SALE: What is the Gospel?

Westminster Bookstore has an awesome deal on Greg Gilbert’s “What is the Gospel?”—up to 65% OFF (case quantity), or get single copies for 50% OFF! This book is a great for evangelism and outreach, as a gift for new believers, or even for mature Christians who want to bask in the glory of the gospel. Click the image or links for more information.

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The Nature and Extent of the Atonement

The following is an adaptation of a presentation I gave at the latest Northwest Ohio Reformation Society meeting. Our topic was “Redemption Accomplished and Applied,” borrowing from John Murray’s classic text on the gospel. I was tasked with covering the application of redemption and decided to focus on the nature and extent of the atonement.

What is Redemption?

According to Baker’s Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology, the concept of redemption “includes the ideas of loosing from a bond, setting free from captivity or slavery, buying back something lost or sold, exchanging something in one’s possession for something possessed by another, and ransoming.” In the Old Testament, there are three main ideas involving redemption: substitution, deliverance, and atonement. These themes are gradually unfolded throughout the Old Testament, and in the inter-testemental period (roughly 400 years between the time of Malachi and the birth of Jesus) they were generally understood to have an eschatological or end times’ fulfillment in the Messiah. They drew parallels from the bondage of Israel and Babylonian captivity and their own temporal circumstances or physical reality. While many people alive during Jesus’ earthly ministry saw the Messiah as a victorious military leader who would conquer Rome, deliver Israel from oppression, and set up a material Kingdom, we see from the New Testament documents that Jesus Messiah had other plans—His kingdom is not of this world (John 18:36). God’s plan for substitution, deliverance, and atonement involved the sinless Christ who would deliver His people from their sin as a vicarious propitiatory sacrifice. He would provide pardon and reconciliation by satisfying the wrath of God with His precious blood.

Redemption Accomplished

In the first section of his book, “Redemption Accomplished and Applied”, John Murray writes about four aspects of redemption, or the atonement of Jesus Christ; namely, its necessity, nature, perfection, and extent. I’d like to focus on the nature and extent of the atonement in this post.

The Nature of the Atonement
The redemptive work of Jesus Christ is a labor of obedience. According to John 5:30, Jesus says “I can do nothing on My own initiative. As I hear, I judge; and My judgment is just, because I do not seek My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me.” Likewise, in John 6:38, He says “I have come down from heaven, not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me.” So, Jesus will was perfectly in tune with the Father’s. He lived a life of perfect obedience to God the Father. The Apostle Paul puts it this way in Romans 5:19: “through the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, even so through the obedience of the One the many will be made righteous.” He incorporates federal headship to explain the nature of the atonement. In other words, Adam our representative, committed cosmic treason and we have been alienated from God… but if we are united in Christ, if He is our representative—our federal head, we have been reconciled with the Father through the obedience of Christ. Theologians typically identify two types of obedience: Active and Passive.

Active Obedience
When we speak of “active obedience,” we are essentially talking about the life of Christ. While the active and passive obedience of Jesus should not be so starkly contrasted and categorized to indicate no overlap or continuity, for our purposes today, we will approach this aspect of obedience as his perfection with regard to the Law. Murray explains, “Christ as the Vicar [or representative] of His people came under the curse and condemnation due to sin and He also fulfilled the law of God in all its positive requirements. In other words, He took care of the guilt of sin and perfectly fulfilled the demands of righteousness. He perfectly met both the penal [or judicial] and the preceptive [or legal] requirements of God’s law.” (pp. 21–22) Paul says that “when the fullness of the time came, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the Law, so that He might redeem those who were under the Law, that we might receive the adoption as sons.” (Gal. 4:4–5) Calvin comments: “from the time when he took on the form of a servant, he began to pay the price of liberation in order to redeem us.” (Institutes, 2.16.5)

Passive Obedience
When we say “passive,” it does not mean that Jesus was somehow absent from His exertion of obedience. Generally speaking, the passive obedience of Christ refers to His humbling Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death… on a cross (Phil. 2:8). According to Murray, this “obedience was vicarious [substitutionary] in the bearing of the full judgment of God upon sin, and it was vicarious in the full discharge of the demands of righteousness. His obedience becomes the ground of the remission of sin and of actual justification… It was that obedience, brought to its consummate fruition on the cross, that constituted Him an all-sufficient and perfect Savior.” (pp. 22, 23) The classic Old Testament Messianic prophecy of the Suffering Servant helps us here:

