Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Christ - our righteousness in both justification and sanctification...

... to be proclaimed perpetually in the church from both the pulpit and the Lord's table by ministers of the gospel.  For the righteousness that comes through faith in Christ is not just the commencement of the Christian life.  It's also the constant ground of our living (Hab. 2:4), the only acceptable righteousness before God.  The only righteousness to be had by even the most holy saint exercised in godly works is the righteousness of God in Christ which comes through faith (Rom 3:21-22).  From John Calvin's Institutes:
We must strongly insist on these two things: That no believer ever performed one work which, if tested by the strict judgment of God, could escape condemnation; and, moreover, that were this granted to be possible (though it is not), yet the act being vitiated and polluted by the sins of which it is certain that the author of it is guilty, it is deprived of its merit. This is the cardinal point of the present discussion. There is no controversy between us and the sounder Schoolmen as to the beginning of justification. They admit that the sinner, freely delivered from condemnation, obtains justification, and that by forgiveness of sins; but under the term justification they comprehend the renovation by which the Spirit forms us anew to the obedience of the Law; and in describing the righteousness of the regenerate man, maintain that being once reconciled to God by means of Christ, he is afterwards deemed righteous by his good works, and is accepted in consideration of them. The Lord, on the contrary, declares, that he imputed Abraham's faith for righteousness, (Romans 4:3) not at the time when he was still a worshipper of idols, but after he had been many years distinguished for holiness. Abraham had long served God with a pure heart, and performed that obedience of the Law which a mortal man is able to perform: yet his righteousness still consisted in faith.  Hence we infer, according to the reasoning of Paul, that it was not of works.  In like manners when the prophet says, "The just shall live by his faith," (Habakkuk 2:4) he is not speaking of the wicked and profane, whom the Lord justifies by converting them to the faith: his discourse is directed to believers, and life is promised to them by faith.   Paul also removes every doubt, when in confirmation of this sentiment he quotes the words of David, "Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered," (Psalm 32:1).  It is certain that David is not speaking of the ungodly but of believers such as he himself was, because he was giving utterance to the feelings of his own mind.   Therefore we must have this blessedness not once only, but must hold it fast during our whole lives.  Moreover, the message of free reconciliation with God is not promulgated for one or two days, but is declared to be perpetual in the Church, (2 Corinthians 5:18, 19).  Hence believers have not even to the end of life any other righteousness than that which is there described. Christ ever remains a Mediator to reconcile the Father to us, and there is a perpetual efficacy in his death, viz., ablution, satisfaction, expiation; in short, perfect obedience, by which all our iniquities are covered. In the Epistle to the Ephesians, Paul says not that the beginning of salvation is of grace, but "by grace are ye saved," "not of works, lest any man should boast," (Ephesians 2:8, 9). (Bk.3.14.11)
WLC-Question 72: What is justifying faith?
Answer: Justifying faith is a saving grace, wrought in the heart of a sinner by the Spirit and Word of God, whereby he, being convinced of his sin and misery, and of the disability in himself and all other creatures to recover him out of his lost condition, not only assents to the truth of the promise of the gospel, but receives and rests upon Christ and his righteousness, therein held forth, for pardon of sin, and for the accepting and accounting of his person righteous in the sight of God for salvation.

HC-Question 61. Why sayest thou, that thou art righteous by faith only?
Answer: Not that I am acceptable to God, on account of the worthiness of my faith; but because only the satisfaction, righteousness, and holiness of Christ, is my righteousness before God; and that I cannot receive and apply the same to myself any other way than by faith only.

HC-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.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Too much gospel, 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.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Two Cities, Two Kingdoms...

