Gospel Fueled Change

In Peter’s first letter he spends a great deal of time setting down the foundation for why we as believers should live holy lives. He reminds the church of the need to grow up in the faith and not become stagnant. In the first ten verses of chapter two he helps reorient our focus to the reality of who we are and our relationship to Christ and one another. A couple weeks ago I walked us briefly through some of the direct application of living out the faith as sojourners in a land that is not our home, and how our lives should look different than those around us, and more importantly than our old lives. Today I want to briefly reminds us of the foundation of our Hope and the cause of our changed lives that comes only through the power of the Gospel not through human effort.

So put away all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander. Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up into salvation— if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good

Peter opens with the reality that our lives are now marked by a change in desire. No longer do we desire the things of the world or do we mirror the attitudes of those around us, rather we desire the pure spiritual milk of God’s word. This is seen in the concluding passage of 1 Peter 1:25 where Peter reminds us that the gospel has set us free from sin and death and gave us the hope we have today. It is from this driving force that the desire to put away all malice and long for the joy of God’s word springs. From the Gospel hope we are now called to put away the old life with all of its vices and anger and strive hard after God, for it is only from growing in the faith that these things are possible. We know that healthy and physically maturing people don’t indulge constantly on Doritos and hot dogs, when someone sets it in their minds to grow healthy they long towards the things that will bring that to fruition, like a healthy diet and exercise. The same is true of spiritual life; we cannot indulge on the things of the flesh and expect that growth and maturity will simply take place. We are called through Christ’s power to yearn for the hope that brings spiritual maturity, the true spiritual milk.

For If you have tasted the joy of the Lord and savored His goodness why would you want anything else. Sometimes it seems we need to be reminded how good God is and how appetizing the Gospel’s message is to our soul. If you have tasted the goodness of God, like a nice porterhouse steak, (or some eggplant type dish thing vegans must enjoy), then you know how satisfying He is. How He fills your stomach with life and hope everlasting. Peter is then asking us the question why aren’t you longing for that every day. Why do you keep running back to the attitudes and hostilities of the world that will leave you empty and starving. If the Gospel has taken root, then eat the only thing hat will truly satisfy and grow you into maturity, Jesus Christ & His word.

As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. For it stands in Scripture: “Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone, a cornerstone chosen and precious, and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.” So the honor is for you who believe, but for those who do not believe, “The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone,” and “A stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense.” They stumble because they disobey the word, as they were destined to do.

Once we have evaluated our desires, we are asked by Peter to see ourselves through the lenses of Christ. Here Peter is encouraging us to see our growth in maturity in light of the fact that we are like Christ. He was the true living stone rejected by humanity, so too are we living stones who are rejected by humanity. The world rejected Jesus and we should not be surprised that it will reject those who look like Him. Therefore we should not be shocked when the world rejects us, but rather we should see all the more clearly that we are not alone in being rejected. Rather, we are a part of a living temple being built together, into Christ. The rejection of the world should build our spiritual unity as believers, and as our unity of spirit grows so too does our witness, and as we mature in Christ we will continue to turn our hearts over to him, preparing our minds for action and seeking to live our lives in a manner that seeks to glorify God and not our flesh.

 But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. 10 Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy. 11 Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul. 12 Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation.

Finally, we are grounded in the reality that we have a new identity as heirs with Christ. Just as you grew up physically and learned about who you were and where you came from, so too as we grow into Christ we learn who we are in Him and what that means for us.  We learn more and more about our identity and the family that we now have been given. We also begin to see that within our new family we have been given a new occupation as priests proclaiming the greatness of God who set us free from our own sinfulness. As such we call others to experience the greatness of our God who has changed us and given us a lasting home in his presence. We proclaim to the world the mercy of God, the hope of heaven, the living stone rejected by the men.

We have been Chosen, we have been set apart, we have been made Holy, and we have been given a home. These things were given to us we never earned them nor could we. God in his infinite grace bestowed them on those whom He called out of darkness and who through His grace have called upon the name of His Son. Before you can begin to evaluate how you are able to living in a dying and sinful word, you must first remember and know that you are His and that all that you are is found in Him. Before Peter begins a long discussion on living out the faith in a world that will mock, ridicule, and at times persecuted you, you have to know who you are and whose you are, so that you may live out the faith in response to this good news and in a way that reveals it to others.

 

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Why the World Needs the Church

We live in a time of growing polarization on many levels. People are divided politically and culturally in this nation. The long-held ways of the past are constantly clashing with the new way of openness and diversity. Because of this, many in the church believe we should downplay our differences and speak only of our similarities with the world around us. After all, we’ve been out of touch with society in the past. But God’s Word has a completely different solution to the problem we face. Instead of minimizing our differences with the world, Scripture elevates them. In fact, the Bible teaches that it is our very separateness with the world that will most effectively impact it.

The World Needs our Gospel-Shaped Living

In Philippians 3:17-4:1, the Apostle Paul describes the difference between the world and the church. Here he gives us at least five reasons we are different from the unbelieving world in which we live.

We have a different enemy – The world is at enmity with the gospel itself. Paul says they, “walk as enemies of the cross of Christ” (Phil. 3:18). The Person and work of Christ has always and will always face opposition in the public arena. This is because the gospel message is a call to repent and surrender all allegiance of self to God’s commands, something the world cannot bring itself to do. Many people do not understand why they hate the gospel, they just do. Jesus said they hate “without a cause” (John 15:25). As the church, our enmity is not with sinners, but with sin and Satan. Although the world can’t understand how we can hate sin and love sinners, we must maintain this distinction.

We have a different future – In Philippians 3:19, Paul says, “their end is destruction.” The trajectory of the world’s manner of living is eternal torment in hell. Whereas, Paul says in verse 20, “But our citizenship is in heaven.” It can’t get any more different than that.

We have a different authority – We are told, “their god is their belly.” Sinful desires rule the lives of unbelievers and determine why they do what they do and how they do it. The church is dominated by the higher authority of God’s Word and is even commanded to, “put to death” our sinful desires.

