All Our Works Excluded (Vos)

  When it comes to being right with God – being declared righteous by God and accepted by him – all our works are completely excluded.  Or, as the Bible says, we are not justified by works, but by faith in Christ (Hab. 2:4, Rom. 3:28, 10:10, etc).  This is the meaning behind these solas: faith alone, grace alone, Christ alone, to God’s glory alone.  Geerhardus Vos explains justification apart from works in volume three of his dogmatics:

Not only the works that we do in our own strength, or that we do before regeneration, or that we do without the merits of Christ, but all [our] works, of whatever sort, are excluded from justification.

This is so repetitively certain in Scripture that proof is almost superfluous. Galatians 2:16 reads, “… nevertheless, knowing that a man is not justified by law-works [ἐξ ἔργων νόμου].” In no way is the reference here to works prescribed by one or another specific law, because the article is missing. All law-work as such is excluded from justification. According to Paul, faith and works form an absolute contrast in the matter of justification (Rom 11:6).

This must be maintained against the Roman Catholic teaching about the instrumentality of works in justification, as well as against Pelagians, Rationalists, and Remonstrants. The first two mentioned, the Pelagians and Rationalists, maintain that Scripture excludes only the works of the Jewish law, that is, the ceremonial law, but that the moral law certainly has to be observed by us for justification.

The last, the Remonstrants [the 17th century Arminian group], go one step further, and in place of the moral law in all its severity put a lighter form, the law of the obedience of faith. They speak of a fides obsequiosa [submissive faith] and of an obedientia evangelica [evangelical obedience], which, while in itself not perfect, is accepted by God as perfect.

Vos also summarizes the “causes” of justification.  Notice the work of the triune God in justification:

      The effective cause (causa efficiens) of justification is God, more accurately God the Father, and still more accurately His grace and righteousness. The meritorious cause is the obedience of Christ the Mediator (causa meritoria). The instrumental cause (causa instrumentalis) is faith worked in the heart through the Holy Spirit and then put into action. The final cause (causa finalis) is the glorification of God regarding all His virtues related to justification.

Of course we want God to receive all the glory in everything – especially our redemption.  When we submit to Scripture and acknowledge that God justifies sinners because of Christ’s imputed righteousness received by faith alone, we give God all the glory.  When we admit that even our faith is a gift of God the Holy Spirit, we give God all the glory.

Not to us, O Lord, not to us,
But to Your name give glory
(Ps. 115:1 NASB)

Geerhardus Vos, Reformed Dogmatics, ed. Richard B. Gaffin, trans. Annemie Godbehere et al., vol. 4 (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2012–2014), 143, 151–152.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI


Far from Rome, Near to God

 Here’s a book that shows the darkness of the Roman Catholic Church: Far from Rome, Near to God.  In it, you’ll find fifty stories about modern day Roman Catholic priests who came out of Rome because of her unbiblical and gospel-distorting teachings.  Here are a few excerpts.  The first has to do with Rome’s doctrine of justification.

“I performed all my monastic duties to the last rule.  I whipped myself every Wednesday and Friday evening till at times my back bled; in penance I often kissed the floor; often I ate my meager meal kneeling down on the floor, or completely deprived myself of food.  I did many forms of penances, for I was truly seeking salvation.  I was taught that I could eventually merit heaven.  I did not know that the Word of God says, ‘For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: not of works lest any man should boast’ (Eph. 2:8-9)” (p. 70).

Here’s another quote that has to do with Rome’s view that tradition and Scripture are equal.

“From childhood to age forty-four, seventeen years as a Roman priest (1955-1972), the Roman Catholic Church had been the pillar of truth to me, and my infallible guide to God.  This pillar of truth was not constructed solely of the infallible Scriptures, but also constructed of man’s traditions apart from Scripture, which were held to be revelations from God, but which in fact contradicted, and were in opposition to the plain teachings of Scripture.  [Later] the Scriptures became very real to me.  …The Roman Catholic church lost credibility for me, as it had taught as truth what was clearly contrary to the Scriptures.  I then chose the Scriptures as my standard of truth, no longer accepting the magisterium, or teaching authority of the Catholic Church as my standard. …the Holy Spirit led me to judge Roman Catholic theology by the standard of the Bible.  Before, I had always judged the Bible by Catholic doctrine and theology.  It was a reversal of authority in my life” (taken from chapter 8).

