Archive for 2012

We Must Do the Impossible

20 November 2012 by Neil

Do we have a part in sanctification? Absolutely we do. Here is a part that you may, nay must play:
And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” -- Matthew 28:18-20
You play an essential role... in the sanctification of others. Because that is what it means to make disciples. Now the Great Commission urges us to make disciples everywhere, but it doesn't really tell us how to do the job does it? Maybe the ability to make disciples is perhaps a gift that not all good Christians possess. Perhaps your calling is different.

Bosh. Piffle. You must make disciples, Disciples of Christ. The King of the universe, the one with all authority has commanded you to do so. And yes, he does tell you how to do it.

Becoming a disciple of Christ means that one is baptized and that one learns and observes all the commandments and teachings of Christ. A lightning fast read through the four Gospels reveals that Christ taught a number of things. You're gonna have to study and know and teach your charge all that stuff. Jesus quoted from the Old Testament a lot, so you'll likely have to know that too. Jesus gave direct revelation to Paul, so you also have to teach his stuff. And you know that the dry facts are not the point: we need to teach the meaning and the warp and the woof. We need to help our brother or sister understand what it means to serve the only God, to turn our backs on our things, to be reviled, and yes to be prepared even to die for Christ if it comes to that. There's a lot to learn, and there's a lot for the heart to embrace, and it's not going to happen all at once. It seems that making a disciple of Christ is not a singular event, but rather a dogged journey.

So whatcha call a disciple-in-training? Let's call him an apprentice. You have been commanded by your God to teach your apprentice to observe (that is, live, breathe, speak, and act out) all that Jesus commanded. So how you gonna do it? Stand behind a lectern and hold forth? Write occasional posts for a calvinist blog? Quote the meanings and cognates of Hebrew and koine Greek words? Of course there is a place for those things, and the place might even be in the discipleship process of your apprentice. But if imparting your fancy book learning is as much as you dare, then you are not making disciples, and you are flouting the command of Jesus.

Let's look at how Paul did discipling:
For though you have countless guides in Christ, you do not have many fathers. For I became your father in Christ Jesus through the gospel. I urge you, then, be imitators of me. That is why I sent you Timothy, my beloved and faithful child in the Lord, to remind you of my ways in Christ, as I teach them everywhere in every church. Some are arrogant, as though I were not coming to you. -- 1 Corinthans 4:15-18
The discipler loves like a father. The apprentice is a beloved follower. The discipler sets an example, and lives with the confidence that the apprentice will do well to watch and learn. The discipler urges the apprentice to imitate him. The apprentice is faithful and grows to become a discipler himself. The discipler holds the apprentice accountable. The discipler does not grow weary; he is in this until the end.

And let's see how Jesus did it:
And he called the twelve together and gave them power and authority over all demons and to cure diseases, and he sent them out to proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal. And he said to them, “Take nothing for your journey, no staff, nor bag, nor bread, nor money; and do not have two tunics. And whatever house you enter, stay there, and from there depart. And wherever they do not receive you, when you leave that town shake off the dust from your feet as a testimony against them.” And they departed and went through the villages, preaching the gospel and healing everywhere. -- Luke 9:1-6
Here, the God with all power and authority gives his apprentices some awesome bits of power and authority, and then almost paradoxically sends them out vulnerable, with no safety net. You have the clothes on your back and that's it. No cash, no chocolate bars, no nuthin'. He commanded them to go, and told them to rely upon the hospitality of others. And oh yeah, he told them that some of the others would be “unwelcoming”. Would they have some cold nights and hungry days? I think so. Would they get discouraged? Be unsafe? Oh yes. Jesus didn't shy away from difficult lessons, and he didn't cut the crusts off of their PBJ sandwiches. And what did the Master Discipler do with his apprentices when they returned separately from their difficult adventures?
On their return the apostles told him all that they had done. And he took them and withdrew apart to a town called Bethsaida. -- Luke 9:10.
They reported and they talked and they learned. They talked about highs and lows. This must have taken considerable time. Then they went somewhere alone, the discipler and his apprentices, and it's a safe conjecture that they talked some more. The Discipler gave his all to his apprentices. He gave his heart. He was their friend. Another question... were the theologies of these apprentices fully baked when they set out? No they were not!

We know from later in the Gospel that these guys did not yet grasp the purpose of Jesus' incarnation. They were loopy about a lot of stuff (as are you and me, truth be told). And yet Jesus sent them and gave them responsibility for what they did know. And yet another thing, wasn't one of those twelve going to betray him? But not matter; Jesus went ahead and discipled Judas. That should knock the wind from any notion that we should assess the suitability or discipleship potential of our potential apprentices. Listen, we are none of us suitable! Every one of us is limited, both apprentice and discipler. We are incorrigible, yet God gives us grace to become his disciples. We are weak, but God decrees that we must do the impossible, and make disciples. We were not a people, but God sets us apart to be a people bearing his name. Finally, remember this: Jesus did not command you to make disciples because he's short of just the kind of help that you can offer. The God who holds everything together and has all power and authority is not thinking how lucky he is to have you on his ministry team. Instead, count yourself blessed that he chooses to use a wobbly, failing goof like you to be an instrument in the sanctification of his children.

Now go and make disciples.


Needled about Faith

19 November 2012 by Tom Chantry

Q. 73. How doth faith justify a sinner in the sight of God?
A. Faith justifies a sinner in the sight of God, not because of those other graces which do always accompany it, or of good works that are the fruits of it, nor as if the grace of faith, or any act thereof, were imputed to him for his justification; but only as it is an instrument by which he receiveth and applieth Christ and his righteousness.

A few unfortunates in our world have allergies so severe they must carry with them an epinephrine injection. If they should ever come into contact with a honeybee or a peanut or, heaven forbid, a latex glove, they can open up their single-dose pre-filled automatic injection device and jam it into a thigh, thus preventing sudden and horrible death.

On such an occasion, the not-so-unfortunate might say, “My epinephrine saved me,” or, if he has a certain sense of humor, he might instead say, “My single-dose pre-filled automatic injection device saved me.” Both statements would be true, though not in the same way.

The difference is important. A needle won’t stop an allergic reaction, no matter how advanced and state-of-the-art a needle it might be. It is only the instrument by which one receives and applies epinephrine. Put more bluntly, if you have a severe enough reaction, you can jam empty needles in your thigh all day without doing any good. Epinephrine arrests deadly reactions; needles do not.

Nevertheless, the needle matters. I’m sure those who need them are glad for the availability of single-dose pre-filled automatic injection devices. Without them, lives would be lost.

Likewise, don’t despise faith; without it none will be justified in the sight of God. But don’t think that your faith makes you just. It is only the instrument by which you may receive and apply the justifying righteousness of Christ.

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Calvinism in the face of Catastrophe

07 November 2012 by Frank Turk

Tom Chantry actually wrote this last night, and sent it to me. I am posting it as I endorse it entirely.
-- Frank

Although I’ve been worried about this election for months, only in the aftermath did I realize that I never really thought our country would re-elect a President who has been such an abject failure by any and every measure. It just didn’t seem possible that we would do so, and so at some level I didn’t expect it at all. As the results rolled in, I found myself reeling, unable to take in the enormity of what has happened to our nation. I scarcely slept, unable to stop running through the implications of the disaster. I was, to put it mildly, knocked down and stunned.

But God is gracious, and eventually I slept, and this morning I find myself back up off the mat. Looking back, I can see what it was that took me so by surprise. I allowed myself to think too highly of my country - to imagine that the American optimists were right and that there is something exceptional and wonderful in the American spirit which pulls us through the worst crises. That smugness was knocked out of me by a series of blows as I realized anew that we are a culture of sin, a culture of stupidity, and a culture under judgment - none of which really surprises me in the light of day. Those blows absolutely leveled me last night, but today I’m standing. Here’s why:

The reelection of President Obama demonstrates the wickedness of America. Make no mistake about it: a vote for the President was a wicked act. It is not sufficient to say that he is pro-abortion; the man is in favor of offing unwanted kids outside the womb as well. He not only celebrates the lifestyle of perversion; he wishes to deconstruct God’s institution of marriage for the benefit of the perverts, one of whom he appointed as a judge over us. On every point of American policy in which there is a clear side of righteousness and a clear side of wickedness, he stands with the devils rather than the angels.

Most Americans, though, did not vote for him for those reasons. The majority does not hold his extreme position on infanticide, and every referendum shows that the majority does not agree to the institutional legitimizing of perversion. But on the issues of this election his position is also on the side of evil. As I wrote two years ago in my political credo, fiscal policy is also moral in nature. The unavoidable reality of this election is that when Governor Romney ran on fiscal sanity, the majority decided to cast their votes in favor of more free stuff from the government.

In other words, last night’s vote demonstrates one fundamental evil that has overtaken our society. Today’s voter is unimpressed by the biblical ethic of work and responsibility; neither is he too ashamed to engage in systematic theft. We have become Greece. Only a nation of wicked thieves could have produced last night’s results. So if I imagined that my countrymen were too good to re-elect this man, I was brought to a rude awakening.

