Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Thoughts on WLC 32: Salvation Possessed By Faith - Expressed in Obedience

Some thoughts on faith and obedience and the necessity of both for salvation... It is said that once justified through faith in Christ believers then have a title to eternal life.
It is also sometimes said that in order to actually possess that eternal life one must do so by obeying the commands of God. Indeed, obedience is not optional for the justified believer. 
Yet certainly some nuance and a careful understanding of this matter is in order so that one not fall into a "get in by grace, stay in by works" theology. Westminster's Larger Catechism Q/A 32 is often cited to show the necessity or role of obedience as the way believer's possess salvation, and that it does, but not as a "get in by grace and then complete the deal by works" bargain.
WLC Q. 32. How is the grace of God manifested in the second covenant?
A. The grace of God is manifested in the second covenant, in that he freely provideth and offereth to sinners a mediatorand life and salvation by him; and requiring faith as the condition to interest them in him, promiseth and giveth his Holy Spirit to all his elect, to work in them that faith, with all other saving graces; and to enable them unto all holy obedience, as the evidence of the truth of their faith and thankfulness to God, and as the way which he hath appointed them to salvation.
Following is a brief break down of Answer 32 into bite size morsels in order to better digest it... (Scripture quotes are those supplied by the divines in the Westminster Larger Catechism). The answer states that

1. God freely provides and offers a Mediator, Jesus Christ, to sinners.
2. God freely provides and offers life and salvation by Jesus Christ.
3. God requires faith in the sinner in order to gain an interest in Christ.
John 3:16, 36. For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.… He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life: and he that believeth not the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him. John 1:12. But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name
4. God promises and gives the elect sinner the Holy Spirit who works the required faith in them.
 John 14:16–20. And I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you for ever; even the Spirit of truth; whom the world cannot receive, because it seeth him not, neither knoweth him: but ye know him; for he dwelleth with you, and shall be in you. I will not leave you comfortless: I will come to you. Yet a little while, and the world seeth me no more; but ye see me: because I live, ye shall live also. At that day ye shall know that I am in my Father, and ye in me, and I in you. 
1 Cor. 12:3, 9. Wherefore I give you to understand, that no man speaking by the Spirit of God calleth Jesus accursed: and that no man can say that Jesus is the Lord, but by the Holy Ghost.… to another faith [is given] by the same Spirit; to another the gifts of healing by the same Spirit. Eph. 2:8. For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God...
5. The Holy Spirit also works all other saving graces in the elect sinner including enabling them to a new holy obedience.
Gal. 5:22–23. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance: against such there is no law.
Ezek. 36:27. And I will put my spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes, and ye shall keep my judgments, and do them. Eph. 2:10. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.  
6. This new Holy Spirit-enabled obedience is evidence of a true and lively faith in Christ as well as the elect sinner's thankfulness to God for his salvation.
James 2:18, 22. Yea, a man may say, Thou hast faith, and I have works: shew me thy faith without thy works, and I will shew thee my faith by my works.… Seest thou how faith wrought with his works, and by works was faith made perfect?
 2 Cor. 5:14–15. For the love of Christ constraineth us; because we thus judge, that if one died for all, then were all dead: and that he died for all, that they which live should not henceforth live unto themselves, but unto him which died for them, and rose again.
7. This God given, Holy Spirit-enabled obedience is the path that God has predestined/ordained them to walk in this life as those sinner-belieevers who are saved and being saved.
Eph. 2:10. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them. Titus 2:14. … who gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works. 
Walter Marshall (17th century Puritan) offers some crucial perspective that I think helps inform how to navigate the requirements of faith and obedience so that we can unreservedly and boldly claim that sinners are saved by God's grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone -
"This persuasion of our future enjoyment of everlasting happiness cannot tend to licentiousness, if we understand well that perfect holiness is a necessary part of that happiness, and that though we have a title to that happiness by free justification and adoption, yet we must go to the possession of it in a way of holiness (1 John 3:1-3). Neither is it legal or mercenary to be moved by this persuasion, seeing the persuasion itself is not gotten by the works of the law, but by free grace through faith (Gal. 5:5)... 
"1. By faith we have the actual enjoyment and possession of Christ Himself, and not only of remission of sin, but of life, and so of holiness. Christ dwells in our hearts by faith (Eph. 3:17). We live to God; and yet not we, but Christ lives in us by the faith of the Son of God (Gal. 2:19, 20). He that believes on the Son of God has the Son and everlasting life that is in Him (1 John 5:12, 13; John 3:36 ). He that hears Christ's word, and believes on Him that sent Christ, has everlasting life and is passed from death to life (John 5:24). These texts express clearly such a faith as I have described. Therefore the efficiency or operation of faith, in order to the enjoyment of Christ and His fullness, cannot be the procurement of a bare right or title to this enjoyment; but rather it must be an entrance to it, and taking possession of it. We have our access and entrance by faith into that grace of Christ in which we stand (Rom. 5:2). 
"2. The Scripture plainly ascribes this effect to faith: that by it we receive Christ, put Him on, are rooted and grounded in Him; and also that we receive the Spirit, remission of sins and an inheritance among them which are sanctified (John 1:12; Gal. 3:26, 27; Col. 2:6, 7; Gal. 3:14; Acts 26:18). And the Scripture illustrates this receiving by the similitude of eating and drinking: He that believes on Christ drinks the living water of His Spirit (John 7:37-39). Christ is the bread of life; His flesh is meat indeed, and His blood is drink indeed. And the way to eat and drink it is to believe in Christ and, by so doing, we dwell in Christ, and Christ in us, and we have everlasting life (John 6:35, 47, 48, 54-56). How can it be taught more clearly that we receive Christ Himself properly into our souls by faith, as we receive food into our bodies by eating and drinking, and that Christ is as truly united to us in this way as our food when we eat or drink it? So that faith cannot be a condition to procure a mere right or title to Christ, no more than eating or drinking procures a mere right or title to our food; but it is rather an instrument to receive it, as the mouth that eats and drinks the food."
Walter MarshallThe Gospel Mystery of Sanctification (pp. 27, 52-54). Kindle Edition. 
[emphasis added]