“He was despised and forsaken of men, A man of sorrows and acquainted with grief; And like one from whom men hide their face He was despised, and we did not esteem Him. Surely our griefs He Himself bore, And our sorrows He carried; Yet we ourselves esteemed Him stricken, Smitten of God, and afflicted. But He was pierced through for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; The chastening for our well-being fell upon Him, And by His scourging we are healed. All of us like sheep have gone astray, Each of us has turned to his own way; But the Lord has caused the iniquity of us all To fall on Him.” (Isaiah 53:3–6)

We see here the language of substitutionary sacrifice… “He bore our griefs,” “He carried our sorrows,” “He was pierced through for our transfgressions,” “He was crushed for our iniquities,” “The chastening for our well-being fell upon Him,” “we are healed by His scourgings,” “the Lord has cause the iniquity of us all to fall on Him.” Over and over, we read of the Messiah’s vicarious atonement.

Moving on, I’d like for us to take a look at a few of the concepts related to the atonement. Namely, Sacrifice, Propitiation, and Reconciliation.

Sacrifice
The sacrificial theme is at the heart of the Scriptures. We see in Genesis 22 when Abraham was to sacrifice Isaac, the Lord provided a substitutionary sacrifice via the ram in the thicket (v. 13). In Exodus 12, the Passover Lamb was an unblemished sacrifice that was slaughtered and the blood was a sign for the Lord’s wrath to “pass over” the households of the faithful. The Levitical system also has substitutionary and sacrificial relevance. Michael Lawrence points out the following details in his book “Biblical Theology in the Life of the Church” (pp. 156–157):

  • Only clean animals without defect can be sacrificed.
  • Every firstborn Israelite, who represents the nation as a whole, must be redeemed with a sacrificial substitute.
  • Prominent is the taking of life and the shedding of a blameless victim’s blood.
  • The idea of a substitute is also prominent… if anyone brings a sacrifice, “He is to lay His hand on the head of the burnt offering and it will be accepted on his behalf.” (Lev. 1:4)
  • Sacrifices now begin and end every single day in God’s temple, presented by priests who serve as intermediaries between God and His sinful people.
  • There are additional sacrifices that mark the beginning of each week, each month, and each season.
  • At the pinnacle of this entire system of sacrifice was the Day of Atonement. The high priest alone took the blood of the sacrifice into the Holy of Holies and sprinkled the blood on the mercy seat, the symbolic throne of God, to make atonement for His own sins and the sins of the people.

In the New Testament, it is plain to see that Jesus is the culmination and fulfillment of this sacrificial element of true religion. John the Baptizer calls him “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). The Apostle Paul likewise says that “Christ our Passover… has been sacrificed.” (1 Cor. 5:7). The author of Hebrews also says that He offered Himself up as a sacrifice once for all (Heb. 7:28) and “at the consummation of the ages He has been manifested to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself.” (Heb. 9:26)

Propitiation
Secondly, we see the language of propitiation with regard to redemption. Propitiation, according to Murray, “presupposes the wrath and displeasure of God, and the purpose of propitiation is the removal of this displeasure.” (p. 30) In other words, propitiation is satisfaction and/or removal of the wrath of God. It is fascinating that the word for “mercy seat” (‘kap-oh-reth’ in Hebrew), which was the lid to the Ark of the Covenant, was rendered “propitiatorium” (which means the place of propitiation) when the Old Testament was translated into Latin. While the mercy seat in the Levitical context, where the sprinkled blood of the spotless lamb symbolized propitiation… the true mercy seat and the true Lamb of God, Jesus Christ, made absolute propitiation by the shedding of His blood. According to Scripture, “God displayed [Jesus] publicly as a propitiation in His blood through faith.” (Rom. 3:25) “He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins.” (1 John 4:10) “He had to be made like His brethren in all things, so that He might become a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people.” (Heb. 2:17)

Reconciliation
Lastly, with regard to the nature of the atonement, I’d like to shift focus to reconciliation. As I mentioned earlier, sinful humanity has been estranged from God. The accomplishment of redemption reconciles sinners with the Holy God. Paul writes in Romans:

“God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from the wrath of God through Him. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life. And not only this, but we also exult in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received the reconciliation.” (Rom. 5:8–11)

