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Saved from Human Opinion, Decisions and Consequences, and the Christian Life

September 13, 2017 2 comments

From my studies this summer, including various sermons and readings, comes a common theme that relates to recent personal experience.  David Murray’s sermon Saved from Human Opinion really hit home in a convicting way.  Beyond the obvious intellectual understanding about how we are to please God and not man, comes the point that when we actually act in ways that are to please man (and it really doesn’t work; to please one person ends up causing problems with someone else), it reveals our own self-love: wanting to be more comfortable, wanting to avoid criticism or persecution from others, for instance.

Recent blog posts from David Murray have expanded on the remedy to this: the fear of God.  See this post (also this follow-up) which includes links to several resources including a book by Arnold Frank, and the nine-part sermon series behind the book; the sermon series is now on my list for future sermon series listening.

Along with this, I’ve been enjoying back-issues of Tabletalk magazine (thanks to the ‘cleaning house’ collection from a friend), and since 2006 was the same calendar year as 2017, each month I am going through the daily and weekend devotionals from the 2006 issues.  I especially like Tabletalk for its great content that provides both solid, rich Bible study plus great application to our daily lives.  The ones for early September also relate to this overall topic: the decisions we make and their consequences.  (Note: Tabletalk magazine’s new website now provides back issues as far back as 2006; the 2006 issues can now also be read online here.) The first weekend devotional, ‘Decisions, Decisions’,  makes a good point about our life decisions and the negative consequences that last for years afterward – while pointing out the hope we still have:

Whether or not we always consider them, every decision we make has consequences. Perhaps they are relatively incidental …  Maybe they are more consequential, such as that decision to move to a new town that ultimately resulted in finding a spouse. Whatever the case may be, we will have to deal with the outcome of our choices. As Paul writes in Galatians 6:7, “Whatever one sows, that will he also reap.”  … Despite the various hints that Sarai must give birth to the covenant child, her impatience moved her to substitute Hagar for herself and, with Abram’s acquiescence, produce Ishmael.  The consequences of this decision would haunt the covenant community for centuries. Even though the Lord did bring good out of Joseph’s situation, it was the sons of Ishmael who took him away from the promised land (Gen. 37:28). Later, Amasa the Ishmaelite commanded the armies of David’s wicked son Absalom when his coup d’etat temporarily sent the son of Jesse into exile (2 Sam. 17:25). Moreover, Islam, the greatest religious adversary of the church today, holds Ishmael in high esteem.

…But our Lord is eager to forgive, and He worked through their faith to make their pattern of decisions bring about wonderful consequences for His people.

The next devotion (for Monday, September 4) continues the study:  ‘Sarai Took Hagar’ and the lessons learned.  Particularly noted here is a parallel between the Abram-Sarai story, and the account of the fall in Genesis 3:

Even more telling, the exact wording of the Hebrew for “listened to” used of Abram in 16:2b is used elsewhere only in 3:17 where God chastises Adam because he “listened to” his wife. Clearly, Moses wants us to understand that these events are parallel in that both are accounts of transgression. Matthew Henry perceptively says this story shows Satan’s policy “to tempt us by our nearest and dearest relations.” Right after a visible confirmation of the Lord’s promise (chap. 15), Abram yields to his wife’s suggestion to lay with another when his earlier sojourn in Egypt (12:10–20) should have told him that God intended to provide his heir from Sarai’s loins. May we hear the wishes of those closest to us, but may we also take care to give God’s wisdom priority.

The ‘Coram Deo’ follows-up on this important point, one also learned by experience:  Our enemy is cunning and will often try and deceive us through those closest to us.  As John Calvin comments, “We must be on our guard against his wiles; lest by any means he should undermine us.” … Be careful not to let another close to you convince you to do something God forbids.

From recent reading of Charles Spurgeon sermons (1867 volume), sermon #764 also provides the needed reminder, that we are to view the Christian life with much patience, and as a warfare that will never let up in this life:

Life is indeed a “warfare,” and just as a man enlists in our army for a term of years, and then his service runs out, and he is free, so every believer is enlisted in the service of life, to serve God till his enlistment is over, and we sleep in death. Our charge and our armor we shall put off together. Brothers and sisters, you are enlisted soldiers, when you believe in Jesus. Let me remind you that you are a soldier, you will be always at war, you will never have a furlough or conclude a treaty. Like the old knights who slept in their armor, you will be attacked even in your rest. There is no part of the journey to heaven which is secure from the enemy, and no moment, not even the sweet rest of the Lord’s Day, when the clarion may not sound. Therefore, prepare yourselves always for the battle. “Put on the whole armor of God,” and look upon life as a continued battle. Be surprised when you do not have to fight; be wonderstruck when the world is peaceful towards you; be astonished when your old corruptions do not rise and assault you. You must travel with your swords always drawn, and you may as well throw away the scabbard, for you will never need it. You are a soldier who must always fight, and by the light of battle you must survey the whole of your life.

