What’s Next…

Now that I’ve had my say regarding same gender marriage and the PCUSA it’s time to turn the page.

Back in 2006 a dear friend of mine died of pancreatic cancer.  His suffering and death occurred over two and a half years.   The grief, sorrow and shock of this experience had to be integrated into my faith in Jesus Christ or that faith would come to an end.  I therefore entered into a dialogue with God’s Word on the topic of suffering.  What emerged, the “Language of Suffering” (LoS), is what’s next for this blog.

There’s always the possibility that an important issue will arise that simply must be addressed.  Should this occur I’ll suspend posts on the LoS to attend to the immediate issue.

Suffering exists across a tremendous scope of experience and at an enormous range of intensity. We all have some idea of its power. I simply couldn’t ignore the challenge that its icy grip made on my faith. So, in God’s great mercy, the Holy Spirit’s power enabled me to see this journey through. May He be forever praised!

Endings and Beginnings

Many who hold to an orthodox understanding of Christianity have already exited the PCUSA. Those who remain often feed isolated and despondent. We should not. For God does not depend on numbers of adherents or the power of human will to achieve His ends. He calls to be faithful wherever we are, not because we must prevail, but rather because we so love and trust our Lord and Savior that we simply must testify to His Gospel.

One place to begin is to reestablish the organic link between orthodox Reformed theology and our practical lives. The breaking of this link is a primary reason for the confused state of the PCUSA. I’ve become convinced that doctrines, even the most true and certain, that aren’t lived out in practice become weak. The flip side is that falsehoods, if lived out in practice, appear to be strong. The challenge then is to so live out true doctrine so as to allow its power to shine forth!

However, in this postmodern world, the default assumption is that the authoritative source for authentic living of any kind (including Christian) exists within the self (e.g., “be true to yourself”). We must boldly testify to the truth that God, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, is the ultimate and unique source of authority, and then learn together, in Christ’s Body, the church, how to live out this truth in our practical lives.

Let’s return to R.C. Sproul’s article, “The Pelagian Captivity of the Church,” for a fitting summary of our challenge and ultimate hope.

Until we humble ourselves and understand that no man is an island and that no man has an island of righteousness, that we are utterly dependent upon the unmixed grace of God for our salvation, we will not begin to rest upon grace and rejoice in the greatness of God’s sovereignty, and we will not be rid of the pagan influence of humanism that exalts and puts man at the center of religion. Until that happens there will not be a new Reformation, because at the heart of Reformation teaching is the central place of the worship and gratitude given to God and God alone. Soli Deo gloria, to God alone be the glory.

Yes, to God alone be the glory!

Come, Lord Jesus!

The grace of the Lord Jesus be with all the saints. Amen.

(Revelation 22:20b,21)

The Person and Purpose of Our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ (3 of 3)

Do you fear that this Jesus Christ, upon Whom all depends, would turn you away should you approach Him in repentance? Is He just too holy and perfect to countenance a sinful person such as you? Then read these words by Jonathan Edwards and rejoice in Christ’s all surpassing love!

And here is not only infinite strength and infinite worthiness, but infinite condescension, and love and mercy, as great as power and dignity. If you are a poor, distressed sinner, whose heart is ready to sink for fear that God never will have mercy on you, you need not be afraid to go to Christ, for fear that he is either unable or unwilling to help you. Here is a strong foundation, and an inexhaustible treasure, to answer the necessities of your poor soul, and here is infinite grace and gentleness to invite and embolden a poor, unworthy, fearful soul to come to it. If Christ accepts of you, you need not fear but that you will be safe, for he is a strong Lion for your defense. And if you come, you need not fear but that you shall be accepted; for he is like a Lamb to all that come to him, and receives then with infinite grace and tenderness. It is true he has awful majesty, he is the great God, and infinitely high above you; but there is this to encourage and embolden the poor sinner, that Christ is man as well as God; he is a creature, as well as the Creator, and he is the most humble and lowly in heart of any creature in heaven or earth. This may well make the poor unworthy creature bold in coming to him. You need not hesitate one moment; but may run to him, and cast yourself upon him. You will certainly be graciously and meekly received by him. Though he is a lion, he will only be a lion to your enemies, but he will be a lamb to you. It could not have been conceived, had it not been so in the person of Christ, that there could have been so much in any Savior, that is inviting and tending to encourage sinners to trust in him. Whatever your circumstances are, you need not be afraid to come to such a Savior as this. Be you never so wicked a creature, here is worthiness enough; be you never so poor, and mean, and ignorant a creature, there is no danger of being despised, for though he be so much greater than you, he is also immensely more humble than you. Any one of you that is a father or mother, will not despise one of your own children that comes to you in distress: much less danger is there of Christ’s despising you, if you in your heart come to him.

