Results tagged “holiness” from Reformation21 Blog

Cruciform Suffering

|

The fact that the incarnate Son of God "learned obedience" (Heb. 5:8) is an essential aspect of Jesus' human nature and so is indispensable to sound Christology and soteriology. Apart from the cross itself, the clearest example we have of this "learning" is probably found in the Synoptic accounts of our Lord's prayer in Gethsemane (Matthew 26; Mark 14; Luke 22). While Jesus' obedience is of unparalleled import for our justification, his example of submitting to his Father's will and so learning obedience through suffering is also a unique model for our sanctification, the goal of which is nothing less than Christ-conformity.

The Gospel accounts of this prayer show Jesus' desire to avoid the cup of the Father's wrath against sin, but only if that can be done in accord with his Father's will. While this raises some interesting theological questions, the Synoptics give more attention to the subjective or experiential facet of Jesus' prayer. Similarly, our personal appropriation of the text merits serious reflection, not least because submitting one's will to God's when that means accepting suffering involves nothing less than putting to death the remnants of the old man (Mark 8:34-35).

Although Jesus is the supreme example of learning obedience through suffering, the Gospel accounts do not provide a detailed analysis of how this learning took place. For that reason, and because the Old Testament figure of Job exhibits both similarities and differences with respect to Jesus' example, we turn first to the Book of Job before returning to the Gospels (and to the gospel) in order to reflect on how we might imitate Christ in the way that he learned obedience.

Job is clearly a dynamic character in the book that bears his name. At the beginning and end of his suffering, Job accepted the mysterious providence of his trial, trusting firmly in God's wisdom and justice. The narrator affirms twice that at the outset of his trials Job's responses to his suffering were without sin (1:21; 2:10), and at the end of the book Job not only repents of his flawed interpretation of his suffering (and of God), but even intercedes on behalf of his friends. In doing so he demonstrates restored and even strengthened confidence in God's justice, mercy, and goodness.

But what of the bulk of the book of Job, sandwiched between the opening and closing narratives? After an unspecified period of suffering in which he did not draw into question God's goodness and justice and on the contrary affirmed them, Job eventually changes and utters a lengthy curse in chapter three. Who can doubt that over time Job's suffering, compounded by the fear that God had become his enemy (3:23), tore relentlessly at his faith? Eventually his faith wavered, and the curse-lament of Job 3 demonstrates profound differences when compared to Job's beliefs and attitudes in chapter 2. In chapter 3, Job feels that it would have been better for him not to have existed, and he draws into question God's wisdom and goodness as well as the usefulness of such immense suffering in his life. Job expresses these sentiments at several later points in the book prior to God's theophanic arrival (16:7-14; 23:1-7; 30:20-23), and his discourse culminates in a bold challenge for God to answer his accusations (31:35-37).

The differences between Job's lament (which the book does not condone) and those we find in the psalms (e.g., Pss 10; 22) are significant. Hartley notes that Job voices no affirmation of trust nor any vow to praise God after his deliverance, and omits any review of God's faithful character and past intervention on his behalf ("From Lament to Oath," 89-91). As of chapter 31 Job "is not there yet," and God's two speeches in chapters 38-42 are necessary to convey the knowledge Job needs to understand and even profit from his extreme suffering. God's words to Job affirm divine justice over against Job's accusations and highlight Job's incomplete understanding of creation and providence. God draws Job's attention to the "counsel" that Job's words have darkened in 38:2 (referring to God's governance of the world), the tension between Job's desire to affirm his righteousness over against God's in 40:8, and the reality that divine justice (at least sometimes) is brought about gradually (38:12-15). In response to this wisdom instruction, Job "repents," which in this context means that he recognizes his epistemological limitations, rejects his earlier view of God's culpable involvement in his suffering, and accepts God's self-description as good, just, and beyond his comprehension. Amazingly, this takes place before his suffering has ended.

Let's come back now to the double significance of Jesus' obedient suffering, especially as seen through the lens of his prayer in Gethsemane. On the one hand, because of our Lord's perfect obedience, obeying to the point of death on a cross, our sins are atoned for and his perfect righteousness is ours. On the other, he calls us to suffer with him and to follow Him while bearing our cross. One could almost say that these two poles constitute Christianity's unique approach to suffering (which we can define as physical, emotional, and/or spiritual pain that is not demonstrably sent as discipline for our sin). Living on this side of the cross and the empty tomb, especially when seen against the immediate backdrop of Gethsemane, our understanding of why God sends suffering into the lives of His children is significantly greater than what Job enjoyed. We see the cross followed by the resurrection as the grounds of our justification, we have received the Holy Spirit who testifies to the certainty of our eschatological adoption (Rom 8:15-17), and we await with impatience the new heavens and the new earth, "in which righteousness dwells" (2 Pet 3:13). These redemptive-historical advances demonstrate God's righteousness and grace, and address with brilliant clarity the questions that plagued Job: Where is God's justice? How can the just suffer? Why must the just suffer? Yet the difficulty of Christian suffering remains. Although the goal is nothing less than Christ-conformity, this conformity is inherently cruciformity.

As we know from experience, doubts about God's goodness or the strong conviction that another set of circumstances would better promote our Christ-conformity (or both!) are only too quick to arise in our hearts when we are faced with suffering. Before the final stage of his suffering, Jesus sinlessly petitioned his Father to remove the cup from him if it were possible, always adding that the Father's will was, in the end, also his. Thus even before the response to his prayer was clear, Jesus was ready to accept the cup from his Father's hand. His obedience was neither a perfunctory acquiescence nor something born of compulsion, but rather a sincere (if trembling) embracing of the Father's will.