and

waiting means enduring with patience. We are put into this world for one appointed time of suffering, and in sacred patience we must abide steadfast the heat of the furnace. The life of many Christians is a long martyrdom—they are to bear it patiently. “Here is the patience of the saints.” … herein they fulfill their life’s design, if through abundant grace they learn to bear their woes without a murmur, and to wait their appointed time without repining.

 

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The Happy Christian and Sad Christian: David Murray Conference

July 3, 2017 Leave a comment

In the last year I have come to appreciate David Murray, for his Reformed Christian perspective on Christian counseling, including his blog as well as his conference lectures on the topic of Christian emotions and counseling.   Last fall I listened to a Christian worldview conference which included one message from Murray; recently, my podcast feed brought another interesting series from him, the “2017 Heritage Conference” – a three part set done this May.  The set includes the introductory message on “Christian Emotion,” then “The Sad Christian” and “The Happy Christian.” Based on his books on these topics (which I have not read), these three messages contain a lot of good and helpful information.

While attending a work-place communication training class this past week, I recalled this series from David Murray; he provides a good reminder that we can learn some things from secular scientists and their studies – and expand on them to encompass a Christian worldview.  Murray mentioned the negativity bias that we all have (as a result of our sin nature), which was also referenced in the secular training class.  “The science of happiness” comes from recent secular studies which note the positive effects of happiness, and the connection between being happy and our overall health and success in life; we as Christians have greater reasons for joy/happiness, as well as more resources for overcoming sadness/depression.  The “happiness science” notes that 50% of happiness comes from our genetics; some people are naturally more happy, others more serious and sad.  Another 10% comes from our life circumstances.  The remaining 40% is our response to the events in our lives, the 40% that we have control over, our attitude toward life.

Among the highlights from these lectures:  the contrast between the creation, pre-fall perfect emotions, and our now disordered emotions.  We still have the same positive emotions, plus negative ones that were not experienced before the fall, yet in our fallen state, these emotions come up at the wrong time and place (happy at seeing something bad happen to someone else), or in excess/extremes: hedonism and stoicism.

A catchy formula:  “ES + IP = ER” – External Situation + our Internal Perception = Emotional Response

God gave us our emotions in the first place; God’s work in our lives includes His redeeming our emotions, to restore them:  adding to our positive emotions (love, joy, peace) – multiplying them, enhancing them, and using them; as Nehemiah found, the joy of the Lord is our strength.  God also uses our negative emotions to help us: to keep us safe in this dangerous, fallen world, to reveal our true heart values (we can measure our treasure by our feelings), and to highlight our sin and bring conviction of sin.

Christians get depressed, too — studies show that 20% of adults, at some point in their life, will experience depression.  Christians have more resources to deal with it, but also more reasons to become depressed (conviction of sin, and the notice of Satan).  Happiness, or joy, is not something that just happens without effort; as the US. “Declaration of Independence” even says, it is “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”  A biblical definition of Christian happiness: A God-centered, God-given, God-glorifying sense of God’s love, that is produced by a right relationship in Christ, and is sustained by loving worship of God and loving service of others.

The discipline of happiness includes recognizing several contrasts (ten in his book, of which several are listed in the “Happy Christian” lesson), between one thing that is greater than the other; neither is to be ignored completely, but one should be more prominent in our thoughts.

  • Facts > feelings — reference Psalm 77
  • Good news > Bad news — reference Philippians 4:6-8
  • Done > Do
  • Christ > Christians
  • Future > Past
  • Encouragement and praise > criticism
  • Giving > Receiving
  • Diversity > Uniformity  (biblical diversity:  people from different backgrounds and cultures, being together as a community of believers)

 

 

The Moral Law, “My Sabbaths” and Ezekiel

October 15, 2015 6 comments

For today, I first note the theme of a recent book and a few blog posts — in response to the ‘New Calvinism’ emphasis today — concerning so many other Reformed teachings beyond the basic 5 points of Calvinism. David Murray at the HeadHeartHand blog has begun a series, with There’s More to Calvinism Than the Five Points of Calvinism and There’s more to the doctrines of grace than THE doctrines of grace, in which he notes the doctrine of creation, doctrine of providence, doctrine of revelation; I could go on and on: the grace of justification, the grace of adoption, the grace of sanctification, the grace of assurance, the grace of the sacraments, the grace of repentance, and so on. See how many doctrines of grace there are? And we haven’t yet touched the THE doctrines of grace. There are way more doctrines of grace than THE doctrines of grace.

