Friday, January 16, 2015

Ten Quotes: A Son for Glory by Toby Sumpter

I have  enjoyed reading Pastor Toby Sumpter's blog for a long time. He is a good preacher and a good writer. Recently I read his commentary on Job. It is not very long and provides insight into the purpose of Job. What I really enjoyed was how he allowed the epilogue (Job 38-42) to dictate the rest of the book.  There are nuggets of truth scattered throughout the book. Here are a few of  my favorite quotes. All emphasis is his. Brackets are mine.
The Spirit drives like the wind, like a storm, and empowers men and women to carry out great deeds according to the will of the Father and the Son.
For those who have ears to hear and eyes to see, Job is a powerful invitation to grow up into maturity, patience, and holiness through struggle, trial, argument, and prayer, looking for the resurrection in the power and love of the Holy Spirit.
Job is a perfect man, an Adam in an Eden-garden...an Adam like king who rules over creation...His prosperity and blessing are not accidental, they are the result of obeying his father.
The very good God loves to take good men, break them apart, and turn them into very good men. The perfect and glorious God loves to take perfect men, break them apart, and turn them into greater glory and greater perfection.
Job's goodness and integrity are not arguments against Job's suffering; they are the very reasons for it.
As the husband of a family that has been struck, as the king of a nation which will surely feel the repercussions of these calamities, and as the servant of the God who has allowed these hardships in the first place, Job had a responsibility to speak, a duty to cry out. At the bare minimum, as a man in pain, he must express that pain to his maker. To refuse to speak, to refuse to cry out to God in pain and agony, would be to compromise his integrity. 
The problem [with Job's three friends] is not that they are constantly saying untrue things, but rather that they are saying true things and applying them in irresponsible and evil ways.
Wisdom requires men and women to look deeper than surface appearances and words. It is not enough to have good intentions or quote Bible verses.
Job does not deny the possibility of having committed an error, but they [his friends] are not interested in helping Job, they are interested in disgracing him. 
Job was not unfaithful or unrighteous to cry out in his agony. Faithful sons cry out to God. They feel pain and hardship. They hope in their Father. Faithful sons hope and rest in the comfort of the storm. The Lord is a storm. He has poured out his storm presence on you in his Spirit, and that storm is at work in our lives, until the earth has been covered with his glory and knowledge, as the waters cover the sea...That process is not always fun. Job did not have a lot of fun, but his ending is glorious. It's very good. It's wonderful, and beauty beyond compare; the end of the story is resurrection.   

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Violence and Divorce

Here is short post from the archives.

I was reading Malachi this morning and it struck me how the Lord says that He hates divorce because it covers one's garment with violence. (Malachi 2:16) Today it is fashionable, especially among younger Christians, to discuss the issue of violence, especially as it relates to social justice. Many pastors and scholars call upon Christians to be people of peace, to resist violent solutions to problems around the world. America's military exploits are placed under the microscope to determine if they line up with God's Word or not. Exploitation of workers in both America and abroad are deplored by socially conscious Christians. Some of this is a move in the right direction. For too long, the conservative church has merely cheered on the American state instead of challenging it Biblically.

However, as I read this passage in Malachi it occurred to me that most of these socially conscious Christians would not take a strong stand against divorce. Which is odd, because the Scriptures explicitly say that divorce is an act of violence. If we are against violence, then we should be against divorce because divorce is violence. However, divorce is rarely if ever preached against. It makes one wonder whether those socially conscious Christians are making biblical arguments against violence or whether they are simply interested in going along with current fads in American secular society?

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Praying Scripture for One Another

In a previous blog post, I encouraged you to pray for one another using Scripture.  In this post, I want to give a few suggestions for doing this.

