Friday, October 13, 2017

Acedia (Spiritual Apathy) versus Friendship with God


Especially helpful insights about the essence of true Christian spirituality from an article in First Things by Reinhard Hutter:

"…To comprehend the spiritual roots of this crisis, we need to recall an all-too-forgotten vice, acedia, usually called “sloth” but better rendered as “spiritual apathy.” It is the very forgoing of friendship with God—which is the fulfillment of the transcendent dignity and calling of the human person—and the embrace of the self-indulgent deception that there never was and never will be friendship with God, that there never was and never will be a transcendent calling and dignity of the human person. Nothing matters much, because the one thing that really matters, God’s love and friendship, does not exist and therefore cannot be attained.

"Acedia creates a void that we try to fill with transient rushes of pleasure—primarily venereal pleasure—to ward off the ennui of life bereft of its very center. But the simulacra [an image or representation of someone or something]   that promise the rushes of pleasure we seek betray us. They cannot fill the void created by the loss of our transcendent calling to the love and friendship of God. Rather, they only increase the craving to fill the void we cannot fill, breeding compulsion and intensifying spiritual apathy, thereby encouraging acedia’s most dangerous shoot to spring forth: despair.

"Christian spiritual wisdom has always regarded acedia as a vice that, unchecked, will eventually prove deadly to the Christian life. For spiritual apathy first leads us to despair of God’s love and mercy and eventually issues in a sadness that will always cause problems. For, as St. Thomas Aquinas observes in On Evil, “No human being can long remain pleasureless and sad.” People engulfed by the sadness to which their indulgence in spiritual apathy led them tend to avoid such sadness first by shirking and then by resenting and scorning God’s love and mercy.

"This vice’s post-Christian secular offshoot, an unthematic despair posing as boredom, covers—like a fungus—the spiritual, intellectual, and emotional life of many, if not most, who inhabit the affluent segments of the Western secular world. The old vice of acedia, of spiritual apathy, is the root cause of the typically bourgeois ennui, boredom.

"Eventually the collective ideological, cultural, social, and political aversion to the divine good previously received and embraced will issue in a collective spiritual state of acedia, which eventually turns against any remnant of or witness to the transcendent dignity of human persons and to their calling to friendship with God. This is the very story of modern secularism. The flight from sadness that begins with avoiding and resisting spiritual goods and ends with attacking them describes with uncanny accuracy the specific ressentiment   [a psychological state arising from suppressed feelings of envy and hatred that cannot be acted upon, frequently resulting in some form of self-abasement]  and aggression typical of a secular age.

"...The single most important practice that fortifies our spiritual chastity and simultaneously protects us from acedia is an active and persistent discipline of prayer...."

 
"The friendship of the Lord is for those who fear him,
    and he makes known to them his covenant."  Ps. 25:14

Friday, September 15, 2017

The Coming Wrath and the Message of Paul


"Most scholars believe 1 Thessalonians was the first of Paul’s extant epistles to be written. Sent shortly after Paul established a community of believers in Thessalonica, the letter reflects from beginning to end the thrust of Paul’s message when he first arrived in the city. At any moment, Paul had warned his listeners, an outpouring of divine wrath would engulf an unsuspecting humanity and bring it sudden destruction (1: 10; 5: 3; cf. 2 Thess 1: 5-10). Human sinfulness had all but reached its limit. Gentiles for their part had paid no heed to the true and living God while serving idols; their immorality was notorious and their conduct in general befitted darkness, not light (cf. 1 Thess 1: 9; 4: 4-5; 5: 6-7).

"As for Jews, estrangement from God was signaled by their no less notorious history of rejecting his messengers: the prophets of old, the Lord Jesus but recently, and now his apostolic witnesses (2: 14-16). Retribution for all would be swift and inescapable (5: 3). Many people today — for reasons we need not explore here — do not take such a message seriously. Evidently, however, Paul’s first-century readers in Thessalonica had done so; the notion that a deity might be angered by their actions was nothing new, and divine displeasure was a dangerous thing. Jews and non-Jews alike had always been concerned to keep on good terms with the supernatural powers that influenced, or even controlled, their destinies. With such concerns, Paul’s message found a natural resonance.

"We may well wonder whether Stendahl can be right in suggesting that the question 'How am I to find a gracious God?' has occupied people in the modern West, but it is inconceivable that he is right in denying such a concern to the people of antiquity — particularly if we think of those who responded to Paul’s message of pending doom. Whether or not it induced a harbinger of the introspection characteristic of later times is, in this regard, a red herring. With or without an introspective conscience, anyone who takes seriously a warning of imminent divine judgment must deem it an urgent concern to find God merciful. So much is clear.

"Conversely, nothing in the letter suggests that the relationship between Gentiles and Jews in the believing community was an issue in Thessalonica. If 'the leading edge of Paul’s theological thinking was the conviction that God’s purpose embraced Gentile as well as Jew, not the question of how a guilty man might find a gracious God,'  and if the latter question marks rather the concerns of the later West, then it must be said that Paul’s message to the Thessalonians left them in the dark about the core of his thinking while pointlessly answering a question that they were born in quite the wrong time and place to even dream of raising."

"The answer Paul gave to the question he is no longer allowed to have raised was that God had provided, through his Son Jesus, deliverance from the coming wrath (1: 10; 5: 9). This message of 'salvation'  — appropriately labeled a 'gospel' (= good news) — had been entrusted to Paul (2: 4, 16). To be 'saved,' people must “receive” the gospel he proclaimed (1: 6), recognizing it to be, not the word of human beings, but that of God (2: 13). Such a response to the word of God signified a “turning to” the true and living God (1: 9) and faith in him (1: 8). Those bound for salvation were thus distinguished from those doomed to wrath by their response of faith to the gospel. The former are repeatedly identified as 'the believing ones' (1: 7; 2: 10, 13), the latter as those who do not believe (or obey) the truth of the gospel (cf. 2 Thess 1: 8; 2: 12; 3: 2)."



-- Stephen Westerholm,  "Justification Reconsidered" (p. 5). Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.. Kindle Edition.

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Halting, Imperfect Faith Is Still Approved by God

"...Thus in all the saints, something reprehensible is ever to be found; yet faith, though halting and imperfect, is still approved by God.  There is, therefore, no reason why the faults we labour under should break us down, or dishearten us, provided we by faith go on in the race of our calling."

