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Posts Tagged ‘Holy Spirit’


In my typical vacation mode, I’m reading another in the series “on the Christian life.” This vacation I’m reading Spurgeon on the Christian Life: Alive in Christ by Michael Reeves. Reeves’ goal is to communicate about Spurgeon’s views, not offering correctives or counter-points. While I agree with much of what Spurgeon held regarding preaching, there were enough things I wanted to offer a counter-point to that this merited its own blog post.

Spurgeon began to preach as essentially a newly converted person. Prior to his conversion he’d read much from his grandfather’s library. This is where his love of the Puritans came from. Spurgeon did not preach like a Puritan.

For instance, I’m also reading Christian Love by Hugh Binning. After his treatise on the subject there are 3 from his sermon series on Romans 8:1-15. They are taken from his 40 sermons on that passage. Yes, 40! The better part of a year on 14 verses, by a man who would die at 26.  Spurgeon did not do such lengthy series.

“The special work of our ministry is to lay open Christ, to hold up the tapestry and unfold the mysteries of Christ.”

“It is the end (goal) of our calling to sue for a marriage between Christ and every soul. We are the friends of the bride to bring the church to him; and friend of the church, to bring Christ to them.”

In this regard, Spurgeon is spot on regarding the goal of preaching. We are to so reveal Christ as to present a Savior worth trusting, and encourage them to trust in Him for all things as revealed in the Scriptures.

In this way, preaching is not simply an information dump. Information is conveyed. We must explain the text, and explain Christ to them. But we are to preach for personal and congregational transformation.

“The object of all true preaching is the heart: we aim at divorcing the heart from sin, and wedding it to Christ. Our ministry has failed, and has not the divine seal set upon it, unless it makes men tremble, makes them sad, and then anon brings them to Christ, and causes them to rejoice.”

The rub is in some of the opinions he had about how that takes place.

Reeves notes a common criticism, that I have mentioned to others, that he wasn’t very exegetical. Reeves notes that prior to his sermon, in another part of the service he would give “a separate verse-by-verse exposition on the portion of Scripture from which his preaching text would be taken.” Or at least what he thought he would be preaching. At times he would admit to changing his text on the fly. This would disconnect the text from the exegesis. If it was a late, not last second change, then he wouldn’t have much time to do proper exegesis of the text. He’d inevitably have to do that on the fly. The prep work he’d done (and he did do plenty of that) would not be used, at least that week.

Spurgeon discouraged his students from preaching series. He didn’t plan out his sermons in advance. I often have my sermon texts lined up a few months out. He thought few preachers had the gifts to preach a series and engage the congregation’s attention for the duration. Spurgeon notes that even the gifted Joseph Caryl preached his congregation from 800 to 8 over the course of his series on Job. No mention is  given on how many sermons this included. I’m not advocating 5-6 years (or 16) in a series on a book of the Bible.

He believed that such sermon series didn’t address the immediate situation of the congregation.

When I plan a sermon series, I consider the “immediate” needs of the congregation and choose a book that addresses those things. Their immediate needs often include long-term needs that need more than a sermon by an extended period breaking up the ground, sowing and watering seed that it may bear the fruit we long to see. Some of those immediate needs may be met by a short book like Jonah, or a longer book like Romans.

I want to model Bible study as a collateral benefit of preaching. They begin, I hope, to see how thoughts flow through a book of the Bible. They aren’t seeing a text arise from the ether but in the overall theme of its authors, human and divine.

Surely the Holy Spirit is not bound by the time frame of a week to know what any congregation needs. As God who has eternally decreed whatsoever comes to pass, He can lead and guide me well in advance, not just on the spur of the moment. In my preaching, I frequently illustrate in ways I had not prepared, or go on an unplanned trail. So the Spirit is not stifled, but neither am I investing hours each week figuring out what text to preach. Rather I’m grappling with the text to discern what it means and how it applies to this group of people.

Christ can be just as preeminent in a series as in a weekly discerning of a text to preach. As he famously noted, just as all towns in England had a road leading to London, all text lead to Christ.

As pastors, we do well to remember that we “are not only laboring for Christ but in His stead.” As the Reformed Confessions indicate, the word preached is the Word of God. Christ is addressing His people thru us. He indicated (as another book I’m reading, Preaching to a Post-Everything World) we must love the people, the sinners, to whom we preach. We do not exercise a ministry of condemnation. We are not to provoke or exasperate them. But we are to plead with them so they turn from their sin to Christ in both conversion (justification) and consecration (sanctification).

He also indicates that we are to embody that which we preach. Here I think is an issue as well. We are to preach joy in Christ, joyfully. But this implies that in God’s providence we are not preaching to ourselves as well as to them. Often I can struggle because God brings me to the “school house” through the text.

For instance, I’m currently preaching through Philippians. While joy is a theme of Philippians, so are partnership in the Gospel particularly in the context of persecution and some level of congregational strife. They were to stand together, but apparently they weren’t.

In our congregation this has been a year filled with change. Change inevitably brings conflict. There has been some disagreement among us. I’m a sinner and struggling to not take it personally at times. I’m challenged to abound more and more in love toward people with whom there is disagreement. My preaching, therefore, is not bound to my emotions. I’m not being deceitful as I say these things, but am also in the struggle to define my life by God’s great Story rather than I own feelings, thoughts or story. I’m in process just like they are.

We do not preach as perfected men. We preach as men being perfected. God’s living and active sword cuts us too, in a surgical way, as we prepare and preach. I agree we should not be disingenuous, but neither are we to search for a text or subject we’ve mastered or that suits are emotions on a particular day. God is in control over the text, and our circumstances even leading up into that moment we walk into the pulpit (many a preacher gets a disheartening text, call or email while writing the sermon, Saturday evening or Sunday morning). We are called to bring the Word of God to bear even as we wrestle with our own sinfulness and need for the gospel.

So, I find these views of his to be driven by subjectivity. As we think of his life, as a man who struggled with depression, this seems particularly out of place or idealistic. It can crush a man instead of helping him trust that God uses even him, a jar of clay, to reveal the treasure of the gospel.

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I’m not wild about books about preaching. I often feel overwhelmed; how can I fit all that into a sermon? I already feel like I’m trying to do too much in my sermons.

But I know I can become better at my craft. This year during study leave, I decided to read some books on preaching. One of the books was Preaching: Communicating Faith in an Age of Skepticism by Tim Keller. I want to do a better job of reaching those who aren’t “fully on-board” in addition to communicating the Reformed faith to those who already believe. I think Tim Keller is pretty good at that.

