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Posts Tagged ‘obedience’


One of my new study leave traditions is to read one of the volumes in Crossways’ series on theologians on the Christian life. Each volume looks at one man’s thought and tries to identify their contributions and understanding of how we are to live in Christ and in the world. So far I’ve read the volumes on John Newton (whom Sinclair Ferguson repeatedly called “perhaps the wisest pastor of the Church of England” in his series on Romans) and Herman Bavinck. This study leave it was Jonathan Edwards.

Edwards has long been a favorite of mine, in part because he was a favorite of R.C. Sproul’s. In seminary I took a class, The Theology of Edwards’ Sermons, with R.C.. We read so much of Edwards it may have ruined me for a spell. I haven’t read many of his sermons since then, but have gone back to volumes life The Religious Affections and Charity and Its Fruits.

Dane Ortund’s volume Edwards on the Christian Life boils Edwards down to being live to the beauty of God. He begins with the beauty of God, moves to regeneration as to how we become alive to God’s beauty and then focuses on its affects on us (love, joy, gentleness, obedience) as well as how we grow in our knowledge and experience of that beauty in Scripture, prayer and pilgrimage until finally our fullest experience of beauty in heaven.

This is one of the shorter volumes in the series which is ironic when we consider the great length of Edwards’ sermons and how complex his thought can be at times (The Freedom of the Will is a challenge).  In many ways this serves as an excellent primer on Edwards’ and is much shorter than Gerstner’s Rational Biblical Theology of Jonathan Edwards.

In many ways Ortlund paints an attractive (beautiful?) portrait of the Christian life from Edwards’ view. Who can argue with love, joy and gentleness? What Christian doesn’t want to be loving, joyful and gentle? Yet we cannot separate these fruit of the Spirit from the Word of God, nor the growth in obedience as we live as pilgrims in this world. Yet, missing here is explicit reference to work and marriage. One of Ortlund’s critiques of Edwards was a neglect of the doctrine of creation in favor of redemption. This is one evidence of that neglect. Our life can’t be abstracted out of work and marriage for those are the places we most need the fruit of the Spirit (as well as church life).

One of the ironies that Ortlund points out is that while Edwards’ sermon series on justification was the means for the Northampton revival prior to the Great Awakening, Edwards’ focus seemed to be on sanctification, God’s work in us (subjective), rather than justification, Christ’s work for us (objective). Perhaps this is one reason why the sacraments aren’t mentioned much here or in Edwards’ sermons. This leads to another of Ortlund’s criticisms- that Edwards was overly introspective and more frequently called us to examine ourselves than to look to Christ. Assurance was focused more on Christ’s work in us than for us. He flipped the emphasis. His work for us is the primary source of assurance, with His work in us as the secondary source.

One thing that Edwards focused on that the church tends to neglect is regeneration in which God makes us alive to His beauty. He takes a Reformed position of regeneration preceding, indeed producing, faith rather than the common evangelical view of faith producing regeneration as if that is God’s response to our faith. We need to recapture this more biblical understanding that reflects God’s sovereign grace.

In his criticisms at the end of the book, Ortlund notes that Edwards did have some imbalance in even this. He failed to emphasize that unregenerate people are still made in God’s image, and are not as bad as they can be. They are still capable of civil righteousness even though they are morally incapable of delighting in Christ and the gospel. Additionally, he seems to give “too much” to regeneration this side of glorification. There is a great tension in the Scriptures. It is a total change (every aspect of our being is affected by regeneration) but the change is not total. As regenerate people we want to obey and we grow in obedience but we also feel more acutely our failures to obey. We still, or rather have begun to, struggle with sin. There seems to be a hint of over-realized eschatology in Edwards on this point. But I understand, I think, why. At times I’ve preached like that to get that point across that we have been changed and Christ is at work in us by the Spirit (see Titus 2). Too often we can minimize our need for obedience as a fruit of salvation, and our ability to obey. We live in this tension and it can be easy for us to err on one side or the other. At other times in ministry I note the admission by the Westminster Standards and Heidelberg Catechism that our progress in this life is meager. This is because some people so beat themselves up over their sin. This person needs to hear of Christ’s perfect imputed righteousness and to have more realistic expectations. The lazy and slothful Christian needs to hear the call to obedience. Edwards presumably thought he was preaching to the latter and not the former.

Ortlund puts together a very good volume. He sees Edwards as one worth imitating in many areas. He points out some of his imperfections in the final chapter. One was missing, and that one is particularly pertinent in our particular day. Despite his theological convictions, Edwards (like many in his day) owned slaves. Perhaps the reason why Ortlund doesn’t mention this is because Edwards doesn’t address this in his sermons or writings (at least what I’ve read). Edwards didn’t defend slavery, but did practice it. This should humble us because while we don’t explicitly defend sinful practices, we can certainly practice them (often without realizing their sinfulness). This is one big bone for us to spit out as we consider his life, and it would be great if Ortlund mentioned it.

All in all this is another solid contribution to the series. It should enrich not only my life but my preaching. I am reminded of the need to integrate them more fully.

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In his chapter on Local Knowledge in The Imperfect Pastor, Zack Eswine uses the unusual phrase “the gospel waltz”. He is talking about theological culture of your congregation before they got there. This could be when you arrive to a new congregation, but it is also seen when a new person shows up. I found his concept helpful, even if the phrase didn’t quite connect.

The waltz speaks of “three movements in gospel life:

  • confessing our mess (sinning and being sinned against),

  • receiving Christ’s love (turning to Jesus as forgiven and dearly loved children),

  • walking his paths (conforming our lives to obediently following Jesus).

