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The Active (versus Passive) Christian Life

November 15, 2019 Leave a comment

Lately I have very little time for extra study, and what study that has occurred involves glimpses of several different topics.  Among my scripture meditations and book reading, the theme of persecution, and what Christians in other countries have faced (and still endure) has been prominent: Randy Alcorn’s Safely Home (a novel about persecuted Chinese Christians), material from Barnabas Fund regarding current persecution in several countries, and Fire Road: The Napalm Girl’s Journey Through the Horrors of War to Faith, Forgiveness, and Peace (a previous ChristianAudio free book of the month) are all good reading, ways to remember and pray for the persecuted church.

Another topic (though at least somewhat related), from various reading in the Bible, Christian articles, sermons, song lyrics and podcasts, is the Christian life and experience — in terms of how the Bible describes it, versus the idea taught in some hymns and bad theology.  Again I think of song lyrics, which are great for teaching Christian doctrine—whether the biblically correct kind or false views.  Yet many hymns and praise songs direct us to the passive experience of life, such as the Keswick “Let Go and Let God” hymn “Take My Life and Let it Be.”

I appreciate Andy Naselli’s writings on this topic, found in his book as well as several articles online, regarding the problems with “higher life theology,” such as this article from The Gospel Coaltion.  Simply put, the “quick fix” approach doesn’t work with Christianity, and doesn’t provide an answer for the real trials and disappointments of life; the Keswick idea sounds great and “spiritual,” but as well explained in this above-linked article:

What’s really frustrating is when you think there’s a quick fix that will catapult you into a higher region where this cycle is no longer necessary, and you think you’ve entered this region already, only to find yourself sinning again. Come to find out you only thought you had consecrated yourself! Better try again . . . actually, don’t try . . . but you get the point.

That’s the good news Naselli gives us. The gospel actually does transform us into holy people, even if gradually. There actually is a higher region where the sin-cycle no longer burdens us—it’s called heaven, and Jesus is going to bring it down with him. And there actually is a quick fix coming one day, and it’ll be really quick: “We shall all be changed. In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye” (1 Cor. 15:51–52).

Until then, in the words of Packer, let us not “let go and let God,” but rather “trust God and get going.” Or in the words of Hebrews 12:1–2, “Let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus.”

Hymns from an earlier era, back to the 18th century, reflect the more accurate experience.  “Take my life and let it be” will disappoint time and time again.  Instead, “through many dangers, toils, and snares I have already come…”  As Alistair Begg, teaching on Habakkuk 3, observed:

Our (unbelieving) friends are not drawn by the idea… ‘I have a dreadful problem, I went to God, I don’t have any more problems; therefore, we’re having a picnic, I will rejoice; we will rejoice, and we would like you to come over and see what it is like to rejoice.  Well you’re flat out not telling the truth.  Eventually the picnic is in heaven, no doubt about that, that will be untrammeled joy, that will be unmitigated praise and wonder.  But right now, all hell lets loose against us:  fightings outside of us, fears within us, doubts, disappointments, cancers, broken relationships, children that drive us crazy, and I’m only running through the first little section.  And everybody goes, ‘that’s right, that’s right’.  …. So, how do you get to ‘I will rejoice’?  .. he says ‘I will rejoice in the Lord’.  I will be joyful in God my Savior. … ‘Sovereign Lord, I have cancer; Sovereign Lord, my uncle is in a wheelchair, Sovereign Lord, my kids are killing me.  Sovereign Lord!’  This is the Christian experience.  Through many dangers, toils, snares, I have already come.  Tell your friends that, that’s believable.  Tell your work colleagues that, they’ll identify with that.  Tell them, when it all hits the fan, and you feel like running for it, the answer is not in the transformation of circumstance, but the answer is in the revelation of God in and of Himself, in His word the Bible.  I have nothing else to hold on to.

