Archive for September 2012

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.

Becoming

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.

Two Voices

17 September 2012 by Tom Chantry

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.

Preachers long for one Sunday in a thousand: the sermon seems as effective in the pulpit as it was in the study. The tongue doesn’t trip over the lips, illustrations are clear, and the Spirit seems to bless. But when that day comes, nothing happens. The post-church ritual of “Nice sermon, pastor,” is unchanged, and everyone wonders off to the parking lot, and the pastor returns to his routine.

A preacher may have a great burden for one lost sinner in the congregation. He wants that soul to reach heaven, and so he crafts his sermons to touch the precise points which that listener needs to hear. Again, nothing happens. The target audience smiles pleasantly on the way out of church, and the pastor’s heart sinks.

Then one day the preacher leaves the pulpit shame-faced. Such poor preaching must indicate inadequate preparation. The right word constantly eludes him, the illustrations miss he mark, and everything ends in an uncertain muddle. But on this day some timid soul comes quietly and says, “Pastor, I need to sit down and have a talk with you. I need to know the Lord.”

Why are men saved under mediocre preaching while extraordinary preaching so often accomplishes little? The answer is that there are two voices in every true sermon. One is the voice of the pastor, known in Scripture as “the ministry of the Word,” which on its own cannot touch the heart. The other is the voice of Christ, who speaks through preaching, or, to put it another way, “by his Word and Spirit; savingly enlightens their minds, renews and powerfully determines their wills, so as they (although in themselves dead in sin) are hereby made willing and able freely to answer his call, and to accept and embrace the grace offered and conveyed therein.”

The Lugnut

14 September 2012 by Matt Gumm

Q. 67. What is effectual calling?
A. Effectual calling is the work of God's almighty power and grace, whereby (out of his free and special love to his elect, and from nothing in them moving him thereunto) he doth, in his accepted time, invite and draw them to Jesus Christ, by his Word and Spirit; savingly enlightening their minds, renewing and powerfully determining their wills, so as they (although in themselves dead in sin) are hereby made willing and able freely to answer his call, and to accept and embrace the grace offered and conveyed therein.

It may be tempting to dismiss effectual calling as simply a systematic lugnut that keeps the wheels of Calvinism from falling off.  But when I can look back and see my own sin and the deadness of my heart of stone, I recognize that how far I was from God, and His enemy, not His friend, until He graciously and lovingly directed my path so that I was brought to the end of myself, and the beginning of life with him.

At the risk of turning this answer into “what does it mean to me,” I want to suggest that there’s a real need to understand what’s being said here, even if you’d never call yourself a Calvinist. We are the ones who are forgiven much; we are the ones who see the work of the Triune God to save us.

Effectual calling is that work in great detail, involving all three persons of the Trinity, and rightly understood, it should move us beyond scholastic doctrinal orthodoxy to true love, joy, and affection for our salvation and our Savior.

Kicking and Screaming

13 September 2012 by Tom Chantry

Q. 67. What is effectual calling?

A. Effectual calling is the work of God's almighty power and grace, whereby (out of his free and special love to his elect, and from nothing in them moving him thereunto) he doth, in his accepted time, invite and draw them to Jesus Christ, by his Word and Spirit; savingly enlightening their minds, renewing and powerfully determining their wills, so as they (although in themselves dead in sin) are hereby made willing and able freely to answer his call, and to accept and embrace the grace offered and conveyed therein.


I suppose one of the silliest objections I’ve ever heard to the doctrines of grace is this:
I just don’t think that God would drag anyone kicking and screaming into heaven.
To which I have always wondered, “Why not? Doesn’t He love us enough?”

On one of the worst nights of parenting I’ve experienced yet we had my then two-year-old at the emergency room. He had been sick for days, had not been eating, and that day had refused even to drink. The doctors confirmed that he had become dehydrated, and that this was a potentially dangerous situation. He needed to be rehydrated quickly, and for that he would need an IV.  I suppose I could have respected his free will as an intelligent creature and just let his kidneys fail, but it didn’t seem quite the thing to do.  So I sent my poor wife away to the furthest corner of the ER, and I held him down, kicking and screaming, while the doctors prodded at his arm with a needle and - ultimately - saved his life.