Furthermore, we see the grace of God in reconciling us to Himself by the words of Paul in 2 Corinthians: “if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come. Now all these things are from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation, namely, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and He has committed to us the word of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were making an appeal through us; we beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” (2 Cor. 5:17–21)

Not only has God reconciled a people to Himself in Christ, but by His grace, He has made Christians ambassadors of reconciliation! Listen to Murray again: “The reconciliation of which the Scripture speaks, as accomplished by the death of Christ, contemplates… the relation of God to us. It presupposes a relation of alienation and it effects a relation of favor and peace. This new relation is constituted by the removal of the ground for the alienation. The ground is sin and guilt. The removal is wrought in the vicarious work of Christ, when He was made sin for us that we might become the righteousness of God in Him. Christ took upon Himself the sin and guilt, the condemnation and the curse of those on whose behalf He died. This is the epitome of divine grace and love. It is God’s own provision and it is his accomplishment. God Himself in His own Son has removed the ground of offence and we receive the reconciliation.” (p. 42) God is the divine benefactor of reconciliation. He has taken the initiative upon Himself to accomplish redemption for His people. This leads us to the scope or extent of the atonement.

The Extent of the Atonement
The extent of the atonement is quite a hot-button issue. There has been no shortage of debate over the question: “for whom did Christ die?” The doctrine known as “Limited Atonement” is often misunderstood and gets a bad rap since the name seems to imply that there are limitations to the redemptive work of Christ. In discussion about the extent of the atonement, it has been observed that regardless of one’s position… everyone “limits” the atonement in one way or another. The Calvinist believes that the extent or scope of the atonement is limited in that it is reserved for a particular people—namely, the Church. But the Arminian limits the efficacy or power of the atonement by saying that Christ died for all people, even those who deny Him and await judgment and hell. This brings us to an important thing to consider when the question, “for whom did Christ die?” An appropriate follow-up question would be, “to whom is the atonement applied to?”

As I mentioned, the concept of “limited atonement” is often misconstrued. Partially responsible, is the terminology employed. A more appropriate phrase that many of you will undoubtedly be familiar with is “Particular Redemption.” This term is to be preferred since it alludes to the doctrine of election: there is a particular group of people (i.e. the Church) who will be redeemed. Also implied in this is that there is a certainty of accomplishment. Another expression that is employed is “Definite Atonement,” which carries a similar sentiment. Redemption was not just made possible by the work of Christ—it was actually accomplished. Murray points out, “[Redemption] does not mean redeemability, that we are placed in a redeemable position. It means that Christ purchased and procured redemption.” (p. 63) According to Titus 2:14, He “gave Himself for us to redeem us from every lawless deed, and to purify for Himself a people for His own possession, zealous for good deeds.” The atonement which Christ has made is effectual. As the accomplishment of redemption is effective, so is the application of it. This brings up an important point I alluded to earlier… those who receive the Holy Spirit—those who are born again by the effecual power of the Holy Spirit—are the same people whom Christ has died for. He has accomplished redemption for a particular people and they are the recipients of the benefits and blessings of its application.

I’d like to conclude by pointing out an important New Testament truth that Murray touches on… the fact that “those for whom Christ died, have themselves also died in Christ.” (p. 69) Paul writes in Romans 6 that “we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have become united with Him in the likeness of His death, certainly we shall also be in the likeness of His resurrection, knowing this, that our old self was crucified with Him, in order that our body of sin might be done away with, so that we would no longer be slaves to sin; for he who has died is freed from sin.” (Rom. 6:4–7) Those who believe the gospel and trust in the Person and work of Christ have died with Him, been buried with Him, and will be resurrected and glorified in Him. It is evident here, that the answer to the question, “for whom did Christ die?” is “those who have died in Christ and have been raised to new life.”

Now, it is important to point out that this is a doctrine to throw around carelessly. We must exercise wisdom and pastoral concern with regard to “Particular Redemption.” Often, this teaching is oddly criticized because it appears to be elitist. That is, detractors imply that proponents of Definite Atonement are arrogant and have reason to boast since they have been chosen by God. This cannot be farther from the truth. Paul points in Ephesians 2 that we have been saved by grace through faith… it is not of ourselves—it is a gift of God—we cannot boast in our works. (Eph. 2:8–9) This doctrine is not of arrogance… it is of humiliation! There is nothing special in us that compels God to save us… it is because of the sovereign good pleasure of God that He decides to set His love upon us. The doctrine of election is not a very popular teaching in contemporary evangelicalism… but it is biblical. And we should faithfully preach it and teach it in our churches, emphasizing the grace of God in salvation for His glory.

