Friday, June 26, 2009

Born Again for Brotherly Love

When the good news about Jesus Christ takes hold of a man and does its work in his heart, God purifies and changes him at the core of his being. And one of the things that God intends to produce by this change is sincere brotherly love. God wants his people to love one another earnestly. The love of God's people for each other as brothers and sisters is a reflection of his own character in them. It is a distinguishing mark of true Christianity. It is a little bit of heaven in a lonely and fractured world. Do you know this kind of love? Do you practice it?

Come, Thou Almighty King (#63)
And Can It Be? (#335)
O the Deep, Deep Love of Jesus (#249)
Jesus Loves Me (#719)
Let Us Love (#483)
Blessed Be the Tie that Binds (#219)

Scripture Reading
John 19

Born Again for Brotherly Love - 1 Peter 1:22-25

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

The Thirty-Nine Articles (Part 5)

XI. Of the Justification of Man
We are accounted righteous before God, only for the merit of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ by faith, and not for our own works or deservings. Wherefore that we are justified by faith only is a most wholesome doctrine, and very full of comfort; as more largely is expressed in the Homily of Justification.

XII. Of Good Works
Albeit that good works, which are the fruits of faith and follow after justification, cannot put away our sins and endure the severity of God's judgment, yet are they pleasing and acceptable to God in Christ, and do spring out necessarily of a true and lively faith, insomuch that by them a lively faith may be as evidently known as a tree discerned by the fruit.

XIII. Of Works before Justification
Works done before the grace of Christ and the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, are not pleasant to God, forasmuch as they spring not of faith in Jesus Christ, neither do they make men meet to receive grace, or (as the School authors say) deserve grace of congruity: yea, rather for that they are not done as God hath willed and commanded them to be done, we doubt not but they have the nature of sin.

Here is good doctrine from the Thirty-Nine Articles, explaining the relationship of justification and good works. Allow me simply to clarify a couple terms from Article 13.

First, when the article speaks of the "inspiration" of the Spirit, it is not using the term in the more technical sense which we do nowadays when we talk about the inspiration of the Bible. The article is saying that without the work of the Holy Spirit, no one can do anything pleasing to God.

Second, the reference to the "grace of congruity" may be unfamiliar to you. The "school authors" were the theologians of the Middle Ages who attempted to systematize and reconcile biblical teachings and church tradition. They wanted to harmonize faith and reason, and they began to do so in the categories of thought they learned from Aristotle. Rather than producing healthy growth in biblical knowledge and faithfulness, this produced mutations. One of those mutations grew up in the doctrine of justification.

The thought developed that there were two kinds of merit which attached to human works. Good works done with the assistance of grace deserved God's reward as a matter of justice. This was called "condign" merit. Good works done apart from grace, in man's own strength, did not deserve God's reward as a matter of justice. God was not obligated to reward such works. However, because they were good, it was fitting or congruent for God to reward these works. This was called "congruent" merit. Some thought that these good works prepared men to receive God's grace. Articles 12 and 13 deny this teaching, and rightly so. The righteousness of Jesus Christ is the only ground for our justification!

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Judgment, Redemption, and Hope

Did you ever stop your busy life long enough to consider why you should fear God? I invite you to stop this Lord's Day morning to consider with us three biblical reasons why you should live your life in the fear of the Lord.

Come, Let Us with Our Lord Arise (#25)
Praise the Savior (#17)
O Sacred Head Now Wounded (#139)
Alas! and Did My Savior Bleed? (#141)
Look Ye Saints (#163)
Rejoice, Rejoice Believers (#191)

Scripture Reading
John 18

Grace and Fear (continued) - 1 Peter 1:17-21

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

The Thirty-Nine Articles (Part 4)

The Articles now turn to dealing with personal religion, or the doctrine of salvation.

IX. Of Original or Birth-Sin
Original sin standeth not in the following of Adam (as the Pelagians do vainly talk), but it is the fault and corruption of the nature of every man that naturally is engendered of the offspring of Adam, whereby man is very far gone from original righteousness, and is of his own nature inclined to evil, so that the flesh lusteth always contrary to the spirit; and therefore in every person born into this world, it deserveth God's wrath and damnation. And this infection of nature doth remain, yea, in them that are regenerated, whereby the lust of the flesh, called in Greek phronema sarkos (which some do expound the wisdom, some sensuality, some the affection, some the desire of the flesh), is not subject to the law of God. And although there is no condemnation for them that believe and are baptized, yet the Apostle doth confess that concupiscence and lust hath itself the nature of sin.