Bottom line: Salvation is not possessed by obedience after faith, but by God's grace through faith expressed in obedience.

[updated from 2016]

Thursday, October 10, 2019

Sanctification “Makes Us Righteous?”

Always relevant...

In summing up the differences between justification and sanctification, Kevin DeYoung in an online essay at The Gospel Coalition writes:  "One reckons us righteous; the other makes us righteous. One allows for no increase or degrees; the other expects progress and growth. One is a declaration of God about us, the other a work of God in us."  

I'm having difficulty with the description of sanctification as that which "makes us righteous."  I think, at best, it is a confusing phrase.  When Kevin writes that sanctification "expects progress and growth", I take it he is referring back to the phrase makes us righteous.  So, is sanctification a process of being made more and more righteous?  One hang-up with that construction is that it implies one can be partially righteous.  Kind of like the oxymoron of a woman being "almost pregnant."  She either is or she isn't.  I don't see how there can be such a thing as partial righteousness.  If a work is righteous then it is without any imperfection or impurity.  And in this life that will never be the case as taught in the Westminster Larger Catechism:

Q. 78. Whence ariseth the imperfection of sanctification in believers?
A. The imperfection of sanctification in believers ariseth from the remnants of sin abiding in every part of them, and the perpetual lustings of the flesh against the spirit; whereby they are often foiled with temptations, and fall into many sins, are hindered in all their spiritual services, and their best works are imperfect and defiled in the sight of God.

Now what I am not saying is that in response to the gospel believers do not exhibit good works in their lives or grow in those godly characteristics that are called "the fruit of the Spirit."  Clearly where true faith exists there will be evidence (good works) of a new heart and right-will born of the Spirit, works that are nonetheless imperfect (not righteous in and of themselves).  A new direction unto righteousness will be there, evidence of our faith in Christ.  This, of course, is the point of Martin Luther's quote, "We are saved by faith alone but not by faith that is alone."

But I don't think one should say that the good works of a believer are evidence of a growing or progressing righteousness within the believer which seems to be a logical inference from the above definition of sanctification.  Rather, aren't good works evidence of a true and lively faith, as taught in the Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion, the WCF and the WLC:

XII. Of Good Works.
ALBEIT that good works, which are the fruits of faith and follow after justification, cannot put away our sins and endure the severity of God's judgement, yet are they pleasing and acceptable to God in Christ, and do spring out necessarily of a true and lively faith, insomuch that by them a lively faith may be as evidently known as a tree discerned by the fruit.

WCF 16.2 states, "These good works, done in obedience to God's commandments, are the fruits and evidences of a true and lively faith...." The WLC speaks in a similar way, of "the good works that are the fruits" of the "faith [that] justifies a sinner in the sight of God...."

I take the above to be simply saying that good works are to a lively faith what fruit is to a tree.  And it is faith that apprehends the righteousness of Christ, "But the righteous shall live by faith."  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 of works depends on the justification of the person, as the effect on the cause" (Acts of the Council of Trent with the Antidote).  So I don't think we can say that good works are evidence of a progressing righteousness within us.  Instead, they are evidence of  having found complete salvation by faith alone in Christ alone.  It is all His accomplishment.  But hasn't God foreordained believers to be conformed to the image of His Son?.  Yes, His work.  And aren't we exhorted "to walk worthily of the Lord unto all pleasing, bearing fruit in every good work"?... indeed, but isn't that fruit in every good work still imperfect?

