Tuesday, April 12, 2016

knowing that we do not know

Spiral Galaxy edge-on photo by NASA Hubble telescope

We must begin by knowing that we do not know.  

Caspar Hare, Associate Professor at MIT, asks, "Can science teach us everything there is to know about reality?"  In other words, is it true that everything that can be known can be known through science?  If we say that is true, then what about that very statement?  How do we know it is true?

The scientific method can help us know the things that science can deal with.  But we need to know there are things outside of and beyond us, things which may not be validated by the scientific method.  Science can tell us much about the what of creation, but not the Who behind creation. 

We don't know who God is, what his will and laws are, and what the purpose and destiny of humanity is, unless God himself chooses to reveal these things to us.  These truths are shadowed upon our human nature and in the beauty of the world around us, but they can be known with clarity and certainty only as God has made them known.  

Therefore, we must seek the knowledge of God in the Word he has revealed to us.  Listen to the wisdom of Agur from the Old Testament...  

The man declares, I am weary, O God;
I am weary, O God, and worn out.
Surely I am too stupid to be a man.
I have not the understanding of a man.
I have not learned wisdom,
nor have I knowledge of the Holy One.
Who has ascended to heaven and come down?
Who has gathered the wind in his fists?
Who has wrapped up the waters in a garment?
Who has established all the ends of the earth?
What is his name, and what is his son's name?
Surely you know!
Every word of God proves true;
he is a shield to those who take refuge in him.
Do not add to his words,
lest he rebuke you and you be found a liar.

(Proverbs 30:1-6 ESV) 

Saturday, April 9, 2016

what makes a 'good work' good?

Works done by unregenerate men, although for the matter of them they may be things which God commands; and of good use both to themselves and others: yet, because they proceed not from an heart purified by faith; nor are done in a right manner, according to the Word; nor to a right end, the glory of God, they are therefore sinful, and cannot please God, or make a man meet to receive grace from God: and yet, their neglect of them is more sinful and displeasing unto God. (Westminster Confession of Faith, 16.7)

Dr. John Frame, in his excellent volume, The Doctrine of the Christian Life (Theology of Lordship series), explains below what goes into to making a "good work" before God.  (Relatively and humanly speaking, people may do good works toward one another, but the question here is, what is a good work before God, what kind of work is he is pleased with?)  He answers...

"Note the three necessary ingredients: (1) a heart purified by faith, (2) obedience to God’s Word, and (3) the right end, the glory of God. 

"The first is a plainly biblical emphasis. The Westminster Confession cites Hebrews 11:4 and some other texts. Romans 14:23 also comes to mind, which says, 'For whatever does not proceed from faith is sin.' In Jesus’ arguments with the Pharisees, too, it is evident that our righteousness must not be merely external (see especially Matt. 23:25–26). In describing the necessity of an internal motive for good works, Scripture refers not only to faith, but especially to love, as in 1 Corinthians 13:1–3 and many other passages. We learn from these passages that love is not only necessary for good works, but also sufficient; that is, if our act is motivated by a true love of God and neighbor, we have fulfilled the law (Matt. 22:40; Rom. 13:8; Gal. 5:14). 

"The second element of good works, according to the Confession, is obedience to God’s Word, to his law. Note the references in the previous section to the importance of obeying God’s Word. Certainly obedience to God’s Word is a necessary condition of good works, for disobedience to God’s law is the very definition of sin (1 John 3:4). It is also a sufficient condition, for if we have obeyed God perfectly, we have done everything necessary to be good in his sight. Of course, among God’s commands are his commands to love (see the above paragraph) and to seek his glory (see the next paragraph). 

"The third element is the right end, the glory of God. Ethical literature has often discussed the summum bonum, or highest good, for human beings. What is it that we are trying to achieve in our ethical actions? Many secular writers have said this goal is pleasure or human happiness. But Scripture says that in everything we do we should be seeking the glory of God (1 Cor. 10:31). Any act must glorify God if it is to be good, so seeking God’s glory is a necessary condition of good works. And if an act does glorify God, then it is good; thus, glorifying God is a sufficient condition of good works.

"So there are three necessary and sufficient conditions of good works: right motive, right standard, and right goal. Right motive corresponds to the lordship attribute of covenant presence, for it is God’s Spirit dwelling in us who places faith and love in our hearts. Right standard corresponds to God’s lordship attribute of authority. And right goal corresponds to the lordship attribute of control, for it is God’s creation and providence that determine what acts will and will not lead to God’s glory. God determines the consequences of our actions, and he determines which actions lead to our summum bonum."

This excerpt can be downloaded as a PDF from here.  

Thursday, April 7, 2016

murray on sanctification, part two

"Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure." (Philippians 2:12, 13 ESV)

"The salvation referred to here is not the salvation already in possession but the eschatological salvation (cf. 1 Thess. 5:8, 9; 1 Pet. 1:5, 9; 2:2).  And no text sets forth more succinctly and clearly the relation of God's working to our working.  God's working in us is not suspended because we work, nor our working suspended because God works.  Neither is the relation strictly one of co-operation as if God did his part and we did ours so that the conjunction or co-ordination of both produced the required result.  God works in us and we also work.  But the relation is that because God works we work.  All working out of salvation on our part is the effect of God's working in us, not the willing to the exclusion of the doing and not the doing to the exclusion of the willing, but both the willing and the doing.  And this working of God is directed to the end of enabling us to will and to do that which is well pleasing to him. We have here not only the explanation of all acceptable activity on our part but we have also the incentive to our willing and working."

