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The Significance of Both Creation and Last Things (Eschatology)

July 30, 2013 8 comments

Occasionally I come across statements, such as from individuals involved with Creation ministries, from those who hold to young earth creation but are not consistent in their end-times position.  As someone well observed in an online discussion recently, “obviously Creationists are not necessarily dispensationalists when it comes to prophecy; but there are far fewer non-literal-Creationist dispensationalists than 6-day-Creationist-CT/NCT people around.”

I previously referenced this over a year ago here (this post) in reference to (Answers in Genesis) Ken Ham’s statement, that he thinks creation and eschatology are somehow different and unrelated.  His reasoning:  we also have the scientific physical evidence for creation, and the creation compromises came about from people responding to external ideas about evolution and old-earth. Whereas, he claims, eschatology is only dealing with the words of scripture themselves, apart from any external ideas.

His first point, about scientific evidence, of course overlooks the issue of presuppositions.  Unbelief will compel an old-earth scientist to come up with explanations for observed data that “fit” his own presuppositions; physical evidence does not of itself “prove” anything.  His second point ignores the clear hermeneutical issues and the history of the development of amillennialism and replacement theology through those who embraced the allegorical, spiritualizing hermeneutic instead of the literal, grammatical, historical hermeneutic.

In online discussion someone recently posted this link from Creation.com, in which the writer responds to a church-goer’s question about her pastor’s post-modern approach to God’s word.  Here the reasoning is that somehow creation is a more important doctrine than eschatology: The issues regarding Genesis are in a quite different league to those concerning prophecy, we would submit, because they are foundational to, and woven throughout the fabric of, the very Gospel of salvation itself.

Really? A closer look shows us that errors in creation and eschatology have several features in common, directly attacking central biblical teachings concerning the attributes and character of God, the authority of God’s word, and understanding of our salvation:

Concerning the Character of God:

       Doctrine of Creation

  • a liar, whose word cannot be depended on: that He did not really create the world in six literal, ordinary days as He said (even directly inscribed in stone tablets by God, on Mt. Sinai; reference Exodus 20:11, the Ten Commandments)
  • a cruel God whose idea of “very good” before the fall was actually a creation already cursed and experiencing death long before Adam fell.

      Doctrine of Eschatology / Last Things

  • A Bait-and-Switch God whose word cannot be depended on, who gave one set of promises to one group of people but later changed both the promises and the recipients.
  • A Pelagian-salvation God: Israel lost their promises due to their apostasy, and blew their chances due to their fall.  How, then, do we have any assurance that God will not also give up on us (Christians in this age) and reject us after all?

Concerning the Authority of God’s Word

The above-mentioned writer continues:   That does not mean that one can’t be terribly inconsistent and be saved in spite of disbelieving what Genesis teaches, but it has serious ramifications in church, culture, and society, and in the lives of many individuals—as well as for our effectiveness in evangelism, if the authority of the Word of God can be so cavalierly evaded in such a plain, straightforward matter.

Substitute “premillennialism” for “Genesis” above, and the meaning is the same.  Our understanding of the church (ecclesiology), and culture and society is DIRECTLY affected by our millennial view.  Errors here have brought about misguided ideas such as postmillennial dominion theology and “Christian America,” over-emphasis on the Church age (falling into the very error the apostle Paul warned against in Romans 11), and seriously hampered evangelism efforts among the Jews — and any unbelievers who read the Bible without awareness of Covenant Theology’s allegorical hermeneutic.  (Try explaining to Jews that all of their prophecies about Christ’s First Coming were literally fulfilled in Christ, BUT the prophecies about His Second Coming are instead spiritualized to mean something else, blessings to the (Gentile) Christian Church).

Creation AND Eschatology (the future), unlike all other scriptural teaching, are both areas unknown to mankind apart from Divine Revelation: we weren’t there at the beginning, and we don’t know the future.  Underlying both of these teachings are major, fundamental issues concerning the character of God and the nature of salvation.  Whether said by the leaders of various creation ministries or not, whatever “reasons” to justify the preference of one teaching over the other, the reality is that the doctrine of creation is not at all “in a different league” from the prophetic word.

Non-Essential Doctrines: The Test of Obedience

September 11, 2012 17 comments

In response to the many compromisers, who want to pick and choose which doctrines to believe – or even to rank the doctrines in importance by tiers, finding the “essential” things a person must believe in order to be saved — comes this great answer from Charles Spurgeon.  Such unbelief is nothing new, the same today as in Spurgeon’s day, and still so relevant and true in every area of biblical doctrines, where professing Christians sin in unbelief by rejecting “part” of what God says.  So the next time a liberal-minded preacher uses the line that “not all Christians believe this” or “it isn’t essential to believe this” in regards to what the Bible reveals to us (including such things as the Genesis 1 creation, and many other doctrinal points), remember this point and illustration from Spurgeon.