This book is not so much about the nuts and bolts of sermon preparation (there is an appendix that addresses much of that). It focuses on the bigger issues of preaching- how to communicate with people.

The introduction talking of the three levels of the ministry of the Word. The ministry of the Word is not the exclusive province of pastors. The ministry of the Word extends far beyond the sermon. Every Christian should have a ministry of the Word in that they should be able to communicate basic Bible knowledge and teaching to others. This is a very informal level of ministry. If the Word dwells richly in us, this is doable.

In between this informal ministry and formal ministry is those who have a gift of teaching but who are not ordained to preach. It is a formal setting, but doesn’t entail formal education or an office. Small group leaders, SS teachers, personal exhortation, counseling, and evangelism are examples of this second level of teaching. This book would be helpful for people in the 2nd and 3rd levels of ministry.

In the midst of this, Keller defends preaching from the attacks of those who want it done away with in our day. While God transforms churches through all three levels of the ministry of the Word, preaching is still an important part of that transformation. We see preaching as normative in the New Testament. It should be normative for us as well. He positively quotes Adam in saying the gospel ministry should be “pulpit-centered, but not pulpit restricted.”

Good preaching is faithful to the text, and the people to whom God calls you to preach. Great preaching lies mainly in the work of the Holy Spirit in the heart of the preacher and the listener. Later he’d refer to Martyn Lloyd-Jones talking about “logic on fire”. I recently watched the documentary on him and can identify with those moments during preaching when you are caught up in the truth you are preaching. A shift takes place in you as you preaching becomes worshipful, for lack of a better term. You are lifting up Christ to them, and yourself.

“Spiritual eloquence should arise out of the preacher’s almost desperate love for the gospel truth itself and the people for whom accepting the truth is a matter of life and death.”

Great preaching preaches Christ to the cultural heart. The preacher connects with the heart of the culture to challenge its conclusions and point to Christ for the fulfillment of its legitimate aspirations. Keller is an advocate of redemptive-historical preaching, connecting each text with the central message of the gospel for the justification and sanctification of those who listen.

He starts with preaching the Word. He explains the difference between expository and topical preaching. He advocates for focusing on expository preaching. He doesn’t think you should never do a topical sermon, but that it should be the exception, not the rule. He cautions against some forms of expository preaching which spend so much time in one text that book studies take 5+ years. The people will not hear the whole counsel of God this way.

“Preaching is not only explaining the text but also using it to engage the heart.”

I am generally an expository preacher. I have one text and preach it. During Advent, Lent or Reformation Day I may do some topical or thematic sermons. My goal is to preach the text, and point them to Christ through that text. I’ve spent about 2 years in a book like Genesis or John, but I try to balance that out with shorter series like Esther, Jonah or a summer series in Psalms. In my 7, nearly 8, years at my current congregation I’ve preached on Genesis, James, Colossians, John, Esther, 1 Peter, and Jonah. In addition to the summer series on Psalms, there have been series on the sacrifices, Advent Songs in Luke, the dreams in Matthew, prophecies of the Messiah and others I can’t recall at the moment.

I pick series based on my perception of the congregation’s needs. Expository preaching will drive us to preach on difficult texts and subjects we’d prefer to avoid as well as keeping us from our hobbyhorses and pet issues.

In the second chapter he focuses on our need to preach the gospel every time. We need to connect our text with the context (paragraph, chapter, book, Testament, whole Bible). We don’t want to merely provide moralistic “biblical principles” or generally inspire them. We need to show them Jesus because He is the One they need generally and in the particulars of their lives. I’ve heard too many sermons that never get us to Jesus.

Keller talks about law and gospel. He relies much on William Perkins who doesn’t divide the Bible or texts into law and gospel. It is more helpful to see law and gospel as uses of texts rather than categories of texts. Therefore we use the text to reveal the law and therefore need for the gospel, and how Christ fulfills that need. In this context he points us to Ferguson’s work (from the Marrow Controversy) on legalism and antinomianism. Both have the same root in the lie of the serpent that God is not good but withholds good from us. If you read only one chapter in this book, this is the chapter to read. This should filter into our preaching so that we bring the gospel to bear against both legalism and antinomianism. Both miss God’s loving grace, the loving grace we need to present to them each week. We can trace their idols down to these roots and show that Christ is the real answer.

Keller, without really saying it, indicates what gospel-centered preaching isn’t. He mentions two dangers to avoid. I have actually heard sermons that said “gospel” 50 times but never actually explain the gospel. Such a sermon is NOT gospel-centered preaching. Keller warns us to avoid preaching without preaching the gospel. You can mention Jesus frequently without mentioning His substutionary obedience, death, resurrection and ascension. You can mention Him without talking about imputed righteousness, union with Christ, His humiliation and exaltation etc. We can also preach Christ without actually preaching the text. Spurgeon did this sometimes. We need to know the main point of the author and spend time with it and going from their to Jesus. Spurgeon tells a story of a Welsh pastor telling a young pastor that every city in England had a road leading to London. Not every road led there, but one did. Every text has a road to Jesus (sometimes more than one), find it and go down that road with the people.

In the next chapter, he spends some time showing how to do this.

The section I really had interest in was about preaching Christ to the culture. This had much to do with proper contextualization so you are connecting too as well as challenging the culture. This is a hard balance. Antinomians accommodate the culture and legalists tend not to connect to the culture because they are overly critical. While culture is the produce of sinful humans, it is also the product of people made in God’s image and necessarily has some remaining connection points.

“We adapt and contextualize in order to speak the truth in love, to both care and confront.”

He notes a shift in Edwards’ preaching after he left Northampton. He took the Native Americans’ experience of suffering into consideration in his preaching. He used more narrative as well. He adapted his preaching style in order to connect with a different culture, a different audience.

“If you over-contextualize and compromise the actual content of the gospel, you will draw a crowd but no one will be changed. … You will mainly just be confirming people in their present course of life.”

He advocates for using respected cultural authorities to strengthen your thesis. Just as you may drop a few Calvin quotes for a Reformed audience, you may want to consider quotes from non-Christians or others who are generally respected by the non-believing members of your audience. Additionally you want to demonstrate you understand doubts and objections. Address the resistance instead of simply ignoring it and plowing through it. He brings up “defeater beliefs” people hold, that if true Christianity can’t be true. Acknowledge them and address them or people will just tune them out if they have those beliefs. He advocates affirming cultural narratives in order to challenge them. Often the aspirations are good but the means are not biblical. Affirm them as on the right track, but point them to Christ and His work as the real means to fulfilling those aspirations.

In the next chapter Keller addresses preaching to the modern and late modern mind. He talks about the impact of individualism, the web of secularity and the borrowed capital used by atheists. He tries to help pastors move from the cultural narratives into idols and true freedom and fulfillment in Christ.