-- John Calvin, commentary on Hebrews 11:32 (regarding the faith-prompted actions of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jepthah....)

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Success in Ministry?

"The fact that contempt was Jesus the Lord's experience should teach disciples that success, as the world (and much religion) counts success, should be no criterion whatsoever for discipleship.  Success in the Christian sense is the ability to be like Jesus."

-- F.D. Bruner, commentary on Matt. 10:24-25

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Luther on 'the finest' of good works

"When people suffer bodily affliction or lose their property, reputation, friends, or anything else, do they believe they are still pleasing to God and, whether their suffering and vexation be great or small, that God is mercifully disposed toward them? In that situation, when all our senses and understanding tell us that God is angry, it is an art to trust God and to regard oneself as better cared for than it appears. . . .
"The afflictions that are endured in faith are likewise superior to any and all works done in faith, and suffering produces immeasurably greater benefits than such works can ever provide. Stronger still is the highest degree of faith, which is required when God torments the conscience not only with earthly afflictions but with death, hell, and sin while withholding divine grace and mercy, as if God would condemn and stay angry forever. Few people experience this, as David laments in the sixth Psalm . . . .
"At this point, to trust that God is gracious is the finest work of which any creature is capable."
~ Martin Luther, Treatise on Good Works

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Five Fundamentals of Genuine Faith in God


South Church -- Sunday morning sermon 7/9/17
Pastor Doug Phillips

 

1.  True Faith believes in the true and living God -- God as he actually is (as He has revealed Himself in His Word). – Ex. 20:1-6; Jn. 1:1-4, 14,18; 17:3; Heb. 1:3; 2:1-3; 11:6; 1 Jn. 5:21

2.  True Faith believes that God is, indeed, ‘the Supreme Being’ – and should be supremely feared, trusted, loved and obeyed.  -- Ps. 29;  95:3; Isa. 40:25ff.; Phil. 2:9-11; Heb. 12:28-29

3.  True Faith believes what the Word of God, centered in the Gospel, teaches about how we come to be right with God (in salvation).  – Heb. 2:1-3; Eph. 2:8-9; Heb. 10:19-23

4.  True Faith believes that God can only be rightly trusted, loved, obeyed and served in accordance with His infallible, inscripturated Word. – John 8:31-36; 1 Tim. 3:14-15; 2 Tim. 3:16-Acts 2:42; 17; Heb. 3:7-8; 4:11-13

5.  True Faith believes what the Word of God teaches about God’s sovereign plan and providential  purpose for the world, the Church, and the individual believer. – Eph. 1:3-10; Rom. 8:18-39; Heb. 11:10-16, 39-40; 12:25-27; Rev. 21:1-8
 
Recommended reading:  "Knowing God" by J.I. Packer

Friday, June 30, 2017

How Genuine Faith Works In Relation to the Things of This World

"It is in the nature of faith to mortify not only corrupt and sinful lusts, but also our natural affections, and their most vehement inclinations (though in themselves innocent) if they are in any way uncompliant with duties of obedience to the commands of God.  Yes, herein lies the principal trial/test of the sincerity and power of faith.  

"Our lives, parents, wives, children, houses, possessions, our country -- are the principal, proper, lawful objects of our natural affections; but when they together, or any of them individually, stand in the way of God's commands, or if they are hindrances to the doing or suffering anything according to his will, faith does not only mortify, weaken and cut off that love, but it even gives us a comparative hatred of them (Matt. 10:37; Luke 14:26; John 12:25)."

-- John Owen, commentary on Hebrews 11:15

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

"Don't Underestimate the Doctrine of Divine Providence"

[Originally posted at The Gospel Coalition website]

I shifted uncomfortably in my chair, conscious of the tension in the little room. I’d guessed this conversation was coming, since the people now sitting in front of me had seemed unhappy with my pastoral leadership for a good long time. I wasn’t sure what would happen now, but I was afraid it might end badly, with hurtful words spoken and their bitter departure from our church. I mention this moment not because it’s unusual in pastoral ministry—every pastor experiences such meetings sooner or later—or because it had a miraculous and uplifting outcome, but because I recall my own heart in that conversation. I claimed to be Calvinist, but I wasn’t living like one. I was thinking little of God’s role in this conversation—and much of the people sitting across from me.

A Doctrine to Cherish

In the years since, I’ve come to cherish the doctrine of God’s providence and to draw strength and encouragement from it. I’ve begun learning what a difference it makes in the Christian life. In his Institutes of the Christian Religion, John Calvin underscored the high stakes of believing or rejecting this doctrine: “Ignorance of providence is the ultimate of all miseries; the highest blessedness lies in the knowledge of it.”
I suspect relatively few of us who espouse a classical Reformed view of God’s providence, however, would say it’s borne the “best and sweetest fruit” or that for us “nothing is more profitable than the knowledge of this doctrine.” Reading Calvin on God’s providence leads me to realize we must reclaim the practical benefits of this vital teaching. 

Two Planes

The classical view of divine providence holds that every event—including human thoughts, choices, and actions—occurs according to God’s sovereign will. “All things,” the Heidelberg Catechism declares, “come not by chance, but by his fatherly hand.” This view of providence allows for genuine human causality; divine and human agency are held together.
And yet there is an ultimate causality in divine agency that sets it apart from (and over) human agency. We see this in the famous Genesis 45 passage recounting the story of Joseph and his brothers. In Genesis 45:4–8, Joseph twice says that his brothers sold him into Egypt and three times that God sent him to Egypt. Both are true. But there’s another important and initially puzzling feature here that’s crucial for grasping how to apply the doctrine of divine providence. After twice affirming his brothers’ role, Joseph seems to deny it: “It was not you who sent me here, but God.” Unless Joseph is flatly contradicting himself, he must mean his brothers were not the ones ultimately responsible. While both they and God exercise genuine agency, only God’s is ultimate. Their choice is part of God’s plan.