From sermon #359, “The Tabernacle—Outside the Camp”:

Some will say, “You make too much of non-essentials.” That is a thing I frequently hear—non-essentials! There are certain things in Scripture, they tell us, that are non-essentials, and therefore they are not to be taken any notice of. Doctrinal views, and the Baptism of Believers, for instance—these are non-essential to salvation, and therefore, is the inference which follows according to the theory of some—we may be very careless about them!

Do you know, Believer in Christ, that you are a servant? And what would you think if a servant should first wittingly neglect her duty, and then come to you and tell you that it is non-essential? If she should not light the fire tomorrow morning, and when you came down, she were to say, “Well, Sir, it is non-essential; you won’t die though the fire is not lit”—or if, when she spread the breakfast, there was no provision there but a crust of bread, and nothing for you to drink; what if she should say, “Well, Sir, it is non-essential, you know? There is a glass of water for you and a piece of bread—the rest is non-essential.” If you came home and found that the rooms had never been swept, and the dust was upon them, or that the bed had not been made, and that you could not take an easy night’s rest, and the servant should say, “Oh, it is non-essential, Sir; it is quite nonessential.”

I think you would find it to be non-essential for you to keep her any longer, but extremely essential that you should discharge her! And what shall we say of those men who put aside the words of Christ, and say, “His precepts are quite non-essential”? Why, I think because they are non-essential, they therefore become the test of your obedience! If you could be saved by them, and if they were necessary to your salvation, your selfishness would lead you to observe them; but inasmuch as they are not necessary to your salvation, they become tests of your willingness to obey Christ!

Christian Liberty: Should The Strong Always Yield to the Weak?

June 19, 2012 3 comments

Much has been said, and often, about Christian liberty.  In some cases it is misrepresented, or certain aspects of it are emphasized while other areas neglected.  Romans 14 and 15, and the S. Lewis Johnson Romans series, consider the proper balance.

Paul’s text presents both sides:  the strong Christian should not look down on the weaker brother who eats only vegetables, and the weak Christian should not despise the strong one who eats everything.  The strong Christian should also take care to not do anything that would cause the weaker brother to stumble or wound his conscience.  In normal situations, though, the strong believer recognizes that everything is of the Lord, that there are no other gods, and so has greater Christian liberty to eat meat and other things which might bother the conscience of a weaker believer.

Christian liberty (of course) refers to morally indifferent things, and not to things which are revealed in the scriptures as clearly wrong or unclean.  The tendency among many believers, though, is to overemphasize only the part about the stronger believer giving up his liberty so as not to injure the weaker brother.  However, as SLJ points out, the strong Christian should not always give up his liberty.  In the first place, all Christians are in the growing process, and the weaker Christians will (or at least should) grow and mature to become strong Christians.  That at least is the goal and the desired outcome.  More significantly, though, when the stronger Christians always give up their liberty, a dangerous situation results in which only the most narrow and “lowest common denominator” belief is set forth as representing true Christianity.  Then the outside world, unbelievers, see this very narrow interpretation – the view of the weakest Christian – as actually being true Christianity.  As Johnson observes:

At times, it is probably proper for us to indulge in our liberty, because after all, what the Bible teaches is important for us to understand.  The cause of Jesus Christ is never advanced by having every strong Christian in a congregation always and completely forego his rights, because what happens then is that the question is settled on the basis of the narrowest and the most prejudiced person in the congregation.  The person who is most narrow in his viewpoint and most prejudiced, it is his viewpoint that ultimately prevails.  … what eventually becomes involved in this is that the outside world then begins to think that a Christian is a person who, if in order to be a Christian, must give up this and must give up that and must give up the other thing, and the result is that our salvation by grace becomes confused with things that have to do with human works.  And thus we give a false picture of the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ.

The Lord Jesus, I think, illustrates this in the way in which he treated the Sabbath.  It was a day.  And some observe the Sabbath very strictly and others observed it more leniently.  The Lord Jesus did not hesitate to do some things on the Sabbath days that offended the weaker consciences of some of the people in his day.

