Christian Liberty and the confessions

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12:11 AM - Sep 28, 2017 #1

Please note that I am using the LBC of 1689 but would welcome comment from other confessions if they differ notably from this.

The London Baptist Confession of 1689 says this :
They who upon pretence of Christian liberty do practice any sin, or cherish any sinful lust, as they do thereby pervert the main design of the grace of the gospel to their own destruction, so they wholly destroy the end of Christian liberty, which is, that being delivered out of the hands of all our enemies, we might serve the Lord without fear, in holiness and righeousness before Him, all the days of our lives.
   London Baptist Confession, 1689 -- Chapter 21, para 3
 The general question is if this is teaching that sin destroys the relationship between God and man (eventually hardening the believer to the point of unbelief - thinking of Heb 3:12) or rather that the destructive influence is the believer using their liberty for a "cloke of maliciousness" (I Peter 2:16). The word "destruction" seems to be rather strong to impute anything less than loss of faith - and seeing as the context is the believer's liberty, it seems reasonable to me (based on the reading) to think that it may refer to one who at least professed faith and is cast off.

 But I also recognize that the terms "practice" and "cherish" are influential in coloring this statement.That is, it cannot be confused with a believer falling into sin or struggling with sin, but seems to imply that the one in view is running headlong into sin (for whatever reason) with little or no inclination to repentance.
 I want to add that the Scripture that I had in mind when approaching this statement was John 8:36. It may (or may not) be obvious to many here that I wrestle with the place of sanctification in the believer and how that plays out in perseverance and the ultimate reception when one approaches the Master and hears "Well done, thou good and faithful servant. Enter thou into the joy of the Lord" - even to the point (sometimes) of questioning how this reflects upon justification (which is a forensic, one-time declaration). Since the playing out of the effects of justification - I can't help but read James saying that our faith is justified (or maybe validated) by our works - is in time, the understanding of how we are set free per John 8:36 (and, thus, the liberty of "Christian Liberty) seems to me to necessitate the being set free to be radical and permanent. But then, when some fall away (who gave strong evidence of being set free from sin), are we able to say that while they were set free, they were never born again?

 Maybe I am trying to take on too much freight - trying to make determinations over who can be called saved and who isn't in cases where we are not given that clear understanding. Or are my definitions faulty?

Any response (again, involving any confession that directly addresses this) is most welcome.
If God promises life, He slayeth first; when He builds, He casteth all down first. God is no patcher; He cannot build on another's foundation. - William Tyndale

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5:31 AM - Sep 28, 2017 #2

From the WCF 20.3:
"They who, upon pretence of Christian liberty, do practise any sin, or cherish any lust, do thereby destroy the end of Christian liberty, which is, that being delivered out of the hands of our enemies, we might serve the Lord without fear, in holiness and righteousness before Him, all the days of our life. (Gal. 5:13, 1 Pet. 2:16, 2 Pet. 2:19, John 8:34, Luke 1:74-75)"
  • Galatians 5:13  For, brethren, ye have been called unto liberty; only use not liberty for an occasion to the flesh, but by love serve one another. 
  • 1 Peter 2:16  As free, and not using your liberty for a cloke of maliciousness, but as the servants of God. 
  • 2 Peter 2:19  While they promise them liberty, they themselves are the servants of corruption: for of whom a man is overcome, of the same is he brought in bondage. 
  • John 8:34  Jesus answered them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Whosoever committeth sin is the servant of sin. 
  • Luke 1:74  That he would grant unto us, that we being delivered out of the hand of our enemies might serve him without fear, 
  • Luke 1:75  In holiness and righteousness before him, all the days of our life.

The entire section in question is more about the tyranny of views such as Rome's that would seek to bind men's consciousness. See especially the previous Section 2 of the same chapter in the WCF. God alone is the Lord of our conscience and we are responsible only to His authority.

