Correspondence with a Roman Catholic
Here is an excerpt from correspondence I had with a Roman Catholic named Steve today - I will put my words in bold so that it is easy to follow along - John S:
John S: Luther argued that the Bible is our sole ultimate authority.
Steve: I would say he (Martin Luther) argued that his interpretation of his particular version of the Bible was the ultimate authority.
John Samson: and I would strongly disagree with what you would argue for. I would argue for the perspecuity of Scripture - that in its essential message, it is clearly understood. The Scriptures on the subject of salvation are clear to anyone who will read the Bible.
2 Tim 3: "14 But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it 15 and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus."
I also do not need a so called infallible council to tell me that "Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith apart from works of the law" (Romans 3:28) actually means "a man is justified by faith along with works of the law."
Steve: James 2:24 (AKJV) Ye see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only.
As St. Augustine said, "If you believe what you like in the gospels, and reject what you don't like, it is not the gospel you believe, but yourself."
John S: I do not pick and choose what I believe. I believe ALL of Scripture and seek to rightly interpret it by means of the context in which those verses occur...
"In Romans 3:28 Paul says, "For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from works of the Law." In James 2:24 we read, "You see that a man is justified by works, and not by faith alone." If the word justify means the same thing in both cases, we have an irreconcilable contradiction between two biblical writers on an issue that concerns our eternal destinies. Luther called "justification by faith" the article upon which the church stands or falls. The meaning of justification and the question of how it takes place is no mere trifle. Yet Paul says it is by faith apart from works, and James says it is by works and not by faith alone. To make matters more difficult, Paul insists in Romans 4 that Abraham is justified when he believes the promise of God before he is circumcised. He has Abraham justified in Genesis 15. James says, "Was not Abraham our father justified by works, when he offered up Isaac his son on the altar?" (James 2:21). James does not have Abraham justified until Genesis 22.
This question of justification is easily resolved if we examine the possible meanings of the term justify and apply them within the context of the respective passages. The term justify may mean (1) to restore to a state of reconciliation with God those who stand under the judgment of his law or (2) to demonstrate or vindicate.
Jesus says for example, "Wisdom is justified of all her children" (Lk 7:35 KJV). What does he mean? Does he mean that wisdom is restored to fellowship with God and saved from his wrath? Obviously not. The plain meaning of his words is that a wise act produces good fruit. The claim to wisdom is vindicated by the result. A wise decision is shown to be wise by its results. Jesus is speaking in practical terms, not theological terms, when he uses the word justified in this way.
How does Paul use the word in Romans 3? Here, there is no dispute. Paul is clearly speaking about justification in the ultimate theological sense.
What about James? If we examine the context of James, we will see that he is dealing with a different question from Paul. James says in 2:14, "What use is it, my brethren, if a man says he has faith, but he has no works? Can that faith save him?" James is raising a question of what kind of faith is necessary for salvation. He is saying that true faith brings forth works. A faith without works he calls a dead faith, a faith that is not genuine. The point is that people can say they have faith when in fact they have no faith. The claim to faith is vindicated or justified when it is manifested by the fruit of faith, namely works. Abraham is justified or vindicated in our sight by his fruit. In a sense, Abraham's claim to justification is justified by his works. The Reformers understood that when they stated the formula, "Justification is by faith alone, but not by a faith that is alone.""
R. C. Sproul - Knowing Scripture; InterVasity Press, p. 83, 84
Steve: Yes it may take a man of R. C. Sproul’s erudition to make sense of this mess and still remain in the reformed tradition. As for me, a mere uneducated, semi-literate reader, I can not make the mental leaps necessary to reconcile the citations of James and Paul via Luke. To me it seems that Paul is talking about works of the law. Paul is saying we are not justified by sacrificing crops or livestock. We are not justified by circumcision or observing holy days. After all Paul was the apostle to the Gentiles, and the Gentiles knew little of Jewish law. James, on the other hand is stating that if you don’t do good, you aren’t good. Do right and you must be right. In that we have the tempest in the teapot that Martin Luther had to make into a movement. At any rate, as Sproul says, “The claim to faith is vindicated or justified when it is manifested by the fruit of faith.” and you can’t manifest fruit without work for the work is the fruit. And since you need faith to manifest fruit, faith alone isn’t enough. So in spite of this easy explanation you want to make a big deal out of it and start your own religion? Oh wait, . . . yes you do, and Martin Luther did! I’ll stick with Christendom as it had been practiced.
