Friday, May 23, 2014

TGC Article Examined

I recently came across an article entitled Jesus, Friend of Sinners: But How? by Kevin DeYoung at the The Gospel Coalition (TGC) Website.  The article sets out to correct the popular false notion that the phrase "Jesus is a friend of sinners" means that "Jesus loved a good party." Given that such ludicrous notions are frequently promoted within Christendom today, we believe that brother DeYoung's intent in this respect is both noble and necessary. But as is so often case among NeoEvangelicals, in his efforts to address this error, DeYoung ends up staking out a position that is contrary to the precepts of salvation by sovereign grace. Consider these statements from the article:

“Jesus gladly spent time with sinners who were open to his teaching, that Jesus forgave repentant sinners, and that Jesus embraced sinners who believed in him.” (Kevin DeYoung)
"Jesus was a friend of sinners in that he came to save sinners and was very pleased to welcome sinners who were open to the gospel, sorry for their sins, and on their way to putting their faith in Him." (Kevin DeYoung)

A Very Common Error in Evangelicalism

While there are no doubt a great many professing evangelicals who would wholeheartedly agree with this statement, it is none-the-less certain that it cannot be reconciled with the bible's testimony regarding the salvation of God's chosen people. The fact of the matter is that in EVERY instance of eternal salvation, we find the Lord Jesus Christ Jesus embracing sinners who did NOT believe in him. This fundamental tenet of sovereign grace theology is displayed in numerous ways in the scriptures. Consider these two:  

  • He died for his chosen sheep (John 10:11)* when we were “ungodly” and “without strength” (Romans 5:6).
  • He set his love upon a chosen people (Ephesians 1:4-5) who were dead in trespasses and in sins (Ephesians 2:1-5) and purposed to give eternal life to every one of those chosen ones in fulfillment of a covenant promise (John 17:2).
If Jesus was waiting for people to believe in him in order to determine whom he would either hang-out with or show mercy upon, he would have been waiting for an eternity, because man in his natural state lacks the ability to believe spiritual truth (I Corinthians 2:14). All God’s people were shut-up in unbelief by nature (Romans 8:7) and the only reason they ever love God because he first loved them (I John 4:19). To state that truth in the language of modern evangelicalism so that it is difficult to misunderstand: God’s acceptance of sinners has NEVER been based upon their acceptance of Him. Rather God accepts his chosen people "in Christ" in spite of the fact that they by nature are abject rejectors of God prior to their regeneration (Ephesians 2:3). That is the salvation by sovereign grace taught in the word of God, and that is the sum total of how Jesus is a friend of sinners.

A Very Common Defense of the Position

There are those who would oppose this point of view. One commenter stated:
"So, for those of you who have a problem with the statement that Jesus 'was very pleased to welcome sinners who were open to the gospel, sorry for their sins, and on their way to putting their faith in Him,' would you defend this statement instead: 'Jesus receives people who reject the gospel, love living in sin, and refuse to trust in Him?'" (anonymous)
To that I can only say that given the abject depravity of man in his natural state (Romans 3:10-18), everyone who is saved is a shining example of Jesus receiving people who reject the gospel, love living in sin, and refuse to trust in Him. That people are shocked by this statement is a sad commentary regarding the lack of doctrinal discernment on the part of most evangelicals. We are all conceived in sin and shapen in iniquity (PSalm 51:5). It follows that salvation by grace is a salvation that was extended in mercy to rebellious God haters, not to some who decided to “receive Jesus.” The apostle John said it this way, “We love him, because he first loved us.” (I John 4:19) To promote the idea that Jesus was only willing to accept the willing completely ignores man's universal and radical depravity as a result of the fall (Rom 3:10-18) and posits a love of God that is contingent upon some degree of acceptance of Christ. Such as system of salvation is nothing short of the affirmation that God loves us with saving efficacy because we first loved Him - which is a departure from the teaching of scripture that is as categorically false as it is broadly accepted. 

What Then is Meant by the Phrase "Justification by Faith"?

There are certainly those who would regard my position on the saving grace of God as a rejection of justification by faith (by which most people mean "faith as a means of justification") because it affirms that Jesus receives people who do not trust him. But if faith is a condition of our justification then no man will be justified because man, in his natural state, lacks the spiritual capacity of faith (Galatians 5:22). 

The issue of justification by faith is completely misunderstood by most professing evangelicals today, particularly of the NeoReformed set. Stated very plainly, faith is no means of justification, neither is this what is intended by the phrase “justification by faith” in the scriptures. We are justified by Christ’s work on our behalf plus absolutely nothing else (Romans 5:19, Hebrews 10:14). Faith is the instrumental means given to God’s people whereby the pre-existing bedrock truth of our justification in Christ is made manifest, not actual. It is the vital evidentiary capacity whereby a chiId of God may know, embrace, and enjoy their justified state in Christ which is declared in the gospel. If our justification in Christ by covenant is not a pre-existing fact, then one's faith has nothing upon which to lay hold. 

So to summarize, our exercise of faith neither makes nor effectuates our justification, but is rather, a sufficient, evidentiary fruit (Hebrews 11:1, Galatians 5:22), which shows forth that we are beneficiaries of the unilateral covenant arrangement whereby we were justified by the work of Jesus Christ plus absolutely nothing else. Apart from being a chosen son and heir according to grace, one would not have the capacity of faith which makes believing God and the acceptance of gospel truth possible (Galatians 4:6). 


Yes, it is true that ALL salvation is the result of Jesus accepting a people who DID NOT trust in him (Romans 5:6). He chose a people out of fallen humanity (Romans 9:21), not because they had faith in him, but in spite of the fact that they did not. This election was according to his mercy (Titus 3:5), not according to their faith. God ultimately gives them faith as a result of the covenant (Galatians 4:6), but this is not the cause of their salvation, but an effect of their salvation (I John 5:1) - it is not a condition of the covenant, it is a provision of the covenant. 
That, brothers and sisters, is salvation by grace – it’s salvation based on what Christ did plus absolutely nothing else, which is evidenced by faith, not ratified by it.

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