Tuesday, September 30, 2014

The Sign and the Thing Signified

When Peter writes "not the putting away of the filth of the flesh" (1 Pet 3:21) in reference to baptism, "he speaks not of the naked sign, but that the effect must also be connected with it... the external symbol is not sufficient except baptism be received really and effectually...

"But the fanatics...absurdly pervert this testimony, while they seek to take away from sacraments all their power and effect. For Peter did not mean here to teach that [baptism] is vain and inefficacious, but only to exclude hypocrites from the hope of salvation, who, as far as they can, deprave and corrupt baptism. Moreover, when we speak of sacraments, two things are to be considered, the sign and the thing itself. In baptism the sign is water, but the thing is the washing of the soul by the blood of Christ and the mortifying of the flesh. The institution of Christ includes these two things. Now that the sign often appears inefficacious and fruitless, this happens through the abuse of men, which does not take away the nature of the sacrament. Let us then learn not to tear away the thing signified from the sign. We must at the same time beware of another evil, such as prevails among the Papists; for as they distinguish not as they ought between the thing and the sign, they stop at the outward element, and on that fix their hope of salvation. Therefore the sight of the water takes away their thoughts from the blood of Christ and the power of the Spirit. They do not regard Christ as the only author of all the blessings therein offered to us; they transfer the glory of his death to the water, they tie the secret power of the Spirit to the visible sign.

"What then ought we to do? Not to separate what has been joined together by the Lord. We ought to acknowledge in baptism a spiritual washing, we ought to embrace therein the testimony of the remission of sin and the pledge of our renovation, and yet so as to leave to Christ his own honour, and also to the Holy Spirit; so that no part of our salvation should be transferred to the sign."

John Calvin, Commentary on the First Epistle of Peter, pp. 118-119.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Ignorant Christians?

2 Peter 1:5–9 (NKJV)
5 But also for this very reason, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue, to virtue knowledge, 6 to knowledge self-control, to self-control perseverance, to perseverance godliness, 7 to godliness brotherly kindness, and to brotherly kindness love. 8 For if these things are yours and abound, you will be neither barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. 9 For he who lacks these things is shortsighted, even to blindness, and has forgotten that he was cleansed from his old sins.

Last week we learned that our call as Christians is to add to our faith virtue. Holiness is not optional but a natural outgrowth of God’s work in our lives. He who has been born of God will become like God.

Today Peter exhorts us to add to virtue knowledge. Webster defines knowledge as “acts, information, and skills acquired by a person through experience or education; the theoretical or practical understanding of a subject.” So let us explore two implications of Peter’s words:

First, Peter tells us that we are to acquire knowledge, to gain a greater understanding of the Christian faith through experience and education. Remember that the greatest commandment is to love the Lord our God with, among other things, all our minds. God has given us minds to understand the Word of God, to apply it in our lives, and to grow in knowledge. So Paul commands us, Brethren, do not be children in [your thinking]; however, in malice be babes, but in [your thinking] be mature (1 Cor 14:20). Being an ignorant Christian is simply not a godly option.

What this means, therefore, is that each of us is commanded by Peter to grow in knowledge. We are to use the abilities and opportunities that God gives us to expand our minds. And we are, remember, to devote ourselves to this task with all diligence. Read your Bibles; read sound Christian literature; listen carefully to the sermons; review and discuss them through the week. Add to your virtue knowledge.

Second, the order in which Peter places virtue and knowledge is important. We are to add knowledge on top of virtue. Knowledge in itself is not the object; rather, it is knowledge in the service of faith and virtue. Paul warns us that knowledge puffs up but love edifies. In other words, it is possible to abuse knowledge. As J.I. Packer writes in Knowing God:
“if we pursue theological knowledge for its own sake, it is bound to go bad on us. It will make us proud and conceited. The very greatness of the subject-matter will intoxicate us, and we shall come to think of ourselves as a cut above other Christians because of our interest in it and grasp of it; and we shall look down on those whose theolgical ideas seem to us crude and inadquate, and dismiss them as very poor specimins… We need to guard our hearts against such an attitude, and pray to be kept from it.”

