Archive for October 2012

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.)

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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.