We have a different source of confidence – Unbelievers are said to, “glory in their shame.” What ought to make them blush actually can be their greatest source of pride. This is why they call it “Gay Pride” instead of shame. But this applies to all worldly people, whether gay or straight. Men pride themselves on their sexual escapades or their extravagant lifestyles. Women pride themselves on the shape of their bodies or their fashion instinct. Yet as the church, our only source of boasting is to be the cross of Christ. Paul tells the church at Galatia, “But far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world” (Galatians 6:14).

We have a different mindset – Also, we’re told at the end of verse 19, the world has, “minds set on earthly things.” In Romans 8, the Apostle Paul contrasted the mind set on the things of the flesh with the mind set on the things of the Spirit.

In these ways, it is pretty obvious how different we are from the world around us, yet that is exactly what the world needs the most. When Christ saves us, He transforms us so that the world will see more clearly it’s need for transformation.

The World Needs our Evangelistic Love 

Paul couldn’t speak of the unregenerate without tears in his eyes and we shouldn’t be able to either. In Philippians 3:18, he mentions his “tears” over those who turn aside from the gospel. I have had the chance to counsel a few parents who weep over the lost condition of their unbelieving children, yet who feel this annoys their children. But I encouraged these parents that their spiritual concern can weigh heavy on a child’s soul over time. Think about all the lost around the world with no one truly pleading for their spiritual well-being. Now think of those you know who are lost and how you’re concerned about them. The mere fact that God has placed these lost people around his redeemed people could mean he intends to save them. May our hearts break over the unbelievers around us.

The World Needs our Heavenward Longing 

When the world sees a group of people longing for a multi-cultural home of love and peace and joy outside this world, it makes them wonder. The world has been aiming for a utopia experience with shared love between all races and backgrounds and yet has never been able to achieve it due to sin. Paul says in Philippians 3:20-21a, “But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body.” We not only long for heaven itself, but for heaven’s King and our Savior, Jesus Christ. We also long for the new and glorified bodies we will be given at Christ’s return. As C.S. Lewis has so rightly put it, “If we find ourselves with a desire that nothing in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that we were made for another world.” The world chases its pleasures and always comes up short; then they discover that their bodies are fading away too and can’t find any reason for hope beyond this life. Meanwhile, the church seems to have a serious certainty, even joyful eagerness to see this world come to an end and the next begin.

So embrace the difference Christ has made in your life, for it is an excellent evangelism tool for those around you. Let them see you living before them differently, loving them in an other-worldly kind of way, and longing for the consummation of Christ’s kingdom. 

After all, maybe God will use it bring the hope of the gospel to bear in their lives.

The Gospel Nature of Sanctification, part 3

Monday I began blogging about the gospel nature of sanctification. With the many ways we could approach this subject, we began at the very beginning talking of the difference between justification and sanctification. Wednesday I moved on by discussing the gospel nature of sanctification. Today we end our mini series on the Holy Spirit’s work in sanctification in Galatians and Philippians.

In Galatians 3 Paul is making an argument against the Galatians who have begun well but have since turned to a different gospel. In Gal. 3:1-5 Paul says, “O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? It was before your eyes that Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified. Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh? Did you suffer so many things in vain—if indeed it was in vain? Does he who supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles among you do so by works of the law, or by hearing with faith—just as Abraham “believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness”?

In this rebuke Paul asks two questions. In v2 he asks, “Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith?” Then in v3 and v5 he asks the same question, “Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?” The Galatians were converted by the Spirit’s work, just as all Christians are. This is not Paul’s contention with them. His issue is what they were seeking to after beginning so well. Having begun by the Spirit they began to try and do the work of sanctification by the flesh. Paul says this is opposed to how sanctification really happens. It doesn’t happen by works of the flesh, but by hearing with faith. In other words, the same way they were saved (hearing the gospel with faith) is the same way they will grow in sanctification. That the Spirit is mentioned in v5 tells us that the Spirit is One who opens the eyes and enables conversion to take place, as well as the One opens the heart and enables sanctification to place as well. Yes, we really do work, effort, sweat, and labor in sanctification. But behind all of our doing is the Holy Spirit who is doing it all.

As Augustine said, “We do the work, but God works in us the doing of the works.”

In C.S. Lewis’ book Mere Christianity he asks us to imagine two books on a table, one sitting on atop the other. He goes onto say that book A (the bottom book) is doing the work of supporting book B (the top book). If book A weren’t doing its work of supporting, book B wouldn’t be in its position. Lewis uses this illustration to flesh out his understanding of how the Son of God could be the begotten Son of God and the eternal Son of God at the same time. I want to use this image to make a different point; a point about sanctification. Imagine the Holy Spirit is book A and you and I were book B. The Spirit is seen here as the One who always supports us, upholds us, sustains us, and enables us to be in the position we are in as children of God. Do you see now what enables sanctification? Because of the Spirit’s supporting work within us, we can do what God has called us to do, namely, to progress in holiness. The Galatian heresy was just the opposite. They sought to progress in holy living by their own power without the support of the Spirit of God. To say it another way, they were trying to be book B without the aid of book A.

Philippians 2 makes this point as well. In 2:12-13 Paul says, “Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure.”

We should ask the age old question here about the chicken and the egg here. Which came first, our work for God or God’s work in us? Don’t say the really foolish thing here, that our work enables God to do His work in us. Be reminded. God is God, we are not. We never ‘allow’ or ‘let’ God to do His work in or through us. God is not in a box until we choose to let Him out. This is preposterous to the highest degree, not to mention arrogant. It is also foolish to state that man and God work together as two paddlers labor together within the same kayak. If that were true, God’s work in us would be dependent on our work for Him, which brings us back into the heretical notion we just mentioned and place God in our dependency because without our work His work couldn’t be done. No, these are foolish things to say. God’s work alone is sufficient to save and sanctify.