Sanctification is a "work of God in us."  Yet, by defining this work as that which makes us righteous, I find my eyes deceptively drawn away from Christ's provision of pardon and perfect obedience on my behalf to a mixed-motive heart inside of me.  Inevitably, I'm searching within for evidence of that which supposedly should be produced by sanctification.  For what I long for is true righteousness in me.  But it is not to be found there, unless of course, I entertain a weak view of sin and righteousness, which is just another way of saying it isn't there.  And where has faith gone?  It has been assigned a bystander role as I vainly work to progress along a righteousness-making path.  To the HC:

Heidelberg Catechism:
Question 62. But why cannot our good works be the whole, or part of our righteousness before God?
Answer: Because, that the righteousness, which can be approved of before the tribunal of God, must be absolutely perfect, and in all respects conformable to the divine law; and also, that our best works in this life are all imperfect and defiled with sin.
Question 63. What! do not our good works merit, which yet God will reward in this and in a future life?
Answer: This reward is not of merit, but of grace.

The acceptance of our imperfect works as righteous is not of their deservings but of God's grace.  The already but not yet formulation is applicable here.  We are already accounted righteous for Christ's sake, but in this life not yet righteous... whether partially or in whole.  "For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God(1 Cor. 5:21).

Beloved, now we are children of God, and it has not appeared as yet what we will be. We know that when He appears, we will be like Him, because we will see Him just as He is. And everyone who has this hope fixed on Him purifies himself, just as He is pure. 
(1 John 3:2-3)

There neither is, nor ever was, in the world, nor ever shall be, the least dram of holiness, but what, flowing from Jesus Christ, is communicated by the Spirit, according to the truth and promise of the gospel. (John Owen)

[originally posted August 20011]

Saturday, September 14, 2019

Sanctification Upon Justification

  • [from the archives]
  • Part of the confusion stems from 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.

Sunday, September 1, 2019

The Gain of Loss...

The Christian message often produces in its hearers what could be termed a cognitive dissonance. It is replete with markers that are counter-intuitive to the normal human way of thinking and living e.g. love your enemy, turn the other cheek, forgive your brother seventy
times seven...

The Psalmist writes,
But for Your sake we are killed all day long; We are considered as sheep to be slaughtered. - Ps. 44:22, Rom. 8:36

Jesus states in the Gospels, 
"For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake, he is the one who will save it. For what is a man profited if he gains the whole world, and loses or forfeits himself?" - Luke 9:24

Paul writes, 
And He has said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness."  Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. - 2 Corinthians 12:9

J.C. Ryle, the 19th century Anglican minister wrote:: 
Affliction is one of God’s medicines. By it He often teaches lessons which would be learned in no other way. By it He often draws souls away from sin and the world, which would otherwise have perished everlastingly. Health is a great blessing, but sanctified disease is a greater. Prosperity and worldly comfort, are what all naturally desire; but losses and crosses are far better for us, if they lead us to Christ. Thousands at the last day, will testify with David, and the nobleman before us, “It is good for me that I have been afflicted.” (Psalm. 119:71.)

And the writer in Hebrews:
Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin. Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. 

As we suffer the loss of things esteemed by the world, leaning on Him by His grace we find that for which we were created and redeemed.

LOSS
Losing what was never mine
Spectral idols tempting me
Fruitless paths and ravaged time
Companions in my misery

Fading hopes refuse decline
Distracted thoughts mocking me
Circle now this body find
A dying dream not to be

Yet ‘neath these ruins’ wasted climb
The quiet recall in memory
Reasserts the truth sublime
Through loss, life found eternally 

- Jack Miller, 2008

Monday, July 29, 2019

Too Much Gospel and Too Little Law?

The question then is, will too much gospel lead to increased sin?  And, what is the antidote to the  potential temptation to abuse God's abundant grace and continue in sin?  Or
put another way, what is offered to the believer by God to overcome sinful desires, that sets one free from sin's rule and empowers one to live in a righteous direction?  In Romans, the apostle Paul makes the case that righteousness doesn't come through the works of the law but comes to the ungodly only by grace through faith in Christ apart from any works, i.e. any attempts at doing good.  He does this by diagnosing the problem thoroughly in Romans 1-3.   All are corrupt, have sinned and are guilty under the Law of God.  He makes the case that righteousness cannot be attained by sinners through the works of the Law... every mouth is shut.  Everyone is a sinner who sins and falls short of the glory of God!  