Eswine notes that individuals, and congregations, can miss steps. As a result their whole theological perspective is warped. One of the results is that they avoid talk about the movement they have not embraced. He notes that congregations have various two-step emphases. Conflict revolves around the third. This helps shape the pastor’s teaching and personal ministry.

  • Some are trying to confess and walk without receiving. These folks work hard. They frown on grace, joy and rest. When you talk of grace, they get concerned about you.

  • Some are trying to receive and walk without confessing. These folks stay strong. They frown on appearing needy for forgiveness or imperfect. So when you talk about humility, sharing burdens, feeling emotions, and not trying to keep up appearances, they get concerned about you.

  • Some are trying to confess and receive without walking. These folks want to relax. They frown on obedience. When you talk about the change in direction that Jesus’ grace makes upon our actions and way of life, they get concerned about you.

Their concerns are well worth noting. This gives direction to pastoral ministry. It may not necessarily make it easier. Note the sanctification debate in Reformed circles a few years ago. The “grace guys” were leaving out the 3rd movement (in my opinion). They were reacting against those who left out the first movement. Leaving out either of these three movements leaves your Christian, or gospel, life unbalanced, distorted and less fruitful than it should be.

It is important to note that you, as a pastor or layperson, have a default. There is one you tend to neglect.

mushroom cloudI have found that congregations are generally concerned if the pastor confesses his mess. There are sins a pastor can confess publicly, like impatience. Generally people don’t want to know that their pastor struggles with the same kinds of sins they do: lust, greed, profound self-centeredness etc. Sin stays underground. There it can fester until it eventually explodes in a huge mess.

The other night a member and I were commiserating that as a congregation we weren’t very vulnerable. This is not just about sin, but also burdens. I find that people have been struggling with horrible things but not reached out for help. I have to help us put all these things together: confess, receive and walk. The gospel is our only hope in this. We need to see the goodwill of God toward sinners so we confess; the sufficiency of Christ so we receive His fullness; and the power of the new life the gospel produces so we can walk in a manner pleasing to Him (though imperfectly).

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I’ve only read one book by Herman Bavinck. That book was The Doctrine of God, and I read it thanks to Doug Kelly while in seminary. I enjoyed the book and found it helpful, but until recently not much was available in English. I’ve got a copy of a biography on him, but I haven’t read it yet.

His influence, despite this handicap, is evidenced as I read the first few chapters of Bavinck on the Christian Life by John Bolt. I have been greatly influenced by people who have been greatly influenced by Bavinck. I saw much of my personal theology on display in those chapters, much of which is reflected in my approach to marriage in my forth-coming book.

For those who aren’t familiar with Bavinck, he was a Dutch theologian alive in the 19th and 20th centuries. He was a bit younger than his contemporary, the more well known Abraham Kuyper. The book begins with a brief biographical sketch.

Bolt begins the meat of the book with Foundations for Christian Living. The three chapters there cover Bavinck’s theological process so to speak. The first is about creation, Created in God’s Image. We can’t understand the Christian life if we don’t understand ourselves as created in God’s image. Redemption makes us whole humans, not into something altogether different. Bavinck takes a “trinitarian” approach to what it means to be in God’s image: creation, sin & redemption, and eschatology. Romans 5 and 1 Corinthians 15 figure prominently in Bavinck’s thought: Adam as a type of Christ. They are the two covenant heads that govern humanity. As a result, Bavinck affirmed the “covenant of works” as vital to Christian theology. He saw this as “a divinely imposed relationship between God and humanity, a relationship under sanctions: obedience leads to blessing; disobedience results in death. (pp. 43)” And so “we are Christian in order to become truly human, not the other way around. (pp. 43)”

“This theological insight implies that in a Reformed understanding of Christian discipleship the creational, natural vocation of human beings is basic and primary.”

This this point, Bolt provides a critique of the more “radical” approaches to discipleship from Bavinck’s prospective. If he were alive today, Bolt (rightly I think) imagines Bavinck having something to say to people like Claiborne and Platt. He would affirm Christian discipleship in the ordinary callings. Some today sharply criticize the ordinary (creational!) and produce unnecessary and unproductive guilt. There is no hierarchy of callings so that one is better than another. As Paul notes in 1 Corinthians 7, serve God where you are whether rich or poor, slave or free, male or female. Your vocation- butcher, baker, candlestick maker or household engineer- is the context of your discipleship. It is not to be seen as a hindrance to it. The creation mandate is not opposed to the great commission (see pg. 44-45 in particular).

Bolt then brings us into common grace. He notes that the term is often misunderstood, and should not be used to excuse worldliness in Christians. It “is the confession that God continues to providentally watch over creation and fallen humanity and that this care is not restricted but extends beyond the elect. (pp. 48)” Bavinck, like Calvin, distinguishes between a grace common to all humanity, and special or saving grace. Common grace provides the stage for saving grace. His continuing to uphold the creation despite our sin & rebellion is gracious.

Bolt then moves to The Law and the Duty of Christian Obedience. The law is understood within the context of covenant. Our discipleship, occurring within the context of creation also occurs within the context of the law which guides us in a life which pleases God. Bavinck follows the Reformed confessions and catechisms in this expression of grateful obedience.

