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)

Monday, March 4, 2019

Innovation and Church Worship

Some points worth considering not just by Anglicans, in my humble layman opinion...

C.S. Lewis -
I think our business as laymen is to take what we are given and make the best of it. And I think we should find this a great deal easier if what we were given was always and everywhere the same.
To judge from their practice, very few Anglican clergymen take this view. It looks as if they believed people can be lured to go to church by incessant brightenings, lightenings, lengthenings, abridgements, simplifications, and complications of the service. And it is probably true that a new, keen vicar will usually be able to form within his parish a minority who are in favour of his innovations. The majority, I believe, never are. Those who remain – many give up churchgoing altogether – merely endure. 
Is this simply because the majority are hide-bound? I think not. They have a good reason for their conservatism. Novelty, simply as such, can have only an entertainment value. And they don’t go to church to be entertained. They go to use the service, or, if you prefer, to enact it. Every service is a structure of acts and words through which we receive a sacrament, or repent, or supplicate, or adore. And it enables us to do these things best – if you like, it “works” best – when, through long familiarity, we don’t have to think about it. As long as you notice, and have to count the steps, you are not yet dancing but only learning to dance. A good shoe is a shoe you don’t notice… The perfect church service would be one we were almost unaware of; our attention would have been on God. 
But every novelty prevents this. It fixes our attention on the service itself; and thinking about worship is a different thing from worshiping. The important question about the Grail was “for what does it serve?” “Tis mad idolatry that makes the service greater than the God.”
A still worse thing may happen. Novelty may fix our attention not even on the service but on the celebrant. You know what I mean. Try as one may to exclude it, the question “What on earth is he up to now?” will intrude. It lays one’s devotion waste. There is really some excuse for the man who said, “I wish they’d remember that the charge to Peter was Feed my sheep; not Try experiments on my rats, or even, Teach my performing dogs new tricks.” 
Thus my whole liturgiological position really boils down to an entreaty for permanence and uniformity. I can make do with almost any kind of service whatever, if only it will stay put. But if each form is snatched away just when I am beginning to feel at home in it, then I can never make any progress in the art of worship. 
– from Letters to Malcolm: Chiefly on Prayer

Thursday, February 7, 2019

Confessing Imputation: Christ’s Righteousness

Imputation
In justification the righteousness of Christ's death and obedience are accounted, credited, or imputed to sinners by faith alone, not infused or worked inherently into them.

Heidelberg Catechism 60
Although my conscience accuses me that I have grievously sinned against all God's commandments, have never kept any of them, and am still inclined to all evil, yet God, without any merit of my own, out of mere grace, imputes to me the perfect satisfaction, righteousness, and holiness of Christ. He grants these to me as if I had never had nor committed any sin, and as if I myself had accomplished all the obedience which Christ has rendered for me, if only I accept this gift with a believing heart.

Belgic Confession 22
Jesus Christ, imputing to us all his merits and so many holy works which he has done for us, and in our stead, is our Righteousness.


Westminster Confession of Faith 11.1
Those whom God effectually calls, He also freely justifies; not by infusing righteousness into them, but by pardoning their sins, and by accounting and accepting their persons as righteous; not for any thing wrought in them, or done by them, but for Christ's sake alone; nor by imputing faith itself, the act of believing, or any other evangelical obedience to them, as their righteousness; but by imputing the obedience and satisfaction of Christ unto them.


Westminster Larger Catechism 71
Although Christ, by his obedience and death, did make a proper, real, and full satisfaction to God's justice in the behalf of them that are justified; yet inasmuch as God accepts the satisfaction from a surety, which he might have demanded of them, and did provide this surety, his own only Son, imputing his righteousness to them, and requiring nothing of them for their justification but faith, which also is his gift, their justification is to them of free grace.

Westminster Shorter Catechism 33
Justification is an act of God's free grace, wherein he pardons all our sins, and accepts us as righteous in his sight, only for the righteousness of Christ imputed to us, and received by faith alone.

Saturday, February 2, 2019

Law and Gospel: Tom Wenger Introduces William Tyndale

"Most know William Tyndale (1484-1536) as one of the most important figures in translating the Scriptures for the English-speaking world. But rarely discussed are his deep, pastoral concerns
that all who read those Scriptures must understand the distinction between the law and the gospel. In fact, Tyndale saw this as so crucial that he wrote a lengthy Prologue for his new translation that focused on unpacking the importance of this distinction. Knowing that many of his readers would be handling the Scriptures themselves for the first time, Tyndale's Prologue is an impassioned plea for them to understand the roles of the law and the gospel before they read the Bible so that they will divide it rightly from the very beginning. As he says at the outset:"
Nevertheless, seeing that it hath pleased God to send unto our Englishmen...the scripture in their mother tongue, considering that there be in every place false teachers and blind leaders; that ye should be deceived of no man, I supposed it very necessary to prepare this Pathway into the scripture for you, that ye might walk surely, and ever know the true from the false: and, above all, to put you in remembrance of certain points, which are, that ye well understand what these words mean; the Old Testament; the New Testament; the law, the gospel; Moses, Christ; nature, grace; working and believing; deeds and faith; lest we ascribe to the one that which belongeth to the other, and make of Christ Moses; of the gospel, the law; despise grace, and rob faith.
Excerpted from Modern Reformation