Charles Spurgeon is another great source for inspiration, regarding the importance of Christian work and effort (not a passive experience), as with a few excerpts from sermon #914:

When the Holy Spirit descended, there were two signs of His Presence. The one was a rushing mighty wind, the other was the tongue of fire. Now if the Holy Spirit intended to do all the work Himself—without using us as earnest instruments— the first emblem would have been stagnant air. And the next might have been a mass of ice, or what you will, but certainly not a tongue of fire. The first emblem was not only wind, but it was a mighty wind, and not only that, but a rushing mighty wind, as if to show us that He intended to set every spiritual sail in the most rapid motion.  . . .

there is no illustration used in Scripture to set forth the heavenly life which allows the supposition that in any case Heaven is won by sloth. I do not remember ever finding in Scripture the life of the Christian described as a slumber. To the sluggard I find a warning always—thorns and thistles in his garden—and rags and disease in his person.

I read J.C. Ryle’s Holiness several years ago, when I first began serious study of theology.  I understood the basic message then, as his very strong response to the Keswick passive sanctification teaching idea then introduced.  It is probably time to read it again, for the greater appreciation that comes with greater maturity and understanding of God’s word.

Old Testament Stories, Life Application and Doctrine

August 14, 2018 9 comments

As I continue studies in Old Testament lessons, from Reformed sources such as Charles Spurgeon sermons and Tabletalk magazine monthly studies, I appreciate the depth of content related to so many biblical doctrines, and life application—from what seem, on the surface, as mere children’s stories.  In fact, one of the Tabletalk articles from July 2007 — a study through Genesis, now on the life of Joseph – points out this very fact, that the stories of the patriarchs are more than just tales for children.  They are accounts of actual, historical events that occurred in time and space history, involving real people and real problems that are applicable to us today.  The story of Joseph and his brothers teaches us many things:  about dysfunctional families and family favoritism, about the consequences of our sin; but above all, the truth of God’s providence and God’s sovereignty, and God’s purposes – and the hope that gives us:

Our mistakes and transgressions cannot derail God’s purposes. We do not take this truth for granted and use it to excuse our sin (Rom. 6:1–2), but we also must never come to the place where we believe we have fallen to the point where our Father cannot use us. Through faith and repentance we can be blessed as our sovereign Creator works out His will in history (Deut. 30:1–10).

Spurgeon took a similar in-depth approach of good application and even doctrinal instruction from the Genesis stories, the lives of the patriarchs.  A few recent examples from my Spurgeon sermon reading include these sermons from the 1868 volume:

  • Sermon #837, Jacob’s life, and his complaint of unbelief in Genesis 42:36

and this three-part sermon series links on the life of Abraham

In the first of these, Spurgeon connected the (King James Version) expression ‘all these things’  to point out: 1) the exclamation of unbelief (Jacob’s unbelief in Genesis 42:36), 2) the philosophy of experience (Isaiah 38:16), and finally, the triumph of faith (Romans 8:37).  From Jacob’s life w­e see the example of how we are all so prone to react to trials and difficulties:  bitterness, exaggeration, and anger towards God.  In Jacob’s case it was at most three things – Joseph, Simeon, and Benjamin, yet:

Jacob was, in the expression before us, even bitter towards God! There is not a word like submission in the sentence, nothing of resignation, nothing of confidence; he knew very well that all things came from God, and in effect he declares that God is, in all these things, fighting against him! God forbid that these tongues, which owe their power to speak to the great God, should ever pervert their powers to slandering Him! And yet if our tongues have not spoken unbelievingly, how often our hearts have done so; we have said, “Why has God dealt thus with me? Why are His strokes so multiplied? Why are my wounds so blue? Oh, why am I thus chastised?

The later two texts show the positive movement from Jacob’s unbelief, to enlightened experience:  “In all these things is the life of my spirit.”

