Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Year End - Loose Ends - Grace...

Joshua (Joshua 24), after recounting God’s mercy and His faithfulness to the promises in delivering Israel from all her enemies, exhorts the Israelites to put away their false gods, to fear the LORD and serve Him in sincerity and truth. The Israelites essentially declare, “We will do it!” Joshua, truly understanding the perfection required by anyone who would serve God on the ground of their own works and also knowing the weak view the people had of the righteousness demanded by God, replies unto the people, "Ye cannot serve Jehovah; for he is a holy God; he is a jealous God; he will not forgive your transgression nor your sins.” They could not serve God in a holiness of their own and they could not atone for the pollution of their sins.

The Israelites had a need. It was that their watered-down law-keeping mindset had to be humbled and stopped in its tracks by the very Law that they presumed to fulfill. This was in order that they then might be lifted up by the LORD’s free mercy.
Calvin: “But Scripture humbles us more, and at the same time elevates us. For besides forbidding us to glory in works, because they are the gratuitous gifts of God, it tells us that they are always defiled by some degrees of impurity, so that they cannot satisfy God when they are tested by the standard of his justice; but that lest our activity should be destroyed, they please merely by pardon.” — i.e. God’s free mercy and pardon in Christ alone...
and in WCF 14:2,
“… But the principal acts of saving faith are accepting, receiving, and resting upon Christ alone for justification, sanctification, and eternal life, by virtue of the covenant of grace.
“… the righteous acts of the saints.
And how are the acts of the saints constituted righteous? By what merit? By what obedience? By their own intrinsic holiness? No. Indeed, by the Holy Spirit we have been given a new sanctified heart and will in order that we might now seek to obey, even obey completely. Yet in this life - though now saints yet remaining sinners - no thought, no word, no deed - no matter how “holy” - is without some stain of sin. 

How is it then that we are not also rebuked, as were the Israelites, when we seek to serve God? Indeed often we are as the Holy Spirit brings us again and again to the foot of the cross that we would see the bankruptcy of our persons and of our works. And yet also, seeing and hearing the good news again, that we are accepted as righteous by God not by our works but due only to His free grace and mercy in Christ... the blessing of salvation that we receive and abide in through faith alone. We should never confuse our “righteous acts” in this life with the perfection required by the Law. Our works are acceptable only through the perfect obedience, merit, and mediation of our Savior and Advocate in heaven, Jesus Christ.

“The righteous shall live by faith.” As we seek to obey, it is through faith in Christ alone that our works are cleansed and lifted up to God. Our works rise up to God as acceptable only through the blood of Christ: “how much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish unto God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?” The writer of Hebrews was writing to believers.

“for by grace have ye been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not of works, that no man should glory. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God afore prepared that we should walk in them.”

“Prepared” in that “he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blemish before him in love: having foreordained us unto adoption as sons through Jesus Christ unto himself, according to the good pleasure of his will, to the praise of the glory of his grace, which he freely bestowed on us in the Beloved: in whom we have our redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace…

Yes, as Scripture teaches, it is all by grace. And as my wont - a quote from Calvin:
In regard to this liberty there is a remarkable passage in the Epistle to the Romans, where Paul argues, “Sin shall not have dominion over you; for ye are not under the law, but under grace,” (Romans 6:14) For after he had exhorted believers, “Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, that ye should obey it in the lusts thereof: Neither yield ye your members as instruments of unrighteousness unto sin; but yield yourselves unto God, as those that are alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness unto God;” they might have objected that they still bore about with them a body full of lust, that sin still dwelt in them. He therefore comforts them by adding, that they are freed from the law; as if he had said, Although you feel that sin is not yet extinguished, and that righteousness does not plainly live in you, you have no cause for fear and dejection, as if God were always offended because of the remains of sin, since by grace you are freed from the law, and your works are not tried by its standard.
I don’t think our obedience or Godly living is diminished or weakened by extolling the truth that salvation, start to finish, is by God's grace. Rather, our persons as well as our obedience are cleansed, purified, i.e. made acceptable through the satisfaction of Christ’s own perfect obedience and death. In sanctification the only sure ground upon which sinner/saints walk and live unto God is the grace of the gospel.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Musings on Obedience, Gratitude, and Mercy

There are some who suggest that thankfulness is an insufficient primary motive for Christian obedience. Interestingly, by implication, they are critiquing the Heidelberg Catechism as insufficient due to its emphasis on the motive 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. We know from God’s decreed will that 
holiness is indeed necessary. So obedience in that context is certainly necessary as what God wills for all those saved in Christ. The justified indeed are to 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 to secure or ensure salvation? No. The believer should consider obedience necessary in that 1) God commands it and 2) it is the only reasonable response born of gratitude in his heart to his Savior who bore the curse of death for his sins. In other words, it is 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 for the immeasurable mercy of God is the new-heart-motive of the redeemed for obedience. To cavalierly sin becomes unthinkable. And equally, blood-washed sinners wouldn't respond any other way than by offering themselves unto God for righteous living. Yes, we fall short for sin is very much still in us. But this unmerited forgiveness for our sins is not just a one time occurrence but is to be experienced throughout the Christian's life. We are sinners who still sin. And thankfully we have an eternal Mediator and Advocate in heaven - Jesus Christ the Righteous - who intercedes continually for us by his precious blood... whose intercession conveys assurance of forgiveness in our consciences again and again. It would seem to me then that gratitude as the primary motive for obedience is the heart's Spirit-born response to God which infuses in it all other godly motives for the pursuit of holiness.
"We love because he first loved us." (1 John 4:19)

Thursday, December 11, 2014

A Klinean Gold Nugget...