But the second blow was even more unexpected:

The reelection of President Obama demonstrates the stupidity of America. I know, I should be using a softer word than “stupid,” but as I said, I didn’t sleep much. The Scriptures teach that sin makes us stupid. Paul’s argument in the first chapter of Romans is essentially this: there is no fact more obvious than the existence of a Creator who deserves our worship, but sinful men refuse to see it, and in their wickedness they become driveling idiots. Paul said it much better, but that was his point.

Moreover, we see this truth enacted all around us - and in our own lives - every day. How often have you continued in a self-destructive sin, all the while knowing that it can only bring you to grief? How often have you tried to convince a friend or a child of the obvious error of his ways, only to discover that his sin has too great a hold to be broken by common sense. In fact, this is why “common sense” isn’t common; it is countered on every side by common iniquity.

Yesterday the prevailing sin of our nation led to an electoral suicide. Never in our history have so many voted against their own self-interest. Retired seniors voted for a President who will destroy their health care system and bankrupt their social security. Out-of-work college graduates voted for a President who considers 7.9% unemployment a huge victory. Black Americans voted overwhelmingly for a President whose policies left them far worse off than they were before.

How do we account for this electoral lunacy? It’s simple, if you’ve read Romans 1. Sin makes you stupid, and we are a nation of gross sinners. So if I thought my countrymen were too smart to re-elect this man, I was predictably wrong again.

But even this realization did not rob me of sleep last night. The knockout blow was yet to come:

The reelection of President Obama demonstrates God’s judgment on America. It’s pretty hard to overstate how bad this election is. For starters, the President’s policy remains to raise taxes, raise regulations, and deplete the nation of energy. We’ve been calling this downturn a “recession” for a long time; soon we’ll recognize it for what it is. As more businesses are shuttered, as loans dry up, and as greater and greater numbers are out of work we will have to start calling it the “Second Depression.” By the end of this term there is expected to be a severe shortage of doctors as we actively demolish the world’s greatest health-care system. China is now free to continue manipulating its currency, Russia is free to point its nukes wherever it pleases, and Iran is free to continue being Iran. It’s bad - very bad.

But what did we expect? As I said in my earlier article, it’s all very well and good to have a fiscal revolution, because fiscal policy is a moral issue, but it does nothing to address the deeper problems of our body politic. Did we really think that God would be content to allow us to continue ignoring his laws - to continue embracing perversion and executing our infants - and that He would never bring an end to our wealth? Did we think he would take no notice of a nation descending into vileness while His churches churned out a perpetual circus act? In fact, judgment was predictable, and now we know the form that it has taken.

In Romans 1 Paul explained that sometimes God’s judgment comes in the form of allowing us to descend into greater wickedness. Complain about His manna and He will force-feed you quail until you are nauseated by it. Love evil, and God will give you your fill of it and more. What we are seeing is the judgment of the American populace. We have loved wickedness, and God has elevated a Degenerate to rule over us. The Lord is just, and we are about to discover exactly what that means.

So I was staggered and overcome. The thought of the horrors that we must now undergo was too much for me. So why am I up off the canvas today, ready to resume my responsibilities as a Christian man?

The church has the only answer to the sin and stupidity of our nation, and the only response to the judgment of our God. Now, don’t get me wrong; I don’t mean to suggest that as Christians we have the gospel and so we should retreat into a neo-monasticism in which we refuse to take part in the political life of the nation. We were right to cast a vote for a man who is relatively upright and who espoused relatively upright policies. We are right to weep today over the destruction that has come upon us. In fact, if you are unready to get up off the mat today, I don’t blame you. If you cannot smile, I sympathize. Ultimately, though, it’s true: we have the only answer.

Policies can address political circumstances, but they cannot address the fundamental weaknesses of the American soul. Where we stand today is not so radically different from where we stood in, say, 1980. We don’t need another Reagan; we need the Holy Spirit. If men are to turn from their sin and discover the wisdom that comes from serving God, they do not need better government, but the message which has been entrusted to the church.

This election was a catastrophe; there is no reason to pretend otherwise. Furthermore, it demonstrates the far deeper perils which threaten us. But we are Christians, and we know the answer, and He is the Prince of Peace. Let’s be busy about the work of His kingdom today.

Does Not At All

06 November 2012 by Frank Turk

For some, on hearing that liberty is promised in the gospel, a liberty which acknowledges no king and no magistrate among men, but looks to Christ alone, think that they can receive no benefit from their liberty so long as they see any power placed over them. Accordingly, they think that nothing will be safe until the whole world is changed into a new form, when there will be neither courts, nor laws, nor magistrates, nor anything of the kind to interfere, as they suppose, with their liberty. But he who knows to distinguish between the body and the soul, between the present fleeting life and that which is future and eternal, will have no difficulty in understanding that the spiritual kingdom of Christ and civil government are things very widely separated.

Seeing, therefore, it is a Jewish vanity to seek and include the kingdom of Christ under the elements of this world, let us, considering, as Scripture clearly teaches, that the blessings which we derive from Christ are spiritual, remember to confine the liberty which is promised and offered to us in him within its proper limits. For why is it that the very same apostle who bids us “stand fast in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free, and be not again entangled with the yoke of bondage” (Gal. 5:1), in another passage forbids slaves to be solicitous about their state (1 Cor. 7:21), unless it be that spiritual liberty is perfectly compatible with civil servitude? In this sense the following passages are to be understood: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female” (Gal. 3:28). Again, “There is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcision nor uncircumcision, barbarian, Scythian, bond nor free: but Christ is all and in all” (Col. 3:11). It is thus intimated, that it matters not what your condition is among men, nor under what laws you live, since in them the kingdom of Christ does not at all consist.

-- John Calvin, Institutes, IV, 20:1

Our Duty

05 November 2012 by Frank Turk

And certainly it were a very idle occupation for private men to discuss what would be the best form of polity in the place where they live, seeing these deliberations cannot have any influence in determining any public matter. Then the thing itself could not be defined absolutely without rashness, since the nature of the discussion depends on circumstances. And if you compare the different states with each other, without regard to circumstances, it is not easy to determine which of these has the advantage in point of utility, so equal are the terms on which they meet.

Monarchy is prone to tyranny. In an aristocracy, again, the tendency is not less to the faction of a few, while in popular ascendancy there is the strongest tendency to sedition.  When these three forms of government, of which philosophers treat, are considered in themselves, I, for my part, am far from denying that the form which greatly surpasses the others is aristocracy, either pure or modified by popular government, not indeed in itself, but because it very rarely happens that kings so rule themselves as never to dissent from what is just and right, or are possessed of so much acuteness and prudence as always to see correctly. Owing, therefore, to the vices or defects of men, it is safer and more tolerable when several bear rule, that they may thus mutually assist, instruct, and admonish each other, and should any one be disposed to go too far, the others are censors and masters to curb his excess.

This has already been proved by experience, and confirmed also by the authority of the Lord himself, when he established an aristocracy bordering on popular government among the Israelites, keeping them under that as the best form, until he exhibited an image of the Messiah in David. And as I willingly admit that there is no kind of government happier than where liberty is framed with becoming moderation, and duly constituted so as to be durable, so I deem those very happy who are permitted to enjoy that form, and I admit that they do nothing at variance with their duty when they strenuously and constantly labour to preserve and maintain it. Nay, even magistrates ought to do their utmost to prevent the liberty, of which they have been appointed guardians, from being impaired, far less violated. If in this they are sluggish or little careful, they are perfidious traitors to their office and their country.

But should those to whom the Lord has assigned one form of government, take it upon them anxiously to long for a change, the wish would not only be foolish and superfluous, but very pernicious. If you fix your eyes not on one state merely, but look around the world, or at least direct your view to regions widely separated from each other, you will perceive that Divine Providence has not, without good cause, arranged that different countries should be governed by different forms of polity. For as only elements of unequal temperature adhere together, so in different regions a similar inequality in the form of government is best. All this, however, is said unnecessarily to those to whom the will of God is a sufficient reason. For if it has pleased him to appoint kings over kingdoms, and senates or burgomasters over free states, whatever be the form which he has appointed in the places in which we live, our duty is to obey and submit.

-- John Calvin, Institutes, IV 20:8

Every Kind of Government

02 November 2012 by Frank Turk

With regard to the function of magistrates, the Lord has not only declared that he approves and is pleased with it, but, moreover, has strongly recommended it to us by the very honorable titles which he has conferred upon it. To mention a few:

When those who bear the office of magistrate are called gods, let no one suppose that there is little weight in that appellation. It is thereby intimated that they have a commission from God, that they are invested with divine authority, and, in fact, represent the person of God, as whose substitutes they in a manner act. This is not a quibble of mine, but is the interpretation of Christ. “If Scripture,” says he, “called them Gods, to whom the word of God came.” What is this but that the business was committed to them by God, to serve him in their office, and (as Moses and Jehoshaphat said to the judges whom they were appointing over each of the cities of Judah) to exercise judgment, not for man, but for God?

