Friday, October 26, 2007

For Reformation Sunday

(I don't normally post the same thing here and at my home blog, but I think this dovetails nicely with Fred's last post.)

In honor of Reformation Sunday this weekend, I want to post a little something on the nugget of truth that rocked the world that was, four hundred and ninety years ago.

Romans 4:5 says, "And to the one who does not work but trusts in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness." (ESV)

Truthfully, to get what this verse is saying, you've got to work your way in a straight line from Romans 1:1. Looking at it in isolation like this, with no extended discussion of context, is not the ideal way of doing things. But the discussion that follows does strive to take all of that into account. I'm looking at one verse, but striving to avoid looking at it as if it exists in a vacuum, okay?

1. "to the one who does not work": Paul has a very narrow definition in mind here. The one who does not work is not one who purposefully avoids doing anything. He's not one who disdains all good works. In context, this is one who has stopped trying to prove how righteous he is by knocking himself out with meticulous law-keeping. I mean, he's stopped using the law of God as his proving-ground.

It's easy to look back and see the Pharisees condemned in this. Their law-keeping was all about showing everybody how righteous they were.

But I think we have a tendency even as Christians to lapse into something like this. Maybe we don't try to do things to earn our commendation as righteous people (at least I hope we don't.) We can, though, slide into a thought process by which we still believe that our relationship with God is a works-based thing, and not a faith-based thing. If we're not conscious of great sin in our lives, it's easier for us to "feel" that God loves us. And when we yield to temptation, we can start to doubt that He does. So we can get into the whole performance-based rut if we do not always keep in mind that which is in fact the basis of our relationship with God: That is, of course, the righteousness of Jesus Christ.

Another thing to note: Paul is elsewhere always fervent to urge Christians to continue in good works, so this "one who does not work" is not talking about there being some virtue in doing nothing for the kingdom of God. It is narrowly describing one who has stopped trying to earn anything in His sight.

2. "but trusts him who justifies the ungodly": A world of theological confusion would be cleared up if we'd get a hold of this. Who is it that God justifies? Those who deserve it? The righteous? No. He justifies the ungodly. Now, the Bible teaches that justification is a very initial step in Christian life. It happens at the beginning. To the ungodly. But we are supposed to progress. You don't get to stay that way.

Connect this phrase to the one before it. The man who is justified has stopped trying to prove how righteous he is, and has accepted God's judgment as to his fallen nature: he has realized the truth of his ungodliness. He isn't "basically a good person." He isn't going to get any credit for trying his best to do right. He is ungodly: contrary to God in every way. Knowing how little you deserve the reward of heaven is really the first step toward getting there.

I have come to cherish this phrase of the Bible, like Captain Jack Sparrow treasures...well, treasure.

I'm called to trust in the One who justifies the ungodly; and it always elicits this response: "Praise God that I qualify!"

3. "his faith is counted as righteousness." : I don't have the time or space to give this what it deserves. This is it in a nutshell, the fulcrum of the Reformation, by which the world was moved.

The word "counted" there refers to imputation, and is often translated as "accounted." We really can think of this in terms of bookkeeping. It's all about what is laid to your account and what isn't. In the verses that follow this one, for instance, Paul shows from Psalms 32 that it's really not about whether you sin or not (since all have sinned--Romans 3:23,) but it's about what God chooses to record on your heavenly book, so to speak.

God justifies the ungodly by counting them righteous, or by imputing righteousness to their account. They are not actually righteous: they are ungodly, remember. But He calls them righteous, innocent, godly. Then, after this imputation, in which they are justified, He sets about the work of making them what He has called them (and this is referred to as "sanctification.")

Now, in my short time as a Southern Baptist pastor, I think I have detected a common misunderstanding here. The verse says the ungodly man's faith is counted as righteousness. So, from this, many have concluded that God has decided to equate faith and righteousness. Righteousness is faith, and vice versa. The theory is that God used to count law-keeping as righteousness, but when that didn't work out so well, He simply changed the rules in the middle of the game and has agreed to accept faith as if it was righteousness. So, then, if God looks upon a man who has faith, He says, "Ah, here is a righteous man."

Here is why this is wrong:

For one, it ignores the context of what has come before in this letter to the Romans. Specifically, it ignores the fact that Paul has previously made it plain that we are saved by the righteousness of God, as revealed in Christ, and not by any supposed righteousness that dwells in us. (See for instance, Romans 3:21-22.) Faith is not that righteousness. Faith receives that righteousness of Jesus Christ "whom God put be received by faith." Romans 3:25.

So then, when faith is imputed to us for righteousness, it is specifically the righteousness of Christ which is laid to our account. It is as perfect, holy, and spotless as the Lord Himself.

For another thing, if faith equals righteousness, then Paul's entire argument is overturned here. Paul has already said that it is not the righteous man who is justified: it is rather the ungodly man who believes and trusts. But if faith equals righteousness, how can the man who has faith be called "ungodly?" Wouldn't you have to call him righteous, if faith is that righteousness?