For more on this subject, please visit the Systematic Theology page.

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SALE: The Pilgrim’s Progress

Crossway‘s 2009 edition of John Bunyan’s classic “The Pilgrim’s Progress” is now available for the excellent price of $15 at Westminster Bookstore. Even better, they’re throwing in a FREE copy of Leland Ryken’s “Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress” from the Christian Guides to the Classics series (valued at $5.99)!

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William Evans on establishing new model of theological education

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The Reformed Forum needs your help in Kickstarting a Reformed Theology conference

Leon Brown on smokescreens and camouflage in the church

Jonathan Edwards on sanctification and beauty

Mark Dever on the Gospel and the Catholic (universal) church

“Scripture is the Word of God in the words of God, accurately reflecting the mind of God and infallibly revealing the ways of God.” (J. Alec Motyer)

“Creation is neither to be deified nor despoiled, but as the theater of God’s glory it is to be delighted in and used in a stewardly manner. It is God’s good creation.” (Herman Bavinck)

Please take some time to explore the rest of this site (you’ll find the pages located up in the tabs). There are articles, FREE e-books, and book recommendations throughout. Check out the Pastoral Theology page or Exegetical Theology page first… thanks!

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Check out Ligonier’s $5 Friday sale featuring Richard Phillips’ “What’s So Great About the Doctrines of Grace?”

Tim Keller and D.A. Carson on the recent shake-ups at The Gospel Coalition

John Murray on justification and good works

David Helm on the dangers of the lectio divina approach to biblical interpretation

David Murray on evangelism according to the book of Proverbs

The benefits of developing a robust Christology

Tim Keesee on the advance of the gospel around the world

“You can drift into sin, but not into righteousness.” (Leon Morris)

”The kingdom of heaven is worth infinitely more than the cost of discipleship.” (D.A. Carson)

Please visit some of the other pages on this site (located in the tabs). You’ll find some excellent articles, FREE e-books, and book recommendations. Check out the Pastoral Theology page or Systematic Theology page first. Thanks!

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Save an additional 30% on R.C. Sproul’s “Everyone’s a Theologian” when you use coupon code “DADGRAD30” at Ligonier Ministries

David Murray shares 10 characteristics shared by great leaders

Owen Strachan responds to Rachel Held Evans’ feminization of God

Vern Poythress talks about chance, luck, and the sovereignty of God

Common problems with contemporary preaching

Christian Conservativism, Russell Moore, and Talk Radio

“Dismissal of the law leads to terrible consequences at every point—in our coming into the Christian life and in our continuing in the Christian life. It always leads to a superficial, glib, lightly happy Christian life, which has a false joy. There are people who say, ‘I’ve never had a doubt ever since I was converted.’ Some of them very much need to have doubts.” (D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones)

“The death of Christ is efficacious to destroy and demolish the depravity of our flesh, and his resurrection, to effect the renovation of a better nature.” (John Calvin)

Please take some time to browse the other pages on this site (located in the tabs above). You’ll find several articles, FREE e-books, and book recommendations for your encouragement and edification. Check out the Exegetical Theology page or Apologetics page first… Soli Deo Gloria!

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Child sacrifice with a smile

Michael Kruger reviews Bart Ehrman’s “How Jesus Became God”

Robert Briggs’ video lectures on Directives to Young Preachers

Robert Gagnon on the Bible and homosexuality.

J.I. Packer e-book sale at Crossway

Thabiti Anyabwile interviews a single African-American woman who has been serving in the 10/40 window for the past 15 years

“Christ did not die for any upon condition, if they do believe; but he died for all God’s elect, that they should believe, and believing have eternal life. Faith itself is among the principal effects and fruits of the death of Christ.” (John Owen)

“Cold prayers are as arrows without heads, as swords without edges, as birds without wings. They pierce not, they cut not, they fly not up to heaven. Cold prayers always freeze before they reach heaven.” (Thomas Brooks)

Please take some time to peruse the various pages on this site (Exegetical Theology, Systematic Theology, Pastoral Theology, etc.)—you’ll find book recommendations, FREE e-books, articles and more!

