So this week, we start covering the Law Gospel Distinction. I feel like this has been a hot topic in the group over the last few months and that is so exciting to me because this was really where I began to be able to feel less burdened in my Christian life. Lately, we’ve had so many posts from women of all different backgrounds saying that they don’t feel saved because they’re not holy enough and they can’t be holy enough. I often felt that (and still do sometimes) before I really learned the reformed view on law and gospel, so if you have posted about struggling with assurance in the group, I want you to know that I am talking to you!
Now, my favorite favorite favorite teacher on the Law Gospel Distinction is my mother in law’s rector, Jacob Smith over at Calvary-St. George’s church, here in NYC. Calvary St. George’s has hosted the Mockingbird conferences up here, for those who are familiar with it, and they also have a few podcasts connected to the Mockingbird Podcast Network. I will link to helpful podcast episodes over the course of the week from this and other podcasts that might not be highly known in this group (unless you’re like a super podcast junkie), like Gretchen and Katie’s, Freely Given and The Shorter (on the Westminster Shorter Catechism), and of course, the Theology Gals podcast, as well.
So, like a few other weeks, I want to have a focus verse for this week from Romans 6:23:
For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.
I think this verse does a really good job of showing the essence of the Law Gospel Distinction, though the book of Romans itself is full of emphasis on both law and gospel. I really hope having these proper categories can be encouraging for all of you. It might get a little bit heavy, but at the end of this week, I want us all to have hope in Christ’s finished work on the cross.
So what is the Law?
This is something that can be confusing for people, though it really shouldn’t be, but I think it’s largely confusing because a) legalists love to add to the law and b) a lot of people have been taught that the law of God doesn’t play a role in our lives and therefore, it has not been important to learn it. So, in other words, it’s confusing because of both legalism and antinomianism.
In the early church, the Law was always referred to as the Old Testament laws, but as anyone who has read the Old Testament knows, there’s a LOT of laws! Some of them make sense like “do not murder, do not steal,” but others just sound weird like, “you shall not wear cloth made of wool and linen together” (Deuteronomy 22:11), like what’s the deal with that? And then you have the Oral Torah of Rabbinic Judaism, which wasn’t even written down and could be seen as the Pharisees’ interpretation of the spirit of the law. Are we just supposed to follow all of that? I thought we were under grace now!
The Old Testament laws were divided up mainly into 3 different categories: the Judicial law, the Ceremonial law, and the Moral law. The Judicial law was given specifically to Israel as a way to rule their country. These laws include the Moral law, but also include things like the earthly consequences for stealing or adultery. The Ceremonial laws were the laws given to Israel for when they were going to the temple to worship, they had to be ceremonially clean to be in presence with God. These include laws like women having to live in a tent outside during their period and not being able to go to the temple for the duration of their period. Both of these aspects of the law don’t fit into Christianity because they were designed to point to the coming of Christ and Christ then fulfilled those laws (Matthew 5:17-20). He became the sacrificial lamb that makes us clean and able to have fellowship with the Father.
This leaves the Moral law, which is most known to us as the 10 Commandments, though it goes a little further than that, as Jesus elaborated in the Sermon on the Mount. While the 10 Commandments do give us a firm list of things to not do, there is a flip side of each of them to positively affirm. So, not only are we not supposed to use the Lord’s name in vain, but we are supposed to honor him in our speech and affirm his holiness and goodness. This is evidenced really well in the Westminster Larger Catechism, as well as the Heidelberg Catechism. The Heidelberg is actually a great read overall because it’s divided up into sections based on the 3 uses of the law. I may make a few graphics at some point compiling the Catechism as divided, just to make them easier to see together, but really go back and read some of the Heidelberg posts we’ve already done (I’ll try to get the album updated by tomorrow now that our internet is working).
While we are not under the penalties of not keeping the law perfectly (meaning, that those who are in Christ do not need to fear death and hell), all of the laws of God are useful to the lives of the believer. Over the next 3 days, we will be covering the 3 fold use of the law, which is summed up as:
- As a mirror, reflecting back to us, our shortcomings in light of God’s perfection. (Guilt)
- To restrain evil. (Grace)
- To guide us to do rightly (Gratitude)
It’s my fear that most churches give the gospel and once you become a Christian, go right back to the law, but instead of using it for the 3rd use of the law, only use the first use of the law, and thus create a generation of Christians who doubt their salvation. My friends, the wages of sin are death, but the free gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ, our Lord.
It’s also important to remember that laws were given for the good of God’s people. The law is good, it is perfect. It is not given because God wants to punish us, it was given to us because God wants us to be holy as our Father in heaven is holy.
