Tuesday, February 26, 2013

the reformation in 7 minutes

"The Reformation, what's with that?"  

Sometimes when people ask about this, I'll draw a little sketch on a piece of paper or napkin.  It's my seven-minute overview of what happened following Luther's posting of his 95 theses (points to debate) on the Castle Church door in Wittenberg on the eve of All Saints Day, 1517. 

This is a very rough generalization indeed...

First key issue: authority.  The foundation.  How do we know we are right about what we believe about being right with God?  The Roman Catholic church held that it was the Scriptures, but with a caveat:  specifically, the Scriptures as interpreted and applied by the authority of the Church.  So, to the authority base of the Bible was added the magisterium, that is, what the church, tradition, councils, and Popes officially ruled.  It was the "Bible-plus." 

The Reformers said, no (or nay), the councils and traditions and church rulers are very important, but not infallible.  The authority derives from God's revelation alone, namely the Bible.  So they used a slogan to summarize this point:  "sola Scriptura", which is Latin for "the Scripture alone." 

Second key issue: the merit of salvation.  Upon that authoritative revelation is placed the work of Jesus Christ.  Again, it becomes a matter of something-plus.  The Roman church held that it was Jesus who was meritorious in his passion and resurrection, but that there is also merit (or grace) which proceeds from others.  For example, Mary, and various Saints,  were better than they needed to be and so their goodness became a surplus, or "treasury of merits" for believers to use in this world.  Therefore, people could petition Mary or other Saints for aid or various needs because they had power and influence before God. 

To this the Reformers also said, no, it is Christ alone who is meritorious and worthy.  He is the sole fount of grace and salvation.  Hence, "solus Christus," or Christ alone.  They believed that the Bible taught that Jesus accomplished everything we need for life and eternal salvation, and that this is mediated to the believer through the Holy Spirit and the Word. 

Thirdly, our response.  Upon the Christ revealed to us in the Bible we place faith.  The Roman church said that this, too, was a matter of something-plus, namely, faith plus works.  Justification was viewed as a good beginning which could (and should) be improved upon.  Ultimate justification (being declared righteous) would come when faith and works have been perfected by the end of this life, or perhaps in the next (hence purgatory).  Assurance of salvation in this life was not really viewed as a good thing.   

The Reformers again disagreed.  As important as works were as evidence and fruit of living faith (and these are vitally important), yet faith itself is the empty hand which receives the completed gift of grace.  From that faith one is justified (declared righteous), and from that faith comes good works.  Assurance of salvation was viewed as a good thing which led to good works, by responding to grace in childlike gratitude.  God's assessment of believers is wholly gracious (and unchanging) since it comes from his consideration of us in eternal union with his Son, rather than from the perfection (or imperfection) of our works.  So again the Reformers came up with a phrase, actually two: "sola gratia" (grace alone) and "sola fide" (faith alone). 

In conclusion the Reformers would assert, "soli Deo gloria", that is, God alone is glorified as the gracious giver of our salvation from beginning to end.   

Monday, February 25, 2013

on sanctification

I appreciate this quote from Herman Bavinck on the subject of sanctification...

“Christ is our holiness in the same sense in which he is our righteousness. He is a complete and all-sufficient Savior. He does not rest until, after pronouncing his acquittal in our conscience, he has also imparted full holiness and glory to us. By his righteousness, accordingly, he does not just restore us to the state of the just who will go scot-free in the judgment of God, in order then to leave us to ourselves to reform ourselves after God's image and to merit eternal life. But Christ has accomplished everything. He bore for us the guilt and punishment of sin, placed himself under the law to secure eternal life for us, and then arose from the grave to communicate himself to us in all his fullness for both our righteousness and sanctification.”  

(Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, IV:248)

And here's another...

“Because sanctification, like the whole of salvation, is the work of God, we are admonished, obliged, to a new obedience, and we are also qualified for it. He grants abundant grace not that we should instantly or suddenly be holy and continue to rest in this holiness, but that we should persevere in the struggle and remain standing. He hears our prayers but does it in accordance with the law and order which He has fixed for the spiritual life. Hence we are always of good course, for He who has begun a good work in us will finish it until the day of Jesus Christ. The believers can and they will become holy because in Christ they are holy.” 

(From Our Reasonable Faith, pp 502-3).