Rather than these two options, which really are the same bad option, just as in our book A and B example above, we must see that the reason we’re able to work out our salvation with fear and trembling is precisely because God is already working within us to move us toward sanctification. So what comes first, our work for God or God’s work in us? Clearly, not only does v13 come before v12, but v13 enables v12 to occur.

But wait, wasn’t this supposed to be about the Holy Spirit? Yes it was, and it still is. Let me point this out by asking a question: who is at work when God is working within us? Who is at work in v13?

None other than the Holy Spirit who is presented here as the One who both moves us toward sanctification and enables us to work out our salvation with fear and trembling.

The Gospel Nature of Sanctification, part 2

Monday I began blogging about the gospel nature of sanctification. With the many ways we could approach this subject, we began at the very beginning talking of the difference between justification and sanctification. Today I want to move onto the gospel nature of sanctification, and finally end with the Holy Spirit’s work in sanctification on Friday.

The error is that while we have been justified by a righteousness produced totally by Christ, we think we must be sanctified by a righteousness produced totally by ourselves. This is wrong. Sanctification does involve effort, and sweat, and work, but that effort, sweat, and work are fueled by the grace of God shown to us in the gospel.

Paul’s letter to Titus shows us this in two ways:

First, in 2:11-12 Paul says, “For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age.”

What does Paul say has appeared among us? His grace, which brings salvation to all people. What is that this grace teaches us? Paul says it is the grace of God that has appeared, the very grace that brings salvation, gospel grace, that teaches us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in this present age. Here we see that great foundation and fuel of sanctification is not trying harder, but believing in the gospel deeper. Therefore we can conclude that a deeper understanding of the gospel will lead to a deeper and more sanctified Christian walk.

Second, in 3:3-8 Paul says, “For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another. But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, He saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to His own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by His grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life. The saying is trustworthy, and I want you to insist on these things, so that those who have believed in God may be careful to devote themselves to good works. These things are excellent and profitable for people.”

In v3 of this passage Paul sets forth our miserable condition apart from the grace of God. But when the goodness and love of God appeared what did He do? He saved us. Not because of what we’ve done, but because He is merciful. How did He save us? By the washing, the renewal, or the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit, whom has been richly poured out on us through Christ. Because of this great salvation Paul says we who were once sinful are now ‘heirs according to the hope of eternal life.’ Just in case we doubt such wonders Paul says this is a statement to bank ones life upon, it is trustworthy, so trustworthy that he calls Titus to be always proclaiming such news. Here’s where sanctification comes in. Did you notice why Titus is to keep proclaiming this good news? v8 gives us the reason, “so that those who have believed in God may be careful to devote themselves to good works” which are excellent and profitable for all people.

Again, it is from beholding the grace of God in the gospel that one is reminded of who we once were, who we are now, and how we should be living in light of such grace. Sanctification is stirred and promoted within the soul of man by meditating on the gospel, not by trying to follow rules and regulations. As Titus was encouraged, we must be encouraged to insist on these things as well so that those who believe the gospel would live as becomes followers of Christ. This is why Mark Dever says, “Being a disciple of Christ does not begin with something we do. It begins with something Christ did.”

These things are truly excellent and profitable for all people. Where does the Holy Spirit come into this? Friday I’ll turn to this in Galatians 3 and Philippians 2.

The Gospel Nature of Sanctification, part 1

What is sanctification? Does God do it or do we do it? What does it look like in real life?

These are questions the Christian Church has been asking ever since it’s birth, and throughout the ages many have answered these questions well and many have answered these questions poorly. In our day, it’s my opinion that we need a massive shift, a reformation in our understanding on this subject. We need this for one large reason. Most Christians view justification as something God did for us to the glory of His name while viewing sanctification as something we do for God to the glory of His name. This is simply incorrect. “The error is that while we have been justified by a righteousness produced totally by Christ, we think we must be sanctified by a righteousness produced totally by ourselves.” (Walter Marshall)

This shows itself today in many ways. One only has to go a Christian bookstore or the Christian section of a larger bookstore to see that multiple volumes of books have been written the disciplines of the Christian life and discipleship. And as good as these books can be for us most of them largely have one giant glaring omission. They never mention the gospel or our union with Christ at all. So we now have a doctrine of sanctification that largely says: ‘Yes God’s grace has saved you, but your effort will now make you holy.’ Or ‘Yes God’s grace has saved you, but the rest is up to you.’ Or even, ‘Yes God’s grace has saved you, but if you really want God to be happy with you, you must live a good life.’ This is nothing but tyranny and oppression, a return to living under the law and not under grace.

There are many ways we could approach this subject, but I think it’s best to start back at the very beginning. So first I want to clarify the difference between justification and sanctification today, then move onto the gospel nature of sanctification on Wednesday, and finally end with the Holy Spirit’s work in sanctification on Friday.

Justification vs. Sanctification

In question #33 of the Westminster Shorter Catechism justification is defined as “an act of God’s free grace, wherein He pardons all our sins and accepts us as righteous in His sight, only for the righteousness of Christ imputed to us, and received by faith alone.” Contrast this with question #35 where the Catechism defines sanctification as “the work of God’s free grace, whereby we are renewed in the whole man after the image of God, and are enabled more and more to die to sin, and live to righteousness.”

Note that in both of these definitions we see God’s free grace being given to undeserving sinners. The difference comes when we see that justification is a one time act of God’s free grace in man, while sanctification is the ongoing work of God’s free grace in man. In justification, because of the righteousness of Christ being imputed or accounted as our own by faith, God truly has declared us to be what we’re not – righteous. In sanctification, we see God’s work within us to make us into what He’s already declared us to be – righteous.

