Boast worthy?

First, let me say that I do not believe either the Calvinist or Traditionalist, by necessity, can have true converts who are boasting braggarts in their salvation.

1. If a Calvinist is a boaster, and Calvinism is true, then it’s doubtful he was sovereignly regenerated, as the system claims is true of all genuine converts.

2. If a non-Calvinist is a boaster, and contra-causal free will is true, then it’s doubtful he has actually humbled himself in his brokenness and shame and genuinely confessed his sins in faith.

In both cases, boasting is a sign of false humility and pride, which indicates no true conversion has taken place (whether that conversion was accomplished by irresistible means or not is beside the point).

That being said, I would like to combat the all to often heard accusation that the non-Calvinist has grounds for boasting while Calvinists do not.

Isn’t boasting reserved for those things you can do that most others can’t do?

No one is going around boasting about their ability to stand in front of those who choose to remain seated. Why? Because they know those who are sitting could get up whenever they wanted. There is nothing unique or special about the ability to stand.

It would be comical to boast about doing something that any normal able bodied individual could choose to do.

We (non-Calvinist) are too often accused that we could/would boast in our salvation because we affirm that it is our responsibility to *freely* respond in faith to the gracious Holy Spirit wrought gospel appeal.

Is this really boast worthy?

We are the ones who believe anyone can believe the gospel. Why would we boast in doing something anyone is able to do?

It’s the Calvinists who believe this ability is uniquely given to them and not most people. It makes much more sense for a Calvinist to boast in an ability granted to him that has been withheld from most others.

A great singer, for example, is a given a rare gift from birth and can often become proud or boastful due to that unique gift. But if everyone was born able sing that well whenever they wanted, then boasting in that ability would not make any sense.

Thus, Calvinism leaves more room for boasting than does our soteriological perspective.

Let me be very clear once again. I don’t believe either system actually does have grounds for boasting nor do I (having been in both sides of this issue) believe any good Calvinist or non-Calvinistic believer would desire to boast. But, if one was comparing the two sides objectively, clearly it’s the Calvinist who would have more grounds for boasting given that his God given abilities are more rare and unique to him, not the majority.

For instance, if there was an immature Calvinist next to an immature Arminian, it would make more sense for the Calvinist to boast about His uniquely granted abilities than it would be for the Arminian who is merely doing something anyone else was able to do.

For example, I have four children and if I brought home one toy for one child and not the others, well, you can imagine what an immature child might do. He might boast in his new toy. Ideally, he would recognize that he was given a gift and has no reason to boast and he would share his toy with his siblings. But, we as parents know that is all too rare. His reason for boasting is because he sees himself as being specially picked out and given something unique from daddy that the others were not given. This child feels special in contrast to his siblings.

Now, if I brought the same toys home for every child and some of my children simply chose not to play with their toys; would it make any sense for the child who did choose to play with the toy to boast about that? Of course not. Any of them could have chosen to play with the toy. There would be no reason for the child who chose to enjoy playing with it to boast as if the others couldn’t have done the same thing. This child would not feel special or favored by his father in a way that might lead to his boasting.

The fact is that in the time of the New Testament the Pharisees were boasting because they felt they uniquely were “the chosen people of God” and all the other nations were not. They felt special.

Now, they should have been grateful and humbled by the fact that God chose their nation, but the fact is, this made them prideful and boastful. Had those Pharisees believed that everyone in the entire world was chosen in the same exact way that Israel had been chosen; then would it have made sense for them to become prideful and boastful in their election? Of course not.
No one who understands salvation rightly in either soteriological system is able to boast, because salvation is totally up to God in both systems. God can have mercy on whoever he wants to have mercy. Just because someone humbles themselves and trusts in Christ doesn’t mean they are any more deserving of salvation.

Please understand this point: The decision to trust in Christ for our salvation is not a meritorious work.  Asking for forgiveness does not merit being forgiven.  Think of it this way.  Did the prodigal son earn, merit or in any way deserve the reception of his father on the basis that he humbly returned home?  Of course not. He deserved to be punished, not rewarded.  The acceptance of his father was a choice of the father alone and it was ALL OF GRACE.  The father did not have to forgive, restore and throw a party for his son on the basis that he chose to come home. That was the father’s doing.

Humiliation and brokenness is not considered “better” or “praiseworthy” and it certainly is not inherently valuable.  The only thing that makes this quality “desirable” is that God has chosen to grace those who humble themselves, something He is in no way obligated to do.  God gives grace to the humble not because a humble response deserves salvation, but because He is gracious.

humble-yourselfClearly scripture calls us to humility and there is nothing which suggests we cannot respond in humility when confronted by the powerful clear revelation of God’s convicting life-giving truth through the law and the gospel:

1 Peter 5:5-6:  “God opposes the proud but shows favor to the humble.” Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time.

