The Gift

Mike Horton and the boys over at The White Horse Inn have been feeding me 200 proof gospel for quite some time. In a blog post two years ago, they linked to a sermon that Dr. Rod Rosenbladt preached which featured a fictional dialogue between God and a sinner–a sermon which will make the pious quite uncomfortable. They introduced the sermon with these words:

How do we come to faith in Christ? How is that faith sustained and grown? How are we able to have a desire for Christ and to worship and glorify Him?

They’re relatively simple questions, but the correct answer is a tough one for sinners. It is tough because we sinners get no credit whatsoever. We receive our faith and its benefits—including the maintenance of our faith and any outward signs—purely as God’s gracious gift.

But we sinners don’t like that. The old Adam in us wants credit for something in regards to his faith and works. We much prefer to think that even if God comes most of the way to help us, that we are still “keeping our end of the bargain” in some way, as though we could in any way do even one single instance of it without God’s gifts.

The truth is that we don’t get credit for any part of our faith and Christian lives; just as the dry bones spoken to in the Desert valley get no credit for rising up and getting flesh back on their skeletons; just as Lazarus got no credit for rising from the dead. That’s tough for sinners to swallow. So the old Adam in us works like crazy to find something…anything for which he can get some kind of credit.

We only bring one thing to the bargaining table in the courtroom of judgment: sin. The trouble is, Christ Himself makes clear that the law demands that we “be perfect, as our heavenly Father is perfect.” Sin once and it’s over. You can’t be “even-more-than-perfect” to erase the sin and then go back to being plain ol’ perfect again.

Dr. Rosenbladt tackles some of this in a sermon he once gave for Reformation Day, entitled, “Gift?”. It is a simple discussion between a sinner and God. But he minces no words when it comes to revealing exactly how much desire for God there is in the sinner’s heart. That is: none.

Dr. Rosenbladt offers this caveat regarding this sermon: “Don’t let anybody tell you I don’t hold to Sola Scriptura. This is strictly a literary device, no more!” Below is an excerpt.

God: I told you. I hate religion. Religion was your idea – not Mine. You have forgotten what Anselm said: “You have not yet considered the depth of your sin.”

Sinner: But I want to show you I have. I really have. I know it is really deep. Talk to me. Teach me sanctification.

God: I told you. You aren’t ready for sanctification yet. You just imagine that you are ready. You are arrogant and you don’t know it.

Sinner: What do you mean? I am ready.

God: You are not. If you were, you wouldn’t be talking like you are talking.

Sinner: Well, what then?

God: Just sit there. Sit there for a long while.

Sinner: And do what?

God: Consider the shed blood. Consider that the blood was enough. Think about the fact that it isn’t your repenting that has saved you. Think about the fact that it isn’t your faith that is saving you.

Sinner: Can’t I just, as you said, just think about my sin and the depth of it?

God: That is a start. But you like doing that. You like it too much.

Sinner: This makes no sense. What are you saying?

God: I am saying that you like atoning for yourself by feeling guilty. And you like atoning for yourself by thinking about your faith.

Sinner: Well, what else is there?

God: There is Jesus Christ – but you don’t consider Him. You are not used to gifts. You don’t think much about them. Gifts make you nervous and tense. You don’t know what to do, so you jump to trying to impress Me. I am not impressible.

You can read the entire sermon at New Reformation Press.

  • John Dunn says:

    Amen!!! Sinners need to be confronted with the offence of the cross, not the Law. It is the cross that destroys any notion of man’s smug morality or Law dependence. The cross should destroy the idol of Moral Law that has exalted itself in men’s hearts.

    This is the problem in the Reformed and evangelical church at large. We are filled to the brim with strict law preaching or, on the other hand, practical how-to moralism. Yet we are a lukewarm and powerless church.

    This is the problem with America at large. We have the most voluminous amount of legal code in existence today than every preceeding society combined. And yet our prisons are full and our culture is bankrupt.

    Law is not the answer. Morality is not the answer.

    This is the problem with the strict preaching of the so-called Moral Law in Reformed circles. No amount of Law code or threats of condemnation can ever restrain, correct, or renew the heart.

    In fact, the more Law you give a man, the more he thinks he can do it or bend it to his will. This is the sinister nature of the Law’s blinding function (2 Cor 3:14-15, Rom 10:2-3). As a ministry of death and condemnation it always seduces and kills a willing victim.

    Preach the glorious offence of the Cross. Preach scandalous grace. Preach God’s love in Christ Jesus to a dying, law-drenched world.

    And rely on the life-giving, world-transforming, resurrection-power of the Spirit of the Living God!

  • theoldadam says:

    Good stuff from Rod R..

    Thanks for sharing it, pastor T..

  • Susan says:

    What I don’t fully understand is how the ‘old Adam’ can still be at work in me, when my ‘adamic nature’ ‘old man’ etc. was crucified with Christ?


