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1689 Confession Study: Practical Errors in Sanctification

January 26, 2016 1 comment

Continuing in the 1689 Baptist Confession study, the final lesson in chapter 13 (Sanctification) considers five practical errors regarding sanctification – five doctrinal points which believers may conflate with an unrelated idea.  These are fairly common ones among evangelicals, ideas which we may even acquire subconsciously (perhaps due to imbalanced teaching).  Hodgins acknowledged his own past experience, of sometimes thinking in these incorrect ways.

  1. Equating a wisdom-call (application) with the moral law of God (there are many different applications of the moral law to particular situations)
  2. Equating gifts with graces (even King Saul and Baalam were gifted, and even prophesied, yet were lost men)
  3. Equating struggle with hypocrisy
  4. Equating a growing sense of sin with spiritual decline
  5. Equating our sin-tainted works with God-rejected works.

Some of these I was familiar with, ideas generally mentioned in church from time to time (#4), or from my reading on the subject of sanctification over the last several years—especially #5, my (incorrect) way of thinking after several years of over-emphasis on God-rejected works at a Calvinist Baptist church.  One of the points brought out here, is that the well-known reference in Isaiah 64:6 (“all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags”) is in reference to the unconverted; this truth has its place in preaching the gospel and evangelism, telling sinners about the need for justification, that our salvation is completely in Christ and we do nothing to merit our salvation; but as believers our relationship is now that of children of God.  I recall learning (or perhaps being reminded again after so many years) the comforting truth of the correct teaching on this point, in J.C. Ryle’s Holiness several years ago (see this blog post from 2010)

For all this, however, the Bible distinctly teaches that the holy actions of a sanctified man, although imperfect, are pleasing in the sight of God. “With such sacrifices God is well pleased” (Heb. 13:16). “Obey your parents . . . for this is well pleasing unto the Lord” (Col. 3:20). “We . . . do those things that are pleasing in His sight” (1 John 3:22).  Let this never be forgotten, for it is a very comfortable doctrine. Just as a parent is pleased with the efforts of his little child to please him, though it be only by picking a daisy or walking across a room, so is our Father in heaven pleased with the poor performances of His believing children. He looks at the motive, principle and intention of their actions and not merely at their quantity and quality. He regards them as members of His own dear Son, and for His sake, wherever there is a single eye, He is well pleased.

I observe that the examples and detail given in this lesson reference various points of the moral law (Ten Commandments), an approach I’ve only recently begun to notice, through study of the 1689 Confession along with Tom Chantry’s series on the Ten Commandments—as contrasted with the standard fare at the New Calvinist / “Sovereign Grace” NCT church which ignores teaching on the moral law, only dealing with Christian living as it is referenced in the New Testament epistles.

For #5 above, the lesson cites some of the same scripture texts from the above J.C. Ryle quote, and the fifth commandment.  Examples of people falling into certain wrong ideas are presented from the perspective of believers who have been taught sanctification in terms of the moral law / Ten Commandments summary–those who thus at least think in these terms in reference to their Christian walk. So with #1 above, examples include a person making a specific “rule” to help him follow the tenth commandment (do not covet) or his own application of law regarding whether or not to go to the beach (in reference to the seventh commandment)—and then equating that particular application with the moral law itself and thus imposed on everyone else (the basic issue of externalism and a problem commonly associated with “fundamentalism”).

Item #3 (one I had not considered before) is the idea that, if at this moment I don’t feel like praying or reading my Bible, then if I do so anyway (“force myself to do so”) I must be a hypocrite–so I’ll just be transparent and honest instead. The biblical response to this one is No – doing the right thing, even when our heart isn’t into it, is called mortification of sin, putting to death the sinful desires. Yes we must deal with our own heart, but it is better to deal with it there, in our own thoughts, rather than bring others into the sphere of our problems by behaving poorly to others.

I especially appreciate the teaching on point 4 (equating a growing sense of sin with spiritual decline), which included the lyrics of a John Newton hymn — one I had never heard before, but which apparently is in some hymnals, including at the church doing this 1689 Confession study. See this blog post (from the Gospel Coalition blog) for the full lyrics, which Hodgins read aloud in this lesson.  (Hodgins disliked the tune in their hymnal.  From googling, here is a Youtube rendition of the hymn in the familiar tune of another hymn, Psalm 42 As the Hart Longs.)  These excellent words from John Newton describe the Christian’s prayer to God, asking to grow in faith, and love, and every grace — and the result, how the Lord answers that prayer by bringing affliction —

I asked the Lord that I might grow  / In faith, and love, and every grace;
Might more of His salvation know,  / And seek, more earnestly, His face.

