Founders Conference examines ‘the Gospel of the grace of God’
From regeneration, repentance and faith to justification by faith, preaching and future glorification, speakers Joe Thorn, Sam Waldron, Ray Ortlund Jr., Tom Nettles and David Sills sought to sketch the full biblical landscape of God’s saving work in Christ.
Founders Ministries formed in 1982 and seeks to recover the Gospel of Christ in the reformation of local churches through the experiential application of the doctrines of grace, also known as historic Calvinism. This year’s conference was July 11-14 at Bethel Baptist Church in Owasso, Okla., with the theme “The Gospel of the Grace of God.”
The conference opened with a sermon on man’s response to God’s work of grace in salvation: repentance from sin.
Preaching from Psalm 51 -- King David’s well-known confession of sin -- Thorn, pastor of Grace Baptist Church in Elburn, Ill., said that repentance is an irreducible part of saving faith, but it is also a necessary aspect of a believer’s daily pilgrimage.
“Repentance is not just one thing that happens when we become a Christian,” Thorn said. “Repentance and faith are the breath of a [Christian] man or woman of faith on a daily basis. [Martin] Luther said in the first of his 95 Theses, ‘When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said ‘repent,’ he called for the entire life of the believer to be one of repentance.’”
Justification by faith sits at the heart of the Gospel and is a foundational teaching which 16th century reformer Martin Luther called “the standing or falling of the church,” several speakers noted.
Ortlund, pastor of Christ Presbyterian Church in Nashville, Tenn., said the ultimate apologetic of the Gospel and its central truth of justification is churches that are filled with people who live humble, Christ-like lives.
When a person knows that he has been justified by God’s grace, he is then freed to love and serve others instead of working hard to impress them, said Ortlund, author of numerous books including “When God Comes to Church: A Biblical Model for Revival Today.”
“I want to lead people to Christ, and I long for our churches to be growing by conversions,” Ortlund said. “We’ve got to reach the masses with the Gospel. We have to be living proof of the doctrine of justification by faith. They don’t know about our confessions of faith, but they know true beauty when they see it.... Orthodoxy outperforms heresy at the level of everyday life ... and justification changes how we view and feel about others.”
Ortlund examined the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector found in Luke 18:9-14. Believers must demonstrate the humility of the tax collector, who “went home justified,” and not the Pharisee, who viewed himself as righteous because of his own works, Ortlund said.
“The tax collector sees the only remedy for his guilt -- Christ,” he said. “We demonstrate the Gospel by the humility that relocates us to the level of other sinners.... Let us be orthodox enough to stay low before God,” he added.
Waldron, a pastor at Heritage Baptist Church in Owensboro, Ky., distinguished between two kinds of “callings” that go forth when the Gospel is preached: general and effectual.
The general call goes out to all men in the proclamation of God’s truth, but the effectual call is that which sets a person’s heart free from sin and enables them to believe in Christ, he said.
It is important to understand how the Gospel relates to effectual call, Waldron said, because those who are saved must first have their hearts renewed by the regenerating work of God; only then will they trust in Christ for salvation. And it is the preaching of the Gospel that God uses to regenerate the hearts of sinners, he said.
“[The effectual call] comes to people before they believe in Christ,” Waldron said. This effectual call is prior to any human response. It is, therefore, prevenient.
“Before effectual calling, we were just minding our own business going to hell,” Waldron said. “We were not thinking about God. There was nothing good in us. We were not asking to be saved. At best we were oblivious to spiritual things. At worst, we positively despised the idea of being saved and serving God.”
Nettles, professor of historical theology at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky., said one who exercises genuine saving faith believes specific elements regarding both the person and work of Christ.
These elements include the truthfulness of God’s Word, the depth of one’s own sinfulness and the sufficiency and fitness of Christ as Savior and Lord, said Nettles, author of numerous books including “By His Grace and For His Glory” and “Baptists and the Bible.”
While they must understand and believe these elements of the Gospel with their minds, sinners must also embrace them wholeheartedly with their affections in order to be saved, Nettles said.
“Saving faith is not mere mental assent,” he said. “There is a pleasure in seeing the sacrifice [of Christ]. This is the only thing fit to give God glory and it pleased God [to offer up His Son], and we must see [this] same beauty and wisdom in the cross.... We will also have the same attitude God does about sin and rebellion and the rightness of God’s wrath against sin.
“... When we see the kind of death Christ died for sin, we will know we need to take refuge in this hope offered us. We will see it and embrace it,” Nettles added.
As for the glorification that believers will experience in the new creation, Ortlund said the people of God need to provide the world with a warm-hearted picture of glorification in the present life. But first the believer must apprehend the infinite beauty of the glory of God and the precious nature of the inheritance that is laid up for him, Ortlund said.
“People who have been lifted up to see a vision of the true glory are not nearly as prone to stoop to the sewer of sin,” Ortlund said. “We have a future that this world could never have given us and could never take away.”
Sills, associate professor of missions and cultural anthropology at Southern Seminary, said the entire Gospel must be proclaimed to every tribe and tongue and nation so that God may redeem sinners. Sills served for many years as a church planter among the Highland Quichua people in Ecuador and is a former president of the Ecuadorian Baptist Theological Seminary.
All Christians are called to be missionaries to proclaim the Gospel where God has placed them, Sills said as he urged believers to be faithful in evangelism and missions and noted that one-third of the world’s 2 billion people have never heard the Gospel.
“The Gospel tells us that all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God and that we are guilty, filthy and powerless to change ourselves,” Sills said. “It also tells us that Jesus died on the cross to pay for our sins and give us His perfect righteousness.
“... There is no other Gospel. There are no relaxed requirements for [proclaiming it in] hard places,” he added. “... We must proclaim it to the nations. Jesus has commanded us to make disciples, not get decisions or merely group interested people together and call them ‘churches’ as we move on to the next area. Every person hearing me today is called to the task of international missions. Some are called to be senders and some are called to be goers. Both are absolutely essential.”