To the same effect Wisdom affirms, by the mouth of Solomon, “By me kings reign, and princes decree justice. By me princes rule, and nobles, even all the judges of the earth” (Prov. 8:15, 16). For it is just as if it had been said, that it is not owing to human perverseness that supreme power on earth is lodged in kings and other governors, but by Divine Providence, and the holy decree of Him to whom it has seemed good so to govern the affairs of men, since he is present, and also presides in enacting laws and exercising judicial equity.

This Paul also plainly teaches when he enumerates offices of rule among the gifts of God, which, distributed variously, according to the measure of grace, ought to be employed by the servants of Christ for the edification of the Church (Rom. 12:8). In that place, however, he is properly speaking of the senate of grave men who were appointed in the primitive Church to take charge of public discipline. This office, in the Epistle to the Corinthians, he calls κυβερνήσεις, governments (1 Cor. 12:28).

Still, as we see that civil power has the same end in view, there can be no doubt that he is recommending every kind of just government. He speaks much more clearly when he comes to a proper discussion of the subject. For he says that “there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God;” that rulers are the ministers of God, “not a terror to good works, but to the evil” (Rom. 13:1, 3). To this we may add the examples of saints, some of whom held the offices of kings, as David, Josiah, and Hezekiah; others of governors, as Joseph and Daniel; others of civil magistrates among a free people, as Moses, Joshua, and the Judges. Their functions were expressly approved by the Lord. Wherefore no man can doubt that civil authority is, in the sight of God, not only sacred and lawful, but the most sacred, and by far the most honorable  of all stations in mortal life.
-- John Calvin, Institutes, IV 20:4

Having God as our Father

31 October 2012 by Frank Turk

By an argument, taken from what is annexed or what follows, he proves that our salvation consists in having God as our Father. It is for children that inheritance is appointed: since God then has adopted us as his children, he has at the same time ordained an inheritance for us. He then intimates what sort of inheritance it is — that it is heavenly, and therefore incorruptible and eternal, such as Christ possesses; and his possession of it takes away all uncertainty: and it is a commendation of the excellency of this inheritance, that we shall partake of it in common with the only-begotten Son of God. It is however the design of Paul, as it will presently appear more fully, highly to extol this inheritance promised to us, that we may be contented with it, and manfully despise the allurements of the world, and patiently bear whatever troubles may press on us in this life.

Various are the interpretations of this passage, but I approve of the following in preference to any other, “We are co-heirs with Christ, provided, in entering on our inheritance, we follow him in the same way in which he has gone before.” And he thus made mention of Christ, because he designed to pass over by these steps to an encouraging strain, — “God’s inheritance is ours, because we have by his grace been adopted as his children; and that it may not be doubtful, its possession as been already conferred on Christ, whose partners we are become: but Christ came to it by the cross; then we must come to it in the same manner.” Nor is that to be dreaded which some fear, that Paul thus ascribes the cause of our eternal glory to our labors; for this mode of speaking is not unusual in Scripture. He denotes the order, which the Lord follows in dispensing salvation to us, rather than the cause; for he has already sufficiently defended the gratuitous mercy of God against the merits of works. When now exhorting us to patience, he does not show whence salvation proceeds, but how God governs his people.

Like Fools When They Argued

30 October 2012 by Tom Chantry

Q. 74. What is adoption?
A. Adoption is an act of the free grace of God, in and for his only Son Jesus Christ, whereby all those that are justified are received into the number of his children, have his name put upon them, the Spirit of his Son given to them, are under his fatherly care and dispensations, admitted to all the liberties and privileges of the sons of God, made heirs of all the promises, and fellow-heirs with Christ in glory.

A number of years ago I heard a pastor relate a discussion with his youngest son - the only adopted child in the family. The boy accepted that he was a beloved member of the family, but he didn’t fully appreciate his adoption. In talking about wills and inheritances he said, “You mean split up between the others, right? Because I’m not really your son.” And the father assured him that no, he was a true son in every way, and that he would be remembered in the will.

We all chuckled, because it seemed so obvious to us, and then we awed (I don’t mean we were in awe, but rather we said “aw”), because the father’s answer was so sweet, but years later I sometimes think I still haven’t understood the point.

I can accept that I’ve been received into the number of God’s children. I know the Spirit has been given to me. I will testify that God’s care for me is very fatherly. I tend not to remember the promises as often as I should, but I believe they are mine. What continues to throw me about adoption is just one phrase out of Romans 8:16-17 - “The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ…”

Surely not! Like the prodigal, I would be content to be one of the hangers-on in heaven, and like a prodigal who still can’t grasp the implications of the fatted calf, that’s pretty much what I expect.

But somehow, without making us the equal of Christ, adoption has made us His “fellow-heirs.” The disciples acted like fools when they argued about who could stand at Jesus’ right hand, but God, through adoption, confers exactly that! We are not the other, unnatural children who can hope at best for a small stipend in the will. No, we are co-heirs of the Kingdom. I’m sure it is one of the most mind-boggling phrases in all of Scripture, could we only understand what it means.

He Never Earned It

29 October 2012 by Brad Williams

"Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ" (Romans 5:1).

We have been justified. I like that. It sounds final. It sounds like a done deal. We have been justified, not will be justified, not might be justified, we have been justified. It sounds like a done deal because it is.

How has this been accomplished? By faith. We have peace with God through faith. Faith in the Lord Jesus. Faith that God has raised Christ from the dead. Faith that, even now, Christ Jesus makes intercession for us. Jesus did not simply die for us; He also lives for us. If we have been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God? (Rom. 5:9). This justification, this salvation from God's wrath is a has been done, not a will be done. It is finished.

But here is where we get into a scrape with the Arminian, and I think, on the whole, we have handled it very poorly, as if we are embarrassed by the scandal of this grace. When we assert, unwavering, that our justification is settled, that the kingdom and the glory are ours through Christ, the Arminian will say, "What? You say that a man is eternally secure? So now he may live like the devil and still reach heaven's blissful shores?" It is asked incredulously, as if such a thing could never be countenanced by a just God. Often enough, such moral outrage will cause us to say things like, "Well, if someone did go out and do such things, it is evidence that they were not in Christ in the first place." Such answers rarely satisfy anyone who believes the Christian's grasp on justification is tenuous, as if we are holding on to a hopeful justification by our white-knuckled faith. We should stop saying such things and quit apologizing for God's scandalous grace.

The next time someone says, "You mean that you believe a person can be saved and then go out and kill someone and go to heaven?" You ought to answer, "I certainly do. I believe a man could pillage and plunder and still be fit by God to go on to glory." Perhaps you don't believe this, but I think that you should.

Do you, and be honest now, believe that salvation is by grace through faith and not of works? I hope that you do. If so, you know that a person cannot forfeit a salvation by his works if he never earned it by works in the first place. Second, while it may be especially terrible for a Christian to murder, it is not beyond his depravity's reach to do so. Or to get drunk. Or to cheat on his spouse. In fact, there is no low to which a genuine believer will not sink down. And even if they should not act upon them, many a true believer has tasty that dainty delight of fantasy sin they would never dare to act upon. I call heaven and earth to witness this fact: if the maintenance of our salvation were dependent upon us not sinning after salvation, we would surely all head straight down to the depths of hell the moment we breathed our last.

I am not ashamed of the fact that Christ has justified me by his death. I am not ashamed of the fact that he must, even now, intercede for me. At least, I am not ashamed to confess that I am secure because of him and not because of me. Why don't I go out and kill and rob? Because I would be ashamed of myself before the Christ who loves me, not because I am hoping to keep his favor. I behave precisely because I have his favor, not because I want to earn it.

So the next time someone challenges you and accuses you of holding to a kind of faith that would lead to certain immorality and careless living, you tell them that you believe in Christ, not in your own merit. Tell them that you believe that it isn't really "true Christians" who persevere, but that you believe in a persevering Christ who never lets His beloved go. Never, ever, ever. And tell that to the devil when you need to, send him slithering away with these words as often as necessary: I have been justified.

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A New Creature

25 October 2012 by Neil

“But rise and stand upon your feet, for I have appeared to you for this purpose, to appoint you as a servant and witness to the things in which you have seen me and to those in which I will appear to you, delivering you from your people and from the Gentiles— to whom I am sending you to open their eyes, so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.” -- The Risen and Glorified Son of God, as recounted in Acts 26:16-18

Saul knew a lot of stuff. He was in fact one of the most accomplished and confident theologians of both his generation and the one that came before. He was wise, he was far-seeing, and he understood that this insidious new infection called The Way needed to be extirpated. Saul didn't sit on his hands; he was determined to crush it by whatever violent and murderous means necessary.

Saul also knew what was referred to as “the gospel”. He heard it and studied its claims, all the better to trap and bludgeon those who held to it. Saul understood the gospel thrust perhaps better even than many followers of The Way. He knew the gospel, he knew of the man called Jesus, but he did not know Christ. Saul was blind. He thought he was a swashbuckler defending the light, but instead he was trapped in gloomy darkness, snuffing candles and spreading the night.

