Saturday, January 24, 2015

Thoughts on Sanctification...

As to sanctification... Can't it be said that believers are sanctified by grace through faith in Christ alone? It is through faith in Christ that we receive the forgiveness of sins by his shed blood and are declared righteous by virtue of his death and resurrection.  As the apostle Paul wrote, "justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus: whom God set forth to be a propitiation, through faith, in his blood... We reckon therefore that a man is justified by faith apart from the works of the law" (Rom. 3:24-25,28)... by faith apart from works of the law.  

By grace through faith in Jesus Christ we receive a new heart and are made children of God.  And by faith we receive Christ's finished work for us. We were buried "with him through baptism unto deaththat like as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we also might walk in newness of life" and having "become united with him in the likeness of his death, we shall be also in the likeness of his resurrection" (Rom. 6:4-5).  By faith we receive the benefits of Jesus's victory over sin and death, "knowing this, that our old man was crucified with him, that the body of sin might be done away, that so we should no longer be in bondage to sin; for he that hath died is justified from sin" (Rom. 6: 6-7).  

And we have been set apart from sin and death unto God through faith in Jesus's work alone, "knowing that Christ being raised from the dead dieth no more; death no more hath dominion over him. the death that he died, he died unto sin once: but the life that he liveth, he liveth unto God. Even so reckon ye also yourselves to be dead unto sin, but alive unto God in Christ Jesus." (Rom. 6:9-11). Our past sinful life and its cursed destiny has been wonderfully preempted by Jesus' substitution for us on the cross, in that he bore the penalty of death for the guilt and shame of our sin. And in exchange we, by faith in him, have been set free from the dominion and authority of sin. That cursed link between our sin and death has been broken by Jesus' death in our place. So Paul writes that we are to accept as certain that we are "dead unto sin [its penalty and reign], but alive unto God in Christ Jesus." (Rom. 6:11). This benefit we also receive through faith.

Good news upon good news received by the weary sinner simply through faith in the Lamb who was slain.  And there is more.  Paul then authoritatively declares that "sin shall not have dominion over you: for ye are not under law, but under grace" (Rom. 6:14).  Sin's death penalty has been paid. It no longer hangs over blood-washed sinners.  Again Paul writes, "The sting of death is sin; and the power of sin is the law" (1 Cor. 15:56). Trusting in Christ alone we have been delivered from the curse and condemnation of the law through which sin had dominion. No longer under the judgment of the law believers are under the gift of grace. The wages of our sin have been paid by Jesus. Whereas we owed a debt payable only by death, we now have the free gift of God, eternal life in Christ Jesus; "for by grace have ye been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not of works, that no man should glory." (Eph. 2:8-9).

The question I would then pose is the same one that Paul asked the Galatians.  "Received ye the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith?... He therefore that supplieth to you the Spirit, and worketh miracles among you, doeth he it by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith?" Gal. 3:2,5). This is generally understood to be pertaining to justification and it is. But it seems to me that Paul is making a larger point. That when we bring a works-merit-basis into our Christina life we move away from the ground of grace not only in our justification but of salvation itself. So, I think the principle of faith alone in Christ alone by grace alone holds in sanctification as firmly as it does in justification.  But what about doing good works?  Aren't they a means of sanctification? Actually, I think it's the other way around. Our sanctification is by grace, and so is the means of dying to sin and doing good works.
Q. 35. What is sanctification? A. Sanctification is the work of God's free grace, whereby we are renewed in the whole man after the image of God, and are enabled more and more to die unto sin, and live unto righteousness. [Westminster Shorter Catechism]
(Scripture references are from the American Standard Version) 

Thursday, January 15, 2015

False "Gospels"