  • John Dunn says:

    Aaaah, but Susan. Here’s what some will tell you:

    “Yes, the Bible says that, but it doesn’t really mean that . . . that’s just over-realized eschatology . . . you need theological “balance” here . . . just because the Bible says you are now completely dead to the Law, to sin, and the adamic ‘old man’, being raised to newness of life *in Christ*, now led by His Spirit and presently seated with Him in the heavenly places, it doesn’t r-e-a-l-l-y mean that. Instead, you must ground your understanding in the earthly things that can still be seen and felt (but which are passing away), and not in the accomplished,unseen heavenly realities now located *in Christ*, by faith. More earthly realism is needed here. And less faith. We don’t need you to get all Heb 11:1 on us. What you really need to focus on here is your continuing adamic experience in sin and admit that you are not r-e-a-l-l-y as free as you think you are. Therefore, you need to balance law with grace, self with Christ. Grace alone and Christ alone just won’t do.”

    Or you could just believe the Gospel!

  • Irvin says:

    John Dunn,
    I read your book (new exodus).It is very helpful. I was raised under some dispensational thinking and now for the last seven years have been in a church committed to covenant theology. I am still learning but I find your book to be true. The problem is where can I find a church like this? I attend regularly but find I am learning more from people like you and Steve above. Thanks for any comment.

  • theoldadam says:

    We are sinners, in fact (the old Adam/Eve)…and we are saints, declared holy and righteous, by faith.

    We have a dual nature.

    But the nature that counts is the new man/woman in Christ. The grace and love of Christ always trumps the demand of the law.

  • John Dunn says:

    Hey Irvin,

    Rich blessings to you in Christ my brother. Look for a church that is committed to Christ, to His gospel, to His grace, and a clear Scriptural understanding of the New Covenant vs the Old Covenant. Don’t be afraid to specifically ask the pastor if he is a “minister of the new covenant” (as per 2 Cor 3:6) and ask him to define it Scripturally.

    But don’t grow discouraged if such a church does not exist in your area. Steep yourself in the Scriptures! Delight in prayer and fellowship with Jesus. And just be faithful to Him wherever he leads you and plants you. Even churches like Sardis still have a faithful remnant.

  • Anthony Ward says:

    Dr. Rosenbladt is bang on. Everyday we need to be reminded of this conversation between the sinner and God. When the accuser of the brethren tells us we’re bad or not good enough. We need to just sit there and think about Jesus, the cross and His blood and not the depth of our sin and failure. Just sit there and think on Jesus. That’s called rest. I love it!

  • Wendy says:

    Yes! Amen, Amen!! Love this post brother Tullian. By the way, I loved Mr. Dunn’s comments. God bless you all!!

  • V Smith says:

    Wait, this may be my “piety” coming through, but isn’t this saying that no Christian is ever “ready for sanctification”?

    If not, when are they ready?

  • theoldadam says:

    Every Christian is “ready” for sanctification. Because we don’t have anything to do with that, either.

  • V Smith says:

    How does that work if the imaginary dialogue says “you aren’t ready for sanctification yet”?

    And when you say “we don’t have anything to do with” our sanctification, what do you mean? I thought we were to make every effort to conform ourselves to the law of God given our thankfulness and reliance on his grace expressed in the gospel?

  • Anthony Ward says:

    Not every Christian is “ready” for sanctification. Like the sinner in the dialogue, if you are looking to be sanctified in your own strength or looking to be labelled as sanctified because of your actions, then you’re not “ready”. You’re “ready” by faith. Sanctification is all about bearing fruit. As Christians our goal is not to be like Jesus. Our goal is to be with Jesus for it’s in being with Him that we will become like Him and not because we have to but because we can’t help ourselves. It’s called bearing fruit.

  • V Smith says:

    Ok, so the sinner in the dialogue doesn’t represent every Christian, then? How does a Christian know that they are “ready for sanctification”?

    I would assume that according to Ephesians 2:1-10, all Christians are ready for sanctification (compare the old “walk” of v2 to the new “walk” of v10). If a Christian is trying to go about producing fruit in the wrong way, it doesn’t mean “they aren’t ready” to produce fruit, they’re just going about it in the wrong way.

    Your “with Jesus” vs. “like Jesus” dichotomy is a false one, I’m afraid. Why can’t they be both? Christians are being conformed to the image of Christ through union with him by the Spirit. Union makes us both “with” and “like” Christ, and enables the sinner cum new creation to will and work for God’s good pleasure, which requires effort.

    I fail to see how people are missing this?

  • Anthony Ward says:

    You’re not ready. If you were, you would not be talking like you are talking. So, just sit there.

  • Paul ST Jean says:

    it is the Gift that keeps on giving…. Michael Horton

  • V Smith says:

    Anthony – wha?

    One of us is entirely missing the point. Looking at your blog, you aren’t a dope, so I’m going to assume that it’s me.

    What about what I’ve said makes you think that I’m “not ready for sanctification”? Do you disagree when I say that Ephesians 2:1-10 teaches that all Christians are ready for sanctification?

    And I hope you are reading all my posts together – if you are misunderstanding what I mean when I say “effort”. Our effort is based upon and conditioned by grace and God’s work in us (see, for instance Philippians 2:12-13 – our concerted efforts toward obedience are based upon the fact that it is God at work within us – to will and work).

