Benjamin Joffe: A Zeal for Holiness, the Bible, and Right Doctrine

4489_589332226793_1286692_nNot many of you are going to know this next influence, but he has been one of the largest contributors to my life simply because he is one of my best friends.

Benjamin Joffe is from the greater Atlanta area, growing up in Lawrenceville, Georgia Benjamin then went onto Berry College, and then to Mercer University to study Law.  Since graduating with his Law degree and beginning his own law firm in Rome, Georgia Benjamin is now doing more graduate work at Reformed Theological Seminary.

Benjamin and I met during the summer of 2004 when we both worked at Camp Winshape (now Winshape Camps).  We became friends that summer but it wasn’t until the summer of 2006 when we both worked at Camp Winshape again that we became best friends.  We both the outdoors (note the pic above of us during on of our hikes), we both love God’s sovereignty, and because of him I now have a deeper and greater understanding of holiness.

Benjamin is very zealous about personal holiness, so much so, that some people call him legalistic – which is COMPLETELY ridiculous because he never once has indicated any legalistic tendencies to me.  I think the reason some people have called him such nonsense is because his life makes them uncomfortable because he does actually do what says he does.  His talk matches his walk, his life matches his lips.  This will always make people uncomfortable.

There is one grand reason I have been influenced by him: he is not only passionate for his own holiness, he is passionate about holiness in others.  Until I met Benjamin I never saw a living example of a person pursuing holiness in the life of someone else.  He pursued (still does) it in me, and I am better for it.  Is this not what a real friendship is supposed to be about?  A robust, Biblical understanding that friends won’t let other friends fall away or get lazy with their faith?  Indeed it is.  His Biblical warrant for such notions comes from the example of Phinehas in Numbers 25 when he speared two people through because he was grieved for their sin being “as zealous as God was for His own glory.” (Numbers 25:11) In response to Phinehas’ zeal Benjamin has taught me that we’re to be as zealous for holiness/against sin not only in our own life, but in the lives of those around us.  If we really love and care for them, shouldn’t we be doing this anyway?

Apart from his zeal for personal holiness, Benjamin has taught me a great deal about the way we come to God’s Word saying:

“Anytime that we read the Bible we make conclusions about God and man, how you make those conclusions determines everything. We want to come to conclusions about everything based on what the Bible says, not what we may think or what we want to be true or what we heard, no matter the cost to us.”

He has also taught me much concerning the Biblical doctrine of Total Depravity:

“If a lion is in a cage, and you put before him a bowl of meat, and a bowl of wheat, which one will the lion choose to eat?  You will probably answer that the lion will always choose the meat, he would never choose the wheat, because lion’s don’t eat wheat, that is who they are. You’re right, a lion will always eat the meat because of who they are. Total Depravity is like this, in that our nature, using it’s freedom of choice, will only choose sin. Why? That is who we are, sinners. It must take an act outside of ourselves to change what is going on inside of ourselves and give us the ability and desire to yearn for something alien to our nature.”

I am eternally grateful/thankful for Benjamin’s friendship.  I am the man I am (largely) today because of his influence and friendship.

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Y: You Need Grace

For Y, I’ve got another treat for you. Benjamin Joffe has written a wonderful paper describing how Christians grow in holiness the same way they are saved, by grace alone. This may be a new idea for some of you, but I’m sure not for all of you. Enjoy these few paragraphs from his paper.

Sanctification can be defined as the process of pursuing holiness and thus becoming more like Christ. God’s call on our life regarding sanctification seems simple: “You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy.” Yet, the concept of sanctification can be difficult to understand. In order to understand the true nature of sanctification, we must first understand the true nature of salvation, because the two are very closely related through the concept of grace. We cannot attain salvation by our own works. Our salvation is attained through the work of Christ on the cross; it cannot be earned through our own effort. It is a free gift given to us by grace, through faith. In the same sense, we cannot be sanctified by our own works. Our sanctification is attained through the work of the Holy Spirit, who empowers us to fight against our sinful nature and experience victory over sin. We simply cannot become more like Christ with our own strength. Thus, not only are we saved by grace, but we are also sanctified by grace, because both are obtained only through the work of the Lord.