My question is: How many different ways... how many paths... how many spiritual exercises and legal obediences have been added to Christ's finished work throughout the ages that falsely point Christians in the supposed "sure" way of securing their salvation? In a word, one... that of works. John Fesko elaborates by unpacking J. Gresham Machen's thought on the matter:
 "Machen was aware of the different ways by which ancient and modern humanity proposed to extricate themselves from the pit of sin and death. Machen rejected mysticism as an approach to God and redemption because mystics believe that communion with God is based in “ineffable experience,” whereas the Bible teaches that a premium is placed upon understanding and knowing the truth...
"Certainly, then, a person must believe in God, but should he also not contribute to his salvation in some way? Machen identified this combination of faith and works as a false gospel. In his lecture notes on Galatians, Machen writes, “The enemy against which Paul is fighting in the Epistle can be reconstructed fairly well from the Epistle itself. Paul was fighting against the doctrine that a man can earn a part, at least, of his salvation by his own obedience to God’s law; he was fighting against the doctrine that a man is justified not by faith alone, but by faith and works.” Machen knew that Paul’s opponents, the Judaizers, though an ancient foe of the gospel, had descendants in his own day: So the error of the Judaizers is a very modern error indeed, as well as a very ancient error. It is found in the modern Church wherever men seek salvation by “surrender” instead of by faith, or by their own character instead of by the imputed righteousness of Christ, or by “making Christ master in the life” instead of by trusting in His redeeming blood. In particular, it is found wherever men say that “the real essentials” of Christianity are love, justice, mercy and other virtues, as contrasted with the great doctrines of God’s Word. These are all just different ways of exalting the merit of man over against the Cross of Christ; they are all of them attacks upon the very heart and core of the Christian religion. Machen rejected all other approaches to salvation —mysticism, pantheism, moralism, and legalism— and recognized that there was only one way to be saved—by faith alone, in the person and work of Christ alone, by God’s grace alone." 
-- John V. Fesko, Machen and The Gospel

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Prayer: Calvin's Law/Gospel Distinction...

In the following excerpt from the Institutes of Religion it's noteworthy to see how central the Law/ Gospel distinction is to John Calvin's understanding of prayer. It may not be readily obvious to some and that is probably due to the notion held by many that Calvin didn't hold to what is often wrongly described as a "Lutheran" and not Reformed doctrine. In addition, Calvin does not always label his applicable comments as Law/Gospel. And one of the most likely reasons is the fact that it was so accepted and understood among Reformers as an uncontroversial though essential understanding of sinful man's redemption as presented in Scripture. Law/Gospel as God's two Words in Scripture was embraced by the Reformers from Luther and Tyndale through Calvin and Beza and so continued among  Reformed theologians throughout the 17th and 18th centuries.
... notwithstanding of our being thus abased and truly humbled, we should be animated to pray with the sure hope of succeeding. There is, indeed, an appearance of contradiction between the two things, between a sense of the just vengeance of God and firm confidence in his favor, and yet they are perfectly accordant, if it is the mere goodness of God that raises up those who are overwhelmed by their own sins. For, as we have formerly shown (chap. 3: sec. 17. 2) that repentance and faith go hand in hand, being united by an indissoluble tie, the one causing terror, the other joy, so in prayer they must both be present. This concurrence David expresses in a few words: "But as for me, I will come into thy house in the multitude of thy mercy, and in thy fear will I worship toward thy holy temple," (Psalm 5:7.) Under the goodness of God he comprehends faith, at the same time not excluding fear; for not only does his majesty compel our reverence, but our own unworthiness also divests us of all pride and confidence, and keeps us in fear. [emphasis added] John Calvin, Institutes of Religion Book 3.20.11
Looking at chapter 17.2 in Book 3 to which Calvin refers the reader we find:
For this reason, the promises offered in the law would all be null and ineffectual, did not God in his goodness send the gospel to our aid, since the condition on which they depend, and under which only they are to be performed--viz. the fulfillment of the law, will never be accomplished [i.e. by us]. Still, however the aid which the Lord gives consists not in leaving part of justification to be obtained by works, and in supplying part out of his indulgence, but in giving us Christ as in himself alone the fulfillment of righteousness. For the Apostle, after premising that he and the other Jews, aware that "a man is not justified by the works of the law," had "believed in Jesus Christ," adds as the reason, not that they might be assisted to make up the sum of righteousness by faith in Christ, but that they "might be justified by the faith of Christ, and not by the works of the law," (Gal. 2:16). If believers withdraw from the law to faith, that in the latter they may find the justification which they see is not in the former, they certainly disclaim justification by the law. Therefore, whose will, let him amplify the rewards which are said to await the observer of the law, provided he at the same time understand, that owing to our depravity, we derive no benefit from them until we have obtained another righteousness by faith. Thus David after making mention of the reward which the Lord has prepared for his servants (Ps. 25 almost throughout), immediately descends to an acknowledgment of sins, by which the reward is made void. In Psalm 19, also, he loudly extols the benefits of the law; but immediately exclaims, "Who can understand his errors? cleanse thou me from secret faults," (Ps. 19:12). This passage perfectly accords with the former, when, after saying, "the paths of the Lord are mercy and truth unto such as keep his covenant and his testimonies," he adds, "For thy name's sake, O Lord, pardon mine iniquity: for it is great," (Ps. 25:10, 11). Thus, too, we ought to acknowledge that the favor of God is offered to us in the law, provided by our works we can deserve it; but that it never actually reaches us through any such desert. [emphasis and bracketed comment added]
Indeed. The favor of God offered in the Law is secured for sinners only by Christ's perfect obedience for them. And so it is that the grace of God in Christ as offered in the Gospel and received through faith alone is that which brings sinners into the favor of God offered in the Law (Romans 10:5-11). Believers are saved by works yet not those of their own... but by the righteousness of Jesus Christ, the perfect and acceptable works of his obedience and his sacrificial death on the cross for them.