. . .

“‘Tis in this way, the Lord replied, / I answer prayer for grace and faith.

These inward trials I employ, / From self, and pride, to set thee free;
And break thy schemes of earthly joy, / That thou may’st find thy all in Me.”

 

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1689 Baptist Confession Study: The Pattern of Sanctification

January 8, 2016 3 comments

Continuing in the 1689 Exposition series, comes an interesting lesson on the “Pattern of Sanctification.”  Using the analogy of a pattern, the way in which we learn of an idea as well as how to do it, this lecture considers several wrong ways to approach sanctification, and the correct pattern to follow.

Wrong patterns fall into three major categories:

  • Selective pattern (a “check-list” mentality to define and “do” holiness through a list of “dos and don’ts” that relate only to outward actions of morality)
  • Sentimental: Atavistic – the tendency to look back to and revere our ancestors; in evangelicalism, this is expressed in imitation of the particular behaviors of godly men from Christian history, such as the Puritans or J.C. Ryle. Certainly we can learn from our history and from great teachers of the past, but our own practice of holiness should be based on scriptural truths rather than “because so and so” did something – such as, because J.C. Ryle expressed strong criticism of theatre therefore we do the same – forgetting the cultural and societal contexts of what “theatre” involved in that original person’s time.
  • Subjective: our own definition of what holiness means; again, departing from scripture. The popular WWJD? (What Would Jesus Do?) is one type of subjective pattern of holiness. After all, most of us really don’t know that answer due to lack of overall biblical knowledge, and so that question really gets turned into WWID (What would I Do).

Given that a pattern has three aspects or parts – the concept, ingredients, and an illustration — we can recognize these components in our approach to progressive sanctification / holiness.

  • Concept: The attributes of our creator God – specifically, His communicable attributes, often what we see mentioned in the New Testament epistles (the fruits of the Spirit; the 1 Corinthians 13 description of love, God’s character; the qualities to add to our faith as in 2 Peter 1:5-9).
  • Ingredients: here, God’s moral law for all time, that which is well summarized in the Ten Commandments. As any study of the Ten Commandments will point out, the actual teaching expressed in this list of ten is a very broad subject, covering not mere formality or following “the letter,” but all that is really involved in each of these commands.
  • Illustration: Christ Himself, who is the exact imprint of God, the “picture” that God has provided for us; God’s Revelation of Himself to us, to satisfy our desire for an image, as addressed in the Second Commandment – Tom Chantry’s Ten Commandments series ties in so well at this point, as I’ve been going through his lectures regarding the Second Commandment. We have Christ’s example described to us in the four gospel accounts, as well as the follow-up in the rest of the New Testament.

I find this approach quite helpful, with three distinct parts from scripture to help us in our daily walk.  Those of the “new Calvinist” persuasion would make a sharp break in continuity (more than is justified) from the Old to New Testament age, so as to neglect study of the Old Testament – and sanctification becomes ONLY “look at Christ’s example,” or possibly expanded to allow for the concept in the attributes of God, but again specifically focused on New Testament revelation instead of the whole counsel of God. It is nice to see the three-pronged Reformed approach to Sanctification, how it all relates together. Certainly too, this is a much more positive and helpful understanding than the emphasis of New Calvinists (and possibly others) who cry “legalism!” at any mention of “the law” – and thus do not even study the Ten Commandments, the moral law. As Hodgins here (and others) point out, following the law is only legalism when intended as a means for our justification.

As well-observed by Tom Chantry in this post:

Say anything – anything at all – about preaching the law, and see what happens. Voices are raised on every side, mainly quoting verses out of context with absolutely no comprehension of Christian doctrine, all shouting “NO!” “We’re under grace, not law!” “We can’t proclaim commandments; salvation is of grace, not works!” The baffled preacher may answer, “Who said anything about salvation by works?” … The evangelical church is quickly becoming the one place where mention of morality is strictly proscribed.

Following the moral law, the precepts of God’s law as summarized in the Ten commandments, as a guide for increasing holiness / progressive sanctification, has nothing to do with legalism – and instead quite agrees with 1 John 2 :3 — And by this we know that we have come to know him, if we keep his commandments.

In the interesting providence of my current choices for sermon listening, I have found that these two audio sermon series — exposition of the 1689 London Baptist Confession, and Chantry’s Ten Commandments — complement each other quite well, often relating to the same overall doctrinal issues with different, but interesting, points brought up in one series, which relates to the material presented in the other series.