Here we find the true person and purpose of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. He came not to affirm sinners, but rather to save them. He is not a great man and teacher, but rather God incarnate, come to seek and save the lost. He gives us new lives, full of thanksgiving and hope. He commands us to observe ourselves and tell others about what He teaches. And, He provides the power by which we can confidently obey, even though in this life we must continue to struggle against sin’s power.

The Person and Purpose of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ (2 of 3)

Does this doctrine appear so strange that it cannot possibly be convincingly explained? Is it so mysterious that no practical sense can be made of it? I answer these questions by returning to C. H. Spurgeon’s sermon, “Justification by Faith.”

… It is a blessed thing never to muddle in your head the doctrine of working, and the doctrine of receiving by grace, for there is an essential and eternal difference between the two. I hope you all know that there can be no mixing of the two. If we are saved by grace, it cannot be by our own merits, but if we depend upon our own merits, then we cannot appeal to the grace of God, since the two things can never be mingled together. It must be all works or else all grace. Now, God’s plan of salvation excludes all our works. “Not of works, lest any man should boast.” It comes to us upon the footing of grace, pure grace alone. And this is God’s plan, namely, that, inasmuch as we cannot be saved by our own obedience, we should be saved by Christ’s obedience. Jesus, the Son of God, has appeared in the flesh, has lived a life of obedience to God’s law, and in consequence of that obedience, being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross, and our Saviour’s life and death make up a complete keeping and honouring of that law which we have broken and dishonoured, and God’s plan is this: “I cannot bless you for your own sakes, but I will bless you for his sake; and now, looking at you through him, I can bless you though you deserve it not; I can pass by your undeserving; I can blot out your sins like a cloud, and cast your iniquities into the depths of the sea through what he has done; you have no merits, but he has boundless merits; you are full of sin and must be punished, but he has been punished instead of you, and now I can deal with you.” This is the language of God, put into human words, “I can deal with you upon terms of mercy through the merits of my dear Son.” This is the way in which the gospel comes to you, then. If you believe in Jesus, that is to say, if you trust him, all the merits of Jesus are your merits, are imputed to you: all the sufferings of Jesus are your sufferings. Everyone of his merits is imputed to you. You stand before God as if you were Christ, because Christ stood before God as if he were you—he in your stead, you in his stead. Substitution! that is the word! Christ the Substitute for sinners: Christ standing for men, and bearing the thunderbolts of the divine opposition to all sin, he “being made sin for us who knew no sin.” Man standing in Christ’s place, and receiving the sunlight of divine favour, instead of Christ. …

The Person and Purpose of Our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ (1 of 3)

Some readers at this point may have concluded that this is all so ridiculous that there seems no point in the investment of any more time. Others may be wondering when I’ll finally say something that they don’t already know. But some are likely perplexed, seeing aspects that have the ring of truth but off put by the apparent strangeness and improbability.

Regardless of the reader’s current position, the ultimate issue here is the person and purpose of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. That is, who is He and what has He done? If Jesus Christ is just a great teacher and moral man, then he is nothing more than one source of good information and inspiration among others. If Jesus Christ is an idea in some people’s minds that should be leveraged to justify the positions of an elite group, then he is nothing other than one more means by which to win an argument.

But, what if Jesus Christ, and our relationship to Him, is in reality that of the first answer in the Heidelberg Catechism?

That I belong—body and soul, in life and in death—not to myself but to my faithful Savior, Jesus Christ, who at the cost of his own blood has fully paid for all my sins and has completely freed me from the dominion of the devil; that he protects me so well that without the will of my Father in heaven not a hair can fall from my head; indeed, that everything must fit his purpose for my salvation. Therefore, by his Holy Spirit, he also assures me of eternal life, and makes me wholeheartedly willing and ready from now on to live for him.

The Issue of Sin (5 of 5)

So, when the postmodern Christians accuse us of hypocrisy when we oppose same-gender marriage we need not be intimidated. And, when these same people offer us an escape hatch from our sense of shame, we need not be tempted. No, we can see in our own shame unmistakable evidence of God’s saving work within us. We can also boldly speak out, not because we are sinless, but rather because we are compelled to uphold that which our beloved Lord and Savior has taught us, and commands us to teach others.

This in no way excuses our sin. But we need no longer live in the false pretense that we are better than anyone else. Rather, we can live lives of confident thanksgiving to the gracious God who is at work to progressively free us from sin’s terrible grip in this life, and ultimately to total victory, all through Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior.

I will conclude with an excerpt of a sermon preached by C. H. Spurgeon on 28 April 1867, titled “Justification by Faith.” Here you will find all of the ideas that we have been considering summarized into a powerful statement of mature Reformed Christian faith. This is what it means to live the victorious Christian life!