Few Reformed doctrines draw more heat today than that of the much misunderstood two kingdoms.  Most of the the time it seems, at least to me, that those criticizing this teaching are arguing against something that it is not.  I can only imagine what it must be like for one of its main proponents, David VanDrunen.  I've excerpted some of his book review of  Kingdoms Apart: Engaging the Two Kingdoms Perspective, edited by Ryan C. McIlhenny, as it provides clarification which often comes forth best in response to one's critics.  I tend to think that those who take issue with the two kingdoms theology do so for at least one main reason - it offers no support for those societal-transformational agendas pursued by many Christians.  The entire review can be read at The Ordained Servant.  Dr. VanDrunen writes:
My claim is that Augustine’s Two Cities and the Reformed Two Kingdoms ideas are compatible, not that they are identical. They are harmonious, but get at different aspects of the truth: Augustine’s Two Cities describe two eschatological peoples, one marked by love of the Creator above all and one marked by love of the creation above all; in this world the Two Cities mingle, but they can’t be identified with any particular earthly society or institution; there is stark antithesis between these Two Cities, and each person is a member of one city and one city only. The Reformed Two Kingdoms, on the other hand, pertain to the twofold way in which God rules this present world, primarily (for early Reformed theologians) through church and state. This means that Christians are actually citizens of both kingdoms. Christians, in other words, are citizens of two kingdoms, but of one city. As citizens of the city of God they stand in eschatological conflict with unbelievers; as participants in the common kingdom, they are called to co-exist in peace with unbelievers as far as possible...
My basic case in chapters 2–5 of LGTK is this: God gave the original cultural mandate to Adam as representative of the human race in an unfallen world, demanding perfect obedience and promising the attainment of an eschatological new creation as a reward for obedience. Adam failed and plunged the human race into a state of curse rather than eschatological blessing. But God sent his Son as the Last Adam, to fulfill God’s task for humanity perfectly and thereby to attain the new creation for himself and his people.  Popular recent neo-Calvinist works speak of redeemed Christians being called to take up again Adam’s original cultural task (not to go back to Eden, but to fulfill Adam’s responsibility to fill the earth, have dominion, etc.). In response, I have argued that this cannot be the correct biblical paradigm for the Christian’s present responsibilities in this world. If Christ is the Last Adam, then none of us are called to be new Adams. It is not as if Christians have no cultural mandate (as Kingdoms Apart suggests I claim), but that the cultural mandate comes to the human race only as refracted through the covenant with Noah after the flood. It comes thereby to the human race as a whole (not to Christians uniquely) and is geared for life in a fallen world and holds out no eschatological hope of reward. Thus in order to understand our calling to participate in the life of politics or commerce, for example, we should understand these responsibilities as rooted in the Noahic covenant and as work to pursue in collaboration with unbelievers, as far as possible (without forgetting the different attitude, motivation, goals, etc. with which Christians take up these tasks). I also suggested that all of us who share a commitment to the Reformed doctrine of justification should appreciate the attractiveness of my suggested paradigm, built as it is upon traditional understandings of the covenant of works, the Two Adams, and the sufficiency of the obedience of Christ. This is an invitation to soteriologically orthodox neo-Calvinists to embrace a view of Christianity-and-culture that is more consistent with doctrines at the core of the gospel they love.
And from the Conclusion of his review:
It might also be interesting for a valiant defender of neo-Calvinism to address the following observation: most ordinary Reformed believers already live what might be called a two kingdoms way of life. When they follow the regulative principle of worship, uphold the church’s jurisdiction over its own discipline, and respect the Christian liberty of fellow believers in matters of faith and worship that are “beside” God’s Word (see Westminster Confession of Faith 20.2), they embrace aspects of Reformed practice historically inseparable from the two kingdoms doctrine. And when they live peaceably with their unbelieving neighbors—working, buying, selling, driving, flying, playing, and voting alongside them—are they not giving implicit witness to the reality of God’s distinctive common grace government over the world through the covenant with Noah? And if this is the case, then I suggest that the two kingdoms idea serves a clarifying function: it helps Reformed Christians understand in a more theologically clear way the Christian faith and life they are in so many respects already practicing.  
Two books by David VanDrunen  on two kingdom theology:
Living In God's Two Kingdoms
Natural Law and The Two Kingdoms

Monday, April 22, 2013

To church or not to church?

That is the question and for many the answer is 'not to church."  Here is the continuation of a conversation with an acquaintance from way-back-when who, responding to my comments, writes:
Broad objects deserve broad brushes. While I am painfully aware of my own sinful condition and don't hold to the logical progression rhetorically assigned me, the question remains: Should modern institutional churches be taken seriously by those Christians currently living quietly at peace beyond the Pale? In most places today its an individual choice, unlike in Calvin's Geneva. I do miss the fellowship and the hot-dishes, but I don't think God has called me to be a reformer or a well-disciplined vassal of an institutional church. The quandry faced by those who have abandonded the ecclesiastics is the relative rarity of credible and relevant alternatives to a good lie-in on Sunday morning. What's the point of 'church'ing the 'unchurched', if not to correct their supposed doctrinal error? There are plenty of closer-to-home and less intransigent oportunities within the existing institutions. Blessings...
I really have no intention to get into a tug-of-war over the nature of "Calvin's Geneva", but I am curious...  I do know many who came out of the church I referred to in the previous post have since kept from joining a church.  Some for doctrinal reasons, some because of hurts, some for probably both.
[Name], you ask: "What's the point of 'church'ing the 'unchurched', if not to correct their supposed doctrinal error?" Hmm... could there be any other reasons? That sinners/saints might be nourished by the Holy Spirit through the preaching of Christ crucified and partake of the fellowship of brothers and sisters in the church, which is His body? Yes, this does occur in many of what you label as so-called 'institutional' churches. So, if there is a Christ-centered band of believers in the "institutional church" are they by definition to be avoided like the plague because they are "institutional?" Again, the progression of logic you say I assign to you seems to be what you argue: There are some (or many) bad churches both today in throughout history that imposed rigid, controlling and authoritarian doctrines. Therefore all churches should be avoided because their only purpose is to 'correct... supposed doctrinal error' of the unchurched. 
[Name], isn't this a pretty iron-clad doctrinaire position in its own right that you insist upon in your church of one? A doctrine that might steer you and other saints away from hearing Christ proclaimed and knowing Him in His church among His redeemed? To what purpose... to avoid being hurt? 
There were doctrinaire-controlling Judaizers in the first century churches as in every century, causing much pain and problem. Paul considered this part of the agonizing landscape with which he and the churches had to contend with; some of the very hurts, injustices, and difficulties that God in fact uses to further His work in his church. “For Your sake we are being put to death all day long; We were considered as sheep to be slaughtered"... even sometimes coming from within the church. He uses trials to bring about perseverance. Hurts to bring about healing. He uses sin exposed by the Spirit's light to bring about faith and repentance. He uses death to bring forth life. By an unjust crucifixion of a Righteous Man God brings justification and righteousness through faith to guilty unworthy sinners. 
I don't think that it's what happens to us that lastingly hurts us. Rather, how we respond to those hurts is what can cause the real damage. 
By the way, what are you referring to when you write, "There are plenty of closer-to-home and less intransigent oportunities within the existing institutions"? Peace...

