Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Moses, the Law, and the Covenant of Works...

Some thoughts on the Mosaic covenant, the law as a covenant of works, and the Westminster Confession of Faith...
Of the Law of God
1. God gave to Adam a law, as a covenant of works, by which he bound him and all his posterity to personal, entire, exact, and perpetual obedience, promised life upon the fulfilling, and threatened death upon the breach of it, and endued him with power and ability to keep it.
2. This law, after his fall, continued to be a perfect rule of righteousness; and, as such, was delivered by God upon Mount Sinai, in ten commandments, and written in two tables: the first four commandments containing our duty towards God; and the other six, our duty to man. 
Of God's Covenant with Man
2. The first covenant made with man was a covenant of works, wherein life was promised to Adam; and in him to his posterity, upon condition of perfect and personal obedience.
3. Man, by his fall, having made himself incapable of life by that covenant, the Lord was pleased to make a second,
[WCF 7] - It can be fairly said that upon the fall, the only thing that changed concerning the law was that man was no longer capable of keeping it as a covenant of works? The law as a covenant of works didn't end or change. Rather innocent man had changed and, as a sinner unable to obey, was brought under the curse of that law/covenant of works. In other words, the law/covenant remained in effect.

[WCF 19] - The moral law given to Adam was given as a covenant of works (LC 93). Upon the fall there is nothing that indicates, either in Scripture or the confession, that the law ceased to still embody the covenant of works. And there isn't anything, is there, that indicates that with the advent of the covenant of grace (protoevangelium and Abraham) that the covenant of works ended? And it was THIS law in section 2 (referring to the law as a covenant of works defined in section 1) that God delivered on Mt. Sinai and yet, though no man could fulfill it, all were and are still obliged to obey it as a perfect rule of righteousness as originally given in the garden.

Now whether one argues that God delivered the law as a rule of righteousness or that he delivered it both as a rule of righteousness and a covenant of works for pedagogical and typological reasons, it seems fair to affirm that the law after the fall was still connected to the covenant of works (LC 93) and as such was present in the Mosaic covenant.
Q. 93. What is the moral law?
A. The moral law is the declaration of the will of God to mankind, directing and binding every one to personal, perfect, and perpetual conformity and obedience thereunto, in the frame and disposition of the whole man, soul, and body, and in performance of all those duties of holiness and righteousness which he oweth to God and man: promising life upon the fulfilling, and threatening death upon the breach of it.
Isn't that why, when we speak of our justification, we say that we are imputed with Christ's obedience to the law's demand/requirement for perfect obedience? It rightly can be said that we have fulfilled the covenant of works in Christ. Before the law as a covenant of works His obedience is counted as ours.

Section 2 of chapter 19 is also reinforcing the truth that God's moral law remained in force after the fall under Moses and for the New Testament church - yet for believers not as a covenant of works. This point was especially important for the Divines to emphasize given their concerns of antinomian influences in England at that time, which concerns hung over the Westminster Assembly deliberations. Also playing into the Divines' concern was the interpretation of some more radical groups who advocated that with the coming of Christ that obedience to the moral law as a rule of righteosness was no longer binding for believers.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Here, Do Nothing Nor Render Anything To God...

Evangelista: No, indeed; none of Christ's are to have anything to do with the covenant of works, but Christ only. For although in the making of the covenant of works at first, God was one party, and man another, yet, in making it the second time, God was on both sides: God, simply considered in his essence, was the party opposed to man; and God, the second person, having taken upon him to be incarnate, and to work man's redemption, was on man's side, and takes part with man, that he may reconcile him to God, by bearing man's sins, and satisfying God's justice for them. And Christ paid God till he said he had enough; he was fully satisfied, fully contented, (Matt 3:17), "This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased." Yea, God the Father was well pleased, and fully satisfied from all eternity, by virtue of that covenant that was made betwixt them. And thereupon all Christ's people were given to him in their election. (Eph 1:4) "Thine they were," says Christ, "and thou gavest them me," (John 17:6)... 
So that all the covenant that believers are to have regard to, for life and salvation, is the free and gracious covenant that is betwixt Christ [or God in Christ] and them. And in this covenant there is not any condition or law to be performed on man's part, by himself; no, there is no more for him to do, but only to know and believe that Christ hath done all for him...

I beseech you to be persuaded that here you are to work nothing, here you are to do nothing, here you are to render nothing unto God, but only to receive the treasure, which is Jesus Christ, and apprehend him in your heart by faith, although you be never so great a sinner; and so shall you obtain forgiveness of sins, righteousness, and eternal happiness; not as an agent but as a patient, not by doing, but by receiving. Nothing here comes betwixt but faith only, apprehending Christ in the promise. This, then, is perfect righteousness, to hear nothing, to know nothing, to do nothing of the law of works; but only to know and believe that Jesus Christ is now gone to the Father, and sitteth at his right hand, not as a judge, but is made unto you of God, wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption."
Edward Fisher, The Marrow of Modern Divinity

In a word, from the Westminster Shorter Catechism:
Q. 86. What is faith in Jesus Christ?
A. Faith in Jesus Christ is a saving grace, whereby we receive and rest upon him alone for salvation, as he is offered to us in the gospel.