The trap is thinking that we must live righteous lives by our own strength after receiving salvation by grace in order to stay saved or earn God’s favor. This trap, called Neo-Nomianism or legalism, and can also be a way of trying to participate in our own salvation, as if Christ’s work on the cross was insufficient or if our works are sufficient. This idea is contrary to what has already been said about our salvation, as we are utterly unable to perfectly obey the law due to our sin nature. The law does not have power over sin. The more we attempt to follow the law, the more sin will be revealed in our lives, and we end up becoming lawless people.

So then, what do we do? We are clearly called to pursue holiness, but how should we proceed? The answer lies in finding a middle ground between Anti-Nomianism and Neo-Nomianism. We must understand that we cannot forsake our pursuit of holiness in light of our salvation by grace, but at the same time we cannot undertake our pursuit of holiness with our own strength. Jerry Bridges describes this middle ground this way:

“The pursuit of holiness requires sustained and vigorous effort. It allows for no indolence, no lethargy, no halfhearted commitment, and no lasses faire attitude toward even the smallest sins. In short, it demands the highest priority in the life of a Christian, because to be holy is to be like Christ – God’s goal for every Christian…At the same time, however, the pursuit of holiness must be anchored in the grace of God; otherwise it is doomed to failure. That statement probably strikes many people as strange. A lot of Christians seem to think that the grace of God and the vigorous pursuit of holiness are antithetical – that is, in direct and unequivocal opposition to one another…Grace and the personal discipline required to pursue holiness, however, are not opposed to one another. In fact, they go hand in hand. An understanding of how grace and personal, vigorous effort work together is essential for a life-long pursuit of holiness.”

In summary, we must understand that we are called to actively pursue holiness (the opposite of license), but that we can only do so by God’s grace (the opposite of legalism). Stated another way, just as our salvation is achieved only through God’s grace, so our sanctification is also achieved only through God’s grace. The sin nature that makes it impossible for us to earn our salvation is not eliminated when we are saved. We do not experience complete victory over the power of our sinful nature at the moment of our conversion. We still battle this nature, also called the flesh, after we are converted. Before we were saved, we were unable to fight our sinful nature and it corrupted every aspect of our lives. However, the same grace that enables us to claim the salvation that we could not earn on our own us also empowers our sanctification, which we likewise cannot earn on our own. In that sense, since we are not able to be sanctified apart from the work of God, we say that we are sanctified by grace.

How to Make Conclusions about God

This may be simple, but O’ how good of a reminder this is to all of us:

Anytime that we read the Bible we make conclusions about God and man, how you make those conclusions determines everything! We want to come to conclusions about everything based on what the Bible says, not what we may think or what we want to be true or what we heard, no matter the cost to us! (Benjamin Joffe)

Total Depravity: Two Fantastic Illustrations

These are two illustrations of Total Depravity that stick with me daily, both are great.

1) Benjamin Joffe’s “Lion in a Cage”

If a lion is in a cage, and you put before him a bowl of meat, and a bowl of wheat, which one will the lion choose to eat? ”The lion will always choose the meat, he would never choose the wheat, because lion’s don’t eat wheat, that is who they are.” Right, a lion will always eat the meat because of who they are. Total Depravity is like this, in that our nature, using it’s freedom of choice, will only choose sin! Why? That is who we are! It must take an act outside of ourselves to change what is going on inside of ourselves.

2) Chris Robin’s “How to Kill a Wolf”

Do you know how a eskimo kills a wolf? No, tell me. They take seal blood and put it in a bucket, and then dip a knife into that bucket. After this they put the knife outside to freeze. They then take the knife and stick it into the seal blood again and place it back outside to freeze. They do this about 5 times until a thick frozen coat of seal blood is around the knife. After there is a coat of blood, they stick the knife into the ground, with the blade up, and watch. A wolf smells the blood and comes to eat a seal but finds this little frozen seal popsicle! They lick it over and over and over until it numbs their tongue, and when they get through the blood and hit the knife they will not feel it until it is too late. They bleed to death and die. Total Depravity is like that in that we will always choose what will kill us, sin! That is, unless God intervenes and changes the desires of our hearts!

We cannont change our own nature on our own, it will always choose sin, and that is precisely the problem that needs to be fixed! Thank God that in His mercy to us in believing in His Son, He changes our hearts so that we will no longer choose the meat, or the seal, but what is contrary to our nature, Himself! (Romans 8:7-8)