I do also want to reiterate that this happens under the context of a covenant. The Covenant of Works is a covenant of “do this and live,” but we are now in the Covenant of Grace, which is “Jesus has done, now live in that forgiveness.” So the Law Gospel Distinction answers the question of, “how then do we live?”
The Reformed Catechisms & Confessions address the Law here:
- Belgic Confession, Articles 24-25
- Heidelberg Catechism Q&A 91-115
- Savoy Declaration Ch 7, sections 1-5; Ch 11, sections 1-6; ch 16, sections 1-7; ch 19, sections 1-7; ch 20, section 1; ch 21, sections 7-8
- 39 Articles of Religion, Articles 7, 14
- WCF Ch 7, sections 1-6; Ch 11, sections 1-6; ch 16, sections 1-7; ch 19, sections 1-7; ch 21, section 1; ch 22, sections 7-8
- WLC Q&A 91-153
- WSC Q&A 39-85
- 1689 LBCF Ch 7, sections 1-3; Ch 11, sections 1-6; ch 16, sections 1-7; ch 19, sections 1-7; ch 21, section 1; ch 22, sections 7-8
Resources on the Law:
Good morning! This is a post that came as a response to a group member asking about Calvinism & Arminianism and I realized that while we’ve talked about Calvinism a lot and Arminianism some, we haven’t really addressed soteriology extensively. This is not as extensive as it could be, but I hope that it is a helpful primer for you to dive deeper into studying these things.
What is Soteriology?
Soteriology is the study of how you are saved. During reformation month in 2020 and 2021, I addressed Calvinism/reformed soteriology, so I am not going to go too deep into that perspective; however, I am going to address many of the other soteriological perspectives and where they come from as briefly as I can!
Because I address Arminianism a bit in the TULIP series, this is going to be a little bit more brief than it could be. There is a bit of a difference between contemporary Arminianism, what Jacobus Arminius taught, and what the Remonstrance taught. Arminius was a former Calvinist and a bit of his views were closer to Calvinism than what the Remonstrance taught. During my reformation month posts last year, I talked about the history of the 3 Forms of Unity, specifically the Canons of Dort, which were written as a response to the 5 points of the Remonstrance.
The teachings of Arminianism are usually supported by verses like 1 Timothy 2:3-6 (that God wants all people to be saved), John 3:16 (for God so loved the world), 2 Peter 3:9 (God doesn’t want any to perish), and the many places in scripture that indicate people have a free choice in their decision making regarding their salvation or morality.
Arminianism is a very pervasive teaching throughout evangelicalism today for a few reasons. The first is that as humans, we can very clearly identify that we do make decisions and it is hard to mentally understand that those decisions were ordained by God. Truthfully, this is something I know to be true, but I cannot understand how it works. There’s a degree that we can’t fully understand how God works because of the limited capacity of humanity. But I know that what scripture says about God’s sovereignty is true, so I just accept my limitations to the best of my ability.
The second reason is because there’s often the thought that if God is sovereign even over our own decision making, that must make God the author of evil. I cover refuting that in the TULIP series above, but I do want to reiterate that no self respecting Calvinist believes that God is the instigator of evil. Our “free will” is on full display when we sin. It’s God’s goodness that brings us to repentance and faith.
The third reason is that we like the feeling of being in control to an extent. Even Arminians acknowledge that God has a level of sovereignty, but his sovereignty is so far downplayed that it’s almost as if God does what we want for us. Please don’t take this as me disrespecting or denigrating Arminianism because I definitely do not want to do that, but I’ll leave some examples from Arminian apologists below so you can see what I’m saying.
This was a view taught by a Spanish Jesuit priest named Luis de Molina. Molina argued that God knows all possible scenarios that could lead to your salvation and chose to make the one you became a Christian happen. It’s sort of a multiverse view within Christianity. The scriptures used to support this view were really an interpretation of verses like Matthew 11:23:
And you, Capernaum, will you be exalted to heaven? You will be brought down to Hades. For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day.
Here, “would have” indicates an additional potential outcome that God knew about, but it didn’t come to fruition. Ligonier has a more thorough overview of Molinism linked below, so I will just keep it here for space!
While Methodists are a subset of Arminians, historically Wesleyan Methodist soteriology includes the idea that it is possible for people to be completely sanctified while on earth and marked that sanctification as part of their justification (basically you can’t be saved unless you become completely saved by achieving sinless perfectionism). This was taught by John Wesley and is also called Wesleyanism. It is highly pietistic and legalistic because they focus so heavily on works based justification.