Keller than addresses preaching to the heart. You preach the text (normative), addressing the culture (situational) and the heart (existential). We have to exegete all three and preach to all three. Each of us finds one of these easier and another harder. Tim is great at the culture in my opinion. The text must impact the heart of the pastor to help him impact the hearts of the congregation. He again draws on Edwards and his work on the affections. Truth produces holy affections. We are passionate and imaginative when we address the heart. We want to show them that Jesus is greater than the things they love. This is gospel motivation; more love to Thee.

One of the keys is getting out of the echo chamber. He doesn’t use that term, but we need to listen to a diversity of opinions. That can come from friendships, social media, sources of information and more. But don’t just listen to people you agree with. This will help you have broader understanding of the application of texts.

The book ends in discussion the demonstration of the Spirit and power. This includes the call to holiness. Giftedness will get you only so far. Holiness is essential to great long-term preaching. We are more convincing if we actually find Him to be great, not just assert He is great.

This is a very good book for covering the big picture of preaching which affect how we say it more than what we say. It is a challenging and encouraging book. I’d highly recommend this contribution to the science of preaching.

 

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In my personal Bible reading I’m currently in Jeremiah. Though it is not a happy book, joy breaks through. But mostly it is “Jerusalem is going to fall to Babylon, and the people will go into exile.” There is a stubborn refusal to listen to Jeremiah (and therefore God) as he reminds them of the covenant curses from Deuteronomy that they deserve because they have forsaken the Lord their God.

Today I read chapters 37 and 38. Jeremiah is still standing though yet another Davidic King has fallen due to disobedience. Now it is Zedekiah, the uncle of the previous king Jehoiakim. The person-specific curse for Jehoiakim was that he would die at the hands of Babylon, and there would never be a son of his on the throne. Zedekiah is on the throne precisely because the word of the Lord through Jeremiah came to pass. Let that one sink in.

You might think this would prepare Zedekiah’s heart to listen to Jeremiah. You would be wrong.

Zedekiah the son of Josiah, whom Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon made king in the land of Judah, reigned instead of Coniah the son of Jehoiakim. But neither he nor his servants nor the people of the land listened to the words of the Lord that he spoke through Jeremiah the prophet. Jeremiah 37

But Zedekiah does not completely ignore Jeremiah. In the next paragraph we read:

King Zedekiah sent Jehucal the son of Shelemiah, and Zephaniah the priest, the son of Maaseiah, to Jeremiah the prophet, saying, “Please pray for us to the Lord our God.” Now Jeremiah was still going in and out among the people, for he had not yet been put in prison.

The King won’t listen, which means he refuses to repent. He doesn’t want to change direction, to change how he views this, to return to the Lord with all his heart. His circumstances are that Babylon has been laying siege to Jerusalem and the population is hiding there while the food runs out. Jeremiah says that repentance means surrendering to Babylon so the people will live. There is the promise, based on Deuteronomy 30, that God will restore them to the land and give them a heart for him (also expressed in the promise of the new covenant promised in Jeremiah 31 and 32). He’s having none of it. He is steadfast in his sin. Soon he would put Jeremiah in prison.

But he wants prayer. Egypt has given them a temporary reprieve. He wants it to be a permanent one. But Babylon is going to defeat Egypt and return to the siege of Jerusalem which will result in Jerusalem’s walls being breached, the city burned, many of the people dying and the rest being carted off to Babylon (except the poorest of the poor, and Jeremiah).

How like us that Zedekiah is. We sow sin and reap the whirlwind. Our lives can be in a complete mess because of our lousy choices, our refusal to listen to God in the first place. In those circumstances God still speaks to us through the Word, “Return to me!” But we often refuse. Yet we ask people to pray for us. We ask for prayer about our circumstances. Our circumstances, not us. We want our circumstances to change, but we don’t want to change no matter how messed up we are.

In other words: we want to live at ease in our sin.

We are Zedekiah apart from the merciful intervention of God who gives us a heart for Him. We are Zedekiah apart from the merciful working of the Holy Spirit to give us a longing to change, to become different people, ones who are godly. We are Zedekiah apart from the merciful union with Christ who does restore His image in us.

What do you want to see changed today? While your circumstances matter, they matter because it is through them that God works for the good of those who love Him, which is making them like His Son. Pray for your circumstances to change. But also pray for God to change YOU in light of your circumstances. We need to change, and only He can change us, so pray.

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If our wills are in bondage to our desires, which are corrupt, if there any hope for us?

This is the question we resume with from Calvin’s Institutes, the Essentials Edition. There is no hope in ourselves. Our hope has to be with God. The remedy is grace.

“Thus the Lord begins his work in us, inspiring in our hearts a love, desire and eagerness for what is good and righteous- or, more properly, inclining, training and directing our hearts to righteousness; he completes his work by giving us strength to persevere.”

This is not the same as a general removal of our depravity that leaves us in a state of neutrality that we find in some forms of Arminianism. This is the fulfillment of the promise of the new covenant (Ez. 36:26-27). This must precede faith, or we wouldn’t believe. The “human will must be wholly remade and renewed.” He aligns himself with Augustine that ‘grace precedes every good work.’ Grace is not a response to our will, but our will works in response to grace.

Calvin shifts back to Scripture, noting Jer. 32:39-40; Ez. 11:19; 1 Kings 8:58. These all address the stubbornness of our hearts, and the grace that overcomes that stubbornness. In other words, this is no ‘philosophical’ matter but one of life & death; salvation. This is not an Old Testament idea, but we see Paul also teaching this. We see this in Phil. 2:13 and 1 Cor. 12:6; 15:10. Jesus affirms this in passages like John 6:45.

“We must indeed teach that God’s kindness is open to all, without exception, who seek it. But because no one begins to seek it until he is inspired from heaven, nothing here should be allowed to diminish God’s grace in any way.”

He goes back to Augustine. “In yet another place he states that grace does not destroy the will, but changes it from bad to good, and that once it has been made good it receives help. By this he means only that God does not push man by outward force, unfeeling, as if he were a stone, but that he is impelled in such a way that he willingly obeys.” And again, “the human will does not obtain grace through its own freedom, but that it obtains freedom through God’s grace.”

Calvin shifts to the problem of continuing sin in the believer. Calvin, following Paul (Peter, John, James …), notes that our deliverance “is never so complete that no part of us remains under sin’s yoke”. Regeneration does not end conflict in our hearts, but initiates it (Rom. 7 & Gal. 5). There is a new principle moving us toward love and righteousness, and a retention of the natural inclination toward apathy and unrighteousness.

