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1689 Confession Study: Motives for Holiness (Progressive Sanctification)

December 7, 2015 4 comments

Continuing in the 1689 Confession series, the messages on chapter 13 (Sanctification) include a look at the source of sanctification (this message).  Yes, in an objective and general sense, we can all say that our sanctification comes from the Lord, it is He who works in us and continues the work of grace in our hearts and lives, and preserves and keeps us. The subjective side, though, includes our own personal experience and specific biblical motives for our continuing to work out our own salvation with fear and trembling, in the synergistic aspect of sanctification.

Here are ten motives for holiness – as noted in the lecture, this list is not exhaustive (not in this list, for example: desire to keep one’s good name, seen in Joseph’s experience with Potiphar’s wife, one of several motives that Joseph had) , but ten major motives for the subjective aspect of sanctification.

The desire …

  1. To express love and thanksgiving to God. (1 John 5:3)
  2. To proclaim the excellencies of God. (1 Peter 2:9; our holy lives)
  3. To maintain a clear conscience before God and man. (Reference Acts 24:16, Romans 13, 1 Peter 3:16)
  4. To be more useful to God. (2 Tim. 2:20-21)
  5. To see unbelievers come to faith in Christ. (1 Peter 3:1-2, 3:15)
  6. To avoid God’s displeasure and discipline in our lives. We’re not always “up there” and so in love with God. (1 Cor. 11:29-32; the case of Ananias and Saphira, struck down for their lie)
  7. To seek greater, heavenly reward. (1 Cor. 3, 2 Cor. 5:9-10)
  8. To have a closer walk with God.
  9. To do what God commands simply because His commands are right, we delight in doing what’s right (as the psalmist delighted in God’s laws).
  10. To have peace and joy in our lives.

Some of these motives may be “higher” and more “spiritual” than others, but we should never discard the “lower” motives. In answer to those who would disdain the motive of being “more useful to God” by saying that we should always be thinking great thoughts and always be “up there” just wanting God’s glory—the reality of our Christian experience (reference Romans 7) is that we’re not always feeling such high thoughts of just wanting to praise and proclaim the greatness of God. The one who says that “I just want to glory in Christ and God can use me or not use me, it’s all about Him,” is really not being more spiritual—but rather being a hyper-Calvinist. Sometimes in our lives, only the “lower” motives will work, those times when God puts us in such conditions. As the apostle Paul told the Corinthians, “if we judged ourselves truly, we would not be judged”; so motive #6 above certainly is biblical and has its place, that we strive for holiness so as to avoid God’s chastening, such as some of the Corinthians had experienced.

A similar point is made regarding motive #7, to seek greater reward. Our salvation is not by works, yet God’s word plainly teaches that believers will have rewards for their level of faithfulness and their works done as believers. In Matthew 5:19 Jesus contrasts those who will be called “least in the kingdom of heaven” versus those who will be called “great in the kingdom of heaven.” Christ also told us to lay up treasure in heaven, not on earth, and Paul contrasts those who build on the foundation with gold, silver or precious stones, versus those who build with straw. Some will enter into glory “as by fire,” with their lives–yet all their works burned up.  We don’t know what those rewards will be in the specifics, but again, this is a motive for holiness.  Our understanding here is a “both/and” regarding salvation and rewards.

[As a sidenote here, I note an inconsistency regarding understanding and applying the ‘both/and’ concept to various doctrines. The amillennialist rejects the teaching of premillennialism on the basis that “spiritual is more important than literal, therefore only the spiritual part is true,” not seeing the “both/and” aspect of premillennialism. Yet the same person who rejects this doctrine at least understands and gets some teaching right (better than those who are more consistent yet consistently come to the wrong conclusion on most doctrines), though not seeing their inconsistent handling of various biblical doctrines.]

In our continued walk with God, we should certainly aim for greater holiness and sanctification, including through the greater motives. Yet any motive to refrain from sin and to improve in our walk with God, anything that keeps us from sin, is something good.

“Protestant Purgatory”? Confusion Regarding Regeneration and the Holy Spirit

March 28, 2013 14 comments

(Yes, it’s just a nickname, ‘Protestant Purgatory’… not actual purgatory, though something with the similar feature of a third “holding place” pre-Calvary.  Moving along to the main issue of this post: people who think Regeneration equals Permanent Indwelling of the Holy Spirit.)