Lutheranism is probably one of the closest ideologically to Calvinism, but Lutherans differ in that they believe in unlimited atonement (that Jesus did in fact die for all of the sins of every individual person in the world), that you can lose your salvation, and that you can resist faith/regeneration.
Amyraldianism is a teaching made prominent by Moyses Amyraldus and an attempt to reconcile Lutheranism and Calvinism. It’s basically 4 point Calvinism with the “God looked down the corridors of time to see who would choose him” bent, but Amyraldianism does recognize that no one would choose God without God initiating it.
The Eastern Orthodox Church has a very very long way of explaining their soteriology. It is similar to Roman Catholicism functionally, but they have different nuanced reasons for why they think the way that they do. They believe that you are justified by faith alone, but that the faith is shown through works, heavily leaning on passages like in James 2:14 (faith without works is dead). Here’s a helpful quote I found from an EO resource responding to Calvinism:
But we regard works not as witnesses certifying our calling, but as being fruits in themselves, through which faith becomes efficacious, and as in themselves meriting, through the Divine promises that each of the Faithful may receive what is done through his own body, whether it’s good or bad.
Of course, I would be remiss if I didn’t include this one, though they obviously differ with us significantly in that the RCC teaches that we are saved by faith + works. When you do sin, you need to confess your sin and pay penance. If you do not sufficiently pay penance in this life, when you die, you will be sent to purgatory to continue to pay penance until your moral debt has been expunged. I’ve written extensively against various points of Catholic theology in the group, as well. You can learn more fully about Catholic soteriology by reading about the Council of Trent.
Of course, there’s definitely more positions out there than what I’ve outlined and I’d be happy to discuss more of it if you guys have questions!
This is going to be my last book review for a little bit, so I wanted to leave it on a high note. I am hoping to go back to educational content for a while and I’m still mapping that out. This was actually my favorite book that I read in March. I just got overwhelmed trying to do too much, so I didn’t get the chance to review it until now. That said, I hope that this review blesses you and I hope you take the opportunity to get the book!
Background on Amy Gannett:
Amy Gannett may sound familiar to you as the creator and owner of Tiny Theologians, a ministry that makes theological educational material for toddlers and children. Amy is also a graduate of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and is a writer. Her writings have been featured on Risen Motherhood, The Gospel Coalition, and Well Watered Women. Amy, her husband, and children live in Greenville, NC, where they work as church planters at Trinity Church. You can find Amy’s Bible studies at her website and I’ll also link to Tiny Theologians below!
Links: www.amygannett.com, www.tinytheologians.shop
Amy starts Fix Your Eyes (FYE) by pointing to the fact that (as RC Sproul has also famously done) everyone is a theologian. This sets up the rest of the book to show how proper theology should lead to doxology. As most of you would know by being part of this group, theology is the study of God (theos being the Greek word for “God” and ology being the Greek word for “the study of”) and doxology is an expression of worship (doxa is the Greek word for “glory” and logia is the Greek word for “written or oral expression”). So explaining this further, having a proper understanding of who God is prompts us to worship God more fully and faithfully. Amy says this on page 14 as:
When knowledge of God and worship of him work together as God designed, we will be Christians who know God and who love him; who learn about him and respond to what we’re learning in worship; who do the hard work of studying the scriptures that we might understand God as he revealed himself and fall on our knees in surrender and affection before the God of the Bible. When we make the study of God and the worship of him non-negotiables, we have the chance to become the kind of Christians who know and love God with our whole selves.
But in order to do this, we have to know who God is, so Amy turns and spends the next three chapters talking about who God is, Christology, and Pneumatology (the study of the Holy Spirit, pneuma being the Greek word for “spirit”). When looking at who God is, we have to start with looking at his communicable attributes (the qualities of God that we also take a share in by being made in his image) and his incommunicable attributes (the qualities of God that he has and no one else has). Amy explains these attributes as, “In short, you could say the communicable attributes connect us to God, while the incommunicable attributes set him apart from us, drawing the line between creature and creator” on page 25. From there, Amy gives one of the most robust, yet simple explanations of who God is that I’ve ever read, despite the limitations of human reason to be able to explain it. A great example of this is found on page 28:
To say that God is infinite is to say that God is beyond our greatest thoughts of him, he is higher and longer and wider and deeper than we can conceive – and to ever speak in such measurable terms gives us away.
One of the downfalls we tend to do culturally is elevating some attributes of God over others depending on what is convenient at the given moment. Amy is able to avoid that by tying them all together through his sovereignty on page 34:
But God’s sovereignty, like all of his other attributes, is tied into one another. They are all perfectly who God is, which is why God’s authority in creation is what leads him to sacrifice of the cross, the power of the resurrection, and the rule in the new creation. God wields his sovereignty in ways that are congruent with all his other attributes. He rules, yes with goodness. He reigns, indeed, with mercy. He governs, yes, with justice. He’s an uncorrupted King with a kind hand, wisely directing all that goes on in the universe.