It is important as we pray to understand where we are at in redemptive history. For example, it would not be right for us to pray that God would allow to drive all of our enemies out of the land using the sword.  That was right for Joshua to pray, but wrong for us to pray. But we are at a different stage in redemptive history. Daniel's prayer in Daniel 9:3-19 has a very specific context. Israel is in exile. Daniel remembers Jeremiah's promise that God would only leave them there seventy years. Then God gives Daniel a specific answer to his prayer (Daniel 9:20-27). In other words, we cannot pray the exact the same thing as Daniel. Finally, using a New Testament passage, in Matthew 10:5-42 Jesus sends out the twelve on a mission trip to the nation of Israel. Many of the specifics in the passage do not apply to modern missionaries.  As we pray, we need to remember our context. We live in the New Covenant age.

There are many passages that can be prayed word for word. Many of the Psalms fit that category. There is nothing in Psalm 1 that should not be the prayer of every believer in every age. Proverbs contains great truths that apply to all of God's people. Paul's prayers, while written to a specific congregation, are generic enough to be applicable to all Christians. The Ten Commandments fit this as well.

But how do we take passages from different times in the history of God's people and use them as a guide for prayer today? The key is to find some principles in the passages that do apply to all of God's people at all times. There are always principles we can glean (Romans 15:4, I Corinthians 10:11). For example, while we should not pray that God will drive out our enemies using the sword, we can pray that God would use His Word to drive out our enemies or convert them. We can trust that as God promised Joshua he would have victory, the greater Joshua will give us victory (Matthew 28:18-20). We are not in exile like Daniel. Yet we should be confessing our sins, the sins of our people and looking to the promises in God's Word like Daniel did. We are not the twelve going to Israel.  Yet we should pray that our missionaries will not be afraid (Matthew 10:26), will preach the word faithfully (Matthew 10:27), and remember there is a reward (Matthew 10:40-42). Finally, we are not Thyatira (Revelation 2:18-29), but we can still pray that we would not compromise with sexually immoral false teachers (Rev. 2:20) and that will keep the works of Christ to the end so that we might rule with Him (Rev. 2:26-28).  In any passage that does not directly apply to you find the principles that you can apply and then pray them. 

Another suggestion, especially when praying the Ten Commandments, is to use a catechism to help you get beneath surface sins. For example, here is the Heidelberg Catechism's explanation of the sixth commandment, "You shall not murder." 


Q: 105. What does God require in the sixth commandment?
A: That neither in thoughts, nor words, nor gestures, much less in deeds, I dishonor, hate, wound, or kill my neighbor, by myself or by another: but that I lay aside all desire of revenge: also, that I hurt not myself, nor willfully expose myself to any danger. Wherefore also the magistrate is armed with the sword, to prevent murder.

Q: 106. But this commandment seems only to speak of murder?
A: In forbidding murder, God teaches us, that he abhors the causes thereof, such as envy, hatred, anger, and desire of revenge; and that he accounts all these as murder.

Q: 107. But is it enough that we do not kill any man in the manner mentioned above?

A: No: for when God forbids envy, hatred, and anger, he commands us to love our neighbor as ourselves;  to show patience, peace, meekness, mercy, and all kindness, towards him,  and prevent his hurt as much as in us lies;  and that we do good, even to our enemies. 

In other words, don't just pray that you, and your brothers and sisters in Christ would not murder. But pray that all envy and hatred would be driven out of our hearts. As you intercede for others get beneath outward action to inward desires, thoughts, and emotions. Also pray for that God would help the positive virtue grow in people. In this case, pray that we would do as much good to those around us as we can, including doing good to our enemies. 

Finally, when I suggested praying through Scripture I do not mean something like "Dear Lord please help Jim be filled with the knowledge of your will. Help Sally to be more patient. Help Jack to not be bitter. Amen." Fill in the gaps with your knowledge of the person. "Lord, help Jim to be filled with knowledge of your will so he can guide his family during this difficult time. Keep him from wandering from your path. Help him to hold fast your word." Do not make the Bible passage you are praying through into a mantra that you repeat. Put flesh and bones on the passage as you pray through it. Fit the passage to the person you are praying for. 