"There is no reconciliation with the Creator, no renewal of love for him or genuine confession of Yahweh as covenant Lord that is not in the last analysis due to God’s restorative power operating in forgiving grace."
 - Meredith Kline, Kingdom Prologue, 236

Calvin: "Love... Proceeds from Faith and a Good Conscience"

The question is: Does obedience grow out from faith as surely as fruit from a tree, i.e. the faith through which God reckons a sinner righteous?

The aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith. (1 Timothy 1:5 ESV)
If the law must be directed to this object, that we may be instructed in love, which proceeds from faith and a good conscience, it follows, on the other hand, that they who turn the teaching of it into curious questions are wicked expounders of the law. Besides, it is of no great importance whither the word love be regarded in this passage as relating, to both tables of the law, or only to the second table. We are commanded to love God with our whole heart, and our neighbors as ourselves; but when love is spoken of in Scripture, it is more frequently limited to the second part. On the present occasion I should not hesitate to understand by it the love both of God and of our neighbor, if Paul had employed the word love alone; but when he adds, "faith, and a good conscience, and a pure heart," the interpretation which I am now to give will not be at variance with his intention, and will agree well with the scope of the passage. The sum of the law is this, that we may worship God with true faith and a pure conscience, and that we may love one another. Whosoever turns aside from this corrupts the law of God by twisting it to a different purpose.
But here arises a doubt, that Paul appears to prefer "love" to "faith." I reply, they who are of that opinion reason in an excessively childish manner; for, if love is first mentioned, it does not therefore hold the first rank of honor, since Paul shows also that it springs from faith. Now the cause undoubtedly goes before its effect. And if we carefully weigh the whole context, what Paul says is of the same import as if he had said, "The law was given to us for this purpose, that it might instruct us in faith, which is the mother of a good conscience and of love." Thus we must begin with faith, and not with love.
"A pure heart" and "a good conscience" do not greatly differ from each other. Both proceed from faith; for, as to a pure heart, it is said that "God purifieth hearts by faith." (Acts 15:9.) As to a good conscience, Peter declares that it is founded on the resurrection of Christ. (1 Peter 3:21.) From this passage we also learn that there is no true love where there is not fear of God and uprightness of conscience.
Nor is it unworthy of observation that to each of them he adds an epithet; for, as nothing is more common, so nothing is more easy, than to boast of faith and a good conscience. But how few are there who prove by their actions that they are free from all hypocrisy! Especially it is proper to observe the epithet Which he bestows on "faith," when he calls it faith unfeigned; by which he means that the profession of it is insincere, when we do not perceive a good conscience, and when love is not manifested. Now since the salvation of men rests on faith, and since the perfect worship of God rests on faith and a good conscience and love, we need not wonder if Paul makes the sum of the law to consist of them.
John Calvin, Commentary on 1 Timothy 

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Fatherly Anger Leads to Forgiveness...

I think the point that Calvin is making in the passage below, as he mentions that God is wonderoulsy angry with his children, is not to put fear in his children so that they will shape up and sin less. Of course we should sin less. In fact we shouldn't sin at all. That is the negative teaching of the Moral Law. But this passage is emphasizing the provision that God gives the elect in Christ for forgiveness and cleansing. So then, we are at times (thankfully) convicted of our sin by the Spirit and become aware of the dread penalty that is due us for our sin except for Christ (WLC 97). Calvin explains that this anger of the Father is intended to put a godly fear in us in order to humble us and bring us to repentance at the throne of Grace; that the blood of Christ might wash our consciences from the stain of sin and we might renew our trust alone in Christ and his sacrifice for our sin.

Book 3:2:12, Calvin
"The Spirit of love was given to Christ alone, for the express purpose of conferring this Spirit upon his members; and there can be no doubt that the following words of Paul apply to the elect only: “The love of God is shed abroad in our hearts, by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us,” (Rom. 5:5); namely, the love which begets that confidence in prayer to which I have above adverted. On the other hand, we see that God is mysteriously offended [wonderously angry] with his children, though he ceases not to love them. He certainly hates them not, but he alarms them with a sense of his anger, that he may humble the pride of the flesh, arouse them from lethargy, and urge them to repentance. Hence they, at the same instant, feel that he is angry with them for their sins, and also propitious to their persons."
In other words, when we sin our need isn't to sin less (it only takes one to condemn) but to be humbled by God so as to avail ourselves of his grace in forgiveness and repentance found in Christ. Sinning less doesn't relieve a troubled conscience and doesn't cleanse one from sin. Turning my eyes of faith to Christ does: but to him who does not work, but believes on him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is reckoned as righteousness (Rom. 4:5). Still sinners, we will still sin. And if we, by the grace of God, do remove certain types of sins from our lives the Holy Spirit will then show us a whole other layer of sins that lurk just under the surface unnoticed by us. Emphasizing the grace of God in his children does not undermine godly living but promotes it through the finished work of Christ.

Thanks to Brad Lindvall for initiating this topic via email.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

A Prayer of Calvin for the Church...

Grant, Almighty God, that since thou hast at this time deigned in thy mercy to gather us to thy Church, and to enclose us within the boundaries of thy word, by which thou preserves us in the true and right worship of thy majesty, - O grant, that we may continue contented in this obedience to thee: and though Satan may, in many ways, attempt to draw us here and there, and we be also ourselves, by nature, inclined to evil, O grant, that being confirmed in faith, and united to thee by that sacred bond, we may yet constantly abide under the guidance of thy word, and thus cleave to Christ thy only-begotten Son, who has joined us for ever to himself, that we may never by any means turn aside from thee, but be, on the contrary, confirmed in the faith of his gospel, until at length he will receive us all into his kingdom. Amen.
Prayers of John Calvin from his Commentary on Hosea