Providence Amnesia  

This is far from an irrelevant theological distinction in Joseph’s mind. In fact, it has immediate practical implications. “Do not be distressed or angry with yourselves because you sold me here,” Joseph tells his brothers. Why? “For God sent me before you to preserve life.” God’s activity is the reason Joseph’s brothers need not be distressed. Yes, they really sinned, and that can’t be ignored. But God had a purpose for their actions, and that must shape their response to what they’ve done. Joseph urges them to focus more on God’s good purposes in the situation than on their own sinful purposes. They’re to report to their father Jacob that God has made Joseph lord of all Egypt (Gen. 45:9)—and the result of God’s action will be salvation for the entire family (Gen. 45:10–11). Later, we learn God’s ultimate causality led Joseph to speak kindly to his brothers rather than seek revenge (Gen. 50:19–21).
“When we are unjustly wounded by men,” Calvin wrote, “let us overlook their wickedness (which would but worsen our pain and sharpen our minds to revenge), remember to mount up to God, and learn to believe for certain that whatever our enemy has wickedly committed against us was permitted and sent by God’s just dispensation.” I think Calvin (like Joseph in Genesis 45) speaks hyperbolically to make a point. We’re not to completely ignore other people’s good or bad intentions, words, and actions. Calvin further writes, “The Christian heart, since it has been thoroughly persuaded that all things happen by God’s plan, and that nothing takes place by chance, will ever look to him as the principal cause of things, yet will give attention to the secondary causes in their proper place.” In the same evil deed, a godly man will “clearly contemplate God’s righteousness and man’s wickedness, as each clearly shows itself.” Calvin’s strongly-worded counsel to “overlook their wickedness” and “mount up to God” is his way of emphasizing that our main focus is to be on God’s purposes, not human intentions. 
This is enormously helpful and practical counsel for all Christians. We’re prone, when confronted with spiteful and malicious human enemies, to forget God is ultimately behind what’s happening to us. Perhaps we give lip service to the truth of his providence, but most of our emotions and responses are directed toward the human agents. After all, they’re more immediately present to our senses. Too often the conviction that God is sovereign, and that humans fulfill his good plans, has virtually no practical impact on the way we live. We suffer from providence amnesia.

Seeing the Invisible Hand

We should begin each day by asking God to give us faith to see his hand in every encounter. Paul Tripp prays three commendable prayers at the outset of the day: (1) “Lord, I’m a person in desperate need of help today,” (2) “Lord, won’t you, in your grace, send your helpers my way?” and (3) “Lord, please give me the humility to receive the help when it comes.” Daily preparing ourselves to receive God’s loving help in unexpected ways, through unexpected people—perhaps through unexpected suffering and hardship—opens our eyes to see the loving activity of his hand in every circumstance. We’re watching for that fatherly hand.
Moreover, when someone hurts us, we should spend more time reflecting on God’s good purposes than on their evil intentions. Or, adapting Robert Murray M’Cheyne’s famous advice, for every look at someone else’s evil intentions, take ten looks at God’s providential purposes. This is what Joseph instructed his brothers to do. It’s what Job did (Job 1:21). Of course we can never fully know God’s purposes, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t ponder them. After all, our ignorance of the bad intentions of those who hurt us doesn’t stop us from endlessly speculating on their intentions. If we’re going to speculate, why not speculate on God’s good purposes instead?

A Doctrine for Life

If I were having that same painful conversation in the little room tomorrow, I’m sure I wouldn’t be looking forward to it. My palms might still be sweaty. But I hope I’d have a confidence this time I didn’t have before. I hope I’d be expecting God to work for me, even through the cutting words of angry people. God’s providence doesn’t make our troubles go away, but it does frame them within his majestic and loving purposes for us. This doctrine matters for life.

Stephen Witmer (PhD, University of Cambridge) is pastor of Pepperell Christian Fellowship in Pepperell, Massachusetts, and teaches New Testament at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. He is author of Eternity Changes Everything: How to Live Now in the Light of Your Future (Good Book Company, 2014) and the volume on Revelation in Crossway's Knowing the Bible series. Follow him on Twitter: @stephenwitmer1. This article was written with the support of the Center for Pastor Theologians (www.pastortheologians.com) and the John Templeton Foundation. 

Saturday, May 20, 2017

"The Recipe for a Successful Pastor"

Excellent article from Paul Tripp on the Gospel Coalition website:

I am convinced that many of the problems in pastoral culture result from an unbiblical definition of the essential ingredients of ministry success. Sure, most candidate profiles expect a “vibrant walk with the Lord,” but these words are often weakened by a process that asks few questions in this area and makes grand assumptions. We’re really interested in knowledge (right theology), skill (good preacher), ministry philosophy (will build the church), and experience (isn’t cutting his pastoral teeth in this new place of ministry). I have heard church leaders, in moments of pastoral crisis, say many times, “We didn’t know the man we hired.”

What does knowing the man entail? It means knowing the true condition of his heart—as far as such is possible. What does he really love, and what does he despise? What are his hopes, dreams, and fears? What are the deep desires that fuel and shape the way he does ministry? What anxieties have the potential to derail or paralyze him? How accurate is his view of himself? How open is he to confrontation, critique, and encouragement? How committed is he to his own sanctification?

How open is he about his own temptations, weaknesses, and failures? How ready is he to listen to and defer to the wisdom of others? Is pastoral ministry a community project to him? Does he have a tender, nurturing heart? Is he warm and hospitable, a shepherd and champion to those who are suffering? What character qualities would his wife and children use to describe him? Does he sit under his own preaching? Is his heart broken and his conscience regularly grieved as he looks at himself in the mirror of the Word? How robust, consistent, joyful, and vibrant is his devotional life?

Does his ministry to others flow out of the vibrancy of his devotional communion with the Lord? Does he hold himself to high standards, or does he settle for mediocrity? Is he sensitive to the experience and needs of those who minister alongside him? Does he embody the love and grace of the Redeemer? Does he overlook minor offenses? Is he ready and willing to forgive? Is he critical and judgmental? How does the public pastor differ from the private husband and dad? Does he take care of his physical self? Does he numb himself with too much social media or television? How would he fill in this blank: “If only I had ________”? How successful has he been in pastoring the congregation that is his family?

True Condition of the Pastor’s Heart

A pastor’s ministry is never just shaped by his experience, knowledge, and skill. It is also always shaped by the true condition of his heart. In fact, if his heart is not in the right place, knowledge and skill can make him dangerous.