Bolt spends more time discussing the covenant of works (pp. 56-63) particularly since some prominent Reformed theologians are critical of the doctrine. He notes some of those criticisms, but brings us back to Romans 5 and 1 Corinthians 15 again. We see that their roles as covenant heads are revealed matters. For Bavinck, religion is a revealed matter. Apart from revelation we don’t have true religion. Bolt notes the temptations of moralism and legalism. The law is intended to be kept within the context of covenant. The Ten Commandments are given in the context of redemption. They are to obey because they have been redeemed, not to gain salvation. The enjoyment of that salvation, and remaining in the land, hinged upon obedience (and repentance when they disobeyed) while looking forward to the greater Redeemer who would obey perfectly for us, and work in us by the Spirit to grow in obedience and restore the image of God. For Bavinck “covenant is the essence of true religion. (pp. 60)” It is intended to guide our discipleship as the words of a father are to guide the life of a son. We are to submit to the “living covenantal God with whom we are in fellowship. (pp. 61-2)” Our submission is not simply a matter of His Lordship, but also our love in response to His love toward us.

This means that God does not coerce us, but counsels us thru “admonition, warning, invitation, petition. (pp. 63)” This also takes place in the context of community. Not simply alone, or as a couple, but the whole of humanity (or the new man in Christ) is the fully developed image of God (see pp. 65). We also find that the reality of progressive revelation implies the reality of progressive understanding.

One of the interesting applications that Bolt makes is politics. As imitators of God, “we are always to conduct ourselves in way that enhance our neighbor’s liberty and responsibility (pp. 67)”

“And it suggests that Christians evaluate public social policy in terms of the same principles. It also implies, finally, that when it comes to matters of social policy and political actions, Christians have an obligation to respect each other’s freedom on matters that either are adiaphora (things indifferent) or require application of agreed upon moral principle. The example of poverty and poverty relief come to mind. The Bible is quite clear about the responsibility of God’s children to help those who are poor and needy. Whether or not this commitment to the poor demands support for higher taxes or greater government welfare is quite another matter. It is a mistake for Christians to treat their policy preferences as self-evident applications of biblical principle. Christians need to respect the liberty of those who take their Christian responsibilities in directions that are different from their own.”

Bolt then quotes an interesting section from the 1891 Christian Social Congress on general principles. “Therefore, it is entirely in keeping with Holy Scripture to: … oppose the accumulation of capital and landed property. (pp.68)” Not exactly where I would go with applying Scripture, but in Israel there were limits to wealth accumulation.

Bolt then moves to the third foundation: Union with Christ. This is the longest and most complex chapter, as Bolt confesses. But our redemption is “in Christ” and this concept must be understood. It plays, obviously, a big role in Bavinck’s understanding of Christianity.

Here Bolt talks about Bavinck’s dualities, not the same a dualism. He doesn’t operate with a dialectic: thesis, antithesis and synthesis. But two realities, held in a kind of tension: “earthly calling and eternal destiny; general revelation and particular revelation; common grace and saving grace. (pp. 69)” They are not to be set against one another: we experience both. We are pulled by competing, legitimate longings. These tensions don’t disappear, and we shouldn’t try to eliminate them. But … often we do.

Bavinck’s understanding of union is more than redemptive. Christ is the mediator of creation, a common theme in Bavinck. He “bridges the ontological distance between humanity and God.” We not only have the moral obstacle of sin to deal with, but the metaphysical obstacle to fellowship or communion with God. In light of this he speaks of accommodation like Calvin does. All revelation is tied to the work of Christ, whether pre or post-incarnate.

“He has brought creation, redemption, and eschatology all into the doctrine of Christ without in any way blurring the distinction between nature and grace or sacrificing the gracious character and preeminence of Christ as our Redeemer.”

Bolt then discusses the two dangers of discussing union. The elevation of humanity to divinity or bringing God down to us and losing all sense of transcendence. Bavinck warned about shifting back and forth between deism and pantheism. The former is helpful as we think about moralistic, therapeutic deism. The other is helpful as we think about theosis, and avoid the dangers of divinization and neo-Platonism. (pp. 78-80).

Bolt, in light of all this, discusses what the Chalcedonian formula did and did not do. It marked out boundaries for our contemplation of the hypostatic union. It didn’t really define it. He brings this into the disagreement between the Reformers and Roman Church on justification. Rome emphasizes union through sacraments. The Reformers emphasized a covenantal union.

Bolt then gets into Dutch Reformed church history with Arminius and the two seceding groups connected with Kuyper and Bavinck that eventually united. Some in Kuyper’s group held to presumptive regeneration. Bavinck argued that ordinarily the Spirit used appointed means for regeneration, though the Spirit can regenerate someone directly. We should recognize that as extra-ordinary, not ordinary. Therefore, the presumption regeneration regarding our children, as immediate and extra-ordinary, should not be affirmed.

In terms of our union itself, Bavinck joined together “the covenantal, legal and forensic dimensions of justification with the believer’s mystical union in Christ” (pp. 91). Bavinck also takes us to the “covenant of redemption” between the Trinity. Our union with Christ is built on the work of all three members: the Father electing, the Son providing redemption, and the Spirit applying it in union with Christ. Our union is not something considered apart from Christ’s objective work of redemption. The latter is the basis of the former. We receive the benefits of redemption in our union, particularly justification and sanctification. With regard to the latter, Bavinck notes it is both the passive gift of God, and our active responsibility. While not mentioned, this is helpful to keep in mind in the recent sanctification debates within the Reformed community.

Bolt did a great job laying the theological foundation by which we must understand Bavinck’s view of the Christian life. Without grasping creation, law and union with Christ, there is really no proper understanding of the Christian life.

