Coming Soon – “Ordinary” by Michael Horton

The Baker Deep End Blog

Michael Horton’s forthcoming book, Ordinary, looks to be fascinating and I think a healthy balance to the glut of books calling for some kind of radical life change.  The catalog description is perfect:

“Radical. Crazy. Transformative and restless. Every word we read these days seems to suggest there’s a ‘next-best-thing,’ if only we would change our comfortable, compromising lives. In fact, the greatest fear most Christians have is boredom–the sense that they are missing out on the radical life Jesus promised. One thing is certain. No one wants to be ‘ordinary.'”

“Yet pastor and author Michael Horton believes that our attempts to measure our spiritual growth by our experiences, constantly seeking after the next big breakthrough, have left many Christians disillusioned and disappointed. There’s nothing wrong with an energetic faith; the danger is that we can burn ourselves out on restless anxieties and unrealistic expectations. What’s needed is not another…

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The Perseverance and Preservation of the Saints — Michael Horton

amazingbackintograceMichael Horton explains that when teaching the biblical doctrine of eternal security for the Christian, The Perseverance (or Preservation) of the Saints is a more accurate term than “once saved, always saved”:

Some who believe that Christians are eternally secure give their doctrine the slogan “once saved, always saved,” but that slogan is very misleading. The slogan suggests that once persons make a decision for Christ, they can then go off and do their own thing, fully confident that no matter what they do or how they live, they are “safe and secure from all alarm.” That simply is not biblical.

The new birth, to be sure, is an event. In other words, at some point in your life, the Holy Spirit moves and creates new life in your soul. But salvation is more than that. Justification, too, is a one-time declaration, but salvation also involves a process of, over time, becoming righteous, which is called sanctification.

Sanctification is the Christian life, the daily pursuit of God and the transformation of the heart, mind, and will. Our priorities and our view of life are drastically altered, revolutionized, and reversed. We did not cooperate in our justification. But we must cooperate with God in our sanctification.

Some Christians have the idea that they must sit back and let the Spirit do everything. But…the process toward maturity in Christ is not based on a passive view of life. Another way of saying sanctification is “taking the bull by the horns.” We do not wait for the Holy Spirit to perform some supernatural number on our lives: he already has done this for us! We actively pursue holiness and Christ-centeredness in our lives, recognizing that the same One who commands us to work, persevere, and obey gives us the supernatural ability to do so. Just do it! You do the work; but recognize that, if the work is done, God has done it in and through you.

So then, when we speak of “once saved, always saved,” we are not taking into account the full scope of salvation. We have been saved (justified), we are being saved (sanctified), and we will one day be saved (glorified). You cannot claim to have been “saved” (justified) unless you are being sanctified. Jesus Christ is Savior and Lord.

Jesus made it plain throughout his ministry that one could not become his disciple (and, therefore, could not receive eternal life) unless that person was willing to “take up his cross daily” and follow Jesus. The New Testament emphasizes denying yourself, dying to sin, and deferring to others.

These terms identify a concept that is not in vogue today. When even many church leaders are telling people to “believe in yourself” and are preaching a gospel that is more concerned with fulfilling our desires than God’s, we have difficulty falling unreservedly into the arms of the Savior in whom we find our only confidence. But of course, we cannot ever tailor-make the gospel to fit our self-serving expectations.

Romans 8:30 makes clear the chain of salvation, a chain whose links cannot be broken: “And those he predestined, those he also called; those he called, he also justified; he justified, he also glorified.” Can one be predestined, called, justified, and lost? This verse teaches us that when God starts something, God finishes it. Did you grant yourself salvation? Did you gain it yourself in the first instance? No, salvation was a gift. Remember, God justifies and condemns: “Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. Who is he that condemns? (Rom: 8:33-34).  God never plants trees that do not bear fruit: “You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit – fruit that will last” (John 15:16).  And the conclusion we can draw from James is, if you don’t have the fruit, check the root!

Since God initially gives us the grace to believe in him and to turn from self, why would he not give us the grace to keep on trusting in him?  One simply cannot believe in the possibility of losing salvation through moral failure and in salvation by grace at the same time.

We have the responsibility to “go onto maturity” (Heb. 6:1). So we are responsible to persevere, but not for our perseverance. We are responsible to be saved, but not for our salvation.

