I’ve come across one of those rare books that would be of great benefit to anybody. In No Condemnation, Dr. Michael Eaton studies “the biblical, theological, and historical dimensions of assurance in the life of a Christian believer. He challenges both traditional Arminian and Calvinist views, in which salvation and good works are too tightly bound together, by drawing a clear distinction between salvation and reward.” (From backcover). Eaton argues that the quest for assurance of salvation is impossible in the excessive introspection of traditional Calvinism and in the fear for loss of salvation in Arminianism. It must be found by faith alone in the Christ who died for you personally, apart from our works, apart from the Law of Moses.
I met Dr. Eaton at the Free Grace Alliance conference in Dallas (which I wrote about previously). I was impressed with him as a person, preacher, theologian, and all-around authentically-living Christian. He is very humble in person but a powerful preacher and speaker at the pulpit. His style is to combine Truth-proclamation with obvious joy and passion, a characteristic I’ve always liked in preachers (Similar to the style of John Piper and Chuck Swindoll, versus more reserved like Haddon Robbinson or aggressive like John MacArthur). Dr. Eaton is from the UK but has pastored and remains heavily involved with the Chrisco Fellowship of Churches in Kenya. Eaton is not only a pastor but a heavy theologian and prolific author.
- Exegesis of Scripture. What I loved most about this book is its focus on the biblical text. I did not agree with all of Eaton’s conclusions and interpretations, but his use of Scripture is far more than most other popular Christian books, even books I’ve read by proponents of strong exegesis (Al Mohler comes to mind. His books look to Scripture, but not near the extent Eaton does here). Usually the only books you see like this are actual commentaries. Eaton goes through the entire Epistle to Galatians, Gospel of Matthew, and Epistle to Hebrews, selected portions of Genesis, John and Romans and many other passages.
- Honesty. Eaton became a Christian as a teenager, was discipled in the Calvinist/English Reformed tradition, and taught their doctrine of assurance based on works and a Limited Atonement (among other things). From pastoral experience and study of Scripture on his own, he went from a Limited Atonement to Unlimited Atonement position, and changed his mind to say that assurance is based on Christ’s work and promise, not works. (He shares the story of his shift in an video interview HERE). His view of assurance and the atonement is very common in dispensationalist faith traditions, but Eaton is not a dispsenationalist, or even a pre-millennialist (as far as I understand). He broke rank with his tradition to stand alone in what the text taught in keeping with his conscience. He is still a Reformed Calvinist (he calls his view “Encouraging Calvinism” versus “Developed Calvinism” ), but has modified his theology by studying Scripture on his own.
- The section answering N.T. Wright’s “New Perspective on Paul” theology was the best critique I’ve seen of Wright in so few words. I have not seen Piper or Carson’s own superb critique’s handle Wright’s main problems so succinctly as Eaton. Eaton’s angle of attack using both Scripture and historical background literature is devastating to Wright’s view. The first edition did not have this, but I’m very glad it is included in the revised and expanded edition I have. For those of you familiar with the NPP, this alone is worth the price of the book.
- Background and research. He interacts well with a wide variety of commentators and theologians old and new, represents other viewpoints fairly and completely, works through the history and development of given ideas, and has significant historical background.
- Good content on the concepts of oath, covenant, and Torah in the Old Testament text and times. Much of this was new ground for me and I learned valuable things through this study. I do not totally buy his conclusions on God’s oaths. But he makes a compelling and well-argued case that the Torah was a legal document for Israel more than a personal, moral one, and is now totally abrogated with the coming of Christ, though the whole moral character of the law is “fulfilled accidently” — and then some — through the working out of the Holy Spirit in the Christian life.
- Systematic and logical order. If Eaton has several points or conclusions to make, he numbers them so! (See examples in quotes below). This makes his book so much easier to follow and enable me to clearly agree/disagree with what he’s saying.
- While Eaton holds to the inspiration of Scripture, his view on authorship is not as conservative. He talks of “Paul’s editor” and the like. I myself do not see how a letter claiming to be written by Paul can really be someone else and still be the inspired, infallible word of God. Eaton’s understanding is indeed a common view among Christians, but I found it unnecessary to see parentheses and phrases with “editor” in them.
- Lack of depth on a certain passages. I understand the book only has so much space, but a few more pages on kingdom entrance/inheritance and gehenna would have been helpful. He suggests gehenna is not hell but the “fire” mentioned in 1Corinthins 3.15 burning up our works. He made some inconclusive statements on this that left me confused. Whether gehenna means hell or something else has a huge effect on how you interpret the Gospels, so I would have liked more on this.
… and not much else! This is among the best books I have ever read. He offers something very near the “Free Grace” view of salvation, assurance, and reward, and argues it with a compelling and certain force. I learned much from this book, and Eaton really gave me a joy and gratitude toward God, His Son and His grace. Read it!
On Galatians: “What are Paul’s governing principles here? (i) Faith in Jesus is adequate for the living of the Christian life without submission to Mosaism. (ii) Turning to the the law is really a form of panic. Abraham was momentarily fearful that merely trusting the promise concerning the seed, the seed would not come. Something similar happens when one turns to the law. It means turning away from a simple trust in Jesus to self-justification and self-sanctification by the flesh. (iii) To turn to the law can only produce bondage…” (170)
“The Spirit’s leading will always be along the pathway of love. His leading will not contradict the moral aspects of the Torah although it will go beyond them.” (176).
“We can profit from what Wright says positively (that justification needs presentation in light of wider issues, cosmic salvation, social relationships and the like) but in my view he must be repudiated on what he denies.” (242).