BUT... one day a great light dawned upon Saul. The God of all creation acted. He showed himself to the sightless rebel. He struck blind the blind man who had thought he could see. He blew apart Saul's world. We can only glimpse the desolation and regret that infused the next days of blind Saul's life.

Then, and only then, a new creature was born. Saul, the murderous warrior against Christ was gone, and in his place was Paul, the slave of Christ. He could finally see, because God had removed the scales from the eyes of his stony heart. Understand: Paul did not come to Christ because of his great knowledge and study. Paul came to Christ because Christ came to him, enlivened the Gospel that had already been proclaimed, and gave him a new heart.

And Christ gave his new charge some instructions: go and be a witness and proclaim the Gospel everywhere, to everyone. God was sending a preacher to preach the Gospel. Some would hear it and curse. Some would hear it and ignore. Some would dabble like dilettantes. But some... some would hear, and the Spirit would open their eyes for the very first time. Some would be saved.

All the Merits

24 October 2012 by Frank Turk

The Apostle, after having, with reasons abundantly strong, cast down men from their confidence in works, now triumphs over their folly: and this exulting conclusion was necessary; for on this subject, to teach us would not have been enough; it was necessary that the Holy Spirit should loudly thunder, in order to lay prostrate our loftiness. But he says that glorying is beyond all doubt excluded, for we cannot adduce anything of our own, which is worthy of being approved or commended by God. If the material of glorying be merit, whether you name that of congruity or of condignity, by which man would conciliate God, you see that both are here annihilated; for he treats not of the lessening or the modifying of merit, but Paul leaves not a particle behind. Besides, since by faith glorying in works is so taken away, that faith cannot be truly preached, without wholly depriving man of all praise by ascribing all to God’s mercy — it follows, that we are assisted by no works in obtaining righteousness.

Of works? In what sense does the Apostle deny here, that our merits are excluded by the law, since he has before proved that we are condemned by the law? For if the law delivers us over to death, what glorying can we obtain from it? Does it not on the contrary deprive us of all glorying and cover us with shame? He then indeed showed, that our sin is laid open by what the law declares, for the keeping of it is what we have all neglected: but he means here, that were righteousness to be had by the law of works, our glorying would not be excluded; but as it is by faith alone, there is nothing that we can claim for ourselves; for faith receives all from God, and brings nothing except an humble confession of want.

This contrast between faith and works ought to be carefully noticed: works are here mentioned without any limitation, even works universally. Then he neither speaks of ceremonies only, nor specifically of any external work, but includes all the merits of works which can possibly be imagined.

The name of law is here, with no strict correctness, given to faith: but this by no means obscures the meaning of the Apostle; for what he understands is, that when we come to the rule of faith, the whole glorying in works is laid prostrate; as though he said — “The righteousness of works is indeed commended by the law, but that of faith has its own law, which leaves to works, whatever they may be, no righteousness.”
--John Calvin, Commentary on Rom 3:27

Raise Up a Child

22 October 2012 by Daniel

Q. 73. How doth faith justify a sinner in the sight of God?
A. Faith justifies a sinner in the sight of God, not because of those other graces which do always accompany it, or of good works that are the fruits of it, nor as if the grace of faith, or any act thereof, were imputed to him for his justification; but only as it is an instrument by which he receiveth and applieth Christ and his righteousness.

When you ask an adopted person about being adopted he isn't going to give you a definition of adoption, he is going to tell you the story of his upbringing within his (adopted) family.

Adoption begins with being brought into the adopted family, but immediately after one is adopted, the focus shifts from getting the person into the family, to raising that person as a member of that family.  Said another way, adoption starts with becoming a member of the family, but after that it is all about raising you up to be like your parents.

A "natural" child inherits both the physical image of his parents and also (typically) their values.  An adopted child will not bear the physical image of his adopted parents, but will bear their image in the values he inherits through his upbringing in their family.  When Paul describes believers as growing up into the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ (c.f Ephesians 4:13), he is describing spiritual maturity through the metaphor of a child having become mature when he takes on the (physical) stature of his parent.  For the believer, we do not take on Christ's physical stature, but being adopted into His family, we are pressed by the Holy Spirit to take on Christ's spiritual stature; that is, we are pressed to surrender our will to God even as Christ did.

The story of our adoption into God's family is a story of growth into the likeness of Christ by our continued, intentional obedience to the clearly stated will of God in scripture.  All who are in Christ have been adopted into God's family, but not all press on to maturity, that is, not all press on to grow into the likeness of Christ through personal obedience, and therefore, not all who are Christians bear the image of their adopted Father while sojourning here upon the earth.

The question for you, believer, is whether, having been adopted into God's family, you will surrender your will to the Holy Spirit within you when He convicts you to surrender your will to Christ in some matter.  Will you justify your disobedience, and continue on in the image of your flesh, or will you surrender to His will, and put on the image of Christ who is in you?  Will your adoption show itself in this world through your obedience, or will you hide it through you disobedience?  The doctrine of adoption often ends with our becoming children of God, when it should go on to include, and even focus on, our being "brought up" spiritually by Christ.

Do you, believer, understand how the metaphor of raising up a child to be like his parents applies to the Christian walk?  Do you see God as a loving Father who has not only taken you in, but is now bringing you up to be like Him?  Or has the enemy of Christ convinced you that you won't really be in God's family until you have brought yourself up into the image of Christ?  Think on these things Christian: the doctrine of adoption is a doctrine describing the present work of God and not a past work.  It describes how we are presently being pressed (by God Himself), into His own image.  Like every good doctrine the doctrine of our adoption leaves us adoring and praising God for what He is doing.  It is a doctrine of joy - not only (or even primarily) that we have been welcomed into His family, but that He Himself is at work in us provoking us to desire and do His will. 

Amen? Amen!

We are His Work

18 October 2012 by Frank Turk

By setting aside the contrary supposition, he proves his statement, that by grace we are saved, — that we have no remaining works by which we can merit salvation; for all the good works which we possess are the fruit of regeneration. Hence it follows, that works themselves are a part of grace.

When he says, that “we are the work of God,” this does not refer to ordinary creation, by which we are made men. We are declared to be new creatures, because, not by our own power, but by the Spirit of Christ, we have been formed to righteousness. This applies to none but believers. As the descendants of Adam, they were wicked and depraved; but by the grace of Christ, they are spiritually renewed, and become new men. Everything in us, therefore, that is good, is the supernatural gift of God. The context explains his meaning. We are his work, because we have been created, — not in Adam, but in Christ Jesus, — not to every kind of life, but to good works.

What remains now for free-will, if all the good works which proceed from us are acknowledged to have been the gifts of the Spirit of God? Let godly readers weigh carefully the apostle’s words. He does not say that we are assisted by God. He does not say that the will is prepared, and is then left to run by its own strength. He does not say that the power of choosing aright is bestowed upon us, and that we are afterwards left to make our own choice. Such is the idle talk in which those persons who do their utmost to undervalue the grace of God are accustomed to indulge. But the apostle affirms that we are God’s work, and that everything good in us is his creation; by which he means that the whole man is formed by his hand to be good. It is not the mere power of choosing aright, or some indescribable kind of preparation, or even assistance, but the right will itself, which is his workmanship; otherwise Paul’s argument would have no force. He means to prove that man does not in any way procure salvation for himself, but obtains it as a free gift from God. The proof is, that man is nothing but by divine grace. Whoever, then, makes the very smallest claim for man, apart from the grace of God, allows him, to that extent, ability to procure salvation.

-- John Calvin, Commentary on Ephesians 2:10

He Absolutely Refused

17 October 2012 by Tom Chantry

Q. 72. What is justifying faith?
A. Justifying faith is a saving grace, wrought in the heart of a sinner by the Spirit and Word of God, whereby he, being convinced of his sin and misery, and of the disability in himself and all other creatures to recover him out of his lost condition, not only assenteth to the truth of the promise of the gospel, but receiveth and resteth upon Christ and his righteousness, therein held forth, for pardon of sin, and for the accepting and accounting of his person righteous in the sight of God for salvation.

I was delivering ice in Gettysburg one day, assisting Sammy, one of the nicest drivers I ever helped. Sammy suddenly braked in the middle of a steep side street, secured the ice truck, and launched himself out of the cab and toward the opposite sidewalk - all with no explanation. I slid across the seat to see what the matter was and saw him running to the aid of an older man in a runaway wheelchair. But as Sammy approached the man he pulled up short. The luckless rider issued a stream of vile profanity as he waved Sammy away urgently, and then he managed to crash his wheel-chair into a low garden wall, bringing himself to what looked like a painful halt.

“What on earth?” I asked as a saddened driver climbed stiffly back into the truck. “He said he didn’t need any help from a [epithet deleted],” Sammy told me. As we drove on I looked back in disbelief at the old man climbing unaided back into his dented wheelchair. I marveled at his folly; he knew that Sammy was coming to his rescue, and that Sammy could rescue him, but he absolutely refused to accept help from a dark-skinned Puerto Rican.

