The Justification of God

September 21, 2015 in Bible - NT - Romans, Book Reviews, Election, Sovereignty of God

Just finished reading John Piper’s The Justification of God: An Exegetical & Theological Study of Romans 9:1-23. It was excellent but not for the faint of heart. His study pays close attention to the Greek text, the Old Testament background, and the New Testament cultural mileu. His central thesis – worked out more popularly in his books like Desiring God – is that God’s chief end is the exaltation of His character and Name in all the universe. Even as the chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever, this too is God’s chief end – exalting His Name in all the universe. And His determination to exalt His Name in all the earth is good news for His people.

Some quotations from Piper:

“Therefore these prophetic writings… impress upon the careful reader of the Old Testament that all God’s saving deeds spring ultimately from his loyalty to his own name…. the righteousness of God consists most basically in God’s unswerving commitment to preserve the honor of his name and display his glory. Thus if God ever abandoned this commitment and no longer sought in all things the magnifying of his own glory, then there indeed would be unrighteousness with God.

“…the righteousness of man in relation to God is (reflecting God’s righteousness) to love the honor of God’s name, to esteem above all things God’s glory (especially as it has been mercifully experienced in his saving deeds), and, finally, to do only those things which accord with this love and esteem. Thus human actions may be described as righteous not because they conform to an ‘ideal ethical norm’ (like impartial distributive justice, though this may often be righteous), but rather because they are fitting expressions of man’s complete allegiance to maintain the honor of God’s name and display his glory.” (p. 119)

“Thus God’s glory and his name consist fundamentally in his propensity to show mercy and his sovereign freedom in its distribution. Or, to put it more precisely still, it is the glory of God and his essential nature mainly to dispense mercy (but also wrath, Ex 34:7) on whomever he pleases apart from any constraint originating outside his own will. This is the essence of what it means to be God.” (p. 121)

“For God to condone or ignore the dishonor heaped upon him by the sins of men would be tantamout to giving credence to the value judgment men have made in esteeming God more lowly than his creation. It is not so much that he would be saying sins do not matter or justice does not matter; more basically, he would be saying that he does not matter. But for God thus to deny the infinite value of his glory, to act persistently as if the disgrace of his holy name were a matter of indifference to him–this is the heart of unrighteousness. Thus if God is to be righteous he must repair the dishonor done to his name by the sins of those whom he blesses. He must magnify the divine glory man thought to deny him.” (148)

The Wicked and the Good

September 18, 2015 in Coeur d'Alene Issues, Election, Homosexuality, Martyrdom, Politics, Postmillennialism, Quotations

Proverbs 16:4
4 The LORD has made all for Himself, Yes, even the wicked for the day of doom.

“How then do the wicked serve the good? As persecutors serve the martyrs; as a file or hammer, gold; as a mill, wheat; as ovens, the baking of bread: those are consumed, so that these may be baked. How, I say, do the wicked serve the good? As chaff in the furnace of the goldsmith serves gold…. Therefore the wicked should not boast or extol themselves when they send tribulations to the good. For while they are persecuting the good in their bodies, they are killing themselves in their hearts.”
Caesarius of Arles (c. 468-542)
In Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, Vol II: Genesis 12-50, p. 148.