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

25 Passages to Guide Intercessory Prayer

Last Sunday I preached on  Colossians 1:3-12. I focused on praying for one another through out the year, in particular, praying Scripture for one another. Too often our prayer requests revolve around things like jobs, pregnancies, health, money, etc. These are not bad things to pray for. When Christ tells us to pray, "Give us our daily bread" he is telling us that all the "mundane" things in our life matter to our heavenly Father. Paul says the same thing in Philippians 4:6-8. Those do matter to the Lord.

But too often this is where our prayers begin and end. We spend all of our time praying for our daily bread or the daily  bread of our brothers and sisters. Paul is good corrective to this. He begins many of his letters with prayers. All of these prayers focus on the spiritual life of the congregation he is writing to. Here is his prayer from Colossians 1. I cut out middle section.
We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love that you have for all the saints, because of the hope laid up for you in heaven...And so, from the day we heard, we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God. May you be strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy, giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light. 
How many of our prayers sound like this? How many of our prayers focus on the character of our brothers in Christ, instead of their specific situation? One of the ways I have found to correct this focus on circumstances is to pray for my brothers in Christ using a Scripture passage. Here is what I do:

I get a list in front of me of all the people I want to pray for. We have a church directory. I also have a list of pastors, family, and other friends I pray for. I work through these lists over several days.

Print out a Scripture passage I want to use as a guide for prayer. I put this in the front of my Bible.

Pray for my fellow Christians with the Scripture passage in front of me, using the language of the passage. I use the same passage for about two weeks. This allows me to pray the passage for everyone on my list and helps me become familiar with the Scripture passage.

You do not need to follow my pattern exactly. But I would encourage you to find a way to pray more Scripture. Here are 25 passages you can use to lift your fellow believers up before the throne of grace. Of course, there are many more, but these are the ones that came to mind. Almost any of the Psalms will work for this exercise. I just mention a few in the list.

Exodus 20:1-17
Psalm 1
Psalm 15
Psalm 23
Psalm 66 (A great Psalm for those who are suffering.)
Psalm 90
Psalm 104
Psalm 105 (These are both long and could be broken up.)
Psalm 112
Any section of Psalm 119.
Psalm 146
Proverbs 3
Daniel 9, Ezra 9, and Nehemiah 9
Ezekiel 34 (For pastors and other leaders.)
Matthew 5:3-12 (And the rest of the Sermon on the Mount.)
Matthew 10 (For missionaries and evangelists, especially.)
Romans 6 and 12
Galatians 5:7-26
Ephesians 1
Philippians 1:3-11
Colossians 1:3-12
Hebrews 13
I Peter 1:22-2:25
I John 4:7-21
The letters to the seven churches in Revelation 2:1-3:22

Remember the focus here is on intercession for our brothers and sisters in Christ, particularly interceding for their spiritual growth. We should be giving thanks to God for our fellow Christians, as well as for God and his works. However, thanksgiving is not the focus in this post. Not all of these passage can be prayed exactly as they are. In another post I will address how we should pray these different passages.