So this morning Peter would remind us to add to your virtue knowledge. In light of this, we must admit that we are often either lazy and slothful, failing to gain the knowledge that we ought, or proud and arrogant, looking down on those who haven’t learned as much as we. Reminded of our sins in these areas, let us seek the Lord’s forgiveness through Jesus. Let us kneel as we confess our sin.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Dispatches from the Front

For the last seven or so weeks our family has incorporated the video series Dispatches from the Front by Dr. Tim Keesee into our Saturday evening Sabbath meal ritual. I simply cannot say enough about this video series. Get it; watch it; be blessed; be encouraged; be challenged; be prepared to cheer and to cry and to contemplate. Dr. Keesee is with Frontline Missions International and the video series travels to a number of "frontline" mission fields, following the journeys of courageous men and women who are taking the Gospel to hard to reach places. As expected, the videos give a great vision for missions; but I also found myself challenged to think about the mission field outside my door. There are currently 7 videos available here. Our whole family is grieved that we're done with the set and praying for more.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Two Sure Paths to Divorce

"Ironically, girlfriends are quick to justify seemingly bad behavior in their boyfriends and try to explain it away, while many wives are eager for everyone around them to know how awful their husband can be and how everyone should fee sorry for them for having to live with such a wreck of a human being... Would that it were the reverse, with girlfriends seriously discussing with their friends their boyfriends' weaknesses so that they could make a wise decision, and wives seriously defending their husbands' honor so that they could make a lasting marriage. Unfortunately, ignoring your boyfriend's weaknesses and gossiping about your husband's failures are two sure paths to divorce."

Gary Thomas, The Sacred Search: What if it's not about who you marry, but why?, p. 44.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Let Go and Let God? Nope.

2 Peter 1:5–9 (NKJV)
5 But also for this very reason, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue, to virtue knowledge, 6 to knowledge self-control, to self-control perseverance, to perseverance godliness, 7 to godliness brotherly kindness, and to brotherly kindness love. 8 For if these things are yours and abound, you will be neither barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. 9 For he who lacks these things is shortsighted, even to blindness, and has forgotten that he was cleansed from his old sins.

Last week we learned from Peter that God’s work in our lives does not stop with our regeneration and conversion, does not stop when we profess faith in Jesus as Lord. God’s work continues as He teaches and trains us to be holy. God has called us, Peter wrote, by glory and virtue – to make us glorious and virtuous. And how does He accomplish this? By His divine power. Peter wrote that His divine power has given to us all things that pertain to life and godliness. The Risen Christ has poured out His Spirit upon the Church and His Spirit makes us glorious and virtuous.

Because holiness of life is a work of the Spirit, some Christians have erroneously maintained that the path to true holiness is through passivity: "Let go and let God; relax and let God work through you.” But Peter reasons in the exact opposite direction. Notice that Peter writes in verse 5: But also for this very reason – in other words, because God in His grace and mercy has delivered us from our sin and given us His Spirit to make us holy – for this very reason, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue…

Notice two things in Peter’s command: first, we are to add to our faith virtue. It is not enough to believe in God, not enough to profess faith in Him. That faith must manifest itself in virtue – in holiness of life. Faith without works is dead, as James declares. Or as the Apostle John phrases it, the one who claims to know God and does not begin becoming like God has not truly known God. Holiness is not optional – for the same Spirit who gave us faith will also give us virtue and holiness of life.

Second, notice that the knowledge that the Holy Spirit is the One making us holy should not drive us to passivity but to activity. Knowing that God is the One at work in us to will and to work for His good pleasure should produce in us, Peter writes, all diligence. Webster defines diligence as “careful and persistent work or effort.” Synonyms include “conscientiousness, assiduousness, hard work, application, concentration, effort, care, industriousness, rigor, meticulousness, thoroughness” – you get the idea. Peter wants us to give all diligence to the pursuit of virtue.

So what about you? Are you giving all diligence to the pursuit of virtue? That sin that’s been dogging you – have you given all diligence to rid yourself of it? Have you prayed for God to take it away? Have you confessed it? Have you memorized Scripture? Have you pursued accountability? Have you guarded yourself from temptation? Have you given all diligence?