Depending on our state of heart and mind, the fact that God's fatherly providence is not arbitrary can be either a source of temptation to doubt his goodness (God forbid!) or the soil in which patience, humility, and even joyful optimism can grow. Not only is conformity to Christ's death inseparable from conformity to His resurrection (what Calvin called our "true destiny," on Matt. 2:23, CDCL 45), but offering ourselves to God entails "a real gladness which arises from the love we have for Him to whom our self-offering is made" (Calvin, on Deut 7:7-10, CDCL 34). A positive response to suffering requires that we understand that since God's power and wisdom are both perfect and without limit, our current circumstances are the best way for God to develop our conformity to the image of His Son. We must remind ourselves that of all possible paths, at this moment this trial is what our heavenly Father wills for us. Even in the most extreme suffering, victory in and over suffering is guaranteed by (and cannot be separated from the experience of) the love of Him who "did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him over for us all" (Rom 8:39). Suffering believers can therefore know, with utmost certainty, that their heavenly Father is using their present, very unpleasant circumstances to conform them to the image of his Son and to teach them the profound power and glory of his love.

"Take up your cross and follow me," Jesus says; "learn obedience as I learned it." Why not another way, any other way? Scripture's answer is that only such a trial, one that cannot be understood here and now, creates a situation in which we can submit our wisdom and our will to God's ("if it be possible . . . yet not my will. . . "). In so doing we will learn that God can be trusted, loved, and honored through a trial which may never be understood this side of glory. Though God's ways are often beyond our understanding, in our suffering we can be certain that though this trial our heavenly Father is lovingly, justly, and wisely conforming us to the death and the resurrection of His Son. "Whoever loses his life for my sake and for the gospel will save it" (Mark 8:35).


Daniel Timmer is the Professor of Old Testament at the Faculté de théologie évangélique (Acadia) in Montreal.

Being Pence-ive about Dinner with the Ladies

|

Adultery among any people group is a serious and dreadful act in this fallen world. In fact, in an increasingly fatherless culture where divorce is becoming more and more the rule rather than the exception, one would argue that this is empirically verifiable. When a pastor, who is supposed to be the undershepherd of the people of God commits the sin of adultery, however, it is especially egregious and brings deep shame upon the Gospel, ruins his local congregation, and is an assault on the purity of Christ's Church.

I was ordained to pastoral ministry last November. It was, at the same time, the one year anniversary of my own mentor's departure from the ministry. This man left ministry because of his serious, adulterous moral failings. That same year another prominent minister left his church in Florida for similar reasons. Earlier that year a flood of pastors (and laymen) suffered the consequences of having their families broken apart because their online marital infidelity was exposed in the sight of the world. If there is anything that I learned from that flood of nightmares that took place around me leading up to my ordination, it was that no one is above sin. No one is so strong as to be immune to falling into temptation.

Earlier this week Vice President Mike Pence made news when it was revealed that, as a rule, he doesn't dine alone with a woman who isn't his wife, nor does he attend events with alcohol unless she's by his side. This revelation was met roundly with ridicule, mockery, and in some quarters accusations of misogyny--sadly, even among quite a number of fellow believers on social media.

As soon as I saw the headlines, I realized that if the world thinks Pence is weird, to quote my favorite version of the Joker, "Wait til they get a load of me." The fact is, this sounds not only like my own life and practice, but also like many (if not most) of my friends in pastoral ministry. After all, we've watched innumerable ministers fall like dominoes, as their families fall apart and their decades long marriages come to an end. All I can think is, "Why would we not seek to be as careful as possible in order to preserve the honor of Christ, as well as our wives and families?"

Does this mean that a pastor who has a policy similar to this can't have godly and mature relationships with sisters in the Lord? Does it mean that we are not allowed to foster friendships with the opposite sex? Certainly not. Anyone who draws such a conclusion, I suspect, is working with more of a caricature than real life. There are many practical things that a pastor can put in place, generally exercising common sense (e.g. having windows in his office, keeping others nearby when he has meetings, letting his wife know when and where he is meeting with another woman, etc.).

Women are ultimately not the problem. Women are not de facto the enemies of married men. Rather, all men are easily seduced by their own hearts. James tells us that: "Each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire" (James 1:14). When a man (like Mike Pence) does his level best to never be in isolation with another woman, he isn't necessarily saying something about the woman; he is saying something about his own heart. He is functionally saying, "I am not always strong. I am never self-sufficient. I don't want to give a place for sin to happen, or for others to even think that a sin has happened."

I recently preached a sermon in which I compared the sin of Judas (which was premeditated and extremely well thought out) to the sin of Peter (which was spontaneous and unexpected). In contrast to Judas, Peter was shocked by his own sin. Why did Peter swear over and over again that he would rather die than deny Jesus? Because at the moment, he wasn't planning to deny Jesus. Just because we aren't premeditating a sin doesn't mean that we aren't capable of or liable to commit it. Peter learned that lesson the hard way.

I am not suggesting that all men (or, even all pastors) must take the same steps as Vice President Pence. I am, however, insisting that men who make a similar course of action their policy not be accused of wrongdoing by those who do not. For some, what the Vice President does may be considered too careful. For some it may be seen to be above and beyond what they consider reasonable. Some may even mock such men and tell them that they are "scared" or "afraid" or "insecure." It's never possible to completely stop people from putting a nasty spin on your decisions to safeguard the church, your life, or your family. However, I've witnessed enough men, in my own life, who have become statistics--men who are still shattered by the sin in their own lives--that I refuse to treat anyone who exercises such care with disdain or disrespect.