X. Of Free Will
The condition of man after the fall of Adam is such, that he cannot turn and prepare himself, by his own natural strength and good works, to faith and calling upon God. Wherefore we have no power to do good works pleasant and acceptable to God, without the grace of God by Christ preventing us that we may have a good will, and working with us when we have that good will.

As with the Lutheran and the other Reformed church confessions, the Articles make an explicit statement affirming original sin and denying the Pelagian idea that men are born basically good. Article 9 also sides with Augustine by stating that man is not only deprived of righteousness, but also positively inclined to evil. This is to say that no man is born morally neutral. Every one of us was born with an inherited moral corruption that makes us sinners by nature. This is a crucial component of the biblical understanding of the gospel. The reason we need redemption, and the reason we cannot earn it in any way, is that we are sinners by nature. We justly deserve God's wrath and condemnation.

Article 9 mentions nothing of inherited guilt or the imputation of Adam's sin to his posterity (Rom 5:12-21). It also does not explicitly affirm total depravity (that every aspect of our being is corrupted by sin). But Article 10 does go on to affirm our inability to believe apart from God's "preventing" grace. The term "preventing" here has the older meaning of "preceding." In other words, God's grace must work first in order to give us a desire to believe in him and do his will.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Grace and Fear

"You who fear the Lord, bless the Lord!"
What does the fear of God have to do with God's grace? Everything, as I hope you will see this Lord's Day as we gather to bless his name. Please join us!

Psalm 117a
Mighty God, While Angels Bless Thee (#27)
It Is Finished (#138)
'Tis the Christ (#150)
Amazing Grace (#247)
When I Survey the Wondrous Cross (#137)

Scripture Reading
John 17

Grace and Fear - 1 Peter 1:17-21

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Good Preaching on the Fear of God

This week the Lord has graciously used a series of sermons on the fear of God by Pastor Al Martin to humble me and to stir me up by way of remembrance. I would recommend them to you. You can listen to them here.

Giving and Debt

Randy Alcorn gives some good thoughts about making sure we give to God even when in debt.

Here's a paragraph that stuck out to me:

Through debt sometimes we unconsciously try to maneuver God into a position where he’s obligated to “provide” in the form of our future payments. In a role reversal, we set up the rules of the game and then expect God to play by them. Assuming the role of Master, we demote God to the obedient genie, who exists to underwrite our causes and fulfill our agendas. In such cases debt is not merely unwise, but evil.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

The Thirty-Nine Articles (Part 3)

VI. Of the Sufficiency of the Holy Scripture for Salvation
Holy Scripture containeth all things necessary to salvation: so that whatsoever is not read therein, nor may be proved thereby, is not to be required of any man, that it should be believed as an article of the Faith, or be thought requisite or necessary to salvation. In the name of Holy Scripture we do understand those canonical Books of the Old and New Testament, of whose authority was never any doubt in the Church.
[There follows a list of the books accepted as canonical.]

VII. Of the Old Testament
The Old Testament is not contrary to the New: for both in the Old and New Testament everlasting life is offered to Mankind by Christ, who is the only Mediator between God and Man, being both God and Man. Wherefore they are not to be heard, which feign that the old Fathers did look only for transitory promises. Although the Law given from God by Moses, as touching Ceremonies and Rites, do not bind Christian men, nor the Civil precepts thereof ought of necessity to be received in any commonwealth; yet notwithstanding, no Christian man whatsoever is free from the obedience of the Commandments which are called Moral.

VIII. Of the Creeds
The Nicene Creed, and that which is commonly called the Apostles’ Creed, ought thoroughly to be received and believed: for they may be proved by most certain warrants of Holy Scripture.
[NB: The American Revision of 1801, quoted here, changed the original article by omitting a reference to the Athanasian Creed.]

A couple brief comments. The Articles express the supremacy of the Scripture, but this is clearly not considered to be in any way contradictory to receiving and believing creeds. The creeds hold their status because "they may be proved by most certain warrants of Holy Scripture."