Jacob would hardly have been fit for the luxury of Egypt, if he had not been trained by his griefs; that happy period before his death, in which he dwelt in perfect ease and peace, at the close of which, leaning upon his staff, he bore such a blessed testimony to the faithfulness of God, he would not have been fit to enjoy it—it would have been disastrous to him if he had not been prepared for it by the sorrows of Succoth. … Be of good comfort, and instead, from now on, of concluding that outward trials are against you, agree with Hezekiah in this wise sentence, “By these things men live.”

To finally the triumph of faith, the experiences of the apostle Paul:

The list is just as comprehensive in the best text as in the worst. No, poor Jacob’s, “All these things” only referred to three; but look at Paul’s list: tribulation, distress, persecution, famine, nakedness, peril, sword—the list is longer, darker, blacker, fiercer, sterner, but still we triumph, “In all these things we are more than conquerors.”

Old Testament ‘Calvinism’: Election, Justification, and Sanctification from the Life of Abraham

Beyond life application of relational difficulties and resolution, Spurgeon also well-demonstrated that the important doctrines of the Calvinist, Reformed faith can be taught not only from the New Testament epistles, but directly from Abraham’s life in Genesis.  After all, Paul (such as in Romans and Galatians) referenced key points in Abraham’s life; thus, common exposition on these doctrines will focus on Paul’s writings directly.  Yet here Spurgeon departed from his usual style of completely unrelated texts from week to week, by teaching the doctrines of calling/election, justification, and sanctification, all from different points in Abraham’s life as told in Genesis.  Each sermon looked at the details and considered Abraham’s actual daily life experiences, with detailed descriptions of what Abraham’s calling, later justification and later sanctification looked like.   Thus, we see his calling/election in Genesis 12:5, justification in Genesis 15:6, and sanctification in Genesis 17:1-2.  Abraham’s calling included key features such as God’s sovereignty, divine application of it, and a call to separation; and similar expansion of details regarding his justification and sanctification.  Along the way Spurgeon even adds descriptions of related truths such as perseverance and assurance, that God will complete what He is doing:

If our text may very well illustrate effectual calling, so may it PICTURE FINAL PERSEVERANCE.   “They went forth to go into the land of Canaan; and to the land of Canaan they came.”  …

two or three thoughts in this text worth remembering. “They went forth.” Energetic action! Men are not saved while they are asleep; no riding to heaven on feather beds! “They went forth to the land of Canaan.” Intelligent perception! They knew what they were doing; they did not go to work in a blundering manner, not understanding their drift.

And

To close the whole, the Lord gave to Abram an assurance of ultimate success. He would bring his seed into the Promised Land, and the people who had oppressed them, He would judge. So let it come as a sweet revelation to every believing man and woman this morning, that at the end they shall triumph, and those evils which now oppress them shall be cast beneath their feet!

Of particular interest (in the second sermon), is the connection between Abraham’s justification and his understanding of sacrifice and the covenant – how much was revealed to Abraham, that he could and did understand; we need not dismiss the Old Testament people as being completely unaware of these doctrines such that the New Testament is required in order to understand the Old:

Abram, after being justified by Faith, was led more distinctly to behold the power of sacrifice. By God’s command he killed three bullocks, three goats, three sheep, with turtle doves, and pigeons, being all the creatures ordained for sacrifice. The patriarch’s hands are stained with blood; he handles the butcher’s knife; he divides the beasts, he kills the birds; he places them in an order revealed to him by God’s Spirit at the time. There they are. Abram learns that there is no meeting with God except through sacrifice. God has shut every door except that over which the blood is sprinkled; all acceptable approaches to God must be through an atoning sacrifice—and Abram understood this.

Perhaps even more important was the next lesson which Abram had to learn. He was led to behold the covenant. I suppose that these pieces of the bullock, the lamb, the ram, and the goat were so placed that Abram stood in the midst with a part on this side, and a part on that. So he stood as a worshipper all through the day, and towards nightfall, when a horror of great darkness came over him, he fell into a deep sleep. Who would not feel a horror passing over him as he sees the great sacrifice for sin, and sees himself involved? There, in the midst of the sacrifice, he saw moving with solemn motion, a smoking furnace, and a burning lamp answering to the pillar of cloud and fire which manifested the presence of God in later days to Israel in the wilderness. In these emblems the Lord passed between the pieces of the sacrifice to meet His servant, and enter into covenant with him; this has always been the most solemn of all modes of covenant.