Self-destructive hate also explains the necessity for a qualification in the definition of faith. Justifying faith is a grace whereby a sinner “…not only assenteth to the truth of the promise of the gospel, but receiveth and resteth upon Christ and his righteousness…” But why would anyone believe the truth about Jesus and yet refuse to accept his offered help?

The answer is hate: hate for God, hate for His Son, and hate for the very righteousness which He offers. Shudder at this thought: Some men who are wholly convinced of the truth of the gospel hate God so passionately that they willingly choose hell over heaven. Such is the corruption of the human heart that if we all were born knowing and understanding the gospel perfectly, we would all make that choice alongside them. Thank God that “justifying faith is a saving grace, wrought in the heart of a sinner by the Spirit and Word of God…”

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I can't Justify You

16 October 2012 by Neil

You deserve to die, and not peacefully in your sleep. No, you merit a lingering, conscious death, overflowing with pain, blisters, acrimonious regret, and bitter cowering. You should suffer from intolerable thirst with a desert-dry mouth. You should have to dodge the bared teeth of your fellow criminals as you wail in angry sorrow, minute after minute, days upon days, years without end.

Make no mistake; this is what you rate.

Here's why. From your first coherent thought, you've been a rebel and a lawbreaker. You've defied your parents, you've wished ill upon your enemies, you've betrayed your friends, you've cheated your children, you've stolen time from your employer, and you've declined to help those in need. You've lied, you've gossiped, and you've taken revenge. You've taken what's not yours, you've wanted what others have, and you've delighted in others' misfortunes. It's your very nature. Denying it? Really?? Liar.

But all that is just the maggoty appetizer. That's just the human-on-human stuff. Your most egregious crimes are directed upwards. From your first coherent thought, you've been a rebel and a lawbreaker. You've made your own morality, you've determined what's good enough, you've argued with God, and you, a mere creature, have tried to lock the creator out of his throne room and take his place. You consider yourself to be the judge of yourself.  It's your very nature.

But I sound like I'm judging you. I'm not. I don't know you, and even if I did, I am not qualified to be your judge. Besides, I'm even worse. But if I were your judge, I'd make sure that you get what you deserve, and then I'd make sure that I get some ice cream.

It's perhaps a good thing for both of us that justification of either of us depends upon neither of us.

They Were Easy

14 October 2012 by Brad Williams

The young man sitting across from me looked smug. His parents, out of desperation more than hope, had begged him to come to see me for counseling. His lips made the sort of smile that is born of nervousness, yet his eyes still held the sort of bravado in them that made the smile look more a sneer than any sort of expression of happiness.

I both loathed and loved him. My heart was seething mix of despair and anger. I wanted to reach this young man. I wanted to reach him for his sake and for his parent's sake. They were dear people. They were loving people. And they had been robbed by their son.

The boy that they had bounced on their knee had grown up to be a worthless man. He was addicted to gambling, and he had run up debts he could not pay with both reputable companies and the kind that get your fingers broken. So he had stolen his parents' checks, he had bounced checks all over town. He stole their credit cards. He looted their bank funds. He ruined their retirement. And there he sat, with a half-sneer, only coming because his parents had begged him.

I talked to him about the gospel, and he knew it forward and backward. He knew all the right answers. He knew about Jesus' suffering and death and resurrection. He knew that salvation came by grace through faith. He said he had been saved. His actions over the last few years belied any confession of faith, and even when I pressed him about what he had done, he seemed uncomfortable, but not repentant. Rather, he was aggravated at the awkwardness of my bringing it up to him.

Finally, I told him what I thought his problem was. I told him that in my opinion, he was a coward. At last, he seemed interested. I asked him when he owed his bookie, why didn't he rob a bank to pay back the money? He scoffed. I asked why he didn't just steal from his bookie instead of his parents? He acted like he didn't know why, so I told him. I told him that he stole from his parents because he knew they wouldn't kill him. He stole from his parents because, bless their hearts, they would not let him rot in jail. He stole from them because they were easy. He stole from them because they loved him. He stole from them because he knew that they loved him as a son. As a son!! How could he? How could he rob those who had only lavished grace and mercy and love upon him since the day that he was born? Parents who let him live in their house to this day. Parents who fed him. Parents who wept for him. Parents who loved him with broken hearts.

He couldn't deny it. He couldn't answer the logic of it.

And neither can I. He wasn't the only thief in the room, after all.

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Eunice was a Closed Book to Me

Q. 72. What is justifying faith?
A. Justifying faith is a saving grace, wrought in the heart of a sinner by the Spirit and Word of God, whereby he, being convinced of his sin and misery, and of the disability in himself and all other creatures to recover him out of his lost condition, not only assenteth to the truth of the promise of the gospel, but receiveth and resteth upon Christ and his righteousness, therein held forth, for pardon of sin, and for the accepting and accounting of his person righteous in the sight of God for salvation.

There were a couple baptisms at our church recently. One candidate was a twenty-seven year old guy who had lost a leg to childhood cancer, and been converted from darkness into salvation this past Easter. The other was a kid of nine or so with spina bifida and a determination to follow the command of God to be baptized. Between them, these two have had around thirty surgical procedures. You think you know hardship? You don't. Well maybe you do, but I sure don't. Anyways, as I watched the lad in the baptismal font, I hearkened back to my own baptism. I'm at the stage of life where I'm starting to do a fair amount of hearkening back, which is starting to annoy my family.

It was November 1975. I was eleven years old.

I told my mom that I wanted to be baptized. She asked me why, and I must have provided some reasonable answers, because she took me to see the pastor. He was a kind fellow, recently from Kilkeel, not so far from Belfast, Northern Ireland. His strong lilting accent hypnotized me. He, too, asked me why I wanted to baptized, and he asked me many other questions about my faith. I had been nervous, but was pleased with how well this was going. Then, he leaned in and asked me one last question, and his demeanour and tone confirmed that it was an important one. My pastor asked me if I would promise to walk in Eunice of Life. I blinked. I half-smiled. I rapidly swallowed several times. I had no idea what he was talking about. So, I did the only thing I could, really the only thing possible. I answered him. I said “Yes.”

Mightily confused in the ensuing days, I pondered my predicament during more than one sleepless night. I knew nothing about Eunice of Life. Had I lied when I said that yes I would walk in it? No! I had not! I would most definitely walk in Eunice of Life. I would keep my promise. I merely had to figure out what it was. Fancying myself a smart little kid and wholly unwilling to seek adult assistance, I borrowed my parents' Limited Edition Old Time Gospel Hour concordance, got out my Bible, and set to work. Several hours and aborted theologies later, I gave up, thoroughly stumped. Eunice was a closed book to me. Aside from a nagging possibility that I had inadvertently promised to marry a nice Jewish girl, I had no clue what I had committed to. But I had time. I would puzzle this through, even if it took years.

The night of the baptism, the pastor publicly quizzed me with a microphone. It again went well, but then again came that awful question, and yet again I answered “Yes”, but this time feeling horrified and fake. I didn't know what Eunice of Life was! I couldn't do it! I stupidly gazed out at the congregation, only to see cherubic approving smiles. They all knew about Eunice. Why hadn't anyone ever told me?! Betrayed, I was about to bolt, but just then the pastor tipped me back and I was baptized. As I came out of the water, Eunice left me alone. All was good. I had obeyed the command of my Lord and Saviour. And although I had no ability to walk in Eunice of Life on my own, I just knew that he could and would enable me.

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Make That Make Sense

11 October 2012 by Tom Chantry

Q. 71. How is justification an act of God's free grace?
A. Although Christ, by his obedience and death, did make a proper, real, and full satisfaction to God's justice in the behalf of them that are justified; yet inasmuch as God accepteth the satisfaction from a surety, which he might have demanded of them, and did provide this surety, his own only Son, imputing his righteousness to them, and requiring nothing of them for their justification but faith, which also is his gift, their justification is to them of free grace.

The gospel is a stumbling block, even to six-year-olds. My oldest son now asks with annoying regularity whenever the death of Christ comes up, “But I don’t understand one thing; how can one person be punished for another person’s sins? It doesn’t make sense. If I disobey, I’m punished. If my brother disobeys, he’s punished. How is this possible?”

My only real answer is, “Because God decided it was acceptable. God is the one in charge, His justice was offended by our sin, and if He decides to let Jesus take our punishment, then it just plain works.”

And that is what this catechism question turns on. Substitution didn’t have to be a legitimate element of God’s justice. Most of us would not have made it such. But it was grace on God’s part that established the very principle, for without it we would be lost.

The Son demonstrates obvious grace by actually dying on our behalf. The Father also demonstrates obvious grace by giving us His only beloved Son as the sacrifice. But beyond that, the Father demonstrates a more subtle grace by accepting the satisfaction from another which He could just as well have demanded from us.

“Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and His ways past finding out!”

(And I offer anything, up to half my kingdom, to anyone who can make that make sense to a six-year-old.)


Stick to It

10 October 2012 by Neil

Q. 71. How is justification an act of God's free grace?
A. Although Christ, by his obedience and death, did make a proper, real, and full satisfaction to God's justice in the behalf of them that are justified; yet inasmuch as God accepteth the satisfaction from a surety, which he might have demanded of them, and did provide this surety, his own only Son, imputing his righteousness to them, and requiring nothing of them for their justification but faith, which also is his gift, their justification is to them of free grace.

My friend's cat died. He wasn't too broken up about it, but his kids were. Needing to help his young son say a proper goodbye to Felix or Sylvester or whatever the pestilent little rotter was called, he led his son to the workshop and they built a wooden cross as a grave marker. Then they trekked out to the field to dig. It was a solemn stroll, and the son's face was screwed up with worry. As they approached the chosen site, the son stopped his dad to ask an urgent question.

“Daddy, how are we going make the cat stick to the cross?”

My friend got the message. He resolved to never again confuse his children about the cross. It is just too important. If you get the cross wrong, then you are faced with the task of justifying yourself in the sight of Holy God. Good luck with that project, you pestilent little rotter.

It Would Have Never Occurred to Me

09 October 2012 by Tom Chantry

Q. 71. How is justification an act of God's free grace?
A. Although Christ, by his obedience and death, did make a proper, real, and full satisfaction to God's justice in the behalf of them that are justified; yet inasmuch as God accepteth the satisfaction from a surety, which he might have demanded of them, and did provide this surety, his own only Son, imputing his righteousness to them, and requiring nothing of them for their justification but faith, which also is his gift, their justification is to them of free grace.

There are days when I rejoice that Christ is the Head of the church instead of me. I know, it should be every day, but I’m a stupid, proud sinner, and some days I want to be pope. Eventually I see just how awful the problems are, and I remember with relief that I am not in charge.

A friend told me yesterday, “The church teeters on the brink of disaster every day. It’s amazing that it withstands the gates of hell, but it does.” He’s right twice: it is amazing that we withstand, and yet we do. The reason why is the headship of Christ and the difference His headship makes.

Whenever I look at a brewing catastrophe in the church and put on my home-made miter, I wind up saying something like, “The only way this can possibly be fixed is if…” “This sinner needs to repent,” or “That elder needs to show greater wisdom,” or “These people need to love one another.” I see only one way and usually have only one idea of how to get there. “I need to preach,” or “I need to make a phone call,” or “I need to gather a council.” It has to be my one way. Having a head of the church who is neither omnipotent nor omniscient simply doesn’t work.

Our true Head, however, is both, and often He resolves the irresolvable in ways that never occurred to me, for the rather obvious reason that I am no god. He has options that will never be at my disposal. It is the only reason the church prevails against anything. Left to our own paltry bag of tricks we would very rarely prevail against the turnstyles of heck. Only by the grace of our Sovereign Head do we prevail against the gates of hell.

Not Merely Christian Values

08 October 2012 by Matt Gumm

At a church service I recently attended, three college students were being baptized. Two of them were long-time church attenders. One came from a family that was committed to church so much that they would find a church on Sundays while traveling or pull over and have a service themselves. (Candidly, I found that last part a bit convicting, since my usual focus on Sunday travel days is finding an alternative to Chick-fil-A.)

At the time, I was glad that my kids got to hear some young(er) people saying that attending church, doing good things, and being nice wasn't what made them a Christian. But upon further reflection, I find myself glad for the reminder to me.

It is tempting, particularly in an election year, to get a little off track, and start thinking in terms of values instead of the Gospel. But values are like works, in that they can't save anyone. It's easy to stop there, but we shouldn't. Just as Paul asked the Galatians whether they had started off with faith, but were going to finish strong with works, we can't lead off with faith and rely on values to hit clean-up.

Don't get me wrong--values have their place. But their place is as the necessary consequences of the Gospel. They cannot take the place of genuine faith in the genuine Gospel which we have received, stand in, and by which we are being saved (1 Cor. 15:1-2).

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God as Your Witness

04 October 2012 by Frank Turk

Let's explain the meaning of these phrases: "To be justified in the sight of God" and "to be Justified by faith or by works."

A man is said to be justified in the sight of God when in the judgment of God he is judged righteous, and is accepted on account of his righteousness; for as iniquity is monstrous to God, so neither can the sinner find grace in his sight, so far as he is and so long as he is reckoned as a sinner. Therefore, wherever sin is, there also are the wrath and vengeance of God. On the other hand, he is justified who is accounted not as a sinner, but as righteous, and as such stands acquitted at the judgment-seat of God, where all sinners are condemned. As an innocent man, when charged before an neutral judge, who judges according to his innocence, is said to be justified by the judge, as a man is said to be justified by God when, removed from the catalog of sinners, he has God as the witness and judge of his righteousness.

In the same manner, a man will be said to be justified by works, if in his life there can be found a purity and holiness which merits an attestation of righteousness at the throne of God, or if by the perfection of his works he can answer and satisfy the divine justice. On the contrary, a man will be justified by faith when, excluded from the righteousness of works, he by faith lays hold of the righteousness of Christ, and clothed in it appears in the sight of God not as a sinner, but as righteous. In this way we simply interpret justification, as the acceptance with which God receives us into his favor as if we were righteous; and we say that this justification consists in the forgiveness of sins and the imputation of the righteousness of Christ.

-- John Calvin, Institutes, III:11.2 [paraphrase]

Facebook Wisdom

03 October 2012 by Neil

Q. 70. What is justification?
A. Justification is an act of God's free grace unto sinners, in which he pardoneth all their sins, accepteth and accounteth their persons righteous in his sight; not for anything wrought in them, or done by them, but only for the perfect obedience and full satisfaction of Christ, by God imputed to them, and received by faith alone.

A number of years ago, I took the opportunity to visit some guy while I was in the Dallas area on business. He's a bi-vocational pastor and he was an internet friend, which translates as “I invited myself over even though he didn't know me.” What a creeper, eh? But I don't care what you think; his whole church showed me major hospitality! And he is a good friend (for real now).

He had this facebook status the other day:

My spiritual pride is derived directly from the fact that I have no idea how far and completely I have truly fallen...

Were I to take a proper assessment of myself, then my need of a Savior would not be merely an intellectual assent carried around in my head, but a heartfelt reality that I clung to with all the fervor of a drowning man clinging to a life preserver.

Christ will never be Lord and Savior of my life until that fact is recognized.

Read that again, and look up. Look way up. Then look into a mirror, and don't forget what you see there.

My Romans Riff

02 October 2012 by Frank Turk

Q. 70. What is justification?
A. Justification is an act of God's free grace unto sinners, in which he pardoneth all their sins, accepteth and accounteth their persons righteous in his sight; not for anything wrought in them, or done by them, but only for the perfect obedience and full satisfaction of Christ, by God imputed to them, and received by faith alone.

Yesterday, my dear friend and writing partner Tom Chantry had a great post about the flaws in a lesser catechism, and I enjoyed it immensely until I ran into this part:

Scripturally, no man is morally blank: each soul has been covered in writing, either that of wickedness or that of righteousness.

The fallen soul is clogged with wickedness. It does not need erasure - subjection to some sort of moral degaussing - rather it must be overwritten with righteousness.

I agree with what comes before the colon.  I really am crazy about the theological metaphor he creates after the colon.  I agree without any qualification with the next sentence.  I am not sure what to do with that last sentence.

According to Romans 1, every person ever knows all the moral decrees of God.  According to Romans 2, what's worse is that our very consciences tell us about these things -- so when we do the wrong thing, it's not for lack of information or even a lack of understanding.  It's from a profusion of disobedience.  Indeed, Rom 3 goes on to say that just because the Jews have the actual written moral law, it doesn't do them one bit of good.

So, first things first: on the one hand, I like Tom's gold-star effort to make a theological metaphor, and in that I gave a lot of grace for his attempt to seal the deal by transposing the act of justification into his metaphor.  In that grace, what I think he means here is that root cause of sin doesn't need to be merely corrected: it needs to be utterly changed out because, frankly, it's the kind of thing that can't be left blank.

Sticking to my Romans riff here, it says at the end of Romans 3 that what happens is "[we] are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus."  So if I was to re-write what Tom wrote, here's how I would say it:

Scripturally, no man is morally blank: each soul has been covered in writing, either that of wickedness or that of righteousness.

The fallen soul is defaced with wickedness, graffiti'ed with all manner of vulgar mottos. It does not need erasure: it needs to be utterly reissued, reprinted by the publisher Himself, printed and bound on stuff purchased by the blood of Christ Himself.

Still, Tom's post has so much independent verve, I ran it as-is. Consider this my meditation on what he said so well.