To lose our salvation, we would have to return to a condition of spiritual death. Of what sort of regeneration would the Holy Spirit be the author if those whom he has resurrected and given eternal life are capable of dying spiritually again? “Well, can’t you commit spiritual suicide?” one might ask. Not if we take seriously the claim of 1 Peter 1:23: “For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable.”

Michael Horton, Putting Amazing Back into Grace (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2003), pp 170-174.

The Inconsistent Synergism of ‘Eternal Security’ – Michael Horton

charles_stanleyToday, many within the American Church speak of ‘Eternal Security’.  Charles Stanley is one key example that teaches this doctrine.  In this system, Charles Stanley actually is Arminian in the other four points of Calvinism and because a person “makes a decision for Jesus”, well Jesus is just kind of stuck with them, regardless of the lack of fruit or evidence of true faith in Christ.  This doctrine of ‘Eternal Security’ is inconsistent with the Reformed Protestant view known as ‘Perseverance of the Saints’ (or the ‘P’ in TULIP).  In the Reformed understanding of the five points of Calvinism, salvation is all of grace from beginning to end.  Michael Horton in his recent book, For Calvinism very thoughtfully engages the ‘inconsistent synergism’ of the doctrine of ‘Eternal Security’ commonly taught by Charles Stanley among many others.  Sadly, Reformed folk get a bad wrap for holding to ‘Eternal Security’ even though it is a view inconsistent with our system of doctrine and Reformed Confessional standards.  ‘Perseverance of the Saints’ is an altogether different doctrine than what has become known as ‘Eternal Security’ or ‘Once Saved, Always Saved’.  Reformed Protestants are not ‘Antinomians’ as the Assemblies of God would have us to believe as they lump Charles Stanley in within the pale of Calvinism and leave Reformed Protestants impaled.  Just take a look at our Reformed Confessions such as the Heidelberg Catechism or the Westminster Standards.

Michael Horton writes in For Calvinism:

Neither the Roman Catholic and Orthodox nor the Arminian view is Pelagian . Both insist on the necessity of grace, but this grace is regarded as making final salvation merely possible; it becomes effectual only to the extent that the believer cooperates with its infused powers.

If these rival views of perseverance represent a consistent synergism, another important view can be identified as inconsistent synergism. Generally known as eternal security, this view seems in some respects indistinguishable from the perseverance of the saints. However , at least as it is articulated by many of its leading proponents, this view locates security in the believer’s decision to accept Christ. 25 Although genuine Christians may fail to grow in their sanctification and persevere in their faith — in fact, they may never even begin to bear the fruit of righteousness— they are assured of eternal life. Such “carnal Christians” may leave the church, even deny Christ , and thereby lose the blessings of living as “victorious Christians” as well as the rewards in the next life for faithful service, but they will be saved, though “only as through fire” (1 Cor. 3: 15). 26

Although advocates often represent this position as moderate Calvinism, it is more appropriately identified as moderate Arminianism. This is why I have identified it as “inconsistent synergism.” After all, it denies that human beings are incapable of responding to God in faith apart from a prior regeneration, bases election on foreseen faith, rejects the particular scope of the atonement, and maintains that the Spirit’s sovereign call may be resisted. Even its teaching of eternal security is based on the believer’s decision to accept Christ, which renders this view actually closer to Arminianism than to a Calvinist interpretation of perseverance of the saints.

Over every form of synergism, Confessional Lutheranism strongly affirms a monergistic soteriology: God alone saves; it is not a process of human cooperation with God’s grace. Nevertheless, from a Reformed perspective the Lutheran system represents an inconsistent monergism. Confessional Lutheranism affirms total depravity and unconditional election while nevertheless holding with equal rigor to a universal atonement and the possibility of resisting the Spirit’s inward calling through the outward gospel. Lutheranism affirms with Reformed theology that the elect will persevere and “those who still take pleasure in their sins and continue in a sinful life do not believe” (Augsburg Confession, Art. 20); yet also holds that it is possible that (1) the elect may lose their salvation for a time (e.g., David, Peter), but not finally; and (2) others might once have truly believed, been regenerated and justified, but then lose all of these gifts through apostasy. 27

According to some Lutherans, salvation can only be lost through unbelief, while according to others it may also be lost due to mortal sin. 28 How can one say that God alone saves, from beginning to end, while also affirming the possibility of losing one’s salvation? It seems undeniable that this gift depends in some sense on the sinner’s nonresisting, although this conclusion is rejected by Confessional Lutherans.