Review: Life in Christ

The good folks at Cross Focused Reviews have blessed me with another book to review. I was really excited about the prospect of reviewing this book, as it deals with what I see as one of the most neglected aspects of the Christian life as represented in mainstream American evangelicalism: Discipleship. As the title implies, the book also covers the glorious doctrine of Union with Christ—which in its own right is a teaching that is largely overlooked. Jeremy Walker‘s “Life in Christ: Becoming and Being a Disciple of the Lord Jesus Christ” is a welcome addition to contemporary discipleship resources that is not only pastoral, but thoroughly biblical and theologically precise.

In the first chapter, “Looking to Jesus,” he instructs the reader as to how one comes to Christ for salvation. Walker examines the command and invitation of the gospel, as well as the purpose and promise of the gospel. Beginning with the contrast between human depravity and the necessity of regeneration, the author weaves biblical references in and through to help the reader understand the Bible’s teaching of conversion–repentance and faith–and the grace of being declared righteous according to the person and work of Jesus Christ.

In chapter two, Walker seeks to unpack the doctrine of Union with Christ. He points to the teachings of the apostle Paul to explain the Christian’s position “in Christ” and the Christian’s nature as a “new creation.” (pp. 22–27) The author continues by rightfully expounding upon 2 Corinthians 5:17. He explains that for the Christian, “the old has gone and is gone for good; the new has come and keeps on coming.” (p. 28) Walker then closes out the chapter with an evangelistic appeal: “Whoever comes to Christ in faith–repenting of his sins, seeing his misery without Christ, seeking grace to be in Christ–and earnestly desiring that one day he might see and be with Christ–will find Christ to be his Savior and Lord and will enter into the blessed realities of the new creation in himself now and look forward to a life in a new heaven and new earth with Christ in days to come, the very heaven of heaven.” (p. 34)

Walker speaks of “The Unsearchable Riches of Christ” in the third chapter, and described the glorious riches of Christ. Surveying the book of Ephesians, he shows the reader the “unsearchable” love, grace, forgiveness, wisdom, power, joy, truth, assurance, hope, and mercy in Christ (pp. 38–44). The glorious person of Christ is next to be considered, as the author gives a Christological overview regarding the deity, humanity, agony, and glory of the Savior. The chapter concludes with an explanation of the glorious mystery of the gospel and the revelation of Jesus Christ. “The unsearchable riches of Christ are proclaimed in order that they might be known and enjoyed, received by sinners who have come to rest in the boundless resources of Jesus Christ as their Deliverer, the One given for the very purpose of meeting the needs of fallen people. That in itself is unsearchable!” (p. 48) All other pursuits leave something to be desired, but the knowledge and loveliness of Christ, which is inexhaustible, is satisfying beyond measure.

Chapter four is about the blessed doctrine of adoption. Rooted in the writings of the apostle John, the author presents the breathtaking reality of God’s love towards His children: “This is indeed a love that comes from God the Father, the God who does abiding good to the utterly undeserving, establishing an intimate relation with them in giving, as a gift of love, His own beloved Son. This is a love without measure flowing from the infinite heart of a good and loving God, an ocean without shore, a realm without frontier.” (p. 58) The author shows how the love of God is everlasting and unchangeable, abounding and unlimited, and undeserved and overwhelming. (pp. 58–59) He has given us a new nature and calls us His sons, and Walker beckons us to behold this truth for wonder and encouragement, for trust and confidence, for obedience and fortitude, for joy and thankfulness, and finally, for joy. (pp. 60–65)

Continuing with his examination of the apostle John’s writings, Walker addresses eternal security in chapter nine: “The Jewel of Assurance.” He points to the pastoral mindset of John in his first epistle and how he wanted his readers to know Christ and have life in Him (cf. 1 John 5:13). We see that assurance of salvation is definable, desirable, and possible. (pp. 67–76) The author closes the chapter with the pneumatological reality of assurance: “It is the Spirit of adoption who works in us faith and its fruits, implanting and stimulating graces which are the evidence of new life and witnessing with our spirit to their presence and reality and owning us by His sweet influences and by these means as children of God. The good grounds of confidence in the life of a saved person produce, through the Spirit’s witness, their full gift in our minds and hearts.” (p.77)

In what I see as the most important chapter of the book, “The Marks of God’s Children” seeks to present a framework of the Christian life. The author begins by laying to rest some common “inconclusive indications” of assurance of salvation like visible morality, head knowledge, and external religion. (pp. 80–84). He then devotes the rest of the chapter to showcase the marks of a true Christian. These “indispensable indications” of biblical assurance are repentance and faith, devotion to God, growth in holiness, and love for the saints. (pp. 85–108) This section alone is worth the cost of the book and is a spiritual gem for the newly converted and veteran Christian alike. I will certainly be using this material for disciple-making in the future.

