Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘license’


We struggle to love God. We struggle with knowing what it means, or looks like to love God.

I wonder how many Christians avoid the Old Testament. I wonder if they avoid it because they don’t understand what Sinclair Ferguson calls “gospel grammar”. They read it as law, isolated from gracious realities. In their minds they still hear the law’s loud thunder.

Here is what I read to begin my personal devotions this morning:

“You shall therefore love the Lord your God and keep his charge, his statutes, his rules, and his commandments always. Deuteronomy 11

Love for the Lord involves warm & fuzzy feelings. It isn’t less than that, but it is far more. Love does something. If I love YHWH as my God, as my Father, it means I’m moving toward obedience. It doesn’t mean I perfectly obey, because in this life I can’t. But God is restoring me and that reveals itself in obedience.

“Wait!” some may say. “What about the Gospel? Be done with this talk of obedience.

When we read Deuteronomy 11, we should hear the voice of Jesus in John 14.

15 “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.

And His disciple John in his first letter.

Whoever says “I know him” but does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him, but whoever keeps his word, in him truly the love of God is perfected. By this we may know that we are in him: whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked. 1 John 2

Love for God will produce the fruit of obedience in our lives. Love moves us down the road of sanctification so our inner experience and our outer actions become increasingly aligned. They also become aligned with God’s law as a reflection of God’s character. Love is not vague, shapeless, obscure, hard to pin down.

When Paul nailed it down he brought the Roman Christians, and us, back to the law.

For the commandments, “You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,” and any other commandment, are summed up in this word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” 10 Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law. Romans 13

This discussion is missing something so far. Why do we love God in the first place? The answer is the same in the Old and New Testaments: because He first loved us. Now we’ve recovered Gospel grammar if we behold this.

“For you are a people holy to the Lord your God. The Lord your God has chosen you to be a people for his treasured possession, out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth. It was not because you were more in number than any other people that the Lord set his love on you and chose you, for you were the fewest of all peoples, but it is because the Lord loves you and is keeping the oath that he swore to your fathers,Deuteronomy 7

Why were they holy, or set apart, or devoted to God? Because God chose them as his treasured possession. Why did he choose them or set his love on them? Because he loved them. It all goes back to God’s love, a love we can’t explain, nor can he really explain to us. But it is a love that revealed itself tangibly in redemption. There is no understanding the law properly for the Israelite apart from Ex. 20:1 and Deut. 5:6. He redeemed them from Egypt!

Gospel grammar means that we understand the commands of Scripture in light of what God has done for us. Obedience is a response to God’s love and acceptance, not the cause for God’s love and acceptance. A grace that doesn’t result in growing obedience would be a counterfeit or cheap grace (Edwards & Bonhoeffer respectively). Which is the whole point of 1 John. Union with Christ changes us. Calvin speaks of the “double grace” received in our union with Christ. In justification our status is changed. In sanctification we are changed, progressively. We receive both because we receive the whole Christ in our union.

Egypt was intended to pay the way for the greater Exodus from sin.

10 In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. 1 John 4

God loved us => we love God in return => we grow in love & obedience => experience more love

“Wait, where’d you get that last bit?”

As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. 10 If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. John 15

If we aren’t careful, we can lose sight of the gospel grammar here. Jesus is not to be understood as earning God’s love and acceptance. We see the distinction between union and communion here. United to Christ we are loved and accepted. United to Christ we have power & desire to grow in obedience. As we grow in grace we grow in our experience of communion or fellowship with God. We experience more of his sweet dew and sunshine as one hymn puts it. We grow in assurance, for instance. We subjectively experience more of what we have objectively through our union with Christ.

We see this all the time in other relationships. My wife and I are married. We are united whether we like it or not at any given moment. Our communion, intimacy with one another, fluctuates depending on how we treat each other. Our union is not changed. It is static. Communion is dynamic.

The gospel holds these together. If we let go of union we fall into legalism, constantly feeling the need to gain approval. If we let go of communion, we fall into license where our love doesn’t matter and grace is cheap. The gospel is that we are united to Christ by grace through faith and fully loved and accepted by God who has taken us as his children. Growing in my love for God as I grow in my understanding, I grow in obedience. I’m not more or less loved and accepted, but I know more of the Father’s pleasure. All of this is love that is reflected in a human father’s love. They are always my children, but sometimes they experience my pleasure and others my displeasure. They never cease to be my children, even the adopted ones. As they mature and understand the many ways I’ve loved them, their love to me grows and changes them.

What does love to God look like? Growth in obedience (which includes engaged worship). How does love to God grow? By remember how God loved and loves me. Gospel facts (indicative) leading to gospel implications (indicatives or commands). Love and law are not opposed in gospel grammar, but have their proper place. If we reverse the grammar, we really mess things up.

Read Full Post »


There are few subjects guaranteed to raise a ruckus like that of modesty. This subject tends to bring out the worst in us. We often act immodestly when discussing modesty.

