Gospel-Driven Quote of the Week

“All of these blessings that come to you in the gospel of Christ are the things in which all of your spiritual life and happiness consist. If you have them, you already have everlasting life. You do not live a holy life in order to gain and earn everlasting life. You already have it. The everlasting life God has given you in the gospel is what enables you to live a holy life.

The terms of the law make holiness the cause of eternal life.

The terms of the law are completely contrary to this way of living a holy life. The terms of the law place the practice of holiness before life. The terms of the law make holiness the cause of eternal life. ‘If you live a holy life, you will earn eternal life.’ Moses describes the terms this way: ‘The one who does these things shall live by them’ (Roman 10:5). By these terms, you must do the holy duties that are commanded before you have any right to receive the life that is promised to you. Under these terms, you also have to live a holy life without any of the gospel blessings I just mentioned, because you have not yet earned the right to have these blessings.

This viewpoint turns the gospel on its head.

In this view, the true means of holiness—the principles of life implanted in you by the gospel— are no longer the cause of holiness. Rather, they become the effect and the fruit of holiness. Under this view you cannot receive them until you work for them! You can see how under this view you will never be able to expect any true holiness. True holiness is destroyed because everything that produces true holiness has been taken away. This is why the apostle Paul says that the way of salvation by the works of the law makes faith empty, and the promises of no effect. The way of salvation by works frustrates the grace of God, as if Christ died in vain. It makes Christ to be of no value to you, as to those who have fallen from grace (Romans 4:14; Galatians 2:21; 5:2, 4).”

Walter Marshall, The Gospel Mystery of Sanctification, pp. 90-91


4 Responses to Gospel-Driven Quote of the Week

  1. jason says:

    Thank you for the dose of Gospel via Marshall. I just wanted to post a quick question/comment: I wonder if the term ‘salvation’ could be misunderstood as ‘conversion’ only. If so, many Christians would be able to read Marshall’s insights and heartily agree, all the while living daily with a law/performance driven mentality. “Salvation by works” sounds so overtly Catholic (and thus easily condemnable), yet that is exactly what we are doing post conversion if we subtly seek in every day life to earn God’s favor through the law (i.e. the Galatians). The semantics could be a convenient escape hatch from the real issues at hand; supposedly agreeing that salvation is not by works, yet living out their lives functionally as if it were. What do you think? Is my concern legit or am I splitting hairs? Has this already been addressed? Am I out of the loop!? Thanks for the input!


  2. Hi Jason. This is a good observation and question. When Marshall is speaking of salvation, he is speaking of the “whole package.” He is not referring to what Evangelicals typcially refer as “getting saved.” Marshall clearly explains throughout his book that both justification and sanctification come not by works of the law (i.e., obedience, performance) but that both are gifts of grace. Paul in Romans 1:16 says that he is not ashamed of the Gospel because “it is the power of God for salvation,” (the whole package not just justification). On p. 19, Marshall begins in his first chapter by clearly stating that sanctification is a grace just like justification. He writes, “Sanctification is a grace that is imparted to you by means, just like justification is.” These two means that Marshall refers to are the Gospel and faith (read chapter 4). Another helpful statement by Marshall can be found on pages 39-40. He writes, “This is the key error Christians fall into in their lives: they think that even though they have been justified by a righteousness produced totally by Christ, they must be sanctified by a holiness produced totally by themselves,” (Chapter Three). The key to living a holy life is union with Christ not our daily obedience, spiritual disciplines, performance, etc…

    Perhaps Zacharias Ursinus’ commentary on the Heidelberg Catechism will help to illuminate what Marshall is talking about when he speaks of salvation in The Gospel Mystery of Sanctification. Ursinus writes:

    IV. What Are The Proper Effects Of The Gospel?

    The proper effects of the Gospel are-
    1. Faith, because “faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God.” “The Gospel is the ministration of the Spirit.” “The power of God unto salvation.” (Rom. 10:17. 2 Cor. 3:8. Rom. 1:16.)

    2. Through faith, our entire conversion to God, justification, regeneration* and salvation; for through faith we receive Christ, with all His benefits.

    *Ursinus is speaking of sanctification, not the new birth as regeneration is customarily referred to in our day.

    Gospel blessings!

  3. Mike Sears says:

    I don’t think anyone who reads (and beleives) Marshall’s book could come away thinking that they could earn favor or sanctification by their own merits. I think the entire purpose of the book is accurately summarized in a short statement on page 178. “As a Christian, do not act FOR life but FROM life.” Great book for constant reference and referral.

  4. Rick says:

    “The key to living to living a holy life is union with Christ not our daily obedience, spiritual disciplines, performance, etc. …”
    John, one could read this and conclude that these (obedience, spiritual disciplines etc.) have no place in the Christian life, which I don’t believe to be true (and I’ms ure that’s not what you’re saying). It is our union with/in Christ that gives life and bears fruit and glorifies God as we obey or engage in the spiritual disciplines. The issue is why and in whose strength and power and for whose glory do we obey and engage in the spiritual disciplines. I think the problem is that we can have the wrong view of obedience and the spiritual disciplines (I know I have and still slip into self-righteousness as a motivation) and view them as an end in themselves or a means to an incorrect end (if I obey or engage in the spiritual disciplines God will accept me or approve of me more); rather than seeing them as means of grace, of which I am dependant upon grace to obey and engage in the spiritual disciplines in a God-glorifying, Christ exalting way. Humbly submitted, Rick

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