“A Work in Progress” is the title of chapter seven, in which the author surveys the apostle Paul’s writings on sanctification. It is a masterful call to persevere; to press on in the Christian life. We should strive to “work out our salvation with fear and trembling” (Phil. 2:12) and not be passive in our pursuit of holiness. Walker rightly points out that Paul’s exhortation to put on the armor of God (Eph. 6:13–17) “is not a call to occasional endeavor but a command constantly and thoroughly to work at a task until the point of completion.” (p. 113) This is not works-righteousness… the indicatives of the gospel (what Christ has done) are prior to the imperatives of the gospel (what is expected of us). “Our joy and blessing as God’s children,” says Walker, “are bound up in God’s ultimate purpose for us, and he is sovereignly bringing it to pass.” (p. 125)

The final chapter focuses on the apostle Paul’s later writings, particularly those sections where we gain some insight into his impending death. “A Life in Review” is a heartfelt look at the apostle’s unending endurance in the fight and race of the faith. Paul looks around, looks back, and finally looks ahead to a great crown, a great Christ, and a great company of redeemed sinners in the consummation. (pp. 130–138)

Review

Jeremy Walker’s “Life in Christ” is a warm and encouraging explanation on what it means to be a Christian. With pastoral sensitivity and theological clarity, he presents a biblical faithful work on being a disciple and living life to the glory of God. Like a modern-day Puritan, Walker marries doctrine and practice to create a magnificent resource for instructing maturing disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ.

For more on this subject…

Jeremy Walker interviewed on the Janet Mefferd Show

Jeremy Walker interview with The Confessing Baptist

A Reader’s Review of “The New Calvinism Considered”

Recommended reading:

Effective December 1, 2009, Federal Trade Commission guidelines state that bloggers receiving any kind of compensation should disclose that information clearly on their blog when posting a review of the product… that being said: I RECEIVED A FREE COPY OF THE BOOK.

John Owen Kindle Sale

All five volumes of John Owen’s writings published by Christian Focus Publications is currently on sale for Amazon Kindle. Click the link or image below to be redirected…

 

For more on this subject, please visit the Systematic Theology page.

Recommended reading:

A Reader’s Review of The Gospel Call and True Conversion

Approximately eight years ago, I was travelling from Atlanta to Chattanooga to do some street evangelism with some friends from church. I had never been involved with evangelism (and quite frankly, I am not fully convinced that I was truly converted at this time), but I thought it would be a good opportunity to serve the church and assist my friends in their ministry. On the way to the church camp in North Georgia that we were partnering with, we listened to a conference message by Paul Washer that has been dubbed “Shocking Youth Message”. I don’t remember the specific details of the car ride, but I do recall experiencing an acute sense of my own depravity and conviction of sin. This was my introduction to the ministry of Paul Washer and since then I have listened to many of his sermons and even read a book or two that he wrote.

Cross Focused Reviews has once again provided me with the opportunity to review a book by one of my favorite authors/preachers… “The Gospel Call & True Conversion” by Paul Washer.

This particular book is the second in the “Recovering the Gospel” series (the first being “The Gospel’s Power and Message”) and it aims to do just that. The gospel has been assumed, neglected, and even forgotten in our time and the purpose of this series is to restore a biblical understanding of the good news and “recover” it from contemporary mutations and distortions. Here is the series description:

“Although the Recovering the Gospel Series does not represent an entirely systematic presentation of the gospel, it does address most of the essential elements, especially those that are most neglected in contemporary Christianity. It is the hope of the author that these words might be a guide to help you rediscover the gospel in all its beauty, scandal, and saving power. It is his prayer that such a rediscovery might transform your life, strengthen your proclamation, and bring the greatest glory to God.”

The book has three parts: “The Gospel Call”, “New Hearts and the Nature of True Conversion”, and “New People and the Nature of True Conversion”. These units are comprised of a selection of Washer’s sermons.