Covered in Writing

01 October 2012 by Tom Chantry

The question in the Catechism for Young Children which I insisted on rewriting for use in our church was # 50:

Q. What is justification?
A. It is God's forgiving sinners, and treating them as if they had never sinned.

Sorry, epic fail. It’s almost as bad as the old “just if I had never sinned” pneumonic.

Let’s think about that for a moment. What would it mean for God to treat me merely as one who had never sinned? Does God accept men into His eternal kingdom based upon the mere absence of sin? Or does He reward according to the measure of our righteousness? (Psalm 18:24) Having my sins taken away is a great truth, but it leaves me unfit for heaven, needing yet to supply my own righteousness in order to enter in.

I suppose such a justification might make me a new Adam - capable of moral action, but also capable of sin. Am I so confident that I will succeed where Adam failed? That I will manage to supply sufficient righteousness to stand before God’s holy gaze? Moral neutrality is a horrible specter - a frightfully dangerous condition - and not the goal of Christ’s justifying love.

Perhaps the greatest point of departure for the Enlightenment philosophers was their elevation of the Aristotelian concept of tabula rasa. To Locke and others the infant was a moral blank slate with the freedom to determine his own moral destiny. Scripturally, no man is morally blank: each soul has been covered in writing, either that of wickedness or that of righteousness.

The fallen soul is clogged with wickedness. It does not need erasure - subjection to some sort of moral degaussing - rather it must be overwritten with righteousness. Moreover, a fallible human righteousness such as Adam’s will not suffice. No, what is needed is both the forgiveness of sins and an accounting of the soul as infallibly righteous.

And this, Christian, is the act of God’s free grace unto you: pardoning all your sins, yes, but also accepting and accounting you as righteous in His sight, according to the perfect obedience and full satisfaction of Christ, imputed to you by God and received through faith alone.

It Keeps me Alive

28 September 2012 by Brad Williams

Q. 70. What is justification?
A. Justification is an act of God's free grace unto sinners, in which he pardoneth all their sins, accepteth and accounteth their persons righteous in his sight; not for anything wrought in them, or done by them, but only for the perfect obedience and full satisfaction of Christ, by God imputed to them, and received by faith alone.

One of the reasons that I love this Gadfly writing gig is because it gives us a chance to add a little verve to the catechism. The catechism is a tool for instruction, and as such it reads a little bit like a dictionary. The answers it gives are concise definitions, and as such I think they come often come off as understatements at best.

Question 70 of the catechism asks "What is justification?", and while the answer is technically and wonderfully correct, it just doesn't do the subject justice. Imagine my child asking me, "Papa, what does it mean when you tell mommy you love her?" And to answer I said, "It means I am in a covenant relationship with her wherein I have forsaken the companionship of all other women and given myself to her only for the glory of God." Amen to that, right? But is that what it means? Is that what I am saying when I tell my wife, "I love you?" I'm not blaming the catechism; it is doing what it is supposed to do, but if we want people to love theology, it takes the art of life and words to glorify what it means to be justified.

I once had a young man ask me what it means to be justified. Except he didn't ask it like that. He asked, "What keeps you from becoming a Roman Catholic? Is it prayer to saints? The ecclesiology? The issue of authority? What is it that keeps you from crossing the Tiber?" I told him that while those things are real issues, that wasn't the thing that keeps me firmly on my side of the river. The issue is how a person comes to be justified before a holy God.

Justification does not just keep me away from Rome, it keeps me alive. It is why I wake up happy. It is why I do not live in despair. It is the fount of all my joy and hope. Justification teaches me that Christ did not just die to give me a clean slate, as if he just wiped out my sins and let me start over. He gave me His righteousness. I get credit for His obedience. When Jesus sent the devil away by saying, "You will worship God and serve Him only." I got credit for that. When Jesus loved His friends to the end, I got credit for that. When Christ trembled in the garden and prayed, "Not my will but yours be done", I got credit for that. It is as if I have been the sort of son the Father would be proud of, not the sorry dog I actually turned out to be.

 What is justification? It is life. It is the good news. Our sins have been taken away by Christ, and He has clothed us in His righteousness. This truth gives us life and reason for being. That's what justification is.

In Order to Deliver Us

27 September 2012 by Daniel

Q. 70. What is justification?
A. Justification is an act of God's free grace unto sinners, in which he pardoneth all their sins, accepteth and accounteth their persons righteous in his sight; not for anything wrought in them, or done by them, but only for the perfect obedience and full satisfaction of Christ, by God imputed to them, and received by faith alone.

There is a big difference between settling a debt and cancelling it.  God did not cancel our sin debt, He settled it.  There is nothing righteous about a judge who cancels the sentence of a man found guilty of rape and murder.  If that man walks out of the court free, justice has failed.  But let that man serve 60 years in prison, and walk out of the prison robbed of sixty years of his own life, and some may be willing to say the man has settled his debt to society.

Justification is the doctrine that describes how our sin debt was settled (not cancelled).

Simply put, each one of us is one of God's creatures.  He has supplied us with bodies and life for a purpose, but we have taken that body, filled with that life on a self serving joy-ride, and in doing so we have made ourselves cosmic criminals.  We have rejected God's rule in favour of our rule, and the "just" penalty for our treasonous rebellion is an eternity in hell separated from God.  We have earned this just as surely as a man earns a wage that he works for.  God is obligated by His own righteousness to repay us what is owed to us.

If God owes every sinner damnation, the question we should be asking is, how can anyone be saved?

That's where the doctrine of justification comes in.  In order to deliver us from damnation God has to settle our sin debt on the one hand, and deliver us from the consequences of that debt on the other.  Given that the penalty for our sin is to experience the eternal wrath of God - an experience that no on can live through, we find ourselves left with an impossible situation.  God cannot cancel our debt and be righteous, and God cannot pour out His wrath on us without killing us.

How then can a just God punish our sin, and save us from it at the same time?

The answer is found in the story of Noah's ark.  How could God pour out His wrath on all the earth, and yet still save Noah and his family?  By providing an ark - a means of passing through God's judgment unscathed.  Through the believer's union with Christ, the believer is crucified with Christ.  God doesn't cancel the sinner's debt - the sinner is crucified with Christ.  The sinner does not live through this, but is buried with Christ.  Christ on the other hand is innocent, and so even though He has been crucified, died and was buried, God cannot let His holy One see corruption - and so God, in order to satisfy His own righteousness, must raise the innocent Christ from the grave.  But in order to do so, God has to raise us with Him because we (who are in Christ) are still united with Him.

Our debt is paid because we died in Christ, such that God is just and righteous in raising us up with Christ because there is no longer any debt associated with us - it has been paid.  But more than this, because we are united to the life of Christ, we are united with the favour that God has for Christ, adopted, as it were, into God's family through our union with Christ.

Thus our sin debt is paid (expiated) by the death of Christ, and we find favour (propitiation) with God through the life of Christ in us - and all this through our union with Christ.  In other words we are "justified".  That is what it happens when we become Christians - we are made eternally right with God, not on the basis of anything we have done, but entirely on the basis of what Christ has wrought in  us and for us.

You Didn't Realize

26 September 2012 by Tom Chantry

Q. 69. What is the communion in grace which the members of the invisible church have with Christ?
A. The communion in grace which the members of the invisible church have with Christ, is their partaking of the virtue of his mediation, in their justification, adoption, sanctification, and whatever else, in this life, manifests their union with him.

“Love,” I once argued in all of my Reformed wisdom pomposity, “has nothing to do with emotion; it is entirely a matter of action.” We exist in a vapid culture in which love is imagined to be nothing but emotion. We toil to overcome that prejudice, but in so doing we can lose something valuable. Is Christian love really so cold?

We can only answer by considering the love of God for us, for “this is love…” What is His love for us? Or, to ask a few other ways, what “communion of grace” does Christ have with His church? What is the “virtue of His mediation” for them? What “manifests their union with Him”?

Imagine a friendless, orphaned juvenile offender standing before a judge. At the pleading of his advocate, the judge communicates to him three decisions. First, he declares him innocent, and more than that, declares him good in the eyes of the court. Further, he assigns him a mentor who will ensure that he becomes a law-abiding citizen in fact, and not only in the eyes of the law. At this point the young criminal ought to be very grateful to both the judge and his lawyer, because two great things have been done for him. But it all might be very clinical - merely the mechanical workings of the justice system.

On the other hand, imagine that the judge also says the following: “Young man, you didn’t realize, but your lawyer is also my son. At home he petitioned me even further on your behalf and - in addition to clearing your record and assigning you the mentor, I’m also filing a petition of adoption in family court. I’m going to be your father, your advocate is going to be your older brother, and the first job your mentor is going to do will be to teach you to think of us that way.

Different picture, isn’t it? Now the heart of the young man may soar; he is not merely left on his own with a clear record and a chance to be a better person - rather he is already embraced into a family such as he could never have hoped for. And this is exactly what Christ’s mediation has done for you, Christian. “The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ.” (Romans 8:16-17)

We would never make light of justification and sanctification; they are blessings of infinite value. But do not ignore the forgotten grace - adoption - which the Westminster Divines always sandwiched between the other two. It is the Spirit of Adoption who adds warmth to your fellowship with God, teaching you to cry out, “Abba! Father!”