Isaiah 66:2: “These are the ones I look on with favor: those who are humble and contrite in spirit, and who tremble at my word.

James 4:10: “Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.”

2 Kings 22:19: “Because your heart was responsive and you humbled yourself before the Lord when you heard what I have spoken against this place and its people—that they would become a curse and be laid waste—and because you tore your robes and wept in my presence, I also have heard you, declares the Lord.”

2 Chronicles 12:7: When the Lord saw that they humbled themselves, this word of the Lord came to Shemaiah: “Since they have humbled themselves, I will not destroy them but will soon give them deliverance. My wrath will not be poured out on Jerusalem through Shishak.

2 Chronicles 12:12: Because Rehoboam humbled himself, the Lord’s anger turned from him, and he was not totally destroyed.

Psalm 18:27: You save the humble but bring low those whose eyes are haughty.

Psalm 25:9: He guides the humble in what is right and teaches them his way.

Psalm 147:6: The Lord sustains the humble but casts the wicked to the ground.

Proverbs 3:34: He mocks proud mockers but shows favor to the humble and oppressed.

Zephaniah 2:3: Seek the Lord, all you humble of the land, you who do what he commands. Seek righteousness, seek humility; perhaps you will be sheltered on the day of the Lord’s anger.

Matthew 18:4: Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.

Matthew 5:3:  Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Matthew 23:12: For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.

Luke 1:52: He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble.

Luke 14:11: For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”

Luke 18:14: “I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”

James 4:6: But he gives us more grace. That is why Scripture says: “God opposes the proud but shows favor to the humble.”

If you will not humble yourselves, God will humble you in judgment.

  • The lost man’s inability to seek God does not equal the inability to respond to a God who is actively seeking to save the lost. (Luke 19:10)
  • The lost man’s inability to save himself does not equal the inability to respond to God’s gracious and powerful appeal for all the lost to repent and believe. (Col. 1:23)
  • The lost man’s inability to attain righteousness by pursuing it through works does not equal the inability to attain righteousness by pursuing it through faith. (Rom. 9:30-32)


But those who wish to boast should boast in this alone: that they truly know me and understand that I am the LORD who demonstrates unfailing love and who brings justice and righteousness to the earth, and that I delight in these things. I, the LORD, have spoken! (Jer. 9:24)

*Freely* = contra-causal free will, which is the ability of the will to refrain or not refrain from any given moral action.

For more on the question often posed by Calvinists: “Why did you believe when someone else did not? Are you better than they are?” CLICK HERE

To hear the latest podcast on this subject: CLICK HERE

44 thoughts on “Boast worthy?

  1. Great Picture choice Leighton! lol… And great subject about the underlying pride behind much of our choices of theological positions, and I would add, behind much of our style of dialoging and defending them!

    And fantastic verse choice! Jeremiah is a wonderful prophet to emphasize God’s universal plan to give every vessel a chance to be molded in His hands for good, as He “demonstrates unfailing love…to the earth”.


  2. A Calvinist would say that election is not by works but by him who calls (per Rom. 9), that is, God does not show favoritism, but elects according to what is ancillary to his plan.

    However, I suspect that being “picked” in this way — or rather, thinking you’ve been picked, because you could fall away and “weren’t saved in the first place” — does feel very self-validating. That this drives — in my experience — more crusading “cage stage” behavior than humble behavior may be a symptom theeeof.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Shet Calvinists say: Why do you believe in Christ and not your neighbor who has heard the same message? Honest question. Is it because you are smarter? less sinful? more spiritually attuned? What makes you a believer? What good work got you there? If Arminianism is true, you must necessarily admit that God’s mercy alone did not save you. God’s mercy can only OFFER salvation—I needed my good sense, prudence, wisdom to accept and believe this offer and receive it.

    Would it be wrong answer in the words of Jesus Christ?

    “The wise man built his house upon the rock.”

    Notice it doesn’t say:

    “The foolish man was monergistically compelled to build his house upon the rock.”

    Is Jesus boasting here, or just being factual? I quoted his words not mine. In fact, Scripture says to seek the praise that comes from God. Scripture says that it’s able to make you wise unto salvation. Paul says if anyone thinks he is wise according to this world, let him make himself foolish for God.

    Here’s the question for Calvinists: why do they insist a free will choice always is meritorious and earns a positive righteousness one can boast about. How come the Bible commends seeking the praise of God and being a wise man who builds his house on the rock, but the Calvinistic determinists demand that only monogeristic irresistible grace prevents you from earning anything with God? Thus if you do any action that expresses faith or humility to accomplish something with God, Calvinists insist it is prideful and replacing the postive work of righteousness in Christ alone. But does that logically follow? Isn’t that in direct disagreement with these verses?