Adam Parker is a Teaching Elder in the Presbyterian Church in America and Pastor of Pearl Presbyterian Church in Pearl, Mississippi. He has an Mdiv from Reformed Theological Seminary in Jackson, Mississippi, and is the Associate Editor of Reformation 21.

If It Makes You Happy

|
A discernible pattern has emerged in the wake of recent events. A particular tragedy is perpetrated by a person of one community upon people of another community. The life of one who bears the image of God is wantonly snuffed out. One group of people is allegedly violated by an outdated or oppressive system. A protest for justice forms. Commentators and pundits try to explain who is really at fault and what needs to change. The solution is consistently summarized in one word...Love. Profile pics are changed. Statuses are updated. Social media activism is fully engaged. And with great intentions, everyone seems to agree that what we really need is love. Love is love! We might rightly respond to this ambiguous appeal for "love" with the ever relevant words of Inigo Montoya, "You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means."

"Love" is bandied about as the answer to every societal ill. Every problem is met with the call to love. Racism, sexism, classism, terrorism, or whatever "-ism" that gets thrown out, the answer is love. What makes this solution so attractive and also so dangerous is that there is quite a bit of truth to it. If rightly understood, love is the answer to these problems. But that's the rub, isn't it? It is rare for the idea of love to be rightly understood. Often it is reduced to emotional or sentimental tripes that can be easily shared, retweeted, pinned, or liked.

What is popularly understood as love? The popular notion of "love" seems to be something that more readily resembles "happiness." If something makes me happy then it is good, not just preferentially but also morally and ontologically. And whatever that good is, it must be celebrated and embraced by all people. This is how love and the modern notion of tolerance become so intertwined. Today, the idea of tolerance requires that you never question anyone's pursuit of happiness but must only celebrate it. "Love," (in its late-modern form) therefore, is the unhindered pursuit of happiness, and tolerance is the cheering on of those pursuing happiness. And if we just loved like that, then all our problems would be solved--or so we are constantly hearing. 

The imperative to "be happy," though, comes across as trite and hollow. Perhaps the singer Bobby McFerrin ruined it for us all. Happiness is too subjective and fickle. Rhetorically, "love" packs a much greater punch. There is a weightiness to love. Love is objective and unassailable. Love requires resolution, sacrifice, and commitment. Love requires a standard of faithfulness that is missing in the modern pursuit of happiness. The sexual chaos in our society today thrives off this lack of objectivity. The New York Times recently ran a story about "LGBT -Affirming" psycho-therapy in which a psychotherapist questions the assumption of the benefit of "sexual fidelity in marriage." He states it in the following way:

The whole idea of the crisis of infidelity is based on the expectation that it ought to be otherwise. And that somehow if a relationship changes in its dynamic and somebody has sex with somebody else, that somehow it's ruinous to the intimacy and potential for growth and love. That's an enormous assumption. And it's just another example of a hetero-normative assumption, one that causes enormous suffering.1 

Again, an understanding of love that has commitment and sacrifice at its heart is rejected for the pursuit of personal happiness. Ironically, the conflation of "love" and "be happy" is, in itself, a tacit condemnation on subjective relativism. We use love because we intuitively know that "happy" is too flimsy to carry the weight of the moment. While "love" is used, I believe it would be more accurate if we just admitted as a society that we're trying to say, "Everybody ought to just be happy and then all our problems would be over."

But what is the problem with being happy? Isn't happiness a good thing? Doesn't God want me to be happy? Again, it depends on what we mean by our use of the word "happy." Happiness must be rightly ordered. Our happiness must be subject to our holiness. God does not want you to be happy when it is at odds with you being holy. When these become disordered we fall into the same problem as the nation of Israel at the end of Judges. The result of that tailspin was, "Everyone did what was right in his own eyes" (Judges 21:25). Happiness unchecked will always lead to doing what is right in your own eyes. And when we understand that the "heart is deceitful above all things" (Jer. 17:9), we can quickly understand the problem with doing what is right in our own eyes.

Instead, Christians should acknowledge that love is the answer but should labor to define that term as the Bible defines it. Happiness falls far short of love. Happiness is an emotion or state of mind. Love is something so much more. In short, the Bible tells us that "God is love" (1 John 4:8), but that warrants a little bit of unpacking. Wilhelmus à Brakel explained it this way, "Love is an essential attribute of God by which the Lord delights Himself in that which is good, it being well-pleasing to Him, and uniting Himself to it consistent with the nature of the object of His love. The love of God by definition is the loving God Himself."2 That which is most perfect and glorifying and beautiful is to be the very definition of love. That object is God Himself.

The way the world sees love and the way the Bible sees love are incompatible. The apostle John saw these competing definitions of love when he contrasted the love of the world with the love of the Father. The love of the world is concerned with "the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and the pride of possessions" (1 John 2:16), i.e. brief feelings of happiness. But the love of the Father is concerned with the will of God. This love of God is exhibited by a conformity to holiness. It too will bring pleasure and happiness, but it is beheld by faith and is not fleeting.