Saturday, December 27, 2014

What I Pray Before the Bread and Wine

We do weekly communion, which means that there are two prayers that I come up with each week: one before the bread and one before the wine. When I began preaching and leading worship I decided to structure these communion prayers a particular way. Here is how I do it. Before the bread I use a portion of the Old Testament to structure my prayer. Before the wine, I use a corresponding portion of the New Testament. From Advent through 1st Sunday of Trinity these prayers follow the church year. For example during Advent, I use Daniel, John the Baptist, Isaiah, and Revelation (2nd Advent). When the Trinity/Pentecost season begins I start with creation and work through Noah, Abraham, Moses, Joshua, David, Solomon, Hezekiah, Josiah, Ezra, and Nehemiah, as well as some others. These prayers are the same every year, though I would like to eventually have a two year set. Here are my prayers for the 2nd Sunday of Trinity.
Bread: Almighty God, Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, it truly, right and good and our duty that we should at all times and in all places give You thanks and magnify Your Holy Name, therefore with the Angels, the Archangels and all the company of heaven we praise You saying, Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God of hosts, heaven and earth are full of Your glory. 
We praise you Father for the world you have made. For the sun, moon and stars which declare your glory. For the winged creatures that soar in the sky.  For the beasts that run upon the ground. For all the creeping things that crawl on the ground and for the fish that swarm the sea. For all these we give you thanks and praise. We know that you have placed these things under our feet that we might use them to your glory.  As we eat this bread strengthen us in Christ that we might go forth and take dominion.  In the name of Christ we pray. Amen!
Wine: O Lord you are worthy of all blessing and honor for you sent your only begotten Son into the world to deliver your people from sin and the Devil. We praise you Almighty God that you did not leave this world to be ravaged by Satan, but instead reconciled us to Yourself through Jesus Christ. Indeed we are new creations in Christ, old things have passed away and all things have become new. O Lord as we drink nourish us upon Christ. Help us to be separate from the unbelieving world that we might truly be your sons and daughters. For the sake of Christ and His Kingdom. Amen!
Here are my prayers for Ascension Sunday:
Bread: Almighty God, Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, it truly, right and good and our duty that we should at all times and in all places give You thanks and magnify Your Holy Name, therefore with the Angels, the Archangels and all the company of heaven we praise You saying, Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God of hosts, heaven and earth are full of Your glory. 
Everlasting Father, we praise you for King David for when the uncircumcised Philistine stood up and defied the armies of the Living God, he gather his courage and the stone sank in the giant’s head and David cut off his head with his own sword. We praise you that as you delivered David from the bear and the lion so you delivered him from the giant. For the battle belongs to You O Lord.. We praise you that the one who born of David is the true King. We praise you that his body was broken that Satan’s head might be crushed. We ask now that you would grant us strength as we eat  to fight as David fought. Go before us O Lord as you went before David and scatter your enemies before our faces and that all the kingdoms of the earth might belong to Christ. In His Name we ask all this Amen!
Wine: O Lord you are worthy of all blessing and honor for you sent your Son that he might be our great high priest. He ascended on high where he makes intercession for us.  He promised that we would receive the Holy Spirit and that we would be his messengers to the ends of the earth. We also praise you that one day he will return just as left. As we drink the wine this morning grant us grace through Christ’s shed blood that we may be faithful witnesses to Him and that we might look with joy to the day when our Lord will return on the clouds of heaven. We pray this for the sake of Christ and His Kingdom Amen! 
Here are the prayers for this coming Sunday, the 1st Sunday of Christmas
Bread: Almighty God, Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, it truly, right and good and our duty that we should at all times and in all places give You thanks and magnify Your Holy Name, therefore with the Angels, the Archangels and all the company of heaven we praise You saying, Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God of hosts, heaven and earth are full of Your glory. 
We praise You for the prophet Isaiah, he saw the glories of the coming Messiah. He knew the virgin would bear a Child and the government would be upon His shoulders and He would be called Wonderful Counselor, Almighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace and of His Kingdom there would be no end. We are grateful he preached of the great comfort the Messiah would bring by bearing our griefs and carrying our sorrows. We pray now as we eat that You would feed us upon this glorious Christ that Isaiah saw and fill our mouths with praise for the work He has done. Amen!
Wine: Blessed are You Lord God for no one can restrain Your hand. Herod the King sought to slay Your Son. Yet you thwarted Him by sending dreams to the wise men and to Joseph. Your Son was then protected in the land where Israel was once in bondage, Egypt. Lord we, like Christ, are plagued on every side by rulers that hate and seek in every way to destroy Your Kingdom. We pray that you would nourish us as we drink and protect us from all our enemies that might live quiet and peaceable lives in all godliness and reverence. Amen!
The prayers are not perfect. I revise them on a regular basis. Some of them sound too "high" and not like a normal prayer. Some are too long or the sentence structure is awkward. One of the most common revisions is shortening the prayer or shortening sentences within the prayer. There is still work to be done. Having prayed them for several years now, I rarely read them. I often use them as a guide to lead our people to the Lord's Supper. Sometimes I ignore these prayers all together and pray something else the Lord has laid on my heart. Using these prayers for many years has made me more confident in praying off script. 