Saturday, February 23, 2013

at journey's end

The following words were read recently at a student gathering, where teens had come together to pray for a family whose mother had recently died.  They are taken from the last section of The Pilgrim's Progress…

I now see myself at my journey's end; my days of toil are over. I am going now to see that Head that was crowned with thorns, and that Face that was spit upon for me.

I have formerly lived by hearing and by faith; but now I am going to where I will live by sight and will be with Him in whose company I delight.

I have always loved to hear my Lord spoken of, and wherever I have seen the print of His shoe on the earth, I have desired to set my foot, too.

His name has been to me as a priceless treasure -- sweeter than all perfumes. His voice has been music to my ears, and I have more earnestly desired to see His face than those who would most desire to see the light of the sun.  I have gathered His Word which became my food, and used it as a remedy against fainting along the way. He has held my course steady, and I have forsaken all my sins.  Yes, He has strengthened my steps in His way."

--John Bunyan, "Stand-fast's final words" in The Pilgrims Progress, Part 2, by John Bunyan, Cheryl V. Ford translation. Painting above is "Pilgrims in Sight of the Celestial City,” by Henry Dawson (1854).

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

adoption by God

A quote and two slides from Andy Ko's Sunday adult class presentation... 

“If you want to judge how well a person understands Christianity, find out how much he makes of the thought of being God’s child, and having God as his Father. If this is not the thought that prompts and controls his worship and prayers and his whole outlook on life, it means that he does not understand Christianity very well at all. 

"For everything that Christ taught, everything that makes the New Testament new, and better than the Old, everything that is distinctively Christian as opposed to merely Jewish, is summed up in the knowledge of the Fatherhood of God. 'Father' is the Christian name for God. … Our understanding of Christianity cannot be better than our grasp of adoption...

“Justification is a forensic idea, conceived in terms of law, and viewing God as judge… Adoption is a family idea, conceived in terms of love, and viewing God as father. In adoption, God takes us into His family and fellowship, and establishes us as His children and heirs. Closeness, affection and generosity are at the heart of the relationship. To be right with God the judge is a great thing, but to be loved and cared for by God the father is greater” 

(J. I. Packer, from Knowing God)

bringing forth life

"For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return there but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it." 

(Isaiah 55:10-11 ESV)

Friday, February 15, 2013

praying the gospel

This is taken from Everyday Prayers: 365 Days to a Gospel-Centered Faith, by Scotty Smith:

"Praying the gospel involves engaging with all three offices of Christ: Jesus as prophet, priest, and king. Engaging him as our prophet, we listen to Jesus and we look for him in every part of the Scriptures (Luke 24:27). Engaging him as our priest, we honor Jesus as the perfect sacrifice for our sins, the righteousness we have by faith, and our loving Savior and High Priest who meets and greets us at the throne of his grace. Engaging him as our king, we submit to Jesus as the one who is making all things new—including us and the broken world all around us."

Sunday, February 10, 2013

on justification

"Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due. And to the one who does not work but trusts him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness." (Romans 4:4-5 ESV)

What wonderful, freeing, life-giving words these are!  God does not justify the godly, or declare that the good are righteous, but rather, the ungodly.  Through faith we are not made good (though that happens over time, sure enough) but rather we are declared -- by virtue of Christ's precious blood -- to be righteous.  Now and always.  This I believe is an unchanging foundation for the believer to stand upon in his approach to God.  It is also an unending fountain of joy for the Christian.

Martyn Lloyd-Jones makes this truth very practical...

To make it quite practical I have a very simple test. After I have explained the way of Christ to somebody I say “Now, are you ready to say that you are a Christian?” And they hesitate. And then I say, “What’s the matter? Why are you hesitating?” And so often people say, “I don’t feel like I’m good enough yet. I don’t think I’m ready to say I’m a Christian now.” 

And at once I know that I have been wasting my breath. They are still thinking in terms of themselves. They have to do it. It sounds very modest to say, “Well, I don’t think I’m good enough,” but it’s a very denial of the faith. The very essence of the Christian faith is to say that He is good enough and I am in Him. As long as you go on thinking about yourself like that and saying, “I’m not good enough; Oh, I’m not good enough,” you are denying God – you are denying the gospel – you are denying the very essence of the faith and you will never be happy. You think you’re better at times and then again you will find you are not as good at other times than you thought you were. You will be up and down forever. 

How can I put it plainly? It doesn't matter if you have almost entered into the depths of hell. It does not matter if you are guilty of murder as well as every other vile sin. It does not matter from the standpoint of being justified before God at all. You are no more hopeless than the most moral and respectable person in the world. 