…Know and understand that God is in covenant bonds with you; He has made a covenant of grace with you which never can be broken; the sure mercies of David are your portion.

The Tabletalk studies as well as Spurgeon sermons provide great insights into all aspects of the Christian life, from the details of the Old Testament narrative accounts.

Challies’ 2017 Reading Challenge: Christian Living, ‘A Life of Character’

February 24, 2017 1 comment

jrmiller-lifeofcharacterContinuing in the Challies’ 2017 Reading Challenge, I now find that I’m well ahead of the schedule for the 13 books, so I may very well add a few more along the way – not to the 26 book level, but adding and reading more books from the remaining categories from the light reader and avid reader lists.  I’ve come across a new, free e-book this month, to add to the “light reader” category of a book published in 2017:  Sam Waldron’s “The Lord’s Day:  Its Presuppositions, Proofs, Precedents, and Practice,” 138 pages and available free from the Chapel Library  in several formats including PDF and Kindle.

For the Christian Living selection, I enjoyed reading J.R. Miller’s A Life of Character.  I first learned of this author from the daily Grace Gems devotional email, which sometimes features short devotional thoughts from Miller, who wrote in the late 19th century.  The Grace Gems site features the online text of several of his books; in their list of authors and brief summaries, J.R. Miller is listed as the best for this topic, Christian living.  ‘A Life of Character’ is an easy, straightforward read, not too long but covering many different topics with great devotional thoughts.

The overall topic reminds me of similar treatment in Jeremiah Burroughs’ Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment, which I read at the end of 2016. Like Burroughs, this book includes the use of many metaphors, such as how our life should be like a song or a musical instrument.  Here I remembered an old poem, set to music years ago by Wayne Watson in the song Touch of the Master’s Hand.  Throughout, the reading is simple but to the point and often convicting.  Christian living, personal holiness, is so much easier to read about, but as noted in Burroughs’ work, takes a lifetime of practice.

Here are a few selections from Miller’s work:

We need the patience of Christ also, in our mingling with others, in our business associations and contacts, in our social relations, and in all our dealings with our neighbors. Not all people are congenial and patient to us. Some want their own way. Some are unreasonable. Some fail to treat us right. Possibly in some cases—the fault may be ours, at least in part. Others may sometimes think of us—as we do of them. However this may be, the patience of Christ may teach us to bear with even the most unreasonable people, sweetly and lovingly. He was patient with everyone, and we are to be like Him. If we are impatient with anyone, we fail to be true to the interest of our Master, whom we are always to represent.

and

We forget that heaven is not far off yonder—but begins right here in our everyday lives, if it is ever to begin at all for us! Isn’t that what the prayer means, “May Your will be done on earth—as it is in heaven”? “On earth,” that is—in our shops, and our drudgery, and care; in our times of temptation and sorrow. It is not a prayer to be taken away out of this world into ‘heaven’, to begin there the doing of God’s will; it is a prayer that right here and now on earth—we may learn to live—as they do in heaven.”

also

We cannot make the people about us so loving and sweet—that we shall never have anything to irritate or annoy us. The quietness must be within us. Nothing but the peace of God in the heart—can give it. Yet we can have this peace—if we will simply and always do God’s will—and then trust Him. A quiet heart—will give a quiet life!

Biblical Meditation, and God our Solid Rock and Ground

April 1, 2016 3 comments

Earlier this year in the 1689 Confession study I looked at the topic of Christian meditation (as related to chapter 13 of the confession, Sanctification)—and a recommended Puritan work on the topic, Thomas Watson’s “A Christian on the Mount,”  available from Gracegems here.

