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Posts Tagged ‘Sermon on the Mount’


The next chapter in White’s new translation of Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion concerns the law. At about 40 pages it is short in comparison to the chapter on free will. It is, however, no less significant.

In part the law helps us in terms of self-knowledge. It is necessary for our humility, to discover the illusions we have about our moral courage & strength. It will lead us, properly understood, “to abandon all trust in our own righteousness.”

He begins with the notion of the inner law, written upon each person’s heart. The corruption we receive from Adam, and our own transgressions flowing from it, tend to smudge said internal law as well as dull our conscience. Therefore, God found it appropriate to give the people of Israel (and by extension us) the written law. This has an important consequence: “we are not free to follow our heart’s desires wherever they may lead, but that we are wholly reliant on our God and must keep only to what pleases him.”

He briefly interacts with the Pelagian notion (sometimes expressed by our Arminian brothers) that God would not give a law we could not keep. They have a very man-centered view of the law. It is not a measure of our ability, but of God’s glory. It reflects His character, and what ours ultimately will be. Being his creatures by creation, and children by redemption, we have a duty to obey.

“The Lord, however, is not content to teach us only to revere his righteousness. He seeks to train our hearts to love it and to hate iniquity, and thus adds both promises and threats.”

We struggle to keep God’s law. We struggle with resting in His righteousness, but keep trying to establish one of our own doing. Our standards, not simply our strength. We try to confine the law to outward action, not seeing (or wanting to see) that it is about inward desire and spiritual righteousness. So, God not only condemns murder but also the unrighteous anger and hatred from which it flows even if we don’t carry through with the act. Jesus exposes the Pharisaical externalization of the law in the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus is not a second Moses, introducing a new law. He is explaining the law He gave through Moses.

In rightly understanding the law we need to consider both command and prohibition. This means we consider the “good and necessary consequence” of the law. He explains it this way:

“… we will first look at the content of each commandment, and then, on the basis of what it says, we will attempt to formulate a contrary argument alone these lines: if this thing pleases God, the opposite must displease him; if this thing displeases him, the opposite must please him…”

This approach finds its culmination in the Westminster Larger Catechism‘s section on the law. He notes “The Lord forbids that we should injure or hurt our neighbor, because he wants our neighbor’s life to be dear and precious to us.” In this way the sin we have grown accustom to is exposed so it can be rooted out in the power of the Spirit. Your flesh will always try to evade the truth.

Calvin then enters the aforementioned process and discusses the Ten Commandments from this perspective. There are some helpful discussions, like images, the sins of the fathers, multi-generational mercy, the shift from Saturday to Sunday regarding the day of rest, etc. On the last point, many misunderstand Calvin’s view of the Sabbath since it is fairly nuanced. I recommend Gaffin’s book on the subject.

“Their claim that Christians are under the law of grace does not mean that they should lead unruly lives, free as it were of restraint. Rather they are engrafted into Christ, by whose grace they are delivered from the curse of the law, and by whose Spirit they have the law written in their hearts.”

By this last thought we see that in the New Covenant, the law is (re)written upon our hearts. This is important because it was so smudged and distorted by our sinful nature.

Each sin deserves condemnation. In this Calvin attacks the Roman view of venial and mortal sins. The fact that each sin of the saint doesn’t “kill grace” is due to God’s mercy, not on account of the nature of the particular sin. Our justification means that we continue to have peace with God even though our sins may still be many (Romans 5).

Calvin sums up the law’s curses and promises in this way:

“My answer is that the law’s promises were not given in vain, but that they are conditional, and can only be fulfilled for those who have accomplished all righteousness- a righteousness not to be found among men. Once we understand that they can do nothing for us unless in God in his goodness freely receives us apart from our works, and once we by faith embraced his goodness which he offers us in the gospel, these same promises, conditional as they are, are not in vain.”

He is beginning to introduce us to the 3 functions or uses of the law. This is a most important concept. … (to be continued)

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The recent tragedies, or perhaps seemingly endless series of gun tragedies, have caused many to re-consider their own view on guns. I ran across a statement that the Bible has no “theology of guns” and therefore we should be willing to view the 2nd Amendment as contrary to Scripture.

I think it bears some examination. Obviously guns aren’t in the Scriptures, but weapons certainly are. This country has a long history of gun ownership, and responsible gun ownership. These kinds of shootings, not associated with mob wars, are new.

Before we get to weapons themselves, let us consider some of the cultural shifts that may be at work in this horrible trend. The most fundamental is a shift away from a Judeo-Christian worldview. While American has never been a Christian nation, it has been dominated by the Judeo-Christian (monotheistic and moralistic) worldview as a form of civil religion. As the gospel has departed from the cultural consciousness we see the wrath of God revealed as we see in Romans 1. Often we focus on the sexual immorality, but there is also a great increase in violence as the culture, and its members begin to devalue life. We see this in abortion, domestic violence, school violence, gang life, euthanasia and more.  This leads to the breakdown of the family, and studies indicate that sons without fathers are far more likely to struggle in many ways, including a tendency toward violence.

28 And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done. 29 They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips, 30 slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, 31 foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless. Romans 1

Cain and Abel

Cain and Abel

This only makes sense when we think of life after Eden. We see that the world in rebellion to God was full of violence beginning with Cain killing his brother Abel. Abel’s great “sin” against Cain? It was actually about God because God accepted Abel’s sacrifice but not Cain’s. Pride and envy gave birth to bitterness and then hatred which resulted in Cain picking up a rock to kill his brother.