Back to prayer. Calvin is making the point that we are miserable sinners and yet beloved of God. And as we come to the heavenly throne of grace in prayer we should not ignore nor dissemble concerning our sinfulness, our lack of faith, and coldness of heart. We feel the weight of those stains on our words even as we direct them heavenward. Calvin is expressing a wonderful thing here. There is no dissonance in the fact that my sins are all too present as I approach the Holy of Holies. In his presence, God's holy Law does what it is meant to do - it shines light on sin. So it is in our want of personal righteousness that God meets us with his mercy and favor in Christ as we pray. As the Spirit of God highlights our infirmities at one moment, at the next he directs our hearts to his mercy touching us with the provision of Christ's healing perfection. It's in this way that we approach our heavenly Father with the assurance of full acceptance, not hiding or minimizing our sins but owning them and taking refuge beneath the blood of our Mediator and Advocate, Jesus Christ.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Giving That Which We Have Received...

Sage advice on relationship: 
"Every good relationship is made up of two good forgivers.” - Ruth Bell Graham

"Blessed are they whose iniquities are forgiven, And whose sins are covered. Blessed is the man to whom, the Lord will not reckon sin." Romans 4:7-8
"If we confess our sins, he is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness." 1 John 1:9
"and be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving each other, even as God also in Christ forgave you." Ephesians 4:32

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Prayer - "Founded On Free Mercy"

In fine, supplication for pardon, with humble and ingenuous confession of guilt, forms both the preparation and commencement of right prayer. For the holiest of men cannot hope to obtain any thing from God until he has been freely reconciled to him. God cannot be propitious to any but those whom he pardons. Hence it is not strange that this is the key by which believers open the door of prayer, as we learn from several passages in The Psalms. David, when presenting a request on a different subject, says, "Remember not the sins of my youth, nor my transgressions; according to thy mercy remember me, for thy goodness sake, O Lord," (Psalm 25:7.) Again, "Look upon my affliction and my pain, and forgive my sins," (Psalm 25:18.) Here also we see that it is not sufficient to call ourselves to account for the sins of each passing day; we must also call to mind those which might seem to have been long before buried in oblivion.
... prayers will never reach God unless they are founded on free mercy. To this we may refer the words of John, "If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness," (1 John 1:9.) Hence, under the law it was necessary to consecrate prayers by the expiation of blood, both that they might be accepted, and that the people might be warned that they were unworthy of the high privilege until, being purged from their defilements, they founded their confidence in prayer entirely on the mercy of God.
John Calvin, Institutes of Religion: Book 3.20.9 