Jesus, Jeannie C. Riley, and the Harper Valley PTA

The following post is by long-time friend and brother in Christ, Danny O'Daniels. It was written with a specific church situation in mind and yet touches upon an issue related to church leadership and churches in general. Having been edified by this essay I wanted to share it with the readers of TWR. Thank you Danny for graciously consenting to having it published here!

Jesus, Jeannie C. Riley, and the Harper Valley PTA
by Daniel O'Daniels

I work as a welder. I have been doing production welding for over 30 years. One of the byproducts of working in weld shops is I have been forced to acquire an appreciation for country music. In the late 60's a
country song came out that was so powerful that it crossed over into mainstream radio. It was made into a movie and television show and nearly 50 years later is still played today on country stations 2 or 3 times a week. That song is "Harper Valley PTA" by Jeannie C. Riley. In it she sings the story of a widow who is being harassed by a hypocritical community and how she goes to the PTA meeting and exposes their own sins and the hypocrisy of them judging her for wearing mini skirts, drinking, and running wild with men. This song really struck a nerve in late 60's America.

My brother and I were the only kids in our school raised by a single mom in the 60's and I always appreciated the way that song stood up powerfully for the single mom and socked it to the hypocrites. It was at the time a shocking indictment of mainstream America. What does this all have to do with Jesus? Well, 2000 years ago he appeared on the scene of 1st century Palestine and in the Sermon on the Mount shocked the religious world with his own indictment of their religious hypocrisy. What I would like to explore is: has the song "Harper Valley PTA" and its influence on culture colored our view of Jesus and what he is saying in the Sermon on the Mount?

Lately, I have been disturbed by messages on the Sermon on the Mount that seem to sound more like "Harper Valley PTA" than careful biblical exegesis. And yet they really resonate with the crowd. People clap at the end of those sermons and I find myself clapping along with them. Just like Jeannie, the preacher is socking it to the hypocrites and the people love it. The message can be summed up as something like this, “Don't judge, period. If you have lust in your heart you have already committed adultery. Come on guys, you all have done it so who are you to judge? If you are angry with your brother you are guilty of murder so who are you to judge?" The story of Jesus and the woman caught in adultery in John's gospel is usually thrown in for good measure. Let him who is without sin throw the first stone. A dig at churches that practice church discipline is usually thrown in at this point equating church discipline with the worst forms of abuse and legalism and of being inconsistent with the gospel of grace. Is this what Jesus is really saying? Is the lesson to be taken that we are all still sinners and we have no right to be concerned with sin in the church?

Dan Allender in his excellent book Bold Love has examined this subject with careful thought. ( pg.201-202.)
Our first warning is not to judge unless we are willing to be measured by the same criterion... A second warning is to take the log out of our eye before we take the speck out of our brother's eye. Jesus is not implying that we are to be so "judgment free" that we are not to notice our brother's inability to see. We are to reflect, assess, and develop a strategy on how to remove the speck in our brothers eye. The implication is that we have judged his sight to be blocked, assessed the nature of the block, and figured out how to get it out. There is nothing wrong with being burdened and furious about a spouse's sin, but only if the huge log is being plucked from our own eye. The priority is always to look first in yourself. You will not stand before God required to deal with any life but your own. Therefore let judgment begin first with the house of God... A second trap is to assume we cannot love another until our log is gone. This person says, "I can't really deal with your speck because my log is so big." Indeed, if this were the case, no one would ever be rightly involved with another' s sin. We are called to restore one another and to pluck the sinner from the fire through tenderness and strength ( Galatians 6:1, Jude 2:23.) We must live with the ongoing work of removing our log, first and foremost, without neglecting the work of removing specks in the eyes of those whom we are privileged to love.
In other words, we are not to judge with hypocritical or self-righteous judgment. To be sure, there are insights to be gleaned by comparing and contrasting the Lord's teachings with such an important landmark in popular culture. The song is blasting those in established positions of power who pick on the weaker widow for not conforming to outward community standards, while not being at all concerned with her real welfare or with those standards in their own lives .They aren't humbly looking to themselves lest they be tempted and thus removing the log, or judging themselves first. They are not approaching her in tenderness and strength to address sin, and likewise, her response, though both wickedly clever and bold, lacks love. Tenderness and strength is exactly what Jesus communicates to the woman caught in adultery and to the hypocrites of his society. Like Jeannie, Jesus stands up to those in power with strength on behalf of the woman. Yet the difference is that Mrs. Johnson of the song justifies her sin on the basis that they are all sinners, while Jesus sends the hypocrites away and forgives the repentant woman with the warning to go and sin no more. She goes away saved, but the woman in Harper Valley, by justifying her sin, goes away empowered in a way, but not forgiven.

