Sunday, March 30, 2014

Thou Shalt not Bear False Witness

Exodus 20:16 (NKJV)
16 “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.

Martin Luther writes in his Large Catechism, “Besides our own body, our wife or husband, and our temporal property, we have one more treasure which is indispensible to us, namely, our honor and good name, for it is intolerable to live among men in public disgrace and contempt. Therefore God will not have our neighbor deprived of his reputation, honor, and character any more than of his money and possessions…”

Even as we treasure our own reputation, we are to treasure the reputation of our neighbor and beware tarnishing his good name. So what does this mean? First, it means that in courts of law, we are obliged to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. A faithful witness, Solomon declares, does not lie, but a false witness will utter lies. We are not to be influenced by another’s money, power, influence, gender, race, poverty, or position to speak anything other than the truth when summoned to do so by a lawful authority. God declares in Lev 19:15 – You shall do no injustice in judgment. You shall not be partial to the poor, nor honor the person of the mighty. In righteousness you shall judge your neighbor. God reiterated this need for truth in the halls of justice through the prophet Zechariah:
These are the things you shall do: Speak each man the truth to his neighbor; give judgment in your gates for truth, justice, and peace; let none of you think evil in your heart against your neighbor; and do not love a false oath. For all these are things that I hate, says the Lord.

When summoned to bear witness in a court of law or when summoned to sit on a jury judging our peers, our obligation in the sight of God is to tell the truth and to judge in light of the truth.

Second, not only are we forbidden to bear false witness in courts of law, we are forbidden to use our tongue to destroy the reputation of our neighbor. Leviticus 19:16 declares, You shll not go about as a talebearer among your people… God hates the one who slanders and gossips and back-bites. He delights in the truth, delights in the one who is willing to speak truth with his lips. So Paul commands us in Ephesians 4:25, Therefore, putting away lying, ‘Let each one of you speak truth with his neighbor,’ for we are members of one another.

Even as God is a God of truth so we are to men and women of the truth. Truthfulness is to characterize our interaction – with God and with others. So what of you? Is your life truthful? Or do you hide behind lies? Lie about others? Gossip? Slander? Malign?

Reminded of our calling to be men and women of the truth, let us confess to God that our courts and our culture have abandoned truth and embraced lies; and let us confess also that we ourselves often twist and distort the truth to serve our own ends. Let us kneel as we confess our sins to the Lord.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

You Shall Not Steal

Exodus 20:15 (NKJV)
15 “You shall not steal.

On one occasion Jesus was ministering and teaching to an innumerable multitude of people. So many had gathered that they trampled one another, each eager to hear the words he would speak. As he was teaching, a man in the crowd shouted, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.”

Clearly this man was presenting Jesus with an opportunity, had he been a demagogue courting popular opinion or a revolutionary trying to lead an uprising, to rile up the crowd. Money always gets people excited. Jesus could have used this as a springboard to speak of the injustice of the inheritance laws or the excessive nature of Roman taxation. “Let us rise up; let us protest; I’m your man! Follow me!” But Jesus was neither a demagogue nor a revolutionary. The man in the crowd had misjudged Jesus.

Instead Jesus speaks bluntly to this fellow, “Man, who made Me a judge or an arbitrator over you?” Essentially Jesus is reminding the man that there is a lawful way to handle his complaint – and that lawful way was to appeal to the magistrates, to appeal to the courts who would decide in such case what was good and just. Jesus was no revolutionary.

But Jesus then goes further and speaks to the multitude: “Take heed,” he declares, “and beware of covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of things he possesses.” Jesus exposes the sin that was at the root of this man’s request and of our drive to revolutionary action: covetousness. Hardly the type of response that a successful demagogue should make!

Unlike Jesus, our politicians regularly use class envy as a tool to propel themselves into power. “Tax the rich; take from those who have more. We’ll make your brother divide that inheritance with you! he shouldn’t have so much!” In his response to the crowds, Jesus exposes the sin that is at the root of this mentality: it is coveting that which God has given to another; it is theft.

