Tuesday, June 24, 2014

And What of Believers' Works?

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

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

It Is Finished!

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

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

Friday, June 13, 2014

The Gospel According to Olevian...

Caspar Olevian -A Firm Foundation:

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, June 9, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, June 6, 2014

Image of God in Man...

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

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

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

John Owen on Sanctification

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

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

God's Covenant with Adam...

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