The Bible teaches clearly that the church's business is not to judge those outside the church but inside (1 Corinthians 5:12). To judge, not with self-righteousness or hypocrisy, but by speaking the truth in love. Let's pretend for a moment that the woman in the song was a Christian. According to Jesus's teaching in Matthew 18:15-19, she is to be approached at first by just one loving Christian who has looked at his or her life first. He is to have dealt with any logs in his own eye as best he could, prayed about the best way to approach her, and then in faith go to her with the goal of finding out what is really going on. Perhaps the accusations were false. Perhaps they are true and she is repentant. Then he gets the joy of restoring her as a priest of the
most high God. Maybe the charges are true and yet she totally denies them. Nobody said this was to be easy. If the accusations are true and she is hard of heart and refuses to deal with a wild lifestyle of drugs and sexual immorality that truly is unhealthy for her daughter, then others from the church should get involved. Yet they should do so never in an abusive way, never in pride or self-righteousness or without first looking to themselves but always with the goal of restoration. Jesus and Paul both made it clear that all of this is to be done in a spirit of gentleness, with great understanding and patience. But if the person after the repeated pleading of the church refuses to repent, then the scriptures teach there needs to be discipline for the sake of that person and the upholding of righteousness. The church, by severing fellowship for a time, does so with the hope that it will cause that person to wake up and repent. I have actually seen this carried out effectively several times.

Some will say, "Where on earth is one to begin? We all sin. We all have issues. What sin is bad enough to demand intervention?" All I can say is that Paul knew. They knew in the first century. We have to look to the Lord and to his Word. We must seek God for discernment. Paul said in Galatians 6:1 if anyone is caught in a trespass you who are spiritual are to restore him. To me that means we don't need to be on the hunt for these situations. But if your brother is caught in sin you need to be willing to help him. If a person is destroying his life or their family, the church, or the testimony of the church in the community, then that is surely a sign that intervention is needed. Is it easy? No. It is a task for the spiritually mature. Will you always get to sleep at a decent hour or not make mistakes and doubt yourself? Probably not, but you will be truly loving and caring for your flock. In 1 Peter 5 the apostle writes about the privilege of being a shepherd of God's flock, of coshepherding with Christ and knowing Christ in that way. Elsewhere in scripture we read about elders having to give an account for their ministry among the flock, and of the crown of glory they will receive from the Chief Shepherd. These are reasons enough. Sadly and ironically, churches today seem to have noninvolvement as one of their primary goals. They don't seem willing to risk practicing what is clearly taught in the Bible for the sake of the spiritual health of their flock. I don't know what the reasons are, whether they be financial or what. But I know God's Word has not changed.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

A Gospel Mourning...

"Yet if you but consider the Lord's ways towards you, and your ways towards him, you will mourn with a gospel-mourning, reasoning with yourself after this manner: Was I under the law of works by nature, and so, for every transgression against any of the ten commandments, made liable to everlasting damnation? and am I now, through the free mercy and love of God in Christ, brought under the law of Christ, and so subject to no other penalty for my transgressions, but fatherly and loving chastisements, which tend to the purging out of that sinful corruption that is in me? Oh what a loving Father is this! Oh what a gracious Saviour is this! Oh what a wretched man am I, to transgress the laws of such a good God, as he hath been to me!  
"Oh the due consideration of this will even, as it were, melt your heart, and cause your eyes to drop with the tears of godly sorrow! yea, the due consideration of these things will cause you to "loathe yourself in your own sight for your transgressions", (Eze 36:31), yea, not only to loathe yourself for them, but also to leave them, saying with Ephraim, "What have I to do any more with idols?" (Hosea 14:8) and to "cast them away as menstruous cloth, saying unto them, Get ye hence," (Isa 30:22). And truly you will desire nothing more, than that you might so live, as that you might never sin against the Lord any more. And this is that "goodness of God which," as the apostle says, "leadeth to repentance"; yea, this is that goodness of God which will lead you to a free obedience. So that if you do but apply the goodness of God in Christ to your soul, in any good measure, then will you answerably yield obedience to the law of Christ, not only without having respect either to what the law of works either promiseth or threateneth; but also without having respect to what the law of Christ either promiseth or threateneth; you will do that which the Lord commandeth, only because he commandeth it, and to the end that you may please him" -
- Edward Fisher, The Marrow of Modern Divinity

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Exhortation To the Justified in Christ...

Exhortation. 2. To justified persons. This privilege calls you to several duties.
1. Love the Lord, and love him much, for much is forgiven you. This may be oil to that holy flame, and therefore love will continue in heaven for ever.