Even here we see the glory of the gospel in that our justification doesn’t depend on our sanctification. Or to say it another way, our acceptance with God doesn’t depend on our performance in the Christian life. We’ve already been justified, made right, and accepted by God and from that secure position God begins to grow us more and more into the image of His Son. We even see a shadow of this in the Ten Commandments. Before commanding Israel to do anything, God reminds them of who they are. In Exodus 20:2 God says, “I am the LORD your God, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.” After this clear statement of their redemption out of Egypt and their adopted and secure position with God, God then commands them to live in a new way. The same is true with us. God has finished the work of redemption through His Son and by faith in Him God saves us from the slavery of sin and adopts into His family. Then, once we know of the security of our new state as sons and daughters of God, God then commands us to live in a new way. So rather than true obedience to God and true growth in that obedience to God coming from our obedience to God, the truth is the other way around. True obedience to God and true growth in that obedience comes out of our identity and union with Christ. It does not come from trying to earn His favor, it comes from resting in His favor already given to us.

This is where we begin to see the gospel nature of sanctification.

Confess!!!!!

Confess your faults one to another forgiving one another….

Confession and forgiveness are two key components of the Christian faith because they directly flow out of our life and fellowship with Christ. The entrance into the gospel is the command to repent and believe, for one to repent, one must confess wrong doing and be offered forgiveness. This is exactly what Jesus came preaching as we see in the gospel accounts especially Mark and Luke. However, it doesn’t end there, it only begins. As Christians we may recognize the foundation that this has in our relationship with God, but how much do we allow it to flow out into our relationships with others. In today’s short post I wanted to reorient us to the importance of confession and repentance in the life of a believer.

Confession opens us up to be known

When we confess our faults to other believers we allow the Lord to speak into the situation with other believers who can hold us accountable and pray for us, through the struggle. By allowing others members of the Christian community into your life you allow them to pray for you and care for you. As one pastor put it “You can’t be fully loved, if you are not fully known.” By opening ourselves up to other believers with our struggles we get to experience the tangible love of Christ all the more as we receive the forgiveness and love from others. If we are in a church that is walking in the truth of the gospel than this shouldn’t be a hard step. Unfortunately, I think many of us don’t trust the spiritual state of our churches enough to allow ourselves to open up to members of it, but this should not be the case, our churches are meant to be the place where the broken come to find the forgiveness of Christ in the lives of other broken people. The church is a place of broken sinners who have found forgiveness in Christ and a new family in the church, where we can be open about or struggles and be encouraged to walk in the Love of Christ and move deeper into sanctification, not perfection, but trust and growth.

 Forgiveness frees us from the burden of sin

Along those lines, if one comes to us in confession and repentance, there is no other option but to forgive. There are not nine steps of penance they must walk through to “prove” their “sincerity” as if somehow we are the ones who hold the key to determine the actions of someone’s heart. The Lord in Matthew 18 makes it clear that forgiveness is offered freely no matter how many times one sins against you. Because, at the end of the day, no one will sin against you more than you have sinned against God. I was reminded of this recently when speaking to a church member and she talked about the forgiveness she offered to the people who killed her son. In doing so she trusted the Lord to do a work in her and also in them, understanding that they too were sinners in need of a savior, not more anger and wrath. They were broken people in need of the complete love of Christ, just as she once was. This echoed personally what I have seen in national stories like the families of those lost in the Charleston shootings who offered unconditional forgiveness to the man who killed their loved ones and prayed that he may know forgiveness and grace, or the Amish families almost a decade ago whose Children were murdered in their small school house. In each case forgiveness freed them from the bondage of sin and open the door for the gospel to be put on full display to the world around them.

Together they free us to walk in grace

When we live in a church culture of confession and forgiveness we are free to walk in the grace of the Lord. We know that if we are having marital problems there are people who will love us and walk with us into wholeness, not condemnation or some false sense of superiority. If we are struggling with lust or pornography, we know that there are believers who rather than treating us like outcast will see the root of grace from the gospel and walk with us into knowing that our satisfaction comes from Christ not the things of this world. No matter the struggles, if we live in a state of confession and forgiveness we freely experience the grace of God, as we know there is nothing hidden in our lives that the enemy can use against us. This is because the family of God knows us and loves us, and through forgiveness and confession they are pushing us further into our relationship with Christ.

For many of us this may seem like a pipe dream, but for all of us this should be an essential goal of our relationship with Christ and other believers. We should desire to be fully known, fully loved, and fully walking in the grace of Christ as we love one another in the grace and forgiveness of Christ.

“Love Me”

Matthew 10:37 – “Whoever loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of me.”

Who do you love?  Perhaps the question for some of you is rather, what do you love?  Either way, you and I both are loving people.  Meaning that we feel fond affection for others or for something else outside of ourselves.  The question is why?  Why do I feel the way I do about Falcon’s football?  Why do you feel the way you do about that genre of music or the particular poet?  Clearly the answer lies not in description but in emotion.  Something about the object of our affections draws us out of ourselves and up and into itself, and we find it, pleasurable.  So what is it?  What do you love?  Got it?  Now ask the harder question: why?

Jesus always got to the root of issues.  In conversing with a young rich man about his desire to follow Him, Jesus revealed the rich man’s first love – money.  He must lose it, give it up and throw it away, before coming to Christ.  Good teachers do this, they don’t focus on the fruit showing itself but on the root giving life to the fruit.  If the root is dealt with, that fruit will change accordingly.  If the young rich man forsook his love of money, his heart would grab ahold of Christ.  But he didn’t.

In the two verses above Jesus makes a startling demand.  He must be foremost in our affections.  We cannot love Him along with another in the same way and in the same relation at the same time.  Jesus is not into taking the back seat in our “loves.”  If we do not love Him in this manner what is the consequent result?  We are counted as unworthy of Christ.  Why?  Because upon looking at that which is supremely valuable, Christ, we said no by continuing to hold something else (mother, father, son, daughter, sport) over or above Christ.  This is the epitome of arrogance.  We think we know what is best for us, what is good for us to love and pour our hearts into.  The only problem is that our hearts, the very center of this affection of love, is riddled through and through with sin, so much so that Jeremiah calls our hearts “wicked above all things, deceptively horrid.”  (Jeremiah 17:9)

What then is our hope in seeking to love that which is most worthy of love?  God must open our heart, and pour His own love into us for us to have any hope of loving Him in return.  This is exactly what was foreshadowed in the Mosaic Covenant, and bought for us at the cross.