Love requires sacrifice. Happiness delights in whatever causes immediate pleasure. Love requires delighting in that which is greatest, most perfect, and pure. "God shows his love for us that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us" (Rom 5:8). "Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends" (John 15:13). "By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us" (1 John 3:16). "For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life" (John 3:16). "In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins" (1 John 4:9, 10). God's love is demonstrated in his redemption of his people and the restoration of his creation such that they more clearly demonstrate and reflect that which is most glorious, namely God himself.

Love also requires commitment. It requires a commitment to God and His holiness, as well as a commitment to one another. "Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another" (1 John 4:11). We must be personally and corporately committed to holiness. This means disciplining ourselves and being willing to submit to the discipline of the Body. Love requires discipline. The author of Hebrews tells us that if we don't discipline our children, we don't love them. In fact, a failure to discipline your children is to treat them like "bastards" (Heb 12:8, KJV). Love requires discipline that conforms us to the pattern of holiness (Prov 3:11, 12). This is, perhaps, the most heartbreaking aspect of the mainline church's drift into apostasy. They earnestly want to love one another. But that love has no meaning beyond the personal happiness of individuals. Thus, when members are in open and unrepentant sin, the most loving thing to do would be to call them to repent. Instead, the boundaries of acceptable behavior are simply moved to continue including them. Happiness is called love and the truth is substituted for a lie. This is happening in the evangelical church as well. A failure to execute discipline, both informal and formal, on the members of Christ's Church will lead to a rejection of Christ.

On one level, there is a great deal of truth to society's answer to the world's problems. Love is the answer. We just have to be clear about what love looks like in action. Matthew Henry said, "When iniquity abounds love waxes cold."3 Love is incompatible with sin. But happiness can thrive momentarily in sin. When love is substituted with happiness, sin reigns and our problems only increase. But when we hold firm to true love, sin is killed, holiness is honored, and true happiness is experienced.

1. Casey Schwartz, "The Couch in Rainbow Colors: 'L.G.B.T.-Affirming' Therapy," The New York Times, July 13, 2016, http://www.nytimes.com/2016/07/14/fashion/lgbt-therapy-antioch-university.html. 

2. Wilhelmus Brakel, The Christian's Reasonable Service, 4 Vols. (Grand Rapids: Reformation Heritage Books, 2015), I.123. 

3. Matthew Henry, Matthew Henry's Commentary on the Whole Bible: Complete and Unabridged in One Volume (Peabody: Hendrickson, 1994), 1588.

The Savior at the Well

|
"I am the woman at the well, 
I am the harlot 
I am the scattered seed that fell along the path 
I am the son that ran away 
And I am the bitter son that stayed

My God, my God, why hast Thou accepted me 
When all my love was vinegar to a thirsty King? 
My God, my God, why hast Thou accepted me? 
It's a mystery of mercy and the song, the song that I sing." (Caedmon's Call)

As a young believer--having been redeemed by God out of a prodigal lifestyle--I wept nearly every time that I listened to Caedmon's Call song, "Mystery of Mercy." Having been redeemed by God out of a prodigal lifestyle, I found myself in solidarity with the woman at the well, the woman caught in adultery, the prodigal son, Zacchaeus and the thief on the cross. I came to see, by the conviction of the Holy Spirit, that I was no better than any of them. In fact, I saw that I was worse than they were. I came to realize that convicting His people of their sin and making them aware of the judgment they deserve because of it it is one of the greatest gifts of God's grace.

I also quickly came to realize that many Christian authors used aspects of biblical passages about Jesus' mercy to the undeserving in order to promote an antinomian understanding of the Gospel. For instance, Brennan Manning emphatically stated--with regard to the woman caught in adultery (John 8:1-11)--that Jesus "didn't demand a firm purpose of amendment" and "didn't seem too concerned that she might dash back into the arms of her lover" (The Ragamuffin Gospel, p. 167). Manning also suggested the following: 

"I don't think that anyone reading this would have approved of throwing rocks at the poor woman in adultery, but we would have made darn sure she presented a detailed act of contrition and was firm in her purpose of amendment. Because if we let her off without saying she was sorry, wouldn't she be back in adultery before sunset?" (The Ragamuffin Gospel, p. 173).

At the outset, I want to be clear that I stand firmly against those who teach that legal repentance and reformation is necessary in order for someone to come to Jesus--as if one needed to clean himself or herself up to make oneself acceptable to Christ. However, what Manning taught (from a disputed passage of Scripture, I would add) is not in keeping with the details of the text or the general manner of Christ's saving work in the lives of sinners. After telling the woman caught in adultery, "Neither do I condemn you," Jesus says to her, "Go and sin no more" (John 8:11). Having forgiven this woman of disrepute, Jesus called her to live out a godly life in keeping with the redemption that she had experienced by His grace. 

Of a somewhat different nature than Manning's misrepresentation of the woman caught in adultery is Sammy Rhodes' recent apology to members of the LGBTQ movement--in which he references Jesus' dealing with the woman at the well (John 4:1-30). While presumably seeking to draw attention to what a loving posture should be towards those who are engaged in sexual sin, Rhodes goes so far as to insist that Jesus "cared far more about sharing a drink with her than he did about her sexual choices." In doing so, Rhodes presents an inadequate picture of the Savior at the well. Additionally, by saying "We're all the woman at the well," Rhodes--perhaps inadvertently--leads us to believe that we are acting self-righteously, rather than in love, if we speak out against sexually sinful lifestyles. 