In the first section, the author describes the biblical teaching on the “double-sided coin” of conversion… repentance and faith. He properly explains repentance as a “change of mind” (pp. 5–8), points out that it involves “sorrow for sin” (pp. 8–10) and a “personal acknowledgment and confession of sin” (pp. 10–11) as well as a “turning away from sin” (pp. 11–13), the “renunciation of works” (pp. 13–16), and “turning to God in obedient submission” (pp. 16–18). Biblical repentance also includes a life marked by “practical obedience” (pp. 18–19), and a “continuing and deepening work of repentance” (pp. 19–21). Next, Washer explains what true saving faith is. He explains that it is essentially trusting in the finished work of Christ alone, by the grace of God alone (to exclude boasting), to the glory of God alone. The author takes to task the modern evangelical traditions of “the sinner’s prayer” and “making a decision for Christ” (ch. 3–4) and finishes the unit by deconstructing a common misinterpretation of Revelation 3:20 (ch. 5).

Washer dedicates the second part to the biblical doctrine of regeneration. He explains the motive (the love of God) and end (the glory of God) in salvation (ch. 6), shows that God is both the author, sustainer, and perfecter of saving faith (ch. 7), and that sanctification (separation and cleansing) is a necessary result of justification (the legal declaration of righteousness by God upon a sinner through faith in Jesus) for those who have been adopted by the heavenly Father (ch. 8). If there is one thing about this book that I am most grateful for… it is this section. Regeneration (i.e. the new birth… being “born again”) is one of the most distorted elements of salvation that is in dire need of being “recovered”. Building upon the previous unit where he refutes the unbiblical teaching of “decisionism” (in which a person is “saved” by making a “decision” for Christ), he explains the Scriptural doctrine of divine monergism. The Bible clearly teaches that because of his sinful nature, man is separated from God and his will is in bondage to sin. Because of this depravity and enmity towards God, man is not able or willing to come to God on His terms and will not seek Him or submit to His will. Salvation is of the Lord, and the only way a sinner comes to salvation by faith in Christ is by the grace of God alone… in drawing them by His Spirit and giving them new life. One cannot seek God or believe in Christ for salvation unless they have been “born from above” by the Spirit (ch. 9–10).

Part three is about the new covenant community of God. The author devotes this section to helping the reader understand some differences between the old covenant and the new covenant. He writes:

“In the old covenant, God called a physical nation descended from Abraham to be His people, but within that great multitude of individuals, only a small number of them were truly regenerate and believing. The rest were unregenerate and carnal, and are now suffering eternal perdition. In the new covenant, God is calling forth a spiritual nation made up of Jews and Gentiles, and all of them are regenerate and believing. There is not a godly remnant in the true church; that true church is the godly remnant.” (p. 121)

Washer continues by describing the new covenant prophecies of the Old Testament and their fulfillment in Jesus Christ:

“Through the atoning work of Christ and the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit, God has made for Himself a new people. He has taken out their heart of stone and replaced it with a heart of living flesh. He has recreated them to be a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for His own possession; a people who will proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called them out of darkness into His marvelous light.” (p. 129)

The author seeks to correct unbiblical notions of ecclesiology (the doctrine of the church) and dispels contemporary accusations against the body of Christ (ch. 12), he addresses the importance of the knowledge of God in the revelation of Jesus (ch. 13), and explains division and unity within the visible church (ch. 14). Washer closes out the book by teaching about God’s covenant faithfulness and the unrelenting lovingkindness He has towards His covenant people (ch. 15)… the covenant He has with the saints is everlasting and as a perfectly faithful God, His promises to them will and must come to pass. Believers stand on the covenant promises of our Lord and trust that all things work together for the good of those who love Him and are called according to His purpose… He has begun a good work in each one of us, and He will continue to work effectually in us until the return of Christ when we will be made like Him (ch. 16).

Overall, I thought this was a pretty good book. Since it is a compilation of sermons, there are times when the book does not necessarily flow from one thought to the next, but the content is great. I would have liked to see an index with references, but nonetheless, this book is saturated with Scripture throughout and along with presenting sound biblical doctrine, it accurately defends orthodox Christianity while dismissing common contemporary misconceptions and false teachings.

For more on this subject, visit HeartCry Missionary Society.

Recommended reading:

Effective December 1, 2009, Federal Trade Commission guidelines state that bloggers receiving any kind of compensation should disclose that information clearly on their blog when posting a review of the product… that being said: I RECEIVED A FREE COPY OF THE BOOK.