The doctrine of the perseverance of the saints reflects a consistently monergistic view of salvation as entirely due to God’s grace alone from beginning to end. With the writer to the Hebrews, we can acknowledge the tragic reality of apostasy or falling away from the covenantal sphere of the Spirit’s activity through Word and sacrament without concluding that these visible members of Christ’s body were actually regenerated branches of the vine. Although some professing members may be devoid of saving faith, those who receive the reality that is promised to them in Word and sacrament are assured that they will continue to trust in Christ. In spite of the weakness of our faith and repentance, we are “more than conquerors through him who loved us,” so that nothing “will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 8: 37, 39). Now that is a message that takes command of our hearts and minds, leading us to worship and out to our neighbors with the best news that they will ever hear!

Horton, Michael S. (2011-10-25). For Calvinism (Kindle Locations 2129-2162). Zondervan. Kindle Edition.  (pp. 122-123 in the paperback)

Is Perseverance of the Saints Different from Eternal Security

The Perseverance and Preservation of the Saints — Michael Horton

Assemblies of God Position Paper on the Security of the Believer (Backsliding)

Full Obedience, Straight Up

Full_ObedienceI recently visited a mega church for a speech conference and was amazed at some of the mantras on signs. “Proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ & Live in Full Obedience to Him.” Yep, that’s right – “Full Obedience.” Just “Do it.” We left a mega church nearly 10 years ago because law and gospel were not clearly distinguished. Messages were simply so ‘law heavy’ and loaded with imperatives that church simply became oppressive. It was essentially ‘try harder’. Sadly, moving into Reformed circles it seems that many are not aware in ‘our’ churches that they also give GoLawspel (a mixing of law and gospel) to their people. The law demands perfect obedience and only Jesus Christ was the One who fully obeyed. Jesus performed obedience in our place and rescues us because of his obedient life, death, and resurrection. Now, because he has gone before us and obeyed on our behalf, we do bear the fruit of a redeemed life, but imperfectly so.

For those of you crushed by the mixing of law and gospel and oppressiveness of sermons loaded with “DO” and rarely “DONE” (what Christ has accomplished for you to rescue and comfort you) the following articles on law and gospel are a good place to begin thinking through these issues.

Then search for a church where the pastor will give you Christ in Word and Sacrament to comfort and nourish you along the way.

Sanctification Conference – Westminster Seminary California

PLENARY I: “Sanctification of the Justified”—David M. VanDrunen
Video http://s3.amazonaws.com/wscal-resources/video/Dr._Vandrunen_640_360.mov
Audio http://s3.amazonaws.com/wscal-resources/audio/2014_VanDrunen_sanctificationofthejustified.mp3

PLENARY II: “Sanctification Explained”—S.M. Baugh
Video http://s3.amazonaws.com/wscal-resources/video/Dr._Baugh_640_360.mov
Audio http://s3.amazonaws.com/wscal-resources/audio/2014_Baugh_sanctificationexplained.mp3

PLENARY III: “Sanctification Undermined”—Michael S. Horton
Video http://s3.amazonaws.com/wscal-resources/video/Dr._Horton_640_360.mov
Audio http://s3.amazonaws.com/wscal-resources/audio/2014_Horton_sanctificationundermined.mp3

PLENARY IV: “Sanctification Applied”—Bryan D. Estelle
Video http://s3.amazonaws.com/wscal-resources/video/Dr._Estelle-640_360.mov
Audio http://s3.amazonaws.com/wscal-resources/audio/2014_Estelle_sanctificationapplied.mp3

PLENARY V: “Sanctification Preached”—Dennis E. Johnson
Video http://s3.amazonaws.com/wscal-resources/video/Dr._Johnson-640_360.mov
Audio http://s3.amazonaws.com/wscal-resources/audio/2014_Johnson_sanctificationpreached.mp3

Questions & Answers —Faculty Panel
Video http://s3.amazonaws.com/wscal-resources/video/2014_QA-640_360.mov
Audio http://s3.amazonaws.com/wscal-resources/audio/2014_QA_facultypanel.mp3

PLENARY VI: “Sanctification Summarized”—W. Robert Godfrey
Video http://s3.amazonaws.com/wscal-resources/video/Dr._Godfrey-640_360.mov
Audio http://s3.amazonaws.com/wscal-resources/audio/2014_Godfrey_sanctificationsummarized.mp3

Source: Westminster Seminary California 2014 Annual Conference Resource Page

Can We “Make Jesus Lord”?