Reformed Baptists (Richard Barcellos, Sam Waldron and a few others) have recently published “Going Beyond the Five Points: Pursuing a More Comprehensive Reformation” (kindle version available for $9.99), a collection of several essays about the 1689 Confession / Reformed Baptist theology (more than just the 5 points of Calvinism); I have started reading it and may post more specifically on it later.

Now to the topic of moral law and the Sabbath: in my ongoing genre-reading through the Bible, lately I have been reading through the first half of Ezekiel (end of the ‘OT history’ list) and the last chapters of Isaiah (beginning of the Prophets list), and certain impressions come through very strongly. The theme of judgment on apostate Israel is especially prominent in this section of Ezekiel (chapters 20 through 23), as generally elsewhere throughout the prophets, with contrasts between the wicked and their wicked acts, and the righteous and their righteous acts. At this point Israel had become worse than the Canaanite nations that the Lord had driven out before them; thus Israel was also removed from the land. As I’ve read previously from Phil Johnson, even the Canaanite nations were held accountable by God for a basic moral law (reference Romans 2:14-15), a law they were judged by even though they did not have the special revelation given to Moses, the written form of the Mosaic law.

Throughout the judgment passages in the Old Testament is the point that God detests and actually hates the ceremonial observance of apostate Israel – because they were not doing so from the heart, but merely with their lips, going through the motions only. Again and again this point is made, of the wicked ceremonial observance along with moral injustice, and the call to repentance, to return to the Lord and to do righteousness. Reference here Isaiah chapter 1, which describes apostate Israel’s Sabbath observance–within the context of their ceremonial law (verses 13-14): “Bring no more vain offerings; ​​​​​​​incense is an abomination to me. ​​​​​​​New moon and Sabbath and the calling of convocations- ​​​​​​​I cannot endure iniquity and solemn assembly. Your new moons and your appointed feasts my soul hates.”

But then turn especially to Ezekiel 20 through 22, passages of strong judgment against Israel; interestingly enough, in these pronouncements of judgment, the Sabbath (a moral Sabbath, always referred to as “My Sabbaths”) is stated eight times (six in Ezekiel 20, and two more in Ezekiel 22), as something that apostate Israel was NOT doing and that they SHOULD do. Consider several of these references:

20:13 They did not walk in my statutes but rejected my rules, by which, if a person does them, he shall live; and my Sabbaths they greatly profaned.

20:16 because they rejected my rules and did not walk in my statutes, and profaned my Sabbaths; for their heart went after their idols.

20: 19-20: I am the LORD your God; walk in my statutes, and be careful to obey my rules, 20 and keep my Sabbaths holy that they may be a sign between me and you, that you may know that I am the LORD your God.

20:21 They did not walk in my statutes and were not careful to obey my rules, by which, if a person does them, he shall live; they profaned my Sabbaths.​​​​​​​​

20: 23-24: I swore to them in the wilderness that I would scatter them among the nations and disperse them through the countries, 24 because they had not obeyed my rules, but had rejected my statutes and profaned my Sabbaths, and their eyes were set on their fathers’ idols.

22:8 You have despised my holy things and profaned my Sabbaths.

Clearly (and logically), if on the one hand God hated their wrong-hearted observance of ceremonial law and rebuked them for their “new moon and Sabbath” – and yet so many times in Ezekiel alone He charged them with wrongdoing, forsaking God’s law and profaning His Sabbath – our God is referring to two different concepts of “Sabbath,” and He is especially concerned with a higher, moral concept of a Sabbath (the 4th commandment), not merely the ceremonial observance of their Sabbaths done in connection with the Mosaic law.  Further — and contrary to the teaching of NCT (New Covenant Theology) — this understanding of God’s moral law, of greater importance than Israel’s ceremonial law, was revealed and understood in the Old Testament, and known by Old Testament saints; God’s moral law was not something missing or incomplete or some “lower standard of morality” that had to be “raised” to a higher level of “the law of Christ” that was unknown before His First Coming.