Here is our hope: “And the Lord your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your offspring, so that you will love the Lord your God with all of your heart and with all of your soul, that you may live.” (Deut. 30:6)

God is not a meanie atop an ant hill making the ants love Him nor is He acting like a vain woman seeking compliment.  He is in the business of graciously turning men’s hearts back to what they were originally designed to feast upon, Him.  This act of God, is love defined.

My Next 30 Years….

Today is my 30th birthday.  I think I’m feeling all the normal feelings that come along with being 30.  I feel old, but people tell me I’m not.  I’ve found a few gray hairs, but most are still a strong brown.  I can’t keep up athletically with guys in their 20’s anymore, my energy seems half of what it was at 20.  But, the more I think about being 30 the more my soul yearns to spend my next 30 years in a God-centered, Bible-saturated, Christ-exalting manner.  Because of this my mind turns to Solomon.

Solomon was King David’s son, and he was a King in Israel.  He wrote many things and experienced more of life than most ever get to taste.  He did a lot wrong and came out great at the end.  Let me explain.  Many people confuse the order of Solomon’s writings in the Bible, being completely unsure of what books were written when.  I think the order of the books can teach us glorious things.

First, at his first marriage Solomon wrote the Song of Songs – a lovely tribute to his wife.  I think this is a book for his first wife as their marriage began because it sounds like a newlywed couple.  Feelings like this are great but they are temporary, and after they pass you learn what marriage is all about.  I fear that Solomon did learn what marriage was all about, but in a fantastically wicked way, by marrying 1,000 wives.  Do you think I’m exaggerating?  1 Kings 11:3 says, “He had 700 wives, who were princesses, and 300 concubines. And his wives turned away his heart.”  This is a clear statement of truth that marrying many wives has a consequence and it is usually not a good thing, especially is you marry women of other nations who worship other gods.  By doing this, Solomon sinned, and was led astray greatly.

Second, Solomon began his vast collection of Proverbs, which we have recorded for us in the book of Proverbs.  He learned much in life and he shares great wisdom for us in this collection.

Third, Solomon ended his writings with Ecclesiastes.  Why do I think he ends with this?  Because over and over throughout the book we find him summarizing what he used to do, how he used to go after things, how he used to press in to and seek after pleasure, knowledge, women, money, possessions, passions, etc., you know it he went after it hard.  What did he find?  It was all meaningless, and only one thing mattered.  Fear God, obey His commands, enjoy the wife of your youth.

What do we learn from this?  The order of Solomon’s writings teaches us that he began well, lived poorly, and finished very well.  Ecclesiastes was his repentance for the wandering he’d done his whole life, and in the end when it all came to down it, everything under the sun is meaningless.  Therefore we will only find meaning if we aim “over the sun”, at God.  He is what life is about, and the pursuit that will satisfy the human soul fully.  We were made for this.  Solomon teaches this.

Why am I thinking of this on my birthday?  To take Tim McGraw’s line “In my next 30 years….” I do want things to change for me.  I have made poor choices and reaped the consequences of doing so.  I have made good choices and reaped wondrous things.  Overall, I want to live now at 30 how Solomon lived while at 80.  I want to soak in the lesson of Ecclesiastes in my 30’s not my 90’s.  Honor God, obey His commands, enjoy life with my wife and family.  No matter where you are in life, these are good things to pursue and grab ahold of.

May God grant you find Him, and finding Him, embrace Him as all satisfying and worthy of infinite worship.

New City Catechism

I love resources.  Let me be a bit more specific.  I love free resources, usually found online, that aid me in knowing God better.  When I find these I usually put them up under my links on the sidebar of the blog, and don’t announce the new resource.  But, I came across a resource today that you need to know about.  It’s called New City Catechism.  It comes in an app and a web based form.  What is this?  Why do I think it is vital for you?  Why will I use it?  Read what Tim Keller has to say about it below:

Question 1. What is the chief end of man?
Answer Man’s chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy him forever.
Question 1. What is your only comfort in life and death?
Answer That I am not my own, but belong—body and soul, in life and in death—to my faithful Savior, Jesus Christ.

These words, the opening of the Westminster and Heidelberg Catechisms, find echoes in many of our creeds and statements of faith. They are familiar to us from sermons and books, and yet most people do not know their source and have certainly never memorized them as part of the catechisms from which they derive.

Today many churches and Christian organizations publish “statements of faith” that outline their beliefs. But in the past it was expected that documents of this nature would be so biblically rich and carefully crafted that they would be memorized and used for Christian growth and training. They were written in the form of questions and answers, and were called catechisms (from the Greek katechein which means “to teach orally or to instruct by word of mouth”). The Heidelberg Catechism of 1563 and Westminster Shorter and Larger Catechisms of 1648 are among the best known, and they serve as the doctrinal standards of many churches in the world today.

the lost practice of catechesis

At present, the practice of catechesis, particularly among adults, has been almost completely lost. Modern discipleship programs concentrate on practices such as Bible study, prayer, fellowship, and evangelism and can at times be superficial when it comes to doctrine. In contrast, the classic catechisms take students through the Apostles’ Creed, the Ten Commandments, and the Lord’s Prayer—a perfect balance of biblical theology, practical ethics, and spiritual experience. Also, the catechetical discipline of memorization drives concepts deeper into the heart and naturally holds students more accountable to master the material than do typical discipleship courses. Finally, the practice of question-answer recitation brings instructors and students into a naturally interactive, dialogical process of learning.

In short, catechetical instruction is less individualistic and more communal. Parents can catechize their children. Church leaders can catechize new members with shorter catechisms and new leaders with more extensive ones. Because of the richness of the material, catechetical questions and answers may be integrated into corporate worship itself, where the church as a body can confess their faith and respond to God with praise.