A few further thoughts … as understood from the context of Romans 14-15, and the similar texts in 1 Corinthians, Christian liberty also has nothing to do with the question of how we handle doctrine, the things revealed and taught in God’s word.  Yet I have seen the concept of “Christian liberty” taught, by the doctrinally shallow and weak, as an excuse for not being dogmatic and certain about what God’s word teaches.  Christian liberty is thus misconstrued to encompass the overall post-modern worldview and its attack on the clarity of God’s word, rather than those things which truly are indifferent.  By such distorted reasoning, certain doctrines, things set forth in God’s word, are equated with the morally indifferent issues of food and drink.  (I have in mind particularly the prophetic word, that which Peter even said we would do well to pay attention to, 2 Peter 1:19.) That error is compounded with imbalance: the idea that one group must always defer to the other; in their case, the ones that are certain about a particular doctrine must yield and “not cause division.”  Thus this twisted view attempts to justify continual biblical ignorance and spiritual babyhood, because after all, these are really things of indifference and those who dare to have an opinion about them are really the ones being divisive and causing trouble.

When Doctrinal Labeling Attempts Go Too Far

December 14, 2011 Leave a comment

From various online discussions with other believers, it soon becomes apparent that labels are often used to describe the various beliefs of particular teachers.  In a general way these definitions are helpful, in the larger differences such as between “cessationism” and “continuationism,” as well as in the overall categories of millennialism and the past-present-future continuum approach to the book of Revelation.

Through this approach, though, some have a tendency to get carried away and take the labels and categories too far.  On the one hand, are those who habitually change their views on important doctrines, one week a Dispensational premillennial, next week a Postmillennial Preterist.

We must continually remember the abiding principle, to understand the biblical doctrines underlying what we say we believe, and read the Bible as primary, rather than try to analyze and categorize every known and lesser-known Bible teacher.  When someone asks the question, “what type of dispensationalist is John MacArthur?” the real answer is that he shuns labels precisely because of the confusion and misperceptions that they can cause; and if the person really wants to know what MacArthur believes, the way to find that out is by listening to or reading his sermons, to see how he interprets various texts of scripture.

Sometimes the labels and categories go into even further details:  NCT premillennial, covenantal premillennial, historic premillennial, classic dispensationalism, progressive dispensationalism, etc.

I am among those who use the terms dispenationalist, and Calvinist-Dispensational.  In my recent post “The Five Points of Dispensationalism,” a few others agreed with the final list of five distinctives of dispensationalism:

1.  Distinction between Israel and the Church.  The church is not Israel, it is not the continuation of Israel, and it has not replaced Israel.
2.  Israel’s Future. Israel has a future as a nation in the plan of God in which the Lord will fulfill the covenant promises He made to her in the Old Testament.
3.  Emphasis on the Biblical covenants set forth in scripture, and especially on the unconditional, unilateral Abrahamic, Davidic and New Covenants.  These take precedence over the theological covenants of Covenant Theology.
4.  Literal future kingdom of God upon the earth, which will last for a literal 1000 years, in which Christ reigns from Jerusalem, and Israel has a place of prominence among the nations.
5.  Literal-grammatical-historical hermeneutic.  The Old Testament stands on its own and is not “reinterpreted” to have additional meanings.  Bible texts can have multiple applications, but have (one) singular meaning.

Labeling of different beliefs can also be taken too far, in restricting the meanings to only “the select few” who hold to a more restricted meaning instead of an overall meaning such as this.  Recently, for instance, I have come across those who limit dispensationalism to only the classic kind, noting the exception of PD; anyone outside of the traditional “classic dispensationalism” cannot be called a dispensationalist.  Thus, these individuals concluded that S. Lewis Johnson (in a sentence also listing A.W. Pink and Waltke) rejected dispensationalism due to the tension with 5-Point Calvinist / Reformed theology.  Further discussion noted that of course SLJ did not abandon dispensationalism in the manner of Pink or Waltke, two individuals who completely left and switched to amillennial CT.  Yes, SLJ would be in the group that “the other side” would still call dispensationalism. Yet they still were very reluctant to admit that SLJ was, in the overall definition, dispensationalist.  They especially noted SLJ’s apparent later abandonment of the pre-trib rapture as well as the characteristics of classic dispensationalism in favor of “one people of God” and all believers inheriting all the Abrahamic promises including the land promises (the grafting-in in the Romans 11 olive tree).  Then attempts followed to say how SLJ was NOT dispensationalist, how he was more like “NCT Premillennial” or like “PD” (Progressive Dispensationalism), even to say that surely we cannot include SLJ as a dispensationalist, since that would mean widening the definition so greatly as to include covenantal premillennialists like Spurgeon and Ryle.

However, we need to remember that S. Lewis Johnson focused on the biblical covenants (not the theological covenants of CT, the case of Spurgeon and Ryle).  Furthermore, he did not see the church or this age in any way “spiritually fulfilling” the Kingdom, or that Christ is now seated and reigning on David’s throne (distinctives of NCT-Premill and PD).  That point was finally understood, with the conclusion that indeed SLJ defies the standard doctrinal labels; yet still they preferred to say that SLJ left dispensationalism and in later years was not dispensational.