Homily for Tal and Cristina Williams

March 15, 2015 in Bible - NT - Colossians, Election, Holy Spirit, Love, Marriage, Sanctification
Colossians 3:12–14 (NKJV)
Therefore, as theelect of God, holy and beloved, put on tender mercies, kindness, humility, meekness, longsuffering; bearing with one another, and forgiving one another, if anyone has a complaint against another; even as Christ forgave you, so you also must do. But above all these things put on love, which is the bond of perfection.
Tal and Cristina, it is a joy to be with you here today and to celebrate the pledging of your marriage vows. I debated preaching an extensive sermon today but knowing how sensitive Tal is to time I decided I’d keep it fairly brief. Paul’s words in Colossians 3 remind us that all of life, including our married life, is to be lived in the knowledge of who we are and what God has done for us; in the knowledge of who we are and what God has done for us.
First, our life is to be lived in the knowledge of who we are. Today is a day of momentous changes for you both. Tal, your identity is changing. You will no longer be just a private man but a public. You are assuming the role and responsibility of husband, the one who will answer to God for the condition of your home. Your identity is changing: Cristina is choosing you as her husband; you are now the elect of Cristina.
Cristina, your identity is changing. You are leaving your father’s house to join your life with the life of your husband. You are getting a new name: no longer a Plaza but a Williams; no longer a princess but a queen. Your identity is changing: Tal is choosing you as his wife; you are now the elect of Tal.
But Paul reminds you that though your identities are changing today in certain respects, your fundamental identities remain the same. Long before you chose one another, God chose you as objects of His love and recipients of His forgiveness in Christ. Therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved… live a life pleasing to God. Tal, before you became the elect of Cristina, Cristina’s chosen husband, you were the elect of God, God’s chosen son. Cristina, before you became the elect of Tal, Tal’s chosen wife, you were the elect of God, God’s chosen daughter. And your identities as God’s elect, God’s chosen ones, do not change today.
As Ben read this afternoon, recall that marriage is a mirror of Christ’s relationship with His Church. Paul uses two words in our text that help capture this. He writes that you are the elect of God, holy and beloved. First, you are holy – set apart for God’s own purposes in the world; set apart from those who are worshiping and serving other gods; set apart to be exclusively loyal to God. That’s who you are. So who are you becoming? Today, Tal, you are becoming Cristina’s elect one, her chosen one, and therefore her holy one – set apart as the one man in all the world to be her very own. Today, Cristina, you are becoming Tal’s elect one, his chosen one, and therefore his holy one – set apart as the one woman in all the world to be his very own. And your “holiness” to one another is a mirror of the exclusive loyalty that Christ gives to and expects of His bride, the Church. You are holy.
But not only are you holy, you are also beloved. God didn’t choose us, didn’t set us apart as holy, as His very own, in order that we might be His slaves and minions but in order that we might be His beloved. Paul writes to usas the elect of God, holy and beloved… Again, your marriage mirrors Christ’s relationship with His Church. Just as you have chosen one another to be the exclusive object of your love, Christ has chosen His bride, the Church, as the alone object of His love. You are beloved.
So, Tal, Cristina, who are you? You are the elect of God, holy and beloved; and today you become the elect of one another, holy and beloved. This is who you are. And what has God done for you? Paul writes that He has forgiven you in Christ, cleansed you of your sin, and welcomed you into His presence. That’s who you are and what God has done for you. Therefore, what manner of spouses ought you to be? Tal, what kind of husband ought you to be? Cristina, what kind of wife ought you to be? You ought to be spouses who put on tender mercies, kindness, humility, meekness, longsuffering; bearing with one another, and forgiving one another…even as God in Christ has forgiven you. And put on love, which is the bond of perfection.
So you see our responsibility as spouses emerges from who we are and what God has done for us. You are the elect of God, holy and beloved, and God has forgiven you through the sacrifice of His Son Jesus. So God’s vision for your marriage is that your relationship with one another reflect the exclusive love that Christ has for His bride, the Church, and the exclusive love that the Church is to have for her husband, Christ. This is the vision, this is the forest; don’t forget it as you begin looking at the trees.

Therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, put on tender mercies, kindness, humility, meekness, longsuffering; bearing with one another, and forgiving one another, if anyone has a complaint against another; even as Christ forgave you, so you also must do. But above all these things put on love, which is the bond of perfection.

What is our only hope?

February 12, 2015 in Bible - NT - Ephesians, Bible - OT - Isaiah, Bible - OT - Psalms, Cross of Christ, Election, King Jesus, Newsletter

This last week our catechism questions centered on the universal sinfulness of humanity. As David declares, “God looks down from heaven upon the children of men, to see if there are any who understand, who seek God. Every one of them has turned aside; they have together become corrupt; there is none who does good, no, not one” (Ps 53:2-3). David’s assessment is sobering, is it not? But his assessment agrees with that of Paul – by nature we are children of wrath (Eph 2:3). So is there no hope?
 
Well no – at least there is no hope from the human level. If salvation depends upon us as human beings, then we are lost. There is no way that we can be acceptable in the sight of God – for we have sinned against God and, what’s more,we want to sin against God. There are none who understand or seek God.

So what then? What is our only hope? Our only hope is if God Himself should come and rescue us. And this God promised to do: “I looked, but there was no one to help, and I wondered that there was no one to uphold; therefore My own arm brought salvation for Me; and My own fury, it sustained Me” (Is 63:5). This, my friends, is the message of the Gospel: what we could not do because of our sinful nature, God did in sending His own Son to rescue and redeem us. Praise to the Lord!

And what our catechism question this week reminds us is this: this action was the fulfillment of God’s plan in all eternity. God chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world; love us while we were yet sinners; saved us apart from any merit on our own part – for we had and have none. So all glory goes to God alone.

Q. 20. Did God leave all mankind to perish in the estate of sin and misery?

A. God, having out of his mere good pleasure, from all eternity, elected some to everlasting life, did enter into a covenant of grace to deliver them out of the estate of sin and misery, and to bring them into an estate of salvation by a Redeemer.