God is all of these things and so much more. And God holding these attributes shows us our own higher calling. As Amy says on page 36:
God’s holiness tells us something about where we get our human standards of morality and perfection, God sets that standard. But God’s goodness takes it a step further – God is not only the standard of moral purity, but he is benevolent in all that he does. From top to bottom, God is good. He is a fountain of generosity (James 1:5, John 3:16) and one in whom there is only light and not a spot of darkness (1 John 1:5), and he invites us, by the power of his Spirit, to live the same way.
While God is holy and just, his “mercy is his active compassion toward us” (page 40) and he shows that compassion by taking on the punishment for our sins. Through this, we look towards the incarnation. Jesus as fully God had all of God’s attributes perfectly, yet he lived among us and had a very human (yet sinless) experience through life. As written in Hebrews 4:15, “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.” While Amy doesn’t cite this verse, I think it fits nicely with what she’s written about Jesus and how the incarnation enables us to have a well formed theology of suffering on pages 83-87.
Something I especially appreciate about FYE is that Amy doesn’t downplay the importance of the Holy Spirit or treat pneumatology as a topic to gloss past until we get to the “real stuff.” She naturally starts her look at the Holy Spirit in Genesis 1:2, pointing to the “Spirit of God hovering over the waters,” but she doesn’t stop there. Amy points to several parts of the Old Testament where you can clearly see the Holy Spirit being active in the lives of God’s people, as God is calling them (and us) to be people of the presence (a reference to Exodus 33:12-17), being marked by the presence of God’s Spirit.
By far, my favorite chapter was on soteriology (kind of a duh, for those that know me and have been reading my Guides the last 2 years). The thing that makes FYE unique in how it handles soteriology is that she centers the entirety of it around our union with Christ. On page 121, she makes the distinction that “salvation isn’t a gift that [Jesus] worked hard to earn only to hand it off to you and me as we place our faith in him; he is the gift.” Then she explains more in depth on page 122:
Like the center of a wagon wheel, the doctrine of union with Christ is what supports every other doctrine that encircles it. Justification is the result of our being united to the Justified One; adoption is the result of our being united to the Son of God; our sanctification is the result of being united to the Holy One. All of the gospel, the entire message of salvation, find their source and substance in this eternal doctrine of union with Christ.
This is only obtained by grace through faith. Though, Amy is intentional to note on page 127 that “what is essential is not the quality of our faith, but the reliability of the one in whom our faith is put.” As Jesus himself says in Matthew 17:20 that faith as little as a mustard seed could move mountains.
A natural implication of the doctrine of our union with Christ is that through our union with Christ, we are also brought to union with one another. On page 177, Amy explains it as:
God saves sinners and immediately includes them in the congregation of the saved. This is why historic theologians were right when they insisted that there is no salvation apart from the church. What they were not saying is that individuals in the church are the ones handing out salvation; what they did mean is that there is no way for someone to be saved without becoming a part of God’s people, the church. Put another way, there’s no way to be united to the Son without being united to everyone else who is united to him – meaning his people.
Among the historic theologians that held this view was Cyprian of Carthage, who said, “You cannot have God as your Father unless you have the church for your Mother.” The church is vitally important to our spiritual lives because God designed us to live communally amongst people who encourage us to pursue him. Many of the practices that are beneficial for Christian life are best experienced in the context of community.
The last chapter of FYE discusses eschatology and I honestly wish I could just copy and paste the whole chapter here for you guys because it is just so rich, but I’ll leave you with a couple of quotes. The first plays well with the theological implications of our union with Christ and is found on page 206:
This is the culmination of our union with Christ. Those who are in Christ in this world will be found in Christ in his holy city. This is why it’s called the “consummation” of all things: because the union we have with Christ in salvation now will take its fullest form as we savor our richest intimacy and inseparable oneness with him.
As we look to the consummation, we can enjoy our union with Christ and with each other through the ordinary joys of the Word, Sacraments, and corporate worship. As Amy notes on page 218:
If the Marriage Supper of the Lamb is what awaits us, then you could say that we are enjoying the rehearsal dinner of that wedding feast each time we set the table for our family and our community.