In the comments follow-up from the “Five Points of Dispensationalism” post, a few others also preferred removing the pre-trib rapture as one of the “five points,” and yet they were comfortable with calling the final five points “dispensationalism.”  S. Lewis Johnson certainly fit those points, even in his later years.  Matt Weymeyer similarly defines himself as a dispensationalist, as do many others I know on the  “Calvinist Dispensationalists” group.

The conclusion of all these discussions is that at any rate I’m in good company with many others who understand  dispensationalism in the overall sense (the five points cited above) and who are comfortable with the terms “dispensationalist” and “Calvinist Dispensationalist.”  We all need to avoid such extremes as narrowing definitions too much, to restrict doctrinal terms to only a select few who agree exactly with our own particular notions.  In reality, as I continue to learn from the views of different believers, we all have slightly different views on particular biblical texts and particular issues in Christian life and practice.  No two Bible teachers, however similar, are always going to interpret the same passage in exactly the same way.

Continuity and Discontinuity Between the Old and New Testament

October 20, 2011 10 comments

Often in discussions about “Covenant Theology” versus “Dispensational Theology,” the topic of continuity and discontinuity comes up.  I’ve often heard an amillennialist pastor say, for instance (without setting forth any specifics), that CT holds to complete continuity between the Old and New Testaments, and dispensationalists believe in complete discontinuity, and he thinks it’s somewhere in the middle (the continuity level of NCT, Reformed Baptists).

Then this weekend, in an online discussion between Calvinist Dispensationalists, we discussed the ideas of ultra- or hyper-dispensationalism; one person apparently holds to a mixture of moderate and ultra-dispensationalism.  That view does make much of discontinuity, saying that the church started not in Acts 2 but at some later point in Acts:  chapters 9, 13, a few other places, or even the extreme of after Acts.  Ultra-dispensationalism also puts discontinuity between the NT epistles from Peter (to the Jews of the kingdom dispensation) versus the epistles from Paul, saying that Gentiles only follow Christ as Paul follows Christ.

But what is a valid biblical understanding concerning continuity and discontinuity in the Bible?  Here I refer back to a lesson from S. Lewis Johnson, #16 in his “The Divine Purpose” series.

Areas of Continuity:
1.  Believers in the church and Israel, whether Jewish or Gentile, inherit the Messianic promises. The same promises that are found in the Old Testament, in the prophetic word, are the promises that are inherited by all believers within the Christian church, Jews and Gentiles.  Romans 11 sets this forth, in the description of the olive tree and the wild branches (Gentiles) grafted into the same olive tree, inheriting the same promises.

2.  Both entities, Israel and the church, form part of the one overall purpose of God that deals with the nations.
Romans chapter 11:28-32 describes this.  God has arranged things in the divine plan of ages in such a way that he might have mercy upon all.

Areas of Discontinuity
1.  A change in the national character of the people of God, as the history of the church unfolds:  from a Jewish church at the beginning (Pentecost), then historical change to predominately Gentiles. This is brought out in the book of Acts and later church history.

2.  A change in the administration of the Kingdom of God.
The administration of the kingdom, which belonged to the nation Israel, has now been taken from them because of the disobedience of the nation as a whole and handed over to the church of Jesus Christ.   As S. Lewis Johnson observes:  And so that’s why we read in the apostle’s language in 1 Timothy chapter 3, and in other places, similar types of things, that it is the responsibility of the church to guard the truth, to be the pillar and ground of the truth of God in the present time.  Israel’s privileges then are given to Gentiles until their restoration.

3.  A change in the relation of Israel to the Gentiles.

Israel was given the Law of Moses; now, the Law of Moses has been done away with.  The church, the people of God, are no longer under the Law of Moses.  In the Old Testament, if a man became a believer in Christ, he would unite with the nation Israel.  That is no longer a necessary thing.  The mental wall of partition, as Paul states in Ephesians 2, has been broken down and, therefore, and the Book of Acts records how this is spelled out in history, therefore, while a believing Gentile may enter the church of Jesus Christ on the same basis, in the same way, that a member of the nation Israel enters the church through faith in the Messiah who has come and is to come.

4.  A change has taken place in the divine ordinances.  The Old Testament had circumcision, the sign of belonging to the Abrahamic covenant.  Now, we as believers do not have circumcision, but have the ordinances of water baptism and the Lord’s supper.

5.  A change in the individual experience of salvation.  The believer today enjoys an access to God that believers in the Old Testament did not enjoy.