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In the last few years there has been an explosion of books on the topic of grace. Some of been excellent. Some have been controversial. Some of those that have been controversial had some significant flaws. Not a fatal flaw, mind you. They were still within the bounds of Christianity but not necessarily within the bounds of the community to which the author belonged (how’s this for vague?).

So, it was with a measure of anticipation and trepidation that I read Extravagant Grace: God’s Glory Displayed in Our Weakness by Barbara Duguid. I had a sense of anticipation because I have found her husband Iain’s books very helpful. Additionally I saw that she was very dependent on John Newton from whom I’ve also benefited greatly. But I also had sanctification controversy PTSD.

Here is my bottom line: I loved the forest, but some of the particular trees may have issues.

Barbara has some obvious influences, and some that aren’t as obvious. In addition to John Newton, she has a certificate from CCEF, and holds to the Westminster Confession of Faith. When she sticks close to those the book is quite excellent and helpful. When she goes beyond them I found it less helpful and has some of the same issues that troubled me about Tullian Tchividjian’s books on grace. I try to remember what Dr. Pratt taught us: you can’t say everything any time you say anything. Yet a qualification or two saves a world of misunderstanding.

The Good

Throughout the book Barbara Duguid is quite honest about her own struggles, which essentially drive the book. This is nothing new. Many theologians have a doctrinal emphasis that reflects their own personal struggles. Think Luther and his emphasis on justification by faith alone. There is nothing wrong with this, particularly when we consider the providence of God in the matter. Yet we should recognize that we, as sinners saved by grace, can still run off into extremes. Her honesty, to get back to my point, is helpful. She is not writing theoretically, but has walked with God through these difficult places.

“God thinks that you will actually come to know and love him better as a desperate and weak sinner in continual need of grace than you would as a triumphant Christian warrior who wins each and every battle against sin.”

This book is easy to read. It is not a technical book but intends to make theology practical. She does a good job of this. The first chapter, Welcome to Your Heart, easily introduces you to her heart and by extension yours through a story. She shows how pride lurks in our hearts, distorting our experience by trying to make us the center of … everything.

The next three chapters, leaning heavily on Newton, are about the three stages of Christian life: babes in Christ, maturing and grown-ups. Sadly, not many people talk about this. It is helpful to recognize the differences so a person has more accurate expectations. Babes often have few trials and lots of joy. God has merciful on them. There is often, in my experience, significant change almost immediately if one converts as an adult. But then life gets hard. God begins to work more deeply, and most often through hardship and failure. The focus is on developing deeper dependence on God, and the destruction of our pride.

“A mature believer studies all the aspects of a person’s struggle with sin and makes allowances. He never stops calling sin the ugly and evil thing that it is, but he understands how deeply rooted it is in human nature and how helpless every Christian is to stand against it.”

Her book offers hope to all of us who struggle with sin, which is every Christian. She reminds us of the providence of God, the preservation of the saints, and the doctrine of assurance (from the Westminster Confession of Faith) which instruct us that sometimes God does in fact bring us through periods of disobedience. The problem is most Christians don’t talk about with struggles (contrary to James 5) so when we struggle with sin we think we are the only one, or more messed up than everyone else in church.  We have to remember that God is up to something bigger than “sin management.”

Our struggles with sin should translate into greater patience with the sins of other Christians. When we consider how patient God is with us, and how sufficient His mercy is to us, we are able to be patient and extend mercy to our brothers and sisters even (particularly!) when they sin against us.

“The more I see myself as the biggest sinner and the worst transgressor, the more I will be able to step up to love others even when they sin against me time and time again.”

I can see Ed Welch’s (a professor at CCEF)  as well as Newton’s influence in the last chapter. Part of how we strive for holiness is in community and making use of the means of grace (Word and sacrament). We need each other profoundly. Her the individualism of Americans is anti-thetical to the gospel. We need help to see our sins. We need help through the prayers of others not only for our illnesses but our sins. We need to remember that the Lord’s Table is for us as saved sinners who still need grace along the pilgrim road.

Her audience is those who are depressed and overwhelmed by their on-going struggle with sin. These people need to know of God’s extravagant grace toward sinners saved by grace. There is plenty of truth to encourage them so they can strengthen their weak knees and keep moving by the grace of God.

“Although God did not create your struggle or tempt you to it, he has called you to walk with it. He has assigned it to you, and he loves you as he calls you to walk through it. He is not disgusted by you.”

The Questions the Reformed Community Needs to Address

There are some questions that are raised by this book, reflecting problems with other books on grace. The sanctification debates seemed largely focused on the third use of the law. These go deeper and are, I think, more important.

1. Is sanctification monergistic or synergistic? This book seems to give conflicting answers at times. Newton often refers to striving for holiness, and she echos that at times. But she is also critical of unnamed pastors who seem to focus on our responsibility. Philippians 2:13 has been one of the key verses for me to understand the relationship between gospel indicatives (facts) and gospel imperatives (commands). God works in me so I will and work according to His purpose. We can’t focus on only one part of that. Edwards noted that it is “all of God and all of me”. I can only work because He works in me (grace!!). But I actually work. He’s not working for me, believing for me, repenting for me. It is typically a hyper-Calvinist view to minimize the exercise of our wills. At times she comes really close to this.

2. What is the nature, or goal, of sanctification? She frequently criticizes the view that it is “sinning less and less.” This seems contrary to the way it is expressed in the Westminster Shorter Catechism to which she holds as a member of the ARP.

Question 35: What is sanctification?
Answer: Sanctification is 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 unto sin, and live unto righteousness.