A recent online discussion brought out something quite strange: Christians who actually believe the “Protestant Purgatory for Old Testament Saints” myth, the idea that the Old Testament saints were not regenerated (since they did not have the Holy Spirit indwelling) and did not go to heaven but to “Abraham’s Bosom,” a type of purgatory holding place until Calvary, at which time Christ moved them to heaven.  It turned out that this idea (at least the second part, about the OT saints not going to heaven) comes from a particular teacher of Internet and Youtube popularity; his teaching (link provided by the person in this discussion who believes this) can be found here.

The reasoning for this idea, as presented in the discussion, included emphasis on Luke 16, the parable/story of Lazarus and the Rich Man, along with other questionable ideas such as that the Old Testament never used the term “born again,” and thinking (without scriptural reasoning) that the disciples themselves were not saved and no different from unbelievers before Christ’s Resurrection/Pentecost.

As a friend later observed, “I think the problem is a faulty understanding of the ministry of the Holy Spirit throughout the Bible and the history of redemption. It is not correct to say that only those who have the dwelling of the Spirit can be regenerated, because we are not saved by the dwelling of the Spirit; but we have the dwelling because we have been saved (or regenerated).”

Surely such confusion and error is a symptom of today’s “Youtube generation” and an evangelical community not grounded in the scriptures. Scanning through S. Lewis Johnson sermons on the topic of regeneration and the post-Pentecost indwelling of the Holy Spirit, for instance, I find that he stated, casually in passing reference: Now the Old Testament says that believers were regenerated, and so we have to answer, “Yes the Old Testament says believers were regenerated.” “Were the Old Testament believers indwelt by the Holy Spirit permanently?” Now personally I have to reply, “No.”  But he didn’t go through the OT scriptures to prove it, just assuming that everyone understood this.  John MacArthur likewise makes passing reference to this as a fact, as in his two part lesson about the salvation of infants that die: there are only two places a soul can go when it dies, either into the presence of the Lord (heaven) or away from God’s presence (hell).

So much could be said in response to this error/myth, but for a summary of the obvious hermeneutical and doctrinal problems here:

1) Does anyone else (among the scholars and Bible teachers) teach this idea?  The “checking principle” of hermeneutics demands humility on the part of anyone teaching a unique interpretation, that perhaps his interpretation is wrong.  Actually, it turns out that this idea (OT saints went to some holding area) is a “fictitious and fabulous” error of the papists, denounced later by Protestants such as (18th century) John Gill (Spurgeon’s predecessor, covenantal premillennialist and high Calvinist) (reference his commentary here).  Which makes one wonder why any 21st century Protestant Calvinist would teach an error from the Catholics of old.

2) Excessive focus on a parable and drawing strong doctrinal support from such a text.  Also this approach to God’s word ignores the whole body of teaching concerning the history of redemption and the nature of salvation and regeneration as taught throughout the Bible in both the Old and New Testaments.

3) Teaches the idea of purgatory, a non-biblical idea, and a non-biblical different “truth” for Old Testament times: a third place for the soul/spirit to go, rather than the two places of biblical Christianity (into the presence of God or away from God), this third place of limbo, a holding area or purgatory for all people who died before Calvary.

Expanding on point two above, the body of teaching concerning redemption, salvation and regeneration, S. Lewis Johnson in this message explains the logical necessity of regeneration:

regeneration is needed for three reasons. First, because of the condition of humanity, we are naturally dead. We are alienated and enemies. We are blind. We are hardened. We are slaves of sin. We are ignorant. The Bible says that if we have not been born again, that we are really of the devil, and so that the condition of humanity is sufficient to make very plain to us, the necessity of regeneration if we expect to enjoy the presence of God some day.

Regeneration is also needed because of the character of holiness; that sin separates us from a holy God, and because God is a holy God, he cannot have fellowship with sin, and we are dead in sin. And so the holiness of God separates us from him, and we need regeneration, a new birth. We need to become a new creation. And finally, regeneration is needed because of the character of heaven itself. In the Bible, we are told in the Book of Revelation that “there shall not enter into heaven anything that defileth.” Heaven is not like earth, and consequently, if we are to enter into heaven, we must be pure. Therefore, we need a new birth. We cannot enter into heaven, dead in sin. We cannot enter into heaven the slaves of sin. We cannot enter into heaven in any way touched by sin. What we need is a perfect righteousness and a perfect holiness, and that can only come to us through a new birth, and a consequent justification of life.