Interestingly, it is not union with Christ, either elective or spiritual, that Calvin highlights as the ground upon which our prayers are received by God. The reason, it seems, is that union with Christ as a doctrine fails to address the central need of the saved-yet-still-sinner as he comes to God in prayer. That need is for assurance and confidence in order to approach the living God. "... how much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish unto God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?" (Hebrews 9:14) Our prayers are heard of God because of the pardon of sins found only in the meritorious blood of Christ which apprehended by faith gives believers a firm ground of confidence upon which to pray. "Let us therefore draw near with boldness unto the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy, and may find grace to help us in time of need." (Hebrews 4:16)

Monday, January 5, 2015

Taking Stock... Prayer

Taking stock of one's self is rarely a pleasant experience, at least if done with a modicum of honesty which is probably why I seldom do it. But recently I asked myself - "Self, what things are lacking in your life?" Fear not, the list is too long so I'm not about to unload a morose account of failings that would be both embarrassing to me and boring to you. Yet one thing quickly came to mind that I want to mention and that is a desire to have a more consistent and heart-felt prayer life.

Now when heading down the prayer-life path there are certain forks-in-the-road best not taken. What I don't have in mind when speaking of a prayer-life is that meditative approach to God which seeks to attain to or find a deep mystical experience. No, I've already taken that Higher Life-Madame Guyon-Brother Lawrence trek years ago. It's one that leads only to a dead end of self-effort and self-absorption. Nor am I necessarily thinking of prayer simply in terms of bringing to God petitions and names of those with needs, i.e. the prayer list variety of prayer. I'm not saying that isn't important as it does have its place. And last, I want to avoid any "if only... then..." approach to prayer. In other words, it's crucial to not fall into the kind of thinking that says "if only I had a better prayer life then such and such blessings or spiritual growth or [fill-in the blank] would result." That's taking the commands and gifts of God and turning them into a works-formula in order earn something that can't be earned. We are creatures solely dependent on the goodness and favor of God, not equal players with him as if he responds and blesses according to our bargaining and implicit deal-making.