    Scripture agrees that you need this good sense to accept mercy to be saved. The wise man built his house on the Rock, and the foolish man built his house on the sand. What made the difference between the destiny of those two men’s houses? God’s mercy? Proverbs tells us wisdom calls to the foolish to change their ways. Proverbs tells us we can accept or reject that call. It tells us if we listen to Wisdom, we become wise, and save our lives, but if we reject wisdom, we are foolish and will perish. What makes the difference in Proverbs between the man who listens to Wisdom calling out and the one who doesn’t? God’s mercy? But the fact that Wisdom is in the public square calling out to all who will listen, shows God is already having mercy to all who here the call… indeed Scripture tells us we can “judge ourselves unworthy of eternal life.”

    Does that sound to you like God’s decree to never allow a man to ever have the possibility of believing and being saved?


    1. Dizerner/David,

      You wrote:

      “Shet Calvinists say: Why do you believe in Christ and not your neighbor who has heard the same message? Honest question. Is it because you are smarter? less sinful? more spiritually attuned? What makes you a believer? What good work got you there? If Arminianism is true, you must necessarily admit that God’s mercy alone did not save you. God’s mercy can only OFFER salvation—I needed my good sense, prudence, wisdom to accept and believe this offer and receive it”.

      The calvinist debater wants to frame the debate as one of either two possibilities: (1) monergistic salvation/Calvinism where a person is saved and God does everything, or (2) non-Calvinist salvation where a person does something in the process of salvation (e.g. makes the choice to trust Jesus to save them) and thus God does not do everything and the person may boast about their coming to faith. So in their attempted framing of the issue, it is either the calvinist conception of salvation and the person does not boast because they did nothing in the process or the non-Calvinist conception of salvation and the person may boast in something they did in the process.

      The problem with this way of framing things is not only is this a false dilemma (this or that when something better is available): but that the actual process of salvation is through faith according to the Bible in order that no one should boast.

      So we need to ask what does the Bible mean by a saving faith that does not result in boasting?

      How is it that a person has faith/chooses to trust in Christ to save them and yet by its very nature this faith excludes boasting as the scripture says?

      Armchair theologians do not understand this, but people who actually engage in real world evangelism, people who have actually led others to salvation understand this.

      The explanation is that a genuinely saving faith by its nature excludes boasting because it involves what I call a “begging faith.” After the Holy Spirit convicts you of sin, shows you that you are a sinner, shows you that you cannot save yourself, shows you that you literally have to throw yourself on the mercy of the court (i.e. you have to give up any efforts on your part to save yourself and COMPLETELY AND SOLELY rely on Jesus to save you), etc. THEN you reach a mental state in which you know that you cannot save yourself and you know that only God can save you, and you then make the choice to trust SOLELY in God to save you.

      If this is your mental state, and it is the mental state of people who become Christians, then it is the opposite of a boatsful or prideful state of mind. In a boastful or prideful mental state you compare yourself with others, you think of how you are in some way better than them, more worthy than them, more something. But when you are in the mental state of begging faith, you are not more than anyone, better than anyone, you are desperate, realize the desperate condition that you are in, and you beg God to save you knowing that THAT is your only chance, your only way of being saved.

      Having been through this state of mind myself when I became a believer and having talked with many who had converted to Christianity (they all experience this same begging faith state of mind when they were saved), I know that this mental state by its very nature excludes boasting.

      What I don’t understand (actually I do, they forget their own experience of coming to faith in Christ because they are intent on promoting and defending the calvinist theology) is how the same folks who had this experience themselves, will then try to present this false dilemma argument against non-Calvinists when they know fully well that when they themselves were saved it was through a begging faith just like all of the rest of us.

      The more I hear someone press this argument the more I wonder if they are even saved. A genuinely saved person knows exactly what I mean by having a begging faith where you beg God to save you. If you never begged God to save you, if you never humbled yourself, then I seriously question whether you ever were actually saved.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. I think they’re saved in that you don’t need perfect theology to be, just trust in the work of Christ, but I do think they just want to defend the grace of God and feel there is no good thing in them. This is difficult and to be honest after decades I still wrestle with it. I liked what you said about begging faith, they would merely respond however that that kind of thing is not something that lost people do without irresistible grace (Matt Slick for example described something exactly like what you said). God’s word says his grace is resistible, that’s enough for me. But how can we not trust even .00001% of ourselves? That feeling puts us in a thinking of self-dependent quicksand. The thing about the eye is, it never sees itself. How can we trust without trusting in our trust? It’s like walking on water. Let’s just trust the Lord to put out his hand when we falter. What I usually say is “If God says we can do such and such, then God knows we can—fear is a choice at that point.” But I’m very open to meditating even more on how grace can be a free gift yet still resisted, and describing that in a way that doesn’t contaminate our works with self-effort.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. I like your “begging faith” discussion, Robert! I would add that I think it involves a begging trust to be delivered from one’s sins, not just from the penalty of sin, which is hell! Who doesn’t want to be delivered from hell?