2. Be of a forgiving disposition, Eph. 4.ult. 'Be ye kind one to another, tender-hearted, forgiving one another, even as God, for Christ's sake, hath forgiven you.' The same Saviour that brought in remission of sins, binds us to love our enemies. And the bitter revengeful spirit against those we think have wronged us, is a sad sign that our own sin is unforgiven of God, Matt. 4.12. 'Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.' They who have found what a dreadful weight sin unpardoned is, and have at length got it removed, will thereby be helped to forgive.

3. Walk humbly. Ye are justified, but it is by the righteousness of another. Ye are pardoned, but it was procured to you by the satisfaction of a Saviour. Your debt is paid, your discharge is got up; but thanks to free grace, not to you, for it.

4. Bear your troubles and crosses in a world patiently.—Your life that was forfeited by sin is safe by grace; therefore take thankfully any troubles you meet with. For why should a living man complain, especially one that deserved to die, and yet is adjudged to life?

5. Lastly, Walk tenderly. God pardoning a sinner, dismisseth him as Christ did the penitent adulteress, John 12.11. 'Go, and sin no more.' Let not your broken bones be forgotten, but walk softly all your years. And if ye be pardoned, shew it by your holy and tender walk.
OF JUSTIFICATION by Thomas Boston, Minister of the Gospel at Ettrick, Scotland
excerpted from his Commentary on the Shorter Catechism

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Sanctification upon Justification...

  • It seems that part of the confusion is the notion that when we’re talking about our sanctification we shouldn’t be referring to our justification, otherwise… well, otherwise what? Is it not fair to say that our justification, in some sense, is the ground upon which we live and walk the sanctified life? If I am sanctified daily through the work of the Holy Spirit can I any more move beyond the justification secured for me by Christ Jesus on the cross then when I go to the store I can leave the ground of the sidewalk upon which I walk? Not a perfect analogy certainly, but… Every grace of sanctification in the believer's life is logically secured upon the justification wrought for him in the finished work of Christ Jesus.
  • The old hymn reads, "On Christ the solid rock I stand, all other ground is sinking sand…" I don’t think this is speaking of conversion, but of living the Christian life.
  • There is no work of ours that is sanctified except that the blood of Jesus was shed for us (Heb. 9 and 10). His finished work then is the basis by which our persons as well as our works with their remaining imperfections are cleansed, allowing them (and us) to be acceptable to God by grace through faith in Christ alone.

  • I’ve always found these words of Paul in Romans 7:18 to be intriguing (assuming this is the converted Paul, which I do):
  • "For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out."
  • I don’t think Paul is saying that he doesn’t offer his members unto righteousness or that he doesn’t make efforts to resist sin and obey God's law. Could it be it's just that he (we) never graduated from needing the sufficiency of Christ’s atonement in order that his every thought, word, and deed be cleansed and made acceptable to God? For none of Paul's good works could attain to the perfection of the Law anymore than ours can, that perfection of the Father in heaven to which he and we are called. He lacked the inherent holiness or "ability to carry it out." So, in our walk of obedience to God as we daily offer ourselves up as servants for righteousness (Rom. 6: 13), and in order that our consciences may be comforted, we must always keep our eyes not only on the law of Christ to guide our obedience but on the good news that "There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus." (Romans 8:1 ESV)
  • WCF 16: 5. We can not, by our best works, merit pardon of sin, or eternal life, at the hand of God, because of the great disproportion that is between them and the glory to come, and the infinite distance that is between us and God, whom by them we can neither profit, nor satisfy for the debt of our former sins; but when we have done all we can, we have done but our duty, and are unprofitable servants: and because, as they are good, they proceed from his Spirit; and as they are wrought by us, they are defiled and mixed with so much weakness and imperfection that they can not endure the severity of God’s judgment.
  • 6. Yet notwithstanding, the persons of believers being accepted through Christ, their good works also are accepted in him, not as though they were in this life wholly unblamable and unreprovable in God’s sight; but that he, looking upon them in his Son, is pleased to accept and reward that which is sincere, although accompanied with many weaknesses and imperfections.
  • WCF 9:4 underscores my point above -
  • 4. When God converts a sinner and translates him into the state of grace, he freeth him from his natural bondage under sin, and, by his grace alone, enables him freely to will and to do that which is spiritually good; yet so as that, by reason of his remaining corruption, he doth not perfectly, nor only, will that which is good, but doth also will that which is evil.
  • Even our good works which we will to do, i.e. our obedience, are imperfect and still touched by the corruption of sin. Yet as new creatures in Christ we can and do will to do good. We can obey. But far from perfectly and not without sin. The ground of acceptance of our good works before God our Father is Jesus Christ our Mediator – His cleansing blood shed for us and perfect obedience imputed to us - not any inherent goodness found in our obedience. (WCF 16:6)
  • Therefore we confess that as believers we should obey. We can choose to obey. But in this life we never can offer an obedience to God that is pure or acceptable in and of itself, i.e. never free from the inherent corruption of our fallen nature. Thus the gospel (justified freely in Christ Jesus by grace through faith alone) is always relevant, even central, to our sanctification.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

And What of Believers' Works?