That believers before the Cross were regenerated and not the same as natural man is obvious.  Jesus’ words to Nicodemus make clear that to be born-again was a present reality, and something that Nicodemus, as a teacher, was expected to have known. If no one was regenerated with a new heart before the Cross/Pentecost, Nicodemus would have had a very good excuse for not knowing this.  That Nicodemus should have known this also makes clear that the Old Testament taught the same as the New, that believers of all times were given a new heart and that they went to be with the Lord at their death, same as with us in the Church age.  God’s word is also quite clear on where Enoch and Elijah went, that they were raptured and taken into the presence of God (heaven); to say they went instead to some other “holding place” until Christ’s death is unscriptural and ridiculous.

Matthew 16:17 tells us that flesh and blood had not revealed to Peter his understanding (that Jesus was the Christ), “but my Father who is in heaven. Throughout the Old Testament God chose and elected His leaders and prophets.  Daniel was one beloved by the Lord (Daniel 10:19).  Numbers 11:29 and Deuteronomy 29:4 point out that God did put His spirit on some individuals. The Deuteronomy text points out to the unbelieving people that “the Lord has not given you a heart to understand or eyes to see or ears to hear,” which in context is a clear contrast between the great numbers of unbelievers and the relative few including Moses, Joshua and Caleb, who had been given a heart to understand.

Spiritual Children: Wanting Their Pets In Heaven

August 10, 2012 3 comments

As a follow-up to this recent post, I recently encountered an example of childish Christian thinking: Christian “defenders of the faith” who are interested in doctrinal topics and what’s true and not (as contrasted with the nominal church-goers interested more in secular life) yet who became quite upset at the suggestion that their pets won’t be in heaven with them.  Instead, they insist that the Bible is silent on the matter and so they hold out the hope of seeing their puppies and other pets again in heaven.

This could be addressed from several angles, a few of which I’ll mention here.  First, this attitude – reviling those who pointed out the truth, that animals do not have the spiritual component that humans do – reflects our overall conception of heaven and eternity, and the similar differences between our own childhood and adulthood, as for instance 1 Corinthians 13:11.  Nathan Busenitz gave a great illustration of this, in the comments at this blog post about heaven:

Several years ago, my wife and I were talking to our young daughter about the fact that one day she would grow up and go to college. (It was just a passing topic of conversation; not a serious discussion, seeing as she was probably only six or seven years old at the time.) Though she was initially excited about growing up, our daughter was very disappointed when she learned that she wouldn’t be able to take her toys with her to college. We tried to reassure her that, when it came time to go, she wouldn’t care about her toys. But she just didn’t understand.

Her response illustrates the way that we sometimes think about heaven. The reality is that, once we arrive in the new earth, we won’t long for anything else. We will be perfectly satisfied with all that God provides for us there (starting with intimate fellowship with Him).

As good Bible teachers exhort us, we are to grow up spiritually; we are not to remain children or remain the “weaker brother.” It is disappointing to see such an attitude, and such opposition to the truth, from those who have been professing Christians for many years and who ought to have matured at least this far, to understand and accept the situation regarding humans and their pets.

This ought to be something understood even from natural revelation.  If animals had the spiritual component and were made in the image of God (reference Genesis 1:26-27), they would have a sense of spiritual things. Why is it that everywhere in the world man is so very religious, that even pagan men who have never heard the gospel message are bowing down and worshiping something greater than themselves? Yet has anyone ever seen a dog look up in worshipful attitude? Or seen a dog kneeling down in worship to some object it sees as god, or seen a dog praying? Has anyone seen a cow looking up and gazing at the sky and contemplating its purpose and meaning in life — instead of looking down at the grass and its next meal?

Yet scripture is not silent on the matter.  Genesis 1 does explain that man is different than the animals, that while animals have a soul (a “ruach,” the Hebrew word for “breath” or “life” in the sense of the physical life force in all living creatures), yet man alone was created in the image of God.  Genesis 9 further reveals that mankind can kill and eat of any of the animals, something repeated in Acts 10:9-14.  Yet God puts a special rule in place for mankind, that ““Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed, for God made man in his own image.” (Genesis 9:6).  If animals had the same spiritual component as man, why this distinction made, that it’s okay to kill and eat all other animals, but not to kill man?  Only in the works of fiction, such as C. S. Lewis’s Narnia series, do we see talking animals.  And indeed we also see there the difference, as in the “talking stag” incident in The Silver Chair where the characters, in the company of man-eating giants, realize that they have been eating a talking animal, and realize the seriousness of such an offense.