“This produces a conflict which sorely tries the believer throughout his life, because he is raised high by the Spirit but brought low by the flesh. In the Spirit he yearns fervently for immorality; in the flesh he turns aside into the path of death. In the Spirit he purposes to live uprightly; in the flesh he is goaded to do evil. In the Spirit he is led to God; in the flesh he is beaten back. In the Spirit he despises the world; in the flesh he longs for worldly pleasures.”

Our heart and will become a battle ground. The regenerate person mourns their sin, which pains him or her. They affirm and delight in God’s law as we see in Psalm 119.

Even in his day, there were people claiming a form of Christian perfectionism. Some of the Anabaptists advocated this position. They think that regeneration is complete, and we have no more fleshly appetites.

He returns to the idea of man as sinner in bondage to Satan. He mentions Augustine’s analogy (also utilized by Luther in Bondage of the Will)of the will as a horse subject to the rider’s control. Calvin finds it sufficient in the  absence of a better analogy. “What is meant is that the will, being deceived by the devil’s tricks, must of necessity submit to his good pleasure, although it does so without compulsion.”

He then discusses the doctrine of concurrence with reference to the story of Job. In concurrence, more than one person wills the same action but for different reasons or goals. God, Satan and the Chaldeans all willed the theft of Job’s herds, but for very different reasons. We see this as well in the story of Joseph. God’s intention was very different from his brothers’ even though both willed Joseph’s servitude in Egypt.

“Accordingly, it is not improper to attribute the same deed to God, the devil and man. But the disparity in both intention and means ensures that God’s righteousness always appears blameless, while the wickedness of the devil and of man is revealed in all its shame.”

The bottom line for Calvin is fidelity to Scripture, for the Scriptures reveal the sovereignty of God over events big and small. He brings up a number of passages to illustrate his point. Satan, much like Assyria and Babylon in the prophets, is His agent to unwittingly accomplish His purpose. They serve His righteous purposes, even as they pursue their unrighteous purposes. Calvin notes God’s sovereignty over the “mundane acts of life.” He held to a meticulous providence, as God brings about “whatever he knows is needful, but also to bend men’s wills toward that same end.”

Calvin then addresses a series of common objections. First, necessary sin is no longer sin. While they “necessarily” have to do it, since God ordained it, it is still voluntarily chosen by them. He does not force them to sin, but they want to commit that particular sin at that particular time. Second, reward and punishment no longer apply. God is so kind that he rewards the graces which he bestows on people. The voluntary nature of sin makes punishment just. Third, good and bad are no longer distinguishable. If this were so, it would be so for God who does good “by necessity” or in keeping with his immutable nature. Fourth, exhortation and reproof become superfluous. They are, rather, the means God uses to help shape our choices. He not only ordains what will happen, but how and why.

“God is active in us in two way: within, by his Spirit, and without, by his word. With his Spirit enlightening the mind and training the heart to love righteousness and innocence, he makes man a new creature by regeneration. Through his word he moves and encourages man to desire and to look for this renewal.”

Calvin then notes a variety of Scriptural evidences including, the law and its commands, the command to repent, God’s promises & reproofs, his punishments and more. In many ways Calvin rightfully goes back to Philippians 2:13- For God works in us to will and work according to His righteous purpose. We are to believe that we are dependent upon God, but also that being gracious and powerful he consistently works in us to accomplish his purposes, which are good. This is an important doctrine which humbles us, and grants us confidence.

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I’ve been reading the new Essentials Edition of Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion since this summer. This is not an edited version, but a new translation of the 1541 edition of the Institutes. I am enjoying it very much. As I’ve been reading, I’ve thought at times, I should blog about this. Unfortunately, for much of the fall I was editing my own book so there wasn’t much time to blog on it. I have a bit more time these days, so I thought I would go back. My desire is to encourage others to read this volume.

It begins with a chapter on the Knowledge of God. This should be no surprise to anyone familiar with The Institutes of the Christian Religion. This volume is not broken up into 4 books like the one edited by McNeill. The material is, at times, covered in a different order. Additionally, this edition is not as exhaustive as future editions would be.

The first paragraph is familiar:

“The whole sum of our wisdom- wisdom, that is, which deserves to be called true and assured- broadly consists of two parts, knowledge of God and knowledge of ourselves.”

As made in the image of God, we cannot truly know ourselves without knowing God. As we know God, we discover that “he is the fount of all truth, wisdom, goodness, righteousness, judgment, mercy, power and holiness.” The purpose of this knowledge is that we would worship and honor him.

The purpose of knowing ourselves is “to show us our weakness, misery, vanity and vileness, to fill us with despair, distrust and hatred of ourselves, and then to kindle in us the desire to seek God, for in him in found all that is good and of which we ourselves are empty and deprived.” In other words, we see our depravity and the marring of his image that we might seek like in him. It sounds harsh, but it is similar to Paul’s discussion of the purpose of the law prior to conversion, to reveal our sin and drive us to Jesus.

This is why it is wisdom; this knowledge is to be acted upon, not simply studied abstractly. Knowledge of self is intended to encourage us to seek after God, and leads us to find him. Calvin then notes that “no one ever attains clear knowledge of self unless he has first gazed upon the face of the Lord, and then turns back to look upon himself.” This is similar to Isaiah 6, when the prophet saw God in his glory and then finally saw himself as he really was.

Calvin notes that an awareness of God is common to all people. We all have some “understanding of his majesty.” Calvin is quite dependent on Romans 1 as he thinks through all of this. He is not a speculative theologian, but one who seeks to understand what has been revealed to us in Scripture, and its implications. Romans 1 instructs us that people turned from the true God to idols, “exchanging the truth for the lie ” (Rom. 1). In rejecting the truth, we have become perverted by self-will. Instead of seeking all good in God, we have settled for the lie of the Serpent in the Garden and seek it in and by ourselves: for our glory, not his. Instead of seeking to submit to him, people resist and rebel against him. As Paul says in Ephesians and Colossians, people are at enmity with God. We fall prey to superstition and servile fear. People flee from him, as a guilty Adam and Eve fled from the sound of God approaching them.  This servile fear is “not enough to stop them from resting easy easy in their sin, indulging themselves and preferring to give fleshly excess free rein, rather than bringing it under the Holy Spirit’s control.” In other words, pride drives us to think we deserve better, and know better than God what is good for us. Fear leads us to believe that God does not have our best interests at heart and therefore his law is oppressive.

As we discover in the Psalms, he is good and wants good things for us, including trusting him to guard, guide, protect and provide for us. He wants us to trust him to redeem and rescue us.