I am not sure where I came up with idea, but it has worked well for me. We pray through the all the major portions of Scripture as we work through the year. It also forces me to connect the Old Testament with both the Lord's Supper and the New Testament. It also helps me pray through the church year. My private prayer life includes more Scripture due to writing out these prayers.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Top Ten Books of 2014 & Preview of 2015

I love the top ten lists of books that men put up at the end of each year. I scour the internet looking for new books to purchase in the coming year. This year I decided to put my own list out there. These are books I read in 2014, not books published in 2014. The first three all had major impact on me. They are books that I keep coming back to and have changed my thinking. In the spirit of II Samuel 23:13, these are top three. After number 3 they are in no particular order.

1. Reformed Dogmatics: Volume I by Herman Bavinck-A tour de force of theology, history, research, exegesis, and piety. His section on God's Word is the best I have ever read. Occasionally, I go back and read that portion of the book. Volume II is on my Christmas list.

2. Man and Woman in Christ by Stephen B. Clark- The best work on male/female roles that I have ever read. Careful with the Scriptural text. Careful with extra-biblical data. He does not scream, but he does skillfully cut like a surgeon. He interacts with all the feminist dogma. It is long, but worth the read for those interested in the subject.

3. Sex, Marriage, and Family in John Calvin's Geneva: Vol I-Courtship, Engagement, and Marriage by John Witte Jr. and Robert Kingdon-If you want a close up look at how a leading reformer and his city ordered married life this is your book. Since this topic is perpetually relevant this book is as well. Kingdon is dead, but I just learned that Witte is continuing the project, which is very exciting for a history/Calvin nerd like me.

4. Parenting by God's Promises by Joel Beeke-A wonderful blend of paedo-baptist surety with Puritan piety.  Few parents will agree with everything, but every parent could use this book. His section on teenagers was excellent.

5. Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand-There is not much to say about this book that has not already been said. A great book about a great story about a great man.

6. What's Best Next by Matt Perlman-An excellent book on the why and how of Christian productivity. Almost any Christian in any setting can take these principles and use them to bring glory to Christ.

7. Fools Rush In Where Monkeys Fear to Tread by Carl Trueman-Trueman is a grumpy, old man. That is why I like him. He does not care what people think. I do not always agree with him, but the essays in this book were superb. "Pro-choice not Pro Options" and "The Freudom of the Christian" were two of my favorites.

8. Against the Church by Douglas Wilson-What I have always loved about Pastor Wilson is that he preaches to his people.  Those who follow him, learn from him, love him, and listen to him will often find themselves being rebuked and challenged by him. This book is a pastoral warning to those who follow him that faith is always necessary.

9. Fundamentalism and the Word of God by J.I. Packer- A wonderful knock down of liberal theology and her arguments against the Scriptures as God's inerrant and inspired word. Many arguments Packer refutes are still in circulation.

10. Abortion by R.C. Sproul-A careful look at the abortion issue that targets those who are on the fence. Sproul is a great reformed thinker and a man whose presence in the Christian world will be missed.

Bonus Pick: Job Through New Eyes: A Son for Glory by Toby Sumpter-I have not finished this book yet, but I will by the end of this week. It is marvelous. Pastor Sumpter's writing is unique and lively. His commentary on Job brings numerous theological themes found in Scripture to bear upon the text of Job. From creation to Adam to Abraham to Solomon to Jesus, Toby weaves them all together to help us understand what is happening in a book that most of us do not get. It is a great book and one I highly recommend.




Preview of 2015, Lord Willing
Here is what I have on my reading list for 2015.
I am reading through Calvin's Institutes again.
I also plan on reading Francis Turretin's first volume of his Institutes of Elenctic Theology.
I have never read Luther's Three Treatises, which I would like to get to this year.

I am working through the doctrine of the atonement so my list includes Christ Crucified and The Person of Christ by Donald Macleod, as well as Pierced for Our Transgressions by Steve Jeffery, etc.

I will finish Fred Sanders' The Deep Things of God, which I have greatly enjoyed.

I have a book stack on economic issues, including George Grant's Bringing in the Sheaves, Chilton's Productive Christians, Schiff's How an Economy Grows, and Stanley's The Millionaire Next Door.