I could go on!  This book is a great “real-life” resource on what the solas of the Reformation mean – specifically sola gratia, solo Christo, sola fide, and sola Scriptura.  It is amazing how often these priests came to reject the Mass because of the teaching of Hebrews, reject Rome’s authority and tradition because they contradicted Scripture, and reject Rome’s semi-pelagian salvation “system” because of texts like Ephesians 2:8-9.  Again, this is pretty much a story-like study of the solas.

If I had to recommend three books for studies on Roman Catholicism, along with Rome’s own catechism I would recommend Sproul’s Are We Together?, and this one quoted above: Far from Rome, Near to God ed. Richard Bennett and Martin Buckingham (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 2009). 

shane lems

Ames on Justification

 Great stuff by William Ames (d. 1633) on justification by faith alone in Christ alone.

“Justification is the gracious judgment of God by which he absolves the believer from sin and death, and reckons him righteous and worthy of life for the sake of Christ apprehended in faith (Rom 3.22).”

“This justification comes about because of Christ, but not in the absolute sense of Christ’s being the cause of vocation [calling].  It happens because Christ is apprehended by faith, which follows calling as an effect.  Faith precedes justification as the instrumental cause, laying hold of the righteousness of Christ from which justification being apprehended follows; therefore, righteousness is said to be from faith (Rom. 9:30; 10.6).  And justification is said to be by faith (Rom. 3.28).”

And more:

“That faith is properly called justifying by which we rely upon Christ for the remission of sins and for salvation.  For Christ is a sufficient object for justifying faith.  Faith justifies only by apprehending the righteousness by which we are justified.  That righteousness does not lie in the truth of some proposition to which we give assent, but in Christ alone who has been made sin for us so that we might be righteousness in him (2 Cor. 5.21).”

“Besides the forgiveness of sins there is also required an imputation of righteousness (Rom 5.18, Rev 19.8, Rom 8.3).  This is necessary because there might be a total absences of sin in a case where that righteeousness does not exist which must be offered in place of justification.”

A sinner is not justified on the grounds of his faith, nor on the grounds of his deeds, nor on the grounds of a mixture of the two; neither is a sinner justified on the grounds of believing a doctrine (proposition).   A sinner is justified by beliving in the person and work of Christ alone.  Faith is the Spirit-wrought gift God gives a sinner, a gift which receives all the blessings Jesus has earned for his people.  God justifies the ungodly because of Christ’s work imputed to them and their sin imputed to Christ on the cross (2 Cor 5.21).  As the Belgic Confession says so well, we are justified by faith even before we do good works, because the works which justify us are Christ’s, not ours (see articles 23-24).

Sola Deo Gloria!

These quotes are found in Ames’ Marrow of Theology I.XXVII.

shane lems

sunnyside wa

A Brief Review of Driscoll/Breshears’ “Doctrine”


Update: In recent weeks (Nov-Dec 2011) Mark Driscoll has gone on record with some explicit claims of continuing revelation. We appreciate Driscoll’s ability to formulate and teach a few aspects of Reformed theology quite well, but we do not in any way agree with the notion that God continues to reveal himself to us apart from His word. Driscoll’s “visions” sound like divinations; we believe this is a dangerous element in his teaching.  See THIS POST for more information.

I recently finished reading Mark Driscoll and Gerry Breshears’ new book, Doctrine: What Christians Should Believe (Wheaton: Crossway, 2010).  Reading this book was enjoyable – all 450 pages (with study guide, topical index, and Scripture index).  I appreciated the way they outlined the doctrines but then also discussed how the doctrines matter for the Christian.  For example, after a detailed discussion of creation (days, theology, science, etc.), there is a section called “What difference does the doctrine of creation make for your life?”  I realize that question and its answer can be annoying, but these “application” sections were very helpful and not cheesy at all.  This theology book is highly practical and deals with things Christians face today (New Age pantheism, pornography, depression, agnosticism, laziness, idolatry, consumerism, pride, legalism, cults like Mormonism and Jehovah’s Witnesses, suicide, and so on).