Pastors often struggle to find living, humble, needy, celebratory, worshipful, meditative communion with Christ. It is as if Jesus has left the building. There is all kinds of ministry knowledge and skill, but it seems divorced from a living communion with a living and ever-present Christ. All this activity, knowledge, and skill seems to be fueled by something else. Ministry becomes shockingly impersonal. Then it’s about theological content, exegetical rightness, ecclesiastical commitments, and institutional advancement. It’s about preparing for the next sermon, getting the next meeting agenda straight, and filling the requisite leadership openings. It’s about budgets, strategic plans, and ministry partnerships.

None of these things is wrong in itself. Many of them are essential. But they must never be ends in themselves. They must never be the engine that propels the vehicle. They must all express something deeper in the pastor’s heart.

The pastor must be enthralled by, in awe of, and in love with his Redeemer so that everything he thinks, desires, chooses, decides, says, and does is propelled by love for Christ and the security of rest in the love of Christ. He must be regularly exposed by, humbled by, assured by, and given rest by the grace of his Redeemer. His heart needs to be tenderized day after day by his communion with Christ so that he becomes a loving, patient, forgiving, encouraging, and giving servant-leader. His meditation on Christ, his presence, his promises, and his provisions must not be overwhelmed by his meditation on how to make his ministry work.

Protection Against All Other Loves

Only love for Christ can defend the heart of the pastor against all other loves that have the potential to kidnap his ministry. Only worship of Christ has the power to protect him from all the seductive idols of ministry that will whisper in his ear. Only the glory of the risen Christ will guard him against the self-glory that tempts all and destroys the ministry of so many.

Only Christ can turn an arrogant, “bring on the world” seminary graduate into a patient, humble giver of grace. Only deep gratitude for a suffering Savior can make a man willing to suffer in ministry. Only in brokenness before your own sin can you give grace to fellow rebels among whom God has called you to minister. Only when your identity is firmly rooted in Christ will you find freedom from seeking to get your identity out of your ministry.

We must be careful how we define ministry readiness and spiritual maturity. There is a danger in thinking that the well-educated and well-trained seminary graduate is ministry ready or to mistake ministry knowledge, busyness, and skill with personal spiritual maturity. Maturity is a vertical thing that will have a wide variety of horizontal expressions. Maturity is about relationship to God that results in wise and humble living. Maturity of love for Christ expresses itself in love for others.

Thankfulness for the grace of Christ expresses itself in grace to others. Gratitude for the patience and forgiveness of Christ enables you to be patient and forgiving of others. Your daily experience of the rescue of the gospel gives you a passion for people experiencing the same rescue. This is the soil in which true ministry success grows.

-- Paul Tripp

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

"The Case for Idolatry: Why Christians Can Worship Idols"


For as long as I can remember, I’ve wanted to worship idols. It’s not that my parents raised me that way, because they didn’t; I was brought up in a loving, secure, Christian home. But from childhood until today, my heart has been drawn to idolatry. In fact, if I’m honest, one of the defining features of my identity has been my desire to put something else—popularity, money, influence, sex, success—in place of God.
That’s just who I am. 
For many years, I was taught that idolatry was sinful. As a good Christian, I fought the desire to commit idolatry, and repented when I got it wrong. But the desire to worship idols never went away.
I wanted it to, but it didn’t.
So it has been such a blessing to discover that worshiping one God, and him alone, isn’t for everyone. There are thousands of Christians out there who have found faithful, loving ways of expressing worship both to God and to idols, without compromising either their faith or their view of Scripture. In recent years, I’ve finally summoned the courage to admit I am one of them. Let me give you a few reasons why I believe idolatry and Christianity are compatible.

Evangelical, Biblical, Jesus-Loving Idolater 

I start with my own story, and the stories of many others like me. I’m an evangelical, and have a high view of the Bible—I have a PhD in biblical studies at King’s College London, which will be my third theology degree—and I know both the ancient languages and also the state of scholarly research. Yet, after much prayerful study, I’ve discovered the liberating truth that it’s possible to be an idolatrous Christian. That, at least, is evidence that you can be an evangelical and an idolater.
Not only that, but a number of evangelical writers have been challenging the monolatrous narrative in a series of scholarly books. A number of these provide a powerful case for listening to the diversity of the ancient witnesses in their original contexts, and call for a Christlike approach of humility, openness, and inclusion toward our idolatrous brothers and sisters.
Some, on hearing this, will of course want to rush straight to the “clobber passages” in Paul’s letters (which we will consider in a moment), in a bid to secure the fundamentalist ramparts and shut down future dialogue. But as we consider the scriptural material, two things stand out.
First, the vast majority of references to idols and idolatry in the Bible come in the Old Testament—the same Old Testament that tells us we can’t eat shellfish or gather sticks on Saturdays. When advocates of monolatry eat bacon sandwiches and drive cars on the weekend, they indicate we should move beyond Old Testament commandments in the new covenant, and rightly so.
Second, and even more significantly, we need to read the whole Bible with reference to the approach of Jesus. To be a Christian is to be a Jesus person—one whose life is based on his priorities, not on the priorities of subsequent theologians. And when we look at Jesus, we notice that he welcomed everyone who came to him, including those whom the (one-God worshiping) religious leaders rejected—and that Jesus said absolutely nothing about idols in any of the four Gospels. Conservative theologians, many of whom are friends of mine, often miss this point in the cut-and-thrust of debate. But for those who love Jesus, it should be at the heart of the discussion.
Jesus had no problem with idolatry.
He included everyone, however many gods they worshiped.
If we want to be like him, then we should adopt the same inclusive approach.
We should also remember that, as we’ve discovered more about the human brain, we’ve found out all sorts of things about idolatry that the biblical writers simply didn’t know. The prophets and apostles knew nothing of cortexes and neurons, and had no idea some people are pre-wired to commit idolatry, so they never talked about it. But as we’ve learned more about genetics, neural pathways, hormones, and so on, we’ve come to realize some tendencies—alcoholism, for example—scientifically result from the way we are made, and therefore cannot be the basis for moral disapproval or condemnation. To disregard the findings of science on this point is like continuing to insist the world is flat.