On the history side I plan on reading Karen Spierling's Infant Baptism in Reformation Geneva, Bratt's Abraham Kuyper, Ann Douglas' The Feminization of American Culture, Intellectuals by Paul Johnson, and Morris's The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt. If I can I would like to start William Manchester's trilogy on Churchill.

I want to read more fiction than I did in 2014. So far I plan on Master and Commander, Beowulf (again!), The Aeneid, The Return of the King, The Power and the Glory, East of Eden, and 1984.

And I will continue to study things like preaching, sacraments, sodomy, male/female roles, government, creation, vocation, and family.

Are there any books you would recommend I put on the list for 2015?

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Wheaton's Capitulation to Sin

Recently Wheaton College in Illinois hired a woman who declares herself to be a celibate, gay, Christian. You can read the World magazine article here. She says that she is gay, but that being gay does not define her. She is defined by Christ, not by her sexual orientation. She also says she will not act on her desires. What are we to make of this argument? Is it valid to say I want to have sex with women, but I won't act on that desire? The hiring shows the continued breakdown of a Biblical understanding of sin, temptation, and repentance at Wheaton, which has been coming on for some time. Owen Strachan has responded over at Patheos. Toby Sumpter has picked up on one aspect of the debate. Here are a few of my thoughts.

Sin is not just external action. To argue this is to undo the church's teaching on sin and oddly enough to become legalistic. The article implies that sin is really in what you do, not in what you want. But this runs contrary to the Scriptural narrative. Remember Matthew 5:28. Lust is adultery. Wanting to sleep with a woman is as bad as sleeping with her in God's eyes. James 4:1 makes it clear that outward sin, wars and fights, come from inward sin. Numerous sins, such as bitterness, anger, malice, lust, covetousness, are inside us. Even external sins begin in the heart. Jesus said that adultery, murder, and sexual immorality come from the heart. Sin lives in us. Sin is not simply engaging in an action that is wicked. It is thoughts, desires, and emotions that are contrary to God's character and His will for the human race. Putting to death sin does not just mean dealing with external manifestations of sin. It means reshaping our thoughts, desires, and emotions so they are brought in line with God's will. To argue otherwise is to hold a deficient view of sin, repentance, and the Spirit's work in our lives.

What we want matters. Desires matter. We can be guilty of sin by wanting something that we should not have. Here is why same-sex attraction is a sin. It is a twisted desire. It is wanting what one should not long for. With any other sin this is clear. If I hate man and want to kill him the solution is not simply to refrain from killing him. The solution is to repent of the desire itself. My desire to kill the man is a sin even if I never do kill him. If I long to look at porn the solution again is not to simply refrain from looking at porn. The solution is to repent of the desire for porn. So it is with every sin . The external expression is merely a part of the sin and often the easiest to deal with. To argue that I can be attracted sexually to the same gender and not be sinning is contrary to the Scriptures. The desire is a sin and should be repented of.

Sexual sins, both their internal and external manifestations, can be overcome by the Spirit of Christ, the Word of Christ, and the body of Christ. To argue otherwise is to say that Christ cannot make us new. A theme running through "gay Christian" articles is that same sex attraction can not be fully dealt with. We do not say this with other sins.  A man filled with greed should not be told, "Well you can never overcome your greed orientation.The Spirit can't deal with that. You are stuck. But make sure you never steal."  What hope is there in that? What grace is there in that? The Jesus who drove out demons and converted a murdering psychopath cannot help me? Too many Christians have too low a view of the Spirit's work. It is not easy to put our sinful desires and actions to death. But it can be done.