The Savior at the Well

In the first place, it should be noted that Jesus asked the woman at the well for a drink of water in order to teach her about her own spiritual thirst and His ability to quench that thirst by means of His redemption. Jesus didn't simply care about "sharing a drink with her." He wasn't on a night out on the town. In the second place--and vastly more significant--is the fact that Jesus cared deeply about speaking to the woman about her "sexual choices." This is clear from the fact that he told her to call her husband, told her that He knew that she had previously been married five times and that He knew that she was currently committing adultery with the man with whom she was now living (John 4:16-18). Uncovering the sinful hearts of men and women is one of the chief ways in which the Savior works in the lives of those He is redeeming in order to draw them to Himself. To downplay Jesus' use of the Law with the woman at the well is to dimmish the way in which the Gospel works in the lives of believers; it is to present a Jesus who is less than determined to save His people from their sin (Matt. 1:21). Jesus loved the woman at the well enough to tell her about her sexual sin so that she might see her need for Him. The most loving thing that we can do for others is to tell them about the Savior and about the sin from which they need to be redeemed by the Him. 

We see the importance of Jesus convicting the woman at the well of her sexual sin by the fact that John tells us: "the woman then left her waterpot" (a symbol of her empty life) and went her way into the city, and said to the men, 'Come, see a Man who told me all things that I ever did. Could this be the Christ?" This woman had spent the better part of her life seeking to satisfy herself with men--the very thing that Jesus revealed to her. However, having finally found eternal life and satisfaction in Christ, she went and told the men of the city, "Come see a Man who told me all things that I ever did. Could this be the Christ?" She didn't go into the city and say, "I just met a really great guy who had a drink with me and didn't condemn anything about my sinful lifestyle." She told them that Jesus knew all about her sinful lifestyle. She said, "Come see a man who told me all things that I ever did." It was necessary for Christ to convict this woman of her sinful lifestyle and to show her the futility of it in order to help her see her need for Him and the redemption that can only be found in Him. 

Speaking Out in Love

It has become commonplace in our day to hear Christians say things like, "We can't lead with condemnation if we are ever to reach our LGBTQ neighbors." Sadly, I have, on numerous occasions, heard those same words propagated within the ecclesiastical circles in which I minister. Contrary to this mantra, The Apostle Paul marched into the epicenter of idolatry and sexual immorality with a condemnation of sin in order to lovingly help men and women see the greatness of the grace of God in Christ (see Romans 1:18-3:26). In his letter to the church in Rome, Paul took his readers from plight to solution in order to convince them of just how unrighteous all men are by nature. The Apostle was not self-righteously condemning others; rather, he was showing them more fully the need that they have for Christ. In fact, the Apostle went so far as to single out homosexual sin as the highest form of idolatry in a world full of people who "suppress the truth in unrighteousness." After all, "Androgyny," as Jungian psychologist June Singer has noted in her book Androgyny: Toward a New Theory of Sexuality, "is the sacrament of monism." 

While the Apostolic writings on this point are clear (e.g. Romans 1:26-27; 1 Cor. 6:9-11), it has become increasingly common to hear professing believers suggest that Jesus never condemned homosexuality. Anyone who reads the Scriptures honestly will find it a futile exercise to attempt to pit the ethics of Jesus against that of the Apostles. The Savior was crucified by the hands of men, in large part, because He exposed the sin that fallen man so desperately loves. Jesus said, "The world...hates Me because I testify of it that its works are evil" (John 7:7). In the days of His flesh, Jesus preached against all sexual sin under the general category of "sexual immorality" (e.g. see Matt. 5:32 and 19:9). We dishonor the holiness and majesty of God by refusing to mention God's condemnation of particular sin when seeking to speak to our culture. 

In addition to dishonoring God and His holiness, we do our fellow image bearers a great disservice if we present a Gospel void of the accompanying conviction of God's Law. No one will ever see their need for Christ until they come to terms with the fact that they are sinners deserving of judgment. In the church membership vows of the PCA, we ask those coming for membership, the following question: "Do you acknowledge yourself to be a sinner in the sight of God, justly deserving His displeasure, and without hope save in His sovereign mercy?" Acknowledging that we are deserving of judgment for our sin is an indispensable part of being a Christian. The Holy Spirit works through the Law of God to convince us of the fact that we are "sinners in the sight of God, justly deserving His displeasure." 

We have unique cultural challenges in our day--challenges that tempt us to be silent on the difficult truths of Scripture, challenges to fear man rather than God and challenges to allow sin to go unchecked. We all feel the temptation to want to make Christianity more palatable for the masses by taking away from our presentation of it whatever our culture deems offensive. There is something right about our need to be cautious about our own offensiveness. We should never want to be offensive by means of our personal tone or motives in presenting the Gospel to men and women; however, we must always recognize that the Gospel is necessarily offensive in that it--working together with the Law of God--exposes our sin and shows us that our only hope is in the message of the crucified and risen Christ. While we acknowledge that we are exactly like the woman caught in adultery, the woman at the well, the prodigal son, Zacchaeus and the thief on the cross, we need not turn from telling others about the nature of sin and of the eternal danger that they continue to face in if they will not turn from it to the Savior who stands ready to forgive and cleanse His people by His grace. It is the most loving thing that we can do for our neighbors and fellow image bearers.  

Remembering Jerry Bridges

|
Bridges, Jerry photo hi res.jpg
As many have reported, Jerry Bridges has been called home by the Lord. He was a much loved speaker at the Alliance's Philadelphia Conference on Reformed Theology. Only in the last decade have we not heard from Jerry due to his health concerns. After a career of campus ministry and a writing career on holiness, he was able to personally connect with Alliance members in a remarkable fashion that has become a standard of Alliance events. We know you will miss his teaching style as much as we will. So we would like to make the following messages available for your edification - and I am sure Jerry would suggest for your holiness!