Notice God’s response. Before he did it, God confronted Cain and called him to rule over sin before sin ruled over him. Cain was mastered by sin instead. God had a measure of mercy on Cain by not having him put to death. A mark was placed on him so others wouldn’t kill him either. (As we will see in part 2, this changes after the flood.) God did not blame the rock, institute rock-free zones or rock (or whatever he used) control. The issue was not rocks but the human heart.

This cycle of violence continued with Lamech. He is the forefather of the gang mentality we often see among our disillusioned, despairing youth even if they are not in gangs.

23 Lamech said to his wives:

“Adah and Zillah, hear my voice;
    you wives of Lamech, listen to what I say:
I have killed a man for wounding me,
    a young man for striking me.
24 If Cain’s revenge is sevenfold,
    then Lamech’s is seventy-sevenfold.”Genesis 4

We notice here a corruption of sex and marriage as well in that he spoke to his wives. A polygamist, he perverted justice. His wounding lead him to kill another man. He then boasted about it. His “punishment” exceeded the sin committed against him (giving Lamech the benefit of the doubt).

We see here, and in the OT law, that punishments are not to exceed the crime. The “eye for an eye” code puts limits on justice. We are not to kill people for insulting us, stealing from us (except in one instance I will mention in part 2) etc.

To make an epochal adjustment, we see that we should not use guns (or any other weapon or tool used as a weapon) to commit crimes, or to retaliate against those who harm us. The problem is not the tool we use, but rather the wicked design of the person who wields it.

In the NT we see this taught in a few places. Most famously in the Sermon on the Mount.

38 “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ 39 But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. 40 And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. 41 And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. 42 Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you. Matthew 5

We see that Jesus refers to the law of talonic justice. For a personal insult (the slap) we are not to retaliate in like kind and especially not in an excessive manner (like shooting or stabbing them). The gospel helps us to forgive them instead of seeking retribution. We should rather be wronged than wrong the other person in response.

This doesn’t mean we don’t care about or want justice. It means we entrust justice into God’s hands instead of our own.

17 Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. 18 If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. 19 Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” Romans 12

We remember that God is just, and He has promised to make all things right. That may be in the death of His Son, or in judgment on the Last Day. But God will deal with it. It may also be through the state as Paul noted in Romans 13.

 For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer. Romans 13

Death Wish 3

If you are a person prone to anger, or seeking retaliation, you should not own a weapon because you will be particularly tempted to use it for unjust and wicked purposes. It is not intended to be used to right the wrongs perpetrated against you.

Does this mean that a Christian shouldn’t own a weapon (unless he or she is in the military or law enforcement)? No.

We have this statement by Jesus as he prepares the send the disciples out. Previously they were to go with nothing. Now they were to bring particular items.

36 He said to them, “But now let the one who has a moneybag take it, and likewise a knapsack. And let the one who has no sword sell his cloak and buy one. Luke 22

He wanted the disciples to buy a sword! Surely, therefore, it is not sinful to own and therefore use one. The issue is for what reason. We have seen the wrong reasons to use one: murder, retaliation and would include to rob others or otherwise sin against them.

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I don’t think I’ve read anything by J.V. Fesko before. I thought I’d start with a book carrying a lighter price tag before I started investing lots of money. As a result, The Rule of Love: Broken, Fulfilled and Applied has been sitting in my ‘to read” pile for some time. After reading a number of larger volumes I thought I’d go with a shorter book like this.

For those not familiar with Fesko, he is an OPC pastor and associate professor of Systematic Theology at Westminster Seminary California.

It is common for people who deny the on-going authority of the moral law to use terms like the rule of love to describe how God reveals His moral will to us. Fesko is not one of those people. This book is an exposition, however brief, on the Ten Commandments. He does treat them within their historical, covenantal and redemptive contexts. Too often people look at them in abstraction. We must remember they were given to the people of Israel, but YHWH who is the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob after He delivered them from Egypt and slavery. We must understand this original historical and covenantal context to properly understand them. But as Christians we also view them through Christ’s redemptive work in which He fulfilled them for us, and by virtue of our union with Him works in us so we keep them in increasing measure. As a result, the Ten Commandments are not some religious artifact from some bygone era. Neither is our obedience to them the ground of our justification. Christ’s obedience is the ground of our justification. We also remember that while they provide the direction of our sanctification (the 3rd use of the law) they do not provide the power for it. That comes from the Spirit by virtue of our union with Christ (which he mentions quite often).

“The Law is not merely a legal bond; it is also a rule of love between God and His people.”

It would be easy to see the book are formulaic because he works through these three categories for each of the ten. But you should see this as good pedagogue. Being obvious is not a problem particularly when the lack of obviousness creates great misunderstanding.

The chapters are not very long, and he provides some study questions to help you think through and apply the material. Fesko begins with the prologue which stresses the covenantal and historical context for the rest. The Law was given to them, not to save them, but to know how to live together with God and one another. They were never to forget that He rescued them from slavery. As we read them we remember the greater redemption to which this great redemption pointed to. As Christians we hear them as people who have been justified, not those seeking justification. It is precisely when we ignore this, including when we put them up on courthouse lawns or walls, that we begin to turn it into a ladder.

“We cannot manufacture images of God because Jesus Christ has already taken that role. Only Christ can do what no man-made image can, namely, perfectly reflect the image of God. …. We do not make images of God, for He is making images of Himself in us!”

(more…)

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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.

(more…)

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“I fear that we evangelical Christians, by making much of grace, sometimes thereby make light of sin.  There is not enough sorrow for sin among us.  We should experience more ‘godly grief’ of Christian penitence, like that sensitive and Christ-like eighteenth-century missionary to the American Indians David Brainard, who wrote in his journal on 18 October 1740: ‘In my morning devotions my soul was exceedingly melted, and bitterly mourned over my exceeding sinfulness and vileness.'”  John Stott from The Message of the Sermon on the Mount

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