Where I'm coming from, I guess, is a kind of conviction or being convicted of a lackadaisical attitude regarding something that I know ought to be otherwise. We are commanded and entreated in Scripture to pray. And as is always the case, that which we are commanded by God to do is also that which embodies our good. So it is in a desire for a heart/attitude change regarding prayer that I decided to begin rereading that helpful portion of John Calvin's Institutes in which he addresses this topic. Here are the first two sections of chapter 20 on prayer from Book 3:
1. FROM the previous part of the work we clearly see how completely destitute man is of all good, how devoid of every means of procuring his own salvation. Hence, if he would obtain succour in his necessity, he must go beyond himself, and procure it in some other quarter. It has farther been shown that the Lord kindly and spontaneously manifests himself in Christ, in whom he offers all happiness for our misery, all abundance for our want, opening up the treasures of heaven to us, so that we may turn with full faith to his beloved Son, depend upon him with full expectation, rest in him, and cleave to him with full hope. This, indeed, is that secret and hidden philosophy which cannot be learned by syllogisms: a philosophy thoroughly understood by those whose eyes God has so opened as to see light in his light (Ps. 36:9). But after we have learned by faith to know that whatever is necessary for us or defective in us is supplied in God and in our Lord Jesus Christ, in whom it hath pleased the Father that all fulness should dwell, that we may thence draw as from an inexhaustible fountain, it remains for us to seek and in prayer implore of him what we have learned to be in him. To know God as the sovereign disposer of all good, inviting us to present our requests, and yet not to approach or ask of him, were so far from availing us, that it were just as if one told of a treasure were to allow it to remain buried in the ground. Hence the Apostle, to show that a faith unaccompanied with prayer to God cannot be genuine, states this to be the order: As faith springs from the Gospel, so by faith our hearts are framed to call upon the name of God (Rom. 10:14). And this is the very thing which he had expressed some time before--viz. that the Spirit of adoption, which seals the testimony of the Gospel on our hearts, gives us courage to make our requests known unto God, calls forth groanings which cannot be uttered, and enables us to cry, Abba, Father (Rom. 8:26). This last point, as we have hitherto only touched upon it slightly in passing, must now be treated more fully.
2. To prayer, then, are we indebted for penetrating to those riches which are treasured up for us with our heavenly Father. For there is a kind of intercourse between God and men, by which, having entered the upper sanctuary, they appear before Him and appeal to his promises, that when necessity requires they may learn by experiences that what they believed merely on the authority of his word was not in vain. Accordingly, we see that nothing is set before us as an object of expectation from the Lord which we are not enjoined to ask of Him in prayer, so true it is that prayer digs up those treasures which the Gospel of our Lord discovers to the eye of faith. The necessity and utility of this exercise of prayer no words can sufficiently express. Assuredly it is not without cause our heavenly Father declares that our only safety is in calling upon his name, since by it we invoke the presence of his providence to watch over our interests, of his power to sustain us when weak and almost fainting, of his goodness to receive us into favour, though miserably loaded with sin; in fine, call upon him to manifest himself to us in all his perfections. Hence, admirable peace and tranquillity are given to our consciences; for the straits by which we were pressed being laid before the Lord, we rest fully satisfied with the assurance that none of our evils are unknown to him, and that he is both able and willing to make the best provision for us.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Year End - Loose Ends - Grace...

Joshua (Joshua 24), after recounting God’s mercy and His faithfulness to the promises in delivering Israel from all her enemies, exhorts the Israelites to put away their false gods, to fear the LORD and serve Him in sincerity and truth. The Israelites essentially declare, “We will do it!” Joshua, truly understanding the perfection required by anyone who would serve God on the ground of their own works and also knowing the weak view the people had of the righteousness demanded by God, replies unto the people, "Ye cannot serve Jehovah; for he is a holy God; he is a jealous God; he will not forgive your transgression nor your sins.” They could not serve God in a holiness of their own and they could not atone for the pollution of their sins.

The Israelites had a need. It was that their watered-down law-keeping mindset had to be humbled and stopped in its tracks by the very Law that they presumed to fulfill. This was in order that they then might be lifted up by the LORD’s free mercy.
Calvin: “But Scripture humbles us more, and at the same time elevates us. For besides forbidding us to glory in works, because they are the gratuitous gifts of God, it tells us that they are always defiled by some degrees of impurity, so that they cannot satisfy God when they are tested by the standard of his justice; but that lest our activity should be destroyed, they please merely by pardon.” — i.e. God’s free mercy and pardon in Christ alone...
and in WCF 14:2,
“… But the principal acts of saving faith are accepting, receiving, and resting upon Christ alone for justification, sanctification, and eternal life, by virtue of the covenant of grace.
“… the righteous acts of the saints.
And how are the acts of the saints constituted righteous? By what merit? By what obedience? By their own intrinsic holiness? No. Indeed, by the Holy Spirit we have been given a new sanctified heart and will in order that we might now seek to obey, even obey completely. Yet in this life - though now saints yet remaining sinners - no thought, no word, no deed - no matter how “holy” - is without some stain of sin. 

