Sin, faith, regeneration, righteousness, flesh and spirit

by Mike Ratliff

51 “Have you understood all these things?” They *said to Him, “Yes.” 52 And Jesus said to them, “Therefore every scribe who has become a disciple of the kingdom of heaven is like a head of a household, who brings out of his treasure things new and old.” (Matthew 13:51-52 NASB)

Charles Spurgeon spent the last several years of his ministry contending with “liberalizing” efforts within the Evangelical churches in England in what came to be known as the “Great Downgrade Controversy.” That “downgrade” gained momentum not only in England, but here in the United States and around the world. It began in the 19th Century when Seminaries began embracing “higher criticism” of the Bible. This caused many promising Biblical Scholars to eventually cast loose that which moored them to orthodoxy, the belief that the Bible is God’s Word, inerrant, and complete. Even though movements came forth to contend with this liberalization, this downgrade, instead of dying, has only changed form many times while still poisoning the Church like a parasite, sucking the spiritual life from it.

It is quite eye-opening to read what some of these in the “New Evangelism” write in reference to historic Christianity. I read one once who said that the Protestant Reformation was just a church split. Really? Others, such as Tony Jones, while being very well educated, acts as if the Gospel is something to be ashamed of. I remember thinking as I read some examples of this, which were sent to me by a close friend, how thankful I am that I am not that “well educated.” These well-educated folks may be strong on Univsersity degrees, but they are way short on Bible knowledge and that leads to an unclear understanding of the History of the Church. This fuzzy understanding leads them to discount mighty works by God in the Protestant Reformation, for example. In their economy, the reformers could not possibly have the level of Bible knowledge that we have in our day. That is fallacious thinking my brethren. Those who came before us, especially those who paid for their faithfulness with their lives, knew their Bibles and our Lord very well. After all, we serve the same God they did and He never changes.

In this post I would like to take a look at the level of Bible understanding that the Reformers in the 16th Century had. Perhaps they can teach us a few things. We will focus on commentary from two sources focused on the Book of Romans in our New Testament. The first is the introduction or “argument” for this Epistle from the 1560 Geneva Bible.

The great mercy of God is declared towards man in Christ Jesus, whose righteousness is made ours through faith. For when man by reason of his own corruption could not fulfill the Law, yea, committed most abominably, both against the Law of God, and nature, the infinite bounty of God, mindful of his promise made to his servant Abraham, the father of all believers, ordained that man’s salvation should only stand in the perfect obedience of his Son Jesus Christ; so that not only the circumcised Jews, but also the uncircumcised Gentiles should be saved by faith in him; even as Abraham before he was circumcised, was counted just only through faith, and yet afterward received circumcision, as a seal or badge of the same righteousness by faith. And to the intent, that none should think that the covenant which God made to him, and his posterity, was not performed; either because the Jews received not Christ (which was the blessed seed) or else believed not that he was the true redeemer, because he did not only, or at least more notably preserve the Jews: the examples of Ishmael and Esau declare, that all are not Abraham’s posterity, which come of Abraham according to the flesh, but also the very strangers and Gentiles grafted in by faith, are made heirs of the promise. The cause whereof is the only will of God, for as much as of his free mercy he electeth some to be saved, and of his just judgment rejecteth others to be damned, as appeareth by the testimonies of the Scriptures. Yet to the intent that the Jews should not be too much beaten down, nor the Gentiles too much puffed up, the example of Elijah proveth, that God hath yet his elect even of the natural posterity of Abraham, though it appeareth not so in man’s eye; and for that preferment that the Gentiles have, it proceedeth of the liberal mercy of God, which he at length will stretch toward the Jews again, and so gather the whole Israel (which is his Church) of them both. This groundwork of faith and doctrine laid, instructions of Christian manners follow; teaching every man to walk in soundness of conscience in his vocation, with all patience and humbleness, reverencing and obeying the magistrate, exercising charity, putting off the old man, and putting on Christ, bearing with the weak, and loving one another according to Christ’s example. Finally, Paul after his commendations to the brethren, exhorteth them to unity, and to flee false preachers and flatterers, and so concludeth with a prayer. – Introduction to the Epistle to the Romans from The Geneva Bible 1560 Edition.

