Wednesday, October 21, 2009
CAN A REGENERATE PERSON CONFESS A FALSE GOSPEL?
This article deals with a controversial topic that seems to have divided many people — "Can Regenerate Persons Confess a False Gospel?".
I most certainly believe, as may the majority of you, that all issues must be settled by a careful study of God's Word and not by our own subjective standards. Therefore, this article is an attempt to study the Scriptures and find what they teach us about this subject. I am not claiming that this article answers all questions and objections, but I believe it will give any who are interested a good starting point for productive dialogue. As always, my hope is that such articles will work to the glory of God, the preeminence of Christ, the salvation of sinners, and the edification of God's people.
CAN A REGENERATE PERSON CONFESS A FALSE GOSPEL?
Before we answer this question, we must establish the limits of our discussion to avoid straying from what the Scriptures obviously deny. We must also agree that in answering this question we are not talking about circumstances of duress and coercion in which a true believer might openly deny the Gospel when he really does not mean it. The limits of our discussion must be two-fold — (1) We are talking about regenerate persons, those who have been born again by the Spirit of God, i.e. given spiritual life and brought to faith in Christ and repentance of dead works and idolatry; and (2) The first evidence of regeneration is belief in Christ as He is identified and distinguished in the TRUE Gospel and repentance of a false gospel (2 Thessalonians 2:13-14).
I. THE GOSPEL AS AN OBJECTIVE STANDARD
We must, therefore, first define the true Gospel as it is defined in the Scriptures. The TRUE Gospel is — God's absolute and unconditional promise to save guilty, hell deserving sinners, freely give them all the benefits and blessings of eternal life and glory, based only on the righteousness of the Lord Jesus Christ freely imputed and received by faith.
This definition of the true Gospel is supported in Scripture. For example — Romans 1:1-17; Romans 3:21-28; Romans 4:1-7; Romans 5:18-21; 2 Corinthians 5:21, and many other Scriptures. Obviously, those who do not agree with this definition will not agree with the conclusions of this article, but this is the objective truth by which we will judge the issue and define our terms. This definition also establishes that Christ's righteousness alone secures and demands the whole inheritance of grace and glory for all who believe God's Gospel and entitles them to all of salvation, including the work of the Holy Spirit in us, before they make any efforts to serve the Lord.
This limits our discussion to those who have at least heard and given mental agreement to this objective truth, who have displayed the gifts of faith in Christ and repentance of dead works and idolatry, who have evidenced a love for this Gospel and for the fellowship of God's people, and who have seen the wickedness of speaking peace to sinners who are either ignorant of or not submitted to the righteousness of Christ revealed in the Gospel.
This would exclude all Arminians from our field of discussion as it is clear that no Arminian even gives mental agreement to this Gospel.
The doctrine of universal atonement, for example, is an open denial of the true Gospel as it identifies and distinguishes a god who is an idol, a christ who is a counterfeit, and it denies God's grace in conditioning ALL of salvation on Christ's alone.
It also denies Christ's righteousness which alone secures and demands the entire salvation of all whom He represented in His obedience unto death and entitles them to ALL of salvation. If we would judge strictly by God's testimony rather than our own standards, we would admit that this would not fool even the weakest believer.
This also excluded many who call themselves "Calvinists" who claim to have been saved under an Arminian gospel as if the Arminian gospel is a true gospel or simply an imperfect gospel.
Any who claim that the gospel of Arminianism is a true gospel, another version of the true gospel, or that it is an imperfect gospel but one under which sinners can be saved, have never confessed the true Gospel.
We must not assume that all who claim to be "Calvinists" or who claim to believe in the doctrines of sovereign grace have heard and confessed the true Gospel. Many claim belief in what men call "the five points of Calvinism" but have never heard of or have never agreed to the true Gospel wherein Christ is revealed as the Lord our Righteousness (Jeremiah 23:5-6), and who have never repented of dead works and idolatry.
Consider that the lost religious Jews believed in election and limited atonement, but they were either ignorant of or not submitted to the righteousness of Christ revealed in the Gospel (Romans 9:31-33; Romans 10:1-4).
Any "Calvinist" who would speak peace to himself and to others while in the false gospel of Arminianism has never confessed the true gospel as they have never repented of the false gospel.
Any "Calvinist" who would defend Arminianism as a legitimate expression of the gospel or as a necessary element to balance our theology is not a regenerate person and is confessing a false gospel. He is lost person confessing a false gospel.
II. THE ISSUE OF CONFESSION
This brings us to the issue at hand — Can a regenerate person ever, at any time, for any reason, under any circumstances, confess a false gospel?