Conclusions & Rating:
Fix Your Eyes was exceptionally encouraging. Amy shows a healthy view of law and gospel while pointing the reader towards godliness. The way she describes God and points to his attributes truly prompts you to worship, adoration, and appreciation. This book is a great read for new believers and mature believers alike. I’d say the reading level is probably fit for readers 16 and older. You do not have to be a woman to appreciate this book at all. It would also be great for a small group study and there’s a free discussion guide for that on Amy’s website. All in all, I truly loved reading FYE and happily give it 5 stars out of 5.
Review is also posted on GoodReads here: https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/4604886064
I am a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.
Before I get into this review, I do want to give a disclaimer. If you’re familiar with the book at all, this would come as no surprise to you, but I will likely be talking a lot about sex during this review, so if you have children that sometimes look over your shoulder while you read, I highly recommend setting this review aside to read during nap time. In addition to sex, there would be brief references to sexual assault. The language won’t be explicit, so if you are a sexual assault survivor, it shouldn’t be triggering for you, but if it could, I’d like to encourage you to skip this review.
Background on Rachel Joy Welcher:
Rachel Joy Welcher has a Masters in Literature from University of St. Andrews in Scotland and she is a columnist for Fathom Magazine, as well as a poet. She and her husband, Evan live in Glenwood, Iowa with their baby Hilde (who was not born at the time of writing this book).
If you grew up in the late 90s and 2000s like me, you probably read books like I Kissed Dating Goodbye by Joshua Harris or For Young Women Only by Shaunti Feldhan and Lisa Rice or honestly any of the books by Hayley DiMarco (I was legit obsessed). Younger Gen X and Millennial Christians took part in this massive cultural phenomenon fighting against the sexual promiscuity of our parents’ generation, but many would argue that it wasn’t just ineffective, it was also harmful. Enter in Talking Back to Purity Culture (TBPC) by Rachel Joy Welcher.
In TBPC, Rachel revisits the teachings in books and conferences, holds them against scripture, and examines their impact, while pointing to a healthier Christian view on sexuality. For the purposes of this book, I would define purity culture as “a movement in the 1990s and early 2000s characterized by teens making pledges to abstain from sex until marriage, a high view of virginity as purity, a view that women were morally responsible for helping men resist lust, and an overemphasis on parental involved dating or courtship.” Now, I know you may be thinking, “wait a minute, isn’t abstinence good?” To which I say, absolutely! But in this book, Rachel’s focus isn’t thinking about abstinence, but rather how we think and teach about abstinence. On page 21, she makes it a point to say:
If I ever have children, I will teach them what the Bible says about sex, that it was created by God to be an act of unifying self-giving within the marriage covenant between one man and one woman. I will teach them that, in marriage, sex is a God honoring good, but that extramarrital sex is a sin against a holy and loving Father. But I will not tell them that virginity makes them pure. … Virginity means only that an individual has never decided to or been forced to have sexual intercourse with another person. It is not a badge of holiness, a sign of sexual purity, or a ticket to heaven. The term “technical virginity” exists because of how inventive we are when it comes to finding sexual activities outside of sexual intercourse.
Rachel also makes it a point to show how shallow purity culture views purity because it limits purity to virginity, thus making it a temporal concern. On page 27, she expounds:
Purity culture’s obsession with virginity obscures the fact that our call to sexual purity is lifelong. Adolescents are encouraged that if they just hold out for a little while, they will soon get married and be able to unleash all of their sexual energy on another person. Not only does this dehumanize image bearers of God by painting them as nothing more than sexual outlets, it depicts the pursuit of purity as a season in life rather than a lifelong calling.
This low view of purity also neglects the ways we sin in non physical ways, our hearts can be drawn to lust and pornography even though we never physically do anything with anyone but our spouses. Unfortunately, these things also set us up for unrealistic expectations from life, as well, either by assuming that everyone will get married young (it’s well document in many studies that millennials are getting married later in life than any other generation before) and from those marriages, people who have never had sex before will somehow magically know how to have a great sex life. Yet, those of us in here who are not virgins can definitely attest to the fact that the first times are often painful and uncomfortable while you’re trying to figure out what you’re doing.
Even beyond that, the real damage from this view of purity comes from a theological pitfall that Rachel outlines on page 29:
Too often our elevation of virginity neglects the true source of our purity. The idea that we need to offer nonvirgins some sort of symbolic “second virginity” reinforces our misunderstanding of where purity comes from. We have been made new, washed clean “with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect” (1 Peter 1:19). Virginity does not provide our purity. Jesus does.