 

Regarding the Old Testament: Covenantal, Dispensational and NCT Views

November 18, 2014 3 comments

A little over a year ago (summer 2013), a passing comment in David Murray’s blog post caused a bit of uproar from Calvinist Dispensationalists. Included in a list of 7 reasons why the Old Testament is neglected was this 4th reason: “Although unintended, the dispensational division of Scripture into different eras tends to relegate the Old Testament to a minor role in the life of the Church, and of the individual Christian.” The Cripplegate blog, and a guest post from Dan Phillips at David Murray’s blog addressed some reasons why dispensationalists do study the Old Testament.

From my studies concerning dispensationalism, and covenant theology (including Baptist covenant theology and covenantal premillennialism) and its contrasts with New Covenant Theology, here are some further reflections on the overall issue of people’s interest in the Old Testament – and how it relates to their theological reference system.

Dispensationalism

Murray’s original comment noted what was introduced with classic dispensationalism, “the division of Scripture into different eras,” and thus greater supposed differences between OT saints and the church age. Though current-day dispensationalists tend to downplay the specific number of dispensations, often they will emphasize the historical covenants that relate to the different time periods – especially the Abrahamic and Davidic covenants, and thus study that part of the Old Testament. “The division of Scripture into different eras” also includes, as with NCT (discussed below), the traditional definition of antinomianism (Christ taught a new “higher law” beyond the original Mosiac Ten Commandments, and regarding law, only what is taught in the NT is for “church age” believers). Generally, though, dispensationalists put more emphasis on the prophetic word – of which there is much content from the Old Testament. This includes study of the historical covenants, as well as all that the Old Testament scriptures say related to promises for Israel’s future. The dispensationalist’s interest in the Old Testament also overlaps with that of overall premillennialism in study of the many Old Testament prophecies regarding the future millennial age, an intermediate phase followed by the eternal state, as well as the prophecies that speak of a future regathering and restoration of the people of Israel.

Covenant Theology

The CT view sees much more unity (than the other two groups) in the Bible as one people of God, with much in common between the believing community of Israel and the NT church. Old Testament saints had the indwelling Holy Spirit to guide them (though in less measure) and we can learn from their examples, from what is often referred to as “the Jewish church.” Also, the moral law, the natural law which was summarized in the Ten Commandments/ Decalogue, goes back to creation, as law from God for all peoples living in all times – not just something that began with Moses and only for Israel through the 1st century. All believers, from all ages, understand the same precepts and delight in God’s law, and we learn from everything in God’s word, the unity of the scriptures. Within covenant theology, some teachers emphasize the law, grace, and sanctification, while others (such as covenantal premillennialists) teach on this issue as well as eschatology.

NCT (New Covenant Theology)

The third group, NCT, combines some elements from dispensationalism and other ideas associated with Covenant Theology, to end up with something that could be considered (as others have expressed it) “the worst parts” from these two systems. Here I refer primarily to the “majority view” within NCT, that seems to “get both things wrong” in reference to both the nature of law AND their eschatology. (There are a few exceptions; one well-known NCT proponent holds to historic premillennialism and thus more interest in the Old Testament for that reason.) It is this group that appears to take the least amount of interest in the Old Testament; and I have observed “hard-core NCT” proponents actually say this, that the OT has so little value and that from now on they only do their evangelism from the New Testament.

On the one hand, NCT teaches – and emphasizes — the discontinuity of dispensational theology: a sharp division between Old and New Testament believers. The Decalogue was only for Old Testament believers, and moral law for us is only true if it is repeated in the New Testament. This group further maintains (again, at least some of its adherents) that OT Israel was never really a believing community, apart from the very few characters set forth for us, essentially the prophets, King David and a few other godly kings.

NCT also takes very little interest in eschatology, as a secondary issue not worth much consideration, but a “default” position of amillennialism generally associated with extreme “partial preterism” (all prophecy except Christ’s return, the general resurrection, general judgment, and eternal state, was completed by A.D. 70). Given their view of OT Israel as not really a believing community, it is not surprising to hear the claim, as I recently heard at an NCT local church, that “Israel never had any sovereign election to begin with, it was only a type of our individual election in the NT age” – in complete ignorance of what even the NT teaches, such as in Romans 9:4-5 (They are Israelites, and to them belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises. 5 To them belong the patriarchs, and from their race, according to the flesh, is the Christ who is God over all, blessed forever. Amen.)

* * * * * * * * *

In summary, both “systems” of covenant theology and dispensationalism can find at least some benefit in studying the Old Testament, whether from a viewpoint of continuity or an interest in the prophetic word.  However, when both of these ideas (CT and DT) are rejected — in favor of sharp discontinuity regarding OT and NT saints and overall sanctification, law and grace, combined with very little (if any) interest in eschatology/millennialism– the resulting theological system becomes something that sees little if any benefit in studying the Old Testament.