.
Too many Protestant believers and teachers have been “returning” to Roman Catholicism. While for some there may be an inherent attraction to the ancient religious trappings of Romanism, in many cases it’s simply an abandonment of the great truth that God justifies us, declares us righteous, forever, when we believe in His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ. To Him be all the glory.
It seems as though Thomas Watson had an unhealthy preoccupation with sin, causing him to heap unnecessary condemnation upon himself, and leaving little or no room for himself or other Christians to experience the grace of God toward their sinful condition.
It seems as though Watson was collapsing under the weight of his own heavy yoke.
I was quite thrown by the words Watson used to describe God’s behavior toward His children. “A godly man loves the menaces of the Word. He knows there is love in every threat.”…”God…mercifully threatens us, so that He may scare us from sin”…”There is mercy in every threat”…???
Was Watson’s definition of “menace”, “threat”, and “scare” different from that of today? Is it to be interpreted differently, or did he really mean what he said?
Then I thought, “Where is the Scripture to support his belief that God menaces, threatens and scares His children from their sin?” The Scripture that Watson used to support how the believer “loves the threatening part of the Word” I found to actually be supportive of how God regards His enemies in Psalm 68:21, and regarding evil in 1 Kings 3:26 and Zechariah 5:1, and not supportive Scripture regarding the believer.
So, it became increasingly unclear to me as to who Watson was talking about…the Christian or the unbeliever. It seemed he was mixing the two. How God uses the Word on the unbeliever and how He uses the Word on His children is quite different.
How God speaks to the unbeliever, or brings the unbeliever to repentance through His Word is different than how he teaches His children to grow in that grace by which they have now been saved.
Watson says, for instance, “The Word has a double work: to teach us and to judge us. Those who will not be taught by the Word shall be judged by the Word.” Was he talking to the believer here regarding being judged, or the unbeliever? Or both? I’m guessing he meant the unbeliever because it refers to “those who will not be taught by the Word”.
Watson says, “We do not want sin covered, but cured. We can open our breast to the bullet of the Word and say, ‘Lord, smite this sin.’” I am not sure what kind of remedy for his daily sin he is looking for here. The sins of the people of Israel were â€œcoveredâ€ in the Old Testament by the blood of bulls and lambs.
Under the New Covenant, our sins were not “cured” but the Lord did “smite this sin” on the cross with His own blood. “For the death that He died, He died to sin once for all…” (Romans 6:10)
As Keith Green sang, “The work is already done.” Our sins are no longer temporarily “covered”, but now we have been permanently “redeemed” by the blood of The Lamb.
There is no “cure” for sin in our daily life but in Romans 6:11-14,17-18 it says, “…reckon yourselves to be dead indeed to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus our Lord…do not let sin reign in your mortal body…present yourselves to God as being alive from the dead…for sin shall not have dominion over you, for you are not under law but under grace…though you were slaves of sin, yet you obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine to which you were delivered. And having been set free from sin, you became slaves of righteousness.”
And 2 Corinthians 3:5-6 says, “…our sufficiency is from God, who also made us sufficient as ministers of the new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.”
And finally, Galatians 5:16 says, “…Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh.”
Watson says, “The Word is a spiritual mirror through which we may see our own hearts…When the Word came like a mirror, all my opinion of self-righteousness died.”
That is true, but the Scripture goes further. It says in 2 Cor. 3:18, “But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord.”
When I read the Word I do not feel threatened, because I love and trust the Lord. I feel challenged to grow in His grace…but not threatened.
I do not need to be scared away from sin. I am already repulsed by it, because I have been given a new nature. I am a new creation in Christ who is alive to God and dead to sin.
Since there are certainly a large number of Christians who read the Puritans, I wanted to make some comments about the Puritans in order to bring attention to a form of Legalism that they are prone to, largely because of their Covenant Theology.
No one likes to pick on such esteemed men as the Puritans, but Grace is too important to neglect the subtle spiritually-detrimental influence that the Law-based message of the Puritans can bring on an unsuspecting reader.
I urge you to read it before reading comments by me in this post (“The Legalistic Tendencies of the Puritans, Part 1″), and by my wife Michele in the next post (Part 2).
Part 1, Comments by Terry:
Warning: Sin-centered Christians will not like the following comments. But sin-centered Christians love warnings, so I knew it would be an attention-getter
Watson, like other Puritans in general, thought he was being Christ-centered by being sin-centered.
This is a result of his not cutting straight (rightly dividing) the Word of Truth.
He didn’t understand that the Old Covenant was made obsolete by the New (Heb. 8).
He didn’t understand that sin shall no longer be master of us because we are no longer under Law but under grace (Rom. 6:14).
While he acknowledges grace in a vague way, his *focus* is on himself and his sin. This is unbiblical under the New Covenant.
Our *focus* is to be on Christ, and walking by His Spirit. Keeping our eyes on Him, fellowshiping with Him. Not examining our spiritual navel 24 hours a day to see if we’re more sinless than we were yesterday, and wringing our hands and hankies when we’re not.
“If we walk by the Spirit, we will not fulfill the lusts of the flesh” (Gal. 5:16). The love of Christ constrains us to walk this way, and the love of Christ is grown in our hearts and minds as we look on Him, not our fleshly wretchedness.
And the Puritans didn’t get it, because they were reactionaries, reacting to a decadent immoral secular English church. And they reacted with a law/sin-focused life and study.
They rightfully gloried in the greatness of God, and this is the one value of reading the Puritans, but it’s a big mistake to go to them for tips on Christian living.
They are the Emperor who has no clothes. Greatly admired, almost worshiped like they were Christ himself, they were Law/Sin nerds who never got out of Old Covenant thinking, and into the bright light of Gal. 5:1, “Stand fast therefore in the liberty by which Christ has made us free, and do not be entangled again with a yoke of bondage.”
And yet, I mean no disrespect to them as men. They were influenced by their peers and their times.
But we are in another time, friends. A time in which we have an opportunity to bring the light of the New Covenant to a generation of believers who still think that their performance is the point.
A time when we can shake off “Religion” and replace it with Christ Who is our Life (Col. 3:4), and leave “Religion” for the World.
A time in which we can build true “…fellowship with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ” (1 Jn. 1:3), because “…the blood of Jesus Christ His son cleanses us from all sin.” (1 Jn. 1:7)
We all want “true revival”. But true revival is happening now in the hearts of those who understand the radical nature of Grace, who understand the freedom which is in Christ, and I don’t mean Antinomianism.
The Performance-Based Believer can never have the revival he thirsts for, because his *focus* is himself, and he doesn’t even know it.
He thinks he still has a wicked heart, and doesn’t realize that he’s been given a *new* heart, a heart of flesh to replace the heart of stone. (He has no idea what Paul means in Rom. 7:17, when he says, “…it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me.”)
His goal in a good sermon is to be “convicted”, so that he can head back to his laboratory of Performance and maybe get it right this time.
“Tetelestai!” It is finished! He has done it! Life conquered Death! Our sins, beloved are *all* forgiven. We are free to take our eyes off of ourselves and put them on the Author and Finisher of our Faith.