-- John Murray, Redemption Accomplished and Applied, pp 148-49.

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

murray on sanctification

"There must be a constant and increasing appreciation that though sin still remains it does not have the mastery.  There is a total difference between surviving sin and reigning sin, the regenerate in conflict with sin and the unregenerate complacent to sin.  It is one thing for sin to live in us: it is another for us to live in sin.  It is one thing for the enemy to occupy the capital; it is another for his defeated hosts to harass the garrisons of the kingdom.  It is of paramount concern for the Christian and for the interests of his sanctification that he should know that sin does not have the dominion over him, that the forces of redeeming, regenerative, and sanctifying grace have been brought to bear upon him in that which is central in his moral and spiritual being, that he is the habitation of God through the Spirit, and that Christ has been formed in him the hope of glory.  This is equivalent to saying that he must reckon himself to be dead indeed unto sin but alive unto God through Jesus Christ his Lord." 

(John Murray, "Sanctification" in Redemption Accomplished and Applied.) 

Here's another quote...

Sunday notes

Here are some notes from last Sunday's sermon by Chris Faith...

From The Renovation of the Heart, by Dallas Willard, he cites: 

The Process of Change: V.I.M. VISION, INTENTION, and METHODS


1. GET HONEST: Find someone you trust; establish some accountability. Be frank about the struggle. 

2. GET SMART: Avoid temptation. Flee temptation.

3. GET SATISFIED: Married couples need to have a regular, satisfying, sexual relationship. 

4. GET VICTORY: It’s possible to walk in purity. Believe that. 

5. GET CLEANSED: Remember Jesus’ body broken and His blood spilled to make you clean. Receive His cleansing. Do you hear me? Receive now His cleansing. 

6. GET HUMBLE: Beg God for His power in your weakness. Seek His filling. Seek the things above.

1 Corinthians 6:18... "Flee immorality. Every other sin that a man commits is outside the body, but the immoral man sins against his own body."

James 4:7... "Submit therefore to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you."

God calls us to flee temptation, then resist the devil. We’re tempted to resist temptation and flee the devil. That doesn’t work, but following God’s strategy is powerful. 

Sanctification = holy, pure, consecrated, set apart for God.

Signs of this process of being set apart for God:

1. This process has a beginning. Has that consecration to God begun in your life?

2. God initiates this process. It begins when the Holy Spirit enters your life. Can you see Him at work in your life? 

3. It comes with a deep love for God and the things of God. 

4. It causes us to hate sin, and to desire to be cleansed from all evil. 

5. It moves us toward a balanced life, with self-control, directed by God Himself. 

Fruits of being progressively molded into the likeness of Jesus

1. We grow more grateful for God’s graces.

2. We grow more humble and God focused. 

3. We grow less concerned with the torments and temptations of this world.

4. We grow more enraptured by the beauty of Christ. 

Sermon in MP3 and PowerPoint slides in PDF at SermonAudio

Friday, April 1, 2016

shaped by the world, or the Word

"Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; but his delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night." (Psalm 1:1-2 ESV) 

"Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect."  (Romans 12:2 ESV)

Believers have always had to live in the presence of "the world".  The world, as used in the Bible in this sense, means the shape of thinking, life-style, culture, morality, opinions, trends, and judgments which characterize fallen humanity. The culture of men and women living in darkness and rebellion against the holy God takes a certain shape.  And this in turn exercises a shaping influence upon all within its sphere.  We cannot escape that pressure.  But in God's grace we experience a countering power, a transforming influence by his Word and Spirit.

Modern technology has only amplified the influence of the world. Daily we have access to, and are bombarded with, more information, imagery, news, opinions, entertainment, and marketing strategies than ever before in history.  And all of this data is not neutral, but proceeds from, and promotes in some way, a particular worldview.  That worldview, though it may have different variations, does not have God and truth at the center. 

The Psalmist says there is eternal blessing for the individual who does not follow the advice of the world (the counsel of the wicked), who does not live a worldly lifestyle (the way of sinners), and who does not hold worldly values and judgments (the seat of scoffers)(1:1).  And that this blessing comes about by delighting in the law (Torah = instruction) of the Lord and meditating on (musing, applying) it continually (night and day)(1:2). In this way, God's people will be like a tree beside the waters, and worldly thinkers will be like chaff the wind blows away (1:3ff).  

The Apostle Paul in the New Testament makes a similar statement in his letter to the Romans.  The believer gives the entirety of himself to God in holy service (12:1).  The conforming pressure of the world will be counteracted by the ongoing, transforming power of the knowledge of God (12:2). And that means, specifically in this passage, discerning and testing the good, acceptable, and perfect will of God.

It is ironic that evangelical Christians, who hold a high view of God's Word and its transforming power, can be self-contradictory when it comes to actual practice.  They feel they need only a token amount of Bible reading.  They don't want to seem self-righteous or legalistic or irrelevant.  They can downplay the role of teaching, thinking the church needs less sermons and teaching, and rather, more worship, more social action, more contact with the world. Some may think they need less Bible, less teaching, less preaching, less reading, less study of doctrine or history.  We must not end there, certainly, but neither should we short-change the sanctified molding of our minds. 

I fear we underestimate the power of a worldly culture. (And of the flesh, and the devil!)  We feel that we ourselves are immune to deception and seduction. I fear that we are unaware of the incessant propagandizing that surrounds us 24/7. I believe Christians in America at this hour need more reading -- and meditation, and memorization -- not less.  And, as important as our worship and relationships are, our churches need more teaching, not less.