God Chose Mary

December 26, 2014 in Bible - NT - Luke, Christmas, Church History, Confession, Election, Reformation, Singing Psalms, Ten Commandments, Thankfulness
Luke 1:46–50 (NKJV)
46 And Mary said: “My soul magnifies the Lord, 47 And my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior. 48 For He has regarded the lowly state of His maidservant; For behold, henceforth all generations will call me blessed. 49 For He who is mighty has done great things for me, And holy is His name. And His mercy is on those who fear Him from generation to generation.”
Christmas is a time to reflect on the particular blessings that God has bestowed on each of us and to lift up praise and thanks to God. We see this modeled in Mary’s Magnificat – her song of praise written while staying with Zacharias and Elizabeth.
Has it ever struck you that God gave a gift to Mary that He did not give to any other human being on earth? Consider this for a moment: don’t just let the Christmas story pass you by; consider what’s happening. God chose Mary to be the mother of our Lord. God chose Mary – a girl in the city of Nazareth who was betrothed to a man named Joseph; who had a sister named Salome; who had a mother and father whose names are not recorded. God chose Mary – a girl who had a certain color hair and eyes; who was of a quite definite height and weight; who had skin of a particular shade. God chose Mary.
Now doesn’t that seem a trifle unfair? Why Mary? Why should she get the honor? Shouldn’t Mary perhaps feel a little guilty for being chosen? Don’t you and I have the right to be a little jealous, perhaps?
After all, let’s consider this: here God bestows on Mary a privilege that He had bestowed and would bestow on no other woman ever in all of human history. God chose Mary. Shouldn’t Mary feel guilty? Shouldn’t she realize that this was a trifle unfair and bemoan the gift that God had bestowed on her? Shouldn’t she perhaps have flogged herself? Felt guilty every time that babe leapt in her womb or sucked at her breast? Been apologetic to the various other women she met in the course of her life? “Sorry, sorry, sorry – so much wish it could have been you… Sorry.”
And shouldn’t you be a little jealous? After all, because God chose Mary, He didn’t choose any other to have this honor. Have you considered that? God did not choose Mary’s sister Salome. He did not choose Herodias – for which we’re grateful! He didn’t choose Mary the wife of Clopas or Mary Magdalene or Elizabeth or Anna the prophetess or Susanna or Joanna the wife of Chuza. God chose Mary. And consider that what this means: it means that God didn’t choose you. If you’re a woman, God passed you over; He simply did not choose you to be the mother of Jesus. God chose Mary. And, if you’re a man, God eliminated you from the running before you were even out of the gate. God chose Mary. Shouldn’t you be a little jealous?
I ask these questions because they have great relevance for us on Christmas day. You who stand here today have been given many remarkable gifts from God. If you are in Christ, you have been given the gift of salvation, a gift some men will never receive. If you are an American citizen, you have been given gifts of liberty, constitutional government, and incredible prosperity, gifts that others, who remain subject to tyrants and who are starving even as we speak, can only long for. If you are a husband, then you have been given the gift of a wife, a gift men some will never have. If you are a mother, then you have been given the gift of children, a gift some women will never enjoy. If you have Christmas gifts at home, then you have been given a measure of prosperity that millions have never known. Should you feel guilty?
And some of you aren’t getting the same gifts as others. Perhaps your brother got the Lego set you wanted? Perhaps the neighbors drove up in their brand-new Cadillac Escalade? Perhaps you find yourself unmarried still? Perhaps that other lady just announced that she’s having a baby and you’ve never had one? Perhaps, perhaps, perhaps… Perhaps you should feel jealous?
But guilt and jealousy are both unbecoming and sinful responses to the Lord’s gifts. God is the Creator; God is the Giver of all good gifts; God is the Sovereign Lord; and God is not fair. He simply does not give gifts equally. But that inequality is not to move us to guilt and jealousy but to praise and thanksgiving. Listen to Mary’s Magnificat:
My soul magnifies the Lord, And my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior. For He has regarded the lowly state of His maidservant; For behold, henceforth all generations will call me blessed. For He who is mighty has done great things for me, And holy is His name. And His mercy is on those who fear Him from generation to generation.”
Notice, first, that guilt is not the way to respond to God’s gifts. After all, none of us deserve the gifts which God gives us. We all of us have forfeited God’s favor – including Mary. God chose Mary in His mercy, Mary tells us. And in this mercy, God gives sinful, undeserving men and women gifts; He lavishes kindnesses; He bestows graces – to one this and to another that. And the one who fears God learns to receive these graces not with guilt but with gratitude. Solomon reminds us, “The blessing of the Lord makes one rich, And He adds no sorrow with it” (Pr 10:22). So today receive the gifts that God has given with praise and thanksgiving. Lift up your heads! Don’t feel guilty – give praise to God! Don’t feel guilty – give thanks to God! And in that praise and thanks imitate Him by loving those with less.
Jealousy is just as unbecoming as guilt. Our Lord forbids covetousness – for covetousness, greediness, makes us small of heart and small of soul. The angels rejoice with Mary – they who long to know the things we know and cannot; Elizabeth rejoices with Mary – she who was chosen to give birth merely to the forerunner, not the Messiah; Anna rejoices with Mary – she who had never had a child and whose husband had been taken from her when a young woman. They were large of soul, rejoicing in the good gifts that God had given to Mary. God chose Mary – and they rejoiced!