We share the following seven messages as MP3s for free (use the passcode "holiness" and the discount will be applied at check out.)


If you would like to hear them all you will find these messages in one bundle (remember, use the discount code of "holiness" and the discount will apply at check out.) But download them now, as this offer ends March 31, 2016.

May God bless you as you hear this wonderful teacher. Now with the Lord, but God's word remains!

Text links
http://www.alliancenet.org/how-firm-a-foundation-the-bibles-authority-sufficiency-and-clarity
http://www.reformedresources.org/pcrt-2004/dying-to-forgive-mp3/
http://www.reformedresources.org/pcrt-2004/just-to-forgive-mp3/
http://www.reformedresources.org/pcrt-2007/gods-word-and-christian-discipleship-mp3/
http://www.reformedresources.org/pcrt-2009/the-great-exchange-mp3/
http://www.reformedresources.org/alliance-events/trusting-in-gods-sovereignty-mp3-download/
http://www.reformedresources.org/jerry-bridges/trusting-in-gods-goodness-mp3-download/
http://www.reformedresources.org/digital-audio/trusting-in-gods-wisdom-mp3-download/
http://www.reformedresources.org/jerry-bridges/

Other people's pornography

|
There is little doubt that an appetite for pornography is endemic in the modern West. That this is the case was driven home on a recent voyage. On my outward journey, I settled in to my seat for what was going to be a monster trip. Within a few moments, to my immediate right, one passenger was offering to another one of those lurid British tabloids with some kind of vulgarity and/or nudity on every page. Fortunately, before long, the offending organ was put away.

My own screen broke before a couple of hours had passed, and so I spent much of the journey reading, thinking, a little typing, and just mentally wandering. Of course, when this happens, the attention begins to roam also, and half a day's concentration is too much for this particular soul to bear. At one stage, a kind steward offered me the use of an empty chair with a working screen. Fine, except that it left me sitting next to a pleasant woman with a toddler-in-arms who was indulging in one of those seedy European films that features a fair amount of tawdry sordidness. Before long, I went back to my seat. When I did, I lifted my eyes, and a few rows ahead of me was a fellow with one of those much-envied bulkhead seats. On this particular aircraft, his screen, of a reasonable size, is set into the wall in front of him. On this screen, for him and anyone else with eyes in their heads, was a stream of Hollywood filth, all toned and bronzed flesh heaving and sweating in a display of aggressive and unrealistic hyper-sexuality. It struck me that not many years ago to indulge in this kind and degree of pornography (however it masquerades as art or entertainment) would at least have involved some kind of personal secrecy and social embarrassment. But now the whole is paraded on screens for men and women, boys and girls, to watch or glimpse without a seeming shred of moral awareness. Seeking to tear away and keep away my eyes, and so guard my heart, I looked in the other direction, and something similar was on another screen across the aisle directly in my line of vision!

I eventually took prayerful refuge in a combination of a book, the ceiling, one of those funky eye masks, and the "Bible study" of the chap next to me who turned out to be a Jehovah's Witness, but who was simultaneously plugged into a pair of earbuds that made conversation nigh-on impossible. It was at least a mercy that his screen did not have more naked flesh alluringly presented upon it.

On the journey home I was better prepared, spiritually and mentally, and managed to negotiate the pornstorm more effectively, but I was also more aware of it, and conscious of how it was being held before me on every front. Though the challenge has existed before, I honestly cannot remember such a deluge of other people's porn. For many of us, this may be where the battle is joined. Perhaps God in his mercy has entirely or largely spared us from indulgence in pornography in secret. Perhaps we have been exposed to it and repented of it and kept away from it. Perhaps we have patterns of work and leisure in which we deliberately keep our screens and our pages in clear view of others. Perhaps we have ditched our screens - cutting off our right hands, as it were - in order to keep us from sin and the punishments that follow. Perhaps we have accountability partners and software that help keep our feet to the fire. But what we cannot entirely avoid is other people's porn.

This is where we need more than a software installation or a gentleman's (or lady's) agreement with a friend or an open door and a visible screen. This is where we need a covenant with our eyes (Job 31:1). This is a battle that is fought and won or lost, first of all, in the heart of man, and the battle is joined at Eye-Gate, with these aggressive, invasive, enticing images that are held before us and around us on every side. Here we could potentially indulge without anyone but God knowing, though the Lord will know it. It is here that we need to pray for ourselves and others that we would not allow our eyes to roam and our hearts to wander and our souls to drink at the cistern of filth, not allow Eye-Gate to be broken through, but rather bar it up and hold it fast against all assaults and onslaughts. When pornography has become the entertainment norm, a regular diet for men and women, unremarkable and unremarked, it is ultimately a covenant with the eyes and a commitment of the heart, made in humble and prayerful dependence upon the Lord, that will serve us best and keep us pure.

Holding the centre

|
Having been away on holiday for a week (yes, delightful, thank you for asking), I return to find that things continue much as they were, except that Mark Jones has joined Team Reformation21, and Paul has allowed him to write a long post using long words and referring to past centuries without hammering him for it but rather wittering on about lunchtime lectures. I smell a Presbyterian stitch-up.