Finally, homosexual sin is not in a separate category from other sins when it comes sanctification. Paul in I Corinthians 6:9-11 puts sodomy right along with all the other sins we might think of, fornication, idolatry, drunkenness, etc. In other words, sodomy can be dealt with by the regular ministry of the church.  A man or woman with same sex desires can be reoriented just as a man with a desire for drunkenness or prostitutes can be reoriented. We tend to take Romans 1 and put homosexuality in its own category. On a cultural level it might be. But on an individual level it is like any other sin. How should a minister deal with a young man with a porn habit? How should he deal with a man who is filled with anger and rage? How should he deal with a woman who is filled with bitterness? The same principles he applies there should be applied to the sodomite.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

The Freedom and Bondage of God

I reading through Calvin's Institutes for the 2nd time. I came across an interesting argument about free will. This comes from Book II, Chapter III, Section 5.  Calvin is discussing man's fallen nature and how that puts him into bondage, but does not eliminate his free will. Then he uses God's nature as an illustration. Here is the idea:

Can God sin? Right answer is, "No."

Is God free? Correct answer is, "Yes."

So God cannot do certain things and yet is entirely free. He is bound by his nature and yet his will is free.

He also uses Satan as an example.

Can Satan do anything that is rooted in good? Answer, "No."

Is Satan free? Answer is "Yes."

Calvin goes on to apply this to human beings. Human beings outside of Christ can do nothing that is ultimately good. They are totally depraved. They can do things that are good in some ways, but nothing a unregenerate human being does is at root good. (Calvin's reason for this is that they do not direct those actions towards God.) However, simply because they cannot do good does not mean their will is not free. They sin of "necessity" not of "compulsion." In other words, they sin because they must and because they wish, but they do not sin because of something forcing them to sin outside of themselves. They are not pushed into sin against their will.

The illustration I have often used with my children is that of lion and a goat. You put a big heap of greens in front of a lion and he will ignore them. You put that same pile of greens in front of the goat and he will eat them up. Put a freshly cut piece of deer in front of a lion and he will devour it in a moment. The goat would probably ignore it. Why? Is the lion being forced to eat the meat? No. There is no outside force pressing him to eat. He eats of necessity and with a free will. His nature is such that he must eat, but his nature and his will line up. His nature does not battle against his will.

So it is with man. Man is conceived in sin (Psalm 51:5).  He is born with a sin nature that directs his actions.  But that sin nature lines up perfectly with his will. Calvin notes that when man sinned in the garden he "was not deprived of will, but of soundness of will." Every unregenerate man, women, and child sins because they want to. No man yells at his wife against his will. No child lies to mom against his will. No employee steals against his will. When a man comes to Christ he is changed. That old nature hangs on, like a bad habit that won't go away. However, now the sin is against the will in some way. When a man comes to Christ his nature shifts and so his will shifts, but not all the way and not automatically. That is why a Christian is often at war with himself. His old nature, which is dying, fights against the new nature which Christ has given to him. Some Christians wonder why non-Christians can have such inner peace at times. The reason is simple: their nature and will always line up. Their nature is sinful and their will is sinful. Romans 7 makes no sense to them at all. For us as believers our nature is not sinful any more. We are new creatures. Our will is being brought into line with this new nature, but it is a war. Sometimes this war is internal as we shape thoughts and desires. Sometimes it is directed towards actions when we have learned to do things automatically, such as yelling, which are now contrary to our nature and our desires, yet we still do them out of habit.

Election does not mean that men are forced to sin against their will. Just as God cannot do evil and yet is entirely free. So unregenerate man cannot do good and yet is entirely free.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Quotes from Rules for Reformers