How is it then that we are not also rebuked, as were the Israelites, when we seek to serve God? Indeed often we are as the Holy Spirit brings us again and again to the foot of the cross that we would see the bankruptcy of our persons and of our works. And yet also, seeing and hearing the good news again, that we are accepted as righteous by God not by our works but due only to His free grace and mercy in Christ... the blessing of salvation that we receive and abide in through faith alone. We should never confuse our “righteous acts” in this life with the perfection required by the Law. Our works are acceptable only through the perfect obedience, merit, and mediation of our Savior and Advocate in heaven, Jesus Christ.

“The righteous shall live by faith.” As we seek to obey, it is through faith in Christ alone that our works are cleansed and lifted up to God. Our works rise up to God as acceptable only through the blood of Christ: “how much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish unto God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?” The writer of Hebrews was writing to believers.

“for by grace have ye been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not of works, that no man should glory. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God afore prepared that we should walk in them.”

“Prepared” in that “he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blemish before him in love: having foreordained us unto adoption as sons through Jesus Christ unto himself, according to the good pleasure of his will, to the praise of the glory of his grace, which he freely bestowed on us in the Beloved: in whom we have our redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace…

Yes, as Scripture teaches, it is all by grace. And as my wont - a quote from Calvin:
In regard to this liberty there is a remarkable passage in the Epistle to the Romans, where Paul argues, “Sin shall not have dominion over you; for ye are not under the law, but under grace,” (Romans 6:14) For after he had exhorted believers, “Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, that ye should obey it in the lusts thereof: Neither yield ye your members as instruments of unrighteousness unto sin; but yield yourselves unto God, as those that are alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness unto God;” they might have objected that they still bore about with them a body full of lust, that sin still dwelt in them. He therefore comforts them by adding, that they are freed from the law; as if he had said, Although you feel that sin is not yet extinguished, and that righteousness does not plainly live in you, you have no cause for fear and dejection, as if God were always offended because of the remains of sin, since by grace you are freed from the law, and your works are not tried by its standard.
I don’t think our obedience or Godly living is diminished or weakened by extolling the truth that salvation, start to finish, is by God's grace. Rather, our persons as well as our obedience are cleansed, purified, i.e. made acceptable through the satisfaction of Christ’s own perfect obedience and death. In sanctification the only sure ground upon which sinner/saints walk and live unto God is the grace of the gospel.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Musings on Gratitude and Obedience

There are some who posit that thankfulness is an insufficient reason or motive for Christian obedience. Interestingly, by implication, they are critiquing the Heidelberg Catechism as defective due to its emphasis on the motive of gratitude for Christian obedience... but that is for another musing. Often what is put forth by those looking to supplement and shore up our gratitude is 1) the motive to obey because God simply commands it, and 2) due to the necessity of holiness in our lives our motive should therefore be to pursue godly living in order to become more holy. We need to be holy. Does gratitude exclude these?

The Law commands all mankind to obedience, believer and unbeliever. Yet the unbeliever hears the law and, regarding obedience, says – "forget it." He is not the least motivated to obey God’s law merely because God commands it. Nor does the need of holiness in his life excite him to attend to the moral law as a necessary guide for his living. Rather,  “Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.”

Why is it then that a believer considers God’s holy commands to be not only obligatory but now desirable? In a word, Mercy... God's mercy shown to him who was once a rebel to the Law but now pardoned in Christ Jesus.

Let's consider this “necessity for holiness”… what is meant by that? Certainly holiness is at the center of God's eternal purpose for each of the elect. Due to God’s decreed will holiness, we can say, is indeed necessary. So obedience in that context is certainly necessary as the ordained outcome for all those Christ has saved. The justified will indeed be sanctified. And having the law written on their hearts, former lawless rebels now agree with the Law even as they yet struggle against their sinful tendencies. But should the believer consider obedience “necessary” as a condition for his salvation? No. He should only consider obedience necessary in that it is the only reasonable and logical response born of gratitude in his heart to the One who bore the curse of death for his sins, i.e. the way in which God has given him to walk unto salvation (WLC32).