      3. ➡ You have made some really odd and questionable claims in the past regarding God (e.g. God chooses his nature, rather than God having a nature and having that nature eternally).

        I gave good arguments no one refuted. I don’t see how that’s rejecting the logic God gave us (which also shows us the limit of logic). What kind of a man is forced to have a character he didn’t decide? We have a sin nature or a Christ nature, but we still make free will choices. I simply can’t deny God the ability to choose who He will be. I can’t even see that as “odd” or “questionable” and I’m not the first one to think that up. It maybe not be mainstream, but that doesn’t make it wrong. Btw, just for the record, I also think God withholds foreknowledge from his relational self. Those would be my two “hipster” views of God I guess. And I also was not the first to think of that, either.


  4. The purpose behind the monergistic election of Calvinism is avoid the possibility of merit in salvation. This was seen as essential within the context of a highly merit-based late mediaeval Catholicism. The problem (as I see it) is that the avoidance of any kind of merit became central to the Calvinistic gospel. The law (and for this read late mediaeval Catholicism) laid down a set of works for which you accrued merit for salvation. This was then replaced by the gospel which is entirely free of merit since the sinner is elected and becomes a christian by irrestistible grace. But this is to read Paul in the context of a merit oriented Catholicism. It answers Catholicisms merit with a system of nonmerit. But the idea of merit is still at its heart and ultimately the idea of merit is its problem. Merit or its avoidance do not feature much in Paul’s thought so to make it central to the Pauline gospel is a considerable error. Paul’s questions are more along the line of ‘who are the people of God’ and ‘how are they the people of God, by works of the law or by faith’ rather than ‘how am I saved , is it by merit or by monergistic election’.

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    1. What it gets down to talking to Calvinists, is does faith equal monergistic election, and hence the war over the few verses that could possibly imply faith as a gift. I think there’s a lot of indications that although the election may not be in the man’s control, the response to it is, and faith is not irresistibly wrought in the elect. What’s interesting talking to Calvinists though, is they often seem completely unwilling to think for themselves or rethink a passage—they just go back to re-quoting all the same “old and tired” arguments that they heard their teachers say somewhere. This was particularly evident in the last podcast (which was really interesting to listen—when cornered by a good point, they completely fell back to “We just don’t interpret Romans 9 that way” with no explanation).


  5. I suppose in my previous post I was arguing that if we make too much of merit then we will make too much of nonmerit then we arrive at ideas like monergistic election which completely exclude any possibility of merit. Going back to Rom 3.28-29 the Reformers interpretted v28 as (and I paraphrase) ‘once man was saved by meritorious deeds (works of the law) but now he is saved nonmeritously (by faith)’ . In other words the framework for the discussion is merit. But Paul then says ‘or is he the God of the Jews only?’ In other words if Paul is wrong in his argument and man is justified by the deeds of the law then God is God only of the Jews. The framework for Paul’s argument is not merit but inclusivity/exclusivity. Because justification is by faith then the Gentiles can be included as part of God’s people. If we make merit Paul’s point (do we now earn salvation by merit or is it given nonmeritoriously) we overemphasise the importance of merit in Paul’s thought and make it central when it is of secondary importance. If we see merit as central to Paul thought we will feel totally justified in making merit central to our theology.


    1. Paul does seem to be aware of the concept of merit—but here’s the rub. Paul doesn’t connect merit with *any action at all that humans do.* In other words, if man does action X to get God to respond to action Y, that is not merit for Paul. For Paul it’s all about one thing: attaining the works of the Law, and that means perfection. Merit is only about perfection in Paul’s soteriology. So let us call perfect Law keeping Z. Let us call “any action a human may do” as X. Now Calvinists constantly want to mix up and conflate Z and X by insisting they are equal.

      Imagine Paul hearing the argument that *any action* a man may do will correspond with *keeping the Law*! Paul would be flabbergasted. If someone tried to argue with him that “man making is a choice” or even “man humbling himself” or even still “man calling upon the name of the Lord” is equivalent to “keeping the works of the Law,” Paul would shout out “May it never be! The Law requires it to never be broken and be fulfilled perfectly!” Z is not equal to X.

