Lawful and Unlawful Use of the Law (Newton)

Andy Schreiber:

Very helpful words on how the Christian is to view the law of God.

Originally posted on The Reformed Reader:

John Newton (d. 1807) wrote a helpful letter which is now called “On the Right Use of the Law.”  It is basically Newton’s theological commentary on 1 Timothy 1:8.  After discussing the law/gospel distinction, natural laws, and moral laws, he gives some ways the law is used lawfully and some ways in which it is used unlawfully.  Here they are in abbreviated form:

1) It is not a lawful use of the law to seek justification and acceptance with God by our obedience to it; because it is not appointed for this end, or capable of answering it in our circumstances.  The very attempt is a daring impeachment of the wisdom of God – for if righteousness could come by the law, then Christ has died in vain (Gal. 2:21; 3:21).  Therefore, such a hope is not only groundless, but sinful; and, when persisted in under the light of the…

View original 532 more words

The Difference Between Justification & Sanctification

WCFWhat is the difference between justification & sanctification?  Good question. The Westminster Larger Catechism (not surprisingly) supplies us with a very helpful answer:

Q.77. Wherein do justification and sanctification differ? A. Although sanctification is inseparably joined with justification, yet they differ, in that God in justification imputes the righteousness of Christ; in sanctification His Spirit infuses grace, and enables the exercise thereof; in the former, sin is pardoned; in the other, it is subdued: the one does equally free all believers from the revenging wrath of God, and that perfectly in this life, that they never fall into condemnation; the other is neither equal in all, nor in this life perfect in any, but growing up to perfection.

So the first thing this tells us is that we must distinguish between the two, but never separate them. You cannot have one without the other (as they are “inseparably joined”), but they differ in significant ways. How, then, do they differ?

First, justification involves the imputation (or reckoning, accounting) of Christ’s righteousness, while sanctification involves the actual infusion of grace and the enabling to exercise it in daily life.  You may recall that the Roman Catholic doctrine of justification mistakenly teaches that justification involves the infusion (rather than the imputation) of Christ’s righteousness. But the biblical doctrine of justification is that in Christ all believers are declared righteous, rather than made righteous. This is what Paul is speaking of in Romans 4:3-5,

“For what does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness.” Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due. And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness . . . .”

Abraham was not justified by works, but by believing God at His Word in the promise of the gospel. Justification is (to borrow the words of v.5) a matter of God ‘justifying the ungodly’ (or the “wicked” – NIV), not matter of God making the ungodly person godly. (That would be sanctification.)

The second difference noted above in the Larger Catechism is that in justification sin is forgiven, while in sanctification it is subdued. In the former, all believers in Christ are forever freed from the just penalty of their sins – the wrath of God. But in the latter, the  grace of God works in the lives of believers to subdue the power of sin over their lives. In other words, in justification we are viewed and accepted by God as sinless because we are in Christ; but in sanctification we begin to actually and objectively sin less than we did before coming to Christ by faith.

The third difference is a very important one, and that is that all believers are equally & perfectly justified, but sanctification can and does differ from one believer to the next in this life. There are no degrees of justification (i.e. you are either justified before God or you are not), but there most certainly are differing degrees of sanctification. Not only that, but while all believers are perfectly justified in this life, none of us are perfectly sanctified in this life. Not a one. In this life all believers are, by the grace of God, “growing up to perfection.”

So let us never separate justification and sanctification – they belong together. The one who has been once and for all time justified in Christ will also presently be in the process of being sanctified in this life. But let us also avoid the opposite mistake of confusing the two or mixing them up. To do that is to (at minimum) hinder our growth in grace, or even (at worst) to deny the gospel itself.

The Biblical Centrality of the Church

Stott (The Message of Ephesians)

How important is the church in the life of the believer in Christ?  How important is the church in the plan & purpose of God? Many professing believers in our day have a rather low view of the church – they either think poorly of the church, or they just don’t think much about her at all. Far too many no longer see the church as necessary, much less as a vital part of the Christian life.

