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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.”

 

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.

 

 

 

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.

The Bible’s Four Types of Sanctification: Getting our Vocabulary Right

September 6, 2012 7 comments

I recently met up with a group of people, and their pastor/teacher, who have a non-standard definition of the overall concept of sanctification – or perhaps a very limited definition.  After hearing for so long, within broader evangelicalism, about the different aspects of sanctification, and particularly about progressive sanctification, the ongoing work of the Holy Spirit in our lives, I was surprised to read the following (from one in this group):  “If we are in Christ and He is in us, then we have rested – completely ceased from any and all working and striving for justification and for sanctification. There is no more work to be done.”

On the surface, it appeared as what could be advocating perfection, with the use of the term sanctification in the same phrase as justification.  Or at the very least, that the person has the terms and their meanings confused.  In follow-up conversation, that individual cited Hebrews 10:10, which is one of the passages that describe the completed (positional) part of sanctification:  “By this will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.”  It turned out that what most Reformed evangelicals refer to as “progressive sanctification” means, to this group, “mortification,” with no understanding of the multiple tenses or types of sanctification.  Also, their focus is on whether or not sanctification is “a work” to which we contribute versus something all of God (monergistic: their view): an unusual approach to the topic.  Usually (in my experience) the topic of sanctification comes up, not as a question of “a work” or not, but in the general understanding of spiritual growth and an ongoing process, “progressive sanctification,” within which it is understood that God is the one who continues the  work within us.  (Phil. 1:6)

From further research into what I was really looking for, comes the following helpful summary, from S. Lewis Johnson’s “Basic Bible Doctrine” series, message 27:

  • Preparatory sanctification:  the work of the Holy Spirit in bringing us to the cross. (2 Thess. 2:13; 1 Peter 1:2)
  • Positional sanctification: a process or a procedure takes place by which a believer, the moment that he believes, becomes in the sight of God holy.  That is why believers in the New Testament are called saints. (1 Corinthians 1:2)
  • Progressive sanctification:  something that goes on daily constantly in the Christian life.  It may have degrees; The Bible does speak about two degrees: about infants and about adults. (2 Corinthians 7:1)
  • Prospective sanctification:  the complete agreement of our position and our practice, and that will take place at the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ.  (1 Thess. 5:23-24; Romans 8:29)

This experience also shows how important it is that like-minded Christians understand and use the same vocabulary.  When the majority of Christians speak of sanctification in one way (understanding the concepts of positional versus progressive sanctification), and one group (that really does believe basically the same about this) uses the same words to mean different ideas – the positional sanctification and emphasis on “sanctification” already accomplished and done by the Lord, and calling the common term “progressive sanctification” by some other name – it does hinder communication, so that the terms have to be clearly defined before meaningful discussion can occur.