Because we have lost the practice of catechesis today: “Superficial smatterings of truth, blurry notions about God and godliness, and thoughtlessness about the issues of living—career-wise, community-wise, family-wise, and church-wise—are all too often the marks of evangelical congregations today…” (From Grounded in the Gospel: Building Believers the Old-Fashioned Way, by Gary Parrett and J. I. Packer, published by Baker, 2010.)

why write new catechisms?

There are many ancient, excellent, and time-tested catechisms. Why expend the effort to write new ones? In fact, some people might suspect the motives of anyone who would want to do so. However, most people today do not realize that it was once seen as normal, important, and necessary for churches to continually produce new catechisms for their own use. The original Anglican Book of Common Prayer included a catechism. The Lutheran churches had Luther’s Large Catechism and Small Catechism of 1529. The early Scottish churches though they had Calvin’s Geneva Catechism of 1541, and the Heidelberg Catechism of 1563, went on to produce and use Craig’s Catechism of 1581, Duncan’s Latin Catechism of 1595, and The New Catechism of 1644, before eventually adopted the Westminster Catechism.

The Puritan pastor Richard Baxter, who ministered in the 17th century town of Kidderminster, was not unusual. He wanted to systematically train heads of families to instruct their households in the faith. To do so he wrote his own Family Catechism that was adapted to the capacities of his people and that brought the Bible to bear on many of the issues and questions his people were facing at that time.

Catechisms were written with at least three purposes. The first was to set forth a comprehensive exposition of the gospel—not only in order to explain clearly what the gospel is, but also to lay out the building blocks on which the gospel is based, such as the biblical doctrine of God, of human nature, of sin, and so forth. The second purpose was to do this exposition in such a way that the heresies, errors, and false beliefs of the time and culture were addressed and counteracted. The third and more pastoral purpose was to form a distinct people, a counter-culture that reflected the likeness of Christ not only in individual character but also in the church’s communal life.

When looked at together, these three purposes explain why new catechisms must be written. While our exposition of gospel doctrine must be in line with older catechisms that are true to the Word, culture changes and so do the errors, temptations, and challenges to the unchanging gospel that people must be equipped to face and answer.

a joint adult and children’s catechism

New City Catechism is comprised of only 52 questions and answers (as opposed to Heidelberg’s 129 or Westminster Shorter’s 107). There is therefore only one question and answer for each week of the year, making it simple to fit into church calendars and achievable even for people with demanding schedules.

It is a joint adult and children’s catechism. In other words, the same questions are asked of both children and adults, and the children’s answer is always part of the adult answer. This means that as parents are teaching it to their children they are learning their answer to the question at the same time, albeit an abridged version. The adult answer is always an expanded version of the children’s answer. In the adult version the children’s answer appears in color to differentiate it from the longer adult answer.

New City Catechism is based on and adapted from Calvin’s Geneva Catechism, the Westminster Shorter and Larger Catechisms, and especially the Heidelberg Catechism, giving good exposure to some of the riches and insights across the spectrum of the great Reformation-era catechisms. The hope being that it will encourage people to delve into the historic catechisms and continue the catechetical process throughout their lives.

It is divided into 3 parts to make it easier to learn in sections and to include some helpful divisions: PART 1 = God, creation and fall, law (20 questions); PART 2 = Christ, redemption, grace (15 questions); PART 3 = Spirit, restoration, growing in grace (17 questions).

As with most traditional catechisms there is a Bible verse that accompanies each question and answer. In addition, attached to each question and answer there is a short commentary and a short prayer taken from the writings or sayings of past preachers to help students meditate on and think about the topic being explored. As far as possible a commentary and prayer has been included from the same preacher in each of the 3 Parts so that students can become familiar with their style and work. Those quoted in all 3 Parts are, in chronological order: John Chrysostom, Augustine of Hippo, Martin Luther, John Calvin, Richard Sibbes, John Bunyan, Jonathan Edwards, John Wesley, Abraham Booth, Charles Haddon Spurgeon, John Charles Ryle, C. S. Lewis, David Martyn Lloyd-Jones, and John Stott. Students are therefore able to read 3 commentaries and 3 prayers from each of these preachers. John Owen and Richard Baxter have been quoted in Parts 1 and 3. John Bradford, Heinrich Bullinger, Thomas Brooks, George Whitefield, Charles Simeon, and Francis Schaeffer feature once with a commentary and a prayer from each.

In the children’s version the questions and answers are accompanied by the same Bible verse as the adult version. In addition the prayers from the adult version have been adapted, modernized, shortened, and simplified for children.

Also included in the adult version is a further reading section. In order to make this as manageable as possible suggested readings are drawn from only two books: J. I. Packer’s Concise Theology (published by Tyndale) and Donald Macleod’s A Faith to Live By (published by Mentor or Christian Focus).

To accompany all this written material there are also short video commentaries from some of the council members of The Gospel Coalition and the pastors of Redeemer Presbyterian Church. As with the textual commentaries from historic preachers, as far as possible, a video commentary from each of the current preachers has been included in each of the 3 Parts. Those featured in the filmed commentaries are, in alphabetical order: Thabiti Anyabwile, Alistair Begg, David Bisgrove, D. A. Carson, Mark Dever, Kevin DeYoung, Ligon Duncan, Joshua Harris, Kent Hughes, Timothy Keller, John Lin, Crawford Loritts, John Piper, Juan Sanchez, Leo Schuster, Stephen Um, and John Yates. The hope is that the textual and filmed commentaries provide complementary insights into the theme of each particular question and answer.

the use of archaic language

Although it may make the content seem less accessible at first glance, the language of the original texts has been retained as much as possible throughout the commentaries and prayers.

When people complained to J.R.R. Tolkien about the archaic language he sometimes used, he answered that language carries cultural values and therefore his use of older forms was not nostalgia—it was principled. He believed that older ways of speaking conveyed older ways of understanding life that modern forms cannot convey, because modern language is enmeshed with modern views of life.

