The Resurrection as a “Comfortable Sign” of the Believer’s Justification

GoodwinIn his book, Christ Set Forth, Puritan writer Thomas Goodwin (1600-1679) includes a chapter about how the Christian’s faith is supported by the resurrection of Christ. In other words, Christ’s resurrection from the dead on the 3rd day provides us with assurance that the price for our redemption really has been fully paid by Christ on the cross, and has been accepted by God as satisfaction for our sin.  Goodwin writes,

“Although Christ’s obedience in this life and his death past do alone afford the whole matter of our justification, and make up the sum of that price paid for us . . . , so as faith may see a fullness of worth and merit therein, to discharge the debt; yet faith has a comfortable sign and evidence to confirm itself in the belief of this, from Christ’s resurrection after his death. It may fully satisfy our faith, that God himself is satisfied, and that he reckons the debt as paid.” (p.62)

Have you ever thought about the resurrection that way? If you are a believer in Christ, you can look to Christ’s resurrection as a “comfortable sign” (i.e. a sign that gives you comfort and assurance) of the reality of your justification in Christ!

This is just part of what Goodwin understands the Apostle Paul to be saying in Romans 8:34, where we read:

“Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us.”

Christ’s resurrection puts God’s exclamation point on the gospel!

Do You Believe in the Devil?

ScrewtapeWise words from the pen of C.S. Lewis regarding how we should view the existence of Satan and demons:

“There are two equal and opposite errors into which our race can fall about the devils. One is to disbelieve in their existence. The other is to believe, and to feel an excessive and unhealthy interest in them. They themselves are equally pleased by both errors, and hail a materialist or a magician with the same delight.” (The Screwtape Letters, p.3)

There are and probably have always been people who have what Lewis would call an “unhealthy interest” in the topic of demons. Many years ago I myself went through a phase where I was somewhat fixated on spiritual warfare and read seemingly every book I could get my hands on that was about the topic. To put it mildly, any of those books were less than thoroughly biblical (and so were even less helpful).

These days I think that even Bible-believing Christians (redundant to put it that way, I know) are far more likely to fall into the other error that Lewis warned against – that of disbelief. Now I don’t mean a literal disbelief (although that too is probably true of some), but rather a kind of disbelief that is akin to what is often referred to as “practical atheism.” The practical atheist is the person who professes (even sincerely so) to believe in God’s existence, but lives in such a way as to contradict that profession of belief. The practical atheist basically lives as if God did not exist. In a similar way, I think many well-meaning Christians go about their daily lives as if the devil and demons did not exist. Needless to say, the Scriptures do not encourage such a mindset among believers.

For example, the Apostle Paul actually mentions Satan and demonic forces a number of times in his epistle to the Ephesians. In Ephesians 2:1-3 he tells the Christians at Ephesus that in their former lives before they came to Christ by faith, they were not only dead in sin (v.1), but they also used to follow “the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience” (v.2). That is even now an accurate description of everyone outside of Christ. Everyone outside of Christ is thus influenced by the devil. Scary thought, I know. But that also serves to show the greatness of God’s mercy, love, and grace in saving sinners and giving them new life in Christ (Ephesians 2:4-10).

Then, toward the end of the epistle (in what we might consider the “practical application” section of the letter – chapters 4-6), he mentions the devil again – at length. In Ephesians 6:10-20 he writes,

“Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace. In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints, and also for me, that words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains, that I may declare it boldly, as I ought to speak.” (emphasis mine)

Why do we need the “whole armor of God” (v.11, 13)? In order that we might “be able to stand against the schemes of the devil” (v.11). And yet how many of us ever give much thought to the fact that our fight is not against flesh and blood (other people), but against “spiritual forces of evil” (v.12)?

Let us not fall into either of the opposite errors that Lewis mentioned above. Let us neither fall into the error of having an unhealthy interest or fixation on devils, nor into the error of disbelief (practical or otherwise). May we learn to view these things biblically (as we should all things), and so learn to “be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might” (v.1).

The Covenant of Grace as a Remedy for Sinful Fear

FlavelWhy study covenant theology? Is there any real benefit in studying the covenant of grace?

In his book, Triumphing Over Sinful Fear, John Flavel writes,

“The first rule for relieving slavish fear is to consider seriously and study thoroughly the covenant of grace in which all believers stand. A clear understanding of the covenant’s nature, extent, and stability, along with our interest in it, will go a long way to cure our sinful and slavish fear.” (p.63)

That quote is found in the chapter entitled “Remedies for Sinful Fear.” In that chapter Flavel discusses no less than 12 different remedies for sinful fear, including things like confirming your interest in Christ (seeking assurance), keeping your conscience pure, recording your experience’s of God’s past faithfulness (journaling!), and considering the providential rule of Christ over all things.