There have apparently been many books written on this subject. Many of them very bad. Or so I hear since I’ve only read one other book on the subject, Wendy Shalit’s A Return to Modesty: Discovering the Lost Virtue. As a result, I am no expert on such books. I decided to read Tim Challies and R.W. Glenn’s book Modest: Men and Women Clothed in the Gospel precisely because it seemed to take a gospel-centered approach (which it does).

What they have done is write short, but important, book on the subject at hand. They begin with the obvious, and the most common objection to such a book.

“Discussing modesty among Christians is challenging because the subject typically has not been handled well. … And when a man is the speaker or the author or the discussion leader, women brace themselves, fearing an assault on their fashion sense and wondering if they are about to be blamed for all male struggles with sexual lust. Does he think I have to be ugly to be godly?

This is not like many of the books I’ve heard about: there are no lists, calls for the ruler, blaming of women etc. They recognize that many calls for modesty are not motivated by the gospel, but legalism. This has led to, in many circles, a neglect of the subject. Or a very narrow view of the subject, making it all about women’s clothing when it encompasses far more than that.

“When we build theology without clear reference to the gospel, we begin to take refuge in rules. … Indeed, in this particular area, the regulations become our gospel- a gospel of bondage rather than freedom. … Modesty without the gospel is prudishness.”

They then begin the hard task of defining modesty. They note the dictionary definitions. But they then do something that may surprise some people, they talk about one’s situational context. Modesty is partially a function of your circumstances. They give the illustration of a bathing suit. Appropriate by the pool or beach, but not appropriate for a worship service or funeral (and maybe even Wal-Mart). It would be modest in one context, but immodest in another. Your situation matters.

(more…)

Read Full Post »


If we ignore the imperatives of Scripture, there is a Hole in Our Holiess. This is the premise of the 4th chapter in Kevin DeYoung’s book.

By and large, we hate commands. We don’t like being told what to do. Kids don’t like to listen to the parents or teachers. As adults we don’t like to listen to our bosses. We don’t just “question authority” we undermine and resist it.

“God cares enough to show us his ways and direct our paths. … Divine statues are a gift to us. God gives us law because he loves us.”

While others may try to lord it over us, God’s intention is good. It is evidence of love, but we read it as hate. The problem is not with Him, but us. Even as Christians, there is resistance not only to particular commands at particular moments, but to the Law period.

The Church has wrestled with the Law for quite some time. Scholars have landed in various positions. Among Calvinists, this is one of the many practical differences between Covenant Theology and New Covenant Theology. Historically, Reformed Theology has had a 3rd use for the law. We hold to a 3-fold distinction in the law that NCT rejects. We recognize the moral law, the civil law and the ceremonial law. They cannot ultimately be separated from each other. But they are distinguished and have a different relationship to Christ. The moral law reflects the character of God, and transcends all administrations of the covenant. The civil law is the application of the moral law to the nation of Israel as a theocracy, and includes the punishments for breaking particular laws. The ceremonial law is about the removal of guilt and pollution from breaking the moral law. It is also about maintaining the separation between Israel and the nations.

“Typically, this has meant that the moral law (e.g., the Ten Commandments) is directly normative, but the civil and judicial aspects of the law point to what is true for all people at all times.”

(more…)

Read Full Post »


In the second chapter of his new book, The Hole in Our Holiness, Kevin DeYoung addresses the reason(s) for our redemption. He does not think there is only one biblical answer. He mentions God’s love and God’s glory. I would say that with respect to God himself, the reason is His love. He redeemed us because He loved us. With respect to creation (including humanity) He redeemed us for His glory, to receive glory for His grace. Both of these are prominent in Ephesians 1. There is something else that is significant in Ephesians 1, as DeYoung notes: holiness. With respect to us, God redeemed us to make us holy.

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved.

I am not sure why so many think holiness is optional. Wanting to be a Christian with wanting to be holy is like wanting a hamburger without wanting the hamburger patty. Biblically it just does not make any sense. In Ephesians, it sets up the call to sanctification that flows out of justification. Sometimes in response to a works-centered religion, people can so press justification by faith alone, that they forget or ignore that such a faith is never alone. Sometimes in our pushback against the legalists in various holiness movements we forget that obedience is not the problem. As Paul stresses in Titus 2, grace teaches us to obey God. It is not an excuse to disobey God, or be careless about how we live.

God is passionately committed to your holiness, even if you don’t seem to be so at the moment. The Scriptures tell us this. Christ died with this goal in mind. DeYoung notes this as an emphasis in both covenants: Exodus 19:4-6; 1 Peter 2:9;  Eph. 2:8-10; 5:25-27; 2 Tim. 1:8-9; 1 Thess. 4:7.

(more…)

Read Full Post »


In the Letters of John Newton, he writes often to Rev. Symonds.  His friend was preaching the gospel well enough, but his personal application of the gospel had fallen on hard times.

His problem?  His focus on evidences of faith and one’s spiritual condition.