As an example, Tolkien points to a passage in The Lord of the Rings where members of the Fellowship are choosing weapons and the (archaic) wording runs as follows: “Helms too they chose.” Some (wrongly) class the wording as an “inversion”, since normal order is “They also chose helmets” or “They chose helmets too.” But, Tolkien comments that modern English has lost the trick of putting the word that one desires to be emphasized (for pictorial, emotional, or logical reasons) into prominent first place, without the addition of a lot of little “empty” words. The much terser and more vivid ancient styles often convey gravity and meaning in a way they would not were they modernized. (See Tolkien’s letter to Professor Hugh Brogan in The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, edited by Humphrey Carpenter, published by Houghton Mifflin, 1981.)

For this reason, except in cases where the words are no longer in common use and are therefore incomprehensible (in which instances they often have been replaced with ellipses) the language and spelling of the original authors has been retained throughout the commentaries and prayers. Occasionally this is also true in some of the questions and answers where the more poetic forms aid memorization.

how to use new city catechism

New City Catechism consists of 52 questions and answers so the easiest way to use it is to memorize one question and answer each week of the year. Because it is intended to be dialogical it is best to learn it in pairs, in families, or as study groups, enabling you to drill one another on the answers not only one at a time but once you have learned 10 of them, then 20 of them, and so on.

The Bible verse, written and filmed commentary, and prayer that are attached to each question and answer can be used as your devotion on a chosen day of the week to help you think through and meditate on the issues and applications that arise from the question and answer. Note that some of the prayers are not directly addressed to God but are more exhortational in nature. As you read these prayers you can make them your own by praying the petitions to God or by taking the statements and turning them into petitions and prayers. For example if the text says: “I love the Lord for he heard my voice and heard my cry for mercy.” You can pray: “Lord, I love you because so many times, you have heard my voice and my cry for mercy.”

Groups may decide to spend the first 5—10 minutes of their study time looking together at only one question and answer thus completing the catechism in a year, or they may prefer to study and learn the questions and answers over a contracted length of time, for example by memorizing 5 or 6 questions a week and meeting together to quiz one another, discuss them, as well as read and watch the accompanying commentaries.

For families, it is intended for parents to help their children memorize the children’s answer and then for parents to learn the longer, extended adult answer themselves. Parents will have different ways of approaching the memorization process depending on their children and their particular circumstances—so there are no prescribed times of day or particular devotional practices attached. When and how parents use the catechism can be as diverse as during family devotions, at the breakfast table, as part of a longer study including comprehension questions and praying, or as a fun memorization time with flashcards and drills.

memorization tips

There are a variety of ways to commit texts to memory and some techniques suit certain learning styles better than others. A few examples include:

  • Read the question and answer out loud, and repeat, repeat, repeat.
  • Read the question and answer out loud, try to repeat them without looking. Repeat.
  • Read aloud through all Part 1 questions and answers (then 2, then 3) while moving about. The combination of movement and speech strengthens a person’s ability to recall text.
  • Record yourself saying all Part 1 questions and answers (then 2, then 3) and listen to them during everyday activities e.g. work-outs, chores, etc.
  • Write the questions and answers on cards and tape them in a conspicuous area. Read them aloud every time you see them.
  • Make flashcards with the question on one side and the answer on the other, and test yourself. Children can color these in and draw pictures on them.
  • Review the question and answer at night and in the morning. For children spend a few minutes at bedtime helping them remember the answer, then repeat at breakfast the next morning.
  • Write out the question and answer. Repeat. The process of writing also helps a person’s ability to recall text.
  • Drill the questions and answers with another person as often as possible.

a biblical practice

In his letter to the Galatians Paul writes, “Anyone who receives instruction in the word must share all good things with his instructor” (Galatians 6:6). The Greek word for “anyone who receives instruction” is the word katechoumenos, one who is catechized. In other words, Paul is talking about a body of Christian doctrine (“catechism”) that was taught to them by an instructor (here the word “catechizer”). The words “all good things” probably means financial support as well. In this light, the word koinoneo—which means “to share” or “to have fellowship”—becomes even richer. The salary of a Christian teacher is not to be seen simply as a payment but a “fellowship.” Catechesis is not just one more service to be paid for, but is a rich fellowship and mutual sharing of the gifts of God.

If we re-engage in this biblical practice in our churches, we will find again God’s Word “dwelling in us richly” (Colossians 3:16), because the practice of catechesis takes truth deep into our hearts, so we find ourselves thinking in biblical categories as soon as we can reason.

When my son, Jonathan, was a young child my wife Kathy and I started teaching him a children’s catechism. In the beginning we worked on just the first three questions:

Question 1. Who made you? Answer. God

Question 2. What else did God make? Answer. God made all things.

Question 3. Why did God make you and all things? Answer. For his own glory.

One day Kathy dropped Jonathan off at a babysitter’s. At one point the babysitter discovered Jonathan looking out the window. “What are you thinking about?” she asked him. “God,” he said. Surprised, she responded, “What are you thinking about God?” He looked at her and replied, “How he made all things for his own glory.” She thought she had a spiritual giant on her hands! A little boy looking out the window, contemplating the glory of God in creation!

What had actually happened, obviously, was that her question had triggered the question/answer response in him. He answered with the catechism. He certainly did not have the slightest idea what the “glory of God” meant. But the concept was in his mind and heart, waiting to be connected with new insights, teaching, and experiences.

Such instruction, Princeton theologian Archibald Alexander said, is like firewood in a fireplace. Without the fire—the Spirit of God—firewood will not in itself produce a warming flame. But without fuel there can be no fire either, and that is what catechetical instruction is.

Timothy Keller, October 2012

I: The Image of God & Sanctification

Throughout the history of the Church, theologians have discussed the image of God in a large number of ways. I want to add to their discussion today by talking about the image of God regarding holiness and sanctification.