Calvin briefly discusses the “Book of Nature” or creation which reveals his invisible qualities. If we study nature, and we should, we will discover much that testifies to his wisdom. We also see that he is revealed in his works of providence. We see that foolishness has consequences. (see Psalm 19 for instance)

But, as Romans 1 makes clear our thinking has become dark and futile. We don’t see what we should see, even though it is clear. The problem isn’t the Book of Nature (natural revelation) but how we understand and interpret it. We are without excuse. Instead of believing, we “so obscure God’s daily works, or else minimize and thus dismiss them” so that “he is deprived and robbed of the praise and thanks we owe him.”

We are dependent on God’s special revelation (Scripture) as a result (the second stanza of Psalm 19). We needed a book because we are prone to forget and are easily led into error. To know God we are utterly dependent upon the Scriptures (and the Spirit’s illumination).

Here Calvin reminds us that Scripture’s authority comes from God, as his word. It is not determined by the church (contra Rome). He briefly develops the ideas of the Spirit’s inner witness, it’s wisdom and truth and history of the truth which confirm the authority of Scripture.

“It is therefore not the role of the Holy Spirit, such as he is promised to us, to dream up fresh and original revelations, or to fashion a new kind of teaching, which alienates us from the gospel message which we have received. His role is rather to seal and confirm in our hearts the teaching provided for us in the gospel.”

The chapter ends with a slightly different form of “triple knowledge” than that expressed in the Heidelberg Catechism: “God’s mercy, one which the salvation of us all depends; his judgment, which he daily visits on the wicked, and which awaits them with even greater vigor, to their eternal shame; and his righteousness, by which his faithful people are generously preserved.”

“However, since God does not allow us to behold him directly and up close, except in the face of Christ who is visible only to the eye of faith, what remains to be said concerning the knowledge of God is better left until we come to speak of the understanding of faith.”

 

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I recently picked up a book in an attempt to understand one of my children better so I can parent better. It is a book on the concept of the Highly Sensitive Person (HSP). I heard about the book from a congregant who thought I was a HSP. As I read some of the book this morning, thinking both of my child and my self, I found both confusion and clarity.

My Presuppositions: We are all broken, though in different places and to different degrees. As a result of Adam’s sin, we are not only sinners but we are also affected physically and emotionally. We are a mess, and while Jesus doesn’t keep us as messy we don’t always understand the mess. Is that messy? Some aspects of our brokenness are there from the beginning of our lives. They are genetic. The author mentions this with regard to HSPs. She sees them as “naturally occurring” on the spectrum of sensitivity. There are some, I gather she’d say, who look like HSPs but aren’t: they’ve been traumatized by something. Their increased sensitivity would not be innate, but picked up from their environment or circumstances. Some of our brokenness comes at the hands of others after birth: parents, friends, strangers. It is hard for us, much of the time, to tell which it is.

The Problem of Pop Psychology: Often times symptoms overlap. A condition is describe in such terms that too many people see themselves there. If you read too many books, you can think you’ve got everything. Or just the wrong thing.

Years ago I read Driven to Distraction on the recommendation of a friend who struggled with ADD and saw a similar struggle in me. Don’t confuse ADD with ADHD. I never saw myself as hyperactive, but I struggle to remain focused. I am easily distracted and have a hard time in environments like airplanes for anything much longer than an hour. I get restless leg syndrome, I can’t read anything more engaging than a novel and end up fairly miserable.

But do I have ADD? I can check enough boxes in the self-test to say ‘yes.’ But not only are we a mess, but a mysterious mess. Our symptoms could be explained by other things. For instance, the author of the book on HSPs distinguishes it from ADD (this was helpful!). They differ, apparently on where the blood flows more in their brains.

“Children with ADD probably have very active go-for-it systems and relatively inactive pause-to-check systems. … But ADD is a disorder because it indicates a general lack of adequate ‘executive functions,’ such as decision making, focusing, and reflecting on outcomes. HSCs are usually good at all of this, at least when they are in a calm, familiar environment. For whatever reason (the cause is not known), children with ADD find it difficult to learn to prioritize, to return their attention to what they are doing once they have glanced outside or know the teacher is not talking to them personally. … another reason HSCs can be misdiagnosed as having ADD is because, if the distractions are numerous or prolonged, or they are emotionally upset and thus overstimulated already from within, they may very well become overwhelmed by outer distractions and behave as if agitated or ‘spacey.'” Elaine Aron (The Highly Sensitive Child)

I can prioritize, reflect on outcomes and have a pause-to-check system. I am not a big risk taker. I am thoughtful. But I may be easily overwhelmed by data or sensory input. I can study to music and TV, but not to talking. Or apparently with an internet connection at hand. I may be distracted, but for different reasons.

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Publishing is an odd thing. Some topics are flooded with titles and other topics are almost impossible to find. When a book like Antinomianism: Reformed Theology’s Unwelcome Guest? is published you have to take notice because books on this subject are exceedingly rare in this day and age. Think perhaps for any other title on this subject published in the last 50 years? You can think of plenty on the subject of legalism, but its mirror image antinomianism is quite rare.

Mark Jones doesn’t quite lay out the book as some people might hope. That can breed some minor frustration. For instance, he really doesn’t try to define antinomianism, or better the types of antinomianism until the end of the book.

“Antinomianism must not be confused with the etymological meaning of antinomian (i.e., “against the law”). There is some overlap, of course, but the historical debates focused on more specific areas of the Christian life.”

This is not a systematic theology, but a volume on  historical theology. The primary focus on his research is the antinomian movements in Puritan England and in 1640’s New England. The reason is two-fold. First, these were disputes among people laying claim to the Reformed heritage. Second, there is a revived dispute among those laying claim to the Reformed heritage in our day. Most people I would consider to have an antinomian theology deny having such a view, usually based on the etymological meaning of the term. But when you look at the strains of antinomianism you can begin to see more clearly that some who claim they aren’t really are.

Jones works through a variety of topics in which historically antinomians have departed from mainline Reformed thinking and formulations. Jones’ main point though is not that antinomians’ error comes primarily with regard to the law but their Christology. This is similar to how Sinclair Ferguson addressed these twin errors of legalism & antinomianism in lecturing on the Marrow Controversy. The answer to both errors is the gospel in its fulness.

“Discussions and writings on holiness often lack a strong Christological basis and center.”

Part of me is tempted to expand more fully on some of the topics that Jones works through. I may “think” through a few here. But for now I will be content to lay them out very briefly.