The 7th Article, attempting to uphold the authority of the OT, invokes the common division of the OT law into ceremonial, civil, and moral categories. This division is foreign to the Scriptures, which views the Mosaic Law as an indivisible whole. In relationship to the NT believer, the Scripture applies the OT law in salvation-historical categories. In other words, the OT law must be applied today from the viewpoint of the coming of Christ and his work.

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Means of Sanctification

Ryan Martin has a thoughtful post explaining why the practice of personal devotions is not the most important means of personal sanctification.

Friday, June 05, 2009

Holiness in the Here and Now

"You shall be holy, for I am holy." These words are God's command to all who would be identified as his children. They are heavy words, unless we have hope in Christ who ransomed us and God who raised him from the dead. With that hope, holiness becomes the only knowledgeable and reasonable way to conduct our lives.

Holy, Holy, Holy (#3)
Jesus, Thy Blood and Righteousness (#400)
Come, Holy Spirit, Heavenly Dove (#211)
Jehovah Tsidkenu (#385)
Psalm 119d
May the Mind of Christ (#476)

Scripture Reading
Christ Has Overcome the World - John 16

1 Peter 1:14-16

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Thirty-Nine Articles (Part 2)

III. Of the going down of Christ into Hell.
As Christ died for us, and was buried, so also is it to be believed that He went down into Hell.

IV. Of the Resurrection of Christ.
CHRIST did truly rise again from death, and took again His body, with flesh, bones, and all things appertaining to the perfection of man's nature, wherefore He ascended into heaven, and there sitteth until He return to judge all men at the last day.

V. Of the Holy Ghost.
The Holy Ghost, proceeding from the Father and the Son, is of one substance, majesty, and glory with the Father and the Son, very and eternal God.

One of the advantages of studying the ancient creeds and historic confessions is that we gain a sense for the biblical doctrines that are fundamental to Christianity. This does not mean that the creeds and confessions themselves are fundamental to Christianity. Rather, they reveal for us which teachings of the Scriptures have been clearly and consistently expounded and believed throughout the history of the church. They do not establish our faith for us, but they do help us to gain a sense of proportion when distinguishing true Christianity from false. To use the example of the Thirty-Nine Articles which we are considering here, the first five articles deal with the Trinity, a non-negotiable doctrine of biblical Christianity.

However, in Article 3 we run into one of those statements that is less than clear and certainly not universally accepted. There was disagreement concerning this article before it was adopted, and there is still disagreement today. The teaching that Christ "descended into hell" comes from later versions of the Apostles' Creed, and it appears that when it was first used it may have meant no more than that Christ descended into the grave (the Greek term hades can refer to the place of the dead). Historically, many churches which accept the Apostles' Creed do not teach that Christ went to the place of torment and final judgment. For example, the Westminster Larger Catechism says,

Christ's humiliation after his death consisted in his being buried, and continuing in the state of the dead, and under the power of death till the third day; which hath been otherwise expressed in these words, He descended into hell (Question 50).

Consequently, when many Christians confess that Christ descended into hell, they really mean no more than that he was truly in the realm of the dead prior to his bodily resurrection.

If this is what is meant by the phrases "he descended into hell" in the Apostles' Creed and "he went down into Hell" in the Thirty-Nine Articles, then no doubt this is a universal and fundamental teaching of Christianity. Christians must believe in the actual bodily death of Jesus Christ on the cross. If he did not truly die on the cross, then he could not have paid the penalty for our sins.

At the same time, the phrase "he descended into hell" itself seems to say more than that Christ truly died. Thus contemporary theologian Wayne Grudem argues that the phrase ought to be dropped from the Apostles' Creed ("He Did Not Descend into Hell").

No doubt debate on this language will continue, but at the very least it ought to make us realize once again that confessions must conform to the Scripture, and not vice-versa. The Bible is our final authority in all matters. Simply because an ancient tradition says that Christ "descended into hell" does not make it so. Personally, I am persuaded that there is no biblical evidence that Christ suffered in the abode of the damned. This would contradict the finality of his suffering on the cross when he cried, "It is finished." This would contradict his promise to the repentant thief that he would be with him in paradise. Christ truly died and was buried, but it is at the least misleading to say that he descended into hell.

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Humble Learner or Pious Critic?

Are you a Berean or a Corinthian? Pastor Dave Doran asks in a good post today over at Glory & Grace. This is a lesson that I need continually. Our flesh is incredibly resourceful at finding ways to puff us up with pride in our knowledge, including our knowledge of the Scriptures.