This begins with Adam and Genesis 1:28. In that verse, God gives Adam the dominion mandate, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it; and rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” Adam, with the aid of his helpmate Eve, were to do these things. Why did God command these things? Because God not only wanted Adam and Eve to rule over creation, but to spread His image throughout the earth by procreation. Adam failed to do this. Next, we see this same command passed onto Noah and his family in Genesis 9:1-2, but Ham, Noah’s son, failed like Adam. This un-fulfilled command was then turned into a promise which Abraham received. Rather than being told to spread God’s image across the globe, God promised Abraham that He would bless the nations through his descendants.

Did the dominion mandate just go away? No. It is fulfilled by Jesus. Jesus is called the “last Adam” in 1 Cor. 15:45, and is referred to in Romans 5:14 when Paul says, “Adam was a type of the One who was to come.” These verses mean that in Adam we get a preview of not only what Jesus would be like, but we also get a preview of the work Jesus will do. How so? I’m glad you asked! This is where the image of God and holiness comes into play. Jesus, unlike Adam fulfilled this command from Genesis 1:28 not by procreation (as Adam was to do) but by making new creations out of sinful human beings. Follow me now. When a person places their faith in Jesus, they become new creations. They, who were originally made in the image of God (but marred by sin) are now by salvation more realistic displays of the image of God than they have ever been before because they are living in communion with God, and thats what they were made for! In regards to holiness and sanctification – when one is saved by Jesus, Jesus begins to conform to His own image, which the Bible says is the exact representation of the image of God (Heb. 1:3, Col. 1:15-20). So being made into the image of Jesus is being made into the image of God.

So you see, the more people come to Jesus, the more people are being into the image of God by Jesus through what is called sanctification (growing in holiness!). What does this mean? Jesus is fulfilling the Genesis 1:28 command by making these new creations all over the globe. Thus, the image of God is now being spread throughout the whole earth by Jesus, with the aid of His helpmate, the Church.

AMEN!

Justification vs. Sanctification: A Soul-Settling Truth

If you’ve been around churches long enough, you’ll have heard two very big theological words: justification and sanctification.  The difference between these two is massive and if we get them confused we not only are misinformed, we’re in grave danger.  So lets define them:

Justification is God’s declaring you to be what you’re not, righteous.

Sanctification is the process by which God makes you into what you’ve been declared, righteous.

Justification happens in an instant, when you place your faith and trust in Jesus for salvation.  It is at this moment that a great exchange happens, God removes your sin and gives you the righteousness of Jesus (2 Cor. 5:21).  Sanctification, rather than an instantaneous event, is a process.  This process will take your whole life, and will be completed when you meet Jesus face to face after death or at His second coming.  Because this is a process, we must be patient with Christians around us.  Why?  Because they are imperfect people in process.  They are not perfect, and we should never demand perfection from them.

There is grave danger in getting these two terms mixed up or backwards.  If we trust in our sanctification for our justification (or if we trust in our own works of righteousness for our salvation) we have no salvation.  But if we understand that we’ve been declared righteous (something we are not) and then God grows us in that righteousness over time, we’ll be okay and your soul will be settled in life, because we screw up a lot.  And we all need to hear this because we screw up far more than we could ever imagine.  But praise God that our salvation is not based on what we do (Romans 4:4-5), but on what God has done for us.  Yes we do “works” of righteousness, and strive to be closer to God through our Christian disciplines, but amen (!) that our salvation doesn’t rest on these disciplines.

This is indeed a soul settling truth.

My Resolution for 2013 – Join Me?

Sorry to say this but there will be no book recommendation today due to New Years.  BUT I’ve got something better for you.  Since most of you are thinking through goals for 2013, I want to share mine.  It’s the same each year, but each year I try and pursue it from a different angle.

Since I have been a Christian, my resolution every new year has been the same.  You may say that I am boring to do so, but let me explain.  As December ends and January roles around I find one desire growing in me:  to know God better this year than last.  I want to be able to say in December 2013, that I know God better now than I did in 2012.  I want to be closer to Him, I want to talk to Him more and in a more real way, I want to know His Word better, I want to feel Him more, I want to be more like Him, and most of all I want to love Him more than I did in the previous year.

How will all this be accomplished?  I could make a bunch of resolutions to do it.  For example I could make resolutions to read more, to pray more, to fast more, to rebuke more, to evangelize more, etc.  Those are not bad resolutions, but they are all “fruit” issues.  My resolution gets at the “root” issue, namely, treasuring the gospel.  You see, if I treasure the gospel more this year than last, all of those things I listed will happen.  If I do not treasure the gospel more this year than last, those things will likely decrease.  So instead of going at specific “fruit” issues, I want more heart work being done, more “root” issues.

Where do I get this in the Bible?  Titus 2:11-12, “The grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all men, teaching us to deny ungodliness and worldly desires and to live sensibly, righteously, and godly in the present age.”  I will not be godly if concentrate on reading the Bible more.  I will not be godly if I make it my aim to share the gospel with every person I meet.  I will not become more godly if I try to “do” more things.  The only way you and I will become more godly, is by reflecting on the gospel; because it is the gospel, the grace of God that has appeared, that teaches us, or instructs us to live godly in this present age.

Titus 3 also shows this.  In chapter 3 Paul gloriously describes the gospel in verses 3-7.  Then in verse 8 he says, “This is a trustworthy statement; and concerning these things I want you to speak confidently, so that those who have believed God will be careful to engage in good deeds.  These things are good and profitable for men.”  When Paul says “these things” he means the gospel that he described in verses 3-7.  What is it that causes believers to carefully engage in good deeds?  What is it that is good and profitable for men?  The gospel!  When believers treasure the gospel, good deeds flow forth in abundance.

So my resolution this year, is the same as last year, and will most likely be the same as each new year comes that God wills to bring us.  I want to treasure the gospel more, so that I grow more.  When I grow more, I know God more.  When I know God more, I love God more!  When I love God more, I am filled with infinite pleasure and delight!  So really my desire this new year is for the increasing of my joy in Jesus, above all things!  Join me this year in this glorious pursuit.