My point is this: if I were dying and going to hell, and if God’s only option to save me were to drag me kicking and screaming into His kingdom, then I sincerely hope that He would do exactly that. Of course, God is not very much like me, and because of that He has more than just one option. I was unable to make my son willing and able freely to accept and embrace the hypodermic needle and the life-saving saline solution conveyed therein. The Holy Spirit, on the other hand, when He enlightens our minds and renews our wills, makes us desire salvation, so that we arrive at Heaven’s door not kicking and screaming, but leaping and rejoicing.

How to Live

12 September 2012 by Neil

"Truly, truly, I say to you, an hour is coming, and is now here, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live." -- The Son of God, as recorded in John 5:25 

Dead people aren't good conversationalists. They're funny that way. They don't speak, they don't react, and they don't listen, because they cannot hear. Corpses have no ability to respond to outside stimuli, or really to do anything other than continue being dead. For the living know that they will die, but the dead know nothing, and they have no more reward, for the memory of them is forgotten. (Ecclesiastes 9:5)

Consider then, how effectual is the calling of God:
He speaks, and the dead hear him, and those that hear him will live.

Glimpse the extent of God's almighty power:
He speaks, and the dead hear him, and those that hear him will live.

Marvel at how gracious is God's grace:
He speaks, and the dead hear him, and those that hear him will live.

Overtaken

11 September 2012 by Daniel

Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh. This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church. - Paul of Tarsus (Ephesians 5:31-32) [ESV]

Paul is quoting from Genesis 2:24 where two significant things should be addressed: [1] man was to "hold fast" to his wife - meaning that he was to stick with her no matter what.  And [2] the two thus united became one flesh.  Adam and Eve already shared one flesh (she was formed from his rib), becoming one flesh meant to share in the same life together.

When Paul tells us that the marriage of a man to a woman pictures Christ and the church he is telling us [1] that just as the man clings to his wife, so Christ clings to the church - pursuing her, overtaking her, and clinging to her.  He is also telling us that [2] believers and Christ partake of the same life (i.e. the life of Christ).

The union that Christ has with the elect is a spiritual one - we become partakers of Christ's (eternal) life - and this not because we have overtaken Christ but because He has overtaken those he has loved.

Beginning Again

10 September 2012 by Frank Turk

Welcome back.

A few more things will happen here in the next month.  Because of protests (mostly from our wives), the blog is going to get a make-over to eliminate the purple-and-green theme in order to dispell the rumor that I am color blind, and also to make the temple a little less adolescent.  The point is made that we look more like a comic book blog than a a somewhat-serious devotional blog, so we'll be updating the template to look more like the kind of blog we are really trying to be.

Also, while we have been relatively-disciplined to follow the catechism over the last 2-ish years, we're going to try to mix it up a little with other devotional topics related to the catechism as we think about it.   The hope there is that variety is good for the writers as well as the readers, and we want all of us to be happy so that more gets written in order that more will also be read.

Last, as real posts start tomorrow, sometime during the hiatus the page views rolled over 100,000 -- which was utterly caused by readers, not writers, so in polite company we say, "Thank You" to those of you who were, and still are, faithful readers.


Exactly - How

05 September 2012 by Neil

Were I to do a little righteous thing (and I have), it would not be significant. It would not earn the favour or invitation of God. (Titus 3:4-5)

Were I a morally untested foetus like Esau (and I was), it would not keep me from being hated. It would not attract the favour or invitation of God. (Romans 9:10-13)

Were I a whore and rebel against God (and I am), it would not keep me from being loved. It would not negate the favour or invitation of God. (Deuteronomy 9:5)

Were I dead in sin (and I most certainly was), it would not keep me from living with Christ through the ages to come. It would not have any impact whatsoever on the great love, rich mercy, and kindness of God towards me through Christ Jesus. (Ephesians 2:4-5, 7-9)

So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy (Romans 9:16). You can't achieve it, you can't earn it, you can't deserve it, you can't default into it, and you can do nothing to disqualify yourself from receiving it. For by grace are you saved. How should you then live?