For a modern-day summary of biblical meditation, present-day author Michael P.V. Barrett, in the book I’m reading through, observes:

The word meditate has the idea of being consumed or preoccupied with something.  The blessed man just cannot get the law out of his mind.  .. Whereas worldly meditation seeks to empty the mind of everything, biblical meditation seeks to fill the mind with the word of God.  According to that biblical definition, there is precious little meditation in the average Christian’s life.  … Devotions sadly consist of little more than a few verses before leaving home at the beginning of a busy day or a few verses before going to bed after a busy day.  There is just so much to do, and we feel guilty if we are not busy doing. … Very simply, meditating is thinking, and here is the proverbial rub.  Thinking takes time; thinking is work.  But thinking time is not wasted time.

Watson (as always) has some great quotes about what meditation is:

The memory is the chest or cupboard to lock up a truth, meditation is the palate to feed on it. The memory is like the ark in which the manna was laid up, meditation is like Israel’s eating of manna.

And, for one meditation topic (what he called the category of Occasional, sudden occasions):

When you look up to the heavens, and see them richly embroidered with light, you may raise this meditation. If the footstool is so glorious, what is the throne where God himself sits! When you see the skies bespangled with stars, think, what is Christ The Bright Morning Star!  Monica, Augustine’s mother, standing one day, and seeing the sun shine, raised this meditation, ‘Oh! if the sun is so bright, what is the light of God’s presence?’

The “deliberate meditations” (Watson’s term) — in terms of finding a regular time each day for meditation/devotionals; and, per Hodgins’ (1689 series) suggestion, of finding a specific text or idea to meditate on and stay on that one idea throughout the day – haven’t worked out so well for me lately – the busy-ness of daily life does often get in the way, as Barrett observed.  Yet I have found certain ideas to frequently think upon in recent days: to be content with life’s situation and trusting in God’s providence, recognizing God as the First Cause of everything.

For nearly a month now, since returning from a week-long cruise, I continue to feel what is sometimes called “sea legs,” the sense of still being on a boat, the ground unsteady and moving.  Per material available online, this is the Mal De Debarquement syndrome, which affects some people for months and sometimes even years.  It often starts immediately after a cruise or other motion experience; per the description at this website I’m at the 3-4 severity level (thankfully, sometimes down to the 1-2 level).  In the midst of this ongoing feeling of movement, what often comes to mind are scriptures about God as our solid Rock, our solid ground, and the great events that will come to pass on this earth at Christ’s Return (reference Hebrews 12:26-29 about the removal of things that are shaken; also 2 Peter 3:10-13).

Even the sense of standing on solid ground on this planet, as we go about our daily life, can be taken away.  Regardless of what the brain and/or inner ear recognizes about our sense of balance and the world around us, this world and this creation is temporary and passing, and our hope and trust must be in God, the only solid ground, the One who will shake this world and remove everything that can be shaken (“things that have been made”), as we look forward to the coming Kingdom, that which cannot be shaken, and all the promises, our great inheritance and blessed hope.

 

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.

Old Testament Saints and the Holy Spirit

October 27, 2014 13 comments

From basic dispensational teaching I heard that — per John 7:39 and later references to Christ sending the Holy Spirit (Pentecost) – Old Testament saints were regenerated but did not have the permanent indwelling Holy Spirit; the Holy Spirit only came upon them from time to time, for special empowerment, whereas we now have the permanent indwelling.  Yet I wondered about it, as something that didn’t make sense: how could people be regenerated and yet NOT have the indwelling of the Holy Spirit? In daily Bible reading of the Old  Testament, we come across so many descriptions of believers who have “a different spirit” and a relationship to God in so many ways like ours.  John 3 tells us that OT believers were regenerated, as this was something that Nicodemus was expected to already know as a present reality, and Luke 1 and 2 (the birth narrative) include many references to godly people and the Holy Spirit present in their lives, before Christ’s birth.

As I’ve recently learned, the Protestant/Reformed understanding is that OT saints had the permanent indwelling of the Holy Spirit and the same salvific relationship to God (their understanding on the hope of what God would accomplish; and Christ’s work on the cross is applied to those who lived before Calvary).