Putting Paul in His Place

With all of these preliminary ideas in place, we can finally turn to Paul, who’s sadly been used as a judgmental battering ram by monolaters for centuries. When we do, what immediately strikes us is that in the ultimate “clobber passage” (Romans 1), the problem isn’t really idol worship at all! The problem, as Paul puts it, isn’t that people worship idols, but that they “exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images” (1:23). Paul isn’t talking about people who are idolatrous by nature. He’s talking about people who were naturally worshipers of Israel’s God, and exchanged it for the worship of idols. What else could the word “exchange” here possibly mean?
Not only that, but none of his references applies to idolatry as we know it today: putting something above God in our affections. Paul, as a Hellenistic Roman citizen, simply would not have had a category for that kind of thing. In his world, idolatry meant physically bowing down to tribal or household deities—statues and images made of bronze or wood or stone—and as such, the worship of power or money or sex or popularity had nothing to do with his prohibitions. (Some see an exception in the way he talks about coveting as idolatry in Ephesians 5:5 and Colossians 3:5, but these obviously reflect his desire, as a first-century Jew, to honor the Ten Commandments.)
In other words, when Paul talks about idolatry, he’s not talking about the worship of idols as we know it today. As a Christ-follower, he would be just as horrified as Jesus if he saw the way his words have been twisted to exclude modern idolaters like me, and like many friends of mine. For centuries, the church has silenced the voice of idolaters (just like it has silenced the voice of slaves and women), and it’s about time we recognized that neither Jesus, nor Paul, had any problem with idolatry.
Obviously this is a contribution to an ongoing conversation, rather than the last word on the subject. But I hope you will all search the Scriptures, search your hearts, and consider the evidence afresh—and avoid judging those who disagree in the meantime! Maybe, just maybe, we can make space in the church for those who, like me, have spent a lifetime wrestling with the challenge of idolatry.


Editors’ note: While this article is satire, it’s not lost on us at TGC that idolatry is a serious issue. We hope that this parody will challenge, encourage, and better equip you to root out your own “factory of idols.”

Friday, April 21, 2017

Expiation and Propitiation

R.C. Sproul's very helpful explanation of these two important concepts related to salvation and the atonement.

His Kingdom Is Not of This World

"The basic physical operation of the Resurrection was an illegal act, committed by an angel--who broke Pilate's seal and overwhelmed the military guard at the tomb. Whatever you think Jesus meant when he told Pilate that his Kingdom was not of this world, he was not giving Pilate permission to cancel the Resurrection. (That angel will show up again in the future, incidentally, to bypass prison guards and let Peter out of prison.)"

-- Richard Mouw

Living in a World of Wonders

"Woe to me if I walk through a world of wonders and grumble about the humidity." -- John Piper

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

The Devil and Christian Vocabulary

“Satan is so deceptive! He likes to borrow Christian vocabulary, but he does not use the Christian dictionary!”

-- Warren Wiersbe, "Be Complete" (Colossians)

Friday, February 10, 2017

"What must I do to be saved?" -- Repentance, Faith, Conversion


‘What happens then, in a true conversion, is that faith comes to life in the mind as the reality of the truths about Christ (whether they have been read or heard) begin to take life and to felt.  (Acts 2:36; 16:14b; Romans 7:7b-10; 10:17; 1 Cor.15:1-5ff.; 2 Thess.2:13)

‘In some shape or form, these truths center on:

·       God’s holiness and love (Ex.20:1-21; Jn.3:16-21, 36; Rom.1:18ff.; 3:9-26; 11:22; Eph.2:1-10)

·       Christ’s self-giving for us and in our place, on the Cross (Isa.53; Matt.20:28; Rom. 4:25; 5:1-11; 2 Cor.5:21; Eph.1:7; 1 Pet.1:18-19

·       His triumph over sin, death and the devil, (Rom.5:20-21; Rom.6:1-14; 1 Cor.15:54-57; Col.1:19; 2:13; 2 Tim.1:10; Heb.2:14-15)

·       And our sense of corruption, guilt, misery and despair. (Ps.51:5; Isa.1:5-6; Jer.17:9; Rom.3:10-18; 7:14-24; 8:7; Eph.2:12; Titus 3:3)

‘Then we hear the words of grace in the Gospel.  Emotions may well be stirred, for although the perception of spiritual reality is not itself emotional, distress, fear, shame, and hopeful joy are at different times the result of coming to realize the truth of the Gospel.  (Ps.32:1-5; Isa.6:5; 12;  Luke 18:13; Acts 2:37; 16:34; Rom.6:21; 1 Thess.1:6; 1 Pet.1:8-9)

‘Faith, beginning as this knowledge (this real understanding of the truths of the Christian faith)  (Acts 11:13-14; Ro.10:13-17; Col.1:5-6; 2 Tim.1:11; Titus 1:1; Jas.1:18; 1 Pet.1:23-25; 2 Pet.1:3ff.) blossoms into assent in which the will is now engaged; (Acts 2:37; 8:36-38; Ro.1:5; 6:17; 1 Thess.1:9-10) assent issues into heartfelt trust…. (Jn.3:16; Acts 16:31; Rom.1:16-17; 3:22; Rom.10:6-17; Eph.2:8-9; Col.1:4; 1 Jn.5:4-5,10) and from this trust flows real repentance and the turning from sin to Christ.’  (Lk.19:8-9; 24:27; Acts 2:38; 3:19; 26:20; Rom.6:17-23; Eph.2:10; Gal.5:6; Eph.4:17-32; 1 Thess.1:3; Heb.4:14-16; 12:2; Jas.2:14-26; 2 Pet.1:5)


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"However this relationship [with God, through Christ] is initiated -- quietly or dramatically, over a long or over a short period of time -- it inaugurates a life devoted to serving God.

"Conversion is not an isolated event but is related to the entire life of faith that follows from it. It is the moment of birth into a new life. It is like a doorway into a room. A person is born to live, not to linger on the edge of the womb in a time limbo. A person opens a door not for the pleasure of standing forever on the threshold but to enter the room. The evangelical world has strangely perverted this truth.

"Evangelicals often make the test of spiritual life one's willingness to testify about the moment of birth. Describing one's sensations in passing through the doorway is considered proof that one is in the room! This shifts the focus from where it ought to be -- the evidence of the Spirit's renewing work in producing a God-centered life, a God-fearing heart, and God-honoring character and witness -- and places it on a person's autobiographical account of the conversion crisis.