A Follow-Up on Theological Triage

July 7, 2011 2 comments

This is a follow-up from a recent post concerning Theological Triage.  Following are a few points I made in the follow-up comments, for clarification on my overall broad definition of eschatology and how it really is an issue of importance (not on the level of food and drink), very similar to the overall issue of Arminianism versus Calvinism and related to the believer’s level of overall maturity and doctrinal understanding.  Since comments are often lost and buried, I decided to repost it here as a separate post, with a few revisions and additions.

(Regarding the relative importance of eschatology, historically)… Just because it wasn’t an issue historically, is not valid reason to say that differences in understanding of eschatology are no obstacle or limitation on fellowship. Arminianism as I understand is also a relatively recent development, and yet differences in understanding DO limit the level of fellowship there, and thus Arminians fellowship separately, and Calvinists tend to feel uncomfortable in Arminian churches.  This is especially true when the Arminian preacher speaks against Calvinism, but even in the general handling of ideas concerning election and God’s sovereignty.  Calvinist preachers I know have said the same thing I’m saying here: we should not be too harsh and say that Arminians are not saved, but rather we acknowledge that Arminians are saved yet have an incomplete understanding of these issues, and so our fellowship is limited.

I would agree that among those believers who have not fully studied eschatology and don’t think it’s important, fellowship is unhindered. They are at the same level in their walk and maturity. Yet when some believers have studied the matter and have greater understanding, that DOES LIMIT the level of fellowship with those who either a) haven’t given it much thought or b) have contrary ideas. To those who do fully understand premillennialism, though, differences in preaching do come out when listening to non-premillennarians. I can notice the differences in the preaching of many different parts of scripture, since understanding of the church and Israel and the coming literal kingdom come out in so many scriptures, not just in the “classic” eschatology passages that everyone thinks of like Daniel or Revelation etc. So I contend that these differences in how we interpret various scriptures, have far greater impact on church fellowship (including what is being taught at that church), at least as much as differing views concerning baptism and communion. Again, since so few passages actually touch on those doctrines, those doctrines really don’t come up all that often in a particular church’s sermons or other teaching; yes, they come up in a particular church’s practices of actual baptism and communion, but not as much in the sermons.

Finally, consider this matter logically:
Correlation idea put forth:
1.  Christians really didn’t make much of an issue over such-and-such doctrine (doctrine A) for the majority of church history.
2.  Christians have studied and come to differing conclusions concerning doctrine doctrine A.
Therefore:
1. Therefore, doctrine A must be somehow unclear and speculative in nature, and
2.  Therefore, doctrine A must be unimportant.

Now, substitute “Doctrines of Grace” (i.e., the 5 points of Calvinism) for “doctrine A” above.

Christians historically did not question this matter, generally, until more recent times (Reformation and later, not really until the 18th century), and it wasn’t an issue.  Yet when Christians have studied the Doctrines of Grace they have come to very differing conclusions: Calvinism, Arminianism, even mid-range points such as Calminianism and Amyraldianism.

Therefore, the “Doctrines of Grace” must be somehow unclear and speculative in nature, and the “Doctrines of Grace” must therefore be of third-tier level, unimportant, and something we should not divide fellowship over.

Does this really make sense?

The Lordship Controversy: Specials from the S. Lewis Johnson Miscellaneous Files

March 17, 2011 4 comments

In my recent exercise sessions, I’ve been listening to an assortment of topical messages from S. Lewis Johnson.  Interesting topics have included reviews of John MacArthur’s book Charismatic Chaos, another concerning MacArthur and the Lordship controversy, as well as John Stott, George Muller, and Israel and the PLO Peace Treaty.

The “Lordship Controversy” message was recorded in 1989, soon after the publication of MacArthur’s book, “The Gospel According to Jesus” and as an accompaniment to an article that S. Lewis Johnson had published in Christianity Today magazine (September 1989).  Amongst all the rhetoric over the years on both sides (and I have concurred with the MacArthur view, as best as I understand it), SLJ presented the proper perspective:  that we really need to understand the definitions and terminology that the different people are using.  Zane Hodge didn’t clearly define what he meant.  Ryrie apparently stated some things in an unclear way so that he was misunderstood, but elsewhere Ryrie stated his belief as one that is more accurate.  MacArthur for the most part is right, but in his book he showed some inconsistency — in some places saying that the believer first coming to Christ must give Him total 100% commitment/Lordship, but then backing off in other places and saying, well not 100%.