Jones begins with the imitation of Christ. Peter notes that Christ, in addition to being our Savior, is an example to us. Much of what is written in the gospels is there for our imitation. Jesus models for us how to live by faith as fully human. Jesus lived in the power of the Spirit as an example to us as well (here Jones is similar to Sinclair Ferguson in his series Who is the Holy Spirit?). The way of holiness, Jones notes, is that is pursued by faith and in the power of the Spirit. Many of the antinomians, as Jones and Packer in his brief but excellent forward assert, limited our activity in sanctification. They essentially make sanctification monergistic like justification is. As a result they talk about Christ not only obeying for us, but in us. They sound like some hyper-Calvinists I’ve talked with who limit the use of our will. Both groups don’t have much room for Philippians 2:12-13 in their theology. There we see God works so I will will and work resulting in obedience. Both God and I will and work: synergism! In other words, Christ does not act immediately but mediately. Jones is careful to guard the difference between Christ’s impretration (redemption accomplished) and impartation (redemption applied). We see here, and elsewhere that antinomians tend to conflate justification and sanctification.

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When I went to the Ligonier Ministries panel discussion at General Assembly in 2013, they offered a free resource in addition to the dinner and discussion. It took me as long to choose as for a MLB hitter to decide whether or not to swing. There was Sinclair Ferguson’s DVD Who Is the Holy Spirit?. Decision done.

It is rare that I can make such a decision so quickly but all bets are off when Sinclair Ferguson is involved. Unlike the Strange Fire and other conferences, this series is not focused on the gifts of the Spirit. Similar to his book in the Contours of Theology series, The Holy Spirit, this is a 12-lesson series that is essentially a biblical theology of the Spirit.

He spends much of his time in the upper room discourse and Romans 8, but from there he goes in many directions to “ransack” the Scriptures to understand who the Spirit is and why He matters to the Christian.

This is an edifying series. Oh, it won’t answer all your questions, particularly the controversial ones. And that is alright because those are not the most important questions. These are not highly academic, but these lessons are not superficial either. At times I was moved to worship. I was also encouraged. I would recommend this series for those who want to know more about this neglected member of the Trinity. Perhaps this will whet your appetite to read his more thorough treatment in the book.

In Sinclair’s typically pastoral style he starts with the Spirit’s role in creation and revelation. He covers such topics and the differences in the Spirit’s ministry under the old covenant and the new. We see the Spirit’ role in the Incarnation and earthly ministry of Son, and then in our own ministry.

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Tony Jones addressed the United Methodist Church as “scholar in residence” at Aldersgate UMC in Alexandria. He was given the topic, “Why is the United Methodist Church so Screwed Up?”. Sounds like a very emergent sounding title. Jones is the pastor of Solomon’s Porch and one of the key figures with Brian McLaren in the increasingly irrelevant emergent church movement.

Despite evidence a weak grasp of church history, he made some observations as an outsider. The article summarizes the problems as follows (he may have made other, more significant observations than these):

  • People seeking ordination have to “jump through hoops of burning fire”.
  • Younger pastors are frustrated because the older leaders “won’t relinquish control.”
  • Church bureaucracies don’t rely on the Holy Spirit and don’t value initiative.
  • They are hindered by their doctrinal distinctions which many lay people do not hold to at this time.
  • In light of the broken relationships they need to focus on reconciliation.
  • They may need to “euthanize some things to make room for the gospel.”

An Episcopalian author, Diane Butler Bass, was present and noted that the UMC is not the only denomination in trouble. “Institutional Christianity” is in trouble.

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I woke up early. Too early after staying up too late. But after breakfast, I put on my shorts and walking shoes and took a long walk I listened to music and a sermon by Sinclair Ferguson. It was beautiful riverfront park. But I noticed a number of people who looked unemployed or homeless. In the downtown area, there were other marks of the recession. Empty, older buildings were commonplace.  There was some great architecture in the area.

Eventually I made my way over to the convention center to register and peruse the exhibit hall. Always good to do that before it gets too busy. I was able to spend a few minutes talking with Jason Bobo from Redeemer Seminary, and Ra McLaughlin from III Millennium Ministries. Jason used to be an RUF campus minister in my Presbytery, so I wanted to see how he was adjusting. I used to work with Ra at Ligonier Ministries. Richard Pratt was busy, but I said a quick ‘hi’ and shook his hand.

Then a ‘healthy’ lunch at Panera. The Thai Chicken Chop salad looked interesting. I’ve heard of the jumping cactus, but not the jumping salad dressing. It jumped upon my shirt. Not want you want as you meet people you haven’t seen in who knows how long, and show up at the opening worship service.  Thankfully I had 2 new t-shirts to wear when I run out of polo shirts.

The seminar on the Holy Spirit’s work of Gospel Consolation was very good. I needed to hear it, and be reminded of the Spirit work of bringing Christ’s work to mind. It was a very encouraging seminar. The next seminar was more theoretical- John Owen and Confessions.  The speaker tried to keep us in balance. Confessions should be in touch with the past, and relevant for the needs of the present. This is pertinent because there are some who consider amending the Westminster Confession anathema. Others would like to see it updated. As mentioned in the previous seminar, the PC (US) updated it years earlier to include chapters on the Spirit and the Gospel. There may be topics that weren’t very important then, but are now.

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I’m currently preaching through the life of Joseph, and was looking for a quote about thanking God for fleas and then realizing that God used that hardship for good. In the process of looking for it, I saw so many great quotes underlined that I decided to read The Hiding Place again.

Corrie ten Boom died in 1983, on her birthday, 91 years after she died. Hers was a remarkable life in many respects. Many younger Christians have not heard of Corrie, much to their loss.

The Hiding Place starts in an odd place- the 100th anniversary of the family’s watch repair business. They sold watches too, but her father was a renown repairman. At this party, you meet the people that will play key roles in her life story. A great bit of story telling, actually.

She spends some time talking about her family so we might know the ways in which God prepared her for what was to come. What was to come would not be easy. We hear of her parents’ piety and great faith. There are some folksy lessons that make so much sense and will become important later in her life. We learn how her father, despite a poorly managed shop, took in at various times 11 different children and helped raise them to adulthood. And then there the aunts who lived with them. Such a rich heritage that is so uncommon in this age of the nuclear family and the broken family. It was a training ground for helping others in suffering.

We learn about how her young heart was broken by the customs of the day. So she and her sister Betsie remained at home, unmarried, caring for their mother after her stroke, their aunts and their aging father. There was much love in that family.

“How grateful I was now for Father’s insistence that his children speak German and English almost as soon as Dutch.”