For listen, brethren, the kingdom of God is like a merchant seeking beautiful pearls, who, when he had found one pearl of great price, went and sold all that he had and bought it. Knowing Christ, serving Him, attaining to the resurrection of the dead, is worth all the effort, all the industry, all the diligence, we can muster.

So reminded of our call to give all diligence to our pursuit of holiness, let us confess that we have often been passive in our pursuit of holiness and have need of God’s forgiveness and strength. Let us kneel as we confess together.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Killing Souls

"A Jesuit testified that 'the hymns of Luther killed more souls than his sermons.'"

Roland Bainton, Here I Stand: A Life of Martin Luther, p. 346.

Luther on Music

"Music is a fair and lovely gift of God which has often wakened and moved me to the joy of preaching. St. Augustine was troubled in conscience whenever he caught himself delighting in music, which he took to be sinful. He was a choice spirit, and were he living today would agree with us. I have no use for cranks who despise music, because it is a gift of God. Music drives away the Devil and makes people happy; they forget thereby all wrath, unchastity, arrogance, and the like. Next after theology I give to music the highest place and the greatest honor. I would not exchange what little I know of music for something great. Experience proves that next to the Word of God only music deserves to be extolled as the mistress and governess of the feelings of the human heart. We know that to the devils music is distasteful and insufferable. My heart bubbles up and overflows in response to music, which has so often refreshed me and delivered me from dire plagues."

Martin Luther in Roland Bainton, Here I Stand: A Life of Martin Luther, p. 341.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Eternal Election and External Calling

John Calvin in his commentary on Genesis 6 defends the position that the "sons of God" are the descendants of Seth. Here he responds to a potential objection and illustrates the way in which Scripture speaks both of eternal election and external calling:

"Should any one object, that they who had shamefully departed from the faith, and the obedience which God required, were unworthy to be accounted the sons of God; the answer is easy, that the honour is not ascribed to them, but to the grace of God, which had hiterto been conspicuous in their families. For when Scripture speaks of the sons of God, sometimes it has respect to eternal election, which extends only to the lawful heirs; sometimes to external vocation [calling], according to which many wolves are within the fold; and though, in fact, they are strangers, yet they obtain the name of sons, until the Lord shall disown them."

Monday, September 15, 2014

Are we anti-Zionists?

My daughter is doing a research paper on postmillennialism. She asked me the other day whether ethnic Israel has a place in God's plan and if we're anti-Zionists. So here's my quick response:

Hah - you're reading some interesting stuff. Ethnic Israel, like all the nations of the earth, shall one day bow the knee to Jesus (Ps 72:8-11). So long as ethnic Israel does not believe in Jesus, however, she sits under God's condemnation and curse even as Gentile nations that don't believe in Jesus do. But the glorious promise is that all nations shall worship the Lord - including special promises that ethnic Israel shall (Rom 11:28-32).

But remember that the Church is the Israel of God in the NT - see Gal 6:16 and Phil 3:2-3 and 1 Pet 2:9ff and Eph 2:11-22. So are we "anti-Zionists"? Depends on what you mean: the Church is biblically Mt. Zion, the city of the Living God. So we are pro-Zionists in so far as we labor and strive to build up the Church.

If the question is, "Should we support ethnic Israel as a matter of biblical and theological necessity?" then I think that the answer is NO. That will make me an anti-Zionist in some minds because they define "Zion" as the physical city of Jerusalem. But Paul makes clear that the Church is the heavenly Jerusalem, the reality to which the earthly Jerusalem only pointed (Gal 4:21-31).

All of this is, in my mind, separate from the political question, "Should America favor Israel to the other Middle Eastern countries?" To that question I may or may not answer yes as a Christian - personally I answer Yes. But I do so because the nation Israel supports biblical values more faithfully than other Middle Eastern countries not because ethnic Israel is God's elect people. The Church is God's elect people (1 Pet 2:9-10).

Sunday, September 14, 2014

All Things Necessary for Life and Godliness

2 Peter 1:2–4 (NKJV)
2 Grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord, 3 as His divine power has given to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him who called us by glory and virtue, 4 by which have been given to us exceedingly great and precious promises, that through these you may be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust.