Thankfulness is born in the heart of the sinner for whom Christ, by His perfect obedience to the Law and bloody death on the cross, purchased eternal life.
For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will hardly die for a righteous man; though perhaps for the good man someone would dare even to die. But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from the wrath of God through Him. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life. And not only this, but we also exult in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received the reconciliation. (Rom. 5:6-11 NASB)
Gratitude fuels the new-heart-attitude and rectified-will thus making it unthinkable that blood-washed sinners would respond any other way than by offering themselves unto God for righteous living. This unmerited forgiveness for all our sins is not just a one time occurrence but is experienced throughout the Christian's life. We are sinners who still sin. And thankfully we have a Mediator and Advocate in heaven - Jesus Christ the Righteous - who intercedes continually for us with his precious blood... whose intercession allows for assurance of forgiveness in our consciences again and again. It would seem to me then that gratitude, as the primary motive of obedience for blood-washed sinners, infuses all other motives for the Christian's pursuit of holiness.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

A Klinean Gold Nugget...

"There is no reconciliation with the Creator, no renewal of love for him or genuine confession of Yahweh as covenant Lord that is not in the last analysis due to God’s restorative power operating in forgiving grace."
 - Meredith Kline, Kingdom Prologue, 236

Calvin: "Love... Proceeds from Faith and a Good Conscience"

The question is: Does obedience grow out from faith as surely as fruit from a tree, i.e. the faith through which God reckons a sinner righteous?

The aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith. (1 Timothy 1:5 ESV)
If the law must be directed to this object, that we may be instructed in love, which proceeds from faith and a good conscience, it follows, on the other hand, that they who turn the teaching of it into curious questions are wicked expounders of the law. Besides, it is of no great importance whither the word love be regarded in this passage as relating, to both tables of the law, or only to the second table. We are commanded to love God with our whole heart, and our neighbors as ourselves; but when love is spoken of in Scripture, it is more frequently limited to the second part. On the present occasion I should not hesitate to understand by it the love both of God and of our neighbor, if Paul had employed the word love alone; but when he adds, "faith, and a good conscience, and a pure heart," the interpretation which I am now to give will not be at variance with his intention, and will agree well with the scope of the passage. The sum of the law is this, that we may worship God with true faith and a pure conscience, and that we may love one another. Whosoever turns aside from this corrupts the law of God by twisting it to a different purpose.
But here arises a doubt, that Paul appears to prefer "love" to "faith." I reply, they who are of that opinion reason in an excessively childish manner; for, if love is first mentioned, it does not therefore hold the first rank of honor, since Paul shows also that it springs from faith. Now the cause undoubtedly goes before its effect. And if we carefully weigh the whole context, what Paul says is of the same import as if he had said, "The law was given to us for this purpose, that it might instruct us in faith, which is the mother of a good conscience and of love." Thus we must begin with faith, and not with love.
"A pure heart" and "a good conscience" do not greatly differ from each other. Both proceed from faith; for, as to a pure heart, it is said that "God purifieth hearts by faith." (Acts 15:9.) As to a good conscience, Peter declares that it is founded on the resurrection of Christ. (1 Peter 3:21.) From this passage we also learn that there is no true love where there is not fear of God and uprightness of conscience.
Nor is it unworthy of observation that to each of them he adds an epithet; for, as nothing is more common, so nothing is more easy, than to boast of faith and a good conscience. But how few are there who prove by their actions that they are free from all hypocrisy! Especially it is proper to observe the epithet Which he bestows on "faith," when he calls it faith unfeigned; by which he means that the profession of it is insincere, when we do not perceive a good conscience, and when love is not manifested. Now since the salvation of men rests on faith, and since the perfect worship of God rests on faith and a good conscience and love, we need not wonder if Paul makes the sum of the law to consist of them.
John Calvin, Commentary on 1 Timothy 

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Fatherly Anger Leads to Forgiveness...