      So Jews seek to be justified with action Z. Action Z cannot produce justification but Paul does not thereby argue that all actions X cannot do so. As a matter of fact Paul introduces action Y that is not equal to Z; and this action Y is trusting in Christ. Again Calvinists want to equate Y with all X. Y and Z are subsets of X: X is all actions possible by men. Paul does not say action Z will cause God to respond, he does not say actions X will cause God to respond, but he says action Y *will* cause God to respond. And all ideas and definitions of merit for Paul are tied up with Z alone.

      So man could be saved by actions Z or Y but Z is beyond the man’s capability. What Paul teaches us is not that “therefore all X is merit,” rather he says “Hey, we missed Y over here in our focus and obsession with Z—there is a purpose for Z, and that’s to lead us to Y instead.”

      But Calvinists will always make it about X, something very far from Paul’s concept of merit.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. I would argue that Paul’s interest in the ‘works of the law’ was more about covenant than merit. For Paul the erga nomou were the acts that the Jews were performing within the covenant and these acts effectively excluded the gentiles from covenant relationship with God. (Or is he the god of the Jews only?) When in Galatians Gentile believers are returning to the erga nomou by being circumcised Paul’s concern is not that they are returning to a system of merit but that they are denying the efficacy of the Christ event and that the old covenant was still fully in place (Christ died in vain). I argue that Pauls thought is covenantly framed (as you might expect for a Ist C Jew) and not merit framed (which you might expect for a late mediaeval theologian).

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    1. Brian! Paul no longer saw himself as a “1st C Jew”! Though he does say that for the sake of evangelism he “became” one again (1Cor 9:20) to win them. Nor was he a minster of the old covenant anymore! Though he did practice some ceremonial aspects of it while the temple stood. But he clearly said that covenant was “fading away” (2Cor 3:11).

      More than that, Brian, we are no longer under the law and we are dead to the law! I doubt that you got circumcised or worship on Saturday which are the major signs of that old covenant!


      1. Brian, Brian sounds like he is rehearsing the so-called “new perspective” on Paul, espoused mainly by Mr. N. T. Wright. In my perspective, this is just one of those guys whose “great education has driven them crazy,” as was said to Paul. But one can desire to come out with fanciful, intelligent and erudite sounding “new interpretations” that focus not on just reading what the text says, but rather finding some subtle thing to reinterpret it by. Hence Paul allegedly doesn’t see works as “merits.” Yet how does Paul describe these very works?

        2 For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. (Rom 4:2 NKJ)

        If having something to boast about before God isn’t merit, I don’t know what is.

        Did Paul see “works of the Law” as an expression of covenant keeping? Well, of course, but one humans have never been able to faithfully do since time immemorial. Paul was very, very clear that you can’t “partially” keep the Law, that “doing your best” wasn’t good enough and that anything short of complete perfection fell short of the entire covenant.

        3 And I testify again to every man who becomes circumcised that he is a debtor to keep the whole law. (Gal 5:3 NKJ)

        This really is a line in the sand for all those who mix grace with works, or want to add works of Law into any kind of demand or requirement for salvation.

        Liked by 1 person

  7. Brian,
    Clearly in my previous post I did not suggest that we should go back to the old covenant. In fact I thought I was proposing that Paul was saying exactly the opposite: ‘dont get circumcised or you will denying that Christ has come, been crucified and risen again’. Yes Paul’s idea of what a covenantal relationship with God is like is totally transformed by the coming of Messiah but he is still thinking covenantally as Ist C Jew would. Paul is not proposing a new way of salvation which is merit free (or based on Christs merit) he is describing a new way of being the people of God by faith in Christ which now includes the Gentiles. (or is he the God of the Jews only!). His focus is God’s people and the way the covenant has changed. Yes Paul sees himself as dead to law yet he also saw himself as fulfilling it.

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    1. It’s not wrong to see Paul as a first century Jew, he surely was a prime example. But Paul makes it clear the Jews were mistaken to think the covenant was based on works instead of grace—that Jew or Gentile never could keep the law, and Jew or Gentile both must humble themselves before that Law and go “through the eye of a needle.” Abraham’s grace covenant superseded Moses’ Law covenant.

      17 And this I say, that the law, which was four hundred and thirty years later, cannot annul the covenant that was confirmed before by God in Christ, that it should make the promise of no effect. (Gal 3:17 NKJ)

      For the Jews we can surely say—it shouldn’t have been a “new” way and it is shameful that they had gone so far from grace it was “new” to them. But they had stumbled on the stone in Zion. The old covenant never changed, it just served it’s complete purpose; it buried the Jews in their own sin, because they relied not on their Rock that led them out of Egypt and through the wilderness into conquering Canaan. They thought the Law covenant was their salvation; when ironically it was their condemnation.