"The only real proof of conversion is an obedient and fruitful life."

-- David Wells, "Turning to God"

(cp. Matt. 7:21-23; 28:18-19; John 8:31; Acts 20:21; 26:20; Rom. 6:4,17ff.; Eph. 4:17-24; 5:5-6; 1 Thess. 1:9; Titus 2:11-14; 1 Pet. 1:2,22; 2 Pet. 1:5-11; 1 Jn. 2:3-6)



Continuing the theme of the necessity for real repentance (change of mind/change of allegiance that leads toward changed way of living).

n  cp. Jesus re: the repentance of the people of Nineveh  (Mt.12:41, cp. Jnh.3:5; 

n  Acts 2:38; 3:19; 20:21; 26:20

Cp. Rom.6:17; Eph.4:17-5:7



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This is consistently the perspective of evangelical, Bible-believing Christians of all denominations.  The idea that you could have Jesus ‘as Savior’ without submitting to him ‘as Lord’ is very much a minority viewpoint, popping up every now and then in the history of the church, but consistently contradicted and refuted by the overwhelming consensus of Christian theologians and teachers.

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Repentance (metanoia), acc. to “Theological Dictionary of the New Testament” (Kittel):

“…radical conversion, a transformation of nature, a definitive turning from evil, a resolute turning to God in total obedience (Mk.1:15; Mt.4:17; 18:3)….  This conversion is once for all.  There can be no going back, only advance in responsible movement along the way now taken.  It affects the whole man, first and basically the center of personal life, then logically his conduct at all times and in all situation, his thoughts, words and acts (Mt. 12:33ff. par; 23:26; Mk.7:15 par.).

The whole proclamation of Jesus…is a proclamation of unconditional turning to God, of unconditional turning from all that is against God, not merely that which is downright evil, but that which in a given case makes total turning to God impossible….

"It is addressed to all without distinction and presented with unmitigated severity in order to indicate the only way of salvation there is.

“Repentance calls  for total surrender, total commitment to the will of God….  It embraces the whole walk of the new man who is claimed by the divine lordship.  It carries with it the founding of a new personal relation of man to God….  It awakens joyous obedience for a life according to God’s will.”

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“Conversion can be spoken of as a single act of turning, just as consuming several dishes and drinks can be spoken of as a single act of dining.” 

n  cp. a ‘progressive dinner’

According to David Wells, “…conversion, our turning to God, is better understood if we view it as a complex [that is, many-faceted] process.

“The process involves thinking and re-thinking, doubting and overcoming doubts and objections, soul-searching and self-admonition, struggle against feelings of guilt and shame, and concern as to what a realistic following of Christ might mean, whether or not [the process] culminates in a personal crisis that will afterward be remembered as ‘the hour I first believed.’  Sometimes, of course, it does….” 

The truth of the Word/the Gospel, and it’s presentation, is the ‘objective’ side of conversion.

“The subjective means of conversion is what the sinner is called upon to do in repenting, believing, and acting upon the promised forgiveness in Christ.  It is all that God accomplishes within the person to enable him or her to overcome the pressures of unbelief, to begin centering upon the invisible and eternal realities of God despite the contention of a multitude of distractions, to struggle for self-denial against inbred self-assertion.  In short, it is all that moves us from being unbelievers to becoming believers.”

“Evangelical faith…is knowledge of, assent to, and trust in Christ and God’s promise of grace through him.  Evangelical repentance is turning from sin, now recognized as ruinous, to a new life of following Christ in righteousness, now embraced as the only hope of life.”
       -- contrast Zacchaeus and the rich young ruler


How much knowledge of the Gospel is necessary?  The answer is a functional one: as much as it takes to bring us to true faith and repentance, as described, recognizing that sometimes the Holy Spirit uses what seems to us to be a very small amount.


D.A. Carson Regarding Repentance:  "There is no alternative to repentance, no other way to experience the blessing of the Lord.  The nature of repentance in Scripture precludes the nonsense of partial repentance or contingent repentance.  Genuine repentance does not turn from one sin while safeguarding others; partial repentance is as incongruous as partial pregnancy.  Loyalty to God in selective areas is no longer loyalty.  To repent of disloyalty in select areas while preferring disloyalty in others is no repentance at all.  God does not ask us to give up this or that idol while permitting us to nurture several others; he demands, rather, that we abandon idolatry itself and return to the God against whom we have 'so greatly revolted.' For God is more than able to defend his people...."  (DA Carson on Isaiah 31).



TDNT again:

“Conversion applies to all people, demanding a complete commitment that seeks forgiveness in full trust and surrender.  Faith is its positive aspect (cp. Mk.1:15).  It is God’s gift, but as such a binding requirement.  By the baptism of the Spirit Jesus imparts the divine power that creates those who are subject to the divine rule, i.e., converted people.  In all its severity, then the message is one of joy.  ‘Repentance’ is not law, but gospel.

“In the apostolic kerygma conversion is a total requirement.  The disciples preach it in Mk. 6:12 and are directed to summon people to it in Lk.24:47.  ‘Repentance is at the heart of their message in Acts (5:31; 8:22; 11:18, etc.

“It is a basic article in Heb. 6:1.  Peter’s sermon connects it with baptism (Acts 2:38).  It is a turning from evil to God (8:22; 20:21).  It is both a divine gift and a human task (5:31:2:38)…..Its basis is Christ’s saving work (5:31).  The Spirit effects it (11:18).  Faith goes with it (26:18).  The imminent end gives urgency to its proclamation (Re..2:5,16; 3:3).  The goal is remission of sins (Acts 3:19) and final salvation (11:18).


Billy Graham (from “Peace with God”):

“If repentance could be described in one word, I would use the word renounce.  ‘Renounce what?’ you ask.  The answer can also be given in one word – ‘sin.’…

“Not only are we told that we must renounce the principle of sin but we are also to renounce sins – plural.  We are to renounce the world, the flesh and the Devil.  There can be no bargaining, compromise or hesitation.  Christ demands absolute renunciation…..

“…repentance and faith go hand in hand.  You cannot have genuine repentance without saving faith and you cannot have saving faith without repentance….