As we can see, these men were Bible scholars and knew the Word of God. Also, I pray that you noticed that there have been “false preachers and flatterers” from which we are to flee even back to the time of Paul the Apostle. These scholars pulled no punches. They did not try to appease others who may disagree with certain doctrines by glossing over hard parts of the Bible, but expounded them clearly for all to hear or read. However, most importantly, these men knew the purpose of the Church and our ministry. What is that? Salvation is a miracle and God gave His people His Word, preachers, teachers, and the Church in order that all whom He elects will come to know Him and have fellow believers with whom to fellowship and prayerfully obey Him.

It is important for us to understand that the main scholar behind The Geneva Bible, which made up over 90% of The King James Bible of 1611, was William Tyndale. He was fluent in 8 languages. He had to flee to the Continent to avoid being killed by those seeking to stop the translation of the Bible into common English. His work on translating the Bible eventually caused the Roman Catholic leaders in England to seek to silence him. One of those was Sir Thomas More. He wrote the following in an attempt to discredit Tyndale’s translation of the Book of Romans.

“Then have ye his [Tyndale’s] introduction into St Paul’s epistle, with which he introduceth and bringeth his readers into a false understanding of St Paul, making them, among many other heresies, believe that St Paul were in the mind that only faith were alway sufficient for salvation, and that men’s good works were nothing worth, nor could no thanks deserve, nor no reward in heaven, though they were wrought in grace. And these things teacheth Tyndale as the mind of St Paul; when St Paul saith himself that they which so misconstrue him, to the depraving of men’s good works, be well worthy damnation.” – Sir Thomas More

The Reformers rescued the Gospel from those who taught that salvation was the product of faith plus works. Tyndale, like Luther before him found by reading Romans and the rest of the New Testament for themselves that salvation is by grace through faith not through works or any thing we may try to add to faith. This is why it should be very alarming that many Christian leaders in our time, such as Rick Warren, are attempting to reconcile Protestantism with the Roman Catholic Church. The Roman Catholic church has never repented of the persecution of the Reformers nor have they changed their doctrines. Those espousing this are either ignorant of the history of the Church or they do not understand that a move “back to Rome” is a move back to apostasy. I contend that it is a combination of both.

51 “Have you understood all these things?” They *said to Him, “Yes.” 52 And Jesus said to them, “Therefore every scribe who has become a disciple of the kingdom of heaven is like a head of a household, who brings out of his treasure things new and old.” (Matthew 13:51-52 NASB)

In Matthew 13:51-52 we read of our Saviour asking His disciples if they understand the parables of the Kingdom he has been teaching to the people. They respond with a “yes,” but prove that they really didn’t understand the essence of these truths by their reactions when He is arrested and crucified. However, what does our Saviour mean here when He said, “Therefore every scribe who has become a disciple of the kingdom of heaven is like a head of a household, who brings out of his treasure things new and old.”? He is telling them and us that those who have been trained for the Kingdom of God are able to bring forth treasures both new and old. Who are those who are trained? They are those who have been properly discipled unto understanding. They have been trained for the Kingdom. They have taken up the yoke of Christ (Matthew 11:28-30) to be discipled by Him unto His truth instead of unto the false teachings of over-educated religious elitists.

William Tyndale and Martin Luther and the rest of the Reformers were those who took up the yoke of Christ to be discipled unto His truth. The Word of God and the Holy Spirit were their teachers who blessed their honest scholarship with the complete Bible in the languages of the common people. They were able to take what is taught in the New Testament and find treasure there and also in the Old Testament which is still truth unchanged. Carefully read the following five excerpts from Tyndale’s introduction to Paul’s Epistle to the Romans then ask yourself if these men of God from 500 years ago understood the Gospel and why it is vital that we preach it and not sully it with heterodoxy. These five excerpts deal in order with Sin, Grace, Faith & Regeneration, Righteousness, and Flesh & Spirit.

SIN in the scripture is not called that outward work only committed by the body, but all the whole business, and whatsoever accompanieth, moveth, or stirreth unto the outward deed; and that whence the works spring, as unbelief, proneness, and readiness unto the deed in the ground of the heart, with all the powers, affections, and appetites, wherewith we can but sin; so that we say, that a man then sinneth, when he is carried away headlong into sin, altogether, as much as he is, of that poisonous inclination and corrupt nature, wherein he was conceived and born. For there is none outward sin committed, except a man be carried away altogether, with life, soul, heart, body, lust and mind there unto. The scripture looketh singularly unto the heart, and unto the root and original fountain of all sin; which is unbelief in the bottom of the heart. For as faith only justifieth and bringeth the Spirit and lust unto the outward good works; even so unbelief only damneth and keepeth out the Spirit, provoketh the flesh, and stirreth up lust unto the evil outward works, as it happened to Adam and Eve in Paradise. Genesis 3.

For this cause Christ calleth sin unbelief; and that not-a ably in John 16. “The spirit,” saith he, “shall rebuke the world of sin, because they believe not in me.” And, (John 8.) “I am the light of the world.” And therefore (John 12.) he biddeth them, “While ye have light, believe in the light, that ye may be the children of light; for he that walketh in darkness knoweth not where he goeth.” Now as Christ is the light, so is the ignorance of Christ that darkness whereof he speaketh, in which he that walketh knoweth not whither he goeth; that is, he knoweth not how to work a good work in the sight of God, or what a good work is. And therefore Christ saith, “As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world; but there cometh night when no man can work:” which night is but ignorance of Christ, in which no man can see to do any work to please God. And Paul exhorteth, (Ephesians 4.) That they “walk not as other heathens, who are strangers from the life of God through the ignorance that is in them.” And again, in the same chapter: “Put off the old man, which is corrupt through the lusts of error,” that is to say, ignorance. And, (Romans 13.) “Let us cast away the deeds of darkness,” that is to say, of ignorance and unbelief. And, (1 Peter 1.) “Fashion not yourselves unto your old lusts of ignorance.” And (1 John 2:2.) “He that loveth his brother dwelleth in light, and he that hateth his brother walketh in darkness, and wotteth not whither he goeth, for darkness hath blinded his eyes.” By light he meaneth the knowledge of Christ, and by darkness the ignorance of Christ. For it is impossible that he who knoweth Christ truly should hate his brother.

Furthermore, to perceive this more clearly, thou shalt understand, that it is not possible to sin any sin at all, except a man break the first commandment before. Now the first commandment is divided into two verses: “Thy Lord God is one God; and thou shalt love thy Lord God with all thine heart, with all thy soul, with all thy power, and with all thy might.” And the whole cause why I sin against any inferior precept is, that this love is not in mine heart; for were this love written in mine heart, and were it full and perfect in my soul, it would keep mine heart from consenting unto any sin. And the whole and only cause why this love is not written in our hearts is, that we believe not the first part, that “our Lord God is one God.” For wist I what these words, “one Lord and one God,” mean; that is to say, if I understood that he made all and ruleth all, and that whatsoever is done to me, whether it be good or bad, is yet his will, and that he only is the Lord that ruleth and doeth it; and wist thereto what this word, “mine,” meaneth; that is to say, if mine heart believed and felt the infinite benefits and kindness of God toward me, and understood and earnestly believed the manifold covenants of mercy wherewith God hath bound himself to be mine wholly and altogether, with all his power, love, mercy, and might; then should I love him with all mine heart, soul, power, and might, and of that love ever keep his commandments. So see ye now, that as faith is the mother of all goodness and of all good works; so is unbelief the ground and root of all evil and all evil works.

Finally, if any man that hath forsaken sin, and is converted to put his trust in Christ, and to keep the law of God, do fall at any time, the cause is, that the flesh through negligence hath choked the spirit and oppressed her, and taken from her the food of her strength; which food is her meditation in God, and in his wonderful deeds, and in the manifold covenants of his mercy. ‘Wherefore then, before all good works, as good fruits, there must needs be faith in the heart whence they spring. And before all bad deeds, as bad fruits, there must needs be unbelief in the heart, as in the root, fountain, pith, and strength of all sin: which unbelief and ignorance is called the head of the serpent, of the old dragon, which the woman’s seed, Christ, must tread under foot as promised unto Adam.

GRACE and gift have this difference. Grace properly is God’s favor, benevolence, or kind mind, which of his own self, without deserving of us, he beareth to us, whereby he was moved and inclined to give Christ unto us, with all his other gifts of grace. Gift is the Holy Ghost, and his working, which he poureth into the hearts of them on whom he hath mercy, and whom he favoreth. Though the gifts of the Spirit increase in us daily, and have not yet their full perfection, yea, and though there remain in us yet evil lusts and sin, which fight against the Spirit, as he saith here in chapter 7. and Galatians 5., and as it was spoken before, in Genesis in., of the debate between the woman’s seed and the seed of the serpent; yet nevertheless God’s favor is so great and so strong over us for Christ’s sake, that we are counted for full whole, and perfect before God. For God’s favor toward us divideth not herself, increasing a little and a little, as do the gifts; but receiveth us whole, and altogether, in full love for Christ’s sake, our Intercessor and Mediator, and because the gifts of the Spirit, and the battle between the Spirit and evil lusts, are begun in us already.

Of this now understandest thou the seventh chapter, where Paul accuseth himself as a sinner, and yet in the eight chapter saith, “there is no damnation to them that are in Christ;” and that because of the Spirit, and because the gifts of the Spirit are begun in us. Sinners we are, because the flesh is not full killed and mortified: nevertheless, inasmuch as we believe in Christ, and have the earnest and beginning of the Spirit, and would fain be perfect, God is so loving and favorable unto us, that he will not look on such sin, neither will count it as sin; but will deal with us according to our belief in Christ, and according to his promises which he hath sworn to us, until the sin be full slain and mortified by death.

FAITH is not man’s opinion and dream, as some imagine and feign, when they hear the story of the gospel; but when they see that there follow no good works, nor amendment of living, though they hear, yea, and can babble many things of faith, then they fall from the right way, and say, Faith only justifieth not; a man must have good works also, if he will be righteous and safe. The cause is, when they hear the gospel or glad tidings, they feign of their own strength certain imaginations and thoughts in their hearts, saying, I have heard the gospel, I remember the story, lo! I believe: and that they count right faith; which nevertheless, as it is but man’s imagination and feigning, even so it profiteth not, neither follow there any good works, or amendment of living.

But right faith is a thing wrought by the Holy Ghost in us, which changeth us, turneth us into a new nature, and be getteth us anew in God, and maketh us the sons of God, as thou readest in the first of John; and killeth the old Adam, and maketh us altogether new in the heart, mind, will, lust, and in all our affections and powers of the soul; the Holy Ghost ever accompanying her, and ruling the heart.

Faith is a lively thing, mighty in working, valiant, and strong, ever doing, ever fruitful so that it is impossible that he who is endued therewith should not work always good works without ceasing. He asketh not whether good works are to be done or not, but hath done them already, ere mention be made of them; and is always doing, for such is his nature; for quick faith in his heart, and lively moving of the Spirit, drive him and stir him thereunto. Whosoever doth not good works, is an unbelieving person, and faithless, and looketh round about him, groping after faith and good works, and wotteth not what faith or good works mean, though he babble never so many things of faith and good works.

Faith is, then, a lively and a steadfast trust in the favor of God, wherewith we commit ourselves altogether unto God; and that trust is so surely grounded, and sticketh so fast in our hearts, that a man would not once doubt of it, though he should die a thousand times therefor. And such trust, wrought by the Holy Ghost through faith, maketh a man glad, lusty, cheerful, and truehearted unto God and unto all creatures: whereof, willingly and without compulsion, he is glad and ready to do good to every man, to do service to every man, to suffer all things, that God may be loved and praised, which hath given him such grace; so that it is impossible to separate good works from faith, even as it is impossible to separate heat and burning from fire. Therefore take heed to thyself, and beware of thine own fantasies and imaginations; which to judge of faith and good works will seem wise, when indeed they are stark blind and of all things most foolish. Pray God, that he will vouchsafe to work faith in thine heart, or else shalt thou remain evermore faithless; feign thou, imagine thou, enforce thou, wrestle with thyself, and do what thou wilt or canst.

RIGHTEOUSNESS is even such faith; and is called God’s righteousness, or righteousness that is of value before God. For it is God’s gift, and it altereth a man, and changeth him into a new spiritual nature, and maketh him free and liberal to pay every man his duty. For through faith a man is purged of his sins, and obtaineth lust unto the law of God; whereby he giveth God his honor, and payeth him that he oweth him; and unto men he doth service willingly, wherewithsoever he can, and payeth every man his duty. Such righteousness can nature, free-will, and our own strength, never bring to pass. For as no man can give himself faith, so can he not take away unbelief; how then can he take away any sin at all? Wherefore all is false hypocrisy and sin, whatsoever is done without faith or in unbelief, as it is evident in the fourteenth chapter unto the Romans, though it appear never so glorious or beautiful outwards.

FLESH and SPIRIT mayest thou not here understand as t though flesh were only that which pertaineth unto unchastity, and the Spirit that which inwardly pertaineth unto the heart: but Paul calleth flesh here, as Christ doth, John in., all that is born of flesh; that is to wit, the whole man, with life, soul, body, wit, will, reason, and whatsoever he is or doth within and without; because that these all, and all that is in man, study after the world and the flesh. Call flesh therefore whatsoever we think or speak of God, of faith, of good works, and of spiritual matters, as long as we are without the Spirit of God. Call flesh also all works which are done without grace, and without the working of the Spirit, howsoever good, holy, and spiritual, they seem to be: as thou mayest prove by the fifth chapter unto the Galatians, where Paul numbereth worshipping of idols, witchcraft, envy, and hate, among the deeds of the flesh; and by the eighth unto the Romans, where he saith that the law by the reason of the flesh is weak; which is not understood of unchastity only, but of all sins, and most especially of unbelief, which is a vice most spiritual, and ground of all sins.

And as thou callest him flesh which is not renewed with the Spirit, and born again in Christ, and all his deeds, even the very motions of his heart and mind, his learning, doctrine, and contemplation of high things, his preaching, teaching, and study in the scriptures, building of churches, founding of abbeys, giving of alms, mass, matins, and whatsoever he doth, though it seem spiritual and after the laws of God; so, contrariwise, call him spiritual who is renewed in Christ, and all his deeds which spring of faith, seem they never so gross, as, the washing of the disciples’ feet done by Christ, and Peter’s fishing after the resurrection; yea, and whatsoever is done within the laws of God, though it be wrought by the body, as the very wiping of shoes and such like, howsoever gross they appear outwardly. Without such understanding of these words thou canst never understand this epistle of Paul, neither any other place in the holy scripture. Take heed, therefore; for whosoever understandeth these words otherwise, the same understandeth not Paul, whatsoever he be.

My Brethren, there are still some today who preach the truth and would rather die than sully the Gospel with man-pleasing adulteration. They do this because they know that it is God alone who saves people and that salvation comes as they preach the offense of the Gospel. The genuine Gospel is not fun to hear. It is not pleasant. It is offensive. However, it is the Good News that there is a way to escape the wrath to come. Those who see this good news are those who know that their self-righteousness cannot save them. I pray that God will wake up his people to these truths and that we will never stop standing against those who discount the Gospel and treat the Bible as if it is irrelevant.

Soli Deo Gloria

2 thoughts on “Sin, faith, regeneration, righteousness, flesh and spirit

  1. Liberals who teach that the Bible is merely a book, that man’s work contribute to his salvation – they have put God in box that Schrodinger’s cat is in. They posit a God that is sovereign but cannot override man’s unbelief; a God that is merciful but unable to save sinners; a God that is holy but accepting of works by sinful men as payment for their sins. YHWH addressed this tendency when national Israel was His covenant people, telling them the foundation for their problem was they thought He was all together too much like them. This is man’s natural drift and only the Bible is unchangeable Truth and only the Spirit of God is able to give life to that which was dead in sin and trespass. If it is of works, then it is not of grace. But it IS of grace, the saving, redeeming grace of God that redeems sinners through faith in Christ. No works of man, no shallow man-pleasing false gospel. One faith, one baptism, and one Lord. Praise Him!


Comments are closed.