From there, Rachel looks at how purity culture has specifically harmed women. This is something that has often been addressed on the Theology Gals podcast, but there’s many who believe that women are less sexual than men or have a lower drive and not only is that often not true, but that view also ends up neglecting the fact that women have body parts that serve no function besides sexual pleasure. Scripture can also attest to the fact that women are sexual beings in numerous places, including (but not limited to) Song of Songs. This view also ends up being intellectually inconsistent because women are often seen as sexual temptresses. How can someone be a temptress, yet not sexual?
Purity culture can also play into insecurities women face surrounding their bodies. There’s often shame for being too fat, too thin, having too big breasts, having very small breasts, body hair, whether or not you want to wear makeup. Women are simultaneously given the message that they need to “paint the barn,” but also not wear too much makeup, at the risk of looking like a whore and thus tempting men to sin. But women are more than their sexuality. They are image bearers of the living God.
Unfortunately, women are not the only ones negatively affected by purity culture. While women are taught this view that men are obsessed with sex and may even want it more than they want emotional intimacy, men are taught that they are animals and degraded as those with no self control. Because men are seen as lacking in self control, it further reinforces the view that women are a threat to men and creates a semi antagonistic view between the sexes. I’ll never forget a friend of mine pointing out that Mother’s Day sermons are often encouraging women that they’re valuable, while Father’s Day sermons are often “men do better” and him telling me how deflating it was to hear that all the time.
One of the things that I appreciated the most about TBPC is that Rachel also took the time to address often overlooked groups of people in the conversations surrounding purity. As noted on page 67, “in purity culture, there are 3 promises for those who practice abstinence: marriage, sex, and children,” but what happens if you don’t get any of those things? For those who are long term singles, infertile, or those who struggle with same sex attraction and want to live a godly lifestyle, those things may not be part of their future. To the single person, infertile couple, and SSA person, Rachel approaches these topics each with grace and compassion rooted in scripture. One of my favorite parts was her reminder that Jesus lived his whole life without having sex, so we are able to have a full life without those things, even though we may long for them. She also points out on page 73:
We create opportunities to be disappointed with God when we put our hope in things he never promised. Jesus did not die so that Christians could live out their own Nicholas Sparks novel. He died to set us free from slavery to sin, to make us new, and draw us into the kingdom of God forever. It is not earthly marriage, but the marriage supper of the Lamb that we are promised. It is adoption as sons and daughters that we receive, not because we stayed sexually pure or dressed modestly, but because Jesus spilled blood for our sins. Whatever our relationship status on earth, Christians can stand firm in their identity as children of the living God and as the church, his body, and his bride.
Rachel next addresses how unrealistic expectations towards sex can be harmful in marriage, detailing a few stories from people who had very painful initial experiences that I will spare you. Though, I will share that she had very insightful points made about the idolatry of sex in both American culture and the American church. She also pointed to the fact that purity culture has often absorbed the prosperity gospel in its reasonings surrounding sex. If you do xyz thing and have enough faith, God will give you what you want, which as we all know, does not happen in any meaningful way.
By far, the hardest part to read was the chapter on sexual abuse (chapter 7). When virginity is idolized and that is taken away from you, it can feel like you are less valuable to a future spouse, regardless of whether or not that is true. I found it comforting on page 110 when Rachel wrote:
Being sinned against sexually is devastating and life-altering. And the shame of what has been done to our bodies attempts to block our view of the cross. But our worth remains intact. No matter what has been done to us, or what we have done to others, we are never less than image bearers of the holy God. Any message that downplays this truth is worth challenging. The belief that all people are created in the image of God – the imago dei – is a theology worth fighting for.
In writing about rape culture (the idea that if someone was raped, they should have defended themselves better or should have dressed and behaved less provocatively), Rachel fights the ways scripture is misused to blame victims of sexual assault for their assault. She also gives a look at how we can see sexual assault in scripture and know that God cares for those who have been victims of assault.
While Rachel spent a considerable amount of time in the book critiquing purity culture, she did also give some space to critique the overcorrections from purity culture, specifically ones that became very permissive towards sexual behavior. Rachel is also very clear about sin, saying on page 135:
There is forgiveness at the cross for every sin. And we can grow from our mistakes, learn from our failures, and even look back with thankfulness at the times when God showed mercy to us, despite our disobedience. But when we start calling “holy” what God calls sinful, we have ceased to honor him. We have misunderstood what holiness means.