The Apostle John reminds us in his first epistle that Jesus appeared for this purpose: to destroy the works of the devil. And what are the works of the devil? The works of the devil are obvious: lies, deceit, murder, lust, hatred, covetousness. Jesus took on human flesh to deliver us from such things. He gave his life that we might be forgiven for having done such things and rose again from the dead that He might empower us to live in newness of life – that we might have power to practice virtue in our lives and overcome the degrading vices of the Evil One.

It is this message which Peter announces in the beginning of his second epistle. First, Peter reminds us from whence God has rescued us. We used to be slaves of sin, slaves of Satan, and slaves of our own passions. But God in Christ delivered us. We have escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust.

So why did God rescue us? Peter reminds us that God rescued us that we might be partakers of the divine nature. In other words, God graciously redeemed us that we might come to reflect His character increasingly in our lives. He called us, Peter notes, by glory and virtue. He came to make us glorious – to free us from shameful attitudes and actions – and to make us virtuous – to free us from vicious, sinful attitudes and actions.

So how does God accomplish this? Peter gives us the answer: His divine power has given to us all things that pertain to life and godliness. The Risen Christ has poured out His Spirit upon the Church and His Spirit teaches us and instructs us in righteousness and holiness and self-control. The Spirit poured out upon us is the Spirit of holiness – come to make us increasingly holy. So did you catch Peter’s words? His divine power has given to us all things that pertain to life and godliness. Today we read of Enoch, a sinful man who walked faithfully with God, who pleased God such that God delivered him from death. Holiness is possible.

So what excuses have you made this week for your sinful attitudes and actions? You yelled at your spouse; you were harsh with your children; you looked at pornography; you nagged your husband; you were lazy at work; you lied to a friend; you were afraid to speak of Christ; you neglected to pray; you became bitter toward your spouse; you engaged in self-pity. “But it’s okay,” you said to yourself, “I can’t really help it. If they hadn’t done that to me…” But Peter says to you, His divine power has given to us all things that pertain to life and godliness. There is no excuse for behaving sinfully.

Reminded that we often make excuses for our sin rather than seek the face of God and ask Him for power to be glorious and virtuous, let us kneel and seek His forgiveness in Christ.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Cain's Offering Was Not the Problem

Hebrews 11:4 (NKJV)
4 By faith Abel offered to God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain, through which he obtained witness that he was righteous, God testifying of his gifts; and through it he being dead still speaks.

This morning we study the story of Cain and Abel. Paul informs us in Hebrews 11 what distinguished the two brothers. Though related by blood, though possibly twins, the two brothers were as different as different can be. For Abel lived by faith: he trusted God, worshiped God, loved God, cherished God. Cain did not.

And it was this that distinguished the sacrifices of Cain and Abel. It was not necessarily that one was an animal and the other fruit; nor that one was most excellent and the other humdrum. It was that one offering was offered in faith and the other in disbelief. Cain did not love God, did not believe God’s promise, did not cherish God’s ways. The problem was Cain's person, Cain's character, not his offering.

And so God testified of Abel by receiving his offering. God testified that without faith it is impossible to please him, for he who comes to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of those who diligently seek him. This is what Abel knew and it is what he continues to tell us even now though he is dead: if you would please God, you must come to him in faith – believing that he is and that he rewards those who diligently seek him.

But not only does Abel teach us, Cain’s story warns us: Don’t come here offering your prayers and songs and tithes if those things are not offered in faith, not offered from a heart that loves and trusts the Living God. God does not need you; God does not need you; you need him. And if you worship in unbelief, you will find that God is no more pleased with your offerings than with Cain’s. Solomon tells us, The sacrifice of the wicked is an abomination to the LORD, But the prayer of the upright is His delight (Prov. 15:8). God had regard to Abel and his offering, but to Cain and his offering he did not. So what of you? Whom shall you follow?

Reminded this morning that we must come to God in faith like Abel, let us seek his forgiveness trusting in Christ’s sacrifice on our behalf. Let us kneel as we confess our sin to the Lord.