  • theoldadam says:

    Spoken like a true self-righteous Pharisee, Anthony.

    I’m quite sure that you believe that you are ready. LOL

    The rest of us will rely on Christ to DO what is necessary in our lives.

  • Paul says:

    You have not because you ask not.

  • anonymous says:

    “a sermon which will make the pious quite uncomfortable”

    pious can= marked by or showing reverence for deity and devotion to divine worship

    And I, brethren, could not speak to you as to spiritual men, but as to men of flesh, as to infants in Christ. I gave you milk to drink, not solid food; for you were not yet able to receive it. Indeed, even now you are not yet able, for you are still fleshly. For since there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not fleshly, and are you not walking like mere men? 1 Cor 3:1-3 For everyone who partakes only of milk is not accustomed to the word of righteousness, for he is an infant. But solid food is for the mature, who because of practice have their senses trained to discern good and evil. Heb 5:13-14

    also, appreciated this piece on gift and reward

  • Anthony Ward says:

    Something is definetly being miscommunicated or misinderstood. I’ve been called a lot of things but a selfirighteous Pharisee; nice, that’s a first. If your definition of sanctified is “changing of human behaviour” then we are not on the same page. If your definition of sanctification is “to be set apart for a purpose” then maybe we are on the same page.
    We were set apart and made holy (sanctified) the moment we accepted Christ. Through faith in Christ we now have access, by the Spirit, to the Presence of the Father. We can be “with” Jesus in intimate times of fellowship through His word, prayer and worship. Even though we may not be “like” Him yet on the outside, we are 100% like Him in our spirit. As we spend time in His Presence, spirit to Spirit, our behaviour will begin to change on the outside. But not because we have to but because we can’t help it. It’s called fruit.
    So I still say, if you are so focused on changing the outside that you don’t have the sweet fellowdhip with God on the inside then maybe you aren’t “ready”. How do you get ready? Jesus+nothing = Everything (sanctification)

  • theoldadam says:


    Forgive me friend. I was tired and did not properly read you comments correctly.

    I do believe that you understand that Christ sanctifies apart from anything that ‘we do’.

    I am sorry for what I said about you.

    – Steve Martin

  • V Smith says:

    Ok, so now we’re making some progress. You say you’re talking in the sense of what is traditionally called ‘definitive sanctification’, which I completely agree with. But there is also a thing called ‘progressive sanctification’, which is, by grace, the putting to death of sin and the bringing to life of righteousness in the believer. This, even though guided by and based on grace, requires the believer’s effort (see Philippians 2:12-13 quote above – our effort and God’s grace go hand in hand).

    So, I have two questions for you:

    1) You said that “not all believers are ready for sanctification”. Did you mean progressive or definitive sanctification in that statement?

    2) If you agree with my category of definitive sanctification (bearing fruit), do you believe that it requires effort on the part of the believer?

  • Anthony Ward says:

    I’m trying to use the same terminology as the dialgoe above when I use the word “ready”. It doesn’t matter whether it’s definitive or progressive, if you are trying to get it by works you’re not “ready” to receive it. Once you’re “ready” you will receive by faith and no longer question whether you are putting enough “effort” into it. Then and only then will you begin to change (fruit on the outside). By that time you won’t even notice the change in your behaviour because you’re looking at Jesus so much you won’t even care whether you’ve changed or not. That’s why I say, “Being like Jesus isn’t the goal, being with Him is.”

  • Anthony Ward says:

    Steve M – Forgiven.

    V Smith – Also forgiven, but check out the next post in this blog.
    “Time To Stop Looking In And Start Looking Up”

  • V Smith says:

    Anthony – I think it’s time I bowed out of this discussion. You have been deliberately obtuse, you have refused to answer my simple questions, and (as shown by pointing me to that last link) you have painted me as either a moralist, or a legalist, or someone who wants to point Christians “inward” rather than “upward”.

    I will state my simple concern – TT’s approach has consistently drawn criticism because it seems unbalanced. To say something like “You aren’t ready for [progressive] sanctification yet” isn’t gracious – it’s denying a huge part of what was bought for us at the cross. To say that emphasising graced-based effort in our preaching and teaching is anti-gospel paints a large proportion of the Scriptures as simply irrelevant or at worst, legalistic.

  • J. Dean says:

    I’m obviously not RR or TT, but based on what I’ve read of the dialogue presented by Dr. Rosenbladt, the impression I got was that the warning is against using sanctification as a means of thinking that it can be somehow more pleasing to God or additionally meritorious in conjunction with the finished work of Christ on the cross.

    The point is that, if you’re concentrating on sanctification as if it’s some sort of separate entity from the gospel and gets you “brownie points” with God, then you’ve taken the step to works-righteousness.

    On the other hand, if you focus on the gospel, on the finished work of Christ, the good works follow, and not because you’re trying to “do more, try harder,” but because that’s how the Spirit works in us.

    Good works flow from salvation; they’re the by-product. If you turn around and fall into the “Yes, grace, but…” idea that plagues the Arminians, then you’re missing the point of the gospel.

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