Paul then, in Romans 3-5, declares the only remedy available:  the righteousness that comes to sinners freely by grace through faith in Jesus Christ, in other words - the gospel:  the Righteousness that comes to sinners not through any works, but solely through trusting in what God has done in Christ for sinners.  Looking then at the two places in Romans 6 where Paul then asks that well known rhetorical question, how does he respond to the charge that too much of this abundant grace will lead to antinomianism or licentiousness?  What does Paul offer that will keep believers from falling back into sinful living now that they are freely forgiven?  After all, isn't this grace, more or less, a get-out-of-jail-free card?  Many would answer now that we have been justified by faith it's necessary that the law comes back in as that which shepherds and keeps believers from sinning - keeps them on the straight and narrow.  Grace in the dock: does abundant grace lead to increased sin?
Question: What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound?
Answer: God forbid. We who died to sin, how shall we any longer live therein?  Or are ye ignorant that all we who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him through baptism unto death: that like as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we also might walk in newness of life. For if we have become united with him in the likeness of his death, we shall be also in the likeness of his resurrection; knowing this, that our old man was crucified with him, that the body of sin might be done away, that so we should no longer be in bondage to sin; for he that hath died is justified from sin. But if we died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with him; knowing that Christ being raised from the dead dieth no more; death no more hath dominion over him. For the death that he died, he died unto sin once: but the life that he liveth, he liveth unto God. Even so reckon ye also yourselves to be dead unto sin, but alive unto God in Christ Jesus. Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, that ye should obey the lusts thereof: neither present your members unto sin as instruments of unrighteousness; but present yourselves unto God, as alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness unto God. For sin shall not have dominion over you: for ye are not under law, but under grace.         (Rom. 6:1-14)
Question: What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound?
 Answer: God forbid. Know ye not, that to whom ye present yourselves as servants unto obedience, his servants ye are whom ye obey; whether of sin unto death, or of obedience unto righteousness?  But thanks be to God, that, whereas ye were servants of sin, ye became obedient from the heart to that form of teaching whereunto ye were delivered; and being made free from sin, ye became servants of righteousness. I speak after the manner of men because of the infirmity of your flesh: for as ye presented your members as servants to uncleanness and to iniquity unto iniquity, even so now present your members as servants to righteousness unto sanctification. For when ye were servants of sin, ye were free in regard of righteousness. What fruit then had ye at that time in the things whereof ye are now ashamed? for the end of those things is death. But now being made free from sin and become servants to God, ye have your fruit unto sanctification, and the end eternal life. (Rom. 6:15-22)
Paul counters not with law, but grace, i.e. more truth of what God has done in Christ to save sinners from the penalty and power of sin.  In other words Paul gives more gospel to the believer which is the power of God unto salvation (Rom 1:16).  The law, be it first or third use, has no power to draw one away from sin or overcome it.  Law can only tell us our duty and expose how we in fact do the things we ought not and don't do the things we ought.  When tempted to sin, the problem is not our lack of knowledge of the law (don't do that!... do this!).  Indeed, at those times the law offers no aid or power to resist sin's dominion because that is not the purpose given it by God.  Rather our problem is a lack of faith and trust in Christ's finished work on our behalf.  And more faith comes only by hearing more gospel (Rom. 10:17).  The transforming power of the Spirit is communicated to the believer not by the hearing and doing of the law but by hearing and believing(!) the good news of what God has done for us in Christ.  The works of God come by believing (John 6:28-29).

Our problem as sinners isn't a knowledge problem remedied by more law instruction and our subsequent doing, but a sin-problem which only the gospel solves as we trust in God's Already Done in Christ!  This is true for our justification as well as our sanctification.  As believers we are called to mortify sin within us, which by definition means resisting the desires that actually tempt us and then again to offer ourselves to loving God and loving our neighbor.  The finished work of Jesus declared in the gospel is the only weapon given believers that actually breaks that power of sin and frees us to walk in a righteous direction.
10 For in that he died, he died unto sin once: but in that he liveth, he liveth unto God. 11Likewise reckon ye also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord.
It is the blood of our Lord Jesus Christ applied by the Holy Spirit through the gospel proclaimed in Word and Sacrament that cleanses believing sinners from sin and sets them apart unto holiness (all things are sanctified by blood - Hebrews 9:22).  The third use of the law?? With our eyes of faith upon Christ alone, the Holy Spirit uses the law now written on our hearts to direct and inform us in our sanctification.  Our reasonable offering to God is obedience to Him in the bright light and power of what our Lord Jesus Christ has done for us.  As forgiven sinners we indeed need to hear the law in order to better capture our attention as to what it really means to live a holy life, so as to not water-down sin nor lower the high perfection of God's righteousness to which we are called.  But the power of the Spirit unto holiness is apprehended only through faith in the finished work of Christ Jesus.