She doesn’t really qualify or explain what she means. She is correct if she is referring to simply external obedience. The truth is that our “obedience” is often driven by fear and pride instead of faith and love. When we obey out of fear (the fear of getting caught, what people will think etc.) or pride (having a reputation to uphold, a sense of entitlement) we are not really obeying. If this is what she means, I wholeheartedly agree. God is working to address the fear and pride behind so much “obedience.” God also won’t give us “victory” (I hate that term) if it will lead us to spiritual pride. Fear and pride are sins too, but sins that drive other sins as well as counterfeit obedience.

3. What is the Degree of Regeneration?

Our depravity is total, but not absolute. Every aspect of us is affected but we aren’t as bad as we could be. She notes that though saved, we are depraved, weak little sinners. Where is regeneration? To what degree have we changed? Thomas Boston, in the Human Nature in its Fourfold Estate, argues that our regeneration is total in the same way that depravity is. Every aspect of us is affected by regeneration, but not absolutely. While regenerate we still have indwelling sin. We want to be neither triumphalists nor fatalists. She rightly criticizes the former but sounds an awful lot like the later.

4. Does God get angry with us? Can He be pleased by our actions?

She hammers our position in Christ. Indeed there is cause for great rejoicing with regard to our position in Christ as perfectly righteous. This is our hope: union with Christ. But in sanctification does God only see us positionally or does He also see us personally?

She notes the Israelites in the wilderness as the pattern for us in many respects, particularly their failure (she overlooks how many times it does say they did everything the Lord commanded Moses in particular matters). If they were converted (which I think many/most of them were) they were then united to Christ (apart from whom there is no salvation). During the wilderness journey we often see God angry with Israel (with no differentiation between the elect and non-elect). In Hebrews 12 we see that God disciplines us so we bear the harvest of righteousness. He necessarily sees us as less than personally righteous and moves us toward greater personal righteousness. We have Christ’s imputed righteousness in justification, and He imparts Christ’s righteousness to us in sanctification. These distinctions seem to be missing here (and in other some books about grace). If we can’t please God personally, then why does Paul pray for this in Colossians 1.

Love is not contrary to anger, as she seems to argue. Anger is an important part of love to protect the beloved from danger, including the destructiveness of sin. I wonder how much her own anger issues (one of the sins she says she struggles with) influence her views on this. I don’t want God to be angry with me, but I need his fatherly anger at times, as Calvin notes.

“The Spirit of love was given to Christ alone, for the express purpose of conferring this Spirit upon his members; and there can be no doubt that the following words of Paul apply to the elect only: “The love of God is shed abroad in our hearts, by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us,” (Rom. 5:5); namely, the love which begets that confidence in prayer to which I have above adverted. On the other hand, we see that God is mysteriously offended [wondrously angry] with his children, though he ceases not to love them. He certainly hates them not, but he alarms them with a sense of his anger, that he may humble the pride of the flesh, arouse them from lethargy, and urge them to repentance. Hence they, at the same instant, feel that he is angry with them for their sins, and also propitious to their persons.John Calvin (Institutes 3:2:12)

The Big Picture Problem?

When she moves away from Newton, CCEF and the Westminster Standards, I pick up an organizational principle for salvation that is more Lutheran than Reformed. Lutheran theology (after Luther’s death) made justification by faith alone the organizing principle so union with Christ and sanctification (and all the other benefits) flow out of justification. This, in my opinion, means that justification flattens the other doctrines, our understanding of Scripture and the dynamic rather than static relationship we have with God. This shows up in focusing on the positional almost exclusively.

The Reformed view sees union with Christ as the organizing principle (to borrow Lane Tipton’s terminology, see Calvin’s Institutes, book 3 and the WLC #65-69). Out of our union with Christ we receive all the (distinct) blessings of Christ. We receive the double grace of justification and sanctification at the same time, though they are distinct. We experience definitive or definite sanctification at that point. It focuses on us as positionally sanctified (see Hoekema’s Saved by Grace). Progressive sanctification necessarily focuses on our personal sanctification. He sees us as we are in ourselves (but doesn’t condemn us because of our position in Christ). Reformed Theology has historically held these two in a biblical tension that appears to be lacking here.

Yesterday I looked at some other reviews to make sure I wasn’t missing the boat, or seeing something that isn’t there. Both Mark Jones and Dane Ortland saw the same things or similar things.

Like Dane Ortland I recognize the many good things about this book which includes some things that are rarely taught which need to be heard. But I want to filter out the ways in which she departs from (my understanding of?) Reformed Theology. Enjoy the forest, even if some trees have thorns. Or to use a different metaphor: it is a good meal, but there is some bone and gristle to toss out.

Time for a little Double Cure.

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In my devotional reading these days I’m in Deuteronomy. Since all Scripture is useful to admonish, correct and train the righteous person to live uprightly (2 Timothy 3) we can learn lessons here about obedience.

Let me say that all of this must be understood in light of being a justified person, one who has experienced the redemption from sin just as Israel experienced redemption from slavery. This should not be seen as an attempt to gain life. The blessing of obedience for Israel was not eternal life, but remaining in the land. Gross apostasy would result in exile. For us it results in excommunication. Gross apostasy reveals a heart that was not transformed by grace.

While we are talking about obedience to the law, let us not think (as many erroneously claim about any such discussion) that we are sanctified BY the law. Just as the law has no power to justify (Rom. 6-7), it has no power to sanctify. The Law is the sign showing us what a sanctified life looks like. The power of sanctification is the Spirit who works in us to apply the work of Christ for us. Read the following in light of that or you will grossly misunderstand what I say.