By the way, did Martin Luther mention who won the farting contest he had with the devil?
John S: It was not a tempest in a tea pot when the very gospel of Christ was (and is) at stake. Paul and James spoke of justification in TWO DIFFERENT CONTEXTS. There is nothing hard to understand here. Luther did not start his own religion - justification by faith alone has always been the way of salvation and is contstantly affirmed by the early Church fathers. Please read this.
Also: taking a cheapshot at Luther is an ad hominem attack and evidence of a failed argument - it is like saying "you cannot be right because you have a big nose."
Steve: Mentioning that a man misunderstood the context of Paul and James,mentioning that a man wanted to eliminate the "straw gospel" of James because it disagreed with his feelings about justification by faith alone, and mentioning that he had mental delusions is not the same as saying a man has a big nose. It is merely pointing out that his reliability as a church authority should be questioned. Martin Luther was a man of great faith unto his own interpretations of the Bible and was able to start a movement of which you are an adherent. Was the man of sound mind? To me, his argument fails on its own merit. But when you fail to agree with me on the merit if is argument (and vice versa, I fail to agree with you on the merits of his argument), then the soundness of his mind is a secondary test. A test which he also fails to pass. In my opinion, of course.
Understanding 2 Peter 3:9
From Chapter 9 of the book, "Twelve What Abouts - Answering Common Objections Concerning God’s Sovereignty in Election" by John Samson
Without doubt, this is the single most popular verse used to dismiss the biblical doctrine of election, bar none. The meaning of the verse is simply assumed, and because of this, no time is taken to study it, which is the very hallmark of tradition. I have to admit that I did this for many years. Those most enslaved to tradition are those who think they do not have any.
First of all then, let us read the verse in its context:
2 Peter 3:1-9––“This is now the second letter that I am writing to you, beloved. In both of them I am stirring up your sincere mind by way of reminder, that you should remember the predictions of the holy prophets and the commandment of the Lord and Savior through your apostles, knowing this first of all, that scoffers will come in the last days with scoffing, following their own sinful desires. They will say, ‘Where is the promise of his coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all things are continuing as they were from the beginning of creation.’ For they deliberately overlook this fact, that the heavens existed long ago, and the earth was formed out of water and through water by the word of God, and that by means of these the world that then existed was deluged with water and perished. But by the same word the heavens and earth that now exist are stored up for fire, being kept until the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly.
But do not overlook this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.”
The first thing we notice is that the subject of the passage is not salvation but the second coming of Christ. Peter is explaining the reason for the delay in Christ’s second coming. He is still coming and will come unexpectedly, like a thief in the night (v. 10).
The second thing to notice is that the verse in question (v. 9) speaks of the will of God. “God is not willing” for something to happen.
Theologians have long recognized that there are three ways in which the will of God is spoken of in Scripture.
There is what is called the Sovereign Decretive Will. This refers to the will by which God brings to pass whatsoever He decrees. This is something that ALWAYS happens. Nothing can thwart this will. (Isa. 46:10, 11).This will is also known as the secret will of God because it is hidden to us until it comes to pass in the course of time.
Secondly, there is the Preceptive Will of God. This is God’s will revealed in His law, commandments or precepts. As the course of human history reveals, people have the power to break these commandments and do so every day. It is important to state though that, although men have the power to break these precepts, they do not have the right to do so. His creatures are under obligation to obey all His commandments and will face His judgment for not doing so.
Thirdly, we have God’s Will of Disposition. Dr. R. C. Sproul states, This will describes God’s attitude. It defines what is pleasing to Him. For example, God takes no delight in the death of the wicked, yet He most surely wills or decrees the death of the wicked. God’s ultimate delight is in His own holiness and righteousness. When He judges the world, He delights in the vindication of His own righteousness and justice, yet He is not gleeful in a vindictive sense toward those who receive His judgment. God is pleased when we find our pleasure in obedience. He is sorely displeased when we are disobedient. (Essential Truths of the Christian Faith)
The Baptism and Temptation of Jesus
Text: Matthew 3:
The Baptism of Jesus
13 Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to John, to be baptized by him. 14 John would have prevented him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” 15 But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he consented. 16 And when Jesus was baptized, immediately he went up from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on him; 17 and behold, a voice from heaven said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.”