“…[To repent] means a great deal more than just regretting and feeling sorry about sin.  The Biblical word repent means ‘to change, to turn.’  It is a word of power and action.  It is a word that signifies a complete revolution in the individual. 

“When the Bible calls upon us to repent of sin, it means that we should turn away from sin, that we should do an about-face and walk in the opposite direction from sin and all that it implies….

“….True repentance means ‘to change, to turn away from, to go in a new direction.’  To be sorry is not enough in repentance….

“….repentance cannot take place unless first there is a movement of the Holy Spirit in the heart and mind….”

“….There must be a determination to forsake sin – to change one’s attitudes toward self, toward sin, and God; to change one’s feelings; to change one’s will, disposition and purpose.

“Only the Spirit of God can give you the determination necessary for true repentance….

“There is not one verse of Scripture that indicates you can be a Christian and live any kind of a life you want to.  When Christ enters into the human heart, He demands that He be Lord and Master.  He demands complete surrender….

“…He must have first place in everything you do or think or say, for when you truly repent you turn toward God in everything.

“We have the warning of Christ that He will not receive us into His kingdom until we are ready to give up all, until we are ready to turn from all sin in our lives.  Don’t try to do it part way.  Don’t say, ‘I’ll give up some of my sins and hang on to some others.  I’ll live part of my life for Jesus and part for my own desires.’”

“God demands a total change, a total surrender.”



                                                                                    (“Peace with God, pp. 100-107)


Scriptural warrant:   2 Chron.7:14; Isa.59:20; Ezek.18:30ff.; Matt.5:29ff.; 12:41, (cp. Jnh.3:5ff.); Matt. 19:16ff.; 22:37ff.; 28:18ff.; Lk.3:8; 13:1-8; Acts 2:38; 3:19; 11:18; 17:30; 20:21; 26:20; Rom.6:17 (and the entire chapter); 2 Cor.7:1, 10; Eph.4:17ff.; 1 Jn.2:3;  1 Thess. 1:9f.; Rom. 1:5; 16:26

All the passages that talk about getting ride of “all” vice, or doing “everything” for God’s glory or to please Him, etc. (cp. “whatever you do…”)

Positively:  Matt.22:37ff.; Rom. 6; Col.1:10, et

"…now God commands all people everywhere to repent.  For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice….”  (Acts 17:30-31)

“By this we know that we have come to know Him, if we keep his commandments.  The one who says, ‘I have come to know Him,’ and does not keep His commandments, is a liar….”  1 John 2:3

“…We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer?....But thanks be to God that, though you used to be slaves of sin, you wholeheartedly obeyed the form of teaching to which you were entrusted.  You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness.”  Rom. 6:17-18


John Stott, from his book, “Christian Basics”

[He is describing the ‘ABC’s of becoming a Christian, and says first there is something to Admit: that we are sinners, then there is something to Believe: that Jesus Christ is the Savior we need, and then….] ‘C stands for something to Consider, namely that Jesus Christ wants to be our Lord as well as our Savior.  He is in fact ‘our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ’ (e.g., 2 Pet. 3:18), and we have no liberty to cut him in two, responding to one half and rejecting the other.  He offers us salvation (forgiveness and the liberating power of the Spirit); he demands our thoughtful and total allegiance.”

“For when Jesus is truly Lord, he directs our lives and we gladly obey him.  Indeed, we bring every part of our lives under his lordship – our home and family, our sexuality and marriage, our job or unemployment, our money and possessions, our ambitions and recreations.”


Charles Spurgeon:   “Another proof of the conquest of a soul for Christ will be found in a real change of life.  If the man does not live differently from what he did before, both in private and in public, then his repentance needs to be repented of, and his conversion is a fiction.

“Not only action and language, but spirit and temper/attitude must be changed….

'…Remaining under the power of any known sin is a mark of our being the servants of sin, for ‘you are servants of the one you obey’ [Rom.6].

“Idle are the boasts of a man who harbors within himself the love of any transgression.  He may feel what he likes, and believe what he likes, but he is still in the gall of bitterness and the bonds of iniquity while a single sin rules his heart and life.

“True regeneration implants a hatred of all evil; and where one sin is delighted in, the evidence is fatal to a sound hope…..[that is, the hope that such a person is genuinely saved”].


David Wells, “Turning to God”

“Conversion is the process whereby we turn from our sin in repentance and turn to God through faith in the finished work of Christ upon the cross for us.”  p. 10

“The creative, regenerative work of God produces an overwhelming desire to turn from sin and conveys the ability to believe in Christ….” (21)

“True conversion is not an isolated experience but one that is related to a life of discipleship.  It is the point in time and experience at which we enter into such a  life.  Discipleship belongs to and should follow from conversion the way that natural life belongs to and should follow from live birth….  And just as there is no discipleship without conversion, so there is no conversion without an ensuing life of discipleship that involves growth in moral maturity, a deepening faith, and loving service.”  (25)

“Christianity without conversion is no longer Christian, because conversion means turning to God.  It involves forsaking sin, with its self-deifying attitudes and self-serving conduct, and turning to Christ, whose death on the cross is the basis for God’s offer of mercy and forgiveness.  Jesus was judged in our place so that God could extend his righteousness to us.  Conversion occurs when we turn from our waywardness and accept Christ’s death on our behalf.”  (27)

“Conversion encompasses both our behavior and what we are in Christ.  It primarily refers to repudiating sin and trusting in Christ, but this action does not stand alone.  We repent and believe [so] that our sins might be forgiven and [so] that we might be given a new nature by the Holy Spirit to enable us to start living a life of obedience and service to Christ.”  (28)

“The difference in our conversion stories lies not in what God has done for us in Christ but in our process of turning to him.  A child raised in a Christian home may find conversion so natural that he or she cannot pinpoint when this change occurred.  For others, however, the transition is difficult, conversion is dramatic….”  (28)



New Bible Dictionary (J.D. Douglas, ed.) regarding “Repentance”:

 “Repentance consists in a radical transformation of thought, attitude, outlook and direction….repentance is a turning from sin unto God and His service.

“Repentance is a revolution in that which is most determinative in human personality and is the reflex in consciousness of the radical change wrought by the Holy Spirit in regeneration.

“It is a mistake, however, to underrate the place of grief and hatred for sin and turning from it unto God….”