Christian liberty means we are delivered 
- from the guilt of sin and the curse of the moral law; 
- from the bondage of sin as an inherent principle of our nature; we are delivered from the evil of afflictions and the sting of death (The sting of death is sin, and the strength of sin is the law, but Our Lord has delivered us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us.); and
- from the bondage of Satan and the dominating influence of this present evil world.
- from the victory of the grave and everlasting damnation.

Thus we have peace with God. Our liberty, however, is not absolute. Ultimately we have opportunity to serve God according to His will without hindrance from man, and as long as we do not hinder our fellow man, who has equal liberties and rights in organized societies. It would be nonsense and wicked for a man to make his Christian liberty to obey only God a plea to disobey God, as he does whenever he violates any of the principles of natural right or of revealed truth which express at once the unchangeable nature and the all-perfect will of God. There can be no liberty which sets a man independent of that will; and this is always the will of God concerning us, even our sanctification (1 Thess. 4:3).
This section cannot be teaching that sin destroys the relationship with God to the point of unbelief, for this contrary to the perseverance of the saints taught in Scripture (John 10:28-30; Rom. 8:28-39; 1 John 2:19). Though the elect may for a time fall into radical sin (such as Peter's denial of Christ), God restores them to fellowship with Himself and assures their eternal salvation. This salvation involves the work of the Trinity. All who are chosen by God the Father, redeemed by Christ the Son, and given faith by the Holy Spirit, are eternally saved. They are kept in faith by the power of Almighty God and thus persevere to the end. They persevere in faith because He preserves them (John 3:16; 6:35-40; 6:44;10:27-29; Rom. 8:28-39; Phil. 1:6; 2:12-13; Eph. 1:13-14; Jude 24-25).

We are God's workmanship (Eph. 2:10).  If God is not able to equip His covenant people to persevere, then He cannot really offer eternal life. Confident Christians are more fruitful.

James is not teaching a works based salvation. The problem is solved when we realize that James is condemning a profession of faith without any evident fruit. Paul everywhere notes that faith unites to Christ and that union produces fruit in the lives of believers. James is challenging the man who says he has faith in Christ but there is no fruit. His faith is like the bare belief that the demons possess about Christ but everything in his life points to something else than the kind of faith that is Spirit wrought and that produces Christ-likeness in real believers.

When James speaks of Abraham he is speaking of Abraham's faith being justified not in a forensic sense but that his faith is justified by his works. It is shown to be genuine faith in the works that it produces. Thus the same notion that Paul has that faith and good works are distinct but never separated is maintained. One has to do more than simply quote the verse but to follow James' reasoning. He is clearly not saying: "Paul said a man is justified by faith but I say that a man is justified by faith and works." He even asks whether a false faith can save a man before pointing out how Abraham's faith was justified as genuine by the fact that, when push came to shove, Abraham's belief in God caused him to act in a way that demonstrated the fruit of the reality he possessed.

The faith that Paul commends is not the faith that James condemns, and the works that James commends are not the works that Paul condemns. 

Regardless of how one formulates this, two facts stand out: 
1. When Paul uses justification language, he is using it in the judicial sense of "not guilty based on the imputed righeousness of Christ." 
2. When James uses justification language, he is using it in the way of showing something to be genuine. They are not addressing the same issue. Paul is addressing legalism, whereas James is addressing antinomianism.

James clearly supplements Paul's teachings, both men united in that justification is by the grace of God alone through faith, and that faith will result, necessarily, in works. In condemnation of the worldly nature that had befallen some in the church (James 1:27; 4:4), the over fifty commands in the one hundred and eight verses in the book teach us the practical nature of our belief, that we are called to put our faith into action, and this action is the key distinguishing mark of the true believer.

Works were, are, and always will be fruits and evidence of justifying faith. A person's gifts cannot be accepted before the person himself is accepted. If the person is a criminal, in the eyes of the law an appeal to gifts is seen as bribery and a perversion of justice.
AMR (a.k.a. Patrick)
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