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Systematic Theologies are not the most exciting reads.  Joshua Harris seeks to change that with his book Dug Down Deep: Building Your Life on Truths that Last. This is a systematic theology for the average person. Harris sticks to the essentials: doctrine of God, Christ, the Spirit, Scripture, Salvation, Sanctification and the Church.  For the most part he avoids controversial areas, though for some the essentials of the Christian faith can be controversial.

One thing that sets this apart from most (not all) books of this kind is that theology is not seen as abstract.  He begins with the notion, similar to John Frame, that truth is to be lived.  It is a foundation for our lives, providing stability in the storms of life (as Harris notes from the end of the Sermon on the Mount).

“Theology matters, because if we get it wrong, then our whole life will be wrong.”

Another thing that sets this apart from just about every systematic theology I’ve read is the use of narrative to explain or illustrate the importance of particular doctrines.  It is similar to the work his friend Don Miller has done, but not nearly as funny.  He even has a few hand-drawn illustrations in his section on sanctification.  So this is far more interesting than Berkof or just about any systematic theology.

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This Sunday I’ll be preaching on the Spirit’s work in sanctification out of Galatians 5.  I wish I had more time this week to thumb thru some of the great books I have on this work of the Spirit, and the Spirit of this gracious work.

Here are my favs:

  • Keep in Step with the Spirit by J.I. Packer.  The focus on this great book is sanctification, and the Spirit’s role.  I read this as a young Christian, and it was very helpful for me, grounding me in a biblical understanding of sanctification.
  • The Holy Spirit: His Gifts and His Power by John Owen.  I read this separately before owning it as part of his Works.  Great stuff!  It was one of the first books by Owen that I read, and helped me major on the majors instead of being caught in excess as a younger Christian.
  • The Holy Spirit by Sinclair Ferguson.  It is a bit more technical than most of his books.  But that is fine by me.  More people need to read this to avoid the abundance of confusion that is out there today.  There are so many ways in which the Spirit works in our lives, but we focus on the spectacular and extraordinary.  He’s heavily dependent on John Owen, who is one of his favorite theologians.

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Near the end of Luke 2 there is a shift from God’s mercy to the reality that the coming of Messiah also means judgment for some.  We see this in Simeon’s prophetic song:

“This child will be rejected by many in Israel, and it will be their undoing.  But he will be the greatest joy to many others.  Thus, the deepest thoughts of many hearts will be revealed.”  2:34-35 (NLT)

But that is not the end of this dark cloud rising over Israel.  John the Baptizer’s ministry ups the ante.  He rejoiced in the repentance of many, but was surprised to see others.

“You brood of vipers!  Who warned you to flee God’s coming judgment?”  3:7

“Even now the ax of God’s judgment is poised, ready to sever your roots.  Yes, every tree that does not produce good fruit will be chopped down and thrown into the fire.”  3:9

“I baptize with water, but someone is coming soon who is greater than I am- so much greater that I am not even worthy to be his slave.  He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.  He is ready to separate the chaff from the grain in his barn but burning the chaff with never-endedin fire.”  John used many such warnings as he announced the Good News to the people.”  3:16-18

Jesus’ ministry was not all good news.  It was also judgment on Israel.  The true Israel was about to be separated from false Israel.  It is not about blood line (John said this in 3:8 too).  The true Israel is comprised of those Israelites who believe, and believing Gentiles are grafted onto Israel (see Romans 9).

Judgment on unbelieving Jews took place, as prophesied by Jesus (Mt. 24) in 70 AD.  The age of Israel was done- the wrath of God for all the murdered prophets and especially the Prophet was poured out on that generation (Mt. 23).

This process continues to this day with regard to all of humanity.  Jesus reveals the the deepest thoughts of hearts- who treasures Him and who rejects Him.  The former receive the Holy Spirit, and the latter receive fire, an unquenchable flame.  Some seem to think this strange- calling Him ‘the Torturing God’ as though wacked out, far right nutjobs made this thing up.  But there it is in Scripture- Jesus is worth treasuring, rejoicing in.  To despise His glory is an act of cosmic treason. This judgment provides a backdrop for us to more fully understand the glories of His grace.  We who believe have been rescued from eternal condemnation.

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Respectable Sins: Confronting the Sins We Tolerate by Jerry Bridges is long overdue.  Jerry has done us a service by addressing this topic, and particularly in a way that points us to Christ in the process.  It is not a book filled with condemnation, but one that seeks to convict us while reminding us of Christ’s work for us and in us.  Since there is a discussion guide available, many small groups or SS classes could profitably use these materials and work through their sin together.

Bridges starts by building the much needed case for why we need to look at these things in the first place.  He overcomes some sad areas of ignorance among Christians.  Before he addresses those sinse we overlook, he discusses The Malignancy of Sin, The Remedy for Sin and the Power of the Holy Spirit.  There is even a short chapter on Dealing with Sins.  This establishes a gospel-centered focus which should keep the book from just being a finger in your eyes.  Bridges also puts himself in the boat with us, sharing some of his own struggles with these sins.

In terms of the sins he addresses, they are: ungodliness, anxiety & frustration, discontentment, unthankfulness, pride, selfishness, lack of self-control, impatience and irritability, anger, judgmentalism, envy, jealousy, sins of the tongue and worldliness.  An impressive list.  He could have done more, but I feel enough conviction.  Yes, we have normalized many of these sins with a variety of excuses.  We write them off to anything but our sinfulness, be it genetics, nurture etc.

Bridges’ work with the Puritans is evident to me, as he dissects each sin so you get a better idea of its many manifestations.  His book is readable, not filled with big technical theological verbiage.  He writes for the average person.  But it is difficult to read precisely because we find ourselves represented, in a negative light, so very often.   It is tough to root out the sins we don’t hate, and don’t even recognize as sins.  Bridges assists us in this process so the gospel gains a stronger foothold in our lives.

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One of the controversies that has sadly plagued those who embrace Calvin as one of the more astute and faithful theologians concerns the “free offer of the gospel.”  Some followers of Calvin, a minority of them, reject the free offer of the gospel.  They believe, erroneously, that the gospel is only to be offered to the elect.  While listening to a former PCA worship leader lament Calvinism at the recent John 3:16 Conference, he described this strain of Calvinism called hyper-Calvinism.

While preparing for last week’s sermon on Psalm 16, I didn’t find Calvin to be particularly helpful.  This is a rarity.  But he did say something that should set the record straight on what John himself believed Scripture to teach.