“The necessity of repentance as a condition of salvation is clearly inscribed on the biblical witness….

“…there is no salvation without repentance.  This does not interfere with the complementary truth that we are saved through faith.  Faith alone is the instrument of justification.  But justification is not the whole of salvation, and faith is not the only condition…..

“Faith is directed to Christ for salvation from sin unto holiness and life.  But this involves hatred of sin and turning from it.  Repentance is turning from sin unto God.  But this implies the apprehension of the mercy of God in Christ.” 



Wayne Grudem’s “Systematic Theology”, in the section on Conversion (Faith and Repentance)

“We may define repentance as follows:  Repentance is a heartfelt sorrow for sin, a renouncing of it, and a sincere commitment to forsake it and walk in obedience to Christ.


“This definition indicates that repentance is something that can occur at a specific point in time, and is not equivalent to a demonstration of change in a person’s pattern of life.

“Repentance, like faith, is an intellectual understanding (that sin is wrong), and emotional approval of the teachings of Scripture regarding sin (a sorrow for sin and a hatred of it), and a personal decision to turn from it (a renouncing of sin and a decision of the will to forsake it and lead a life of obedience to Christ instead).

“We cannot say that someone has to actually live a changed life over a period of time before repentance can be genuine, or else repentance would be turned into a kind of obedience that we could do to merit salvation for ourselves.

“Of course, genuine repentance will result in a changed life, and we can call that changed life the fruit of repentance.  But we should never attempt to require that there be a period of time in which a person actually lives a changed life before we give assurance of forgiveness. 

“Repentance is something that occurs in the heart and involves the whole person in a decision to turn from sin.”  (713)

“When we realize that genuine saving faith must be accompanied by genuine repentance for sin, it helps us to understand why some preaching of the gospel has such inadequate results today.  …[A] watered-down version of the gospel does not ask for a wholehearted commitment to Christ – commitment to Christ, if genuine, must include a commitment to turn from sin. 

“Preaching the need for faith without repentance is preaching only half a gospel.  It will result in many people being deceived, thinking that they have heard the Christian gospel and tried it, but nothing has happened.  They might even say something like, ‘I accepted Christ as Savior over and over again and it never worked.’   Yet they never really did receive Christ as Savior, for he comes to us in his majesty and invites us to receive him as he is – the one who deserves to be, and demands to be, absolute Lord of our lives as well.”  (717)

Spurgeon sermon:  “…if we would be servants of God, we must be believers in his Son Jesus Christ. Come and trust Jesus Christ, and you are saved. When you are truly saved, you are to be saved from all hesitation about obedience to God—so saved, that henceforth God's law is your rule. Then, with that holy law imperative upon you, you will go forth into the world, and say, "It is not mine to ask what others will do. It is not mine to shape my course by them, not mine to enquire what will bring me most profit, what will bring me most honor. It is mine to look up to thee, my God, and ask, what wouldest thou have me to do? I will do it at all costs."
--http://www.spurgeon.org/sermons/2217.htm




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REPENTANCE
A CHRISTIAN CHANGES RADICALLY
by J.I. Packer

.... I preached that they should repent and turn to God and prove their repentance by their deeds. ACTS 26:20
The New Testament word for repentance means changing one’s mind so that one’s views, values, goals, and ways are changed and one’s whole life is lived differently. The change is radical, both inwardly and outwardly; mind and judgment, will and affections, behavior and life-style, motives and purposes, are all involved. Repenting means starting to live a new life.


The call to repent was the first and fundamental summons in the preaching of John the Baptist (Matt. 3:2), Jesus (Matt. 4:17), the Twelve (Mark 6:12), Peter at Pentecost (Acts 2:38), Paul to the Gentiles (Acts 17:30; 26:20), and the glorified Christ to five of the seven churches in Asia (Rev. 2:5, 16, 22; 3:3, 19). It was part of Jesus’ summary of the gospel that was to be taken to the world (Luke 24:47). It corresponds to the constant summons of the Old Testament prophets to Israel to return to the God from whom they had strayed (e.g., Jer. 23:22; 25:4-5; Zech. 1:3-6). Repentance is always set forth as the path to remission of sins and restoration to God’s favor, impenitence as the road to ruin (e.g., Luke 13:1-8).

Repentance is a fruit of faith, which is itself a fruit of regeneration. But in actual life, repentance is inseparable from faith, being the negative aspect (faith is the positive aspect) of turning to Christ as Lord and Savior. The idea that there can be saving faith without repentance, and that one can be justified by embracing Christ as Savior while refusing him as Lord, is a destructive delusion. True faith acknowledges Christ as what he truly is, our God-appointed king as well as our God-given priest, and true trust in him as Savior will express itself in submission to him as Lord also. To refuse this is to seek justification through an impenitent faith, which is no faith.

In repentance, says the Westminster Confession, a sinner, out of the sight and sense not only of the danger, but also the filthiness and odiousness of his sins, as contrary to the holy nature, and righteous law of God; and upon the apprehension of his mercy in Christ to such as are penitent; so grieves for, and hates his sins, as to turn from them all unto God, purposing and endeavoring to walk with him in all ways of his commandments. (XV.2)

This statement highlights the fact that incomplete repentance, sometimes called “attrition” (remorse, self-reproach, and sorrow for sin generated by fear of punishment, without any wish or resolve to forsake sinning) is insufficient. True repentance is “contrition,” as modeled by David in Psalm 51, having at its heart a serious purpose of sinning no more but of living henceforth a life that will show one’s repentance to be full and real (Luke 3:8; Acts 26:20). Repenting of any vice means going in the opposite direction, to practice the virtues most directly opposed to it.

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Baptist Catechism:
88.  What does God require of us, that wwe may escape His wrath and curse due to us for sin?  Answer:  …God requires of us faith in Jesus Christ, repentance unto life…”

90.  What is repentance unto life?
Repentance unto life is a saving grace, whereby a sinner, out a true sense of his sin, and apprehension of the mercy of God in Christ, does, with grief and hatred of his sin, turn from it unto God, with full purpose of, and endeavor after, new obedience.  [Acts 11:18; Acts 2:37-38; Joel 2:12-13; Jer. 31:18; Ps. 119:59]  “The[Westminster] Shorter Catechism:  A Modest Revision for Baptists Today”



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