Compared to a systematic theology in the Reformed tradition (i.e. Berkhof), it overlaps about 60-70%, give or take (though it isn’t nearly as detailed).  Since they don’t label this as straight up Reformed theology, I’m not going to critique them for the areas in which I disagree (you can read other blogs or books to study the differences/disagreements).  I will point them out, however, in case you’re curious.  I disagree when they say that the words “begotten” and “proceeds” are not overly helpful in discussing the Trinity (though Driscoll & Breshears seem to be in line with Nicea and Chalcedon).  I’m skeptical about women deacons and the continuation of spiritual gifts like healings.    

The chapter on covenant is, in my opinion, the worst part of the book.  In an almost biblicistic manner, they dismiss the covenant of works because the term “covenant” doesn’t show up in Genesis 1-3.  Being Reformed, I’m not a huge fan of a single-covenant scheme in biblical theology.  Thankfully in the covenant chapter (and in the entire book) they do continually speak about Jesus, the center and focus of the OT and NT. 

Furthermore, I’m still thinking about their explanation of “unlimited-limited atonement.”  In some other areas (i.e. the attributes of God) they utilize Reformed theological terms but order them in a more readable way (which is fine) but sometimes (i.e. the marks of the church) they lump terms together in an unhelpful way (which is hard to read if you’re schooled in Reformed sytematics).

The strengths of this book are many.  It is written in everyday language, which I appreciate – it is not at all the “Christianese” language you find in many Christian circles.  I enjoyed their chapter on the image of God in man, particularly how they pick up on Calvin’s image of a shattered mirror concerning the imago.  I loved how they discussed the fall, sin, and total depravity; it was penetrating and well written (they list out and explain a ton of sinful views of sin such as materialism, evolutionism, humanism, etc.).   Driscoll and Breshears also don’t hesitate to point out inconsistencies in Christian traditions and practices – those little tidbits were great.

I appreciated how throughout the book they contrasted the historic Christian views with false views (as I mentioned above) – they weren’t afraid to show how Christianity is far different from Hinduism, Mormonism, Wicca, Oprah, etc.  They also stressed humility in theology, and did a decent job of distinguishing essential truths and secondary ones.  Taking into consideration the modern arbitrary views people have of the church, they also emphasized the need for Christian fellowship, membership, and regular hearing of the preached word.  As I mentioned elsewhere on this blog, I liked their emphasis on the missional nature of the church. 

Throughout the book, though there are not many technical footnotes (besides the hundreds of biblical references), they do refer in a helpful way to people like J.I. Packer, John Piper, R.C. Sproul, Martin Luther, Ed Welch, Don Carson, St. Augustine, and Greg Beale, just to name a few. 

Their sections on worship and idolatry as well as stewardship were some of the best things I’ve read on those topics; they were simply outstanding.  Here’s an example of the stewardship section.

“It cannot be overstated that when we give to God, we are not deciding how much of our wealth to give.  Rather, we are determining how much of God’s wealth we are keeping for our own uses” (1 Chr. 29.14) (p. 394).

In summary, though this book isn’t right in the “Reformed” line of Berkhof and Bavinck, for example, it is certainly worth owning, reading, and utilizing.   For our readers who are Reformed, it’ll be a good book to have to see how theology “outworks” into life even if you don’t agree with it all.  If you’re not Reformed, I’d encourage you to read this book.  If you enjoy it, I challenge you to read Bavinck’s Our Reasonable Faith if you want to take the next step into Reformation theology.  Or, read Driscoll/Breshears now, and in October when Mike Horton’s new Reformed doctrine book comes out, get that.

[One more thing, in case you were curious: there is no sketchy or crude language in this book, as there is in some of Driscoll’s older books.]

shane lems

sunnyside, wa