At the end of the book, Rachel shifts to look at how to speak to your children about purity. She recognizes that “the Christian pursuit of purity is biblical, but it must flow out of a recognition that it is Jesus that makes us pure” (page 137). She also points out that “if we want to sin, we will find a way” and “this doesn’t mean that the rules are wrong” or that there shouldn’t be rules (page 165). I also appreciated her encouragement to stop trying to make abstinence sexy on page 179:
Purity culture’s main problem is not that it is too conservative, but that it is too worldly. Sex is not about self and abstinence is anything but sexy. Dressing it up as such is not only confusing, it’s discouraging. When our children realize that pursuing purity is incredibly difficult, they will wonder why we didn’t prepare them. Sometimes we think God needs to dangle carrots in front of people in order to make his message palatable, when he called us to preach a gospel of foolishness to those who are perishing, a message so offensive to our pride that we must either reject the Son or fall at his feet.
Rachel finishes by ultimately pointing to the importance of having conversations about sexual purity instead of just reading books about it. She also encourages us to not talk about purity apart from the gospel and scripture.
Conclusions & Rating:
TBPC was such a breath of fresh air. It was very gospel centered and clear. Rachel brings data with a lot of the assertions she makes. I love the encouragement to experience this book in community. She goes beyond the typical appeals to abstinence to really look at purity in Christ.
One thing that sets TBPC apart from other books examining purity culture is that Rachel didn’t set out to redefine scripture’s views on sexuality. I think this is part of the reason that most of the more negative reviews of this book have called it a repackaging of purity culture. Rachel’s dedication to scripture transcends culture and that makes her voice very valuable in the conversation. So this one gets 5 stars out of 5 from me!
Oh, Rachel was also featured on the TG podcast to talk about this book and I’ll link that for you here!
Review is also posted on GoodReads here: https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/3736513274
I am a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.
So this is probably going to be a very long post. I’m going to try to keep it together the best I can, but please ask questions if you have them. Credos, feel free to correct me if I misrepresent your position. I also want to start this off by saying this is not an opportunity to have a baptism debate. I am not even remotely interested in them.
What are the Means of Grace?
I chose the Means of Grace as the title for this one because I wanted to explain a little bit of the reformed view of the church. Those coming out of Roman Catholicism may think that reformed folks have a lower view of the church because we hold the church as subservient to scripture, whereas Roman Catholicism looks at scripture on an equal playing field as church tradition. Those, like me, who come out of evangelical baptist circles may see the reformed view of the church as overly traditional or stiff and lacking a lot of the emotional comforts that informal services tend to bring.
The truth is, in the eyes of sixteenth and seventeenth century reformers, the church was the major vehicle by which we experience the means of grace, which are the Word and Sacraments. A Tabletalk article from earlier this year explains it well here:
The means of grace are God’s appointed instruments by which the Holy Spirit enables believers to receive Christ and the benefits of redemption. Although He could have chosen to reveal Christ immediately to His people, He has determined instead to do so through certain means. God assigned the Word, sacraments, and prayer to be the foremost means by which He communicates Christ and His benefits to believers.
I will touch more on the Word when we go through Sola Scriptura next Saturday (the 24), so today is all about the Sacraments. In the meantime, if you want to learn more about the means of grace, there will be resources below.
Old Covenant and New Covenant:
So, the first time I had heard of covenant theology, I assumed that the people were referring to the old covenant and the new covenant. I had not been super familiar with the covenants of redemption, works, and grace, and I grew up in a dispensationalist church, so all of these ideas felt very very complicated to me. If this sounds like you, I am writing this for you and I’m going to try the best I can to explain this for people who aren’t familiar with covenant theology already.
When we say the Old Covenant, we are talking of the promise of Christ to come. When we talk of the New Covenant, we are talking of Christ coming and fulfilling the Old Covenant and giving us his benefits. Within that, the Old Covenant speaks of the Covenant of Works, the Law, and the incomplete Covenant of Grace. The New Covenant is the fulfilled Covenant of Grace, the renewed sense of the Law, and the Gospel. This week, we have talked about the Covenant of Works and the Covenant of Grace. Next week, we will be talking all about the Law and the Gospel. But today, we will be talking about who is part of the New Covenant and who is receiving its benefits.
The Lord’s Supper:
Not gonna lie, I had to start this off with the easier side of things lol. As many of us know, the Lord’s Supper comes from Jewish Passover, which was done to remember Exodus 12. I was going to copy and paste the passage, but it’s really long and I know most of our group knows it already, so just as a little recap (though I encourage you to read it on your own). Exodus starts off with Israel enslaved in Egypt and God calling them out of Egypt through Moses. Moses has been going back and forth with Pharoah (Ramses II) telling him to let God’s people go and Ramses refuses every time. In Exodus 12, God tells Moses to have the Israelites to kill spotless lambs and paint their blood on their doorposts. Overnight, God goes through all of Egypt and takes the lives of the first born sons of every Egyptian that doesn’t have the blood painted over their doors and this is what finally prompts Ramses to let the Israelites go. I know this is a very cheap recap, but this is your free lesson for the day, so it’s the recap you get lol.