― D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Spiritual Depression

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

On the reliability of the Bible

Speaking at Cru tonight on the reliability of the Bible.  Can we trust what it says?  Here are some follow-up resources for further study...

Recommended (start here):

MP3 message: "Literalism: Isn't the Bible historically unreliable and regressive?" by Tim Keller

Article: "Jesus of Nazareth: How Historians Can Know Him and Why It Matters," by Craig L. Blomberg

Two helpful websites:

BeThinking.org: The historicity and authority of the Bible 

Carl F. H. Henry Center: Christ On Campus Initiative.

Suggested reading list (basic)

Geisler, Norman, and Nix, William. From God To Us: How We Got Our Bible 

Keller, Timothy. The Reason for God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism 

Pink, A. W. The Divine Inspiration of the Bible

Specific resources for NT integrity:

Bauckham, Richard. Jesus and the Eyewitnesses: The Gospels as Eyewitness Testimony 

Blomberg, Craig. The Historical Reliability of the Gospels

Bock, Darrell, and Wallace, Daniel. Dethroning Jesus: Exposing Popular Culture's Quest to Unseat the Biblical Christ 

Bock, Darrell. The Missing Gospels: Unearthing the Truth Behind Alternative Christianities

Bruce, F. F. The New Testament Documents: Are They Reliable? 

Kruger, Michael. Canon Revisited: Establishing the Origins and Authority of the New Testament Books

Wallace, Daniel.  Revisiting the Corruption of the New Testament: Manuscript, Patristic, and Apocryphal Evidence

compass of the pilgrim

Michael Horton writes the following in his chapter "Why Study Theology?" found in Pilgrim Theology: Core Doctrines for Christian Disciples (Zondervan, 2013)  I took the liberty to make a graphic to help me remember this.

As we shall see, the theology of the Bible leads us away from the high places of the religious, the moral, and the spiritual specialists. It keeps our boots firmly on the ground. Instead of ascending to spiritual heights, we meet God in his gracious descent to us.  Like the directions on a compass, there are four coordinates that guide us in our journey to know God: 
  • Drama
  • Doctrine
  • Doxology
  • Discipleship
All of our faith and practice arise out of the drama of Scripture, the “big story” that traces the plot of history from creation to consummation, with Christ as its Alpha and Omega, beginning and end. And out of the throbbing verbs of this unfolding drama God reveals stable nouns — doctrines. From what God does in history we are taught certain things about who he is and what it means to be created in his image, fallen, and redeemed, renewed, and glorified in union with Christ. As the Father creates his church, in his Son and by his Spirit, we come to realize what this covenant community is and what it means to belong to it; what kind of future is promised to us in Christ, and how we are to live here and now in the light of it all. The drama and the doctrine provoke us to praise and worship — doxology — and together these three coordinates give us a new way of living in the world as disciples

Unlike the directions on a common compass, all of these coordinates are engaged simultaneously. We do not begin our journey in the direction of the drama, then move on to the doctrine and doxology and finally arrive at discipleship. Often, as we will see later, doctrinal gold is discovered in Scripture’s rich veins of prayer and praise. 

Doctrines like the Trinity did not emerge out of ivory-tower theorizing, but out of the worship of Jewish Christians who acknowledge one God yet were baptized into the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, and gave praise to each of them as a distinct person of the one God. At no point was doctrine conceived merely as an intellectual enterprise. In Scripture and in the best of church history, doctrinal reflection has maintained a deeply integrated connection with the biblical narrative, the desire of the heart, and the engagement of the will and the body in worship and life. 

The Bible knows nothing of any contrast between truth and experience, head and heart, theology and practical living. 

(Michael Horton, Pilgrim Theology)

Saturday, February 2, 2013

CSL on happiness

Working on a sermon for Philippians series.  Special focus on Phil. 1:21... "for to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain."  In thinking about joy and happiness, I came upon a number of quotes by C. S. Lewis on the topic of happiness...