However, I am glad to see that Rick Phillips has drawn attention to the work being done by the Gospel Reformation Network, whose affirmations and denials I read with genuine interest. As Rick has highlighted and explained some of those statements, Mark has chipped back in with explanations and clarifications of his own language at certain points. Scriptures are being expounded and applied, history is being ransacked, and language is being sharpened to hone concepts that need sharply defined edges.

But why does such to-ing and fro-ing give joy? Because whenever debates like the one about the relationship between justification and sanctification, law and grace, and other related matters, have come up in the past, there is a fearful tendency that rapidly becomes apparent. Contention risks pushing men to extremes detached from the anchor of revelation: actions provoke reactions and counteractions that can all end up drifting and departing from the truth. It is quite clearly happening today. To be fair, in some instances it has been imputed, but in others it is stated fairly baldly. I remember my wry smile on reading in the introduction to one fairly well-known little book a statement by the authors that amounted to this, in almost as many words: "We used to be legalists, but we got better." In this instance, while acknowledging that they might have had some issues before, I would query the definition of legalism, and would certainly question whether the stance in which they ended up was any better, being simply different and equally dangerous. This is because, as I hope we would all affirm, the antidote to legalism is never a few drops of antinomianism, and the response to antinomianism is never a decent dose of legalism.

Our definitions and explanations, our actions, reactions, and counteractions, must not be forced upon us by circumstance or other external pressures, but forged of scriptural metal in the white heat of humble prayer, hammered fine by the tools of righteous exchange and measured against the standards of the history of orthodox Christianity. Any other substance or process will not serve us as we need.

We must hold the centre. We must not depart from the Word of God. We must allow the Scriptures to say all that they say, in the way that they say it, drawing out the truths that the Bible contains, and ensuring that each and all are maintained and declared in their proper place and proportion. So, for example, we must maintain the righteousness of Christ alone as the grounds of our justification, and faith as the God-imparted instrument by which that righteousness of Christ is obtained. We must maintain also that there is a real personal holiness which is to be ardently cultivated by us, the fruit of our union with Christ: "Pursue peace with all people, and holiness, without which no one will see the Lord" (Heb 12:14). I tried to do some of this in a simple way in a recent book called Life in Christ (RHB/A.com/A.co.uk/WBS), for those who might want a plain and pastoral introduction to what it means obediently to work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for his good pleasure (Phil 2:12-13).

We must understand this not as a matter of mere semantics or theoretical theology (no real theology is simply a theory). If you are a pastor, salvation and the assurance of it hang upon these things. The men and women to whom we preach need to know the right answers to the questions of how we can stand before the Lord of heaven and earth considered not just as blameless but as positively righteous, what will be our confidence in the day of judgement, what are the present evidences of our interest in Christ Jesus, and how we may live so as to enjoy the smile of our heavenly Father. We must be ready, like Robert Traill in his Justification Vindicated, to counsel those who ask, "What must I do to be saved?"
Why should not the right answer be given, 'Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you shall be saved'? Tell him what Christ is, what he has done and suffered to obtain eternal redemption for sinners, and that according to the will of God and his Father. Give him a plain downright narrative of the gospel salvation wrought out by the Son of God; tell him the history and mystery of the gospel plainly. It may be the Holy Ghost will work faith thereby, as he did in those firstfruits of the Gentiles in Acts 10.44. If he asks what warrant he has to believe on Jesus Christ, tell him that he has an utter indispensable necessity for it, for without believing on him he must perish eternally; that he has God's gracious offer of Christ and all his redemption, with a promise that, upon accepting the offer by faith, Christ and salvation with him are his: that he has God's express commandment (1Jn 3:23) to believe on Christ's name, and that he should make conscience of obeying it, as much as any command in the moral law. Tell him of Christ's ability and goodwill to save; that no man was every rejected by him who cast himself upon him; that desperate cases are the glorious triumphs of his art of saving. (27-28)
But we must also answer the question, "What does it look like to be saved?" And there we must answer, "gird up the loins of your mind, be sober, and rest your hope fully upon the grace that is to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ; as obedient children, not conforming yourselves to the former lusts, as in your ignorance; but as He who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, because it is written, 'Be holy, for I am holy'" (1Pt 1:13-16).

We must pore again over those works like The Marrow of Modern Divinity or Andrew Fuller's Antinomianism Contrasted with the Religion Taught and Exemplified in the Holy Scriptures to sharpen our spiritual senses and stock our souls with truth to be proclaimed and defended, always with that Berean spirit which heeds the words of proven men highly esteemed and stills searches the Scriptures to see whether these things are so. We must let all our thinking and feeling be governed by the whole counsel of God, illuminated by the Spirit of Christ, and tested against the understanding of those men who have gone before us in the right way.

It is horrible, and will be again, to see men driven away from the truth by their professed zeal for the same. I am far from suggesting that this is true of Rick or Mark. Rather, their determination to phrase the truth accurately and carefully, accounting for all the bold emphases and subtle nuances of revelation is just what is needed. We must hold the centre, for the sake of our own souls and the souls of others.

Let me leave you with one of Ralph Erskine's Gospel Sonnets, which I read just the other day and which seemed to me to express something of the sweetness of a right understanding of some of these things:

When by the Law to grace I'm schooled,
Grace by the Law will have me ruled;
Hence, if I don't the Law obey,
I cannot keep the Gospel way.

When I the Gospel news believe,
Obedience to the Law I give;
And that both in its fed'ral dress,
And as a rule of holiness.

The Law is holy, just, and good,
All this the Gospel seals with Blood;
And clears the Royal Law's just dues
With dearly purchased revenues.