    2. Brian – I can not say this strongly enough… Merit based salvation is a false gospel! If you are proposing that there was/is a merit based salvation taught anywhere in Scripture, you are teaching a false gospel, and I fear for you and those you have persuaded in this! The warnings in Scripture for those that teach a false gospel are very clear!

      It is also spiritually harmful to teach, if you are, that obedience to the OT law is necessary for sanctification, as if that law still has its own authority and universal obligation, without first being seen as subordinate to NT law and only for personal application by the Spirit.

      Paul counted his first century Jewishness as dung (including “righteousness under the law” Phil 3:6f)! I don’t think he had in mind using it even as spiritual fertilizer in his life. To twist the meaning of his teaching in Romans so that evangelical Christianity can be sucked back into allegiance to the sacramental, magisterial “Christianity” of Roman Catholicism with its false gospel is EVIL, whether done consciously or unconsciously!


  8. Brian
    Where in any of my comments have I suggested that we return to a merit based gospel? Because I suggest that Paul was not arguing against a merit based gospel certainly does not mean that I am arguing for one.


    1. Brian Midmore,

      It seems that Brian Wagner is totally overreacting to your comments in this thread. Wagner has an extreme hostility towards Catholicism and so whenever he thinks he sees any “merit based” theology such as Catholicism he has to go into attack mode and engage in emotional rants and hysterics.

      Seems to me Brian M. that you are suggesting something similar to what N. T. Wright suggests: am I reading you correctly?

      If so, this is not any sort of merit based theology. Rather you, like Wright, recognize that by focusing on strictly merit in their response to Catholicism rather than the first century context, the Reformers got off on their own merit based theology in response.

      As Wright points out, and I believe you are echoing him, it is not merit that Paul was emphasizing but covenant and what makes a person part of the people of God. Is this a correct interpretation of what you have been posting Brian M?

      If so, it is sad that Brian Wagner gets so emotional because of his hatred of Catholicism, that as a professor of New Testament he cannot even recognize when the New Perspective on Paul is being presented by folks such as N. T. Wright and yourself.


    2. Brian, I hope you noticed that I said twice “if you…”.

      You did say – “Paul is not proposing a new way of salvation which is merit free (or based on Christ’s merit)…” I think a normal reading of that statement would naturally warrant the question, “Do you believe, Brian M., that the old way of salvation was not merit free and that Paul was indeed proposing his understanding of that old merit based salvation as still for today?” I think mine was a normal response to want you to clarify that you do not believe that the Scripture’s teach a merit based / merit included salvation. Will you?


  9. Hi Robert,
    I think you have described just about where I am. Of course I can understand that if you were to see the trad Protestant reading of Romans as a bulwark against the evils Catholicism you might react against any challenge to this reading.

    Hi Brian
    The bible does not teach a merit based salvation. But this does not mean that Paul is teaching against a merit based salvation in Romans or elsewhere. Salvation for Paul is covenant based.


    1. Hi Brian M. Thank you for clarifying that you do not believe the Bible teaches a merit based salvation! You do have a false dichotomy, however, I believe, in your evaluation of Paul’s teaching. He is teaching a covenant based salvation and he is also teaching against a merit based salvation. Judaism had indeed morphed into a merit based salvation, just like Christianity has morphed into the merit based, false gospel, of Roman Catholicism!

      You may have some confusion about this if you do not see that the rituals of Judaism, in the first covenant were never sacramental, nor are the ordinances (baptism and communion) sacramental in our involvement in the new covenant. Nor does infant christening bring an individual into the new covenant relationship with and through the Lord Jesus Christ!


      1. Hi Les, Sounds like a trick question?🙂 So I will wait for you to clarify what you mean “by works” before answering! I will say that salvation was never “by works of righteousness which we have done.”


      2. Brian, not a trick. Just thought provoking. Adam was promised everlasting life for perfect obedience. He failed and fell. The second Adam obeyed perfectly and we are promised everlasting life based on faith in Him and His obedience. The result is everlasting life based on someone’s obedience (work), either the first Adam’s obedience or since he failed then the second Adam.

        Of course, but not “by works of righteousness which we have done.”


      3. Well Les, Do you have a verse mentioning God’s conditional promise of everlasting life to Adam for perfect obedience? Do you have a verse where we are invited to place our trust in Christ’s obedience?

        Is it possible that God’s gift of everlasting life to Adam would have been only as an offer to him as a gift instead of a reward for obedience? Is it possible that God’s gift of everlasting life is only offered to those who trust in His mercy without even needing to understand how that mercy was paid for, to satisfy His justice?

        In fact, His everlasting divine righteousness is the gift, not any righteousness that is based on Christ’s obedience.