Can Christians “make Jesus Lord”?  In The Way of the Master by Ray Comfort (with Foreward and Commentary by Kirk Cameron), they make the claim that to move from being a ‘lukewarm’ ‘false convert’, you must “make Jesus Lord” (see below).  Further, it seems they believe the high mark of “making Jesus Lord” is to proclaim Jesus to every living creature.  So much for the sweet elderly saints that help to serve in other ways in the Body of Christ, they must just be lukewarm.  And forget about Christ giving gifts to His Church according to his good pleasure (see Ephesians 4, I Corinthians 12).  Note that Ephesians 4 speaks of our Lord giving His gifts to His church while calling for unity in the Body of Christ and a diligence in fighting our sin.

http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Ephesians+4&version=ESV

http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=1+Corinthians+12&version=ESV

Certainly, in the body of Christ, there are false converts that place their hope in another object besides the person and work of Christ on their behalf.  This can exhibit itself in various ways including unrepentant moral impurity or self-righteousness that does not readily confess hope in Christ alone.  As Christians, we always stand in need of God’s grace in Christ both for our original sin and our continuing struggle with indwelling sin during our Christian life.

Reformed Christians freely confess that we sin daily in word, thought and deed.  Why?  Because we take the nature of original sin and the ongoing struggle with indwelling sin in the Christian life seriously.  We know enough theologically of its effects and ongoing remains.  It is not pretty.  And yet, exactly due to the awfulness of our sin, we do not find the answer of our hope in being more diligent in what we do let alone our “evangelistic zeal”, but rather in Christ.  Certainly, we are to fight and hate our own personal sin, yet the foundation of our hope is not in how much we fight our sin nor our zeal for evangelism.  We do not place our hope in moving beyond being ‘lukewarm’ to now having a ‘zeal’ for sharing Jesus.

Before moving forward in this discussion, it is important to understand the doctrine of justification and set forth the ground of our comfort and hope.  In the Westminster Standards, the Larger Catechism states the following:

Q. 70. What is justification?

A. Justification is an act of God’s free grace unto sinners, in which he pardons all their sins, accepts and accounts their persons righteous in his sight; not for anything wrought in them, or done by them, but only for the perfect obedience and full satisfaction of Christ, by God imputed to them, and received by faith alone.

Q. 71. How is justification an act of God’s free grace?

A. Although Christ, by his obedience and death, did make a proper, real, and full satisfaction to God’s justice in the behalf of them that are justified; yet inasmuch as God accepts the satisfaction from a surety, which he might have demanded of them, and did provide this surety, his own only Son, imputing his righteousness to them, and requiring nothing of them for their justification but faith, which also is his gift, their justification is to them of free grace.

Q. 72. What is justifying faith?

A. Justifying faith is a saving grace, wrought in the heart of a sinner by the Spirit and Word of God, whereby he, being convinced of his sin and misery, and of the disability in himself and all other creatures to recover him out of his lost condition, not only assents to the truth of the promise of the gospel, but receives and rests upon Christ and his righteousness, therein held forth, for pardon of sin, and for the accepting and accounting of his person righteous in the sight of God for salvation.

Q. 73. How doth faith justify a sinner in the sight of God?

A. Faith justifies a sinner in the sight of God, not because of those other graces which do always accompany it, or of good works that are the fruits of it, nor as if the grace of faith, or any act thereof, were imputed to him for his justification; but only as it is an instrument by which he receives and applies Christ and his righteousness.

The Heidelberg asks –

91. What are good works?

Those only which proceed from true faith, and are done according to the Law of God, unto His glory, and not such as rest on our own opinion or the commandments of men.