If faith is righteousness, then what you have in justification is simply God rewarding righteousness with the wages it deserves. If faith is righteousness, then it deserves to be justified, you see, and so Paul's whole argument that justification is a gift of God's grace is turned on its head. (As in Romans 4:4, for instance.)

No, faith is not righteousness. Faith is that by which the righteousness of Christ is apprehended, or grasped.

So this is really the crux of the Gospel invitation. Recognize how stinkin' ungodly you are and trust in the One who justifies the ungodly, by imputing the righteousness of Christ to their account.

If you already know and believe all of this, tell me, why are you not rejoicing?

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Individualism and Christianity: A Personal Relationship with Jesus

People who read this blog often will recognize that the reformed mafia is frequently in debate over issues with The Watson Brothers, commonly known as Exist Dissolve and Deviant Monk. We disagree over a great deal of things. However, I believe these two guys actually see something that perhaps us reformed folks might miss.

Our Western Culture is very individualistic, and that is also prevelant among modern Christianity and in our churches. Modern Christianity talks about fellowship and unity, but do we really foster true biblical unity?

The way that Christianity has been going follows the individualistic trend of the culture, instead of biblical community. Perhaps one of the reasons this is true is the language that Christians employ when speaking of Christ.

It is common to hear Jesus Christ referred to as "Personal" Lord and Savior. While Jesus is referred to in this way by today's Christian, never is this title of "Personal" Lord or "Personal" Savior employed in the Bible, and never is Jesus given this title in the scriptures.

Perhaps it was originally derived to distinguish from an impersonal savior, someone who has no concern for humanity. In this sense, yes Jesus is personal. He cares about his people. He is present amidst his people.

However, I think in our day and age, I think the idea more conveys a personal savior who is somewhat like a personal trainer. This fosters the mentality, "Me and Jesus have our own thing going over here, hes my "personal" savior." This quickly creates an individualistic Christianity.

Also the concept of a "personal" relationship with Christ is not a concept in scripture either, yet we employ this terminology ever so often at the end of Just As I Am after the 30 minute, 3 point sermon in the Southern Baptist Church. This fosters the whole, "Me and Jesus and nobody else" mentality as well.

I actually think that this terminology is damaging to the Christian faith. As I am studying the Old Testament this semester, I have been entrigued with the concept of the covenant theme, and as I read scripture it is every where. While God established covenants with particular individuals: Adam, Noah, Abraham, etc. God's covenants were not just for these particular individuals. God's covenant was with a people, Israel. God's covenant was with the descendants of thise individuals. In the Old Testament, God's relationship to his people was not individualistic, rather it was with a community of people.

I don't think it is any different today. God has established a new covenant with a people he has chosen. God is not merely dealing with individuals, but with the church, a community of believers.

I think it is very easy to get trapped into the individualistic mindest of our western culture and foster that mentality in Christianity when we think of having a "personal" relationship with Jesus. However, this individualism is foreign to the pages of scripture, and I think the Watson brothers actually rightly observe this, and we too, need to see this and do what we can to guard against it and do our best to promote biblical community within the church of Jesus Christ. Be Blessed!

Monday, October 15, 2007

The Bible Fashion Magazine

I am sure that you have seen this Bible Magazine at your local Christian bookstore, or local Wal-Mart. Revolve is a Biblezine that seeks to reach out to young teen women. While this magazine Bible has good intentions, their methods are entirely wrong. Think about it: God's Holy Word, plus beauty secrets. As far as I know, the Bible doesn't talk about what make up to use on which type of skin color. Also, as Dr. Russell Moore pointed out in class today, you won't find overwight girls, or girls with acne problems, or girls that just look weird. You find young attractive females that resemble girls in a cosmopolitan magazine. This Bible presents the same message to young teen girls as a cosmopolitan magazine does: There is a particular way a teenage girl must look in order to be somebody. Granted, I think their is a serious problem when a girl doesn't take care of herself and weighs 400 pounds, but I can bet the God is not going to redeem just the girls that look like the girls in this Biblezine.
Secondly, in promotion of Revolve this is the advertisement:
In focus groups, online polling, and one-on-one discussion, Transit Books
has found that the number one reason teens don't read the Bible is that it is
"too big and freaky looking." This fashion-magazine format for the New Testament
is the perfect solution to that problem. Teen girls feel comfortable exploring
the Scriptures in the New Century Version and over 500 further-study notes
because of the relevant language and format!
They claim that the Bible is "too big and freaky looking." What these people do not understand is the authority of Scripture. The Bible, whether it is too big or freaking looking, is God's word to His people and is powerful to bring salvation. It isn't the cool look that makes the Bible effective, it is the words on the pages of Scripture that are inspired, inerrant, infallible, and authoritative and brings salvation to everyone who believes.
We don't need to make the Bible "attractive" for people. What we need to do is to boldly proclaim God's Word to teenagers as God's ambassadors to them, and if we do that, teenagers will come willingly to Christ and believe the gospel.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Catholics and Perseverance

On James White's Dividing Line program from October 11, he reviews some Catholic objections to "Eternal Security". He touches on some points that we have recently wrangled over on this blog with our Arminian friends. I really think you Mafia guys will enjoy this one! Here's the program.