I think the point that Calvin is making in the passage below, as he mentions that God is wonderoulsy angry with his children, is not to put fear in his children so that they will shape up and sin less. Of course we should sin less. In fact we shouldn't sin at all. That is the negative teaching of the Moral Law. But this passage is emphasizing the provision that God gives the elect in Christ for forgiveness and cleansing. So then, we are at times (thankfully) convicted of our sin by the Spirit and become aware of the dread penalty that is due us for our sin except for Christ (WLC 97). Calvin explains that this anger of the Father is intended to put a godly fear in us in order to humble us and bring us to repentance at the throne of Grace; that the blood of Christ might wash our consciences from the stain of sin and we might renew our trust alone in Christ and his sacrifice for our sin.

Book 3:2:12, Calvin
"The Spirit of love was given to Christ alone, for the express purpose of conferring this Spirit upon his members; and there can be no doubt that the following words of Paul apply to the elect only: “The love of God is shed abroad in our hearts, by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us,” (Rom. 5:5); namely, the love which begets that confidence in prayer to which I have above adverted. On the other hand, we see that God is mysteriously offended [wonderously angry] with his children, though he ceases not to love them. He certainly hates them not, but he alarms them with a sense of his anger, that he may humble the pride of the flesh, arouse them from lethargy, and urge them to repentance. Hence they, at the same instant, feel that he is angry with them for their sins, and also propitious to their persons."
In other words, when we sin our need isn't to sin less (it only takes one to condemn) but to be humbled by God so as to avail ourselves of his grace in forgiveness and repentance found in Christ. Sinning less doesn't relieve a troubled conscience and doesn't cleanse one from sin. Turning my eyes of faith to Christ does: but to him who does not work, but believes on him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is reckoned as righteousness (Rom. 4:5). Still sinners, we will still sin. And if we, by the grace of God, do remove certain types of sins from our lives the Holy Spirit will then show us a whole other layer of sins that lurk just under the surface unnoticed by us. Emphasizing the grace of God in his children does not undermine godly living but promotes it through the finished work of Christ.

Thanks to Brad Lindvall for initiating this topic via email.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

A Prayer of Calvin for the Church...

Grant, Almighty God, that since thou hast at this time deigned in thy mercy to gather us to thy Church, and to enclose us within the boundaries of thy word, by which thou preserves us in the true and right worship of thy majesty, - O grant, that we may continue contented in this obedience to thee: and though Satan may, in many ways, attempt to draw us here and there, and we be also ourselves, by nature, inclined to evil, O grant, that being confirmed in faith, and united to thee by that sacred bond, we may yet constantly abide under the guidance of thy word, and thus cleave to Christ thy only-begotten Son, who has joined us for ever to himself, that we may never by any means turn aside from thee, but be, on the contrary, confirmed in the faith of his gospel, until at length he will receive us all into his kingdom. Amen.
Prayers of John Calvin from his Commentary on Hosea

Friday, November 28, 2014

Bucer's Admonition to Proclaim Christ Faithfully...

"But in this matter it is specially to be noted that the doctrine of Christ is to be faithfully proclaimed not only in the public gatherings of the church, but also in the home and to each one individually, following the example of Paul in the third and fifth texts. Thus in the third text [Acts 20:18-21] he states: I have proclaimed the doctrine of Christ to you and taught you in the general and public assembly, δημοσίᾳ-- and also privately from house to house, κατ’ οἴκους. And afterwards: For three years I never stopped warning each of you day and night. And in the fifth text [1 Thess. 2:5-12]: Like a father his children I have warned each one of you &c. The doctrine of the holy gospel is the doctrine of eternal salvation, and on account of our corrupt nature there is nothing more difficult and troublesome for us to learn; that is why this doctrine requires the most faithful, earnest and persistent teaching, instruction and admonition that anyone could ever employ."
Martin Bucer, Concerning The True Care Of Souls: p 181.