      4. Sure Brian.

        “15 The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it. 16 And the Lord God commanded the man, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; 17 but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die.”

        “As at Adam, they have broken the covenant;
        they were unfaithful to me there.”

        “For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive.”

        12 The law is not based on faith; on the contrary, it says, “The person who does these things will live by them.”


      5. Thank you for the verses, Les. But they do not disprove the salvation that is apart from works that I outlined. Nor do they confirm a salvation that is based on obedience, that you seem to hold on to for some reason. Is that because you trust human authority instead of figuring it out for yourself on the basis of clear Scriptures only?

        The first passage you gave only promised death not everlasting life. The second could be “Adam”, though the LXX has “a man”, and even the ESV uses this generic idea for the same Hebrew form in Job 31:33, Ps 82:7. The third passage says nothing about everlasting life based on obedience.

        Nor does the last passage you gave. It would be hard to think the Lev.18:5 is teaching about everlasting life, so the quote of it in Galatians 3:12 would be hardly pointing to everlasting life, at least not clearly enough to become a strong proof for your works theology.


      6. Brian, I say what I say next meaning no disrespect. I didn’t really expect you to get what I am saying. Maybe had a 5% “chance” (don’t believe in chance but it’s the common way to speak) that you’d get it.

        Unless you understand covenant theology, you’ll have difficulty getting what I’m talking about…that Adam was on probation in a sense and if he would obey, he would live. If not he would die. Jesus, the 2nd Adam perfectly obeyed in our stead and by means of faith in Him we are granted eternal life. Someone had to obey perfectly, We couldn’t, but He did.

        Just so we’re clear, I affirm the five solas of the Reformation. If you’re interested, there is plenty of free reading on covenant theology. But you may have already read up on it and just disagree.

        Anyway, my comment was not intended to get us too far flung, so I’m not going to go to length to explain CT when there is much already written on the subject.

        God bless.


      7. Well Les, I was hoping with a greater % expectation for your understanding of the difference between theology with no clear Scripture as opposed to a theology based on what Scripture clearly teaches!🙂

        I am a fool to admit, but for your sake I’ll say that think I know reformed theology pretty well, having received one of my grad degrees from Biblical Theological Seminary, Hatfield, PA.

        And I am also pretty aware when someone is avoiding logical evaluations that are being made from Scriptures that others are misusing to try to prove unsound teaching. You could have shown me where my evaluations of your verses were faulty, if that were easy to do.

        Yes, you are probably “not going to go to length to explain CT”, at least not from Scripture, if those verses you gave were the “clearest” ones in your view that God has given to prove works are the basis of everlasting life, and not grace through faith alone, apart from what Adam could have earned, or apart from the idea that Christ’s human obedience earned anything except to “earn” Him the right to become a suitable sacrifice to pay for our sin!

        Christ’s earthly obedience did not merit “grace” that could then be distributed sacramentally to those who “obey” the commands of Christ, especially the commands of baptism and communion. The reformers (except for the baptistic ones) had difficulty totally rejecting their own trust in sacramentalism, and so they mixed their evangelical gospel with their retained RC sacramentalism for various reasons.


      8. Brian,

        Your baited reply, while tempting, is a no go. Would that your education at BTS had sunk in properly, as it did with one of my profs who received his Mdiv there in 1976. Maybe you knew him…Dr. Robert Peterson.🙂


      9. I probably did know him! I started there in 1977 and went through 1983. And I see that he taught there during that time. I can remember almost all the professors I had, so I am wondering if I just did not have him for any of my classes! I do thank the Lord for the education I received at BTS! Dunsweiler, Vannoy, and Newman were my favorites! (I also returned in 2003 and took a couple courses with Newman and Magnum).

        Maybe I can entice you to read my ThM thesis (done at Liberty) – “Luther, Zwingli or Hubmaier: Who was more faithful to the Principle of Sola Scriptura.” You can find it on🙂


      10. I feel like you both are kinda talking past each other; covenant theology doesn’t mean salvation by our works. Of course Christ came to fulfill the Law Adam broke, and of course Christ’s work is what saves. Our work is to trust in his work.


      11. Good Morning David! Yes, we do both agree that salvation is not by our works. But do you believe our trust should be in Christ’s perfect obedience to OT law or only in Christ’s death/burial/and resurrection for our salvation?

        Covenant Theology believes the phrase “saved by His life” in Rom 5 means that we get everlasting life based on Christ’s obedience to OT law. His death only removed sin’s penalty. And it’s Christ’s earthly righteousness that we receive by faith, and that we must live out… the righteousness of OT law (with some modifications).