The matter really involves understanding the difference between justification and sanctification, and MacArthur’s book (as he himself has said) came out of his own frustration at seeing the easy-believism methods and techniques used to bring people to the Lord, but then not proving to be true conversions.  Interestingly, S. Lewis Johnson picked up on this as the likely thing that prompted MacArthur to write the book (the general feelings of pastors, teaching a lot and disappointed with the results), even though at that time he was unfamiliar with the details that MacArthur would mention in later interviews.  I recall, for instance, MacArthur telling about the times he met strangers (such as on airplanes), who asked him basic questions about how to be saved — and he would right then and there give a gospel presentation and guide them into making a confession of faith.  But then when he followed up with those people, the conversions proved to be incomplete and false.

The confusion between justification and sanctification, though, is an age-old one — and again I refer back to J.C. Ryle’s classic work, Holiness, as a good source for understanding the difference between these two doctrines.  See also my previous blog on the introduction to his book for more background concerning that book and the “Holiness” Keswick movement of the late 19th century.

The Believer’s Rewards: Matthew 5

January 20, 2011 1 comment

I have interacted with professing believers who are uncomfortable with the idea of Christians getting rewards.  It seems to them that such an idea implies works, or that some believers are higher ranked before God than others — and of course that can’t be true because we are all sinners and equal in the sight of God.  I’ve noticed too, that those who most emphasize our equality before God (and hence no rewards) also have a problem with several other biblical teachings — including the future of ethnic Israel and our Lord’s future kingdom of God upon the Earth.  I think of, for example, the pastor who denies any teaching concerning rewards, who even thinks that believers will be judged according to their works at the Great White Throne judgment (supposedly, to show that we’re just as unworthy as unbelievers, except for Christ’s imputation of us in the book of Life)– and the same one who denies the believer’s rewards also denies biblical creation, the future salvation and kingdom for Israel, as well as less obvious teachings such as the Angel of the Lord and the (election) salvation of infants who die.  Others I know that deny the teaching on biblical rewards are consistent in also rejecting at least some of the above doctrines, with special emphasis on how we’re all equal before God.  Reference also my recent blog, concerning those who profess belief in the basic doctrines yet emphasize their salvation and that “it’s not necessary to believe such-and-such doctrine.”

I’ve been listening to S. Lewis Johnson’s Matthew series, and chapter 5 (starting the Sermon on the Mount) has a lot of good material including the matter of rewards.  Consider Matthew 5:12, or  Jesus’ strong words upholding the importance of scripture in Matthew 5:17-18.

I like how S. Lewis Johnson explained the nature of the Christian’s rewards:

Now, a reward in the Christian faith is not a prize.  Rewards in the Christian faith are quite different.  There is a reward which has no natural connection with the things you do to earn it, and it’s quite foreign to the desires which ought to accompany these things.  Money is not the natural reward of love.  And so if a man marries a woman because she’s a wealthy woman, then what do we call that man?  Well, we call him mercenary, to use a nice word.  Now, marriage is the proper reward of a real love, and so when marriage takes place between two individuals who love one another, then we do not say those individuals are mercenary for desiring to be married.  There are rewards, and then there are rewards.

… Now a general who fights and fights well in order to become a lord is mercenary.  But a general who fights for victory is not mercenary.  In other words, when we talk about rewards, true rewards are the activity itself in its consummation – in its natural consummation.  So, in the Bible, when we talk about being given a reward, it’s not like a man who tries to marry a woman for her money, and he gets something entirely different from that which he’s been doing.  But it’s the natural consummation of everything that he has been doing.  So just as marriage is the natural consummation of true love, and is the reward of true love for both of those who are involved, so Christian rewards are not something tacked on like a prize because we’ve learned all of Beethoven’s sonatas, or because we have done this or that, but because it is the natural consummation of the Christian life.  And so rewards are those things that are the natural end of faithfulness in Christian life and ministry.

Just a few messages later, Johnson again mentions the difference between salvation and rewards.  It does play a part in the issue of how we respond to and accept the various teachings of the Bible:

But there are individuals who say, I can accept the Bible, but I can’t accept that.  I don’t know if you really believe the Bible.  That is so plain and so clear.  And when we read in the very next verse about the inviolability of Scripture, “Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments,”—I grant that that’s not as important as the atonement.  I grant that’s not nearly so important as the doctrine of unconditional election.  But nevertheless, it is one of the least commandments of the word of God at least, and he said, (Matthew 5:19) “Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven.”  Salvation may not be at stake, but your place in the kingdom of heaven, the rewards that Christians have, is at stake.

J.C. Ryle’s Holiness: Chapter 2, Sanctification

October 28, 2010 2 comments

This chapter has some great insights.  I have previously mentioned the “means of grace,” and this chapter contains J.C. Ryle’s reference to that term.