It Doesn't Just Happen

25 September 2012 by Neil

Q. 69. What is the communion in grace which the members of the invisible church have with Christ?
A. The communion in grace which the members of the invisible church have with Christ, is their partaking of the virtue of his mediation, in their justification, adoption, sanctification, and whatever else, in this life, manifests their union with him.

For more than a year, with the occasional short interruption to catch our breath, and with the occasional longer interruption during which the gadfly team backpacked our way along the entire length of the Pan-American Highway, we've been stickhandling questions and answers about mediation, and about someone called the Mediator. And now we encounter mediation again, but this time, it's towing along some hefty theological words like sanctification, adoption, and justification.

For now, let's remember that salvation doesn't just happen. God doesn't just sort of weigh out the averages and decide who gets in based on who is good enough. No. Salvation is way harder than that.  No one is good enough. None of us can justify ourselves. None of us can sanctify ourselves to anything remotely approaching the standards of our maker. None of us can force our way into the family of God as treasured offspring.

Only one Man could do this on our behalf. And only God can make a people for God's name. And only one Man is God. For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all, which is the testimony given at the proper time. -- 1 Timothy 2:5-6

It Deserves to be Declared

20 September 2012 by Daniel

Q. 68. Are the elect only effectually called?
A. All the elect, and they only, are effectually called; although others may be, and often are, outwardly called by the ministry of the Word, and have some common operations of the Spirit; who, for their willful neglect and contempt of the grace offered to them, being justly left in their unbelief, do never truly come to Jesus Christ.

I remember the look of irritation on the face of the lady who answered the door, and I remember how that same looked eroded into unbridled contempt as her glance took in our bibles. Without even engaging us, she closed the door to go back to whatever slumber we had drawn her out of, raising her voice as she did so (above the voice of my companion's knee-jerk and hasty, would-be sales pitch) to say, "I got my own religion, leave me alone." The fellow I was with turned on the stairs, and with mechanical indifference, we turned our attention to the house next door; but my heart was heavy within me.

I honestly would love to tell you dear reader, and have it be true,that my heart was burdened for this woman's soul, but my heart was not heavy for her soul, it was heavy for my own. Why was I doing this? I had read the scriptures, and I didn't see anything that looked like door to door sales in the scriptures. I wasn't there that morning acting upon some conviction to save the lost; I was there that morning responding to peer pressure and protecting the reputation I wanted to project: "Good and faithful servant."

Can I be straight with you, oh faceless reader of my words? Unlike Moody who quipped, "I like my way of doing evangelism better than your way of not doing evangelism", I actually prefer to not "do" evangelism (insert "shock value" here), if by "evangelism" one is talking about employing any scheme to harvest the lost that, at its heart, denies the sovereignty of God.

I am not suggesting however, that Christians I do not engage in evangelism, I do. Nor am I suggesting that we shouldn't evangelize the lost - we should. Rather my concern is with those who are dressing up as spiritual, what amounts to a numbers racket. Hand out a thousand tracts, and the odds are good that someone will be saved. Knock on a hundred doors, and the odds are good that someone will be polite enough to sit through your "gospel presentation". Learn how to control a conversation, and you will have more opportunity to bypass arguments. Look for "felt needs" in people lives so that you can offer Jesus as the balm. Sell Jesus with love, love, love. People want to be loved, and you can use that as an "in".

I tell you I despise this kind of "evangelism" - the kind that pays lip-service to the saving power of the message itself, and instead relies upon statistics, behavioral sciences, schemes, and human persuasiveness. Paul tossed all that out knowing only Christ and Him crucified in His evangelism. What passes for evangelism these days looks nothing like that. It is human invention dressed up as something spiritual, and the sooner it finds its grave, the better. If you share the news that what was promised in the scriptures by the prophets concerning the coming of God's anointed one has come to pass in Jesus.

If you share that God is reconciling people from all nations to Himself in and through His Christ, and if you share that every sinner who calls upon the name of God will be saved from God's coming wrath through placing your trust in God to provide this promised reconciliation, you are evangelizing. You don't have to cross the world to do it, you probably don't even have to cross the street to do it. All you need to do is surrender yourself in obedience to God, and when an opportunity arises to speak the truth in love, cast your reputation aside, and do it for God's glory.

What God has done deserves to be declared, in fact, is it not a cosmic crime to hold that truth in you hiding it from others when you can freely impart it? Do you make yourself the arbiter of who should receive this information? This one is polite and nice, so I will say something to him if I get the chance, but not that one, look at how she dresses. Listen: Do you really believe that what Christ did was worthy of being told? Then tell it! Not because some guy told you to, but because you have looked at the worth of Christ and understood what that worth demands of all who come into the knowledge of it. Don't evangelize because someone has pressured you, don't ride the coat-tails of someone else's dream - share the truth both because you know it, and especially because God's glory demands it.

If you are engaged in wonky forms of evangelism, may I suggest, Christian, that you get your Head on straight? (you saw what I did there, right?).

What We Really Want

19 September 2012 by Neil

Q. 68. Are the elect only effectually called?
A. All the elect, and they only, are effectually called; although others may be, and often are, outwardly called by the ministry of the Word, and have some common operations of the Spirit; who, for their willful neglect and contempt of the grace offered to them, being justly left in their unbelief, do never truly come to Jesus Christ.

There are some who, for a time, walk like the elect and quack like the elect, may be outwardly indistinguishable from the elect, may be passionate leaders and teachers of the elect, yet are not themselves elect.

There are some who are called and who enthusiastically answer in a manner, but are not broken, nor contrite, nor humble.

There are some who do mighty works, but do not tremble at the word of God.

There are some with more fascination than root, and their ephemeral faux-faith withers in the heat.

There are some who sparkle and dazzle and speed down the path with joy, but will not reach the celestial city.

There are some in sheep's clothing who don't even recognize the ravenous wolf in the mirror.

There are some who look a lot like a lot of us.

We want to be effectually called. We want to tremble at your word. We want to be your authentic sheep. We want to be humble. We should be broken. We need to be contrite. But we are fiends. We are rebellious fiends. We are hopeless without the Christ. Only He can wash the insides of our cups and make us whiter than snow.


18 September 2012 by Daniel

Q. 68. Are the elect only effectually called?
A. All the elect, and they only, are effectually called; although others may be, and often are, outwardly called by the ministry of the Word, and have some common operations of the Spirit; who, for their willful neglect and contempt of the grace offered to them, being justly left in their unbelief, do never truly come to Jesus Christ.

In each of the four gospels John the Baptist describes the coming Christ as the one who would baptize, not in water, but in the Holy Spirit. Jesus Himself, at His ascension (c.f. Acts 1:5), remarks that in the same way John baptized people in water, so all of those gathered with Jesus at the time would likewise be baptized in the Holy Spirit -and this, "not many days from now" (ie. at Pentecost).

I should note for some that the word baptize simply means to immerse one thing entirely into another thing. A body was "baptized" in a tomb, a cucumber into brine, etc.. In some contexts it is obviouse what is being baptized into what, but in other contexts these details are supplied.

Believers began to be baptized in the Holy Spirit (by Christ) on the day of Pentecost. This baptism was a new covenant promise (see Ezekiel 36:26-27) and was described by our Lord as a change in the ministry of the Holy Spirit, who formerly was with believers, but would, when the He came (ie. at Pentecost), dwell in belevers. (c.f. John 14:17).

In Galatians 3:27, Paul speaks of believers as being baptized into Christ. In Romans 8:9, Paul writes that anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to Him. In other words every genuine believer is indwelt by the Holy Spirit. When do we receive the Holy Spirit? We receive Him when we believe.

In Romans 6, Paul tells us that our union with Christ is a product of this same baptism. We who have believed have been baptized in Christ, and through this baptism we are united with Him in His death, burial and resurrection.

This union did two things. It joined Christ to our guilt, and joined us to His righteousness.

It is a mind-blowing thing, but Jesus didn't take our disembodies sins with Him to Calvary tucked away in some sort of separate, spiritual back-pack; The scriptures tell us that Jesus became (our) sin for us. Said another way, He became a partaker of our guilt (condemnation). How did he become a partaker of our guilt? Through our union with Him.

It is just as mind-blowing to think that God did not idly forgive us, as though He saw His own Son destroyed and was so sad He was willing to forgive anything. No, we became partakers of Christ's life - His righteousness. When Christ lay in the tomb, there we were with Him through this same union. In order to raise up Christ from the dead, God had to find us as acceptable as Christ who Himself knew no sin. Christ found favor for us with God (ie. made propitation) through His own life which we became partakers of through this same union.

One might look at the ordinance of the Lord's table - where his blood represents the spilling out of his life that expiates our sin, and his body represents the life he lived that made propitiation on our behalf - all this we take into ourself - picturing our union with Christ, through which the atoning work of Christ has its perfect work.