The Temptation of Jesus
4:1 Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. 2 And after fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. 3 And the tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” 4 But he answered, “It is written,
“‘Man shall not live by bread alone,
but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”
5 Then the devil took him to the holy city and set him on the pinnacle of the temple 6 and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down, for it is written,
“‘He will command his angels concerning you,’
“‘On their hands they will bear you up,
lest you strike your foot against a stone.’”
7 Jesus said to him, “Again it is written, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.’” 8 Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. 9 And he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.” 10 Then Jesus said to him, “Be gone, Satan! For it is written,
“‘You shall worship the Lord your God
and him only shall you serve.’”
11 Then the devil left him, and behold, angels came and were ministering to him.
What is the significance of Jesus’ baptism? In what way was Jesus tempted? What application can be made to our lives today?
Sermon on audio found here. - John Samson
Dr. Martyn Lloyd Jones on Modern Man and the Gospel
Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones is interviewed by Joan Bakewell in December 1970:
What About Lost Loved Ones?
Let me address this question by telling you a story from history. In the 4th century, there was a very devout Christian lady named Monica. She was married to a prominent man who did not share her Christian faith. He was often very cruel to her, causing her physical abuse. Every day she would go to the church and pray for his conversion. Later on in his life, he did in fact become a Christian.
Yet the pain and anguish her husband caused her seemingly paled into insignificance compared to that which she suffered because of her oldest son. Her mother’s heart was broken, time after time, seeing the reckless life her son was leading. He not only did not share his mother’s faith but would join himself to anti-Christian groups, using his sharp mind to seek to convince others to follow him. He lived a very immoral life. He had a mistress but left her for another and had a son born out of wedlock, named Adeodatus. Monica was not personally able to convince her son of the truth claims of Christianity, but she determined never to stop praying that he would turn to the Lord.
For two decades this went on, with Monica persisting in prayer for her son, seemingly seeing no results. Her son was later to write about all this and tells us that she wept more for his spiritual death than most mothers weep for the bodily death of their children. Distraught, she went to see the well known Bishop Ambrose of Milan to speak about her plight. Knowing her anguish of soul he said, “Go your way and God will bless you, for it is not possible that the son of these tears should perish.” She accepted the answer as though it were a word from God Himself.
Monica’s prayers for her son were answered very suddenly. One day he was in a garden experiencing much agony of soul because of his sin. God the Holy Spirit was certainly working on him. In his own writings he recalled what happened next––suddenly he heard the voice of a boy or a girl, he was not sure which, coming from the neighboring house, chanting over and over again, “Tolle Lege, Tolle Lege” a Latin phrase that meant ‘Pick it up, read it; pick it up, read it.’
Later, in his own writings, he recounted, "Immediately I ceased weeping and began most earnestly to think whether it was usual for children in some kind of game to sing such a song, but I could not remember ever having heard the like. So, damming the torrent of my tears, I got to my feet, for I could not but think that this was a divine command to open the Bible and read the first passage I should light upon….
The Anatomy of Obedience (4-Part Sermons Series) by Brian Borgman
The Texts preached through in this series demonstrate that obedience is necessary for eternal life. But remeber, we are not saved by our obedience, but we are obedient because we are saved. Although we are saved by grace alone, through faith alone in Christ alone, but such faith in Christ is not alone, it is a faith which obeys because it earnestly appeals to God for the strength to obey. These texts in question must be twisted, ignored or whited out of our Bibles if we are going to say that obedience is optional for the Christian.
The Anatomy of Obedience Notes - Heb. 5:9 (,pdf)
To Download MP3, right click and save to your hard drive.
Rightly Distinguishing Law and Gospel Changes Everything
One of the primary reasons for the division in the church over free grace vs. free will is the failure of one side to distinguish between law and gospel. Synergists erroneously reason (outside of Scripture) that if something is commanded in Scripture then man must have the moral ability to do it. Instead, after the fall, the Bible uses the holy commands as an instrument of God to strip man of all hope in himself and behold his own moral bankruptcy (Rom 3:19, 20).
