April 13, 2012

John MacArthur Weighs In

by Jesse Johnson

Though I had planned to let Ray’s post be the last word on the matter, the brothers at Living Waters contacted us and asked if we would run the public statement from John MacArthur. Pastor John wrote:

For the record, we have no problem using the Ten Commandments as a mirror to show people their sin. We agree with Living Waters that the Decalogue is a summary of the moral content of God’s law. The law’s moral principles reflect the unchanging character of God, so they are eternal, universally applicable, and by definition unchanging. Given those facts, surely it is appropriate to use the Decalogue as Jesus and the apostle Paul often did – to confront sinners with their sin.

Furthermore, we’re grateful for the way you have trained and encouraged so many people to do hands-on evangelism. You deserve a lot of credit for stirring the consciences of countless young believers and motivating them to share the gospel boldly. In no way would we ever want to discourage that.

We continue to believe that it is critically important for people training in the Living Waters method to 1) strengthen the gospel content of their presentation so as to be equal to the law, 2) see the law as not simply Ten Commandments, but much more as Scripture reveals, 3) To place particular emphasis on passages such as John 8:24 where Jesus says they would die in their sins for refusal to acknowledge Him. This is the greatest sin that goes beyond the Ten Commandments in its condemnation extending to every sinner.

I am grateful for your eagerness to enrich the people you train in these ways.

I think it’s important for me to say that I agree with the entirety of Pastor John’s comments (as well as what Dr. Mayhue taught at the conference). If anything that I have said or written over the past few weeks has led people to believe that I disagree in any substantive way with the above statement, then I chalk that up to over-emphasizing some things, under-emphasizing others, and on the whole not being as clear as I should have been.

It should also be noted that the above statement is not a departure from what MacArthur has often said about the Ten Commandments in evangelism. Because he sees  a use for the ten commandments in evangelism, it is easy to find quotes where he talks about their use on the lost. Because he sees that God’s moral law is not confined to the Ten Commandments, then it is also easy to find quotes about how it is not necessary to use them in a gospel presentation.

But this quote below, given at a Q and A session immediately after he just preached on the story of the rich young ruler, I think is particularly helpful in seeing the balance. This is the balance that I was striving for in my posts as well, but it is said much more clearly by John:

Question: When sharing the Gospel, how important is it to use the law to reveal sin, to reveal the need for the Savior? And how do you do it without being legalistic?

MacArthur: Well, I think it’s essential that the person understand that what salvation is is rescue—divine rescue—from eternal damnation. We’re not saving people from a lack of purpose. We’re not giving a gospel that’s going to bump them up a few notches on the comfort scale in life and make them more prosperous, and happier, and give them more self-esteem. This is a serious rescue operation from eternal damnation.

Which then begs the question: “How did that happen to me? Why would God damn me? I’m a nice person,” etc., etc. Eventually you’re going to end up—if you’re giving any kind of gospel presentation that has any kind of real spiritual weight—with the issue that this individual stands culpable before God as one guilty of violating the law of God.

And I think the ultimate sin—and this is where I think sometimes some of these approaches where they drag people through the Ten Commandments, don’t get at the real issue, which was articulated by Jesus, who said “You’re going to be damned because you don’t believe in Me.” Sooner or later you’ve got to get past the Ten Commandments to the great sin of all sins, which is ultimately to reject Jesus Christ. But I think it is necessary that people understand that God is holy and righteous, and has revealed that in Scripture and has established the law. Not only the external law of the Ten Commandments. But in the Sermon on the Mount Jesus takes the whole thing inside and expands it to rejecting Him. And they’ve got to understand the consequences of violating the law of God.

Again that goes back to Romans 10. They have to understand that God is far more righteous than they think He is, and they are far less righteous than they think they are, and the separation is impossible to bridge. And they need a Redeemer and Savior to rescue them from the consequences of these violations, which are relentless and unending. And Romans 3 plays into that: that there is none righteous, no not one. There is none that does good. All of that, of course, is drawn out of the Old Testament text.

Yeah I think it’s critical to understand that. Not in a superficial way, and not in a way that is demeaning. Sometimes you hear people doing this and saying, “Well, you got to face it: you’re a lying, adulterous blasphemer.” Well, there’s a lot more to understanding this than just something like that.

But I think it is essential. The Gospel only makes sense when you understand divine judgment.

(If you would like to read anther sermon where John addresses this issue, this is one of my favorites, where he again expresses this balance).


It is our desire that Pastor MacArthur have the final word on the issue, so we will not be opening the comments on this post.

Jesse Johnson

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Jesse is the Teaching Pastor at Immanuel Bible Church in Springfield, VA. He also leads The Master's Seminary Washington DC location.