“All that we call human history--money, poverty, ambition, war, prostitution, classes, empires, slavery--[is] the long terrible story of man trying to find something other than God which will make him happy.”  (From Mere Christianity)

“I sometimes wonder whether all pleasures are not substitutes for joy.”  (From Surprised by Joy)

“God cannot give us a happiness and peace apart from Himself, because it is not there. There is no such thing.”  (From Mere Christianity)

“Do not let your happiness depend on something you may lose... only (upon) the Beloved who will never pass away.”  (Quoting Augustine in The Four Loves)

“Aim at heaven and you will get earth thrown in. Aim at earth and you get neither.”  (From Mere Christianity)

Related posts: 
Every enemy of joy overcome (Piper)
Happiness (joy) our goal (Edwards)
Excerpts from True Spirituality (Schaeffer)

loving and hating in the right way

C. S. Lewis wrote, 

"Until quite modern times all teachers and even all men believed the universe to be such that certain emotional reactions on our part could be either congruous or incongruous to it—believed, in fact, that objects did not merely receive, but could merit, our approval or disapproval, our reverence or our contempt... 

"'Can you be righteous', asks Traherne, 'unless you be just in rendering to things their due esteem? All things were made to be yours and you were made to prize them according to their value.'

"St Augustine defines virtue as ordo amoris, the ordinate condition of the affections in which every object is accorded that kind of degree of love which is appropriate to it. Aristotle says that the aim of education is to make the pupil like and dislike what he ought. When the age for reflective thought comes, the pupil who has been thus trained in 'ordinate affections' or 'just sentiments' will easily find the first principles in Ethics; but to the corrupt man they will never be visible at all and he can make no progress in that science. 

"Plato before him had said the same. The little human animal will not at first have the right responses. It must be trained to feel pleasure, liking, disgust, and hatred at those things which really are pleasant, likeable, disgusting and hateful. In the Republic, the well-nurtured youth is one 'who would see most clearly whatever was amiss in ill-made works of man or ill-grown works of nature, and with a just distaste would blame and hate the ugly even from his earliest years and would give delighted praise to beauty, receiving it into his soul and being nourished by it, so that he becomes a man of gentle heart."

From The Abolition of Man, online text here

Friday, February 1, 2013

a soul happy in the Lord

Here's a very valuable insight from George Mueller, taken from The Autobiography Of George Muller... (Underlining is added by me.)

May 7, 1841. It has recently pleased the Lord to teach me a truth, irrespective of human instrumentality, as far as I know, the benefit of which I have not lost, though now, while preparing the fifth edition for the press, more than fourteen years have since passed away.

The point is this: I saw more clearly than ever that the first great and primary business to which I ought to attend every day was, to have my soul happy in the Lord. The first thing to be concerned about was not how much I might serve the Lord, how I might glorify the Lord; but how I might get my soul into a happy state, and how my inner man might be nourished.  

For I might seek to set the truth before the unconverted, I might seek to benefit believers, I might seek to relieve the distressed, I might in other ways seek to behave myself as it becomes a child of God in this world; and yet, not being happy in the Lord, and not being nourished and strengthened in my inner man day by day, all this might not be attended to in a right spirit. Before this time my practice had been, at least for ten years previously, as an habitual thing to give myself to prayer, after having dressed myself in the morning.

Now, I saw that the most important thing I had to do was to give myself to the reading of the word of God, and to meditation  on it, that thus my heart might be comforted, encouraged, warned, reproved, instructed; and that thus, by means of the word of God, whilst meditating on it, my heart might be brought into experimental [experiential] communion with the Lord

I began therefore to meditate on the New Testament from the beginning, early in the morning. The first thing I did, after having asked in a few words the Lord's blessing upon his precious word, was, to begin to meditate on the word of God, searching as it were into every verse, to get blessing out of it; not for the sake of the public ministry of the word, not for the sake of preaching on what I had meditated upon, but for the sake of obtaining food for my own soul

The result I have found to be almost invariably this, that after a very few minutes my soul has been led to confession, or to thanksgiving, or to intercession, or to supplication; so that, though I did not, as it were, give myself to prayer, but to meditation, yet it turned almost immediately more or less into prayer.

When thus I have been for a while making confession or  intercession, or supplication, or have given thanks, I go on to  the next words or verse, turning all, as I go on, into prayer for myself or others, as the word may lead to it, but still continually keeping before me that food for my own soul is the object of my meditation. 

The result of this is, that there is always a good deal of confession, thanksgiving, supplication, or intercession mingled with my meditation, and that my inner man almost invariably is even sensibly nourished and strengthened, and that by breakfast time, with rare exceptions, I am in a peaceful if not happy state of heart.

Thus also the Lord is pleased to communicate unto me that which, either very soon after or at a later time, I have found to become food for other believers, though it was not for the sake of the public ministry of the word that I gave myself to meditation, but for the profit of my own inner man

(Excerpt taken from the Kindle edition.)