It is the Spirit Who Gives Life

March 22, 2015 in Bible - NT - 1 Corinthians, Bible - NT - 1 Thessalonians, Holy Spirit, Meditations, Regeneration, Ten Commandments
1 Corinthians 6:9–11 (NKJV)
9 Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived. Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor sodomites, 10 nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners will inherit the kingdom of God. 11 And such were some of you. But you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God.
Who is it that brings us from death to life? Last week we emphasized that our problem as human beings is not primarily our manners but our heart. There is many a man who has done “righteous acts” for all the wrong reasons.
Our problem as human beings is that we worship and serve gods other than the Living God of Scripture. These gods are idols of our own creation rather than the Living God who has created us. By nature it is to these false gods that we offer our service. Sometimes our service is crude; sometimes it is cultured; but when it is offered to one of these idols rather than to the Living God, it is despicable in the eyes of our Creator. Whether our service be given to the self-made-god of Mormonism or the world force of Hinduism or the mother nature of paganism or the narcissistic self of humanism, all such service is displeasing to the Creator.
So God is in the business not first and foremost of changing our behavior – many people who worship false gods change their behavior – but of altering our fundamental loyalty; He is in the business of changing hearts. He moves us from the worship of false gods to the worship of the Living God. As Paul writes to the Thessalonians, you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God… (1 Thes 1:9b). Christianity, as a familiar saying goes, is not first about putting a new set of clothes on the man but a new man in the set of clothes. When the man inside the clothes changes, he begins to change the clothes he wears.
So how do we change? Can we change ourselves? No – this is the true tragedy of our situation. We often sense something is wrong; we stumble through life like a man in a dark room; we bang into furniture and wound ourselves and others. And though the light comes into the world, we love the darkness rather than the light. Unless – unless – God in His mercy send forth His Spirit and give us new life, eyes to see, ears to hear, and a heart to understand what is true. Remember Paul’s words – such were some of you, but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God. It is the Spirit who gives us new life.

So this morning, as we enter into the presence of the Living God, let us beware lest we come here serving other gods, gods of our own creation rather than the Creator of all; and let us, if we are here to worship the Living God, give thanks to the Spirit of God who has placed such a desire in our hearts. It is He who enlightens our minds in the knowledge of Christ and renews our wills and makes us ready and willing to obey God – including by confessing our sins. So let us confess our sin to the Lord; and let us kneel as we do so.

Original and Actual Sin

February 5, 2015 in Baptism, Bible - NT - John, Bible - NT - Matthew, Bible - OT - Genesis, Newsletter, Regeneration, Sin

This week one of the questions we recite from the Westminster Shorter Catechism concerns our sinfulness:

Q. 18. Wherein consists the sinfulness of that estate whereinto man fell?
A. The sinfulness of that estate whereinto man fell, consists in the guilt of Adam’s first sin, the want of original righteousness, and the corruption of his whole nature, which is commonly called original sin; together with all actual transgressions which proceed from it.


The catechism reminds us that our fundamental problem as human beings is not what we do (actual sins) but what we are (original sin). Our problem is that our nature is corrupt. And it is from this corruption of nature, a corruption which all human beings share, that our actual transgressions proceed.

And this, I believe, is one of the reasons that God has always dealt not just with believers but with their children – commanding our fathers to circumcise male infants and (I would argue as a good Presbyterian) commanding us to baptize our male and female infants. Even those precious, cuddly, warm and snuggly infants have a corrupt nature. Hence, apart from the grace of God, they too will perish in their sins. But thanks be to God! He shows mercy to our children and our children’s children to a thousand generations.

This also reminds us why we are wholly dependent upon God for our salvation from first to last. Paul reminds us that “those who are in the flesh cannot please God.” It is not simply that we “do not” please God but that we “cannot please God” – we lack the ability and the desire. Left to ourselves we will consistently choose to worship idols, to abandon the Living God, and to spurn His good law. So we depend on God to draw us to Himself (Jn 6:44), to enlighten our minds (Mt 11:25ff), and to free us from the shackles of our sin (Jn 8:34-36). When He does so, our only fitting response is one of praise and thanksgiving!

This week we study the Call of Abram – God in His grace and mercy reached out to Abram when he was in Ur of the Chaldees and called him to faith. This was wholly of grace – even as our call to faith is wholly of grace. So let us join our voices with Abram’s in giving thanks to God.