The following posts from David Murray’s blog address this very question, of the difference between the Old and New Testament indwelling of the Holy Spirit.

Regarding the original idea above (OT believers regenerated but didn’t have the indwelling Holy Spirit) I especially appreciate his point in the first post, that if Old Testament ‘believers’ believed by the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit but kept believing without the indwelling work of the Holy Spirit, then Old Testament believers were not as depraved as we are, as they did not need the ongoing indwelling work of the Holy Spirit. (And in some ways, this debate really is a debate about the nature of human depravity in the Old Testament. Could anything less or other than the indwelling of the Holy Spirit keep a believer believing, repenting, hoping, obeying, etc?)

I also find helpful the analogy of the sponge with a water dropper, versus a sponge with a pressure washer. The difference in the Holy Spirit experience of OT and NT believers is one of degree and extent, not of quality or type. The OT believers had a small amount to sustain them in their personal lives, but after Pentecost the Holy Spirit flows out in excess, giving believers greater joy that overflowed and led to great missionary zeal and desire to share the gospel with unbelievers – and the amazing (humanly speaking) spread of the gospel during the 1st century and beyond.  As shown in the many quotes in the last post linked above, many commentators throughout history, as far back as Augustine and including also the Reformers as well as 19th century preachers including J.C. Ryle, have affirmed this as well, that OT believers did have the indwelling Holy Spirit, and the difference between then and our age post-Pentecost is one of degree and extent.

As a side note here, I find it interesting that this same difference of degree between the OT and NT — of the great spread of the gospel in the NT – is said by amillennialists to be the result of a supposed “binding of Satan” allowing the gospel to spread unhindered. Yet as premillennialists have pointed out, what really hinders or allows the spread of the gospel is the Holy Spirit – as evidenced in the book of Acts, where the Holy Spirit did not allow Paul to travel east to Asia or Bithynia (Acts 16:6-7). Understanding the difference between the indwelling of the Holy Spirit in Old and New Testament times (the water dropper versus the pressure washer) fits the biblical data much better, both in relating to the OT saints continually sustained by God and His presence, as well as the results of the great spread of the gospel that began at Pentecost.

Horatius Bonar: God’s Way of Peace and Way of Holiness

October 16, 2014 3 comments

In my studies of the classic premillennialists, I continue to read the covenantal premillennial authors, including their many works on other doctrinal topics. Lately I have been reading several of Horatius Bonar’s books, available online as well as in audio book format (available through sermon audio). Bonar’s “God’s Way of Peace” and “God’s Way of Holiness” are interesting, fairly easy to read and in a conversational, question and answer style, with evangelistic zeal to seekers interested in the Christian faith.

God’s Way of Peace addresses salvation and justification, and here Bonar addresses more subtle errors of thought, such as focusing on the “thought” of our salvation and faith rather than the faith itself; and the error that we must love God purely for who He is rather than the “lower” selfish motive of what He has done for us.

It is not wrong to love God for what He has done for us. Not to do so, would be the very baseness of ingratitude. To love God purely for what He is, is by some spoken of as the highest kind of love, into which enters no element of self. It is not so. For in that case, you are actuated by the pleasure of loving; and this pleasure of loving an infinitely lovable and glorious Being, of necessity introduces self. Besides, to say that we are to love God solely for what He is, and not for what he Has done, is to make ingratitude an essential element of pure love. David’s love showed itself in not forgetting God’s benefits. But this ‘pure love’ soars beyond David’s and finds it a duty to be unthankful, lest perchance some selfish element mingle itself with its superhuman, super-angelic purity.

Here I also see a response to an attitude that Bonar’s contemporary, Charles Spurgeon, also noted (see this previous post): the idea that our coming to God requires some level of “fitness,” some level of repentance and feeling.