An excerpt from S. Lewis Johnson concerning how man is made in the image of God:

Looked at from the outward side, how is man in the image of God?  He stands upright, not like the animals.  They crawl around or they move on their four legs, on all fours, but man stands upright.  Furthermore, he gazes off and because of the sphericity of the globe, he always looks at the heavens and so his appearance is of a person who stands upright and he always looks toward heaven.

Furthermore, man is able to display emotions on his face.  Now, I know you think your own pet animal laughs and cries, but it is man who particularly has the expressions that reflect the inmost being.  It is man who blushes, an animal does not blush.  And most of all, it is man who talks.  Now if we were looking only at the outward side of things, we would say in these respects man has been created in the image of God.

A final note:  a common argument brought forth, supposedly in support of pets being with us and in eternity, is what the Bible says regarding the Kingdom era about the presence of animals.  Yes, the Bible speaks of the regeneration of the earth (reference Romans 8:19-21), and other passages such as Isaiah 65 mention animals.  But that does not mean that those animals are the resurrected / regenerated pets from this age.  Scripture nowhere says that the animals which are part of the creation are the same animals from this age, and the normal grammatical reading of the Bible would never even suggest that idea.

Will More People Be Saved Than Lost?

May 25, 2012 26 comments

In the “About Me” comments section a while ago, a reader mentioned hearing a statement from S. Lewis Johnson that seemed odd to him (that more people will be in heaven than not).  I had not yet come across that particular comment from SLJ before, but referenced something from a Spurgeon sermon as a good answer, noting that SLJ often referenced Spurgeon.

Going through SLJ’s Romans series, I have now come across (at least one place) where S. Lewis Johnson expressed that idea: in the exposition of Romans 11:15.

Sometimes — because we preach the sovereign grace of God and the fact that He is not frustrated in accomplishing his purposes, He always does his will — people get the impression that what He is saying is, talking about the elect, that there are just going to be a few people in heaven.  We know all those stories that men talk about, the few people in heaven.  The apostle did not have such a doctrine.  He preached that the sovereign grace of God was directed toward a definite group of people; but that group of people shall be ultimately so numerous that you cannot number them.  Our great God of sovereign grace has included a multitude which no man can number of every kindred, tribe, tongue, and nation.  It may well be that there shall be far more people saved than are lost.  Even though in the present day, God’s company, as our Lord said in his day, was relatively a little flock.  But God’s great purposes encompass the reconciliation of the world, such a thing as life from the dead.

Spurgeon gives more detailed commentary, but as SLJ indicates, Romans 11:15 also suggests the  wonder of God’s great redemptive purposes: “For if their rejection means the reconciliation of the world, what will their acceptance mean but life from the dead?”

Here is Spurgeon’s observation  (“Law and Grace,” #37, delivered August 26, 1855):

Grace excels sin in the numbers it brings beneath its sway. It is my firm belief that the number of the saved will be far greater than that of the damned. It is written that in all things Jesus shall have the pre-eminence. And why is this to be left out? Can we think that Satan will have more followers than Jesus? Oh, no! For while it is written that the redeemed are a number that no man can number, it is not recorded that the lost are beyond numeration! True, we know that the visible elect are always a remnant, but then there are others to be added. Think for a moment of the army of infant souls who are now in Heaven. These all fell in Adam, but being all elect, were all redeemed and all regenerated and were privileged to fly straight from the mother’s breasts to Glory! Happy lot, which we who are spared, might well envy!  Nor let it be forgotten that the multitudes of converts in the millennial age will very much turn the scale. For then the world will be exceedingly populous and a thousand years of a reign of Grace might easily suffice to overcome the majority accumulated by sin during 6,000 years of its tyranny. In that peaceful period, when all shall know Him, from the least even unto the greatest, the sons of God shall fly as doves to their windows and the Redeemer’s family shall be exceedingly multiplied!

What though those who have been deluded by superstition and destroyed by lust must be counted by thousands—Grace has still the pre-eminence. Saul has slain his thousands, but David his ten thousands. We admit that the number of the damned will be immense, but we do think that the two states of infancy and millennial glory will furnish so great a reserve of saints that Christ shall win the day. The procession of the lost may be long—there must be thousands and thousands of thousands—of those who have perished. But the greater procession of the King of kings shall be composed of larger hosts than even these. “Where sin abounded, Grace did much more abound.” The trophies of Free Grace will be far more than the trophies of sin!