Our third and last exception relates to the recompense of works we maintaining that it depends not on their own value or merit, but rather on the mere benignity of God. Our opponents, indeed, admit that there is no proportion between the merit of the work and its reward; but they do not attend to what is of primary moment in the matter: that is, that the good works of believers are never so pure as that they can please without pardon. They consider not, I say, that they are always sprinkled with some spots or blemishes, because they never proceed from that pure and perfect love of God which is demanded by the law. Our doctrine, therefore, is that the good works of believers are always devoid of a spotless purity which can stand the inspection of God; nay, that when they are tried by the strict rule of justice, they are, to a certain extent, impure. But, when once God has graciously adopted believers, he not only accepts and loves their persons, but their works also, and condescends to honor them with a reward. In one word, as we said of man, so we may say of works: they are justified not by their own desert, but by the merits of Christ alone; the faults by which they would otherwise displease being covered by the sacrifice of Christ. This consideration is of very great practical importance, both in retaining men in the fear of God, that they may not arrogate to their works that which proceeds from his fatherly kindness; and also in inspiring them with the best consolation, and so preventing them from giving way to despondency, when they reflect on the imperfection or impurity of their works, by reminding them that God, of his paternal indulgence, is pleased to pardon it.
The Necessity of Reforming the Church (1543) - John Calvin

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

It Is Finished!

Those who have been saved by the Lord Jesus Christ not only are righteous in the sight of God but they are beyond the possibility of becoming unrighteous. In their case, the probation is over. It is not over because they have stood it successfully. It is not over because they have themselves earned the reward of assured blessedness which God promised on condition of perfect obedience. But it is over because Christ has stood it for them; it is over because Christ has merited for them the reward by His perfect obedience to God’s law.
The Doctrine of the Atonement: Three Lectures by J. Gresham Machen

Jack: There is no obedience/good works probationary period for believers. Their good works add nothing to their standing now or on that Great Day. So seek to walk obediently, as we should. Resist sinful desires and acts. Love your neighbor as yourself. And at the end of the day, know that it is all mercy…

Friday, June 13, 2014

The Gospel According to Olevian...

Caspar Olevian -A Firm Foundation:

Question: Could you give a more definitive explanation of what the gospel is?

Answer: The gospel, or the good news that delights the heart of the poor condemned sinner, is a revelation of the fatherly and immutable will of God, in which He promised us, who are unworthy, that all our sins have
been washed away and pardoned not just for the rest of our lives but, indeed, forever. He carries out this promise by giving His Son to die for us and by raising Him.

Since Christ died not in His own sin but in ours (as if He Himself had committed it) and arose out of this same sin as a mighty victor (1 Corinthians 15:17), it follows that there is not a single sin of ours for which He has not paid.
16 For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised;17 and if Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins. 1 Corinthians 15:16, 17
If even one of all those sins that Christ took upon Himself had not been paid for, He would have had to remain in the tomb and could not have risen. For where there is even one sin, there is also eternal death, as God Himself says in Deuteronomy 27:14 ff.
14 The Levites shall then answer and say to all the men of Israel with a loud voice,
15 ‘Cursed is the man who makes an idol or a molten image, an abomination to the Lord, the work of the hands of the craftsman, and sets it up in secret.’ And all the people shall answer and say, ‘Amen.’ Deuteronomy 27:14, 15
Also, “The wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23). Since, therefore, Christ arises out of all our sin as a victor in our flesh (which He assumed and forever retains), this is public testimony to us that we are considered as pure and righteous in the eyes of God as Christ Jesus was when He arose from the grave (Romans 4:23-25; 1 Corinthians 15:17).
23 Now not for his sake only was it written that it was credited to him, 24 but for our sake also, to whom it will be credited, as those who believe in Him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead,25 He who was delivered over because of our transgressions, and was raised because of our justification. Romans 4:23-25
Along with that, God through Christ both promises us in the gospel and then actually gives us the Holy Spirit. The Spirit turns our hearts from sin and from the kingdom of the Devil to Himself, bears witness that we are children of God, initiates in us both joy in God and eternal life here below, and brings it to completion in us up in heaven. All of this God freely offers and gives to us in the gospel, without any regard to our past, present, or future merit or piety. He applies it to us by grace through faith, so that whoever boasts, boasts in the Lord (Jeremiah 9:24; 1 Corinthians 1:31).
23 Thus says the Lord, “Let not a wise man boast of his wisdom, and let not the mighty man boast of his might, let not a rich man boast of his riches; 24 but let him who boasts boast of this, that he understands and knows Me, that I am the Lord who exercises loving-kindness, justice and righteousness on earth; for I delight in these things,” declares the Lord. Jeremiah 9:23, 24
30 But by His doing you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification, and redemption, 31 so that, just as it is written, “Let him who boasts, boast in the Lord.” 1 Corinthians 1:30, 31
It can also be described more briefly: the gospel is a revelation of the fatherly and immutable will of God, in which He promises all believers