… I know what the devil will say to you. He will say to you, “You are a sinner!” Tell him you know you are, but that for all that you are justified. He will tell you of the greatness of your sin. Tell him of the greatness of Christ’s righteousness. He will tell you of all your mishaps and your backslidings, of your offences and your wanderings. Tell him, and tell your own conscience, that you know all that, but that Jesus Christ came to save sinners, and that, although your sin be great, Christ is quite able to put it all away. Some of you, it seems to me, do not trust in Christ as sinners. You get a mingle-mangle kind of faith. You trust in Christ as though you thought Christ could do something for you, and you could do the rest. I tell you that while you look to yourselves, you do not know what faith means. You must be convinced that there is nothing good in yourselves; you must know that you are sinners, and that in your hearts you are as big and as black sinners as the very worst and vilest, and you must come to Jesus, and leave your fancied righteousnesses, and your pretended goodnesses behind you, and you must take him for everything, and trust in him. Oh! to feel your sin, and yet to know your righteousness—to have the two together—repentance on account of sin, and yet a glorious confidence in the all-atoning sacrifice! …

The Issue of Sin (4 of 5)

If it is objectively true that we are as incapable of saving ourselves as is a dead person, then doesn’t it directly follow that only God’s intervention will suffice, by raising the dead to life? And, if you choose to live as if something of tremendous import is true when it is not, wouldn’t you expect terrible consequences? Would you expect that bad consequences would occur were you to decide that gravity will not cause you to fall?

So to, when we falsely assume that we are capable of generating our own righteousness, even to the point of making the decisive contribution to our own salvation, we are inviting terrible consequences. One of those consequences today is the utter collapse of Biblical morality and the ascendency of a human-based social morality. This human-based morality continually shifts this way and that, depending on current elite opinion. Our society is thus becoming increasingly unstable, as people realize that what they thought was moral yesterday can today be condemned, sometimes with very tangible consequences.

If this is all true, then just what is the Reformed Christian understanding of sin? The Scots Confession (3.13) provides an answer directly relevant to this discussion.

For as soon as the Spirit of the Lord Jesus, whom God’s chosen children receive by true faith, takes possession of the heart of any man, so soon does he regenerate and renew him, so that he begins to hate what before he loved, and to love what he hated before.

Thence comes that continual battle which is between the flesh and the Spirit in God’s children, while the flesh and the natural man, being corrupt, lust for things pleasant and delightful to themselves, are envious in adversity and proud in prosperity, and every moment prone and ready to offend the majesty of God. But the Spirit of God, who bears witness to our spirit that we are the sons of God, makes us resist filthy pleasures and groan in God’s presence for deliverance from this bondage of corruption, and finally to triumph over sin so that it does not reign in our mortal bodies.

Other men do not share this conflict since they do not have God’s Spirit, but they readily follow and obey sin and feel no regrets, since they act as the devil and their corrupt nature urge. But the sons of God fight against sin; sob and mourn when they find themselves tempted to do evil; and, if they fall, rise again with earnest and unfeigned repentance. They do these things, not by their own power, but by the power of the Lord Jesus, apart from whom they can do nothing.

Thus, though the redeemed continue to sin, their outlook, by the grace of Christ, changes from acceptance to opposition, sorrow and repentance. This outlook is completely different than that of postmodern Christianity, in which sin is both diminished and redefined so as to enable an attitude of moral superiority.

The Issue of Sin (3 of 5)

Another Path: The Orthodox Reformed Solution

I believe that what the Bible teaches about human sin and salvation is true, and, that the Reformed Confessions are the most clear, complete and honest condensations of this teaching in existence. I fully accept that our Confessions are of human origin, and, are thus subject to change. However, I also know that many of them have stood the test of time, delivering comfort and clarity to Christians for centuries and even millennia. The fact that they are currently unappreciated in no way diminishes their intrinsic value.

So, faced with the challenge of summarizing what the Bible teaches about sin and salvation my first response is to look to our Confessions. For example, the Heidelberg Catechism explains sin and salvation as follows.

60. How are you righteous before God?

Only by true faith in Jesus Christ. In spite of the fact that my conscience accuses me that I have grievously sinned against all the commandments of God, and have not kept any one of them, and that I am still ever prone to all that is evil, nevertheless, God, without any merit of my own, out of pure grace, grants me the benefits of the perfect expiation of Christ, imputing to me his righteousness and holiness as if I had never committed a single sin or had ever been sinful, having fulfilled myself all the obedience which Christ has carried out for me, if only I accept such favor with a trusting heart.