Here join the Law and Gospel hands,
What this me teaches, that commands;
What virtuous forms the Gospel please,
The same the Law doth authorize.

A rigid master was the Law,
Demanding bricks, denying straw;
But when the Gospel-tongue it sings,
It bids me fly, and gives me wings.

Hidden in the heart

|
We are repeatedly warned that the interweb, not least Google (other search engines are available), is changing the way we think, the way we remember. Tech gurus tell us that no longer do we remember information, we remember where to find it. So, for example, rather than remembering the kings and queens of England, we remember the webpage (or kind of webpage, or way of finding the [kind of] webpage) that supplies us with that information. As a result, no doubt the bit of our brains that deals with such stuff is atrophying at a fair rate of knots, shrinking to some withered non-functionality and waiting to be replaced by smartphones with memories more capacious, better stocked and more readily searched than our own. Alongside such brain-wastage goes an inability to concentrate, an attention span that is degenerating to a point which might make a goldfish wince. Indeed, it is at the end of a paragraph like this that I wonder how many people have already given up because - despite the scintillating prose! - I haven't got to the point yet.

So, let us crack on: I imagine that some readers who have made it this far are - like me - shaking their heads and confessing that, yes, our capacities are shifting if not altogether shrivelling. We no longer remember phone numbers - they are in our contact listings. We no longer remember names of children - we look them up when we go to visit. We no longer remember directions - we switch on our satnav and GPS systems. We may struggle more than we used to in following a train of thought over pages of text, tracing a theme developed over the course of a book, recollecting that data that our lazy brains tell us we can find more easily with a quick text-search than by storing it in our own memory banks for easy retrieval.

And there is one crucial area in which this particularly bites on the believer. It has to do with the Word of God, and it is eminently practical.

In Psalm 119 the psalmist cries out, "Your word I have hidden in my heart, that I might not sin against you" (Ps 119.11). It comes in a stanza in which he is expressing a heartfelt desire for holiness, a determination to seek and serve the Lord and to walk in humble and joyful obedience to his commands.

My point is this: one of the consequences of the internet-trained brain seems to be an inability to hide very much - not much of the Word of God, to be sure - in our hearts. That results in a crippling weakness in the battle for godliness.

If you want to, test yourself. What do you do, where do you look, when you want to find "that verse," you know, the one on the tip of your tongue? Do you flick to BibleWorks or Logos, pull up some Scripture text on your e-platform and do a quick search? Was it ever stored in your heart? Are you looking merely for a reminder, or have you become so accustomed to ready accessibility and easy search that you no longer bother storing it in your heart, unconsciously succumbing to the suggestion that since it's right at your fingertips you don't need to worry? Have you forgotten how to remember?

How long was Christ in the wilderness? Forty days and forty nights. (You know the batteries on pretty much any device have died by then.) What state was he in? Desperately hungry and thirsty. Who came to him? The arch-enemy, the Adversary. What were flung at him? A series of pointed and powerful temptations striking at his very identity and destiny. And what did the Lord do, without the help of any electronic aids or ready-references? He dug into the depths of Deuteronomy to bring forth three perfectly-forged weapons with which to smite the foe, three mighty "Thus says the Lord" declarations which shattered Satan's assault and sent him from the field a beaten foe. The word was hidden in the Saviour's heart, and he did not sin against God.

Look more closely, and you understand what that means. Satan takes and twists Scripture to make his perverted case. The Lord Christ not only knows enough to see through those corrupting quotations, but he has upon his holy lips the fruit of a heart in which the Word of God is thoroughly hidden, the truth stored up in order to be brought forth as occasion demands in order to keep him from sin and in the path of righteousness.

What of you? You have one primary offensive weapon with which to do battle against sin: "the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God" (Eph 6.17). Can you afford to have that potent blade wrapped up in the electronic cobwebs of some computer programme when you need it for the fight? Do you not know from bitter experience that you do not have time to draw the sword from the depths of your electronic device when Satan comes roaring in against you? You need it sitting in your hand, you need it stored up in your heart ready for immediate deployment when the enemy comes upon you unawares. To use a more modern metaphor, you cannot afford to wander this battlefield with all your ammunition stored at the bottom of your backpack; you need your weapon locked and loaded at all times.

If we are to be holy we need to hide the word in our hearts, and that means a deliberate commitment to memorisation and meditation. It means a refusal to allow our brains to be trained by the world, a resistance to the laziness that the interweb can breed in our all-too-susceptible minds; it means a commitment to holiness that is willing to re-train and develop the faculties of our hearts contrary to the trend and tendency of the age in which we live, and to make sure that we pack into the armoury that array of weaponry necessary for the constant fight against ungodliness, temptations within and without. We must love that truth, know that truth in its sense and substance, in its particular words and phrases, understand it as a treasure and as a weapon, and learn how to use it in the combat with sin.

I am not saying that the interweb can only be a tool of the devil. I am saying that he knows how to use the tools available, to trick us into taking off our armour and to train us to put down our weapons. We cannot afford to be ignorant of his devices.

So, if we care about holiness, we will not allow our memories to atrophy and not permit our concentration to wither. We will focus our eyes on the text and fill our hearts with its store of good things, ready to be brought forth as occasion demands. Temptations will rush upon us. As so often, they might come with a "Has God really said . . .?" or a "Hasn't God said . . .?" We, like our Saviour before us, must be ready to bring forth the fruit of those labours of love, and draw out of the armoury of the heart a telling "Thus says the Lord, . . ." and so keep from sinning.