“It would be of no advantage to us for God to offer himself freely and graciously to us, if we did not receive him by faith, seeing he invites to himself both the reprobate and the elect in common; but the former, by their ingratitude, defraud themselves of this inestimatable blessing.  Let us, therefore, know that both these things proceed from the free liberality of God; first, his being our inheritance, and next, our coming to the possession of him by faith.  The counsel of which David makes mention is the inward illumination of the Holy Spirit, by which we are prevented from rejecting the salvation to which he calls us, which we would otherwise certainly do, considering the blindness of our flesh.  Whence we gather, that those who attribute to the free will of man the choice of accepting or rejecting the grace of God basely mangle that grace, and show as much ignorance as impiety.”

Calvin himself holds to the “free offer of the gospel” to all.  God truly offers Himself to the elect.  Notice how he phrases that- God offers Himself, not just salvation.  As John Piper noted in his book, God is the gospel.

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I just finished Faithful God: An Exposition of the Book of Ruth by Sinclair Ferguson.  I wish I had had this book when I preached through Ruth in the Spring of 2007 (chap. 1, chap. 2, chap. 3, chap. 4).  Originally given as a series of addresses presented to the English Conference of the Evangelical Movement of Wales back in 1996, he was asked to adapt them into written form.  It took some time, but he ‘just happened’ to come across his disk of the material and finished the project.

This exposition is neither overwhelming to the lay person or too simplistic for the pastor looking for substance.  As usual, Dr. Ferguson is like a mother bird, digesting difficult material and regurgitating it for the benefit of the average person.  He does not avoid, nor get mired in, Hebrew and the historical background.  There is enough to make his points clear, and not so much you lose that point.

Ruth is a story of grace and providence; or put another way how God graciously acts for His glory and our good in providence.  Ruth, Naomi and Boaz aren’t sure what God is doing until after the fact.  The same is true for us as well.  We are often prideful and presumptuous, thinking we know what God is doing.  But His purposes are not crystal clear until after the fact- sometimes LONG after the fact.  In this case, the little romance is cute but meaningless until we see that first David and then many generations later Jesus himself are the purposes God has in view as He works to bring Ruth to Himself by faith, into Israel and eventually into the home of Boaz.

There is much to chew on here if you are in the midst of a difficult providence.  But I get ahead of myself.  He begins with an introduction that points us to 2 Timothy 3:16-17.  On the basis of this passage, and its context, he says we should always ask ourselves 4 questions:

  1. What does it teach us?
  2. In what areas of our lives does it rebuke us?
  3. What healing, restoring, transforming effect does this teaching have?
  4. How does this section of Scripture equip me to serve Christ better?

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This is the final installment on Ryle’s chapter on Sanctification where he compares and contrasts justification and sanctification.  The inability to distinguish them has led to many a departure from biblical Christianity.  This is a very important topic.

So… how are they alike?

  1. “Both proceed originally from the free grace of God.”  It all comes back to grace, sovereignly administered by God.  He owes no one, and is free to give grace to whomsoever He will.
  2. “Both are part of that great work of salvation which Christ, in the eternal covenant, has undertaken on behalf of His people.”  Often problems arise from equating justification with salvation.  Salvation encompasses justification, but is more than justification.  It includes the graces of regeneration, adoption, sanctification and glorification.  Therefore, the Scriptures talk about us having been saved (justification), being saved (sanctification) and will be saved (glorification).  All are rooted in grace purchased by Christ’s work on our behalf.
  3.  “Both are to be found in the same person.”  At the risk of being crass, but it is like one of those special buys on TV… “wait, there’s more.”  If you buy the bamboo steamer you also get everything else.  Those who are justified are also being sanctified.  No truly justified person will not be sanctified.  No one can be sanctified unless they are first justified.  We can distinguish these graces, but cannot separate them.  Just as we can distinguish between the two natures of Christ, but cannot separate them since the Incarnation.
  4. “Both begin at the same time.”  The act of justification marks the beginning of sanctification.  You may not feel very sanctified, or at all, but you are.
  5. “Both are alike necessary to salvation.”  They are a package deal, by grace.  All inclusive!  All purchased by Jesus’ obedience and sacrifice.

How are they different?

  1. (more…)

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More from God is the Gospel

“In evangelism the Holy Spirit opens the eyes of sinners to see the glory of Christ who is faithfully preached in the gospel. If Christ is not preached and his glory is not exalted, the Holy Spirit does not open our eyes, for there is no glorious Christ displayed for us to see.”

The Westminster Confession talks about the ordinary means. The preaching of Jesus crucified is the ordinary means the Spirit uses in conversion. Many churches wonder why they do not see conversions. Are they preaching Jesus crucified (1 Corinthians 2) or something altogether different? Is our personal evangelism focused on Jesus crucified, or something completely different? It makes quite a difference!

“The work of the Holy Spirit in changing us is not to work direction on our bad habits but to make us admire Jesus so much that sinful habits feel foreign and distasteful. … Therefore, if we neglect the glory of God in Christ as the greatest gift of the gospel, we cripple the sanctifying work of the church.”

This is far different from the preaching you’ll find in most churches. I keep my ears open in public, and hear what is going on in other places. It usually sounds like Jesus is an afterthought, moralism or self-help. If we could change on our own, Jesus would not have to be crucified (to paraphrase Paul in Galatians).

“There is no gospel where the glory of God in Christ is not shown. And there is no salvation through the gospel where the glory of God in Christ is not seen.”

Piper keeps hammering this idea, because people are so resistant to it. Much of what passes for Christianity today is all about me (ego-ism), not Jesus. We are focused on our name, our glory, our (fill in the blank). This sounds more like the idolatrous worship of the Canaanites who lead Israel astray repeatedly.

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Chapter 5 of God is the Gospel focuses on the ministry of the Spirit in this process.

“The testimony of the Spirit is more excellent than all reason. … the Word will not find acceptance in men’s hearts before it is sealed by the inward testimony of the Spirit.”  John Calvin

Oh, we need to recapture Calvin’s teaching on the Spirit.  It is greatly neglected in most Reformed circles.  As Piper notes…

“He awakens us, as from the dead, to see and taste the divine reality of the glory of Christ in the gospel.”

No work of the Spirit, no conversion!  And as Paul teaches in 1 Cor. 2:1-5 (my sermon text this week) the Spirit works in power when the message of Jesus crucified is proclaimed.  It is not by dynamic rhetoric, logic and reason, but the mystery of God proclaimed.  This does not mean the gospel is irrational or illogical.  But it doesn’t make sense to people sin-blinded, hard-hearted people.  You can’t argue people into the kingdom (like Finney thought), but the Spirit must work powerfully.

False conversions, counterfeit faith, rests on this very kind of rhetoric practiced by Charles G. Finney.  This legacy lives on in many a church today as if using the right means magically produces church growth.  But that enough about Finney- I’ll return to him later.

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