Now, it's certainly the case that there are perversions of God's grace and distortions of the gospel which can lead someone to become indifferent to his sin.  I imagine this is especially so where Law and Gospel are not proclaimed together.  But the solution to that problem is not a greater emphasis on the law in order to correct or balance out that distortion.  Rather, the solution is to clearly preach and teach the law's diagnosis and judgment of sinners and God's divinely appointed remedy offered in the gospel.  And that gospel declares that we who have been buried with Christ have died to sin.  Do we believe that?  Do we trust that Christ has accomplished that on our behalf?  If so, then how can we who have died to sin be indifferent to it?  If we continue to live a life under sin's rule, isn't it because we're not trusting in what God has done, i.e. not believing?  If I do believe that I have died to sin in Christ and am no longer under law but under grace, then it follows that I will offer myself to live in a manner consistent with that faith and repentance, however imperfect; seeking to live in accord with righteousness - not merely because the law tells me I should (which it certainly does), but because the grace of God (which I am now under) has released me from the dominion of sin and renewed me with a new heart and new will which desires to live in obedience to Him.

Do we still sin?  Of course.  And so it seems to me that the piety of the church should be known more by a faith in Christ and repentance of sin than an absence of sin.  The grace of God in Christ both fulfills the law perfectly for us in our justification and delivers us completely from sin's dominion which leads us to the doing of good works acceptable to God through faith.  The law points the way we should live and informs us when we don't.  The grace of God unites us to Christ, pardons our sin, delivers us from sin's dominion, justifies us before God with a righteousness not our own, gives us a new heart and will born of God, and renews us daily unto obedience through repentance and faith in Christ.


- From the Archives 

Monday, July 1, 2019

Gratitude and Obedience...

There are some who posit that thankfulness is an insufficient reason or motive
for Christian obedience.
Interestingly, by implication, they are critiquing the Heidelberg Catechism as defective due to its emphasis on the motives of gratitude for Christian obedience... but that is for another musing. Often what is put forth by those looking to supplement and shore up our gratitude is 1) the motive to obey because God simply commands it, and 2) due to the necessity of holiness in our lives our motive should therefore be to pursue godly living in order to become more holy. We need to be holy. Does gratitude exclude these?

The Law commands all mankind to obedience, believer and unbeliever. Yet the unbeliever hears the law and, regarding obedience, says – "forget it." He is not the least motivated to obey God’s law merely because God commands it. Nor does the need of holiness in his life excite him to attend to the moral law as a necessary guide for his living. Rather,  “Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.”

Why is it then that a believer considers God’s holy commands to be not only obligatory but now desirable? In a word, Mercy... God's mercy shown to him who was once a rebel to the Law but now pardoned in Christ Jesus. 

Let's consider this “necessity for holiness”… what is meant by that? Certainly holiness is at the center of God's eternal purpose for each of the elect. Due to God’s decreed will holiness, we can say, is indeed necessary. So obedience in that context is certainly necessary as the ordained outcome for all those Christ has saved. The justified will indeed be sanctified. And having the law written on their hearts, former lawless rebels now agree with the Law even as they yet struggle against their sinful tendencies. But should the believer consider obedience “necessary” as a condition for his salvation? No. He should only consider obedience necessary in that it is the only reasonable and logical response born of gratitude in his heart to the One who bore the curse of death for his sins, i.e. the way in which God has given him to walk unto salvation (WLC32).

Thankfulness is born in the heart of the sinner for whom Christ, by His perfect obedience to the Law and bloody death on the cross, purchased eternal life.
For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will hardly die for a righteous man; though perhaps for the good man someone would dare even to die. But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from the wrath of God through Him. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life. And not only this, but we also exult in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received the reconciliation. (Rom. 5:6-11 NASB)
Gratitude fuels the new-heart-attitude and rectified-will thus making it unthinkable that blood-washed sinners would respond any other way than by offering themselves unto God for righteous living. This unmerited forgiveness for our sins is not just a one time occurrence but is experienced throughout the Christian's life. We are sinners who still sin. And thankfully we have a Mediator and Advocate in heaven - Jesus Christ the Righteous - who intercedes continually for us with his precious blood... whose intercession allows for assurance of forgiveness in our consciences again and again. It would seem to me then that gratitude, as the primary motive of obedience for blood-washed sinners, includes within it all other motives for the Christian's pursuit of holiness.

[from the archives 2014]

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

Needed... More Grace?

