God’s Displeasure and Assurance: More from Antinomianism

I understand that many of my readers will not get to read the books I do. It is one of the privileges and duties of pastoral ministry to read widely and wisely and to allow that reading to force one to think more clearly about various topics. Reading is an essential part of the task of a minister of the Gospel. When one loves something he does not keep it hidden. He wants people to see what he sees or in my case to read what I read. This is my justification for posting quotes and interacting with books on my blog.  I know many of you will not pick up Mark Jones’ book Antinomianism, but I still would like you to eat some of the meat I got from the book.  So here are a few more quotes from the book with some comments by me along the way.

I really wish Jones had brought in more contemporary writers/pastors to illustrate his points. I understand his desire to not be slanderous or create unnecessary strife in the body of Christ. But antinoianism is prevalent. I don’t think it would have been that hard to come up with other examples. I believe the only man he mentions by name is Tullian Tchividjian. Here is what he says about his book Jesus+Nothing=Everything

His whole book is one lengthy antinomian diatribe, and it bears a striking resemblance to the content and the rhetoric of various seventeenth-century antinomian writings.

One of the new ideas introduced to me in Jones’ book was God’s displeasure with the sin of Christians.  Jones makes a good argument that God’s love for us as his elect does not exclude his displeasure over our sins. Initially this thought was jarring for me. Doesn’t God love me the same all the time? Is his love mutable? After thinking about it, the Scriptures do clearly show that at times God is displeased with his people. The three situations that came to mind as I read were David’s sin with Bathsheba, Christ rebuking Peter, and Hebrews 12:5-11. II Samuel 11:27 even says that God was displeased with David. God does rebuke us, even as Christians. This requires displeasure with our sin even after conversion. The block quote immediately below is from Jones while the internal quotes are from John Flavel.

Flavel argues that God must necessarily hate sin, even in light of Christ’s satisfaction. For the Christian, however, God loves the person. “His hatred to their sins, and love to their persons are not inconsistent.” Moreover, the antinomians fail to make a crucial distinction between “vindictive punishments from God” which are the effects of his wrath upon the non-elect, and his “paternal castigations,” which are the “pure issues of the care and love of a displeased Father.” 

It is also interesting that Jones says the phrase “Love the sinner, hate the sin,” applies only to Christians. God does not love the non-believer, but hate his sin. I think this statement requires some unpacking, but it is true to the tone the Scriptures take. Before conversion we were God’s enemies (Romans 5:10). Jones quotes Psalm 5:5 as a proof text.

Assurance of salvation was a huge issue between the orthodox and the antinomians.

By and large, the antinomian theologians rejected the idea that believers may be assured of their justification by the evidence of their sanctification.

For the antinominans:

Those who have the strongest assurance are not necessarily those who are most righteous, but those most strongly believe they are justified.

One key part of the assurance debate was the tension between God’s objective promises given to us in Christ and our subjective experience of those promises. Do you emphasize both? Do you emphasize one to the exclusion of the other? Antinomians emphasize the first; the promises of God given to us Christ. Thus they tend to focus on sheer belief as the sign of true conversion. If one struggles with sin the answer is to believe more and more. In contrast to this, the Reformers and their heirs emphasized both. Joel Beeke, quoted by Jones, sums it up this way:

the “best resolution of the objective-subjective tension in assurance is that both owe everything to Christ, receive all from Him, and end with all in Him. In Christ, objective promises and subjective experience are complementary.”

Here is a similar quote from Richard Muller’s Calvin and the Reformed Tradition:

Beza like Calvin, “did anchor assurance in Christ and, specifically in union with Christ. Arguably the basic point made by Calvin and shared by Beza was that the basis for personal assurance is not Christ standing extra nos  in the sufficiency of his saving work, but rather the personal or subjective recognition of the effects of Christ and his work in the believer as the basis for assurance.” 

The point made in Jones’s book and in these quotes is a vital one for true assurance. Too often when works are brought up as the basis for assurance in Christ one is accused of legalism. However in Scripture and in the Reformed tradition works are an essential part of assurance. If no growth is seen, if I am not seeing sin die in my life, if those around me cannot see me maturing in Christ then maybe I need to look at my relationship with Christ. There are dangers with over emphasizing works. But there are also grave dangers with not emphasizing them. These dangers are regularly ignored by antinomians, as if any focus on works and any attempt to lead a holy life are signs of a Pharisaical heart.