Deuteronomy is the giving of the law to the generation that was going to enter the land. The last of the adult “rebels” who left Egypt has died for their unbelief and refusal to enter the land out of fear. Moses lays out God’s commands for them before he dies, unable to enter the land for his own unrighteous anger earlier.

And Moses summoned all Israel and said to them, “Hear, O Israel, the statutes and the rules that I speak in your hearing today, and you shall learn them and be careful to do them. (5:1)

This is the process of discipleship which we must follow for ourselves and teach to those under our spiritual care. There is a progression here that we must keep in mind.

Hear => Learn => Do

We cannot do unless we first learn and we cannot learn unless we first hear. The end or goal is to grow in obedience to the One who loved us and gave Himself for us. If you think that is an OT thing, recall the Great Commission includes “teaching them to obey all I have commanded you.” That command is not limited to faith and repentance. Love is vague and Paul reminds us that the Law actually shows us the dimensions of loving God and others (Rom. 12). A desire to obey God rooted in faith, love and gratitude is NOT legalism.

To achieve this final goal, we need to recall the lessor goals or intermediate goals. Hear it! Read the Scriptures and listen to the Word preached and taught. There is no other way to hear.

Don’t “just” listen, but learn. Seek to understand the meaning of the law, what it does and doesn’t require or prohibit. Begin to store it in your heart (and memory) so you have a practical use of it. The Law is not for our times of ease, but the times of temptation. That is when we need God’s moral guidance. There will probably not be a Bible in the back seat of the car when needed, or the corporate boardroom or wherever you find yourself under temptation and in need of God’s moral guidance. You have to learn it.

Then of course apply it, by faith. Work it out knowing that God is at work in you to will and work according to His good purpose. You are not alone. When you struggle, cry out for help.

“Oh that they had such a heart as this always, to fear me and to keep all my commandments.” (5:29)

“that you may fear the LORD your God … by keeping all his statues and his commandments…” (6:2)

There is another ingredient to the obedient life. A healthy fear or reverence for God. At the moment they expressed such a heart, a sincere desire to obey God in all things. Such mountain top experiences don’t last. We obey what we fear (either positively or negatively) most. Obedience is a heart issue, as I recently reminded my children. They didn’t listen to their mother because they didn’t respect her as they ought. They ignore her far too often. They tend to fear missing out on some thing they think better than obedience. We do that too. Or we fear other people, and the list could go one for some time. We are to fear God above all. The measure of that fear appears to be obedience. Reverence isn’t just about showing up on Sunday to sing songs and pray. Reverence is about wanting to please Him all week long: worship thru service.

“And the LORD commanded us to do all these statutes, to fear the LORD our God, for our good always, …” (6:24)

Moses returns to the question of obedience, and therefore fear. But see what He adds. God’s laws, and our obedience, are for our good. Sin is self-destructive, and often destroys others including the ones we love. Sin destroys relationships. Obedience only destroys relationships when others don’t delight in righteousness. It often takes a great deal of faith to believe this. God doesn’t give me moral guidance to destroy me but to protect me and do good to me. The Law, as Paul said, is good and holy. The problem is always me, or my sinful nature.

We can’t make others fear God. But we can pray God to grant them this fear, and this knowledge that God intends all this for our good. We should walk the path of obedience and talk to others about it. We should also talk about how to return to the path when we wander from it (which we will do). I’m not talking about perfection, but progressive sanctification. While we do not arrive in this life, we make progress as the Spirit teaches us to say “no” to ungodly desires (Titus 2) and “yes” to godly ones. The good purpose God works in you to will and work is faith in Christ, and a faith accompanied by faithfulness or obedience.

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Fury, the newest war movie to hit the theaters, is an excellent film in many ways reminiscent of Spielberg’s classic Saving Private Ryan. There are many points of contact between the movie, and some major points of departure as well.

The time frame for Fury is a few months before VE Day. The U.S. forces have pushed into Germany and Germany has resorted to extreme methods like drafting women and children into the battle. This affects the plot, but does not drive the plot like D-Day does SPR. The plot of SPR has to do with saving the last remaining son of a widow in the aftermath of D-Day. Here we see a few instances of the cruelty and desperation of the SS, and the response of the main characters to the SS. In one scene, an SS officer is not allowed to surrender with the rest of the German “troops” (including teenaged girls).

Points of Contact:

Both movies focus on one unit. In SPR is is a Ranger unit sent to find Private Ryan. Here it is a tank crew. They don’t receive their mission until at least the mid-point of the movie.

Both units have a highly competent yet mysterious leader: Capt. Miller and Sgt. “Wardaddy” Collier (Brad Pitt in his best movie in years). Yes, every crew member has a nickname. In SPR they keep guessing what his vocation in pre-war life was. Here there is no such game but they all wonder why he knows German. Late in the movie the mystery deepens when they discover his familiarity with Scripture.

While both leaders are highly effective, they are also secretly damaged. Miller’s hand would increasingly shake during downtime. In a rare moment of self-disclosure he admits “every time I kill someone I feel farther from home.” In the opening sequence, Fury is the only tank to have survived a battle in which they lost the assistant driver. Back in the camp, Collier finds an isolated spot for a “moment”. He hates the war and what it does to him but there is no escape.

Enter the newbie. In both cases it is a man who was not prepared for combat. In SPR he is Corporal Upham, a translator since they will be going behind the current lines to retrieve Ryan who was a paratrooper. Here it is a typist named Norman. He is not prepared for life in a tank or for combat. Much of the movie is about his struggle with the realities of war with which the other crew members are all too familiar. In his first two encounters there is failure that costs the lives of others. His sense of right and wrong have him ill-equipped for combat. But, as “Bible” Swan guesses, Norman is a “Mainliner” or liberal, nominal Christian.