1. that their sins have been pardoned from eternity and shall be forever forgotten, and

2. that He will freely give them the Holy Spirit and eternal life, without any past, present, or future merit of ours, because of the voluntary sacrifice of this most excellent person, Christ — truly God and truly human. This sacrifice was there before the face of God from eternity, then was promised, and now has been carried out and completed, retaining forever its efficacy for our full redemption (Ephesians 1:3-14)
3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ,
 4 just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we would be holy and blameless before Him. In love
5 He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will,
6 to the praise of the glory of His grace, which He freely bestowed on us in the Beloved.
7 In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace
8 which He lavished on us. In all wisdom and insight
9 He made known to us the mystery of His will, according to His kind intention which He purposed in Him
10 with a view to an administration suitable to the fullness of the times,that is, the summing up of all things in Christ, things in the heavens and things on the earth. In Him
11 also we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to His purpose who works all things after the counsel of His will,
12 to the end that we who were the first to hope in Christ would be to the praise of His glory.
13 In Him, you also, after listening to the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation—having also believed, you were sealed in Him with the Holy Spirit of promise,
14 who is given as a pledge of our inheritance, with a view to the redemption of God’s own possession, to the praise of His glory.

Monday, June 9, 2014

Tullian, Phillips, and all that... Further Considerations

This post is late to the party, as they say, but I wanted to share some thoughts on a passage of Scripture that was in the spotlight a while back. This is offered as part of the conversation not from a pastor/theologian but a ploughboy theologian, and hopefully it will add a worthwhile wrinkle...

Rick Phillips recently "critiqued" Tullian Tchividjian's post, Unburdened, as did several others. Go read both. I don't intend to get into what I think is behind all the criticism that has recently been directed Tullian's way. But I do think part of that criticism has to do with an ongoing debate about the role of law and gospel in the sanctification of the justified sinner.

What I want to do in this post is simply look at one segment of Phillip's essay and then offer some thoughts. In his critique, Phillips takes Tullian to task for not reading 1 John 5 in context. If I'm understanding him, he is saying that John is writing about sanctification to the exclusion of justification, about our obedience not Christ's, and that the faith of which John speaks of is a faith pointing to the experiential change within believers.
To wit, Tullian explains: "Though the commandments are indeed burdensome, that burden has been laid on the shoulders of another. Jesus Christ, who demands that we be perfect, achieves perfection in our place... God's commandments are not burdensome because we do not carry them."
Let me note that what Tullian says here is absolutely and wonderfully true. But it is true of something that John is not writing about. And when applied as the explanation for what John actually is writing about in this verse, it is absolutely and horribly false. John is writing about sanctification, in which believers gain assurance of salvation through our practical obedience to God's commands.
Horribly false? Justification has no bearing on or connection to this passage? The passage is soley about sanctification and the assurance believers derive from their obedience? Whereas Tullian is emphasizing the burden of obedience to the commandments that one at times inwardly experiences as a sinner, albeit a regenerate sinner, Phillips seems to be emphasizing the other side of the coin:
So why does John then state that the commandments are not burdensome? The answer is given in verse 4: "For everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world -- our faith."
John is referring to the mighty work of God's grace in our regeneration, which has changed everything for us experientially.
I read Phillips as saying that "our faith" which overcomes the world is a faith that primarily results in an inward change that experientially changes everything! Does he mean, that the inward change is such that as a believer I never feel a burden or struggle to obey the law? It's always helps to look at concrete examples when talking about our obedience.

When someone unexpectedly points out one of your faults with an air of condemnation is your first inclination to effortlessly turn the other cheek and gratefully receive the criticism? Or, if you're like me, is your first impulse to defend and justify yourself even though you know that's the wrong direction to take? And if you do give a response that is in keeping with God's law, isn't it more than likely that - feeling unjustly attacked - you grit your teeth while ignoring your negative inward feelings, force a smile and feebly reply, "Thank you for your feedback. I'll prayerfully consider your words?" Often being a hypocrite to how we strongly (and wrongly) feel and then choosing to be true to our purpose of godly living is painfully hard. One would hardly describe that as the unburdened response of obedience. Do you feel that you have kept God's commandments as he intended? More than likely you feel a sense of shame at your defensiveness and inability to inwardly obey even though you did so outwardly. I'm not sure how much assurance I would be taking from my obedience in this example. Anyone who is married knows exactly what I'm talking about. In fact, it's in those closed door back and forth collisions with another fallen human being that the fly on the wall witnessses the extent of our burdenless keeping of God's commandments.