“You may think you distinguish between evidences and conditions; but the heart is deceitful, and often beguiles our judgment when we are judging concerning ourselves.”

We are to examine ourselves to see if we are in the faith.  He was right to do that, but wrong in how he approached it.

“Because you lean to conditions, and do not think yourself good enough.”

He was looking at his obedience and “spiritual temperature” (how much prayer, Bible reading, witnessing etc.).  Being the sinner saved by grace that he was, Rev. Symonds saw evidence of disobedience and spiritual lukewarmness in his life.  He did not live up to God’s standards (yes, quite shocking).

He was not doing this to see where he needed to grow in godliness.  That would be quite different.  He was gauging the authenticity of his faith.  He found himself wanting and was beginning to despair.

“It is certainly a delusion to imagine oneself of the number of elect, without scriptural evidence. … You tell me you what evidences you want, namely, spiritual experiences, inward holiness, earnest endeavors.  All this I may allow in a right sense; but in judging on these grounds, it is common and easy in a dark hour to turn the gospel into a covenant of works.”

He was not looking at the one sure sign of being elect- faith in Christ and His work ALONE.  He was looking for spiritual experience- today people look for the spiritual mountain top, ecstatic experiences, charismatic gifts etc. as proof of regeneration.  They are not.  Freedom from temptation and sinful thoughts?  That’s not it either.  Involvement in spiritual disciplines or a cause?  We can turn devotions or the pro-life movement, ministry etc. into signs of whether or not we are Christians instead of marking progress in our faith.  Newton rightly discerns that he has turned the gospel into a covenant of works.  His focus has shifted from what Christ has done to what he does.

Lest we be rough on Rev. Symonds, remember he is not alone.  Most of us struggle with this very same temptation in its numerous and varied forms.

I see here and early version of something Tim Keller talks about.  Picture a see-saw (or teeter-totter depending on the region of the country you’re from).  The “evidence” in question serves as the pivot point.  If the evidence is found we struggle with pride, often looking down on those who “don’t measure up.”  If it is not found, we despair and are crushed under the weight of condemnation.

“For my own part, I believe the most holy people feel the most evil.  Indeed, when faith is strong and in exercise, sin will not much break out to the observation of others; but it cuts them out work enough within.”

Paul, toward the end of his life, saw himself as the biggest of sinners (1 Tim. 1:15)- present tense not past tense.  If we were to look upon him, we’d think him one of the most godly people we know.  But the closer to the light you come the more you see the stains on your clothing.  Being closer to Jesus meant seeing the stains on his heart- the sins only God sees because they don’t find manifestation in behavior.  But they are sin nonetheless.

“You will not be steadily comfortable till you learn to derive your comfort from a simple apprehension of the person, work, and offices of Christ.  He is made unto us of God, not only righteousness, but sanctification also.”

Now he points his friend in the right direction, echoing Hebrews 12.  Keep your focus on Jesus, the author and perfector of your faith- your justification and sanctification before the Holy One.

“… the best evidence of faith is the shutting our eyes equally upon our defects and our graces, and looking directly to Jesus as clothed with authority and power to save to the very uttermost.”

Saving faith looks to Christ, and only Christ.  Look to your graces and pride will soon grow.  Look to your defects and despair will soon swamp your heart.  Jesus saves us from both legalism and license.

Read Full Post »


Richard Lovelace’s discussion of destructive and protective enculturation in Dynamics of Spiritual Lifegot me to thinking about worship and nominal Christianity.  He mentions the Puritan Regulative Principle of worship as a type of protective enculturation.  It can be, if used improperly (thinking only the worship of a particular time is pure & acceptable).  And Luther’s view of worship can easily lead to destructive enculturation (worshipping like false religions).

The Regulative Principle states that Scripture regulates our worship.  How one interprets that makes all the difference in the world.  Scripture does address the elements of worship- and these are what should be regulated.  We find lots of singing, prayer, offerings, confession, sacraments and preaching as part of worship.  We then remove the cultural baggage, disenculturation, of previous cultures so we can exercise these elements of worship in our particular culture.  We cannot put a protective cocoon around them that says only Psalms, or hymns written in a certain time frame, or only certain kinds of prayers and songs may be said and sung.

Our worship should be both like and unlike our culture.  It should fit in regarding style, who we dress & speak, how affection is shown etc.  It should be unlike our culture in that it conveys the gospel clearly and consistently, and removes any cultural aspects that are contrary to the gospel.  Christian worship will look different as you cross cultures- even within the same city.  But it should have the unifying aspects of leading us to faith in the triune God, particularly depending on the person and work of Jesus for our salvation, and dependence on the Holy Spirit.  It should emphasize God’s holiness & love, our sin and humility, reverence and joy in the reality of justification & sanctification etc. (John Frame’s Worship in Spirit and Truthis a great book to work through some of these issues in interpreting the Regulative Principle)

(more…)

Read Full Post »