“In the New Testament, assurance of salvation is not a sign nor a duty, but a fact!” (256).
“Eternal life is more than justification-forgiveness. It is the experience of life, the ‘life of the age to come’, which is known even in this world.” (286).
“The ground of salvation is at one and the same time the ground for assurance. Faith is an assurance about Jesus. Its immediate consequence ought to be an assurance about oneself. To counsel the doubter will involve no more than drawing out what is implicit in their assurance concerning Jesus.” (310).
“We must not fear rewards – as if they will lead us back into justification by works. It is by mercy alone that God brings his people to salvation, but he asks for works of gratitude and he encourages us by the knowledge that they will be rewarded. . . they are largely a matter of receiving honour from Jesus, and being prepared to serve him yet more. Can it ever be wrong to want Jesus’ ‘Well done!’?” (326).
“I doubt however whether it is possible to practically hold the viewthat it both is and is not possible for the Christian to lose salvation. In practice the fear that it is possible will override the conviction that it is not.” (375).
“What paradoxes! Amazing grace and profound challenge; incredible assurance yet awe-inspiring responsibility; freedom to be myself yet the knowledge that Jesus achieves it all in me. Here is a theology that motivates but does not discourage – a theology of encouragement. But is this not the gospel? I believe it is.” (393).
From looking around, there seems to be every reason to be afraid and doubtful about everything. Debt, inflation, and economic downturn threaten to strangle our livelihood; revolutions in the Middle East skyrocket oil prices across the world; governments and businesses ravage the environment to unsustainable levels; natural disasters strike indiscriminately and violently all the time.
Contra this uncertain world, God speaks to anyone who would listen, “Having come in the form of the man, Jesus of Nazareth, I am the Deliverer you really need.” If we trust in Him, He brings us through this world’s storms to eternal salvation with joy and fellowship forever with Him after death. Nothing can really hurt us.
One time twelve of Jesus’ men were on a boat in the middle of the Sea of Galilee during a violent storm. This is a terrifying and uncertain experience when you’re on a small boat that might sink. While trying to survive this crisis, they saw Jesus walking to them on the water, impervious to the squall. At first they didn’t know who it was, but Jesus called out to them through the noise of the waves and wind, “Take courage, it is I! Do not be afraid!” One of them, Peter, the most impulsive of the disciples, called back “Lord, if it is You, command me to come to You on the water.” Jesus responded “Come!” and out leapt Peter from the boat. But he didn’t submerge – he just stood there. An obvious miracle. Yet as he started to walk out to Jesus, he began looking around. That wind sure is blowing hard. The water sure is churning. Peter wasn’t looking at Jesus anymore but on the vicious forces of nature around him. He began to sink. At this point Peter must have been in total panic and fear. Kind of the feeling you’d get if you just lost balance on the edge on the roof of a skyscraper, or you see your car is about to hydro-plane into a pole. He cried for Jesus to save him, then Jesus grabbed hold of Peter in a flash and hoisted his trembling disciple back into the boat. “You of little faith! Why do you doubt?” Jesus asked him.*
We all have storms of our own. It looks as though we’re going to be engulfed by our trials as it is, but Jesus asks us to go further – get out of the boat! Take even greater risks than we ever would have dreamed to be nearer to our Deliverer. But our degree of success or failure in the middle of this turbulent and uncertain world is never to be the foundation on which we stand. Never look at yourself or at anything in your surroundings. Because you fail, and your surroundings deceive and are unstable. We must look at Christ, and Christ alone. Here are three applications of this:
1.Never look to yourself for assurance you’re saved. You’ll only become uncertain as you see all your failures, or worse, prone to pride in thinking you’ve not done too bad a job at holy living, calloused to how much more sanctification you really need. Assurance of our salvation is in Christ alone. Christ promised “he who believes in Me has everlasting life.” (John 6.47) Do you trust in Christ for eternal salvation? Then you have God’s irrevocable life right now. Look to Christ, His person, His promise, His adequacy, His sufficiency – not your own person, promises, adequacies, and sufficiency. He is a Man who keeps His word, because He’s the Son of God.
2.Never look to yourself for assurance of getting through a hard time of life – you really have no control over the bigger situation, and when things get worse and don’t go your way, panic will set in. Paul the Apostle speaks of a dark situation he was in, saying “we were burdened excessively, beyond our strength, so that we despaired even of life; indeed we had the sentence of death within ourselves so that we would not trust in ourselves but in God who raises the dead, who delivered us from so great a peril of death, and will deliver us, He on whom we have set our hope” (2Corinthians 1.8b-10a) Even in hard times so bad that it looks like death, trust in God, who ultimately will save your eternal soul but also is fully able to deliver you through the difficult season.
3.Never look to yourself for assurance when setting out to do an important task or mission in life – to start a business, pursue a career, become a parent, etc. As ready as you may feel, you’re not “all that” and pride is a precursor to failure. You have no real control over your success. Many brilliant and talented people fail. Paul told the Corinthians of his great task – how his Apostolic ministry is of the Holy Spirit, written on human hearts and abounding in glory even far beyond when Moses spoke with God to receive the Torah… but Paul was careful to note: “Not that we are adequate in ourselves or consider anything as coming from ourselves, but our adequacy is from God.” (2Corin 3.5) They trusted in God for the effectiveness of their ministry.
We can be totally confident in Him. Such confidence seems counterintuitive, doesn’t it? But must be believed for us to have any certainty in this world. Christ is our assurance. Cling to Him for assurance. He’s the only place you’ll find it.
*Story found in Matthew 14.22-33