Thursday, October 11, 2007

A Message to Our Readers

It has come to my attention that different people have encountered our blog here at The Reformed Mafia and have drawn various conclusions from the name of our blog. In this post I seek to inform our readers what we are about and what we are not.

1. We are not an organization. We aren't really a Mafia. We don't have meetings. In fact, I only personally know two people who write as authors on this blog, and am close friends to a former author of this blog.

2. We do not desire to infiltrate churches and schools "brainwashing" people with calvinism. We are Calvinists. With that being said, we also belive God gave each individual minds to think, and we want to simply get people thinking about various issues dealing with the church and theology.

3. We are not a violent people. The authors that I know personally on this blog are the most tenderhearted and godly people that I know. Don't be alarmed by a picture of a gun on our blog. It is there for decoration, simply going with the Mafia theme. In fact, we are so unlike a Mafia that one of our frequent commentors called us a "Subversive Chess Club" because we don't debate that much, and we don't want to cause problems.

4.We are no more a Mafia as the Dallas Cowboys aren't actually Cowboys. It is simply a theme. The Cowboys is a mascot. It is the same thing with our blog.

5. The blog was named by Rhett Kelley after reading where RC Sproul and JI Packer were called the reformed mafia. We liked the name, thought it was humorous, and created a blog with that name.

6. If there is anyone who would like to contact any of us at The Reformed Mafia, we will gladly provide our phone numbers for you to call and speak to us personally.

7. We desire unity within the body of Christ, and don't desire to cause any problems.

*I hope that this has been helpful to those who read our blog. Each member of the Mafia exhibits godly character and have modeled before me what it means to be a godly father and husband, and godly ministers. Trevor Almy, a former author, was asked to join the blog by me because he is a long time friend and I have seen the Spirit of God work in him through the years of our friendship. Trevor has a passion for the word of God and reaching people with the gospel of Jesus Christ. I can assure our readers that neither Trevor, nor any member of the blog, has been sent to brainwash students or church members to ascribe to calvinism. We are not Calvinist Commandos, we are just people who love God with all of our heart, mind, soul, and strength. If you are offended by our Mafia theme, I appologize, but just as the Atlanta Braves aren't really a group of Native American Indians, we aren't a violent group of Mafia members. We are mere servants of Christ seeking to proclaim the glorious gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ through the preaching of God's word, both verbal and written!

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

The Problem with Universal Redemption

After a conversation at work, I decided to write this post. A coworker of mine asked me about limited atonement today at work (seeing he works with a bunch of seminary students who discuss theology at work). Upon further discussion I realized his problem was election not limited atonement. But his question was, "Can't the atonement be like a blanket atonement for everyone who believes?" That is the question I will deal with.

Did Jesus die for every single individual, yet only those who trust in him actually be saved? I answer no.

1. This would mean double punishment for those who do not trust in Christ. If Jesus atoned for the sins of every individual then they sould go to heaven, necessitating universalism. If universalism is not accepted, then Jesus is paying for unbelievers sins on the cross, and unbelievers are paying for their own sins in hell. This is a double punishment for sin and is illogical.

2. This makes the atonement theoretical and not actual. This view means Jesus is just making salvation possible and not actually saving anybody. In this view, salvation depends not on the cross, but ultimately on the believers choice.

3. This would provide a weak trinity. If God wills that everyone be saved, and Jesus dieds for everyone, and the Holy Spirit is drawing everyone to Christ, yet not all are coming, then the will of man is stronger than the power of God. Man's will is stronger than the will of God.

The truth is, God has had a plan before the foundation of the world. God has chosen to enter into a covenant relationship with a people and Jesus is the means by which those people enter into that covenant relationship. Jesus Christ died for those whom God has set his love upon, whom God foreknew. The Holy Spirit is drawing those whom God has chosen and for whom Christ died. Jesus actually saves. OUr salvation rests upon Christ, and not upon us. May we never boast that our salvation was the result of our own will, but upon the efficacious work of Jesus Christ on the cross.

Monday, October 8, 2007

Baptists & the Doctrines of Grace (DVD)

I found a DVD that might interest Reformed folk in the SBC:

"Many people, even life-long Southern Baptists, have not been made aware of the strong, doctrinal roots from which the Baptist denomination emerged; especially the SBCs Calvinistic roots. In two 45-minute presentations, Dr. Tom Nettles, a teacher of Baptist history since 1976, traces the influence of these doctrines in Baptist life from the 17th century to the present. He shows how many of these foundational beliefs have been weakened with time and urges a return to the principles espoused by the denomination’s founding fathers and the Word of God."

Description from

Click here to order a copy of the DVD.

Monday, October 1, 2007

We'll be Back!

Just a short message to say most of the Mafia has been very busy with things like parenting, ministerial duties, and Seminary education. As a result, blogging has had to take a backseat for some of us -at least for a little while.

In order to help keep up the fight against evangelical androgyny, I would like to encourage everyone to visit The Council on Biblical Manhood & Womanhood.