First, consider how the Bible teaches that a regenerate person, one who believes and confesses the true Gospel, may sometimes speak and act contrary to the Gospel by being deceived (fooled by deceitful and subtle teaching) and by giving in to remaining sin and selfishness for a time and thus require rebuke, correction, and repentance. This is what happened to the Galatians whom Paul rebuked, corrected, and called to repentance.
Could we say then that during the time the Galatians were "bewitched" that they were actually confessing a false gospel, and, therefore, conclude that it is possible for a regenerate person to do so?
Let's define the term "confessing a false gospel."
"Confessing a false gospel" could not mean "confessing what one knows to be false." No one in their right mind would confess what they know to be false. A confession in the Biblical sense means that one confesses or declares with his mouth (words) what he is convinced of in his heart to be true — "That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation" (Romans 10:9-10).
This is why many who try to excuse and speak peace to those who believe and promote false doctrine are going against God's clear testimony when they seek to separate the person from the doctrine or claim that one can believe in his heart what he does not know in his head and confess with his mouth. The Bible knows nothing of such self-righteous human reasoning. This is just another evidence of lost sinners making their judgments of saved and lost based on Satan's lie rather than God's testimony. The Bible is clear that what we confess with our mouths reveals the state of our persons (John 3:18; 1 Corinthians 1:18; Romans 6:17-18). Those who confess a false gospel are lost, and those who truly believe and confess the true Gospel are saved.
I believe, then, that we must define the term within the context of our field of discussion concerning regenerate persons or those who appear to be regenerate as follows — Confessing a false gospel is confessing what one recognizes to be contrary to the Gospel as defined in God's Word. Obviously, one who has never heard the TRUE Gospel confesses a false gospel and does not recognize it to be contrary to the TRUE Gospel which he has never confessed. However, this does not hinder this definition within the context, and we must keep in mind that we are looking at the Gospel as objective truth as defined by God's Word, not subjective truth defined as one may or may not see it. This means, then, that one who confesses a false gospel, even though he may say he agrees with the true Gospel, does not confess that the true Gospel (as defined above) is the THE GOSPEL which sinners must hear and believe to be saved. He may promote a watered-down version of THE Gospel, or he may subtlely add other things to it (as did the Galatian false preachers), but he confesses what he recognizes to be contrary to this objective truth as defined in God's testimony.
This means he does not recognize what true believers confess as God's Gospel to be God's Gospel. As one man wrote concerning Vol. 1, Issue 1 of The Reign of Grace Newsletter concerning a statement on page 2 defining the Gospel — "I prefer Paul's definition found in 1 Corinthians 15:1-4. This is the scriptural gospel which we are to believe. What you say in your definition is truth found elsewhere in Scrip ture but it is not the Bible's definition of the Gospel."
Obviously, I and the person who said this do not agree on the Gospel. Therefore, if the reader agrees with the definition of the true Gospel as stated above to be a Scriptural definition, then he would have to see that this man is confessing what he recognizes to be contrary to the Gospel as defined above.
How then should we consider this issue?
Should we consider it as an issue of what a person generally confesses as a tenor of life, a general rule, and consider that there may be times that this same person may confess something contrary to his confession?
Why would anyone confess even at a given moment something contrary to his abiding confession?
Is he not convinced of that which he generally confesses, or is he ignorant of the fact that his contrary confession opposes his abiding confession?
Can he be deceived to this extent?
Does not Paul's epistle to the Galatians show this to be true?
We know that the Galatian believers were bewitched and deceived BY SUBTLE TEACHINGS THEY DID NOT RECOGNIZE TO BE CONTRARY TO THE GOSPEL.
The apostle wrote, "I marvel that ye are so soon re moved from him that called you into the grace of Christ unto another gospel" (Galatians 1:6).
So according to God's testimony, the Galatians were in the process of being moved away from the true Gospel. The sense of the language here is that the Galatians had not apostatized from the Gospel, but they were in danger of being moved this far and going in that direction.
What should we conclude from this?
III. WHAT ABOUT THE GALATIANS?
The key to understanding what happened to the Galatians is this — The Galatian believers, because of the subtlety and deception promoted by the false preachers, did not recognize that they were being moved away from the true Gospel!
The Galatian believers, obviously, thought that the teachings of the false preachers were perfectly consistent with the true Gospel. The Apostle Paul had to expose the false teachings and warn the Galatian believers against the direction in which such false teaching would take them.
