Sunday, August 28, 2016

God alone our highest good

"God, and God alone, is man's highest good.

"In a general sense we can say that God is the highest good of all His creatures.  For God is the Creator and sustainer of all things, the source of all being and of all life, and the abundant fountain of all goods.  All creatures owe their existence from moment to moment solely to Him who is the one, eternal, and omnipresent Being.

"In all his thinking and in all his work, in the whole life and activity of man, it becomes apparent that he is a creature who cannot be satisfied with what the whole corporeal world has to offer.  He is indeed a citizen of a physical order of affairs, but he also rises above this order to a supernatural one.  With his feet planted firmly on the ground, he raises his head aloft and casts his eye up in a vertical look.  He has knowledge of things that are visible and temporal, but he is also aware of things that are invisible and eternal...

"The pleasant and the useful, although they have their value in their place and at their time, do not satisfy him; he requires and seeks a good which does not become good because of circumstances, but which is good in and through and for itself, an unchanging, spiritual, eternal good.  And his will, again, can find its rest only in such a highest, absolute, Divine goodness. 

"This desiderium aeternitatis, this yearning for an eternal order, which God has planted in the heart of man, in the inmost recesses of his being, in the core of his personality, is the cause of the indisputable fact that everything which belongs to the temporal order cannot satisfy man.  He is a sensuous, earthly, limited, and mortal being, and yet he is attracted to the eternal and is destined for it.  It is of no profit to a man that he should gain wife and children, houses and fields, treasures and property, or, indeed, the whole world , if in the gaining, his soul should suffer loss (Matt. 16:26).  For the whole world cannot balance the scale against the worth of a man.  There is no one so rich that he can by any means redeem the soul of his brother, nor give to God a ransom for him; the redemption of the soul is too precious for any creature to achieve (Psalm 49:7-9)."

~ Herman Bavinck, "Man's Highest Good" in Our Reasonable Faith (1909), pp 17-19. 

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

remaking a broken world

Some recent highlights in my reading...

"I want to persuade us to commit ourselves wholeheartedly to belonging to, and serving God in the fellowship of, a local church; and that this may prove to be the most significant thing we do with our lives."

"...the ordinary local Christian church contains within itself the seeds, or the DNA, of a remade world."  

"One true God means that there is one objective substantial reality within which you and I have to live. We can create our subjective or virtual quasi-realities as much as we like, but the day will come when we must reckon with what one theologian called, ‘The God who is there’, and therefore with the reality that is there."

"Most people think that it is perfectly possible to enjoy harmony east of Eden, that human beings are well able to ‘do the peace and harmony thing’ without bringing God into the picture."

"...apart from fellowship with God no human community is stable."  

~ Christopher Ash, Remaking a Broken World.

...then good works

"For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them." (Ephesians 2:8-10 ESV)

"For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love."  (Galatians 5:6 ESV)

So, for the Christian, what qualifies as a "good work"?

The Heidelberg Catechism summarizes this concisely... 
90. Q. What is the coming to life of the new nature?
A. It is a heartfelt joy in God through Christ,[1] and a love and delight to live according to the will of God in all good works.[2]
[1] Ps. 51:8, 12; Is. 57:15; Rom. 5:1; 14:17. [2] Rom. 6:10, 11; Gal. 2:20.
91. Q. But what are good works
A. Only those which are done out of true faith,[1] in accordance with the law of God,[2] and to His glory,[3] and not those based on our own opinion or on precepts of men.[4]
[1] John 15:5; Rom. 14:23; Heb. 11:6. [2] Lev. 18:4; I Sam. 15:22; Eph. 2:10. [3] I Cor. 10:31. [4] Deut. 12:32; Is. 29:13; Ezek. 20:18, 19; Matt. 15:7-9.

John Frame explains this as works according to a right standard (God's word), done with a right motive (faith, love), toward the right goal (glorifying God). [The Doctrine of the Christian Life, 2008] 

Frame notes, however, these are not three criteria but really only one... God's will (right standard) is that we trust and love him (right motive) and manifest our faith and love in ways that reveal his glory (right goal). The right motive (faith working through love) seeks to please him according to his will (right standard) and for his glory (right goal). The goal of the glory of God will be seen in people trusting and loving him (right motive) enough to obey his will (right standard).  See Dr. Frame's comments on this here.  

Finally, here are three short verses that support this understanding of good works... 

"For whatever does not proceed from faith is sin."  (Romans 14:23b) 

"Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me."  (John 14:21a ESV) 

"So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God."  (1 Corinthians 10:31 ESV) 

Heidelberg, Germany

faith comes first

"For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them." (Ephesians 2:8-10 ESV)

"You have often heard me say that the Christian life has two dimensions: the first is faith, and the second is good works. A believer should live a devout life and always do what is right. But the first dimension of the Christian life — faith — is more essential. The second dimension — good works — is never as valuable as faith. People of the world, however, adore good works. They regard them to be far higher than faith. 

"Good works have always been valued more highly than faith. Of course, it’s true that we should do good works and respect the importance of them. But we should be careful that we don’t elevate good works to such an extent that faith and Christ become secondary. If we esteem them too highly, good works can become the greatest idolatry. This has occurred both inside and outside of Christianity. Some people value good works so much that they overlook faith in Christ. They preach about and praise their own works instead of God’s works. 

"Faith should be first. After faith is preached, then we should teach good works. It is faith -- without good works and prior to good works -- that takes us to heaven. We come to God through faith alone." 

From Faith Alone: A Daily Devotional by Martin Luther.  

Saturday, August 6, 2016

J. I. Packer on knowing God

“Disregard the study of God, and you sentence yourself to stumble and blunder through life blindfolded, as it were, with no sense of direction and no understanding of what surrounds you. This way you can waste your life and lose your soul.”  

“Once you become aware that the main business that you are here for is to know God, most of life's problems fall into place of their own accord.” 

“We must seek, in studying God, to be led to God.”  

“How can we turn our knowledge about God into knowledge of God? The rule for doing this is simple but demanding. It is that we turn each Truth that we learn about God into matter for meditation before God, leading to prayer and praise to God.” 

“Repentance is more than just sorrow for the past; repentance is a change of mind and heart, a new life of denying self and serving the Savior as king in self's place.”  

“He that has learned to feel his sins, and to trust Christ as a Saviour, has learned the two hardest and greatest lessons in Christianity.”  

~ J. I. Packer, Knowing God