At the 2016 Cross for the Nations Conference held in Indianapolis, Indiana, reformed speaker Thabiti Anyabwile held a breakout session entitled, “What about My Issues? Debt, Pornography, and Other Besetting Sins.” In the short audio clip that follows, Paul Dohse of TANC Ministries asks a question during the Q&A time at the end of that session. A transcript of the audio clip is included below.
PAUL DOHSE: I’m just trying to connect the message that I’m hearing constantly about the problem with moralism versus the practical application that you just recommended for sins like pornography. The financial stuff I understand, that once you get to a mission field you gotta be able to feed yourself, whatever, raise support. But I guess where I’m hearing conflicting messages is between the whole problem with moralism and um…but yet the tension between the practical application that you just recommended for these kinds of sins
And lastly, when we go to a mission field, what’s the gospel that we’re really trying to put out there? It seems like if you have a lot of sins issues, that’s a contradiction to the gospel, but yet this seems to be a gospel that says that whether you’re a Christian or not a Christian you’re still totally depraved, so… (Note: the last emphasised part was edited out of the audio posted by the Cross Conference on their website. This interchange begins around the 1:09 mark of their audio.)
THABITI ANYABWILE: No, no no. Let me give you some clarification real quick. That’s a very good question. I’m glad you asked that. I hope everyone’s clear that in this conversation here I was just setting out to give you some practical, sort of, thoughts, and points to think through in some practical areas that sometimes inhibit your participation in the mission. This was not a sort of workshop on the gospel itself. Right? So moralism is entirely different gospel. That’s the idea that by your moral behavior you earn sort of right standing or acceptance with God. We would renounce that as pharisaical, in fact when you read your gospel that’s what you see. Think of, uh, um, the man who comes to Jesus and says what must I do to have eternal life? Right? Jesus says something along the lines of go sell your all, give it to your poor. First he starts with the law, you know? He cites a couple of commandments and the young man says this I’ve done since I was a youth. That’s moralism. And Jesus says, I tell you what, go sell you all, sell all you have, give to the poor, come follow me. That’s the call of the gospel. Rich young man goes away sad, doesn’t he? So he was moral, but he wasn’t accepted with Christ, he wasn’t justified with Christ.
So, let me give two or three sort of words here. Justification and sanctification. When we’re talking about the gospel, when we’re talking about justification we’re talking about how it is we are made right with God, reconciled to him, forgiven of our sins, declared righteous with God, that is solely by God’s grace alone, apart from any works we do, through faith alone, in Jesus Christ alone. Right? It’s the work that Christ has accomplished, in His obedience to God and His sacrifice on the cross and in the resurrection that is the sole and only grounds of our being right with God, and we receive that righteousness only by faith in Christ. That’s the gospel.
However, those who are so justified with God also, if they’re genuinely converted, in fits and starts and leaps and bounds and stumblings and sort of up and down like the stock market chart, begin a lifelong process of sanctification, of growing in Christ-likeness, in growing in obedience to Christ, in conformity to Christ. Right?
And so when we’re talking about some of these questions about sin issues that keep you off the mission field, we’re talking about that area of sanctification, not justification, and we’re talking about sort of an artistic question about, in some ways artistic, in some ways Biblically clear. So for example if we’re talking about someone who wants to be a pastor in a missions context or pastor locally, 1 Timothy 3 defines that really clearly. Right? Must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, can’t be a brawler, can’t be a drunkard. Here he’s naming these sin issues and these righteousness issues. The Bible speaks to that very clearly. I think we want a similar kind of maturity in mind when we think about the mission field. So we’re talking there about maturity, not justification. Yes sir?
PAUL: So in defining justification, is justification a mere legal declaration in which the righteousness of Christ is also substituted for us?
ANYABWILE: That’s exactly right, it’s imputed to us.
PAUL: Or are we righteous as a state of being, through the New Birth?