Expiation: the act of making atonement

Impute: to attribute or ascribe

Thus, this answer says that, even though we sin, God, by an act of sheer grace choses to ascribe the perfect obedience of Jesus Christ to us. We are therefore “in Christ,” and when God sees us He sees not our sin but Christ’s perfection.

Lakes of ink have been drained considering this doctrine. It is beyond the scope of this work to address it in detail (although I did make my own attempt in God’s Acts of Providence). However, you should ask yourself one question, that being, “What if it is true that we are completely dead in sin and thus can only be rescued by a sovereign act of God?”

The Issue of Sin (2 of 5)

A Thought Experiment

I realize that simply stating a doctrine of salvation by grace alone will not immediately convince otherwise those many who have over lifetimes internalized a doctrine of salvation by works. However, I do ask that you walk with me through a thought experiment. Let’s assume that the Bible, as interpreted by our Confessions, is correct in its evaluation of our nature without the sovereign invasion of righteousness from our merciful God. Here’s the definition of our sinful state from the Second Helvetic Confession (5.037).

SIN. By sin we understand that innate corruption of man which has been derived or propagated in us all from our first parents, by which we, immersed in perverse desires and averse to all good, are inclined to all evil. Full of all wickedness, distrust, contempt and hatred of God, we are unable to do or even to think anything good of ourselves. Moreover, even as we grow older, so by wicked thoughts, words and deeds committed against God’s law, we bring forth corrupt fruit worthy of an evil tree (Matt. 12:33 ff.). For this reason by our own deserts, being subject to the wrath of God, we are liable to just punishment, so that all of us would have been cast away by God if Christ, the Deliverer, had not brought us back.

When the Confession says “of ourselves” read “by ourselves.”

Now, assume that, though you are actually in the state of sin described above, you nevertheless set out on a quest to prove that you are “good enough” to earn God’s approval. I contend that there will be two unavoidable primary consequences.

  1. You will become interested in the frailties and failure of other people, since this provides “evidence” of your own moral superiority.
  2. You will have to build an ever-expanding web of excuses and falsehoods to explain away the accumulating evidence to the contrary that you are actually not now, never have been and never will be “good enough” to earn God’s approval.

It is at these very two points that postmodern Christians have chosen to direct their primary assault. They have correctly identified the intrinsic hypocrisy and impossibility of this position. But, rather than correct it, they have leveraged it to defeat any claim to objective morality.

On the first issue, they use this mentality as an opening by which to accuse people of hypocrisy. Imagine a Christian who states the belief that same gender marriage is at odds with God’s intention for human life, but who also accepts a doctrine of salvation by works. So, the postmodern Christian replies, “You hypocrite, you accuse others of sin but you yourself are full of sin.” And, the postmodern Christian is correct! If the other Christian has any sense of fair play they will have great difficulty reconciling their position with the guilty knowledge of their own sin. The only apparent choices are to obstinately hold to this apparently contradictory position, retreat into silence, lest they be again embarrassed by their hypocrisy, or, begin to agree with the postmodern position.

On the second issue, postmodern Christians offer an escape hatch for the increasing sense of panic as the weight of real sin forces ever more numerous and substantial additions to the web of falsehoods that supports our flagging sense of moral superiority. The postmodern Christians say, in effect, “Hey, if you join us you will be able to actually achieve moral superiority!” This is accomplished by two means. First, the notion of sin itself is so minimized and marginalized that its power appears to substantially diminish. Secondly, what remains of “sin” is redefined to be violations of current social norms. That is, “sin” becomes nothing other than “lack of inclusiveness,” “lack of diversity,” “judgmentalism,” and “greed,” among others. Now, a person can become accredited as “morally superior” simply by using the politically correct talking points of elite postmodern culture. Yes, many Christians continue to reject this offer, but if they hold to salvation by works, their confidence in the face of postmodern Christians who are convinced of their actual moral superiority will likely wane over time.

Thus, it appears that the acceptance of a salvation by works mentality has led to a state of unilateral moral disarmament for Christians who seek to uphold Biblical morality. Were this false doctrine actually true, we would have no viable alternative but to accept the “anything goes” (as long as its approved by the cultural moral elite) approach to sin. However, salvation by works is a deadly, false doctrine. The only antidote to the darkness of false doctrine is to shine the light of true doctrine, which the next post will attempt to do.

The Issue of Sin (1 of 5)

If it is true that the vast majority of Christians in the western world believe in a doctrine of salvation by works, then it is inevitable that they will, to one degree or another, seek for evidence of these “islands of righteousness” within themselves and others. For, if you accept a doctrine of salvation by works then the only assurance you can have of your saved status is evidence that you have done said works. And, since these false doctrines are human centered, the only real source of assurance is how we compare to others. Am I kinder, more compassionate, more generous, less judgmental, more spiritual, less hateful, and on and on than this person or that?