I find that the apostles shut up their hearers to immediate faith and repentance, bringing them face to face with the great object of faith, and commanding them in the name of the living God to believe, just as Jesus commanded the man with the withered arm to stretch out his hand. … The Lord did not give him any directions as to a preliminary work, or preparatory efforts, and struggles, and using of means. These are man’s attempts to bridge over the great gulf by human appliances; man’s ways of evading the awful question of his own utter impotence; man’s unscriptural devices for sliding out of inability into ability, out of unbelief into faith; man’s plan for helping God to save him; man’s self-made ladder for climbing up a little way out of the horrible pit, in the hope that God will so commiserate his earnest struggles as to do all the rest that is needed. Now God has commanded all men everywhere to repent; but he has nowhere given us any directions for obtaining repentance. God has commanded sinners to believe, but has not prescribed for them any preparatory steps or process by means of which he may be induced to give them something which he is not from the first most willing to do.

God’s Way of Holiness  looks at sanctification, including emphasis on studying God’s word and recognizing the difference between morality and the way to Christ:

 Is it the case that the sinner cannot be trusted with the gospel? In one sense this is true. He cannot be trusted with anything. He abuses everything. He turns everything to bad account. He makes everything the minister of sin. But if he cannot be trusted with the gospel, can he be trusted with the Law’? If he cannot be trusted with grace, can he be trusted with righteousness? He cannot be trusted with an immediate pardon; can he be trusted with a tardy one? He cannot be trusted with faith; can he be trusted with doubt? He cannot be trusted with peace; can he be trusted with gloom and trouble? He cannot be trusted with assurance; can he be trusted with suspense, and will uncertainty do for him what certainty cannot? That which he can, after all, best be trusted with, is the gospel. He has abused it, he may abuse it, but he is less likely to abuse it than anything else.

Bonar’s view is Reformed/Covenantal regarding the Moral Law, emphasizing the unity of the law in the Old and New Testament, and the difference between love and law, complete with many quotes from Calvin, Luther and others. Here Bonar appears to be addressing some type of antinomianism (it’s not clear exactly from where this teaching was coming), yet showing again the timelessness of Christian truth and that in every age the issues of sanctification, grace, and law must be explained.

 We do not undervalue love because we say a man is not justified by love, but by faith. We do not discourage prayer, because we preach that a man is not justified by prayer, but by faith. When we say that believing is not working, but a ceasing from work, we do not mean that the believing man is not to work; but that he is not to work for pardon, but to take it freely; and that he is to believe before he works, for works done before believing are not pleasing to God.

 

These are the commandments of the Holy Ghost, and they are law just as truly as that which was proclaimed in Horeb amid fire and darkness. And the true question with us (as we have seen) is not whether we are to obey this law or that law, but any law at all. If obedience to apostolic law be not legalism, then neither is obedience to the moral law; and if our oneness with Christ exempts or disjoins us from the moral law, it exempts and disjoins us from all law whatsoever, for everything in the shape of law, or precept, or commandment, contained in Scripture, is from the one Spirit of God, whether in the book of Exodus or the epistle to the Romans. …

 

Of angels this is said to be the highest felicity, that ‘they do His commandments, hearkening unto the voice of His word’ (Psa 103:20); just as of those from whom the Lord has removed transgression as far as the east is from the west, it is said that ‘they remember His commandments to do them’ (Psa 103:12,18). But if this theory of the total disjunction of the law from believers be true, then angels must be in bondage, and they also to whom Paul refers as specimens of the blessed men whose transgressions are forgiven by the imputation of “righteousness without works” (Rom 4:6).

Reformed Baptists (1689) and the Christian Sabbath

August 20, 2014 12 comments

Through study of the puritans and church history, and online reformed Baptist theology discussion groups, I am now more aware of the differences among various types of Calvinist Baptist groups, even among non-denominational, “reformed Baptist” type churches. Some “Sovereign Grace” (Calvinist, baptist) type churches, for instance, adhere to New Covenant Theology with its rejection of the three theological covenants – whereas other churches profess agreement with the 1689 London Baptist Confession, with its teaching of the theological covenants and reformed, confessional thought, beyond the basic Doctrines of Grace.