A few quotes I found especially helpful and comforting:

Sanctification is a thing which cannot justify a man, and yet it pleases God. The holiest actions of the holiest saint that ever lived are all more or less full of defects and imperfections. They are either wrong in their motive or defective in their performance and in themselves are nothing better than “splendid sins,” deserving God’s wrath and condemnation. To suppose that such actions can stand the severity of God’s judgment, atone for sin and merit heaven is simply absurd. “By the deeds of the law shall no flesh be justified.” “We conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law” (Rom. 3:20–28). … 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.

and

True holiness does not make a Christian evade difficulties, but face and overcome them. Christ would have His people show that His grace is not a mere hot–house plant, which can only thrive under shelter, but a strong, hardy thing which can flourish in every relation of life. It is doing our duty in that state to which God has called us, like salt in the midst of corruption and light in the midst of darkness, which is a primary element in sanctification. It is not the man who hides himself in a cave, but the man who glorifies God as master or servant, parent or child, in the family and in the street, in business and in trade, who is the scriptural type of a sanctified man. Our Master Himself said in His last prayer, “I pray not that You should take them out of the world, but that You should keep them from the evil” (John 17:15).

I also liked J.C. Ryle’s explanation concerning the “passive graces”:

Genuine sanctification, in the last place, will show itself in habitual attention to the passive graces of Christianity. When I speak of passive graces, I mean those graces which are especially shown in submission to the will of God and in bearing and forbearing towards one another. Few people, perhaps, unless they have examined the point, have an idea how much is said about these graces in the New Testament and how important a place they seem to fill. This is the special point which St. Peter dwells upon in commending our Lord Jesus Christ’s example to our notice: “Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that you should follow His steps: who did no sin, neither was deceit found in His mouth: who, when He was reviled, reviled not again; when He suffered, He threatened not; but committed Himself to Him that judges righteously” (1 Pet. 2:21–23). This is the one piece of profession which the Lord’s prayer requires us to make: “Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive them that trespass against us,” and the one point that is commented upon at the end of the prayer. This is the point which occupies one third of the list of the fruits of the Spirit supplied by St. Paul. Nine are named and three of these, patience, gentleness and meekness, are unquestionably passive graces (Gal. 5:22, 23). I must plainly say that I do not think this subject is sufficiently considered by Christians. The passive graces are no doubt harder to attain than the active ones, but they are precisely the graces which have the greatest influence on the world. Of one thing I feel very sure: it is nonsense to pretend to sanctification unless we follow after the meekness, gentleness, patience and forgivingness of which the Bible makes so much.

This chapter also includes a helpful comparison / contrast between Justification and Sanctification:

a.  Justification is the reckoning and counting a man to be righteous for the sake of another, even Jesus Christ the Lord. Sanctification is the actual making a man inwardly righteous, though it may be in a very feeble degree.

b. The righteousness we have by our justification is not our own, but the everlasting perfect righteousness of our great Mediator Christ, imputed to us, and made our own by faith. The righteousness we have by sanctification is our own righteousness, imparted, inherent and wrought in us by the Holy Spirit but mingled with much infirmity and imperfection.

c. In justification our own works have no place at all, and simple faith in Christ is the one thing needful. In sanctification our own works are of vast importance, and God bids us fight and watch and pray and strive and take pains and labor.

d. Justification is a finished and complete work, and a man is perfectly justified the moment he believes. Sanctification is an imperfect work, comparatively, and will never be perfected until we reach heaven.

e. Justification admits of no growth or increase: a man is as much justified the hour he first comes to Christ by faith as he will be to all eternity. Sanctification is eminently a progressive work and admits of continual growth and enlargement so long as a man lives.

f. Justification has special reference to our persons, our standing in God’s sight, and our deliverance from guilt. Sanctification has special reference to our natures and the moral renewal of our hearts.

g. Justification gives us our title to heaven and boldness to enter in. Sanctification gives us our fitness for heaven and prepares us to enjoy it when we dwell there.

h. Justification is the act of God about us and is not easily discerned by others. Sanctification is the work of God within us and cannot be hid in its outward manifestation from the eyes of men.

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Increase our Faith

September 15, 2010 Leave a comment

Over a year ago I briefly mentioned this topic, with a quote from Spurgeon’s “The Necessity of Increased Faith.”

The local pastor recently discussed an amazing story from his dear friend — the man’s daughter miraculously healed of Lyme’s disease (truly something to praise God for, something beyond all we can understand) — and in marveling at the amazing power of God, declared a hope for God to “increase our faith.”  The meaning he apparently attached was the general wish, hope, and nice thought, that God will continue to amaze us by showing the great things He can do in people’s lives and situations, such as this recent testimony of God’s healing.  It was a nice thought, but passive, lacking in depth and understanding as to how God accomplishes the increase in our faith.