[From the Archives: Originally posted March 10, 2012]

At Old Life, Darryl Hart has a post with this comment of his:
... the way to blur law and gospel is by sneaking grace into the relationship. If the law is gracious (which it is in a sense), then it must be salvific. But then there is Paul’s stop sign, the law is not of faith. Must be a different kind of grace.
What the law-is-gracious crowd forget is that Rome says salvation is entirely gracious — good works and all.   
The language of grace clarifies nothing. In some cases it obscures, as in “grace before the fall.”
This got me to thinking about the thrust of so many sermons that are preached today. Too often when Christian living and good works are exhorted from the pulpit, I hear grace invoked as some kind of seasoning or spice that enables the believer to think, speak, and act as God intends. As in: Jesus died for you sins. You’re now forgiven and have his Spirit. So, relying on the grace that he gives, go out and love your neighbor as yourself… The gospel is functionally reduced to “grace added” and gets presented as a means to an end kind of thing, something given in order that you can do it, i.e. live as God teaches in his law.

But we're not in need of mere renovation by grace.  Our problem is not that we're lacking some missing ingredient with which we could live a holy life.   The gospel isn't an offer of  grace with which to turn our lives around.  Rather, the gospel is God's personal and merciful response to the unyielding verdict of the law.
For as many as are of the works of the law are under a curse: for it is written, Cursed is every one who continueth not in all things that are written in the book of the law, to do them.  Now that no man is justified by the law before God, is evident: for, The righteous shall live by faith; and the law is not of faith; but, He that doeth them shall live in them.  Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us; for it is written, Cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree: that upon the Gentiles might come the blessing of Abraham in Christ Jesus; that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith. (Gal.3:10-114)
Yet moral law-keeping as that which we can and need to do leads us back in the direction of that curse.  But you'll say, "Jesus has saved us from the curse of the law.  He bore the curse in our place."  Indeed he did!  And yet, too many sermons relegate that good news to the status of a past historical event.  Something to rejoice in and be thankful for, but now it's our turn.  Our job now, it seems, is to depend on present grace supplied in order to get on with the business of moral law-keeping.  But aren't we supposed to live holy lives?  Yes!  But the problem comes in when the implicit (or explicit) understanding is that, redeemed from the curse of the law, we now can live up to the law.  Grace offered is invoked as a means to that end.  If only we trust and believe more, then by grace we can live as we ought...

But there's a problem and the problem is us!  Still sinners, we keep getting in the way of our own renovation project.  Where is one to turn?

Wednesday, June 5, 2019

Looking for love in all the wrong places? Are we getting better enough?

[from the archives]

“Even though our outward man is wasting away, the inner man is being renewed day by day” 


The yoke of the cross
Do we get better as Christians? Well, yes and no. Scripture does speak of being transformed by the renewing of the mind (Rom. 12:2) and of the inner man being renewed day by day. By grace Christians are more and more sanctified in Christ, and through the Holy Spirit set apart unto godly living in thought, word, and deed.  Yet all too often we seem less than victorious in that sanctification.  Real sin still remains in every part of of our being so that as the apostle Paul writes,  For the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh. A warfare in which it often doesn't seem to ourselves that we are getting all that much better inasmuch as we are eye-witnesses against ourselves. We see our very real role in our very real failings. 

Could part of the disconnect be that we are still looking for evidence in our own works which can somehow stand the scrutiny of God's holy law apart from the free grace of justification in Christ? - for he who has died is justified from sin (Rom 6:7)! 

So, are we looking for love in all the wrong places?

From Calvin's Institutes, book 3:
This cause, then, appears to be threefold. First, God turning his eye away from the works of his servants which merit reproach more than praise, embraces them in Christ, and by the intervention of faith alone reconciles them to himself without the aid of works. Secondly the works not being estimated by their own worth, he, by his fatherly kindness and indulgence, honors so far as to give them some degree of value. Thirdly, he extends his pardon to them [i.e. our works as Christians], not imputing the imperfection by which they are all polluted, and would deserve to be regarded as vices rather than virtues... 
But, meanwhile, they observed not how far the works which they insisted on regarding as meritorious must be from fulfilling the condition of the promises, were they not preceded by a justification founded on faith alone, and on forgiveness of sins — a forgiveness necessary to cleanse even good works from their stains...
In this way we can admit not only that there is a partial righteousness in works (as our adversaries maintain), but that they are approved by God as if they were absolutely perfect. If we remember on what foundation this is rested, every difficulty will be solved. The first time when a work begins to be acceptable is when it is received with pardon. And whence pardon, but just because God looks upon us and all that belongs to us as in Christ? Therefore, as we ourselves when engrafted into Christ appear righteous before God, because our iniquities are covered with his innocence; so our works are, and are deemed righteous, because every thing otherwise defective in them being buried by the purity of Christ is not imputed... 
Thus we may justly say, that not only ourselves, but our works also, are justified by faith alone.
"Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light." (Matt. 11:28-30)

Saturday, June 1, 2019

Thoughts on Sanctification (Assurance in Our Sanctification)...