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Churches and sinners...

Dr. R. Scott Clark  has been blogging of late on the topic On Churchless Evangelicals (herehere, and here).  I've been posting the links to those articles on my Facebook page.  There have been a number of people who have commented on Dr. Clark's site and a couple at my FB who clearly have been hurt by past church experiences and advocate Christians not belonging to a church.  Unfortunately, their negative experiences have become the soil out of which they've nurtured a rejection of the Church and sometimes even of Jesus Christ.  What follows is a comment left by one reader at FB, an acquaintance and former co-church member from a church back in the 1970s that was at the center of the hurts of many:
This blog [i.e. Clark's blog] should be required reading for any of the 'unchurched' tempted become the 'churched'. Yup! 17 centuries of Romanized elitist organizational structure, elitist culture, book-burning, and heretic-burning has created a very visible church with a fairly unified doctrine alright. But these institutions suffer from an utter lack of credulity, let alone relevance, to anything but themselves.
My response to him:
A rather broad brushed indictment, [name redacted]. Surprise, churches are made up of sinners(!), people who think and do things they ought not and often don't do what they ought. I totally agree that some churches (too many) throughout history (and in our time) have been led by those who, if you would, commandeered Christ's church to their own worldly and self-aggrandizing evil purposes, distorting the good news of the love of God in Christ. But tell me, how does it then follow that all churches are therefore illegitimate? 
Aren't all humans flawed, many doing much evil? Yet even those who are flawed and often sinning also do much that is good. Does it then follow that all humans are only evil and all should be rejected and avoided? Of course that would be absurd.   
Your argument would seem to be the very same kind of logic used by those who would deny that Jesus Christ died on the cross and was raised from the dead for the salvation of sinners. Why? Well, because His followers are flawed and beset by all kinds of sins.  Therefore Christianity is flawed (beset by Christians who sin) and thus illegitimate as a religion and Jesus is not God come in the flesh and no savior. Is that what you are claiming?  I hope not.  The apostle Paul answers well, "It is a trustworthy statement, deserving full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, among whom I am foremost of all." Christians are sinners saved from the consequences of their sins by Jesus, and are found in churches.  By definition churches are flawed.   Come and join.  You'll fit right in.  Peace...

Some related blog posts:
Church or a Clean Club?
Church Banners
"Reckoning ourselves to be..." in the church

Monday, April 1, 2013

The Reward of Good Works...

Continuing with the sometime murky doctrine of  sanctification, I want to focus a little on "our good works."  Does God reward the good works of believers?  If so, in what way?  Are believers able to do good works?  The Bible teaches that we are.  Yet, how are we to understand the nature of those good works we do in light of the remnant of sin that still clings to every part of our being? And how are we to understand the nature of the reward that God bestows upon those good works?  John Calvin, in his commentary on 2 Cor. 5:10, provides some insight:
"That every one may give account..." As the passage relates to the recompensing of deeds, we must notice briefly, that, as evil deeds are punished by God, so also good deeds are rewarded, but for a different reason; for evil deeds are requited with the punishment that they deserve, but God in rewarding good deeds does not look to merit or worthiness. For no work is so full and complete in all its parts as to be deservedly well-pleasing to him, and farther, there is no one whose works are in themselves well-pleasing to God, unless he render satisfaction to the whole law. Now no one is found to be thus perfect. Hence the only resource is in his accepting us through unmerited goodness, and justifying us, by not imputing to us our sins. After he has received us into favor, he receives our works also by a gracious acceptance. It is on this that the reward hinges. There is, therefore, no inconsistency in saying, that he rewards good works, provided we understand that mankind, nevertheless, obtain eternal life gratuitously. [emphasis added]
Calvin's quote amplifies what is taught in the chapter on good works in Westminster Confession of Faith - Of Good Works, 16:5 & 6. 
WCF 16:5. 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.
WCF: 16:6. 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.