In both movies the action scenes strive for authenticity. This means they are intense and graphic. They accurately convey the horror of war, and deepen your appreciation for the men who endured these circumstances.

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The time was ripe for Rosaria Butterfield’s recent book The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert: an English Professor’s Journey into Christian Faith. The time is ripe because everyone seems to be talking about homosexuality and same sex marriage. The church, or at least some of it, is struggling to be faithful to both the call to mission and a biblical morality. Some parts of the church focus on only one and lose sight of the other.

“I often wonder: God, why pick me? I didn’t ask to be a Christian convert. I didn’t ‘seek the Lord.’ Instead, I ran like the wind when I suspected someone would start peddling the gospel to me.”

While the subtitle focuses on Rosaria’s work as an English Professor, the first chapter makes clear that as an English professor she was a gay activist and lesbian who taught Queer Theory. Hers is an interesting story in many regards. It seems difficult to try and squeeze the first 36 years of a life into a chapter, albeit a long one, but that is what she does.

She was not looking to become a Christian. She felt no spiritual need. She was actually out to get Christianity or at least the Religious Right as part of her need to publish for her job. As she began to read the Bible things slowly changed. Just as important was a new friendship with one of those conservative Christians who happened to be the pastor of a local church.  It is an engaging journey as she is confronted with the truth of Christianity.

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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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For the next two weeks, my sermon series on Colossians will be in the portion of the household code dealing with slaves and masters. Later, we’ll explore Philemon. But this is not the only household code in Scripture that addresses the subject. We find them in Ephesians 5-6 and Titus 2. The subject appears in 1 Timothy 6, 1 Peter 2, 1 Corinthians 7 and some other places. It is important for us to remember that in Philippians 2 Jesus is called a slave who obeyed to the point of death, death on a cross.

It is hard for us to grasp all of this. Thankfully legalized slavery has been abolished in most of the world. We are still fighting human trafficking. We have a very different set of experiences than the original audience of the Scriptures.  So let’s look as this, at times with help from John Frame’s The Doctrine of the Christian Life. (I am a bit uncomfortable with his reliance upon James Jordan at times. Some theonomists have fallen into what I think is the dangerous false doctrine of kinism).

Slavery was common in most of the ancient world. Not race-based slavery, but slavery. In the Old Testament we see that the Patriarchs owned slaves. Joseph was sold into slavery by his brothers (which as man-stealing was punished by death in the Old Testament, and was affirmed as a heinous sin in the New Testament).

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One of the things I don’t like about buying books on line is that you really can’t flip through it (Amazon is trying) and see if it is what you are looking for in the first place. The Walk by Stephen Smallman is one of the books I wish I’d been able to flip through. It was recommended in another book about discipleship. Since he’s in the same denomination in which I serve it, unlike the book I had read, would come from a more consistently covenantal perspective. This is not to say this is a bad book, because it isn’t. It just isn’t the book I had thought it would be. I was looking for a more theoretical book that had application. This is a book intended to actually be used to disciple new and renewed followers of Jesus. I guess I should have noticed that subtitle. But I do have a good resource to recommend to those, or use with those, who want or need to be discipled. One of the strengths is the progression that he uses from basics to discipleship thru the gospel on to mission. The goal is not information accumulation, but growth in grace, sanctification into greater obedience and maturity to disciple others and join Jesus in His mission (2 Cor. 5).

“If ‘going to heaven’ is the key objective of evangelism, perhaps that begins to tell us why discipleship is viewed as optional by so many ‘converts.'”

It is a 12 lesson course that could be used in SS, or throughout a year in a small group. He has a reading plan that goes with each lesson which he refers to often (largely Mark and Romans). He also has a reading plan in an appendix that can be used afterwards. We aren’t talking a verse to proof text. These are longer chunks that coincide with the material in the chapter. They build on one another to develop the context of the larger text. It gets people reading the Bible, since this is a large part of discipleship. (more…)

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In the 6th chapter The Hole in Our Holiness, Kevin DeYoung shifts gears to talk about the process of sanctification. He had been addressing the need for holiness, the motives and the patterns of holiness in Scripture. So, what is supposed to happen so that we become holy? What is God’s part? Do I have a part in all this?

Years ago I read Hannah Whitall Smith’s The Christian’s Secret of a Happy Life. DeYoung mentions it at the end of the chapter. It was part of the Higher Life teaching that used to characterize Keswick teaching. It is passive in sanctification. It assumes consecration is the only part we play in growing in holiness (Packer talks about this at length in Keep In Step With the Spirit). Sadly, some people today seem to hold a similar position.

“It’s possible to be completely biblical and still less than helpful- especially when it comes to pursuing holiness.”

Consecration is necessary, but insufficient for our growth in holiness. This chapter is about the effort we exert. But it is not a do-it-yourself project. The chapter is largely about the Spirit, the Gospel and faith.

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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.”

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While considering what to study in our men’s group this Fall, one of the books I read was Family Shepherds by Voddie Baucham. It covers some of the same ground as The Masculine Mandate. But this book has a very different feel to it, handles things in a different order and has a more distinct agenda(s) than Rick Phillips’ book did. Since I pretty much read them simultaneously, I have a hard time not comparing them.