ANYABWILE: No, I would understand justification to be, um, an imputation, um, and I would understand that there is a kind of growing in righteousness that’s a part of our sanctification. But this is where the protestant church is different from Roman Catholicism for 500 years. Right? So Roman Catholicism say the protestant view of justification is a legal fiction. That’s the language that they have used historically. Actually that’s what the Bible teaches. Romans 1:16, 17 so many other places, Ephesians 2:8-10, uh, and we could continue to add texts. So our justification is a legal declaration. It is forensic, in which Christ’s righteousness is imputed to us by faith. Right? We’re not earning it. We’re not made righteous in that sense, uh, at the point of justification, but we do grow in righteousness. Now I’m gonna pause you cause I’m already past time and we can talk further, but let me see if there is maybe just one other question from the students in the room and we can talk further.
Follow-up in Hallway
After the session was over, Paul got a chance to meet with Anyabwile in the hallway to pose some follow-up questions. Regretfully, the audio is hard to hear at times because of the crowd noise in the background. The transcript of this audio clip is below.
PAUL: Just one minute or so. In our discussion in there on imputation of righteousness, that would mean then that really the standard for justification , or the basis for justification, is perfect law-keeping.
ANYABWILE: Exactly, which Christ done (sic). Matthew 5:17
PAUL: Which Christ did. I mean RC Sproul says that Christ actually gained his righteous status by keeping the law perfectly. Would you agree with that?
ANYABWILE: Yeah I would agree with that. Matthew 5:17. You know Kevin [DeYoung] was talking about that a little bit this morning, speaking about that, I’ve not come to abolish the law and the prophets but to fulfill it. Um, and when you read the record of the sermon on the mount, when he says fulfill it he doesn’t seem to mean merely keeping the letter of the law but also the whole spirit. Right? So to fulfill it in its fullest sense. Or as to say, 1 Corinthians 1:30 or 31 where Paul says there that God made Him to be wisdom for us, that is, our righteousness, sanctification, and holiness. Um, so Christ has become all the holiness we need for justification to be fulfilled, so He is the reality [sounds like] for our justification.
PAUL: Yeah. I guess, and I understand that angle on it and everything, but then basically, as far as the gospel is concerned and missionaries, I mean, we’re there but it’s not us that’s really righteous at all.
ANYABWILE: Well that’s right. That’s right.
ANYABWILE: There’s a message that hey there’s a righteousness apart from the law that’s by faith from first to last. We’re calling other people to that foreign righteousness that’s in Christ.
PAUL: Right. So basically in cleaning up our act and going to mission fields, I mean, that shouldn’t be the emphasis, right? I mean that’s what cultures are gonna be looking for. They’re gonna be looking for character in missionaries. Okay. But the gospel is really stating that the fact that character is not in us at all.
ANYABWILE: That Christ is producing it…it’s not in us for justification…
ANYABWILE: …but it is in us as Christians as we grow with Christ by a particular…
PAUL: But it’s really the one…Christ is really the one that’s doing it. When you say grow, it’s just an increased manifestation of Christ’s work, not us.
ANYABWILE: By the ordinary means of grace. Another phrase Sproul would want to use. By the ordinary means of grace. What’s happening is, like what Paul says in Colossians, right, Christ in you the hope of glory…
ANYABWILE: …that Christ is manifesting Himself more and more. And the normal way that He does that, right, is by the word, by prayer, by fellowship, those ordinary means of grace.
SUSAN: My question is…
PAUL: This is my wife.
ANYABWILE: How are you? Pleased to, blessed to know you.
SUSAN: When you say that Christ fulfilled the law, so when He ascended up into heaven, all law was fulfilled. What about all those he didn’t that have not yet been fulfilled?
ANYABWILE: Are you thinking of the prophesies and [unintelligible] like that?
ANYABWILE: Yeah. So when I use the phrase “He fulfilled the law”, I’m mean in terms of our justification. It doesn’t mean that all of the scripture is now fulfilled. There’s still some things….
SUSAN: Right, I just didn’t know if that was something you said before…
ANYABWILE: It’s a great question.
SUSAN: …Old Testament law (unintelligible)
ANYABWILE: Something great Paul says to them in Galatians, Christ is the end of the law for justification.
PAUL: Alright, thanks a lot. Alright. Bye Bye.
So, like R.C. Sproul, Thabiti Anyabwile believes that it was necessary for Jesus to keep the law perfectly in order to gain His righteousness.