Pastor Doug Wilson's latest book is called Rules for Reformers. It is not for everyone, but anyone in Christian leadership should read the book. It has a hard, but cheerful edge to it.  Here are some of my favorite quotes from the book.
A reformer has to be the kind of man who can stand up to the clamor of the mob. 
The wise are those who take the initiative whenever they have the opportunity.
Survival should never be the goal, stalemate is not the goal, absence of collision is not the goal.
We are not to fight to the point of predominance, we are to fight to the point of complete victory.
Cultivate a robust sense of humor. [Wilson repeats this idea throughout the book.] 
Keep the pressure on, wherever you are on the line...Wake up in the morning thinking about what the fires you can set.
The work of cultural reformation is a contact sport.
A godly satirist [a man who uses sarcasm and ridicule] should know the difference between weakness and arrogance, and, as far as possible, reserve his arrows for the latter.
We need to distinguish between those who demand apologies as a weapon, and those who want to see genuine reconciliation.
Winning an argument, with documents and everything, is not what brings repentance. [Pastor Wilson is not saying that arguments have no value. He is just saying that winning them does not produce repentance.] 
The issue is never the issue. Keep your eye on the ball.
The rule is never to apologize for the truth. Never.[Emphasis his.]
Do you want to bring up endangered kids or dangerous kids...Would you like them to be smooth stones in the sling of the Son of David? Or are you just hoping they make enough money to get by, are generally nice people, and always come home for the holidays...Do you want to provide them with Jesus-centered education that will train them for the battle, the way boot camp is supposed to? 
If you do not love the present, which you have seen, how can you love the future, which you have not seen?
When forgetfulness begins, love is then in decline.
The key battle in our culture wars is the reestablishment of worship that is pleasing to God.
The reason for singling out sodomy for particular political attention right now is the homo-activists have made it their central political weapon.
All the Christians in the world, thinking sweet thoughts all at the same time, could not make a minimum wage law that didn't hurt the poor.  
All hope is lost? Good. That means the conditions for a black swan revival are improving by the day. The stone cold deader we get, the more God is hastening the day. Nothing is dying but what has needed to die for a long time. 
There is no solution to our cultural or political troubles apart from the blood that Jesus shed.  

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

How We Got Here or Principles of Modern Thought: Full Potential

Here is the third post in a series on Stephen Clark's five guiding principles of modern thought. The list with links to the previous posts can be found below.

The Principle of Equality
The Principle of Freedom
The Principle of Developing Full Potential 
The Principle of Authenticity
The Principle of Being a "Full-Person"

Here is Clark's description of the third principle that drives modern thinking:
The Principle of Developing Full Potential or Achieving Self-Fulfillment-"This an individualistic principle closely related to the principle of freedom. Self-fulfillment and full potential become ideals under conditions of little social cohesion where each individual feels the need to watch out for himself...It emphasizes gifts and abilities rather than personal relationships. 
A principle of self-fulfillment cannot be found in scripture. The scriptural teaching presumes a cohesive communal lifestyle and sets forth an ideal of servanthood. The scripture allows Christians to seek reward, but the criterion for action is love, that is, laying down one's life for the Lord and the brothers and sisters." 
The thought here is that anything or anyone that prevents me from achieving what I think is my full potential is restricting  my freedom and ultimately harming me. People and things exist to give me fulfillment and make me happy.

Perhaps no principle on this list is as thoroughly rejected by Scripture as this one. The Christian life is one of love and service that is focused on giving of our life, time, money, and energy to others. A principle of achieving full potential runs hard against that truth. It is impossible to live like Christ and still be focused on achieving your full potential. Yet because this is the air that we breath we still function this way. Popular Christian preachers make millions promising people that if they come to Christ he will help them fulfill their potential. On a more day to day level, we assume that if I am not becoming who I think I ought to be then something has gone wrong.  How many "Christian" men have left their wives because they felt held back by them? How many college children reject their parent's faith because it keeps them from "stretching their wings?" How many pastors have stopped preaching the hard truths of service and sacrifice so their people will be happy and feel fulfilled? How many young men enter the job force expecting it to help them fulfill their potential? How many young ladies bear children for the same, ungodly reason? The Christian life is one of service. The minute we make our personal satisfaction and fulfillment the goal then have abandoned the narrow path.

I would add that when we follow Christ we will ultimately find happiness and satisfaction. We were made for God and in him we will be filled. But that satisfaction comes from the well-done at the end. And that well-done comes from living for Christ, dying to self and serving others. It does not come from putting our own personal fulfillment at the center of our existence.
Let the saints be joyful in glory, let them sing aloud on their beds, let the high praises of God be in their mouth, and a two edged sword in their hand, to execute vengeance on the nations, and punishments on the peoples; to bind the kings with chains and their nobles with fetters of iron. Psalm 149:5-8