Moving on... Phillips stops his interpretation at 1 John 5: 4. But why stop there? Doesn't verse 5 play into the context?
4 For everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world-our faith. 5 Who is it that overcomes the world except the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?
What is the context that John may have had in mind for the phrase "overcomes the world?" One place to look can be found in his gospel, John 16: 31-33, culminating with these verses:
Jesus answered them, Do ye now believe? Behold, the hour cometh, yea, is come, that ye shall be scattered, every man to his own, and shall leave me alone: and yet I am not alone, because the Father is with me. These things have I spoken unto you, that in me ye may have peace. In the world ye have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.
John knew that when the world's push came to shove, he and all of the disciples did not bear the burden of Christ's commandments. They scattered and left Jesus alone. Jesus knowing this was to be the case pointed them to himself as the One who would comfort them in their failed obedience. To bear Christ's commandments is an obedience that chooses to die to self. And self doesn't naturally will itself to die. The world at that moment appeared to have overcome the disciples! It's the world that brings tribulation to any who would determine to walk in Christ's commandments.

Also in 1 John 2:12-14 -
I write unto you, my little children, because your sins are forgiven you for his name's sake.
I write unto you, fathers, because ye know him who is from the beginning. I write unto you, young men, because ye have overcome the evil one. I have written unto you, little children, because ye know the Father. I have written unto you, fathers, because ye know him who is from the beginning. I have written unto you, young men, because ye are strong, and the word of God abideth in you, and ye have overcome the evil one.
and 1 John 4:4 -
Ye are of God, my little children, and have overcome them: because greater is he that is in you than he that is in the world.
What is the faith that overcomes the world of which John speaks in 1 John 5: 4? Is it a faith that changes us inwardly creating the ability to keep or bear the commandments? Well, that is part of it. But do not temptation and sin still raise their ugly heads within us when difficult situations arise, at times drawing us away from the required denial of self to the temptation or outright denial of Christ's commands? Might this faith which John mentions refer not only to our regeneration and new nature in Christ but also a faith that looks to Christ who, through his death and resurrection, is the One that has overcome the world for us?

The faith that looks solely to Christ and his finished work is the faith that receives forgiveness and cleansing of conscience for weak, imperfect obedience, even when we scatter and "leave Christ alone." And let's be honest, our obedience isn't what it ought to be. According to WCF our obedience is weak, still stained with the remnant of sin, and far short of true obedience to God's law:
WCF 13.2. This sanctification is throughout, in the whole man; yet imperfect in this life, there abiding still some remnants of corruption in every part; whence ariseth a continual and irreconcilable war, the flesh lusting against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh.
WCF 16.4. They who, in their obedience, attain to the greatest height which is possible in this life, are so far from being able to supererogate, and to do more than God requires, as that they fall short of much which in duty they are bound to do.
5. We cannot by our best works merit pardon of sin, or eternal life at the hand of God, by reason of the great disproportion that is between them and the glory to come; and the infinite distance that is between us and God, whom, by them, we can neither profit, nor satisfy for the debt of our former sins, but when we have done all we can, we have done but our duty, and are unprofitable servants: and because, as they are good, they proceed from his Spirit; and as they are wrought by us, they are defiled, and mixed with so much weakness and imperfection, that they cannot endure the severity of God's judgment.
6. Notwithstanding, the persons of believers being accepted through Christ, their good works also are accepted in him; not as though they were in this life wholly unblamable and unreprovable in God's sight; but that he, looking upon them in his Son, is pleased to accept and reward that which is sincere, although accompanied with many weaknesses and imperfections.
John is pointing out that the one who overcomes the world is the one who believes in the Son of God and the work of salvation that he accomplished for his own. But aren't our works/obedience also that which overcomes the world in this life? Well, I'll give a qualified, yes! What then are the works that overcome the world unto eternal life? Doing the works of God.  Again, John's gospel adds some context:
Work not for the food which perisheth, but for the food which abideth unto eternal life, which the Son of man shall give unto you: for him the Father, even God, hath sealed. They said therefore unto him, What must we do, that we may work the works of God? Jesus answered and said unto them, This is the work of God, that ye believe on him whom he hath sent. (John 6:27-29)
Finally, what John writes in 1 John 4 has to be taken into consideration when unpacking chapter 5 verses 2-5 and the relative burden of commandments:
Herein was the love of God manifested in us, that God hath sent his only begotten Son into the world that we might live through him. Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No man hath beheld God at any time: if we love one another, God abideth in us, and his love is perfected in us... We love, because he first loved us. (1 John 4:9-12, 19)
"He first loved us" is inseparable from "we love," the keeping of his commandments. It is the good news of God's love, that he sent his Son to be a propitiation for the sins of his elect that changes everything! Believing that gospel, especially since my obedience is continually imperfect and wanting, is the faith that is overcomes. It is this faith that is active in doing the works of God. And it is that gospel, that he first loved us, which supplies grace and power unto sanctification, even salvation (Rom. 1:16). Not just for the future, but it is this gospel of forgiveness and righteousness through faith in Christ alone which now transforms the burdens of the law into a thankful direction of obedience.