But covetousness is not something that afflicts only politicians. The reason that we fall prey to the pleas of politicians, demagogues, and revolutionaries is that we are covetous; we desire more than God has given. But Jesus rebukes our covetousness and reminds us that our life does not consist in the abundance of things we possess. Instead, a meaningful life consists of loving God and loving our neighbor, of laying up treasures in heaven where neither moth nor rust destroy. And this is true for rich and poor alike.

And so reminded that we are not to steal, not to take from others in order that we might have more, let us kneel this morning and confess that we are often envious and covetous of others’ possessions.

Monday, March 17, 2014

What is Reformed Theology?

One of my friends sent me the following summary of Reformed Theology that was written by B.B. Warfield in the late 1800s. It is an excellent summary of some of the central themes of Reformation teaching.

1. The Bible I believe that my one aim in life and death should be to glorify God and enjoy Him forever; and that God teaches me how to glorify and enjoy Him in His Holy Word, that is, the Bible, which He has given by the infallible inspiration of His Holy Spirit in order that I may certainly know what I am to believe concerning Him and what duty He requires of me. 

2. God I believe that God is a Spirit, infinite, eternal and incomparable in all that He is; one God but three persons, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, my Creator, my Redeemer, and my Sanctifier; in whose power and wisdom, righteousness, goodness and truth I may safely put my trust.

3. The Creation I believe that the heavens and the earth, and all that is in them, are the work of God's hands; and that all that He has made He directs and governs in all their actions; so that they fulfill the end for which they were created, and I who trust in Him shall not be put to shame but may rest securely in the protection of His almighty love.

4. Man I believe that God created man after His own image, in knowledge, righteousness and holiness, and entered into a covenant of life with him upon the sole condition of the obedience that was His due: so that it was by willfully sinning against God that man fell into the sin and misery in which I have been born.

5. The Fall I believe that, being fallen in Adam, my first father, I am by nature a child of wrath, under the condemnation of God and corrupted in body and soul, prone to evil and liable to eternal death; from which dreadful state I cannot be delivered save through the unmerited grace of God my Savior.

6. Grace I believe that God has not left the world to perish in its sin, but out of the great love wherewith He has loved it, has from all eternity graciously chosen unto Himself a multitude which no man can number, to deliver them out of their sin and misery, and of them to build up again in the world His kingdom of righteousness: in which kingdom I may be assured I have my part, if I hold fast to Christ the Lord. 

7. Christ I believe that God has redeemed His people unto Himself through Jesus Christ our Lord; who, though He was and ever continues to be the eternal Son of God, yet was born of a woman, born under the law, that He might redeem them that are under the law: I believe that He bore the penalty due to my sins in His own body on the tree, and fulfilled in His own person the obedience I owe to the righteousness of God, and now presents me to His Father as His purchased possession, to the praise of the glory of grace forever: wherefore renouncing all merit of my own, I put all my trust only in the blood and righteousness of Jesus Christ my Redeemer.

8. The Lord I believe that Jesus Christ my Redeemer, who died for my offenses was raised again for my justification, and ascended into the heavens, where He sits at the right hand of the Father Almighty, continually making intercession for His people, and governing the whole world as head over all things for His church: so that I need fear no evil and may surely know that nothing can snatch me out of His hands and nothing can separate me from His love.

9. The Holy Spirit I believe that the redemption wrought by the Lord Jesus Christ is effectually applied to all His people by the Holy Spirit, who works faith in me and thereby unites me to Christ, renews me in the whole man after the image of God, and enables me more and more to die unto sin and to live unto righteousness; until, this gracious work having been completed in me, I shall be received into glory: in which great hope abiding, I must ever strive to perfect holiness in the fear of God.

10. The Gospel I believe that God requires of me, under the gospel, first of all, that, out of a true sense of my sin and misery and apprehension of His mercy in Christ, I should turn with grief and hatred away from sin and receive and rest upon Jesus Christ alone for salvation: that, so being united to Him, I may receive pardon for my sins and be accepted as righteous in God's sight, only for the righteousness of Christ imputed to me and received by faith alone: and thus only do I believe I may be received into the number and have a right to all the privileges of the sons of God.