The false teachings of the false preachers in Galatia were not an open denial of the true Gospel. They were distortions of the Gospel (Galatians 1:7), which the Galatian believers did not recognize. The false teachers claimed to believe the true Gospel. They were Jews who claimed to follow the teachings of Jesus, and they were men of reputation who claimed to be speaking in agree ment with and by the approval of the apostles such as Peter, James, and John. They sought to discredit the Apostle Paul and isolate the Galatian churches from him and his teaching, claiming that Paul taught the necessity of circumcision whenever it would suit his fancy (Galatians 5:11). Their error was not an obvious display of false teaching but "a little leaven" (Galatians 5:8-9), bringing in small portions of subtle error that would draw the minds of the Galatians away from Christ and the Gospel without them knowing it. They sought to bring Gentile believers under certain commandments of the law of Moses, such as circumcision and the observance of days. They did not openly promote these things as conditions for salvation, but they did promote them as that which all true Christians, all true children of God (spiritual Israelites) should and must do in order to be complete (Galatians 3:1-3).
The Galatians had to be reminded of the Gospel and taught how that all distinctions of nationality and days under the Old Covenant had been abolished in Christ, that all justified sinners (Jew and Gentile) are all equally saved, equally justified, and equally children of God (spiritual Israel) based on the righteousness of Christ alone (Galatians 3:26-29). They had to be taught that the whole Old Covenant had been abolished in Christ. They had to realize that the false teachings of the false preachers went much further than they had considered in denying the Gospel and the ground of salvation. Paul had to point out these implications to show them the danger they were in, and he did this by establishing the theme of the epistle — That sinners will either be saved and entitled to heaven based on Christ's righ teousness alone, or they are debtors to do the whole law (Galatians 2:21; Galatians 5:1-5).
Someone may ask, "How could the Galatians have been so deceived and confused on this issue?"
We must consider that the Galatian problem was a very unique problem. We have almost no equivalent today. The Galatians did not have the advantages we have today. They did not have the completed revelation of God from the Scriptures. They did not have the means of communication we have today. Whenever the false preachers began to spread their false doctrines, the Galatian believers could not simply call the Apostle Paul on the telephone, and Paul could not get a plane ticket and fly to Galatia.
Also, the false preachers were quoting the Old Testament Scriptures and showing how that the vast majority of believers up to this point were physical Jews who had been circumcised and who observed these holy days. This is what "bewitched" the Galatian believers. We must understand that the whole deception came from the fact that the false teachers claimed their teachings were perfectly consistent with the Gospel of God's grace in Christ and did not deny the Gospel.
We can see that the Galatian believers were not confessing what they recognized to be contrary to the true Gospel. They were confessing subtle errors they did not recognize. They were speaking and acting in ways contrary to the true Gospel, but they were deceived. Had they known better, they would have never tolerated the false preachers. So, in this sense, I do not believe it is proper to say that the Galatian believers were believing and confessing a false gospel. Those who refused to receive and agree with the Apostle Paul's teaching did believe and confess a false gospel (Galatians 5:2-4).
Consider the Apostle Peter's "dissimulation" as recorded in Galatians 2:11-21. Many would claim that Peter was believing and confessing a false gospel when he separated himself from the Gentiles, but this is not so. Peter separated himself from the Gentiles because he feared "them which were of the circumcision" (Galatians 2:12). His problem was not that he believed and confessed a false gospel. His problem was that he still had respect of persons and fear of men. In doing this Peter spoke and acted contrary to the true Gospel which he truly believed and confessed. His actions were not consistent with the Gospel, but in doing this, he was not believing and confessing a false gospel. The whole tenor of Paul's rebuke to Peter shows that Peter knew better than this and that he was made ashamed unto repentance. There may be some who would insist that Peter's "dissimulation" was a confession of a false gospel, but I do not believe this is appropriate to the Biblical issue of confession.
In conclusion, the fact that no truly regenerate person can confess what he knows to be contrary to the true Gospel has nothing to do with any notion of perfectionism or sins a believer has no ability to commit given the fact of remaining sin and selfishness in his character and conduct. First of all, the Gospel itself is not of man. It is of God and is, therefore, a perfect truth as it is the inspired and revealed Word of God. Whenever any sinner by the Spirit of God confesses God's Gospel, that sinner is confessing a perfect truth. Secondly, we either confess this perfect truth or we do not confess it. There is no middle ground (Luke 11:23). We know that all true believers, even with all their imperfections, confess the true Gospel. We know that even such believers are still sinners and have the potential within themselves to commit all sin, but their continual abiding confession is the truth of the Gospel. If they are diverted from this truth by deception and even through their own ignorance, God still preserves them and keeps them from falling away unto condemnation and death (Jude 24-25).
Thank God for His preserving grace!
By Bill Parker