another poll

Here’s a question for you. I’m just posting quickly as I try to catch up with emails etc from the last few days. And for nefarious purposes of my own, I’m (a) only giving the two options and (b) not giving any context for the question just yet. Feel free to discuss.

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24 thoughts on “another poll

  1. Very simply, unbelievers are not capable – being spiritually dead – of forsaking sin in order to come to Christ. Once one has been regenerated and believes the gospel to salvation, then it is possible to forsake sin – not entirely, in this lifetime, but progressively so. This is called sanctification.

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  2. Unbelievers are not capable of forsaking sin in order to come to Christ – this is true – and yet, it could perhaps still be orthodox to teach that they must?

    (Just a clarification question, not picking a fight :) )

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  3. Thanks – saw it earlier, was remiss in not flagging it up i suppose. People, please do follow the link and email the Lord and Lady in question if you’re reading this any time before about lunchtime on Wed 29th (UK time).

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  4. No, you can’t tell unbelievers that they must forsake sin in order to come to Christ (1) because they can’t (see above) and (2) that would be a way of sneaking works into salvation (and we all know what the Bible says about THAT!).

    Unbelievers just must be told that they are sinners, that they cannot make themselves right with God (no matter how hard they try), and that they must come to Christ, putting their trust in him, for salvation. After a person is saved, then the Holy Spirit (using the Word of God) goes to work on that person, leading them to forsake their sins and live for Christ.

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  5. Well, what does “forsake sin” mean?
    In the baptismal formula, the person to be baptised is asked “Do you renounce the devil and all his works?” – in that sense, I would say yes. But that question cannot mean “Do you promise to never sin again?” – for that would be clearly morally impossible (unless maybe you die immediately after, I would assume, but that is not to the point here).
    If “forsaking” means “I seriously wish to strive, by God’s grace, to free myself from my sinful habits”, or: “I pray God to free me, by His grace, from my sinful habits” – I would say “yes”. Isn’t Our Lord implying that the darkness of people’s hearts is the reason for not coming to the Light?
    (And as to the gratuitousness of the calling: Of course this first movement would have to be brought about by unmerited grace – grace, as God’s action, coming first, yet “forsaking sin” in the sense described above being the first act of the human person coming to God.)
    But I must add that I am not the theologian of our blog and gladly leave the field to Berenike. All the more since I am tired and probably should not have written things I am no longer capable of adequately formulating.

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  6. I’m not voting. “in order to” is ambiguous wording. But here’s some off-the-cuff ideas which I may have to refine if challenged.

    We have to “repent and believe the gospel”. A bare belief in Christ without a wholehearted turning to him (and hence from sin) is useless because it is insincere. But a person is not going to know in advance all the things he needs to repent of – it’s an attitude and inclination of mind that is involved, together with a forsaking of the sins that are obvious to the person at the time.

    What we don’t want to suggest is that you need to polish yourself up (get into the habit of not sinning) *before* you can come to Christ. You can come to Christ now, just as you are, if you have the will to (comes as a free gift from God, but I’d guess you’re unlikely to know that until afterwards, and it is definitely *your* will and *your* faith/belief/trust).

    Richard – would you want folk to come to Christ without being at all aware (and accepting) that they can’t just live as they like? (I’m assuming the answer is no)

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  7. A much greater mind than mine said that the above phrase in it’s original (worded slightly diff than Cath’s quiz) is poorly written on it’s face. The original arguement seemed as much about semantics as substance. In the end of one’s pondering about it, isn’t it a joy to know that we rest in the accomplished work of Christ!

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  8. Peter: No, of course not. My concern was merely to stress that unbelievers need to understand that they cannot save themselves through good works. They must be saved by grace alone through faith alone. The good works, and the fight against sin, come afterwards.

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  9. (Ok, the time weirdness continues.)

    Thanks also Susan. At first sight the statement was very poorly worded and seems to have caused much more controversy than it needed to. At least out of context anyway.

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  10. The background is of course that the poll question is a slight re-framing of the “Auchterarder Creed” – the statement that the Auchterarder presbytery was putting to divinity students when they came to be licensed to preach. Specifically, they were required to affirm that, “It is not sound and orthodox to teach that we must forsake sin in order to our coming to Christ, and instating us in covenant with God.” This was in the 1700s.

    The intent behind the statement was to have the preachers affirm that sinners can come to Christ unconditionally – as sinners, not even as repenting sinners. Telling people that before they can be saved they need to forsake sin is equivalent to telling them that unless they can produce some good in themselves they cannot be saved – bringing the sinner’s own ‘works’ into the foundation or grounds of acceptance with God.