Here are two final quotes from Jones on assurance.

On the subjective side, obeying God’s commandments (I John 2:3-6), which necessarily includes loving God and his people (I John 3:11-24) cannot but aid the believer in the quest for full assurance. To deny this would be to overthrow the Christian religion. 

The truth is, to the degree that a person fixes his or her eyes upon Christ, he or she will burst forth with gospel obedience. And obedience, if it is gospel obedience, cannot help but draw us back to Christ in faith, hope, and love. For this reason, the objective and subjective aspects of the Christian life are complementary and necessary.  

3 thoughts on “God’s Displeasure and Assurance: More from Antinomianism

  1. Here's the comment that I made to this post on the Facebook group:

    Peter, these thoughts from Mark Jones are very good. Thank you for summarizing them here. Two corrections need to be made here, though:

    1. It is wrong to say, as you summarize Mark Jones saying,“The phrase 'Love the sinner, hate the sin,' applies only to Christians. God does not love the non-believer.”

    This is contrary to Jesus' teaching in the Sermon on the Mount: “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven; for He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust” (Matt. 5:43-45).

    Are we more righteous than God, our Father? He gives sun and rain even to those who are evil and unrighteous. Therefore we are called to follow His example of love to enemies.

    According to John 3:16-17, God loved the *world* so much that He sent His Son, not to judge the world but to save it. And in Romans 5:6-10, the Apostle Paul teaches that “God demonstrates His love” in that Christ died for “the ungodly,” “sinners,” “enemies”—that is, us! And finally, the Apostle Peter writes, “The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance” (2 Pet. 3:9).


  2. 2. In Mark Jones' comments on assurance, there is a missing step that is needed to link the objective (Christ and His righteousness) and subjective (Christ's work in my life) foundations for assurance of salvation. How do we get from seeing Christ “outside of us” to recognizing and actively participating in His work in *my* life? The necessary link is that God has included us in the Body of Christ through baptism, which brings us into membership in His church. Baptism is the external and visible sign that goes along with our internal faith in Christ, so that if we are ever tempted to doubt Him, we can remember that God has chosen us to be His people and has marked us as His with the water of baptism. For us who believe in Christ, baptism takes the external righteousness of Christ and makes it our own, so that we have the confidence to obey God as His Spirit works out His will in our life. Or as John Calvin teaches believers (in his Strasbourg Catechism), “How do you know yourself to be…a Christian in fact as well as in name? Because I am baptized in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”

    Here are a number of Scriptures that speak about this reality from several different angles: “For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ” (Gal. 3:26-27). “Or do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life” (Rom. 6:3-4). “For as the body is one and has many members, but all the members of that one body, being many, are one body, so also is Christ. For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free—and have all been made to drink of one Spirit…. If the foot should say, 'Because I am not a hand, I am not of the body,' is it therefore not of the body?… But now God has set the members, each one of them, in the body just as He pleased” (1 Cor. 12:12-13, 15, 18). And finally, from Titus 3:4-8: “But when the kindness and the love of God our Savior toward man appeared, not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, through the washing [baptism] of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Savior, that having been justified by His grace we should become heirs according to the hope of eternal life. This is a faithful saying, and these things I want you to affirm constantly, that those who have believed in God should be careful to maintain good works. These things are good and profitable to men.”

    So then, assurance for Christians depends on a chain with three links: 1. Christ is God's Righteous One. 2. God has made us members of Christ's body by bringing us into His Church through baptism and giving us His Spirit, as we repent of our sins and put our faith in Jesus. 3. Our salvation is confirmed by the Spirit's testimony within us that we are God's children, and by His work of changing our actions and thoughts to bring us into greater and greater conformity to Jesus' own life.


  3. Jeff, you can see my response over at FB. The key question with assurance is not should we look at the Sacraments, Word, and internal testimony of the Spirit? Most agree with that. The key question is should we look at our fruit?


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