But what does the Bible have to say about the church? Even a cursory examination of the word ekklesia (which is most commonly translated as “church”) in a Greek concordance is instructive. It occurs no less than 114 times in the New Testament.  In the epistles of Paul it occurs at least 58 times.  This, of course, should come as no surprise, as the vast majority of his epistles were written to churches (e.g. Romans, 1 Corinthians, etc.) or to pastors of churches (e.g. 1 & 2 Timothy, Titus), not just to individual Christians. In fact, even the book of Philemon was addressed not only to Philemon (v.1), Apphia, and Archippus (v.2), but also to “the church in your [i.e. Philemon's] house” (v.2). So basically all of Paul’s epistles were in some way church-related. All of them.

But do we think of the church when we read or study the epistles of Paul? Or do we read those letters through the foggy lenses of our individualistic spectacles? Do we jump right to asking, “How does this passage of Scripture apply to me?” without ever bothering to ask how it applies to us (i.e. as the church)?

In commenting on Ephesians 3:1-13, John Stott writes,

The major lesson taught by this first half of Ephesians 3 is the biblical centrality of the church. Some people construct a Christianity which consists entirely of a personal relationship to Jesus Christ and has virtually nothing to do with the church. Others make a grudging concession to the need for church membership, but add that they have given up the ecclesiastical institution as hopeless. Now it is understandable, even inevitable, that we are critical of many of the church’s inherited structures and traditions. Every church in every place at every time is in need or reform and renewal. But we need to beware lest we despise the church of God, and are blind to his work in history. We may safely say that God has not abandoned his church, however displeased with it he may be. He is still building and refining it. And if God has not abandoned it, how can we? It has a central place in his plan. (The Message of Ephesians, p.126)

Even the very best churches (as Stott notes above) are “in need of reform and renewal.” But even so the church is still very much central to God’s plan – it is still “through the church” that “the manifold wisdom of God” is to be made known to the “rulers and authorities in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 3:10, ESV). And as Paul says later in the very same chapter, “to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen” (Ephesians 3:21, emphasis mine). The glory of God is to be manifested in and through His church, and that is to be the case “throughout all generations.”

We have not, nor will we ever in this life, outgrow the church or our need for the church. And we should not expect to do so – it really does have a central place in God’s plan.

Quite Possibly the Greatest Book Recommendation of All Time

GFY

Keith Mathison has written a very helpful book about the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper. (OK, it was actually published w-a-y back in 2002, but whatever – I’m reading it now.)

In it he details both John Calvin’s doctrine of the Lord’s Supper as well as developments in Reformed views on the subject in the centuries that followed Calvin’s day. The opening chapter of the book (“John Calvin’s Doctrine of the Lord’s Supper”) by itself is worth the purchase price.  The chapters that follow are very good as well.

The foreword is written by R.C. Sproul. There he states that this book “represents the best and most comprehensive treatment of the Reformed doctrine of the Lord’s Supper I have ever seen” (p.x). He also calls the book a “must read” (p.xi). That should be enough to persuade just about anyone to read it for themselves, right?

But in case that is not enough to make you want to pick up a copy, he adds a rather interesting personal aside:

When I read it for the first time (and D.V. not the last time), I said to Keith Mathison, “You may die now.” Keith gave me a puzzled look as he was not ready to sing the Nunc Dimittis. I explained that if he made no other contribution to the church for the rest of his life, he has already provided a legacy for future generations by writing this book. (p.x-xi)

“You may die now.” That just might be the greatest (as well as the strangest) book recommendation of all time. If you are a pastor or a seminary student preparing for future ministry, this volume belongs on your shelf. It is also well worth your time if you are simply a believer & church member who wants to better understand the outward and ordinary means of grace that you partake of in the Lord’s Supper.

So what are you waiting for?  You can order a copy here: Given For You

A Condensation of Romans Chapters 1-3 in Only 3 Verses

 

Stott (The Message of Ephesians)

Sometimes the Scriptures have a way of abbreviating things in one place that are spoken of at greater length elsewhere in its pages. For example, John R.W. Stott describes Ephesians 2:1-3 this way:

“It is a condensation into three verses of the first three chapters of Romans, in which he [Paul] argues his case for the sin and guilt first of pagans, then of Jews, and so of all mankind” (The Message of Ephesians, p.71).