One especially new idea (to me): the Christian Sabbath teaching as expressed in the 17th century confessions, the Westminster Confession and the similar 1689 London Baptist Confession. I had read references to the Sunday Sabbath from classic writers such as 19th century preachers Charles Spurgeon and J.C. Ryle, and recall the description of the practice in 19th century pioneer America, through the young-child perspective from author Laura Ingalls Wilder.  Yet I was not aware of the actual teaching itself, the doctrinal basis, or that it is practiced (and how) in modern times by at least a few evangelical Christians, especially among reformed Baptists.

The Sabbath statement in the 1689 Confession

8. The Sabbath is kept holy to the Lord by those who, after the necessary preparation of their hearts and prior arranging of their common affairs, observe all day a holy rest from their own works, words and thoughts about their worldly employment and recreations, and give themselves over to the public and private acts of worship for the whole time, and to carrying out duties of necessity and mercy.

The local NCT (New Covenant Theology) church has only briefly addressed the issue, insisting that the Sabbath was for the OT Jews only, it was on the 7th day and thus there is no reason for the church to observe it on Sunday instead; and their (Jews) Sabbath was not only the seventh day but many other ceremonial days – and thus anyone today wanting to observe a “Christian Sabbath” is being legalist and actually unable to observe the Sabbath because it means all those extra Jewish ceremonial feast days.

Yet from what I’ve read so far, the Christian Sabbath position sees the Sabbath as a “creation ordinance,” with its source in the Genesis creation, when God Himself set aside the seventh day; in Exodus the Sabbath commandment is given to the Israelites shortly after their exodus from Egypt and before the giving of the Ten Commandments on Mt. Sinai. Christian Sabbath practice follows the “spirit” of the law from creation, rather than the “letter” of the law, without the specific rules and regulations of the Mosaic covenant Sabbath. Important to the Christian Sabbath are 1) the clear switch in the New Testament church, from meeting on the seventh day to the First day of the week, the Lord’s Day – a fact well established from passages in Acts and elsewhere in the NT regarding the day the church met; and 2) key verses including Mark 2:27-28 (“The Sabbath was made for man and not man for the Sabbath. Therefore the Son of Man is Lord also of the Sabbath.”), while seeing the context of Colossians 2:16-17 as referring to the Jewish ceremonial laws and not related to the Sabbath-from-creation.

I am still studying this issue, and need to read and study the 1689 Confession itself. Thus far, I am not convinced that the 4th commandment is directly set forth in scripture, but see it as certainly a good idea for overall Christian life and practice, in general terms of setting aside time, as much as possible, for public and private worship on Sundays, and part of the believer’s ongoing sanctification.

Several resources of interest:

Dr. Peter Masters, Sword and Trowel (2009), Remember the Lord’s Day

John Piper, Remember the Sabbath Day to Keep it Holy

“The Christian Sabbath” — Sermon summary from Andy West; includes quotes from Voddie Baucham and others, plus general Sunday and Sabbath history

Blog posts with resources for studying the Sabbath:

This last one has a somewhat different approach, pointing out the example of Sabbath from our Lord as sufficient, in the absence of a direct command:

Early Christians justified Sunday worship on the basis of Christ’s resurrection. This makes perfect sense since Jesus’ resurrection is his enthronement (compare Ps. 2:6-7 with Acts 13:33; see also Phil 2:5-11). Because divine enthronement is linked with Sabbath-rest, Christians are justified in keeping Sunday as a Sabbath on the basis of Christ’s example. In other words, just as God’s example of resting on the seventh day was sufficient warrant for man to follow his Maker’s example, so Jesus’ example of resting on the first day is sufficient warrant for the new humanity to follow its Re-Maker’s example.  So I don’t need a direct NT command to keep Sunday holy. I have Jesus’ example to follow.