[from 2017]
WSC Q. 35. What is sanctification?Sanctification is the work of God’s free grace, whereby we are renewed in the whole man after the image of God, and are enabled more and more to die unto sin, and live unto righteousness.
WCF 13.1 Of Sanctification They who are effectually called and regenerated, having a new heart and a new spirit created in them, are further sanctified, really and personally, through the virtue of Christ's death and resurrection, by his Word and Spirit dwelling in them; the dominion of the whole body of sin is destroyed, and the several lusts thereof are more and more weakened and mortified, and they more and more quickened and strengthened, in all saving graces, to the practice of true holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord.
Thoughts on the above: 
By the indwelling of the Word and Holy Spirit, through the virtue of the benefits of Christ's death and resurrection, believer's are really and personally further sanctified, i.e. renewed to the image of Christ and set apart unto righteousness; the result of regeneration which has created in us a new heart and new spirit (or as the English reformer Thomas Cranmer wrote - a new heart and "new right-will"). The dominion of sin is broken because the body of sin (all our guilt and sins) that stood against us has been nullified by Christ's payment for sin on our behalf. Condemnation and Death because of Sin no longer have any claim on those who are Christ's. By His Word and Spirit we are then enabled to grow in this free saving grace (the benefits of Christ's death and resurrection) and, yes, the domininion of sin is overthrown and its power weakened by Christ's death and resurrection through faith alone in him, his mediation. The "more and more" of WCF 13.1 is qualified by the second and third article of WCF 13:
This sanctification is throughout in the whole man, yet imperfect in this life: there abideth 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... In which war, although the remaining corruption for a time may much prevail.
Christ's death on our behalf, paying our penalty due to our sin, is completely and eternally effectual for us. We died in his death to sin. Therefore we paid the penalty for our sin through Christ, our Surety's death for us. 
Rom. 6:6 - knowing this, that our old man was crucified with him, that the body of sin might be done away, that so we should no longer be in bondage to sin.
The legal body of condemning evidence against the elect is done away! Sin can no longer be held up by the Law before God to condemn us. The Law's charge of guilty rightly due to our sin has been removed as far as the east is from the west through our "death" in Christ on the cross. 
When you were dead in your transgressions and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He made you alive together with Him, having forgiven us all our transgressions, having canceled out the certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us, which was hostile to us; and He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross (Col. 2:13-14).  
When condemnation does creep into my conscience the only safe harbor, then, is not in perfecting my works, but in the Gospel of Christ, the good news encapsulated in Jesus's last words on the cross, "It is finished."

We never (in this life or the next) cease to be the recipients of a fully gracious, God initiated and fully enacted salvation.  

The Bottom Line: Our Father in heaven is not looking for a remedy for the sins of the elect, the impurity of their fallen nature, or the remnant of sin which remains in their every thought, word, and deed other than that wrought by Christ. Hello... Good News... without qualification! 

If God's loving, gracious, and merciful salvation of sinners completed in Christ Jesus needs to be fortified by a purity born of our efforts against sin or pursuing godly works then this Good News of God will soon be replaced by either Despair or Self-Righteousness.

And to aid us in rightly responding to this abundant grace of God we find given to us by the Holy Spirit a new inward and godly desire, born of above, to present ourselves no longer as slaves to sin but slaves to righteousness. And this is why our remaining sin so continues to vex us (Rom. 7 and Gal. 5}! 

So, having then been saved in order that we might be conformed to Christ's image, we're admonished and encouraged by the apostle Paul:
Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its lusts, and do not go on presenting the members of your body to sin as instruments of unrighteousness; but present yourselves to God as those alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God. For sin shall not be master over you, for you are not under law but under grace. (Rom. 6:12-14)
Then, as the apostle Paul wrote, let us yield ourselves to the rule of Christ with faith and gratefulness and walk in the path of his righteousness, doing that which is good and acceptable in his sight, not angsting over the weight of our sins nor measuring the merit of our  good works.  Our overbearing load of debt is paid... The righteousness required before God is secured... By Christ alone!

We remain and always will remain the recipients of a fully gracious, God-initiated sanctification and salvation (Eph. 2:8-10)!

Saturday, April 27, 2019

To the Rich Young Ruler: The Law and Salvation


“By the law is the knowledge of sin. It is the test of men being sinners. If it were kept, this would prove that we were not sinners. It entered, that the offense might abound; and the Lord applied this test for the young man’s conviction. Yet what he said was truth: if the young man had kept the commandments, he would, as a holy creature, have enjoyed life; he would not have been a sinner. But he was so ignorant as to say he had kept them all. The Lord replied, ‘One thing thou lackest,’ and said, ‘Follow Me.’ If he had really kept the commandments, he would have had no need of a Savior; but he was a sinner, and Christ informed him of the only way of salvation. The law could not give life to one by whom it was forfeited.”