11. Good Works I believe that, having been pardoned and accepted for Christ's sake, it is further required of me that I walk in the Spirit whom He has purchased for me, and by whom love is shed abroad in my heart; fulfilling the obedience I owe to Christ my King; faithfully performing all the duties laid upon me by the holy law of God my heavenly Father; and ever reflecting in my life and conduct, the perfect example that has been set me by Christ Jesus my Leader, who has died for me and granted to me His Holy Spirit just that I may do the good works which God has before prepared that I should walk in them.

12. The Church I believe that God has established His church in the world and endowed it with the ministry of the Word and the holy ordinances of Baptism, the Lord's Supper and Prayer; in order that through these as means, the riches of His grace in the gospel may be made known to the world, and, by the blessing of Christ and the working of His Spirit in them that by faith receive them, the benefits of redemption may be communicated to His people: wherefore also it is required of me that I attend on these means of grace with diligence, preparation, and prayer, so that through them I may be instructed and strengthened in faith, and in holiness of life and in love; and that I use my best endeavors to carry this gospel and convey these means of grace to the whole world.

13. The Future I believe that as Jesus Christ has once come in grace, so also is He to come a second time in glory, to judge the world in righteousness and assign to each His eternal award: and I believe that if I die in Christ, my soul shall be at death made perfect in holiness and go home to the Lord; and when He shall return in His majesty I shall be raised in glory and made perfectly blessed in the full enjoyment of God to all eternity: encouraged by which blessed hope it is required of me willingly to take my part in suffering hardship here as a good soldier of Christ Jesus, being assured that if I die with Him I shall also live with Him, if I endure, I shall also reign with Him. And to Him, my Redeemer, with the Father, and the Holy Spirit, three Persons, one God, be glory forever, world without end. Amen, and amen.

*B. B. Warfield, “A Brief and Untechnical Statement of the Reformed Faith”. Selected Shorter Writings of Benjamin B. Warfield v. 1. John E. Meeter, ed. Nutley, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1970, pp. 407-410.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Not all Israel is Israel

Following up the reading of Doug Wilson's Against the Church, the following excerpt from the Second Helvetic Confession emphasizes the mixed nature of the visible church and the need for personal faith.

NOT ALL WHO ARE IN THE CHURCH ARE OF THE CHURCH. Again, not all that are reckoned in the number of the Church are saints, and living and true members of the Church. For there are many hypocrites, who outwardly hear the Word of God, and publicly receive the sacraments, and seem to pray to God through Christ alone, to confess Christ to be their only righteousness, and to worship God, and to exercise the duties of charity, and for a time to endure with patience in misfortune. And yet they are inwardly destitute of true illumination of the Spirit, of faith and sincerity of heart, and of perseverance to the end. But eventually the character of these men, for the most part, will be disclosed. For the apostle John says: "They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would indeed have continued with us" (I John 2:19). And although while they simulate piety they are not of the Church, yet they are considered to be in the Church, just as traitors in a state are numbered among its citizens before they are discovered; and as the tares or darnel and chaff are found among the wheat, and as swellings and tumors are found in a sound body, And therefore the Church of God is rightly compared to a net which catches fish of all kinds, and to a field, in which both wheat and tares are found (Matt. 13:24 ff., 47 ff.).

We are Humans not Animals

Exodus 20:14 (NKJV)
14 “You shall not commit adultery.

The law of God repeatedly reminds us that we are not, as human beings, mere animals driven by our instincts and impulses. Though Darwinism insists that we are descendants of primates and not fundamentally different from other animals, the Word of God insists that we have been made in the image of God and are responsible for the choices we make, responsible for the actions we take.

Because this is the case, because we are humans and not animals, our actions can be classified as noble or ignoble; as good or evil; as praiseworthy or reprehensible. We are not controlled by our impulses but often choose to follow those impulses to our sorrow and shame.

Nowhere is this more true than in our sexuality. The sexual revolution has made full use of the Darwinian myth to justify sexual licentiousness. We are no more than animals; hence, there is no such thing as nobility or honor in the arena of sexuality; how dare you tell me what to do?