Rather than blurring the line between law and gospel and insisting on a sharp separation between Justification and Sanctification, might it be that John is writing just the opposite. We love (obedience to law), because Christ loved us (gospel). Both very distinct yet closely related. We obey (law-keeping), because Christ obeyed for us (law-keeping for us). The law points the way of our obligation which is our reasonable duty, yet as sinners we can never fully accomplish. The gospel announces Christ's satisfactory fulfillment of that obligation for us. The burden of that obligation of the law is lifted because Christ lifted it by bearing it for us. Apart from Christ's bearing the death penalty for our law-breaking (demanded by the law) and keeping the law perfectly for us (required for eternal life) - all of our "sincere obedience" would indeed be unacceptable.

It is the grace of God proclaimed and supplied in the gospel which comforts our conscience, assures us that our obedience/works of the moral law done in faith are sanctified and pleasing to our Father, as well as aids us in our obedience as we battle against the sin which still clings to us. As John Calvin wrote,
In short, I affirm, that not by our own merit but by faith alone, are both our persons and works justified; and that the justification [sanctification] of works depends on the justification [forensic] of the person, as the effect on the cause. (Acts of the Council of Trent with the Antidote)

Friday, June 6, 2014

Image of God in Man...

John Calvin, writes, in his Institutes:
"In this way only we attain to what is not to say difficult but altogether against nature, 121 to love those that hate us, render good for evil, and blessing for cursing, remembering that we are not to reflect on the wickedness of men, but look to the image of God in them, an image which, covering and obliterating their faults, should by its beauty and dignity allure us to love and embrace them."

C.S. Lewis, writes, in his essay, The Weight of Glory:
 “It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, and to remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you can talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare. All day long we are, in some degree, helping each other to one or other of these destinations. It is in the light of these overwhelming possibilities, it is with the awe and the circumspection proper to them, that we should conduct all our dealings with one another, all friendships, all loves, all play, all politics."

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

John Owen on Sanctification

John Owen---
"Where sanctification is enjoined us as our duty, it is prescribed under this notion of cleansing ourselves from sin: “Wash you, make you clean,” Isaiah 1:16. “O Jerusalem, wash thine heart from wickedness, that thou mayest be saved,” Jeremiah 4:14. “Having therefore these promises, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God”…
"Nothing do they more earnestly labor after in their prayers and supplications than a cleansing from it [sin] by the blood of Christ, nor are any promises more precious unto them than those which express their purification and purging from it; for these are they which, next unto their interest in the atonement made by the sacrifice of Christ, give them boldness in their approaches unto God. So our apostle fully expresseth it, Hebrews 10:19-22: “Having therefore boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way, which he hath consecrated for us, through the veil, that is to say, his flesh; and having an high priest over the house of God; let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience, and our bodies washed with pure water…"
- Pneumatologia

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

God's Covenant with Adam...

When the Lord said to him [Adam], "In the day that thou eatest thereof, thou shalt surely die" (Genesis 2:17), it implied, "If thou eat not of it, thou shalt surely live." Besides, the tree of life, which was one of the seals of that covenant, serves to evince the same thing. It sealed the promise of life to Adam as long as he continued to perform perfect obedience.
It is evident that the infinitely great and sovereign Creator could be under no obligations to man, the creature of his power, but such as arose from the wisdom, goodness, and faithfulness of His own nature. It was therefore free to Him whether He would still, by absolute authority, command man to obey Him, or enter into a covenant with man for that purpose; whether after perfect obedience to His law He would give man eternal life or annihilate him; and whether, if it should please Him to give it, He would bestow it on condition of man's obedience, or make a free grant of it to him, and confirm him in the eternal enjoyment of it, as He has done elect angels. It depended solely upon the will of God whether there would be a covenant at all containing a promise of eternal life to man, and, if a promise of it, whether that promise could be absolute or conditional. The promise of eternal life upon man's perfect obedience, the, flowed entirely from the good pleasure and free grace of God. Had Adam fulfilled the condition of life in the first covenant, the Lord, instead of having been a debtor to him for his obedience, would have been a debtor only to His own grace and faithfulness in the promise. It is manifest, the, that there could have been no real merit in the perfect obedience of man, nor so much as the smallest proportion between it and the promised reward. If Adam had performed the condition of that covenant, he could not have expected eternal life upon any ground except this: that God had graciously promised it on that condition.
A Treatise on The Law and The Gospel by John Colquhoun, pp 16-17