Robert Haldane: On Romans 8:4, Romans Commentary, 343-345

Wednesday, March 6, 2019

Racism and the Church: Some Reflections...


Is racism a special category of sin to be dealt with by means other than those set forth in Scripture? I think not.

As understood in Reformational circles, God's Moral Law diagnoses sin (see WLC 93-98) as well as points believers to godly living. All deviation from the Moral Law is condemned as sin by God. This includes sins like adultery, theft, bearing false witness, etc.... or racism; which are a subset of violating the second table (i.e. not loving neighbor). And defined as sin, these acts are worthy of God's wrath. The Gospel, on the other hand, is the only remedy for sin and disobedience given by God, as taught in Scripture (WLC 31-36, Romans 1:16). The Gospel promises and offers forgiveness of sin, salvation, and eternal life by God's grace alone through Christ t
o all those who believe, including all saving graces unto a changed heart and a new obedience.

Yet when the Church diagnoses a sin problem (e.g. racism) in such a way that Christ (as he is offered in the Gospel) is Not the Answer or Remedy for sin, past and present, then she has not fully or Biblically diagnosed the problem. When this is the case, I would conjecture that the Church may be too optimistically intent on eradicating outward symptoms rather than exposing the iceberg heart of sin below the waterline. All too often we focus on eradicating outward behaviors as proof of "solving the problem", i.e. righting the wrongs. This is understandable given that the symptoms of sin (bigotry, adultery...) are horrible and painful. Yet a diagnosistic goal primarily focused on stopping outward symptoms often leads to an ends justifies the means prescription. Broad brushes in Law prescriptions lathered with explicit or implicit guilt-assigning offer possible remedies for shaping things up more quickly. Whereas sanctification as a grace of the Gospel seems relatively slow and weak. In my view, when this course is taken, the Gospel is in danger of being clouded if not set aside. Isn’t it Christ crucified, as he is presented in the Gospel, who alone cleanses from sin and changes sinful hearts through the accompanying work of the Holy Spirit? 



John Owen's Discourse Concerning the Holy Spirit -
This whole matter of sanctification and holiness is peculiarly joined with and limited unto the doctrine, truth, and grace of the gospel; for holiness is nothing but the implanting, writing, and realizing of the gospel in our souls... 
The “law,” indeed, for certain ends, “was given by Moses,” but all “grace and truth came by Jesus Christ.” There neither is, nor ever was, in the world, nor ever shall be, the least dram of holiness, but what, flowing from Jesus Christ, is communicated by the Spirit, according to the truth and promise of the gospel.
When the gospel is then diminished or relegated to the role of merely a means to an end, as good as that end may be, then Jesus Christ is no longer held up as preeminent (Col 1:18b) and the Church's path has likely deviated to a moral mission away from its redemptive mission.

It is faith and repentance in the gospel of Christ crucified which lead sinners to not just forgiveness of sins and a righteous standing before God, but a new heart-direction of holiness and obedience, i.e. walking away from one’s former manner of life towards one of loving God and neighbor (Ephesians 4:21-24). The goal of the gospel (that which God guarantees to all who believe) is nothing less than Christ himself received as Savior and Lord for the forgiveness of sins and the promise of his Spirit leading to changed hearts and lives inclined towards holiness with... wait for it... a modest and gradual increase of a changed social outlook for the good of others. Growth in godliness is slow.
Heidelberg Catechism Q. 114. But can those who are converted to God perfectly keep these commandments? 
A. No: but even the holiest men, while in this life, have only a small beginning of this obedience; yet so, that with a sincere resolution they begin to live, not only according to some, but all the commandments of God.
Christians are redeemed-yet-sinners, sojourners in this age of grace awaiting the new creation, the new age. Yes, the church is the in-breaking of that new holy creation. But we still live in a fallen world rife with sin, our sin. We desire that which should be, but is not yet.  So where to go? 

The Church as instituted by God has the calling to preach the Gospel of Christ as God’s only remedy for man's sin. And this by calling sinners to salvation through faith and repentance, a call to trust in Jesus Christ, a call to holy living and forgiving others as we have been forgiven. The therefore of my thoughts on this matter?  In my mind it is rather straight forward. We are admonished and encouraged in Scripture to live each day by the grace of God in such a way that we would acknowledge and own our sins and, trusting in God's mercy in Christ, seek to turn around and live as obedient followers of Jesus. We fall short. We all are worthy of rejection and not acceptance. Yet as recipients of God's grace, each day we are called to confess our failures in the assurance of God's fatherly embrace and forgiveness in Christ... to set out again to love God and love our neighbor as ourselves. 

This might prove helpful to keep in mind regarding racism and the church:
Therefore, accept one another, just as Christ also accepted you to the glory of God. (Romans 15:7)