Passover was named so by God because God passed over the houses of the Israelites. Now, every spring, Jews all over the world observe and remember what God has done for them. The Passover reading is so rich with symbolism pointing to Christ from Jesus as “the lamb of God” who acts as a propitiation for our sins to the death of the first born sons. But this is all ultimately replayed in Matthew 26, where Jesus has his Last Supper. As he leads the table in dinner, he says, “this cup is my blood of the new covenant.” And so, we have the ushering in of a New Covenant and a sign of the work that Jesus did for us.
Credobaptism and Paedobaptism:
As I stated earlier this week, I am a paedobaptist. The guys at The Reformed Brotherhood recently did a podcast episode on 1689 Federalism where they contrast it with paedobaptist covenant theology and I think they handle the topic really well, they also do a similar job to Ligon Duncan’s lecture on baptism, but it’s just a different focus. It is worth noting that not all reformed baptists hold to 1689 Federalism, but if a baptist is dispensational and Calvinistic (so men like John MacArthur), they are not reformed because dispensationalism goes against baptist covenantal theology, as well. This does not make them a second class believer, it’s just a different set of beliefs. I have done a theological errors post on dispensationalism in the past, if you would like more information on that.
Dr. Duncan cites baptism as a symptom of the disagreement between credos and paedos on who the real church is, which was an aha moment for me the first time I listened to it. Baptists value autonomy and try as much as possible to have the visible church and the invisible church be the same thing. When asked the question, “who is in the New Covenant?” their answer is “those who have been regenerated.” The way they see the Covenant of Grace is a bit different from how I described earlier. In baptist covenant theology, the Covenant of Grace began after the fall and continued through the Old Covenant and New Covenant, but the covenant was not fully realized until Jesus died on the cross. So the OT covenants with the patriarchs aren’t necessarily part of the Covenant of Grace, but they point to the Covenant of Grace.
This makes the differences between the two of them more of a different hermeneutic rather than using different verses to support their views. Paedobaptists and credobaptists both see baptism as a sign and a seal of the new covenant, as per Colossians 2:11-15:
In him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead. And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him.
That passage is a reference to the earlier passage on circumcision in Genesis 17, specifically hitting verses 7-12. In his lectures, Dr. Duncan recalls all of the credo only baptisms in the NT: Acts 8:12, 36-38, and 9:18. And also the household baptisms: Acts 10:48, 16:15, 16:33, 18:8, and 1 Corinthians 1:16. At this point, many credos check out and think, “oh you’re arguing from a place of silence” because many have stated the argument as, “well, it’s a household baptism and there’s probably babies in the households.” and while that argument is one that could be used, according to Dr. Duncan, the real argument is “in an evangelistic age, you expect adult only credo baptisms. The stand out here is that the whole household is being baptized. You, your children, and all who dwell in your tent parallels Genesis 17.”
He also asks 3 questions as food for thought:
- Is baptism a covenant sign?
- Are the children of believing parents part of the community of the covenant of grace in the New Covenant like they were in the Old?
- If God gave a sign of promises to believers and their children in the Old Testament, should we give the sign of the promises to believers and their children in the New Testament to believers and their children?
He also notes:
“Does this mean all children who are baptized are saved? No more than it means that all who are circumcised who are saved. Nowhere does it say that circumcision saves. Faith has always been the way.”
This is also something that credobaptists have to deal with. There’s always going to be false converts in the church and we may never know who they are. So we can’t have a true church that is only made up of regenerate people. Paedobaptism allows the freedom to have the passages that reference reprobation, like 1 John 2:19:
“They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would no doubt have continued with us: but they went out, that they might be made manifest that they were not all of us.”
And with these passages, you can see that it’s possible for someone to be part of the church (in this case the visible church), yet not part of the church (in this case the invisible church, which is the elect).
Where the Confessions and Catechisms Address the Means of Grace:
- Canons of Dort Head 1, Article 17
- Westminster Confession of Faith Ch 27-29
- Westminster Larger Catechism Q&A 161-177
- Westminster Shorter Catechism Q&A 91-97
- Heidelberg Catechism Q&A 66-82
- Belgic Confession Articles 33-35
- Second Helvetic Confession Ch 19-21
- 39 Articles of Religion Articles 25-29
- Savoy Declaration Ch 28-29
- 1689 London Baptist Confession of Faith Ch 28-30
- Keach’s Catechism Q&A 96-103
Resources on the Means of Grace:
Resources on Covenant Theology as a whole:
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