The Way of the Master by Ray Comfort (Foreward and Commentary by Kirk Cameron is available online here: http://assets.livingwaters.com/pdf/way_of_the_master.pdf  To provide the fullest context of ‘making Jesus Lord’, I quote at length the section titled ‘Sinning Converts’ from pp. 271-272.

Sinning Converts

The direct result of the Church being confronted with biblical teaching on God’s immutable Law would be that “sinning converts” would no longer be consoled in their sins. Instead of dealing with the symptoms of sinners’ non-accountability lifestyles—their fornication, pornography, lack of discipline, lack of holiness, theft, wife beating, adultery, drunkenness, lying, hatred, rebellion, greed, etc.—pastors would deal with the cause. They would say, as Scripture does, “A good tree cannot bear bad fruit” (Matthew 7:18, emphasis added), and “No spring yields both salt water and fresh” (James 3:12). They would gently inform their hearers, “It sounds as if you have had a false conversion and you need to repent of your lawless deeds and make Jesus Christ your Lord.” Then, using the Law of God, pastors should show the “exceeding sinfulness” of sin and the unspeakable gift of the Cross. This should awaken the false converts, put most Christian psychologists out of business, and cut counseling to a minimum.

A clear understanding of the reality of true and false conversion would give light to church leaders who are horrified at the state of what they see as “the Church.” One respected leader said: In survey after survey, researchers find that the lifestyles of born-again Christians are virtually indistinguishable from those of nonbelievers. The divorce rate among Christians is identical to that of nonbelievers. Christian teens are almost as sexually active as non-Christian teens. Pornography, materialism, gluttony, lust, covetousness, and even disbelief are commonplace in many of our churches.

Such teaching would also stop the insanity of modern evangelism’s zeal without knowledge by showing that the category of lukewarm “converts” doesn’t exist. There is no division in the kingdom of God for those who are tepid. We should be either hot and stimulating or cold and refreshing.1   Lukewarm “converts” are not part of the body of Christ—they merely weigh heavy within the stomach of His body until He vomits them out of His mouth on the Day of Judgment (see Revelation 3:16). Because they didn’t pass through the jagged-edged teeth of the Law of God, they remain hard and impenitent. They were never broken by the Law that they might be absorbed into the bloodstream of the Body of Christ, to become His hands, His feet, and His mouth. They never felt the heartbeat of God, so their hands didn’t reach out in compassion to the lost, their feet were not shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace, and their mouths didn’t preach the gospel to every creature. This mass of converts is like the “backslider in heart” who is “filled with his own ways” rather than the ways of God (Proverbs 14:14). Their “Here I am Lord, send him,” doesn’t come from a fear of man but from rebellion to the revealed will of the God they call Lord and Master.

Kirk’s Commentary

I was guilty of being lukewarm. My desire for the lost was sincere, but I resigned myself to tasks other than evangelism because I didn’t feel comfortable or effective in sharing my faith. God has since turned up the heat, bringing me to an understanding of the Law, and now I’m on fire. —KC [end Comfort and Cameron quote]

In The Gospel Driven Life: Being Good News People in a Bad News World by Michael Horton, pp. 93-94

Commenting on “Making Jesus your personal Lord and Savior”, Michael Horton writes “This is another expression that is not found in Scripture.  In fact, the Good News is so good precisely because it is simply an announcement ofwhat is already in fact the case: “This Jesus God has raised up, of which we are all witnesses.  Therefore being exalted to the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he poured out that which you now see and hear…. Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly that God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ” (Acts 2:32–33, 36, emphasis added).

We all want to be and to do something rather than to be made and to receive our identity from above.  It is a blow to our spiritual ego to be told that everything has already been done.  Yet that is the glory of the gospel!  That is why it is Good News.  Imagine what would have happened if God had waited until Israel made God Lord and Savior before he liberated them from Egypt!  It was because he had elected Israel, set his love on her, and had mercy on her as he heard her cries under severe oppression — in other words, because he was already Lord and Savior—that he fulfilled his promise.  “Lord and Savior” is simply who God is, not something that we make him to be for us.  In fact, he was reigning and saving us while we were “ungodly,” “while we were still sinners,” even “while we were enemies” (Rom. 5:6-10).