    In the pastoral writings of many of the old-style preachers, there is a lot of care taken to address the situation of people who find themselves concerned about their sins, wanting salvation, and specifically a salvation which comes from the hand of Christ and satisfies God himself, and yet as far as their own perception or self-consciousness is concerned they are not aware of having been saved by Christ. They are in fact forsaking sin and have soul-longings for Christ, and show perhaps many another sign that identifies them (on paper, perhaps, or in the eyes of other Christians) as being objects of the saving work of the Holy Spirit – yet from their own perspective, they have no peace of conscience, no sense of being saved, no consciousness of being united to Christ as their own personal Saviour.

    To these people, the advice would go along the lines that they simply must come to Christ (or however it might be phrased – look to Christ, rely on Christ, trust in Christ). These concerned people might feel they’re too sinful to come to Christ – but Christ saves sinners as such. They might feel they should be more sorry for their sins (which is undeniable) but repentance is a gift that Christ gives to those who come to him. They should never wait till they satisfy themselves that they have a right attitude towards sin, or are forsaking sin sufficiently or in the right way, before they apply to the Saviour for mercy and forgiveness. Christ is a Saviour from sin, and a complete Saviour – to attempt to forsake sin before coming to Christ is not only to attempt the impossible but it effectively nullifies or at least undermines his work of saving sinners, lost and ruined sinners, as opposed to the partially healed, the self-helped, those who make some contribution of their own to the work. In terms of the basis of the sinner’s acceptance with God, their own works, their own believing, their own penitence have no contribution whatsoever to make.

    The statement does, as Thomas Boston’s biographer put it, have “an ugly sound” to it. But, he adds, “it was but the harsh expression of the thought, ‘Just as I am, and waiting not / To rid my soul of one dark blot, / O Lamb of God, I come.’ ” The forsaking of sin is the key evidence that a soul is being or has been drawn to Christ savingly, but it should never be portrayed or demanded as a qualification or requirement that the sinner must fulfil in order to come.

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  11. Why in that case was the call to repentance sometimes coupled with the call to faith in the gospels? Why did Jesus treat the rich young ruler the way he did? Why did he talk about counting the cost?

    I think you may well have hit the nail on the head in saying that for some people such an approach may not be helpful, but for others surely it is highly necessary, and should not be ruled out by such an edict.

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  12. Without cheating by reading any of the discussion first, I voted “yes” based on my complete freedom from conscience in quoting Isaiah 55:7

    Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts: and let him return unto the LORD, and he will have mercy upon him; and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.

    Also, not neccessarily a novel idea, but recently I was reminded of the fact that human nature does not even feel the need of a Saviour if they do not realise they have sinned. Therefore a calling to repentence (in recognition of our sinfulness and responsibility) is a central aspect of a presentation of the gospel*, as Peter notes with reference to the example of Jesus Himself.

    *(Cath, that’s the thing I kept trying to remember all evening and then forgetting again… though if there’s any heresy, it is more likely to come from my paraphrasing rather than the original source.)

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  13. Rachel and Peter (since i think you’re both raising the same issue) – the statement in the poll is basically about the grounds or the warrant that a sinner has for coming to Christ. The call to repentance is of course an essential element of preaching and no one is saved if they don’t repent. Sinners must forsake their sin. The only question is whether their doing so is a prerequisite for coming to Christ (- and it isn’t, as Peter already pointed out – “What we don’t want to suggest is that you need to polish yourself up (get into the habit of not sinning) *before* you can come to Christ. You can come to Christ now, just as you are, if you have the will to …”)

    I’d add – for Peter – I think surely everyone who hears the gospel needs to hear both that they must forsake their sin and that they can come to Christ immediately – although there’s bound to be a need to emphasise one or the other of these for different people at different stages.

    And Rachel – that doesn’t sound heretical to me :)

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  14. Funny. It’s all about philosophy. You read the question “horizontally”, I read it “vertically”. I tell you, Ockham was the root of all poor Luther’s problems.

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  15. Poor Luther was long gone by the time this all flared up – and I think it’s universally agreed that the whole issue was massively exacerbated by unclarity of expression.

    By way of illustration – the obvious choice of question for the next poll would be: The statement “Christ is dead for all men” is consistent with the doctrine of particular atonement; true or false.

    (Does it make it sound and orthodox to you if you read it the other way then?)

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  16. Meanwhile, credit where it’s due – the poll question in its present form came from the Gospel-Driven blog:
    http://gospeldriven.wordpress.com/2008/10/16/gospel-driven-poll/

    (He’s got a whole series of related polls actually, if anyone feels like casting their vote.)

    As things stand at the moment, all you readers are as a group more ‘Marrow-like’ in your theology (27% Yes, 73% No) than the voters there (53% Yes, 42% No) (although the sample size is smaller here). Not exactly sure what that tells us though :)

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  17. Poor Ockham was long gone by the time Luther’s scruples, or indeed Luther, flared up :-) Can’t answer your other question at the moment – I tried to write out a comment earlier, but making everything unambiguous and clear was taking me forever so I gave up. sowwy :-( wish Notburga would stop calling me a theologian, I’m no more one than she is.

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