So Christmas is here – rejoice, give thanks, and sing. Put away guilt; put away petty jealousy; rejoice in the good gifts of God, sing of His mercy, and share His kindnesses with others.

Add to Godliness Brotherly Kindness

October 26, 2014 in Bible - NT - 2 Peter, Ecclesiology, Election, Federal Vision, Holy Spirit, John Calvin, Meditations, Reformation, Sanctification
2 Peter 1:5–9 (NKJV)
5 But also for this very reason, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue, to virtue knowledge, 6 to knowledge self-control, to self-control perseverance, to perseverance godliness, 7 to godliness brotherly kindness, and to brotherly kindness love. 8 For if these things are yours and abound, you will be neither barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. 9 For he who lacks these things is shortsighted, even to blindness, and has forgotten that he was cleansed from his old sins.
Thus far in Peter’s exhortation we have learned to employ all diligence as we add to our faith virtue, to our virtue knowledge, to our knowledge self-control, to our self-control perseverance, and to our perseverance godliness.Today we consider his command to add to godliness brotherly kindness.
Webster defines kindness as “the quality or state of being kind; having or showing a gentle nature and a desire to help others : wanting and liking to do good things and to bring happiness to others.”
Having urged us to achieve godliness, Peter now highlights the way that godliness of character is to shape our interaction with other people. And interestingly enough he insists that it should manifest itself in “brotherly kindness”: not in miserliness, not in grumpiness, not in super-spirituality, but in open hands and open hearts, wanting and liking to do good things and to bring happiness to others,especially to those who are of the household of faith.
One of the purposeful emphases of the CREC is a commitment to what we call “sunny Calvinism.” Calvinism is simply a nickname which summarizes the biblical teaching that God is the Lord over heaven and earth. He rules and reigns in human affairs and nothing can thwart His purposes or destroy His work. Has he spoken and will he not do it? Has he determined and will he not bring it to pass? God is the Lord – it is He who saves us and not we ourselves; it is he who preserves us and not we ourselves. In ourselves we are hopeless and corrupt, inclined to all evil. But God in His grace and mercy sent His Son Jesus to deliver us from sin and death; sent His Spirit to give us a heart to believe and a mind to understand. Grace, grace, all grace!
So this is Calvinism – and it is glorious good news! What we could not do weak as we were because of our sinful nature, God did in sending His own Son as the propitiation for our sins. So given this glorious good news – ought we not to be “sunny”? Joyful? Grateful? Thankful? And ought not this sunny, joyful, grateful and thankful disposition manifest itself in brotherly kindness? Absolutely!
Too often, however, the glorious truths of God’s Sovereignty, the unity of the Old and New Testaments, and our inability to save ourselves as human beings are twisted into a cudgel with which to beat our fellow Christians and those who don’t know Jesus. God is Sovereign and in control of all things – so let me show how true that is by doubting your salvation if you don’t understand it. God has been revealing His purpose to save the earth from sin and death ever since our rebellion against God in the Garden – so let me show how true that is by being a jerk and thwarting your salvation. We are unable to save ourselves – so let me show you how true that is by refusing to share with you the good news of Christ’s death and resurrection.
As Reformed folk we need to cultivate brotherly kindness.We are called to add to our godliness brotherly kindness – having or showing a gentle nature and a desire to help others : wanting and liking to do good things and to bring happiness to others. So are you looking for opportunities to practice kindness? This is our calling; this is our privilege.

Reminded of our calling and that we often refuse to help others when we are able, let us kneel and confess our sins to the Lord.

Eternal Election and External Calling

September 16, 2014 in Bible - OT - Genesis, Ecclesiology, Election, Federal Vision, John Calvin, Quotations

John Calvin in his commentary on Genesis 6 defends the position that the “sons of God” are the descendants of Seth. Here he responds to a potential objection and illustrates the way in which Scripture speaks both of eternal election and external calling:

“Should any one object, that they who had shamefully departed from the faith, and the obedience which God required, were unworthy to be accounted the sons of God; the answer is easy, that the honour is not ascribed to them, but to the grace of God, which had hiterto been conspicuous in their families. For when Scripture speaks of the sons of God, sometimes it has respect to eternal election, which extends only to the lawful heirs; sometimes to external vocation [calling], according to which many wolves are within the fold; and though, in fact, they are strangers, yet they obtain the name of sons, until the Lord shall disown them.”