Faith receives; it does not make.  Only God’s declarative word creates.  When God created the world, he did not say, “Let it be possible!”  He said, “Let there be light! And it was so.”  It is certainly true that we must receive Christ.  Yet it is because he has first received us.  “But as many as received him, to them he gave the right to become the children of God, to those who believe in his name, who were born not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God” (John 1:12-13).

To be sure, there is more to the Gospel than salvation from hell.  The cross is not simply God’s way of forgiving sinners, but of conquering the demonic forces and structures that yield oppression and violence.  And it’s certainly true that the gospel has often been reduced to a simplistic and individualistic message that misses the sweeping grandeur of Christ’s redemptive historical achievement.  It is not just “fire insurance,” but the way in which the Triune God fulfills his promise of a new creation in spite of human rebellion.  However, this broadening of the Gospel extends today, to include not only the fuller aspects of Christ’s work, but the work of believers as somehow redemptive.  We hear a lot these days about our being “coredeemers,” completing Christ’s work of redeeming love in the world.  As the meaning of “gospel” expands to anything and everything that flows from the gospel (and perhaps many things that do not), the meaning of “the ministry” expands to include virtually any activity of Christians conducted under the auspices of the church or in the name of Christ.

In this case, Christ becomes primarily a moral example rather than a Savior.  Whereas the gospel makes us receivers who then become actors, this emphasis on making Christ master and extending his redeeming work in the world renders us agents of rather than witnesses to God’s reconciling act in Jesus Christ. [end Horton quote]

So the question remains for Ray Comfort, Kirk Cameron and those they have influenced.  What righteousness is good enough before God?  God commands a perfect righteousness and what he commands, he freely gives in His Son Jesus Christ.  Jesus fulfilled all righteousness and if we accept such benefit with a believing heart, all His righteousness is ours, through the instrument of faith.

Several questions and answers from the Heidelberg Catechism are helpful again here to remind us of Christ in the Gospel for us.

21. What is true faith?

True faith is not only a sure knowledge whereby I hold for truth all that God has revealed to us in His Word, but also a hearty trust, which the Holy Spirit works in me by the Gospel, that not only to others, but to me also, forgiveness of sins, everlasting righteousness, and salvation are freely given by God, merely of grace, only for the sake of Christ’s merits.

60. How are you righteous before God?

Only by true faith in Jesus Christ: that is, although my conscience accuses me, that I have grievously sinned against all the commandments of God, and have never kept any of them, and am still prone always to all evil; yet God, without any merit of mine, of mere grace, grants and imputes to me the perfect satisfaction, righteousness, and holiness of Christ, as if I had never committed nor had any sins, and had myself accomplished all the obedience which Christ has fulfilled for me; if only I accept such benefit with a believing heart.

61. Why do you say that you are righteous by faith only?

Not that I am acceptable to God on account of the worthiness of my faith, but because only the satisfaction, righteousness and holiness of Christ is my righteousness before God; and I can receive the same and make it my own in no other way than by faith only.

62. But why cannot our good works be the whole or part of our righteousness before God?

Because the righteousness which can stand before the judgment seat of God, must be perfect throughout and entirely conformable to the divine law, but even our best works in this life are all imperfect and defiled with sin.

63. Do our good works merit nothing, even though it is God’s will to reward them in this life and in that which is to come?

The reward comes not of merit, but of grace.

If the expectations of others are burning you out, remember Christ in the Gospel for you and for me.  Jesus said in Matthew 11:28-30 (ESV), “28 Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

Christ Our Only Hope – Horton

GospelDriven_HortonArrested, arraigned, and indicted, in repentance we turn away from ourselves – our untruths, our sins, and our fraudulent claim to righteousness – and in faith we look  Christ for salvation and every spiritual gift. To put it differently, in repentance we confess (with David) that God is justified in his verdict against us and in faith we receive God’s justification. The righteousness of God brings us to our knees and guilt, while the gift of righteousness from God raises our eyes to Christ as our only hope. Dead to sin and alive to Christ once and for all in regeneration (Rom. 6:1-11), we are called to die daily to our old self and live daily by “the free gift of God,” which “is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (vv. 12 – 23). Michael Horton, The Gospel Driven Life: Being Good News People in a Bad News World p. 121

Distinguishing Law and Gospel Always Under Attack

The paradigm of distinguishing Law and Gospel is under attack.  The overarching fear seems to be that antinomianism will prevail in the church and practical holiness will not be pursued.  In this brief 3 minute video, Michael Horton, author and professor of Systematic Theology at Westminster Seminary in California, defines the Gospel in a narrow sense.  Some accuse this definition of the ‘Gospel’ of being out of accord with the Reformation understanding of the gospel.  It’s claimed he presents a ‘truncated gospel’ and some have called this some form of ‘Modern Day Reformed Thought’.

