I am a firm believer in the doctrine of the perspicuity of Scripture. Perspicuity is simply a fancy word that means ‘clarity.’ Isn’t it ironic that the word theologians chose to say the Bible is ‘clear’ is a really hard word to understand? Anyway, the Bible is clear and understandable in what it teaches. It comes from the infinite mind of God, God delivered the Word in order to be understood, and so that which Scripture teaches is clear.
If that is true, then why are there so many different theological views on teachings in the Bible? Why are there so many theological labels out there that pit men against one another? Just think about all the differing views on the end times! Where does this confusion come from? Well, certainly not from God. He is clear about His views and what He has to say. If there is any confusion, it is on the part of men who confuse the Scripture by not studying it objectively and who have a sinful nature that affects their understanding.
However, I will say that theological disagreement can be a good thing. It obviously helps us define what is the true church as well as orthodox Biblical Christianity. We have to have disagreements so we know how to differentiate between what is true and false. Also, theological disagreement can be a good thing in that it drives us to the Scripture to see what we truly believe and why.
The book I am recommending this month is The Gospel According to Jesus by John MacArthur. This book inadvertently launched an impassioned theological debate about the true nature of salvation. The debate raged through many books and continues today. The discussion is commonly called ‘The Lordship Salvation’ debate. In laymen’s terms, does a person (at salvation) receive Jesus as Savior only, or as Savior and Lord. At the heart of the disagreement is whether or not a person will surely obey Jesus after salvation or not.
MacArthur didn’t set out to ignite a theological fire, he just set out to write a book about what Jesus meant when He said “Follow Me.” The point MacArthur was trying to make was that at salvation, a person comes to Christ as both Savior and Lord. By calling Jesus ‘Lord,’ one is calling Him ‘Master,’ and committing to a life of repentance and obedience.
At the heart of MacArthur’s concern was the thousands of nominal Christians who would say they have been saved, been forgiven, and become a Christian, yet their lives go on totally unchanged. They still live, act, and think the same way they used to before their ‘salvation.’ Is this type of conversion true conversion, or could this be false salvation?
MacArthur, in the book, goes through passage after passage showing how Jesus continually called people to a new life, how He confirmed that true believers bear fruit, and how He warned against the possibility of false salvation. Some examples are: the parable of the soils (Matt 13:3-9) that describe only one true salvation out of four; even though two others ‘looked’ positive toward Christ, the vine and the branches passage (John 15:1-8) that clearly teaches true believers do bear fruit, Jesus’ call to repentance in Luke 13, and the parable of the wheat and the tares that teaches true believers grow right next to false believers.
Over and over again Jesus made it ‘hard’ to become a Christian. He didn’t just accept anyone who made a positive move toward Him. Just think of the rich young ruler, think of Jesus letting some of His followers leave in John 6, and think of His difficult sayings like ‘take up your cross and follow Me’ or ‘the gate is narrow that leads to life and few are those who find it.’ Far from encouraging easy believism, Jesus made sure people really knew what they were signing up for (See Luke 14).
So, as theological debates go, MacArthur was accused of making additions to salvation. His opponents claimed that he was making works a requirement for salvation and he was roundly criticized. But MacArthur affirmed that salvation is by grace alone through faith alone and the evidence of that salvation will be a changed life of fruit bearing. Obedience is not a part of salvation, it is what comes after salvation, and that shows that it is true.
What I appreciate about MacArthur is how he leaves his personal opinions aside and just takes Bible passage after Bible passage to explain what the text says. That is what I appreciate far beyond eloquence of argument and fine rationalizations. Pick up The Gospel According to Jesus (it’s in our library) and see from the Savior’s words Himself what goes is involved in following Jesus. And each one of us should carefully examine our own life. Are we truly following Jesus the way He said to, or are we just saying we are following Him?
-Pastor Mark Scialabba