But God does tell us what to do. He created us, not we ourselves. Hence, he governs us, not we ourselves. And God commands us in the 7th commandment to govern our sexual impulses, powerful as they are. We are to govern our sexuality so that we not conduct ourselves shamefully, as mere beasts, but so that we conduct ourselves nobly as men.

So what does this mean? It means that we are to treat our sexuality as a gift that is intended to be enjoyed in the context of a marriage covenant. The physical union of husband and wife is a noble and glorious thing, a gift from God. Outside that marriage covenant, however, sexual fantasies and actions are shameful and ignoble; indeed, some of them are criminal.

So lusting in our hearts after another is shameful; viewing pornography is shameful; fornication is shameful; adultery is shameful; homosexuality is shameful; bestiality is shameful; incest is shameful; rape is shameful. There is a distinct reason that our consciences weigh us down when we practice such things; a reason that we experience feelings of shame – for these things are shameful in themselves. They degrade us as human beings and they dishonor our Creator.

As we come into the presence of God, therefore, the God who has made us and fashioned us as men and women not as beasts, who has fashioned us for nobility not dishonor, let us confess that we have often fallen short and acted dishonorably. Let us kneel as we confess our sin to the Lord.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

You Shall Not Murder

Exodus 20:13 (NKJV)
13 “You shall not murder.

The Westminster Larger Catechism was written for the benefit of serious students of Scripture. Its purpose is to expand on the elementary answers of the Shorter Catechism, which we recite each Lord’s Day, in order to equip Christians with an even more thorough grasp of Scriptural teaching. Of particular note in the Larger Catechism is its detailed exposition of the Ten Commandments. This morning, as our exhortation, I’d like us to consider the answers it gives to this, the sixth commandment, You shall not murder.

The Shorter Catechism poses the question:
Q. 68. What is required in the sixth commandment?
A. The sixth commandment requireth all lawful endeavors to preserve our own life, and the life of others.

So what exactly does that mean? It is this question that the Larger Catechism answers:
Q. 135. What are the duties required in the 6th commandment?
A. The duties required in the sixth commandment are,
·      all careful studies, and lawful endeavors, to preserve the life of ourselves and others by resisting all thoughts and purposes, subduing all passions, and avoiding all occasions, temptations, and practices, which tend to the unjust taking away the life of any;
·      by just defense thereof against violence, patient bearing of the hand of God, quietness of mind, cheerfulness of spirit;
·      a sober use of meat, drink, physic, sleep, labor, and recreations;
·      by charitable thoughts, love, compassion, meekness, gentleness, kindness;
·      peaceable, mild and courteous speeches and behavior;
·      forbearance, readiness to be reconciled, patient bearing and forgiving of injuries, and requiting good for evil;
·      comforting and succoring the distressed, and protecting and defending the innocent.

Not only are we interested to know what the 6th commandment requires of us, we also want to know what it forbids. Again, the Shorter Catechism summarizes:
Q. 69. What is forbidden in the sixth commandment?
A. The sixth commandment forbiddeth the taking away of our own life, or the life of our neighbor unjustly, or whatsoever tendeth thereunto.

Then the Larger Catechism expands:
Q. 136. What are the sins forbidden in the 6th commandment?
A. The sins forbidden in the sixth commandment are,
·      all taking away the life of ourselves, or of others, except in case of public justice, lawful war, or necessary defense;
·      the neglecting or withdrawing the lawful and necessary means of preservation of life;
·      sinful anger, hatred, envy, desire of revenge;
·      all excessive passions, distracting cares;
·      immoderate use of meat, drink, labor, and recreations;
·      provoking words, oppression, quarreling, striking, wounding, and whatsoever else tends to the destruction of the life of any.

The authors of the catechism remind us of the searching nature of God’s law. God’s law touches not simply the external actions which we perform but the internal motivations and passions which give rise to those actions. And this observation they learned from our Lord Jesus.
““You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder, and whoever murders will be in danger of the judgment.’ But I say to you that whoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment. And whoever says to his brother, ‘Raca!’ shall be in danger of the council. But whoever says, ‘You fool!’ shall be in danger of hell fire.” (Matthew 5:21–22)

And so reminded of the need to serve God not just externally but internally, let us kneel and confess our sins to the Lord.