"The commandments are not given inappropriately or pointlessly; but in order that through them the proud, blind man may learn the plague of his impotence, should he try to do as he is commanded." Martin Luther, Bondage of the Will, pg. 160
"By the law is the knowledge of sin' [Rom 3:20], so the word of grace comes only to those who are distressed by a sense of sin and tempted to despair." Martin Luther, Bondage of the Will, pg. 168
All the commands of our Lord were given to us to obey. We cannot twist Scripture to somehow ignore the weight of the responsibility this puts on each one of us. Grace does not somehow give us a trump card to ignore the commands. No, we appeal to grace, not in order to cancel out, avoid or do away with God's commands. On the contrary, we appeal to the grace of God in Christ in order that we might have the strength and power to do them. For apart from grace we can do nothing (John 15:5, 3:27, 6:63; 1 Cor. 4:7, 15:10; 2 Tim 2:25) If God commands us to love him with all our heart how do we do this? By grace. If God calls us to love our neighbor, how to we do this? By grace. If God summons us to believe the gospel, how do we do this? By grace. This is the message found on every page of the bible.
"Does it follow from: 'turn ye' that therefore you can turn? Does it follow from "'Love the Lord thy God with all thy heart' (Deut 6.5) that therefore you can love with all your heart? What do arguments of this kind prove, but the 'free-will' does not need the grace of God, but can do all things by its own power...But it does not follow from this that man is converted by his own power, nor do the words say so; they simply say: "if thou wilt turn, telling man what he should do. When he knows it, and sees that he cannot do it, he will ask whence he may find ability to do it..." Martin Luther, 164
A Response to Shawn McCraney
The folk at Apologia radio write, "We are saddened by Shawn McCraney’s attempts to abandon the biblical view of God’s grace by publicly teaching against ‘The Doctrines of Grace’. However, we love God’s Gospel and the incomprehensible nature of His grace enough to defend those truths whenever attacked: whether by cults (like Mormonism) or by professing brothers. Theology matters. Shawn McCraney’s attack on the biblical view of grace, the sovereignty of God, and the truths surrounding election have far reaching implications. The Gospel is at stake with issues related to grace, our condition before God, and our works. McCraney’s views are not helpful- they are not founded upon the Word of God."
In this two hour show I was asked to respond to Shawn's attack on Reformed theology. You can hear the program at this link. (The response to Shawn McCraney begins around the 23 minute mark) - John Samson
The Moral and Immoral Both Alienated from God
Both moral and immoral people are alienated from God. God is offended by both. This may be counter-intuitive but moral people are lost because of their "goodness". Why? It is often the case that goodness keeps people from God. In fact many people avoid Jesus by avoiding sin because they are trying to become their own saviors ... attempting to justify themselves. But the gospel is neither moralism nor relativism so it is equally offensive to the moral and the irreligious. But Christ calls us to repent of both our good and bad works, for we have no righteousness of our own.
As an example of Jesus dislike of people who trusted in their own morality, Jesus said, "If you were blind, you would have no guilt; but now that you say, 'We see,' your guilt remains." (John 9:41) Those who think God will accept us based on goodness actually understand only part of the truth. Yes, God loves what is good. But since He also loves the truth, we must confess that, in light of God's holy law, we are not good and have woefully failed to do what is pleasing to God, replacing God with worthless self-pleasing idol substitutes, and so we justly deserve to be punished for it. Those who think they have done enough to please God have not understood or considered the seriousness of their condition. John Calvin once said, "Man is never sufficiently touched and affected by the awareness of his lowly state until he has compared himself with God's majesty." In light of the holiness of God all persons, even the best of us, would become undone. This was the case even with the holiest of the saints of the Bible. When it pleased God to reveal himself to them, they fell at his feet as though dead. God created us to enjoy and glorify Him, but humans voluntarily rebelled against God falling into the bondage of the self-centeredness of sin and cannot help themselves out of it.
For clarification, no one would here dare to somehow reason that because we cannot trust in morality that we thereby should be content to be immoral. Those who are regenerated by the Spirit of God will want to obey God and the commands are not burdensome because such persons have been born of God. (1 John 5:1-4). We obey because we are saved, not in order to be saved.
Are You Trusting In Your Own Ability to Persevere?
Those who think they can lose their salvation are not trusting in Jesus Christ alone for salvation but partly trusting in their own righteousness. Such teaching would have you believe that the sacrifice of Jesus was insufficient to make his people perfect forever (Heb 10:14) or save them to the uttermost (Heb 7:25) [i.e. that Jesus is not enough]. ... such that, in addition to what Christ did, they must join their own ability to persevere in order to maintain their own just standing before God. The book of Hebrews and Galatians severely warns against this and all teaching that rejects the sufficiency of Christ alone (Heb 6 & 10; Gal 3:3).