Family Shepherds reflects Voddie’s personality and ministry, just like Rick’s book reflects his. I’ve read another book or two from Voddie, and this is similar in tone and agenda. He has a prophetic bent (Rick’s, perhaps from his time as a tank commander, is more kingly). Voddie is not afraid to get into the reader’s business. Rick also stands firm on his views, but is less “in your face” about it.

Voddie’s ministry is marked by a few drumbeats. One of them is vitally important, particular in the context in which he ministers. The other is one I have some sympathies, but aren’t as passionate and dogmatic about as he is.

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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.

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It has been awhile since I have blogged through a book. But, based on the amount of red ink I used underlining things in the first chapter of Kevin DeYoung’s new book, The Hole in Our Holiness, I thought it might be a great time to do that.

“Any gospel which says only what you must do and never announces what Christ has done is no gospel at all.”

The first chapter is about the gap in our holiness. He builds an analogy in the beginning. He doesn’t like camping. Just didn’t grow up in a camping family, doesn’t talk about camping and has no interest in camping. What would happen if we thought that way about holiness? Some people do think this way, as though holiness is an optional recreational activity.

“My fear is that as we rightly celebrate, and in some quarters rediscover, all that Christ has save us from, we are giving little thought and making little effort concerning all that Christ has saved us to.”

What is particularly disturbing to DeYoung (and should be for us) is that this holiness gaps in a time of gospel-centeredness. We are rightly enthused about forgiveness and justification. We are not as enthused about sanctification.

He brings up 3 questions from Packer’s Rediscovering Holiness (a great book!). These questions should alert us to a problem.

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In his newest book, worship leader and song writer Matt Redman, uses a Mirror Ball as a metaphor for the main message of the book.  The mirror ball is not a source of light, but does reflect light so that light is sent into many different directions and many different places.  The glory of God in the gospel is like light (2 Cor. 4) which transforms us (2 Cor. 3).  This is essentially what the book is about.

Worship doesn’t start with you.  It begins and ends with a merciful, majestic, and powerful God.”

When most of us think about worship, we think about worship services, songs, prayers and the like.  But Matt rightly (biblically) expands that notion to all of life.  The words translated worship usually mean service or to pay homage to someone.  You serve the one you worship.  His point is about integrity of life.  We can sing and wave our hands all you want, but if you live the rest of your time as if God didn’t exist you are not a worshiper of God.

“The true test of our passion for God will always be our lives. … It involves a life laid down in service and adoration.  The concrete evidence of whether our worship has lived or died in us will always be our lives.”

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I’m working through Exodus in my personal reading.  This morning I was working my way through Exodus 19 & 20.  I did poke back to Exodus 15 to look at one of the texts Tim Keller talked about in an excellent sermon at the Gospel Coalition yesterday.  You have to see Exodus 20 in context.  First came redemption, or rescue, and then the Law.  Redemption was never earned via obedience.  The Law was given to God’s people for life in His presence, not to earn His acceptance.

In 19 and 20 you see quite the special effects displays.  God descended to the mountain in the cloud, and they heard His voice speaking.  They were filled with terror.  Moses didn’t just tell them these things, they were witnesses themselves.

As I got near the end of Exodus 20 I read this:

22 Then the LORD said to Moses, “Tell the Israelites this: ‘You have seen for yourselves that I have spoken to you from heaven: 23 Do not make any gods to be alongside me; do not make for yourselves gods of silver or gods of gold. (NIV, 1984)

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Here is an interesting video to get the point of the gospel across, as well as our great need.

I think Jesus’ file should have been about a foot thick to illustrate his obedient life better.  But it does clearly display our need for His goodness (obedience) in justification.  I really like “I only read the articles!”

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I’m nearly finished with reading The Letters of John Newton.  It is a great, humbling and encouraging read that is focused on the gospel.  The reason I bought the book was for a letter that ended up not being in the book.  It is a letter he wrote to a young pastor.  It is suitable for many of us.

Your understanding of the gospel is intellectually sound, but there is much legalism in your experience of Christ, and that perplexes you.  You are very capable of giving advice to others, but I wish you could apply more effectively what you preach.

Did he meet me?  Part of what is scary here is that we can intellectually “get it” but still have a heart bound by legalism.  We still try to relate to Christ with a legal spirit.  We seem quite capable, but don’t seem to live in light of what know intellectually.

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Earlier, I had noted that the fear of God is not an Old Testament deal.  It is meant to characterize us in the New Covenant.  But I didn’t get into the source of true fear, which is the gospel.  Some of you might be scratching your head in confusion.  Some might be yelling at the screen in anger, debating with me.  Hold on a moment and let me explain.

Let’s start with a definition of the fear of God.  It is not, as many godly men have said, slavish fear.  It is not the fear of punishment and displeasure that drives people away.  When my son is guilty, he often wants to run and hide (usually covering his bottom just in case).  This is not the fear that is given to us in the gospel.  This the fear that perfect love casts out (1 John 4:18).

“The goodness as well as the greatness of God begets in the heart of His elect an awful reverence of His majesty. … Godly fear flows from a sense of the love and kindness of God to the soul.” John Bunyan

The fear I’m talking about is often called filial fear, or the fear of a son.  It is like a stew comprised of love, trust, awe, reverence and delight.  In various places obedience is attributed to love (John 14) and faith (Hebrews 11).  In my text this Sunday it is the fear of God.  Godly fear includes that love and faith or trust which are necessary for any true, God-honoring & God-pleasing obedience.  Without faith it is impossible to please Him (Hebrews 10), so true fear must include faith.  But the idea of awe and reverence point us to delight.

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