But what is the very first remedy that Flavel suggests? Serious consideration and thorough study of the covenant of grace! He goes on to remind us about what a covenant is:

“A covenant is more than a naked promise. In the covenant, God has graciously considered our fears, doubts, and weaknesses; therefore, He proceeds with us in the highest way of solemnity, confirming His promises by way of oath (Heb. 6:13, 17) and seals (Romans 6:11). He places Himself under the most solemn ties and engagements to His people so that we might take strong comfort from so firm a ratification of the covenant (Hebrews 6:18).” (p.63-64)

A covenant is more than just a promise. The promise of God is sure. But by His grace He gives us even more than that – He gives us a guarantee of His promise to us in Christ by way of an oath!

Filler in the Shorter Catechism?

Westminster Assembly 2Is there filler in the Shorter Catechism?  If you have ever written (or graded!) a research paper, you know exactly what filler is, don’t you?

In their works on the Shorter Catechism, neither Thomas Vincent (The Shorter Catechism Explained from Scripture) nor Thomas Watson (A Body of Divinity) offer a single comment on Shorter Catechism Q.32. (Watson actually skips over it entirely!) What is Q.32, you ask?

Q.32. What benefits do they that are effectually called partake of in this life? A. They that are effectually called do in this life partake of justification, adoption, and sanctification, and the several benefits which in this life do either accompany or flow from them.

Sure, it’s an outline of sorts for Q.33-38, but not one comment? Not even the obligatory “no justification without sanctification” note???

Of course, there are reasons for their lack of commentary on Q.32. Each of the benefits spoken of there are dealt within greater detail in the questions that follow (i.e. justification in Q.33, adoption in Q.34, sanctification in Q.35, etc.), and both Vincent and Watson discuss those benefits of redemption in Christ when they deal with those other questions from the catechism.

If nothing else, let it never be said that the Puritans were incapable of brevity! :)

The Elephant in the Room – Sexual Immorality & the Christian

elephantWhat is God’s standard for the sexuality of the Christian? The Apostle Paul doesn’t mince words – he gets right to the point. In Ephesians 5:3 he writes,

“But sexual immorality and all impurity or covetousness must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints.”

Here we are told that sexual immorality is not even be “named” among us! Now Paul isn’t saying that it should never be the subject of conversation among us (although he deals with filthy talk and dirty jokes in v.4). He himself is bringing up the subject in this very letter, so that can’t be his point. What he is saying is that sexual immorality should be so exceedingly rare in the lives of believers so as to be unheard of among us. It should be so rare that if someone were to accuse one of us of sexual immorality, no one would believe it because it would seem absurd.

But is that the case in today’s church?  Is anyone (inside or outside of the church) really shocked or even more than a bit surprised to hear a report of sexual immorality within the church? Sadly, I think not.

Ask yourself this simple question: If someone were to accuse you of sexual immorality, what would the people who know you think? Would they have a legitimate reason to think it might be true?

Sexual immorality in the church is the proverbial elephant in the room – it is the thing that everyone knows is there, but hardly anyone wants to acknowledge it or talk about. Maybe we are hoping that if we ignore it, it will just go away. It is the scandal of today’s evangelical church. How many professing Christians these days seem to think nothing of committing fornication, cohabitation, adultery, and even sodomy! How many “good Christian girls” get pregnant out of wedlock (and all too often not just once) without the slightest hint of church discipline being initiated for the repentance and restoration of the persons involved? In this we have become conformed to the world.

How has this mindset crept into the church? In our day preachers and teachers in the church often avoid the subject altogether for fear of offense. Or in many cases churches and even entire denominations go so far as to explicitly deny or contradict the plain teaching of Scripture on this matter. This should not be so.

Paul goes even further – he even includes our words. Not only should our lives be free from impurity of filthiness, but our speech should be free from it as well! In v.4 he writes,

“Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, which are out of place, but instead let there be thanksgiving.”

A dirty mind expresses itself not only through filthy conduct, but also through filthy speech, foolish talk, and crude humor. Such things are truly “out of place” for those who call ourselves “Christians.” And what should take the place of filthy conversation? Paul says, “ . . .but instead let there be thanksgiving.” Why thanksgiving? Thanksgiving is what should describe the heart attitude of the Christian toward God’s good gift of sex within marriage between a man an a woman. Sex itself is not a shameful, unspeakable, dirty subject. It is a gift of our loving God, and it is not to be abused, twisted, or distorted.