Here are some quotes from The Economy of the Covenants Between God and Man, (Escondido, California: den Dulk Foundation, 1990) Vol. 1 on the Gospel in the Narrow Sense https://covenantnurture.wordpress.com/2012/01/09/the-gospel-in-the-narrow-sense-herman-witsius/ These quotes provide evidence that Dr. Horton is completely in accord with the Reformation in his definition of the gospel.  Witsius elsewhere speaks of the 3rd use of the law throughout the Economy of the Covenants.  Michael Horton does the same in his writings and on his program the White Horse Inn.  The difference is Horton is attacked today by those that profess faith in Christ, even from within the Reformed churches.

What do God’s two words of Law and Gospel actually accomplish?  Michael Horton has some very helpful thoughts from his systematic theology, The Christian Faith: A Systematic Theology for Pilgrims On the Way, p. 755-56.

It is important to recognize while God’s Word is living and active, its  “two words” of law and gospel do different things.  The law kills by revealing our guilt, while the Spirit makes alive by the gospel (2 Co 3:6-18).  By speaking law, God silences and convicts us; by speaking the gospel, God justifies and renews us.  God’s energies, mediated by human language, not only inform us of judgment and grace but judge and save.
                Specifically, the gospel is that part of God’s word that gives life.  While everything that God says is true, useful, and full of impact, not everything that God says is saving.  First Peter 1:23-24 adds, “You have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God.”  Furthermore, it is not the word in general but the gospel in particular that is credited with this vivifying effect: “This word is the good news that was preached to you” (v. 25).  Similarly, Paul says that “faith comes from hearing… the word of Christ,” and more specifically, “the gospel of peace,” (Ro 10:15, 17).  Salvation is not something that one has to actively pursue, attain, and ascend to grasp, as if it were far away, but is as near as  “the word of faith that we proclaim” (v. 8).  We do not have to bring Christ up from the dead or ascend into heaven to bring him down, since he addresses us directly in his word (vv. 6-9).  The gospel is “the power of God for salvation” (Ro 1:16).
                Calvin observes that some parts of God’s Word engender fear and judgment.11 “For although faith believes every word of God, it rests solely on the word of grace or mercy, the promise of God’s fatherly goodwill,” which is realized only in and through Christ.12 “For in God faith seeks life,” says Calvin, “a life that is not found in commandments or declarations of penalties, but in the promise of mercy, and only in a freely given promise.”13 The only safe route, therefore, is to receive the Father through the incarnate Son.  Christ is the saving content of Scripture, the substance of its canonical unity.14 “This, then, is the true knowledge of Christ, if we receive him as he is offered by the Father: namely, clothed with his gospel.  For just as he has been appointed as the goal of our faith, so we cannot take the right road unless the gospel goes before us.”15

11. Calvin, Institutes 3.2.7; 3.2.29.
12. Ibid., 3.2.28-30.
13. Ibid., 3.2.29.
14. Ibid., 1.13.7.
15. Ibid., 3.2.6.

The Christian Faith: A Systematic Theology for Pilgrims On the Way, p. 755-56 by Michael Horton

Heidelberg is helpful here too.  We get faith from hearing the Gospel preached.

21. What is true faith?

True faith is not only a sure knowledge whereby I hold for truth all that God has revealed to us in His Word, but also a hearty trust, which the Holy Spirit works in me by the Gospel, that not only to others, but to me also, forgiveness of sins, everlasting righteousness, and salvation are freely given by God, merely of grace, only for the sake of Christ’s merits.

65. Since, then, we are made partakers of Christ and all His benefits by faith only, where does this faith come from?

The Holy Spirit works faith in our hearts by the preaching of the Holy Gospel, and confirms it by the use of the holy sacraments.

More resources for learning how to distinguish Law and Gospel are available here: