The Spirit's Ongoing Ministry: Fulfilling Christ's Pledge in the Upper Room Discourse (John 14-16)

From The Christian Faith: A Systematic Theology for Pilgrim's on the Way (Chapter 17)

by Dr. Michael Horton

The Father spoke in the Son to create the world, and yet it was the Spirit who brought about within the unformed cosmos and thus created that ordered realm of which they spoke. Even in common grace, as Calvin noted, wherever goodness, truth, and beauty flourish in this fallen world, it is because the Spirit grants wisdom, health, and other benefits that we do not deserve.8 Thus, even in the old creation the Spirit is at work, holding up the columns of the earthly city while bringing the heavenly Jerusalem into this age.

In the new creation, the Spirit inwardly convicts us of God’s judgment and convinces us of God’s mercies in Christ. Jesus’ discourse in the upper room recorded in John 14 – 16 highlights the way in which the Spirit will mediate (and now mediates) Christ’s prophetic, priestly, and kingly reign. Christ now reigns over us in exalted grace and glory, and by his Spirit he also reigns within us, bringing us from death to life, answering the triune Creator, “Here I am.”

First of all, the Spirit’s ongoing ministry is judicial. The Spirit is sent not only to announce the coming judgment, but to “convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment,” with unbelief in Christ as the focus of that conviction (Jn 16:8). We see the empirical effects of this promise in Peter’s Pentecost sermon—which characterizes the spread of the gospel throughout Acts—when the apostle’s hearers were “cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, ‘Brothers, what shall we do?’” (Ac 2:37). The Spirit will not speak another word, but will inwardly renew, convicting and persuading us of our guilt and Christ’s righteousness.

Second, as the Son is the sole embodiment of all truth, the Spirit will be sent “to guide you into all the truth” (Jn 16:13). The Father speaks and the Son is the content (Word) that he speaks, both hypostatically (eternal begetting) and energetically (the gospel). It is always the Spirit’s role, we have seen, to bring about the perlocutionary effect of that speech within creatures. The Spirit is not the content, but the regenerating source of faith in Christ. The Son did not speak on his own authority during his earthly ministry, but delivered the word of his Father. In the same way, Jesus explained to his disciples that the Spirit “will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come” (Jn 16:13). The Spirit does not replace Jesus, but unites us to our heavenly head. Disrupting our ordinary history, the Spirit inserts us into the new creation.9

Thus, the Spirit is not a resource that we can use, but is no less than the sovereign God who claims us for himself along with the Father and the Son. In the upper room, Jesus teaches that the Spirit will come not to confirm our pious experience or to help us to realize the ethical kingdom, but to convict the world of guilt and righteousness and judgment. Of course, the Spirit’s coming has its profound effects in our experience and ethical action, but the focus of his work is to convince us of our guilt and of Christ’s imputed righteousness and to lead us into all truth as it is in Christ. Although the Spirit preaches Christ rather than himself, Jesus Christ’s personal history must be for us a distant and fading memory, except for the Spirit’s work of ushering us into the courtroom where even now Christ pleads on behalf of his witnesses on earth and prepares a place for them.

Yet this means conflict, not conquest. “Witness” in the New Testament is a translation of the Greek word martys, from which we get “martyr.” The church militant is that part of the world that has been seized by the Spirit, freely answering its “amen” to Christ that contradicts the “No!” of the powers of this present age. Neither defeated nor quite yet triumphant, the church militant is a suffering witness to the truth as it is in Christ.10 This “in-between” space is a precarious place for the church, which is why it often prefers to imagine itself as reigning in glory like its ascended Head. In fact, when, just before ascending, the resurrected Jesus told his disciples to go to the upper room and wait for the Spirit’s baptism, they replied, “Will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” (Ac 1:4 — 6).

Yet for now the church must be content to be assembled like the disciples in the upper room, recognizing Jesus in the Word and the breaking of bread, and filled with the Spirit to proclaim the gospel to the ends of the earth. In between Pentecost and parousia, the Spirit brings inward conviction of guilt and forgiveness, by making sinners hearers of the Word. Indeed, the Spirit himself is a hearer of the Word. As the missionary of the Trinity, the Spirit will speak “whatever he hears” (Jn 16:13). Indwelled and empowered by the Spirit, the church has not only the external Word of the prophets and the apostles, but the inward confirmation of that testimony by the one who is of the same essence as the Father and the Son. The one by whom the Word was conceived in the flesh is the source and the interpreter of the word concerning him. And he will tell the truth not only about the past (what God has done in Christ), but about the future (what God will do in Christ): “and he will declare to you the things that are to come” (Jn 16:13). Although the Spirit works within us, it is with the intention of drawing us outside of ourselves to focus on this economy of grace. The Spirit is an extrovert, always going forth on missions with his Word, creating an extroverted community who can at last look up to God in faith and out to the world in love, witness, and service. And, as Jesus teaches in John 16, the same Spirit who led Christ to his destiny — through the cross to the resurrection — also leads us in Christ’s train.

It is significant that the first evidence of the Spirit’s descent at Pentecost is Peter’s proclamation of Christ as the fulfillment of God’s promises through the prophets. In this discourse, Reinhard Hütter wisely reminds us, the Spirit’s leading “into all the truth” is not a vague sentiment about a supposedly direct and immediate “inspiration of Spirit into individual religious consciousnesses, but in the form of concrete church practices which as such are to be understood as the gifts of the Spirit in the service of God’s economy of salvation.”11 The Spirit causes us to recognize Jesus Christ as the Savior and Lord in proclamation and in the breaking of bread, as he did the disciples in Luke 24. And he leads the church into all truth through these creaturely means of baptism, teaching, Communion, and the spiritual and material care of elders and deacons. Most directly, Christ’s promise was made to the apostles, who would be guided by the Spirit to communicate inspired truth to the new covenant community.

Third, Jesus says concerning the Spirit, “He will glorify me” (Jn 16:14). This surely denotes the point of the Spirit’s testimony, just as vv. 14b and 15 underscore this mutuality (perichôrësis) between the Son and the Spirit in the covenant of redemption: the Spirit and the Son share a common treasure, a treasure that they together with the Father intend to share also in common with us. This comes to fullest expression perhaps in Jesus’ prayer in chapter 17. Jesus has glorified the Father, and now the Father and the Spirit glorify the Son. The Son is the content (the illocutionary act), but the Spirit brings all of God’s words to pass and makes them fruitful (perlocutionary effect).

So Jesus comforts his disciples, assuring them that his real absence from them (and us) on earth is not a deficit but a continuation of his threefold ministry: only now in heaven itself. “In my Father’s house there are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also” (Jn 14:2 — 3). However, Jesus’ departure opens up a fissure in history, into which the Spirit enters in order to create a covenantal body for Christ. “I will not leave you as orphans,” says Jesus, but “I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever” — “the Spirit of truth” (Jn 14:16 — 18). Jesus Christ indwells believers and the church, but by his Spirit, not immediately in the flesh (2Co 1:22; cf. Ro 8:17, 26; 1Co 3:16; Gal 4:6; Eph 5:18). For this immediate presence nothing short of Christ’s bodily return is required. Because of the ascension, the church on earth is not triumphant and must wait for the bodily return of its head in the future for the renewal of all things.

The disciples may have seen Jesus Christ in the flesh, but we see him in the Spirit through the proclamation that they were authorized by Christ and endowed by his Spirit to deliver to us. Although they walked and ate with him, the disciples did not recognize him as their redeemer until the Spirit opened their eyes (Mt 16:17). From the perspective of this present age, the career of their Master ended in defeat. Yet after Pentecost, the disciples came to recognize him as the firstfruits of the age to come. It is the Spirit who causes us to recognize the Jesus of history as the Christ of faith (2Co 5:16 — 17). The ecclesial body is inseparably united to Christ, but for now it exists at a different place in redemptive history than its glorified head. It is Jesus Christ who has secured our ultimate glorification together with him, and it is the Spirit who keeps drawing our personal history into Christ’s. So we are even now seated “with [Christ] in the heavenly places” (Eph 2:6). The Father speaks the liturgy of grace, while the Son is himself its embodiment, and the Spirit then works in “the sons of disobedience” to create a choir of antiphonal response that answers with its appropriate “Amen” behind its glorified forerunner (2Co 1:19 — 22). “He who has prepared us for this very thing” — immortality — “is God, who has given us the Spirit as a guarantee” (2Co 5:5).

With the descent of the Spirit, we are now in the last days. The clock is running down on this present evil age. The gates of hell will not be able to prevail against the church. The outpouring of the Spirit will guarantee a believing community in “these last days,” one that not only remembers Christ’s completed work, but is actually inserted into the covenantal history (and eschatology) of its glorified head. In fact, as Paul teaches, the Spirit is not only sent among believers but into them, to indwell them, as a deposit (arrabōn) of their final redemption. It is precisely because we “have the firstfruits of the Spirit” that “we ourselves groan … inwardly as we wait for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies” (Ro 8:23; cf. Gal 4:6). As the arrabōn (down payment) of our final redemption, the Spirit gives us the “already” of our participation in Christ as the new creation, and it is the Spirit within us who gives us the aching hope for the “not yet” that awaits us in our union with Christ (Ro 8:18 – 28; cf. 2Co 1:22; 5:5; Eph 1:14). Although it keeps us from despair, the presence of the Spirit does not lead to triumphalism. In fact, the paradox is that the more we receive from the Spirit of the realities of the age to come, the more restless we become. Yet it is a restlessness born not of fear but of having already received a foretaste of the future.

From John 14 – 16 we also see that the Spirit brings about the perlocutionary effect of the threefold office of Christ in these last days. The Spirit mediates Christ’s prophetic ministry by prosecuting God’s case against the world, convicting us of guilt, and giving us faith in Christ. Thus, the Triune God is not only the speaker and the Word spoken, but in the ministry of the Spirit is also the one who enables us to hear and receive that Word. As Barth famously put it, “The Lord of speech is also the Lord of our hearing.”12

The Spirit also mediates Christ’s priestly ministry, as “another Paraclete” (attorney), not by replacing Christ but by inwardly convicting us of sin, giving us faith in Christ, and assuring us of forgiveness. In this discourse, Jesus emphasizes that he is the content of the Spirit’s teaching ministry (Jn 15:26b). The Spirit does not bring another Word, but brings about within us the “amen” to Christ.

The Spirit mediates Christ’s royal ministry by subduing unbelief and the tyranny of sin, giving sinners the faith that unites them to Christ so that they can receive all of his heavenly gifts. The ascended Christ gives, and the Spirit equips ministers and elders as his undershepherds (Eph 4:11 – 16). Through this ministry of the Spirit, Moses’ request in Numbers 11:29 (“Would that all the LORD’S people were prophets, that the LORD would put his Spirit on them!”) will be fulfilled beyond his wildest dreams. Not only the seventy elders, but the whole camp of Israel is made a Spiritfilled community of witnesses. The Spirit gives and orchestrates the many gifts bestowed on the whole body through the ministry of the ordained office-bearers, who differ only in the graces (vocation), not in the grace (ontic status) of the Spirit. Thus, the mission of the twelve in Luke 9:1 – 6 widens to the seventy in chapter 10. Yet this was but a prelude to the commissioning ceremony of Pentecost. Through the Spirit’s ministry, we too are remade in Christ’s likeness as prophets, priests, and kings: true and faithful witnesses in the cosmic courtroom, a choir answering antiphonally in praise to our Redeemer.


Despite its brevity, the preceding account reminds us that the focus of the Spirit’s work is not simply individual hearts. Cosmic in scope, salvation in both Old and New Testaments encompasses nothing short of a renewal of the whole earth. Nevertheless, Scripture does not present us with a choice between the personal and cosmic dimensions of the new creation. Anticipating the transition now to the ordo salutis (logical order of the application of redemption to individuals), the same point may be made by saying that the question as to how individuals are saved is not inimical but integral to the question as to what God is doing in the world in these last days. The new creation is not first of all the new birth of individuals, but the dawn of the age to come in this present age. Individuals are swept into it by the Spirit. Nevertheless, the renewal of all things begins with the Spirit’s regeneration of sinners, effectually calling them into union with the Son, through the faith that the Spirit gives through the preaching of the gospel. The first sign of the renewal of these latter days is the Spirit’s act of raising those who are spiritually dead to life in Christ. Only when Christ returns to consummate his kingdom will this renewal characterize the whole earth and human community to the fullest extent.

Paul himself can define the gospel in terms of the history of salvation (historia salutis), as in Romans 1:1 — 6, and in terms of the logical chain of individual participation in that history (ordo salutis), as in Romans 8:29 — 30. Following well-established precedent, I will use the latter as the basic outline for treating the order of salvation: “Those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.” In the remainder of this chapter I will take up election and calling.


According to Pelagius and his disciples, every human being is born in the same state as Adam before the fall, free to choose good and gain eternal life or sin and eternal death.13 Led especially by Augustine, the church condemned Pelagianism in no uncertain terms. From a common Augustinian heritage, many Roman Catholic as well as Protestant theologians have affirmed that God’s grace precedes all human decision and effort. In fact, the fifth-century Second Council of Orange in 529 condemned the Semi-Pelagian view that God gives his grace in response to human decision and effort.14 However, especially in its subtler (Semi-Pelagian) form, this type of teaching remained intractable throughout church history, proving the adage that Pelagianism is the natural religion of humanity. According to Semi-Pelagianism, human beings are affected by sin but can still choose the good and, in the common formulation of the late medieval period, “God will not deny his grace to those who do what lies within them” (repeated substantially in Benjamin Franklin’s famous adage, “God helps those who help themselves”). Nevertheless, a strain of Augustinian teaching persisted throughout this era and formed much of the positive influence on Martin Luther and the other Reformers.15

Within Protestantism, however, consistent Augustinianism was challenged by various groups, most notably, the Arminians. Arising from within the Dutch Reformed Church, the followers of Jacob Arminius issued their Five Points of the Remonstrants in 1610: (1) God’s election of sinners is conditional (based on foreseen faith); (2) Christ died to make salvation possible for every person; (3) all human beings are born in sin and therefore incapable of being saved apart from grace; (4) this grace is offered to all and may be resisted; (5) it is possible for regenerate believers to lose their salvation. Arminianism soon divided into two trajectories: a more liberal version that became increasingly drawn toward Pelagian/Socinian convictions, and an evangelical Arminianism represented by Arminius himself and by later figures such as Richard Baxter and John Wesley.

At the Synod of Dort (1618 — 1619), with the representation of various Reformed bodies throughout the Continent as well as the Church of England and the Church of Scotland, Arminianism was carefully analyzed and refuted. The Canons of Dort, to which we will return, locate unbelief in the total inability of sinners to effect their own liberation from the bondage of the will, and they locate faith in the unconditional election, redemption, and effectual calling of the triune God alone. God gives not only sufficient grace (that is, enough grace to enable sinners to respond positively to God if they choose to do so), but efficient grace (that is, regeneration as well as faith and repentance as gifts).

Eastern Orthodoxy and Roman Catholicism identify effectual calling (or regeneration) with baptism—though with different formulations. Largely removed from the Western controversy between Augustine and Pelagius, the East nevertheless teaches an ordo salutis that is similar to that of Arminianism, with “preparatory grace and means sufficient for the attainment of happiness” given to all.16 “In the exposition of the faith by the Eastern Patriarchs, it is said, ‘As [God] foresaw that some would use well their free will, but others ill, he accordingly predestined the former to glory, while the latter he condemned.”17

For Rome, baptism infuses a new habit or disposition into the soul, negatively, washing away original sin and (in the case of adults) actual sins up to that point, and positively, strengthening the soul to cooperate with grace. This baptismal regeneration is called the “first justification” and is said to be followed by an increase in inherent holiness through cooperation with grace, with the ultimate hope of attaining to final justification through grace and merit.18 At any stage along the way, this justification (as an infused habit) may be lost, but there is in most cases the possibility of renewing one’s beginning in justification through the sacrament of penance.19

Confessional Lutheranism also ties regeneration closely to the moment of baptism, but clearly distinguishes justification (a declaration of righteousness) from sanctification (an actual transformation in the moral life of the baptized). Imputation, not infusion, is the Lutheran (as well as Reformed) understanding of justification. In the Lutheran view, new life (regeneratio prima) is begun in baptism but is constantly renewed throughout the Christian life (regeneratio secunda or renovatio). Although the principle of new life is given in baptism, the flowering of this new birth occurs through the preaching of the gospel. Since Lutherans do not distinguish (as the Reformed do) between external calling and inward or effectual calling, they regard this ministry of the Spirit as effectual except in the case of those who willfully resist it. Confessional Lutheranism teaches total depravity and unconditional election while also holding to God’s universal grace (gratis universalis). Accordingly, all of the elect will believe and persevere, but others who have been regenerated and justified may lose their salvation.20 Free will “does nothing” in preparing for, cooperating with, or completing God’s gracious work of calling sinners to himself; in fact, the Lutheran confessions regard this as the essence of works righteousness.21

With Lutheranism, the confessions of the Reformed and Presbyterian churches teach that human beings are conceived in sin, spiritually dead in relation to God, unable to prepare themselves for grace because their will is in bondage to sin. These traditions are agreed also in their confessional affirmation of unconditional election. However, the Reformed are distinguished by their belief that all of those for whom Christ died will be effectually called by the Spirit and preserved in faith until the end. The following summary explicates this view.


Our will can choose only that in which our nature delights. If our nature is in bondage to unbelief, then our will is not free with respect to God. Jesus knew why some did not believe: “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day…. This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father” (Jn 6:44, 65). This is why Jesus told Nicodemus that one cannot even “see the kingdom of God” without being “born again [or from above]” (Jn 3:3). As the conversation unfolds, it becomes clear that Jesus is not telling Nicodemus how he can bring about his new birth but how the Spirit accomplishes it. Jesus explains, “The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit” (v. 8). The new birth is a mysterious work of the Spirit in his sovereign freedom, not an event that we ourselves can bring about, any more than our natural birth.22 Two chapters earlier, we read, “But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God” (Jn 1:12 — 13).

By nature, we “by [our] unrighteousness suppress the truth” (Ro 1:18). It is not that we are ignorant, but that we willfully reject, distort, and deny even that which we know about God from creation (vv. 20 — 32). Paul asks his fellow Jews, “Are we Jews any better off? No, not at all. For we have already charged that all, both Jews and Greeks, are under sin, as it is written: ‘None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God …’” (3:9 — 11). The fallen mind is darkened to the gospel apart from the Spirit’s gift of faith (1Co 2:14). Believers “were dead in the trespasses and sins in which [they] once walked But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ …” (Eph 2:1 — 2, 4 — 5, emphasis added). Even faith belongs to the gift that is freely given to us by God’s grace (vv. 5 — 9). We are saved for works, not by works (v. 10). Therefore, salvation “depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy” (Ro 9:16).

In our fallen condition, we try to justify ourselves by assuming that while we may commit sins from time to time, we are basically good “deep down.” At least our hearts are right. However, Scripture challenges this perspective. Jeremiah lamented, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” (Jer 17:9). The Sinai covenant required Israel to circumcise its own heart (Dt 10:16), but the command could not effect any change. Even in this constitution of the Sinai covenant itself, God looks ahead to Israel’s disobedience and the new covenant in which he will circumcise their heart and the heart of their children (Dt 30:1 – 10). This is more clearly prophesied in Jeremiah 31, where God’s circumcision of the hearts of his people will be based on his forgiveness and grace alone. God’s commands — even the command to repent and believe — cannot change hearts so that they can obey them. Through the law the Spirit inwardly convicts, but only the gospel — the announcement of Christ’s saving person and work—can absolve us and give us a new heart. Jesus, too, emphasized that wickedness is not first of all perverse actions, but a fountainhead of perversity in the heart, from which these acts spring (Mt 12:34). We cannot change our own heart by an act of will or by changing our behavior.

Most Arminians will agree that we cannot make the slightest move toward God apart from his grace. It is a caricature to suggest that Arminianism (at least the evangelical variety) denies original sin and the fallenness of human beings in heart, mind, and will.23 Nevertheless, Arminians generally hold that God provides sufficient grace to all unbelievers so that they may be regenerated if they fulfill certain conditions. According to H. Orton Wiley, “The Holy Spirit exerts His regenerating power only on certain conditions, that is, on the conditions of repentance and faith.”24 To Calvinist ears, this sounds like demanding that a blind person see before he or she has been healed of blindness. The glory of the new covenant is that God gives in the gospel what he demands in his law: both justification and the renewal of heart and life. Only because of God’s one-sided act of regeneration does anyone repent and believe.


Jesus said, “You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide …” (Jn 15:16). In the New Testament, the new birth and the presence of the Spirit in our hearts are harbingers of the age to come. In some remarkable sense, the future consummation has already penetrated this evil age, so that even now it is beginning to make all things new from the inside out. This is God’s work.

Chosen in Christ before the creation of the world, redeemed by Christ in history, receiving an inheritance in Christ, and being sealed in Christ by the gospel, we are being saved from start to finish by the work of the Father, in the Son, through the Spirit (Eph 1:3 — 14). In fact, in Romans 8 it is this realization of God’s gracious election, calling, justification, and glorification (vv. 29 — 30) that leads Paul to the summit of doxology, first in verses 31 — 39, and then again finally in 11:33 — 36. All of this means that the gospel is not an experience that we have, much less one that we can bring about. It is an announcement that creates faith in the Redeemer who makes it. It comes to us from the outside. It creates new experiences and inner transformation that yields good works, but the gospel itself—and the Spirit’s effectual calling through that gospel — remains the source of everything that is done by us or within us. The gospel is God’s life-giving word, creating a new world out of nothing (Ro 4:16 — 17; 1Pe 1:23, 25).

Those whom God chose before the creation of the world, he also calls in due time by his Spirit (Eph 1:4 — 15). The connection between election and calling is well attested, both within the Pauline corpus (Ro 9:6 — 24; Eph 1:4 — 13; 2Th 2:13 — 15; 2Ti 1:9) and elsewhere (Jn 6:29, 37, 44, 63 — 64; 15:16, 19; Ac 13:48; 1Pe 1:2; 2Pe 1:10), and both election and calling proceed as the execution of an eternal covenant of redemption within the context of a historical covenant of grace. In effectual calling, the Spirit unites us here and now to the Christ who redeemed us in the past.

We see Jeremiah’s prophecy fulfilled throughout the book of Acts: as Christ is proclaimed, people respond in repentance and faith. As the businesswoman Lydia heard Paul’s message, “the Lord opened her heart to pay attention to what was said by Paul,” and she and her household were baptized (Ac 16:14 — 15). The accused become the justified and then witnesses in the courtroom. When the Gentiles in Antioch heard the gospel, “they began rejoicing and glorifying the word of the Lord; and as many as were appointed to eternal life believed” (Ac 13:48). Far from inhibiting evangelism, God’s electing and regenerating grace ensured that “the word of the Lord was spreading throughout the whole region” (v. 49). Left to ourselves, none of us would receive this Word. God’s sovereign grace guarantees the success of evangelism and missions.


Reformed theology understands the divine call in terms of an outward call, by which God summons the whole world to Christ through the preaching of the gospel, and an inward or effectual call, as the Spirit illumines our hearts and gives us faith through the gospel. Yet it is crucial to recognize that, according to this view, the internal (effectual) calling of the elect occurs through the external call of the same gospel that is announced externally to everyone.25 The Father preaches, the Son is preached, and the Spirit is the “inner preacher” who illumines the understanding and inclines the will to receive him.

Although the relationship between union with Christ and the means of grace (preaching and sacrament) will be explored later, it is important to add here that the Spirit delivers the gift of faith through the preaching of the gospel and confirms and strengthens it through the sacraments.26 Yet some are attracted to the light, others repelled by it. Those who do come to trust in Christ are represented as having been “dead in … sins” (Eph 2:1 – 5), unable to respond until God graciously grants them the gift of faith to freely embrace what they would otherwise reject (Jn 1:13; 3:7; 6:44; Ac 13:48; 16:14; 18:10; Ro 9:15 – 16; 1Co 2:14; Eph 2:1 – 5; 2Ti 1:9 – 10; 2:10, 19). The gospel is proclaimed to everyone as a universal invitation, but the Spirit supervenes upon this external call by drawing sinners inwardly to Christ. Traditionally, Reformed theology has referred to the latter, then, as effectual calling rather than irresistible grace. However, the latter term became more widespread as the “I” in popular presentations, with the advent of the famous “TULIP” acronym. “Irresistible” suggests coercion, the sort of causal impact that is exercised when force is applied to someone or something. As we will see, this idea of coercion is excluded from the classic Reformed formulations.

We encounter again that useful distinction between natural and moral ability from our discussion of original sin (see ch. 13, “Natural and Moral Ability,” pp. 431 – 34). In Adam, we freely choose our alliance with sin and death. The fall has not destroyed our natural ability to reason, observe, experience, and judge, but our moral ability to reason, observe, experience, and judge our way to God as our Lord and Redeemer. It is our moral blindness to God’s Word that keeps us from raising our eyes to heaven to say, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!” (Lk 18:13). The problem is not the power to will and to do, but the moral determination of that willing and doing by slavery to sinful autonomy. The will is moved by the mind and affections; it cannot act in isolation. “For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God” (1Co 1:18).

The Second Helvetic Confession teaches, “Therefore, in regard to evil or sin, man is not forced by God or by the devil but does evil by his own free will, and in this respect he has a most free will.” In “heavenly things,” he is bound in sin. “Yet in regard to earthly things, fallen man is not entirely lacking in understanding.” While passive in this initial regeneration, those who are regenerated work actively in good works. “For they are moved by God that they may do themselves what they do The Manichaeans robbed man of all activity and made him like a stone or a block of wood. Moreover, no one denies that in external things both the regenerate and the unregenerate enjoy free will,” as in deciding whether to leave the house or remain at home. However, with respect to salvation, their will is bound by sin until God graciously acts. 27

More precisely, the Westminster Confession states, “God hath endued the will of man with that natural liberty that it is neither forced, nor by any absolute necessity of nature determined to good or evil.” Before the fall, the will was entirely free to choose good or evil, but after the fall, humanity “has wholly lost all ability of will to any spiritual good accompanying salvation,” rendering every person “dead in sin … not able, by his own strength, to convert himself, or to prepare himself thereunto.”

When God converts a sinner and translates him into the state of grace, he frees him from his natural bondage under sin and, by his grace alone, enables him freely to will and to do that which is spiritually good, yet in such a way that, by reason of his remaining corruption, he does not perfectly or only will that which is good, but does also that which is evil. The will of man is made perfectly and immutably free to good alone in the state of glory only.28

Such statements reflect a basic Augustinian consensus, filtered through the Reformation. The Westminster divines add that God is pleased “in his appointed and accepted time, effectually to call, by his Word and Spirit,” all of the elect “out of that state of sin and death in which they are by nature, to grace and salvation by Jesus Christ.” He accomplishes this by “enlightening their minds, … taking away their heart of stone, … renewing their wills, … and effectually drawing them to Jesus Christ; yet so as they come most freely, being made willing by his grace” (emphasis added).29

The Synod of Dort affirmed that God’s inward calling always meets with success. However, just as the fall “did not abolish the nature of the human race” but “distorted” it and led to spiritual death, “so also this divine grace of regeneration does not act in people as if they were blocks and stones; nor does it abolish the will and its properties or coerce a reluctant will by force, but spiritually revives, heals, reforms, and — in a manner at once pleasing and powerful—bends it back” (emphasis added).30 The will is liberated, not violated. “If it be compelled,” says John Owen, “it is destroyed.”31 The classic terminology of effectual calling (rather than the more recent term, “irresistible grace”) already indicates a more communicative model of divine action than causal grammars imply.32

Employing the traditional Aristotelian categories, Reformed theologians affirmed that the Holy Spirit is the efficient cause of regeneration. While I agree with this point, I share Kevin Vanhoozer’s appreciation for speech act theory as a conceptual resource that is actually more congenial to the position that Calvinists wish to defend. 33 Throughout this volume we have seen that every external operation of the Godhead is done by the Father in the Son and through the Spirit. This way of thinking, as I have already indicated, is hardly innovative: for example, as Calvin expressed it (echoing the Cappadocians), “To the Father is attributed the beginning of activity, and the fountain and wellspring of all things; to the Son, wisdom, counsel, and the ordered disposition of all things; but to the Spirit is assigned the power and efficacy of that activity.” 34

When Jesus commands, “Lazarus, come out” (Jn 11:43), Vanhoozer observes, his speech “literally wakes the dead":

Only God, of course, has the right to say certain things, such as “I declare you righteous.” … Is the grace that changes one’s heart a matter of energy or information? I believe it is both, and speech act theory lets us see how. God’s call is effectual precisely in bringing about a certain kind of understanding in and through the Word. The Word that summons has both propositional content (matter) and illocutionary force (energy). 35

In this scheme, the parallels between creation and redemption to which Scripture makes frequent allusion are more apparent. “The effectual call thus provides the vital clue as to how God interacts with the human world. In my opinion, the Reformers were right to stress the connection between God’s Word and God’s work of grace Perhaps the most adequate way to view the God-world relation is in terms of advent.” 36 The Spirit’s work is not a matter of overcoming estrangement (confusing the Holy Spirit with our inner self), but of meeting a stranger who comes to us from outside of ourselves. The very term, effectual calling, highlights that this is a communicative event.

Vanhoozer refers to the case of the conversion of Lydia, for example, in Acts 16:14 (“The Lord opened her heart to pay attention to what was said by Paul”): a communicative act changes her heart. 37

Yes, God “bends and determines” the will, but even the seventeenth-century theologians knew that God “moves the will to attend to the proof, truth and goodness of the word announced” [Canons of Dort]. Divine communicative action is thus of a wholly different sort from instrumental action, the kind of action appropriate if one were working on wood or stone. God’s work of grace is congruous with human nature. Jesus immediately qualifies his statement “No one can come to me unless the Father … draws him” with a quote from Isaiah 54:13: “And they shall all be taught by God.” On this he provides the following gloss: “Every one who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me” (Jn 6:44 – 45). The Father’s drawing, in other words, is not causal but communicative. The Word itself has a kind of force. One might say, then, with regard to grace, that the message is the medium. 38

God’s Word is not, therefore, only the speech of the Father concerning the Son, which we then make effective by our own decision, but the action through which the Spirit brings about within us the corresponding response. It is a performative Word. In effectual calling, the Spirit draws us into the world that the Word not only describes but brings into existence. Through this Word, the Spirit not only works to propose, lure, invite, and attract, but actually kills and makes alive, sweeping sinners from their identity “in Adam” to the riches of their inheritance in Christ. Spectators become participants in the unfolding drama.

It is particularly when God is the dramatist, in command of both the plot (redemption) and the casting (effectual calling), that we can conclude that in this case at least, the “new creation” is simultaneously effective and uncoerced. 39 Ezekiel’s vision of the valley of dry bones (Eze 37) provides a striking example. So indeed does God’s original fiat in creation and the resurrection of Christ, to which both Scripture and the Reformed confessions appeal in describing this remarkable work of grace.

“Persuasion” is too weak a term to express this analogical connection. God did not persuade creation into being or lure Christ from the dead, but summoned and it was so, despite all the odds. At the same time, one can hardly think of these acts of creation and resurrection as coerced. As the “minister of the Word” par excellence, the Spirit applies “both the propositional content and the illocutionary force of the gospel in such a way as to bring about perlocutionary effects: effects that in this case include regeneration, understanding and union with Christ,” says Vanhoozer. “Not for nothing, then, does Paul describe the Word of God as the ‘sword of the Spirit’ (Eph 6:17). It is not simply the impartation of information nor the transfer of mechanical energy but the impact of a total speech act (the message together with its communicative power) that is required for the summons to be efficacious.” 40 Rather than say that the Spirit supervenes on the preached gospel (since regeneration is not always given with it), Vanhoozer prefers to say that the Spirit advenes on it, “when and where God wills,” to make it effective. 41 God is not merely trying to talk us into believing in Christ. Despite its glorious content, the gospel would still be foolishness unless the Spirit replaced our heart of stone with a heart of flesh. Yet it is by talking that the Spirit changes our hearts.

Communication does not work like brute causes, but it also is not mere information or exhortation. Scripture already assumes a communicative approach. “The Word of God is living and active …” (Heb 4:12). We are reminded in Isaiah 55:10 — 11,

For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven
   and do not return there but water the earth,
making it bring forth and sprout,
   giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater,
so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth;
   it shall not return to me empty,
but it shall accomplish that which I purpose,
   and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.

God’s speech not only reaches its addressee, but because the Spirit is always already present in creation to bring that speech to fruition, its illocutionary stances, which are always deployed in a covenantal context (commands, promises, curses, blessings, etc.), actually bring about the reality they announce.

Christ is not only promised; he is the promise. “For all the promises of God find their Yes in him. That is why it is through him that we utter our Amen to God for his glory” (2Co 1:20). Christ as the Father’s illocutionary act restores the liturgical exchange that the fall has turned into a disordered Babel of confusion and discord. The natural creation still manages to utter its liturgical lines even under the curse (Ps 19:1— 2), but the divine image-bearer sings Walt Whitman’s “Song of Myself.” Yet once the ones who “by their unrighteousness suppress the truth” (Ro 1:18) are swept into the story that God is telling the world, they find themselves “born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God

This word is the good news that was preached to you” (1Pe 1:23, 25b). And, “According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time” (1Pe1:3 — 5).

More like being overwhelmed by beauty than by force, the call is effectual because of its content, not because of an exercise of absolute power independent of it. And yet the appropriate “amen” cannot be attributed to the recipient, since it is the Father’s communication of the Son and the Spirit’s effective agency within the natural processes of even truth-suppressing consciousness that bring it about.


The gospel is not simply the good news concerning Christ, but Christ’s own declaration to sinners of that reality of which the gospel speaks. Christ himself declares his absolution to the ungodly through the lips of his messengers (Ro 10:8 – 17). Election makes salvation certain, and Christ’s redeeming work secures it. Nevertheless, when the Spirit grants the gift of faith in Christ through the proclamation of the gospel, all of Christ’s riches are actually bestowed. Whether or not one is conscious of this moment, it is the effectual calling of God the Spirit, and it brings justification and renewal of the whole person in its wake. After explaining that believers have been chosen in Christ before the creation of the world and redeemed by Christ, Paul adds, “In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory” (Eph 1:13 – 14). Faith is not something that we must contribute in order to make the gospel effective; it is itself given to us through the gospel that is proclaimed. God does not ordinarily work directly, but uses means. Although the gospel is proclaimed to every person (an external call), the Spirit draws the elect to Christ inwardly (the effectual call). The gospel is freely announced to all people and to every person indiscriminately, although only the elect embrace it through the Spirit’s effectual call.

The question at least among the Reformed is whether the effectual call is synonymous with regeneration or whether regeneration is a distinct and logically antecedent work of the Spirit. Earlier in the tradition the terms regeneration and effectual calling were used interchangeably. Regeneration (or effectual calling) is the Spirit’s sovereign work of raising those who are spiritually dead to life in Christ through the announcement of the gospel. 42 Later, especially after extensive interaction with Arminianism, many Reformed theologians argued for regeneration as God’s act of infusing the habit or principle of life in those who are dead so that they will embrace the gospel when they are effectually called by the Spirit. Regeneration, then, became understood as a direct act of God, without any creaturely means, while effectual calling was seen as mediated through the preaching of the gospel. The special concern of those who embraced this distinction between regeneration and effectual calling was to guard the important point that regeneration (the new birth) is not dependent on human decision or activity but is a sovereign work of God’s grace. Even after acknowledging the impressive exegetical and confessional credentials of the older view, Louis Berkhof follows Charles Hodge in regarding the distinction between immediate regeneration and effectual calling through the Word as a useful one. 43

I adopt the earlier view on exegetical grounds. Although we must distinguish regeneration from conversion, I do not see the basis for a further distinction between regeneration and effectual calling. Scripture indicates that we “have been born again … through the living and abiding word of God” (1Pe 1:23). “Of his own will he brought us forth by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures” (Jas 1:18). In John 6 Jesus says, “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him” (v. 44). Humans do not effect this new birth. “It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all,” yet he immediately adds, “The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life” (v. 63, emphasis added).

If this is the case, why do we need an immediately infused habitus to intervene between these mediated events? Does such an adaptation of this medieval category save us from synergism only to open the door again to a dualism between God’s person and Word? According to the above-cited passages, the Spirit implants the seed of his Word, not a principle or habit distinct from that Word. At no point in the ordo salutis, then, is there an infusion of a silent principle rather than a vocal, lively, and active speech. In attributing all efficacy to the Spirit’s power, Scripture nevertheless represents this as occurring through the Word of God that is “at work” in its recipients (1Th 2:13; cf. 1Co 2:4 — 5; 2Co 4:13; Eph 1:17; Gal 3:2; 1Th 1:4; Tit 3:4) — specifically, that message of the gospel, which is “the power of God for salvation” (Ro 1:16; 10:17; 1Th 1:5).

Therefore, the external call includes the locutionary act of the Father’s speaking and the Son as the illocutionary content. The internal call (effectual calling), synonymous with regeneration, occurs through the Spirit’s perlocutionary effect. As in all of God’s works, the Spirit brings to fruition the goal of divine communication. The Father objectively reveals the Son, and the Spirit inwardly illumines the understanding to behold the glory of God in the face of Christ (2Co 4:6; cf. Jn 1:5; 3:5; 17:3; 1Co 2:14), liberating the will not only to assent to the truth but to trust in Christ (Eze 36:26; Jer 32:39 — 40; Heb 8:10; Eph 2:1 — 9). Regeneration or effectual calling is something that happens to those who do not have the moral capacity to convert themselves, yet it not only happens to them; it happens within them, winning their consent. The God who says, “Let there be…. And there was …” also says, “Let the earth bring forth…” (see ch. 10, “I Am the Alpha and the Omega,” pp. 344 — 48). Because the Word of God is not mere information or exhortation but the “living and active” energies of the triune God, it is far more than a wooing, luring, persuasive influence that might fail to achieve the mission on which it was sent. In both instances, it is the work of the Father, in the Son, by the Spirit.

Here we once again call upon the essence-energies distinction advocated by the East (see ch. 10, “Creative Communication,” pp. 331 — 34), but with a specific focus on the Word. There is always a distinction between the incarnate Word (consubstantial with the Father and the Spirit) and the spoken and written Word. Yet the Word in its spoken and written form is not only a creaturely witness that may or may not correspond to God’s Word at specific moments; it is the working (energy) of God. Combining this distinction with speech act theory, we may say that in this respect God’s working is God’s wording. In fact, the gospel “is the power [dynamis, energy] of God for salvation …” (Ro 1:16).

Nor is regeneration something done at a distance, but is already the presence of Christ mediating the voice of the Father in the power of the Spirit who not only works upon us but within us. Calvin comments, “We must also observe that form of expression, to believe through the word, which means that faith springs from hearing, because the outward preaching of men is the instrument by which God draws us to faith. It follows that God is, strictly speaking, the Author of faith, and men are the ministers by whom we believe, as Paul teaches (1Co 3:5)” (emphasis added). 44 Commenting on Romans 10:17 (“So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ”), Calvin writes,

And this is a remarkable passage with regard to the efficacy of preaching; for he testifies that by it faith is produced. He had indeed before declared that of itself it is of no avail; but that when it pleases the Lord to work, it becomes the instrument of his power. And indeed the voice of man can by no means penetrate into the soul; and mortal man would be too much exalted were he said to have the power to regenerate us; the light also of faith is something sublimer than what can be conveyed by man: but all these things are no hindrances, that God should not work effectually through the voice of man, so as to create faith in us through his ministry. 45

Against both the medieval doctrine of justification according to infused habits and the Anabaptist emphasis on a direct and immediate work of the Spirit within us, the Reformers insisted upon the mediation of the Word — specifically, the gospel. “For faith and the Word belong together,” Wilhelm Kolfhaus notes concerning Calvin’s view. “The foundation of both expressions is always the faith produced by the Spirit through the Gospel.” 46 Dennis Tamburello nicely summarizes Calvin’s view of the ordo: “The Holy Spirit brings the elect, through the hearing of the gospel, to faith; in so doing, the Spirit engrafts them into Christ.” 47

In the account I have offered thus far, believers are seen to be “worded” all the way down: through the covenant of redemption, the covenant of creation, and now in the covenant of grace. The Spirit has voluntarily bound himself in his activity to the Word spoken by the Father in the Son. There is simply no place for infused habits in this kind of covenantal ontology. Not by silent thoughts and infused dispositions apart from the Word but by living speech God creates and recreates his world. A covenantal paradigm, rather than distinguishing between a forensic event (justification) and infused habits (regeneration), renders the entire ordo forensically charged, without confusing justification with sanctification or denying that union with Christ includes organic and transformative as well as forensic aspects.

Furthermore, even regeneration and sanctification are effects of God’s performative utterance: a declaration on the level of ex nihilo creation: “Let there be …” It was only on the basis of having first created the world by this fiat declaration that there were now creatures who could “bring forth” the proper response. While union with Christ and the sanctification that results from that union are more than forensic, they are the consequences of God’s forensic declaration. Both justification (“Let there be …!”) and inner renewal (“Let the earth bring forth …!”) are speech acts of the Triune God. These arguments in favor of seeing the entire ordo salutis in communicative, covenantal, and energetic terms will be especially important in our discussion of justification and sanctification.


If there is no reason to distinguish regeneration and effectual calling, there is nevertheless every reason to distinguish this event from conversion. In regeneration we are passive. We hear the gospel, and the Spirit creates faith in our hearts to embrace it. However, in conversion we are active. “In the covenant of grace, that is, in the gospel …,” notes Bavinck,

there are actually no demands and no conditions. For God supplies what he demands. Christ has accomplished everything, and though he did not accomplish rebirth, faith, and repentance in our place, he did acquire them for us, and the Holy Spirit therefore applies them. Still, in its administration by Christ, the covenant of grace does assume this demanding, conditional form. 48

There are commands to repent and believe, yet even these human responses are gifts of grace:

The covenant of grace, accordingly, is indeed unilateral: it proceeds from God; he has designed and defined it. He maintains and implements it. It is a work of the triune God and is totally completed among the three Persons themselves. But it is destined to become bilateral, to be consciously and voluntarily accepted and kept by humans in the power of God. 49

In conversion (unlike regeneration), we are told, “Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure” (Php 2:12 — 13). This does not mean that in conversion our salvation shifts from God’s sovereign grace in Christ to our activity and cooperation, but that the salvation that has been given is worked out by that same Spirit, through the same gospel, in a genuine relationship in which we become covenant partners who are now alive to God in Christ. Apart from our repentance and faith, there is no justification or union with Christ. Yet even this human response is a gift of the Spirit through the gospel.

The ministry of John the Baptist is compared and contrasted with that of Jesus at various points in the Gospels. Later in his ministry Jesus said, “I tell you, among those born of women none is greater than John. Yet the one who is least in the kingdom of God is greater than he” (Lk 7:28) — because of the superior phase of redemptive history Jesus was inaugurating. Those who refused to be baptized by John “rejected the purpose of God for themselves” (Lk 7:30). Jesus then compares the present generation to children playing the funeral game and the wedding game, “and calling to one another, ‘We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we sang a dirge, and you did not weep’” (v. 32). John played the funeral dirge, but most of the people and religious leaders did not feel the sting of their guilt, but claimed that he had a demon; Jesus brings the good news of the gospel to sinners, and he is rejected as “a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!” (v. 34). “Now after John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel’” (Mk 1:14 — 15).

As in Jesus’ day, the children of this age know neither how to mourn nor how to dance properly. G. K. Chesterton observed that Christianity’s outer ring is dark enough, with its grave view of original sin, judgment, and hell, but in its inner ring “you will find the old human life dancing like children, and drinking wine like men; for Christianity is the only frame for pagan freedom.” “But in the modern philosophy the case is opposite; it is its outer ring that is obviously artistic and emancipated; its despair is within.” 50 For the unbelieving world a kind of superficial happiness and general well-being full of entertainments but lacking any real plot hides the fear of death. Apart from God’s grace, we can neither come to terms sufficiently with our mortal wound nor enter into the genuine revelry and mirth of God’s kingdom. Denying our sin (not just sins, but our sinful condition), we’re too silly for a funeral; finding the gospel foolish, we are too timid for a real celebration. “Repent, and believe in the gospel": this command forms the two aspects of conversion: repentance toward sin and faith toward God. After the funeral there is dancing. In repentance, we say no to the idols, powers, rulers, and lies of this present evil age, and in faith we say yes to Christ, in whom “all the promises of God find their Yes That is why it is through him that we utter our Amen to God for his glory” (2Co 1:20).


Christ does not come to improve our lives — the “old self,” to use Paul’s vocabulary — but to crucify it and bury it with him so that we may be raised with him in newness of life (Ro 6:1 — 5). Repentance (metanoia) means “change of mind.” It is treated in Scripture as first of all the knowledge of sin produced by the law (Ro 3:20). As we have seen above from Jesus’ Upper Room Discourse, the Spirit is an attorney sent to convict us inwardly of God’s righteousness and our unrighteousness. This knowledge, however, is not merely intellectual but emotional — it involves the whole person.

We see the features of repentance finely exhibited in David’s prayer of confession:

Have mercy on me, O God,
according to your steadfast love;

according to your abundant mercy
blot out my transgressions.

Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity,
and cleanse me from my sin!

For I know my transgressions,
and my sin is ever before me.

Against you, you alone, have I sinned,
and done what is evil in your sight,

so that you may be justified in your words
and blameless in your judgment.

Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity,
and in sin did my mother conceive me.

Behold, you delight in truth in the inward being,
and you teach me wisdom in the secret heart.

Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean;
wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.

Let me hear joy and gladness;
let the bones that you have broken rejoice.

Hide your face from my sins,
and blot out all my iniquities. (Ps 51:1 – 9)

First, we recognize that David is not simply ashamed of his behavior but guilty. Second, although he has sinned cruelly against Bathsheba and plotted the death of her husband, he recognizes that his sin is first and foremost against God. Repentance is not only remorse for having wronged our neighbor, but is a recognition that God is the most offended party. Third, David does not try to atone for his sins or pacify God’s just anger by his remorse. David confesses that before God’s throne he is condemned, and he does not try to justify himself. Fourth, David acknowledges not only his sinful actions but his sinful condition from the hour of conception. Repentance pertains not simply to certain sins; pagans can be remorseful for their immoderate behavior. Rather, it is the revulsion of the whole soul toward its alliance with sin and death.

Although such godly sorrow leads David to despair of his own righteousness, it does not lead him to the final despair that often leads the ungodly to either self-destruction or a searing of their conscience. As Paul observes, “For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death” (2Co 7:10). After all, “God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance” (Ro 2:4). While the law produces a legal repentance (fear of judgment), the gospel engenders an evangelical repentance that bears the fruit of real change. David turns outside of himself to his merciful God. Here we see the closest possible link between repentance and faith. By itself repentance is merely the experience of damnation — until one looks by faith to Jesus Christ.

Often repentance is more broadly defined to include actual change in character and behavior, but Scripture describes this as the “fruit in keeping with repentance” (Mt 3:8) or “deeds in keeping with their repentance” (Ac 26:20; cf. Mt 7:16; Lk 3:9; 8:15; Jn 12:24; Ro 7:4; Gal 5:22; Col 1:10). In this sense, of course, repentance is always partial, weak, and incomplete in this life. Nor is it a one-time act. As the first of Luther’s Ninety-five Theses states, “Our Lord and Master Jesus Christ, in saying ‘Repent ye,’ etc., intended that the whole life of believers should be penitence.” The Spirit brings us to repentance by convicting us of sin by the law, the gospel leads us to faith in Christ, and this faith produces within us a hatred of our sin and a craving for righteousness. Since our tendency even as believers is still to turn back toward ourselves and trust in our repentance, we must be driven again to despair of our righteousness or of any possibility of ridding ourselves of our sins by the law and cling to Christ. Therefore, this is not a once-and-for-all transition from legal repentance to faith in Christ to evangelical repentance, but a perpetual cycle that defines the Christian life.

In Roman Catholic theology and practice, this call to repentance is replaced with a system of penance. As the Renaissance scholar Erasmus discovered, the Latin Vulgate had erroneously translated the Greek imperative “Repent!” (metanoesate) in Acts 2:38 as “Do penance!” (poenitentiam agite). Rome defines such penance as involving four elements: contrition, confession, satisfaction, and absolution. 51 Since few are able to rise to the level of true contrition (genuine sorrow for sin), attrition (fear of punishment) is deemed suitable for this first stage. For forgiveness, each sin must be recalled and orally confessed to a priest, who then determines a suitable action or series of actions to perform in order to make satisfaction for the sin. Only then can the penitent receive the absolution. 52

However, powerful currents within Protestantism (especially in more Arminian versions) have taught that God’s forgiveness and justification are conditioned on the degree of earnestness of their repentance and on new obedience. 53 Even in broader evangelical circles, some Christians struggle to the point of despair over whether the quality and degree of their repentance is adequate to be forgiven, as if repentance were the ground of forgiveness and the former could be measured by the intensity of emotion and resolve.

However, according to Scripture it is not our tears but Christ’s blood that satisfies God’s judgment and establishes peace with God (Ro 5:1, 8 — 11). In the words of “Rock of Ages,” “Could my zeal no languor know, / Could my tears forever flow … All for sin could not atone; Thou must save, and Thou alone.” 54 God heals the bones that he crushes and raises up those whom he has cast down. “But he gives more grace. Therefore it says, ‘God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble’” (Jas 4:6). The law begins repentance, by convicting us of sin, but only the gospel can lead us to boldly claim God’s promise with David: “Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones that you have broken rejoice. Hide your face from my sins, and blot out all my iniquities” (Ps 51:8 – 9).

Whenever repentance is marginalized in conversion, it is usually because of an inadequate sense of God’s holiness and the just demands of his righteous law. The consequence is that conversion is represented merely as moral improvement: the addition of certain distinctives of Christian piety. Biblical repentance, however, involves a fundamental renunciation of the world, the flesh, and the devil: including the spirituality, experiences, and moral efforts in which one has trusted. The whole self must be turned away both from self-trust and from the autonomy that demands final say as to what one will believe, whom one will trust, and how one will live.


Arrested, arraigned, and indicted, in repentance we turn away from ourselves — our untruths, our sins, and our fraudulent claim to righteousness — and in faith we look to Christ for salvation and for every spiritual gift. To put it differently, in repentance we confess (with David) that God is justified in his verdict against us, and in faith we receive God’s justification. Dead to sin and alive to Christ once and for all in regeneration (Ro 6:1 – 11), we are called to die daily to our old self and live daily by “the free gift of God,” which “is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (vv. 12 – 23).

In the Hebrew scriptures to believe (he’mtn, in the hiphil form of, ‘âman) means to acknowledge as an established fact. However, this is not merely intellectual assent. It is, literally, to say “amen” to what God has performed as pertaining to oneself. Other words (hāsâ, “to take refuge"; bātah, “to trust or lean upon”) also convey the idea of faith as involving trust as well as knowledge and assent. In the New Testament, the noun pistis (and its cognate verb pisteuein) has various connotations. The Greeks believed in the existence of their gods, but the New Testament carries over from the Old Testament this understanding of faith as trust in and reliance upon the saving action of a personal God.

The passive form (faithfulness) occurs only in a few places (Ro 3:3; Gal 5:22; Tit 2:10). More often, faith is understood as trust or belief in what is said on the testimony of another (Php 1:27; 2Co 4:13; 2Th 2:13 and especially in John). More often still, it is specifically exhibited as faith in Jesus and his declarative Word (Jn 4:50; 5:47; Ro 3:22, 25; 5:1 — 2; 9:30 — 32; Gal 2:16; Eph 2:8; 3:12), a trustful reliance in Jesus Christ (en for “in": Mk 1:15; Jn 3:15; Eph 1:13; epi plus dative for “in": Isa 28:16, quoted in Ro 9:33; Ro 10:11; 1Pe 2:6; Lk 24:25; 1Ti 1:16; cf. Ac 16:34; Ro 4:3; 2Ti 1:5, 12). The use of epi with the accusative or of eis (“into”) emphasizes the transfer of trust from ourselves to God in Christ (Jn 2:11; 3:16, 18, 36; 14:1; Ro 10:14; Gal 2:16; Php 1:29, etc.). Such faith is described as looking to Christ (Jn 3:14 — 15, with Nu 21:9), hungering, thirsting, and drinking (Mt 5:6; Jn 6:50 — 58; 4:14), coming and receiving (Jn 1:12; 5:40; 7:37 — 38; 6:44, 65). These instances (besides many others) underscore the role of faith in the act of justification as a passive receiving and resting in Christ. However, the faith of the justified is also active in good works (Jas 2:26).

In other cases we find references to “the faith” (Ac 6:7; Eph 4:5; 1Ti 1:19; 3:9; 5:8; 6:12; Jude 3). Therefore the distinction often made in theology between the faith (i.e., the content) that is believed (fides quae creditur) and faith as the personal act of believing (fides qua creditur) seems well-founded (see also ch. 4, “Inerrancy after Barth,” p. 184). This means that the personal act of faith has an object (Christ as he is clothed in the gospel), a content (the doctrine concerning Christ and his gospel), and a subject (the believing sinner).

Faith is the same in both testaments, both in its act and in its object. In fact, Abel, Noah, David, and other Old Testament figures are treated in the New Testament as examples of those who had faith in Christ (esp. Heb 11). Abraham is especially paradigmatic as the one who was justified by faith and is the father of all who have faith in Christ (Ro 4; Gal 3; Heb 11; Jas 2). Throughout the New Testament this continuity is assumed (Jn 5:46; 12:38 — 39; Hab 2:4; Ro 1:17; 10:16; Gal 3:11; Heb 10:38). As Berkhof reminds us, “The giving of the law did not effect a fundamental change in the religion of Israel, but merely introduced a change in its external form. The law was not substituted for the promise; neither was faith supplanted by works.” 55

Paul’s legalists had misunderstood the true nature of the law: to lead us to Christ, not to lead us to self-salvation. The demand for faith does not turn faith into a work. On the contrary, it is a command to cease our labors and enter God’s rest (Heb 4). We are commanded to repent not only of our immoral life that we once approved but of self-trust, which is the greatest sin of all — the chief offense of idolatry. Again, the history of salvation (historia salutis) and the order of salvation (ordo salutis) converge (see ch. 16, “The King and His Kingdom,” p. 535): Just as “the grace of God has appeared” (Tit 2:11), so Paul also speaks of faith as arriving: “Now before faith came, we were held captive under the law, imprisoned until the coming faith would be revealed.” Because “Christ came,” “faith has come …” (Gal 3:23 — 25). Again, this cannot mean that the Old Testament saints were not justified through faith — especially since this same chapter underscores continuity on this point. Rather, the contrast for Paul lies in the fact that the old covenant (Sinai) was an external form of government for the nation that established cultic and legal practices that clearly pointed to Jesus Christ (hence, the contrast between the “two covenants” in 4:21 — 31). Yet this Sinai covenant did not — and could not — replace the Abrahamic covenant of grace (Gal 3:15 — 18).

While upholding the continuity of faith in Christ from Abraham (indeed, from Adam and Eve after the fall) to the present, the New Testament also announces that something new has dawned. The law itself could not create faith, hope, or love, but because of sin could only place the world in prison awaiting the redeemer (Gal 3:22—23) or under a guardian awaiting its maturity in order to receive the inheritance (v. 24). Throughout Acts, Christ is proclaimed and the appropriate response is repentance and faith. In Hebrews, the great fathers and mothers of Israel are commended for having faith in the promise even though they did not yet see its fulfillment (Heb 11:1 — 12:2). Moses and his liberated followers, according to Paul, “drank from the spiritual rock that followed them, and the rock was Christ” (1Co 10:4). In fact, the wilderness generation is said to have “put Christ to the test” when they rebelled (v. 9).


In the ancient church, faith seems to be identified primarily with the faith (orthodox doctrine) and with personal assent to that doctrine, though not in antithesis to personal faith. According to medieval scholasticism, faith was understood as assent to church teaching (fides informis), which became justifying faith only when it was formed or completed by love (fides formata). Therefore, justifying faith became a virtue along with hope and love: an act of doing and giving rather than receiving. In Roman Catholic theology, faith is not only assent to all church teaching but is, properly speaking, an act of the church rather than of the individual. 56

The Reformation challenged this understanding of faith in the light of the passages cited above, among others. Faith cannot simply be assent to whatever the church teaches, since this would make the church rather than Christ the object of faith. One must know the content to which one yields assent. Furthermore, faith cannot be sufficiently defined as mere assent even to true doctrines. 57 Faith is not only the belief that Christ is God incarnate, crucified, and raised on the third day, but is, in Calvin’s words, “a firm and certain knowledge of God’s benevolence toward us, founded upon the truth of the freely given promise in Christ, both revealed to our minds and sealed upon our hearts through the Holy Spirit.” 58 Faith is simply “confidence in divine benevolence and salvation.” 59

Faith therefore involves the intellect, the will, and the affections. It is knowledge (notitia), assent (assensus), and trust (fiducia). Given definition by doctrine, faith is nevertheless directed to a person: the triune God as he has revealed himself in Christ as our redeemer. It would be mere assent to say even that Christ died for sinners generally, without recognizing that he died for me. According to the Lutheran confession, “The faith here spoken of ‘is not that possessed by the devil and the ungodly, who also believe the history of Christ’s suffering and resurrection from the dead, but we mean such true faith as believes that we receive grace and forgiveness of sin through Christ.’” It is not merely acknowledging the truth of Christ’s person and work, but receiving and clinging to Christ himself. 60 The same view is expressed on the Reformed side in the Heidelberg Catechism: “True faith is not only a sure knowledge, whereby I hold for truth all that God has revealed to us in His Word, but also a firm confidence which the Holy Spirit works in my heart by the gospel, that not only to others, but to me also, remission of sins, everlasting righteousness and salvation are freely given by God, merely of grace, only for the sake of Christ’s merits” (emphasis added). 61

Nor is faith’s justifying power located in any inherent quality or virtue of faith itself. Faith is only the instrument rather than the basis for justification: it simply lays hold of Christ and his merits. Hence, the common Reformation formulation of justification: per fidem propter Christum (through faith because of or on the basis of Christ). Strictly speaking, one is not justified by faith but by Christ’s righteousness which is received through faith. Therefore, faith is always extrospective: looking outside of itself. Faith does not arise within the self, but comes to us from the outside, through the preaching of the gospel (Ro 10:17). This means that in the act of justification faith is itself completely passive, receiving a gift, not offering one. The faith that justifies is immediately active in love, honoring God and serving neighbor, but this active love is faith’s fruit, not the act of justifying faith itself. Given our native instincts, we can always turn gospel back into law — in this case, by making faith into faithfulness, the act of receiving into an act of working.

As already noted in connection with the atonement, Arminianism held that the work of Christ, though not itself the satisfaction of justice, made it possible for God to offer salvation on lower terms than perfect obedience. For some Arminians (for example, Richard Baxter), faith and repentance became the “new law,” serving as the ground of God’s pardon and justification. 62 Berkhof observes, “The Arminians revealed a Romanizing tendency when they conceived of faith as a meritorious work of man, on the basis of which he is accepted in favor by God.” 63

In modern theology, Schleiermacher reduced faith to an inner experience of union with God. Though “supported by the historical representation of [Christ’s] life and character,” faith comes through “testimony as to one’s experience, which shall arouse in others the desire to have the same experience.” 64 Ever since, in Protestant liberalism the Romantic celebration of inner emotion and universal religious experience turned faith into a general openness to and dependence upon the divine. Ritschl saw Christ as the object of faith but chiefly as lawgiver and example, and defined the nature of faith as beginning the work of building his kingdom. 65 In this theology, Berkhof notes, faith is made “a human achievement; not the mere receiving of a gift, but a meritorious action; not the acceptance of a doctrine, but a ‘making Christ Master’ in an attempt to pattern one’s life after the example of Christ.”

66 Barth, Brunner, and especially Bultmann saw faith as an obedient response to God’s command and downplayed (or denied) that it involved knowledge of and assent to particular doctrines. Bultmann radically reinterpreted both justification and faith in existentialist terms. The perennial danger of turning faith into a work is exhibited in Bultmann’s view of faith as “venture.” 67 “Faith is a ‘leap in the dark’ For man is not asked whether he will accept a theory about God that may possibly be false, but whether he is willing to obey God’s will.” For us, the meaning of Christ’s cross is found in our “crucifying the affections and lusts …, overcoming our natural dread of suffering, … and the perfection of our detachment from the world.” This constitutes “the judgment … and deliverance of man.” 68 But here Bultmann not only confuses justification with sanctification, but with a view of sanctification that can be reckoned only as Gnostic. The gospel comes not to detach us from the world or to overcome “our natural dread of suffering,” but to save us — and the world — from the reign of sin and death. As Julius Schniewind pointed out, for Bultmann, “The ‘crucifixion of our passions’ is then no more than a striking euphemism for self-mastery, which is the quest of all the higher religions and philosophies.” 69 In all of these ways, faith loses its specific object (Christ and all his benefits) and therefore its proper character as an act of receiving that which has already been achieved for us. In the act of justification, we must insist, faith merely receives, embraces, and clings to Christ; it does not do anything but receives everything.

Faith is not a probable opinion or conjecture, nor mere assent to an external authority — even the Bible or the church. Nor is faith an immediate certainty, like the knowledge of logical, geometrical, or mathematical axioms or of sense experience. It is not a general attitude, characteristic, or virtue — such as an optimistic outlook or positive thinking. Faith is not a genus of which faith in Christ is a species, as is often assumed especially in our day when we speak of “faith communities” or the importance of “faith.” Faith is not even a general trust in God and his promises. Evangelical faith — that is, faith as defined by the gospel — is the specific conviction of the heart, mind, and will that God is gracious to us in Jesus Christ on the basis of God’s Word. Faith is clinging to Christ.


Although Hebrews 11:1 defines faith as “the assurance of things hoped for,” Roman Catholic teaching denies the inextricable relationship of faith and assurance. Faith is mere assent to the church’s teachings, as we have seen. Even when faith is “completed” by becoming loving action, believers are never certain of final salvation. There may be a reasonable confidence that one is presently in a state of grace. “Moved by the Holy Spirit, we can merit for ourselves and for others all the graces needed to attain eternal life, as well as necessary temporal goods.” 70133 However, assurance of one’s election and final justification is regarded as presumptuous.

By contrast, the Reformers insisted that faith is assurance because Christ’s meritorious work is already completed. Since faith and repentance remain weak and imperfect, the experience of assurance may encounter highs and lows, but believers remain objectively assured of their salvation in Christ alone. This view of assurance as belonging to the essence of faith is found in the Lutheran and Continental Reformed confessions and catechisms. Although the Puritans distinguished faith from assurance, they did so in part to focus trembling consciences on Christ — the object of faith—even if their experience of assurance was lacking (see Westminster Confession, ch. 18). 71 Often, this was wise pastoral counsel, reckoning with the fact that doubt is frequently mingled with faith in the Christian life. Yet it could also become a source of anxiety, encouraging excessive introspection.

In later Puritanism and Lutheran Pietism, this separation of faith from assurance often led to a tendency to build assurance on the foundation of the quality of faith rather than the object of faith. The proper balance does not lie in the recognition that assurance is of the essence of faith itself, even though the experience of assurance may be encouraged by the signs of faith and its fruit. In this way we are always directed outside of ourselves to Jesus Christ alone. The gifts received through this faith are the focus of the next several chapters.


From The Christian Faith: A Systematic Theology for Pilgrim's on the Way (Chapter 17) by Dr. Michael Horton


8. Calvin, Institutes 2.2.15.

9. 77 Douglas Farrow, Ascension andEcclesia (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1999), 257.

10. It is customary to invoke the distinction between the church militant and the church triumphant as referring to the saints living on earth now and those in heaven. However, in Rev 6:10, the souls of the martyrs cry out, “How long before you will judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?” Even though these souls are in the presence of God, they too are part of the church militant. Only when Christ returns with his saints to the earth at the final resurrection and judgment will the whole church be finally and forever triumphant with its head.

11. Reinhard Hütter, Suffering Divine Things: Theology as Church Practice (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2000), 127.

12. Barth, Church Dogmatics, vol. 1, pt. 1, p. 182.

13. See B. R. Rees, Pelagius: Life and Letters (London: Boydell Press, 2004); Pelagius’s Commentary on St. Paul’s Epistle to the Romans (trans. Theodore De Bruyn; Oxford Early Christian Studies; Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press, 1998).

14. See Creeds of the Churches (ed. John H. Leith; 3rd ed.; Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 1982), 37—44.

15. Gregory of Rimini (1300 - 1358) and Archbishop Thomas Bradwardine (1290 - 1344) are especially notable in this regard. See also a tract by Luther’s mentor and the head of the Augustinian Order in Germany, Johann von Staupitz, “On the Eternal Predestination of God,” in Forerunners of the Reformation: The Shape of Late Medieval Thought (by Heiko A. Oberman; London: James Clarke, 2003). Staupitz affirms all of the points (known popularly as the “five points of Calvinism”) that would be defended at the Synod of Dort, including the maxim that Christ’s death is sufficient for the world, efficient for the elect only. Luther included all of these emphases in his Commentary on Romans (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 1982), esp. 126—30, 141 — 42.

16. The Longer Catechism of the Orthodox, Catholic, Eastern Church, Q. 123, in The Greek and Latin Creeds (ed. Philip Schaff; vol. 2 of The Creeds of Christendom; New York: Harper and Brothers, 1905, 1919).

17. Ibid., Q. 125.

18. Catechism of the Catholic Church (Liguori, Mo.: Liguori Publications, 1994), 321 - 25.

19. Ibid., 363 - 69.

20. Edmund Schlink, Theology of the Lutheran Confessions (trans. Paul F. Koehneke and Herbert J. A. Bouman; Philadelphia: Fortress, 1961): “Embraced by God’s election and act at the beginning and at the end, the believer is completely secure…. According to A. C. [Augsburg Confession] V, the Holy Spirit works faith ‘when and where he pleases’ (‘ubi et quando visum est Deo’),” which is “to be understood in a predestinarian sense even though it speaks only of God’s volition and not of his nonvolition” (289). The Formula of Concord (art. 11) rejects conditional election (i.e., based on foreseen faith) but also rejects reprobation (election to judgment). Luther taught reprobation as well as election in The Bondage of the Will (as did the earlier Melanchthon) but related it to the hidden God (deus absconditus) rather than to the God who is revealed in Christ (deus revelatus). Lutheran theology typically reconciles the apparent contradiction of unconditional election and universal grace by appealing to this distinction.

21. Schlink, Theology of the Lutheran Confessions, 90.

22. Reflecting Arminian presuppositions, much of contemporary evangelicalism understands the new birth as something that is in our power (at least partially) to effect. Especially in its American expression, this form of synergism (cooperative regeneration) is combined with a pragmatic and almost technical apparatus of formulas for being born again. For example, this can be seen even in the title of a best-selling book by Billy Graham from the 1970s, How to Be Born Again (Nashville: Nelson, 1977, 1989); cf. Billy Graham, The Holy Spirit: Activating God’s Power in Your Life (Nashville: Nelson, 1978, 1988, 2000). Shaped by the Keswick “Higher Life” movement, this broad stream of contemporary evangelical piety tends to treat the Spirit’s person and work as a resource that we can access, activate, and manage through various steps and techniques. For a critique of this view see especially B. B. Warfield, Studies in Perfectionism (Phillipsburg, N.J.: P&R, 1958); J. I. Packer, Keep in Step with the Spirit (Old Tappan, N.J.: Revell, 1987), 146—63.

23. Roger Olson offers a helpful distinction between evangelical and rationalistic Arminianism (“Arminianism of the heart” and “Arminianism of the head,” respectively) in Arminian Theology: Myths and Reality (Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVar- sity Press, 2006). He quotes John Mark Hicks’s comparison and contrast of Arminius and Philip Limborch in this respect: “For Arminius man is deprived of the actual ability to will the good, but for Limborch man is only deprived of the knowledge which informs the intellect, but the will is fully capable within itself, if it is informed by the intellect, to will and perform anything good” (quoted on p. 57). Olson comments that at least indirectly, “Limborch’s interpretation of the effects of original sin is very similar to Charles Finney’s…” (57).

24. H. Orton Wiley, Christian Theology (Kansas City, Mo.: Beacon Hill, 1941), 2:419.

25. The Reformed theologian Johann Heinrich Heidegger (1633 - 1698), for example, writes, ‘The word is the same which man preaches and which the Spirit writes on the heart. There is strictly one calling, but its cause and medium is twofold: instrumental, man preaching the word outwardly; principal, the Holy Spirit writing it inwardly in the heart.” Quoted in Heinrich Heppe, Reformed Dogmatics (ed. Ernst Bizer; trans. G. T. Thomson; London: Allen & Unwin, 1950), 518. Heidegger adds, “The first effect of calling is regeneration” (518).

26. 26. See, for instance, Heidelberg Catechism, q. 65: “It is by faith alone that we share in Christ and all his blessings: where then does that faith come from? A. The Holy Spirit produces it in our hearts by the preaching of the holy gospel, and confirms it through our use of the holy sacraments” (Ecumenical Creeds and Reformed Confessions [Grand Rapids: CRC Publications, 1988], 41).

27. Second Helvetic Confession, ch. 9 (“Free Will”), in The

28. Westminster Confession of Faith, ch. 11.

29. Ibid., ch. 12 (“Effectual Calling”)

30. Canons of Dort (1618 - 1619), in Ecumenical Creeds and Reformed Confessions, 135 - 36.

31. John Owen, The Works of John Owen (ed. William H. Gould; Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust, 1965), 3:319.

32. For further elaboration of the following argument see Michael Horton, Covenant and Salvation: Union with Christ (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2007), 216-42.

33. Kevin J. Vanhoozer, “Effectual Call or Causal Effect? Summons, Sovereignty and Supervenient Grace,” in Vanhoozer, First Theology: God, Scripture and Hermeneutics (Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 2002), 96 — 124.

34. Calvin, Institutes 1.13.18

35. Vanhoozer, “Effectual Call or Causal Effect?” 118.

36. Ibid., 119.

37. Ibid.

38. Heinrich Heppe, Reformed Dogmatics, 520, quoted in Vanhoozer, “Effectual Call or Causal Effect?” 120.

39. For this reason, anthropomorphic theologies (such as Moltmann’s) actually end up deepening the causal scheme, as if God (or each divine person) is a humanlike subject acting on or in relation to another. God’s omniscience, omnipresence, wisdom, eternity, immutability, and aseity, as well as trinity, ensure that his omnipotence is not like the overpowering of one person by another.

40. Vanhoozer, “Effectual Call or Causal Effect?” 121.

41. Ibid., 122.

42. A standard way of putting this earlier view is stated by Herman Witsius: “Regeneration is that supernatural act of God whereby a new and divine life is infused into the elect person, spiritually dead, and that from incorruptible seed of the word of God, made fruitful by the infinite power of the Spirit” (emphasis added) (Herman Witsius, The Economy of the Covenants [trans. William Crookshank; 2 vols.; London: Edwards Dilly, 1763; lithographed from 1822 ed., Phillipsburg, N.J.: The den Dulk Christian Foundation/P&R Publishing, 1990]), 357. In this, Witsius is simply following the Canons of Dort (chs. 3 – 4), which is consistent with the assumption of the Westminster Confession (10.2) that regeneration and effectual calling are one and the same event. Similarly, q. 65 of the Heidelberg Catechism teaches that the Spirit creates faith “in our hearts by the preaching of the holy gospel, and confirms it by the use of the holy sacraments.” Here, as in the Canons of Dort, even the language of “new and divine life infused” is employed, but this is said to occur through the ministry of the gospel.

43. Witsius, Economy of the Covenants, 476. In addition to explicit passages that speak of the new birth occurring through the Word (e.g., Jas 1:18; 1Pe 1:23; and the parable of the sower), Berkhof acknowledges that the Reformed confessions (Belgic Confession, arts. 24 - 25; Heidelberg Catechism, q. 54; Canons of Dort 3 — 4, arts. 11, 12, 17) “speak of regeneration in a broad sense, as including both the origin of the new life and its manifestation in conversion.” Nevertheless, in his view, “They fail to discriminate carefully between the various elements which we distinguish in regeneration.”

44. John Calvin, Commentary on the Gospel According to John (trans. William Pringle; Grand Rapids: Baker, repr., 1996), commenting on Jn 17:20.

45. John Calvin on Ro 10:17, in Commentary on the Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Romans (ed. and trans. John Owen; vol. 19

46. Wilhelm Kolfhaus, as quoted in Dennis Tamburello, Union with Christ: John Calvin and the Mysticism of St. Bernard (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 1994), 86.

47. Tamburello, Union with Christ, 86.

48. Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics: God and Creation (ed. John Bolt; trans. John Vriend; Grand Rapids: Baker, 2004), 3:230.

49. Ibid. (emphasis added).

50. G. K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy: The Romance of Faith (New York: Doubleday, 1959, 1990), 157.

51. Catechism of the Catholic Church, 364 - 67. “Christ instituted the sacrament of Penance for all sinful members of the Church: above all for those who, since Baptism, have fallen into grave sin, and have thus lost their baptismal grace and wounded ecclesial communion. It is to them that the sacrament of Penance offers a new possibility to convert and to recover the grace of justification. The Fathers of the Church present this sacrament as ‘the second plank [of salvation] after the shipwreck which is the loss of grace’” (363).

52. Ibid., 364 — 67.

53. William Law’s A Serious Call to a Devout and Holy Life, which had a formative impact on John Wesley, is especially representative of this tendency. See the thorough analysis of C. FitzSimons Allison, The Rise of Moralism: The Proclamation of the Gospel from Hooker to Baxter (Atlanta: Morehouse Publishing, 1984). Allison especially illuminates the role of Jeremy Taylor in this trajectory.

54. Augustus Toplady, “Rock of Ages” (1776), in Psalter Hymnal (Grand Rapids: Publication Committee of the CRC, 1959), #388.

55. Louis Berkhof, Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids: Eerd- mans, 1996), 498.

56. Catechism of the Catholic Church, 46. At the same time, the element of personal trust is not entirely absent in these more recent definitions of faith (see especially pages 40 - 41).

57. This is in opposition to the view of Gordon H. Clark, What Is Saving Faith? (Union, Tenn.: Trinity Foundation, 2004), 9 -10, 55 - 63.

58. Calvin, Institutes 3.2.7, emphasis added.

59. Ibid., 3.2.15.

60. Edmund Schlink, Theology of the Lutheran Confessions, 96.

61. Heidelberg Catechism, q. 21, in Psalter Hymnal (Grand Rapids: Publication Committee of the CRC, 1959), “Doctrinal Standards,” p. 25.

62. Richard Baxter, Aphorismes of Justification, with their Explication Annexed, Etc. (London: Francis Tyton, 1649). See also Hans Boersma, A Hot Pepper Corn: Richard Baxter’s Doctrine of Justification in Its Seventeenth-Century Context of Controversy (Zoetermeer, Netherlands: Boekencentrum, 1993).

63. Berkhof, Systematic Theology, 497.

64. Friedrich Schleiermacher, The Christian Faith (ed. and trans. H. R. Mackintosh and J. S. Stewart; Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1928),

65. Albrecht Ritschl, The Christian Doctrine of Justificationand Reconciliation: The Positive Development of the Doctrine (trans. H. R. Mackintosh and A. B. Macaulay; Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1900 [German original, Volume III, 1874]; repr., Clifton, N.J.: Reference Book Publishers, 1966), 12.

66. Berkhof, Systematic Theology, 498. Similarly, J. Gresham Machen writes, “According to modern liberalism, faith is essentially the same as ‘making Christ Master’ in one’s life,” Christianity and Liberalism (New York: Macmillan, 1923; repr., Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2002), 143.

67. Rudolf Bultmann, “Faith as Venture,” in Existence and Faith: Shorter Writings of Rudolf Bultmann (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1960), 57.

68. Rudolf Bultmann, “New Testament and Mythology,” in Kerygma and Myth: A Theological Debate (ed. Hans Werner Bartsch; trans. Reginald H. Fuller; rev. ed.; New York: Harper and Row, 1961), 64 — 65.

69. Julius Schniewind, “A Reply to Bultmann,” in Kerygma and Myth, 65 - 66.

70. Catechism of the Catholic Church, 486, 490.

71. Joel Beeke helpfully explores the continuities between Calvin (and the Continental Reformed view) and Puritanism on faith and assurance in Assurance of Faith: Calvin, English Puritanism, and the Dutch Second Reformation (American University Studies Series 7; New York: Peter Lang, 1994).

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