It is an easy thing to say “Lord, increase our faith,” but through my own experience I realize that greater faith comes with diligence on our part. (James 4:8, Draw near to God and He will draw near to you.)  During my early years of Christian faith, I only understood the basic gospel message, salvation in Christ and having my sins forgiven.  Yet like most young, immature believers, I did not mature or increase in faith so long as I stayed in the same basic situation — singles group teaching and more socially-focused weekly study groups, and only casual Bible reading.  The lack of discipline and diligence in such a life led too often to emotional moments of despair and self-pity, doubting God while focusing more on self’s desires.  Increase of faith never just happens as we continue idly in a routine situation with lack of effort on our part.  Only since taking on more effort, listening to and reading good sermons and spending more time in God’s word, have I noticed true spiritual growth and increasing faith.  As with any growing believer, now I face far greater trials of faith than in those early years; yet the times of doubt and despair — though they still come — do not last nearly as long, and the way out comes to mind more readily: recalling specific Bible passages that answer to a particular personal difficulty and uncertainty; relating specific Bible situations to my own; understanding God’s Divine Purpose of the Ages.  Greater faith reflects on greater understanding, to take God at His word, fully trusting in what He promises concerning our glorious future and the great things yet to come.

Well said Spurgeon, concerning the increase of faith — in its extent, of what it will receive:

Usually, when we commence the Christian life, faith does not grasp much—it only believes a few elementary Doctrines. I find that many young converts have not gone much farther than believing that Jesus Christ died for sinners. By-and-by they get a little advanced and believe Election. But there is very little beyond that they receive—and it is not until many years that they believe the entire Gospel. Some of you, my Hearers, and a great many that are not my hearers are miserable little cramped souls—you have learned a cast-iron creed and you will never move out of it. A certain somebody drew up five or six doctrines and said, “There are the doctrines of the Bible,” and you believe these. But you do not want to have your faith increased—for you do not believe a great deal more that is in the Bible.

…I think, as we grow, we shall have our belief increased. Not only are there a few cardinal Doctrines that will be enough to steer our ship by, north, south, east, or west, but we shall begin to learn something about the north-west and north-east and that which lies between the four points! Many people, when they hear something a little contrary to what they have usually heard, say at once, “That is not sound.” But who made you a judge of what is sound?

So true that is.  (Spurgeon then went on to give a specific example of increasing faith — his then new understanding concerning the Millennial Kingdom.)  Thus, when the local pastor prays that God would increase our faith, it comes across as very shallow and insincere.  For he who casually says “increase our faith” doesn’t really want it — since he picks and chooses which parts of the Bible to believe, even declaring that those who want to “divide” in fellowship over differences in eschatology are being divisive about things as unimportant as food and drink.

A few more quotes concerning the connection between increase of faith and our understanding of the scriptures:
John MacArthur:   if you never get anything else, get this, your faith, your trust is based on your view of God. If you’ve got a little God, you’re not gonna trust Him. So if you want more faith, you get into the Bible. Find out what kind of a God you have, and that’ll increase your faith.

J.C. Ryle especially states the case concerning diligence and growing faith:

All that believers have is undoubtedly of grace. Their repentance, faith, and holiness, are all the gift of God. But the degree to which a believer attains in grace, is ever set before us as closely connected with his own diligence in the use of means, and his own faithfulness in living fully up to the light and knowledge which he possesses. Indolence and laziness are always discouraged in God’s word. Labor and pains in hearing, reading, and prayer, are always represented as bringing their own reward. “The soul of the diligent shall be made fat.” (Prov. 13:4.) “An idle soul shall suffer hunger.” (Prov. 19:15.)

Attention to this great principle is the main secret of spiritual prosperity. The man who makes rapid progress in spiritual attainments–who grows visibly in grace, and knowledge, and strength, and usefulness–will always be found to be a diligent man. He leaves no stone unturned to promote his soul’s well-doing. He is diligent over his Bible, diligent in his private devotions, diligent as a hearer of sermons, diligent in his attendance at the Lord’s table. And he reaps according as he sows. Just as the muscles of the body are strengthened by regular exercise, so are the graces of the soul increased by diligence in using them.

Do we wish to grow in grace? Do we desire to have stronger faith, brighter hope, and clearer knowledge? Beyond doubt we do, if we are true Christians. Then let us live fully up to our light, and improve every opportunity. Let us never forget our Lord’s words in this passage. “With what measure we use;” to our souls, “it shall be measured to us again.” The more we do for our souls, the more shall we find God does for them.