Christians are not anti-sex. The Bible is not anti-sex. We are against sexual immorality. We are for celebrating and sanctifying God’s good gift of sex within the bounds where God has reserved it – between one man and one woman in marriage, which is also a gift from our Creator.

One of the things that should set believers apart from the world around us is sexual purity. In 1 Thessalonians 4:3 Paul writes, ” For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality.” Abstaining from sexual immorality is the will of God for our lives; it is our “sanctification” – the thing that marks us as being set apart unto the Lord. It is not the only important aspect of our sanctification by any means, but it is so important that Paul seems to sum up our sanctification under that one category!

May God grant His church grace and repentance, so that sexual immorality will become so rare as to be unheard of among us. To Him be the glory.

The Manifold Helps to Holiness in the Church

Gospel Mystery

In his book, The Gospel Mystery of Sanctification, Puritan author Walter Marshall (1628-1680) gives us no less than six (6) ways in which the fellowship of the saints in the local church is conducive toward growth in holiness and sanctification (p.211-212):

1.  The Word and Sacraments (i.e. the means of grace in public worship), as well as the ministry of pastors and elders in overseeing and caring for our souls (Hebrews 13:17) are a great help to believers in striving to grow in holiness. But how rarely do we consider the ministry of the local church in public worship or in pastoral oversight when it comes to our desire to grow in holiness? Marshall points out that none of these helps unto holiness can be enjoyed outside of the fellowship of believers in the church. If you desire to grow in grace and holiness, do not overlook the importance of the local church.

2.  Mutual Prayer – How great a blessing it is when believers not only pray, or even pray for one another, but also pray with one another? What a support and encouragement that can be! And how much greater when the whole church gathers to pray together!

3.  Mutual Admonition, Instruction, and Consolation – It is not without reason that Scripture so often tells us of the importance of “one another” ministry among believers in the church. We are to let the Word of Christ dwell among us richly, which includes “teaching and admonishing one another” (Colossians 3:16). And one of the reasons that the writer of the book of Hebrews tells us not to neglect to meet together is that we might “stir up one another to love and good works” (10:24-25). Marshall writes,

“In church fellowship there are many helpers, many to watch. Soldiers have their security in company [i.e. numbers]; and the church is compared to an army with banners (Song vi. 4, 10). So, for quickening affections, Iron sharpeneth iron (Prov. xxvii. 17)” (p.212).

So it is not just the pastors and elders who are of great assistance to us in our growth in godliness, but the entire church! We are each to be bother helper and helped!

4.  External Supports – When suffering afflictions, how greatly it helps us to have shoulders to lean upon or cry upon. Simply put, we bear each others burdens in the church.

5.  Excommunication (!) – Yes, you read that correctly. Excommunication is a benefit of being a part of a local church? So what difference is there between that and just not getting involved in the church in the first place? As Marshall explains,

This ordinance is appointed for the destruction of the flesh, that the spirit may be saved (1 Cor. v. 5). Better and more hopeful it is, to be cast out by the church, for a person’s amendment [i.e. repentance and restoration], than to be wholly without the church at all times; and better to be a lost sheep than a goat or swine . . . ” (p.212).

6.  The Lively Examples of the Saints – How helpful it is to have godly examples set before our eyes throughout our days. And how often is this very thing actually neglected by those churches who seem to undervalue the elderly in our churches, all in the name of the supposed importance of youth. Both are important to be sure (as saints of all ages are), but how much more do the younger need to learn from the older! The dear senior saints who have walked with the Lord Jesus Christ for a great many years have much to teach the younger believers, who are often just taking baby steps in the faith.

Marshall has a lot more to say about the way of sanctification, and I highly recommend this book to you. But I hope that this small sample of what he has to say about it gives you a renewed appreciation for the importance of the church in the Christian life.

The Fundamental Apologetical Fact of Christianity

BB Warfield 2How important is the resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ? In his book, The Person and Work of Christ, B.B. Warfield writes,

“From the empty grave of Jesus the enemies of the cross turn away in unconcealable dismay. Christ has risen from the dead! After two thousand years of the most determined assault upon the evidence which establishes it, that fact stands. And so long as it stands,  Christianity too must stand as the one supernatural religion The resurrection of Christ is the fundamental apologetical fact of Christianity” (p.543).

The resurrection of Jesus Christ is the “fundamental apologetical fact of Christianity.” It is the evidence and argument for the Christian faith from which the enemies of the cross still turn away in utter dismay. Facts, as the old saying goes, are stubborn things, and the resurrection of Christ is still the ultimate immovable object.

He is risen! He is risen indeed!