        Of course, they do not like non-reformed teachers describing their view, because since I do not hold it, I must not understand it. The same argument is used for those who reject significant man-made climate change or theistic evolution. But that’s why specific Scriptures must be discussed to see who is making Scripture say more than it does do in its context to support their theology.

        We are saved on the basis of Christ’s death payment and resurrection victory and we trust in those things. His perfect obedience made Him our perfect substitute, but we don’t receive His human righteousness, but at regeneration, we become partakers of divine righteousness that God had before the incarnation.

        It all sounds like word games, but in the end reformed theology is tied to OT law sanctification, in sacramental priestly garb left over from RC. Our focus should be on NT law obedience, out of love and thanksgiving to Christ who is the righteousness of God in us! Without OT authority, infant baptism and the so-called covenant community based on it, is stripped of its pretended authority! The NT covenant community is based only on an evangelical individual active personal testimony of the Gospel! Infants do not have that!


      12. Thanks Brian, I hadn’t known that aspect of Covenant Theology. It’s interesting to learn.

        I do think Christ had to live a perfect life to fulfill the Law in positive righteousness (Law in his heart, loving God with all of it). But we get a bit highly nuanced when we talk about what saves us and how.

        I remember it was only a few years ago when I began to seriously think about the fact that Christ’s perfect life is part of what qualified him to be our substitute. He had to fulfill the Law both positively (thou shalt) and negatively (you shall die). It did add something to my depth of view on his Person; we know he’s inherently perfect and worthy, but the fact that he had to live that out where I could not, as well I die for me where I would (rather) not, gave me a more wholistic view of his mission.

        I would agree that more qualified him to be a substitionary vicarious sacrifice and be raised by the Father, upon which basis is everything we receive in him, than that him living perfectly did anything for us on its own. I don’t think “saved by His life” in Rom. 5 could refer to that, because it speaks of resurrection life (new law of life to overcome the law of sin, not a past life remotely imputed).

        I feel a bit uneasy when you say we don’t partake of his human righteousness but his divine righteousness. I’m sure it’s just semantics, but the way it hits me is, people wanting to say Christ made it as if the fall never happened. I don’t see it quite that way. We could say it’s better than before the fall, because we are one with Christ in a way Adam never was, because Christ is actually one of us. But we could say it’s worse than the fall, because we can’t ever avoid just how much it cost him.

        Christ *is* our righteousness—his Person is our righteousness. It’s completely true that could not happen with him just living a perfect life for us; there’s that “thou shalt surely die” part that is a tab we have to pay.

        Your last paragraph was difficult for me to get. I think our focus should not be on OT or NT Law, because law works out sin and death for us. Our focus should be on grace, a life lived inside us now presently, as it was for us then.

        Could you explain what you mean about infants and OT authority, or give me a link to something. I’d really like to learn that.


      13. Hi David! I’m sure the links Les gave you will be helpful in giving you a Covenant Theology perspective in a popular form. I always tell my students that the various debate series books available are a good place to start, and to especially take note how each view handles the Scriptures as proof or rebuttal.

        IVP – Critical Issues Series, Zondervan – Counterpoint Series, also some by Baker and Spectrum, all have selections worth reading and evaluating. Five Views of Law and Gospel, by Zondervan, is one I have students read and review in the Christian Ethics course.


      14. Brian thanks, turns out I had this in Kindle and brushed off the electronic dust. I immediately started looking for the view “Law is there to kill you” but had trouble finding it.😕


      15. Great question, David! Even debate books are not perfect!🙂 Sometimes stronger candidates should have been chosen to defend certain views, and sometimes various views, that others might deem influential, are not included.

        Four of the five views in this book are reformed! And the dispensational representive is rather weak, in my view. And as you pointed out, the condemnation aspect of God’s law is not developed enough.

        Strickland mentions it in his conclusion of his section, and VanGemeren mentions it in his response to Bahnsen. There may be other mentions, but I found those quickly by using the Scripture index and looking up 2Cor 3:6f. [Scripture indexes are essential in books, in my opinion] But that aspect of law doesn’t seem to be given enough treatment, though Strickland does some.


      16. Dizerner,

        If you want to better understand CT, you’ll get the goods from a Covenant Theologian, not from Brian (smart as he is). You may very well still disagree, but at least you’ll get the theological perspective form a CT proponent, not from a CT critic. I suggest Lig Duncan of FPC Jackson and now RTS. Here is a link to his lectures on CT at the seminary. Start at the bottom with Introduction to CT delivered August 27, 1998. You will find no better explanation of covenant.

        I wish I had more time but this year end campaign I’m involved with is just taking most of my time. Oh, and one more link coming on baptism as an FYI related to your last comment/question on baptism.

        God bless.


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