What a great way to put it! So if you want to boil down (or condense) the essential message of Romans chapters 1-3, you could do a lot worse than looking to these three verses in Ephesians:

And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. (Ephesians 2:1-3 ESV)

Outside of Jesus Christ we are all dead in sins and trespasses; enslaved to sin, and helplessly under the sway of the world, the flesh, and the devil. Outside of Christ we are all by our very natures the objects of God’s just wrath.  Romans 1-3 goes to great lengths to teach us these things. Ephesians 2:1-3 teaches us the same things, just in far fewer words.

Thankfully Ephesians chapter 2 does not stop there, but goes on to speak of God’s mercy, love, grace, and kindness toward sinners in the gospel of His Son, Jesus Christ. In Ephesians 2:4-10 Paul writes,

But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. (Ephesians 2:4-10 ESV)

You could say that if Ephesians 2:1-3 is a condensation of Romans chapters 1-3, then Ephesians 2:4-10 is similarly a condensation of Romans chapters 4-16 (the rest of the book of Romans), where Paul goes into great detail about the good news of the gospel of Christ and its implications for our lives.

A Mighty Adversative

Stott (The Message of Ephesians)

“A mighty adversative” – that is John R.W. Stott’s description of the first two words of Ephesians 2:4: “But God . . . .”

Stott writes,

“Verse 4 begins with a mighty adversative: But God . . . These two monosyllables set against the desperate condition of fallen mankind the gracious initiative and sovereign action of God. We were the objects of his wrath, but God, out of the great love with which he loved us had mercy upon us. We were dead, and dead men do not rise, but God has raised us with Christ. We were slaves, in a situation of dishonour and powerlessness, but God has raised us with Christ and set us at his own right hand, in a position of honour and power. Thus God has taken action to reverse our condition in sin.” (The Message of Ephesians, p.79-80)

No wonder some have said that the words “But God . . .” are the two most important words in Scripture!

The “Grotesque Anomaly” of the Un-Churched Christian

Stott (The Living Church)

In the opening chapter of his book, The Living Church, the late John R.W. Stott has some strong words for those who call themselves believers in Christ all the while having nothing to do with the local church (which is the body of Christ). He calls the un-churched Christian a “grotesque anomaly” (p.19).

It is an anomaly; that is, it is abnormal. It is simply not the way that it is supposed to be. He wastes no time informing us as to why such a person is anomalous. He simply states,

The New Testament knows nothing of such a person. (p.19)

That just might be the best one-sentence argument against church-less Christianity that you will ever read. You will look in vain to find anywhere in the Scriptures where a believer in Christ all by his or her lonesome (or even a family), disconnected from a local body of believers, is considered to be the norm, or even that such a thing is acceptable. In fact, everywhere in Scripture the exact opposite is stated, implied, or assumed.

In the book of Hebrews we are told in no uncertain terms that we are intended to meet together for public worship on a regular basis:

Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near. (Hebrews 10:23-25 ESV)

You will notice that everything about this passage is first-person plural (i.e. we, not I; us, not me). There is nothing privatized about anything here. We are to hold fast to “the confession of our hope” (v.23) together. We are to “consider how to stir up one another to love and good works” (v.24). And we are not to neglect to “meet together,” but are rather to encourage one another (v.25).

Now just because something is an anomaly (or even a “grotesque” one, to use Stott’s words), does not mean that it is not all-too-common. In fact, the passage cited above clearly tells us that neglecting to meet together is (unfortunately) “the habit of some” (v.25). In our day it actually seems to be the habit of many. To be sure, there are numerous reasons for such a neglect of the public gathering of the church. But, to be blunt, none of those reasons does away with the simple fact that believers in Christ are meant to meet together, worship together, serve together, and grow together.

Much more could certainly be said. Perhaps in future posts on this blog we will take some time to explore some of the various reasons that many give for not belonging to a local church.  But for the time being, if you somehow find yourself falling into the unfortunate and unflattering category of the “grotesque anomaly,” there is no better time than the present to resolve that you (and your family) will finally stop “neglecting to meet together” with the body of Christ.

Look for a local church where the Bible is clearly believed and taught, where the sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s Supper are rightly administered, and where the elders of the church will faithfully exercise discipline for your good. And if you need any help finding such a church, get together with some other believers whom you know and ask them for help. You may find yourself in a church that is far from perfect and even quite messy, but that is much better than being grotesque, isn’t it?