The Sign and the Thing Signified

September 30, 2014 in Baptism, Bible - NT - 1 Peter, Ecclesiology, Federal Vision, John Calvin, Justification, Quotations, Reformation, Regeneration, Sacraments, Sanctification

When Peter writes “not the putting away of the filth of the flesh” (1 Pet 3:21) in reference to baptism, “he speaks not of the naked sign, but that the effect must also be connected with it… the external symbol is not sufficient except baptism be received really and effectually…

“But the fanatics…absurdly pervert this testimony, while they seek to take away from sacraments all their power and effect. For Peter did not mean here to teach that [baptism] is vain and inefficacious, but only to exclude hypocrites from the hope of salvation, who, as far as they can, deprave and corrupt baptism. Moreover, when we speak of sacraments, two things are to be considered, the sign and the thing itself. In baptism the sign is water, but the thing is the washing of the soul by the blood of Christ and the mortifying of the flesh. The institution of Christ includes these two things. Now that the sign often appears inefficacious and fruitless, this happens through the abuse of men, which does not take away the nature of the sacrament. Let us then learn not to tear away the thing signified from the sign. We must at the same time beware of another evil, such as prevails among the Papists; for as they distinguish not as they ought between the thing and the sign, they stop at the outward element, and on that fix their hope of salvation. Therefore the sight of the water takes away their thoughts from the blood of Christ and the power of the Spirit. They do not regard Christ as the only author of all the blessings therein offered to us; they transfer the glory of his death to the water, they tie the secret power of the Spirit to the visible sign.

“What then ought we to do? Not to separate what has been joined together by the Lord. We ought to acknowledge in baptism a spiritual washing, we ought to embrace therein the testimony of the remission of sin and the pledge of our renovation, and yet so as to leave to Christ his own honour, and also to the Holy Spirit; so that no part of our salvation should be transferred to the sign.”

John Calvin, Commentary on the First Epistle of Peter, pp. 118-119.

External Members of the Covenant

July 28, 2014 in Baptism, Covenantal Living, Discipline, Ecclesiology, Federal Vision, Quotations, Regeneration

“So as with the other covenants, it is possible for someone to join the new covenant community externally without the new heart that defines that covenant. He may be baptized and profess Christian doctrine. But if he lives a life of sin, he shows that he does not have the new heart that is the mark of the new covenant. He has wrongly entered the covenant community and ought to be disciplined by the body. He has become a Christian externally, but without inward change.”

John Frame, Systematic Theology, p. 81.

I would add that we should read “wrongly entered the covenant community” as “entered the covenant community deficiently” not that he shouldn’t have entered the covenant community at all. Baptism welcomes us as legitimate members of the covenant community – but, in the case of an unconverted covenant member, his membership is belied by his lack of a new heart. But it wasn’t wrong to baptize him and admit him to the covenant community – for it is not our place to read the heart but to evaluate words and actions to the best of our ability.

Covetousness and the Heart of the Law

April 6, 2014 in Bible - OT - Exodus, Covenantal Living, Heart, Law and Gospel, Meditations, Mosaic Law, Regeneration, Ten Commandments
Exodus 20:17 (NKJV)
17 “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, nor his male servant, nor his female servant, nor his ox, nor his donkey, nor anything that is your neighbor’s.”
It is in this 10th commandment that the true force of the other nine commandments is revealed. Had we simply the other commandments, we might console ourselves, like the Pharisees before us, with a mere external observance of God’s laws. I’ve never murdered another; I’ve never committed adultery; I’ve never stolen from my neighbor; I’ve never borne false witness in a court of law. But when we come to the 10th commandment, all such externalism is obliterated. For here we reach the true heart of the law – commandments which do not merely regulate our external actions but which govern our internal attitudes and desires.
Here we find the inspiration for Jesus’ insistence that the 6thcommandment forbids not merely murder but the hatred and spite that give birth to it. Here we find the inspiration for Jesus’ insistence that the 7thcommandment forbids not merely the acting out of sexual deviancy but the lust that gives rise to it. Out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, idolatries, and every other thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God. The law reveals that our fundamental problem as human beings is not that we do the wrong things but that we want, we desire the wrong things. Our problem is a problem of the heart, a problem of allegiance. We do not want to acknowledge that God is the Lord. Evil actions are merely the fruit of that idolatry.
Because the law, particularly the 10th commandment, highlight our sin, many have concluded that the law is the problem. “Let’s get rid of the law then we won’t have these problems.” Paul declares the absurdity of this idea in Romans 7 –
What shall we say then? Is the law sin? Certainly not! On the contrary, I would not have known sin except through the law. For I would not have known covetousness unless the law had said, “You shall not covet.” But sin, taking opportunity by the commandment, produced in me all manner of evil desire. For apart from the law sin was dead. I was alive once without the law, but when the commandment came, sin revived and I died. And the commandment, which was to bring life, I found to bring death. For sin, taking occasion by the commandment, deceived me, and by it killed me. Therefore the law is holy, and the commandment holy and just and good.
The problem is not in the law, the problem is in our hearts. The problem is that we have rebelled against our Creator and need him to forgive us for our sin and to enable us to love what is good and right. And praise be to God that He has sent His Son Jesus Christ to solve this problem. Through the death of Jesus Christ on the cross, God forgives all those who confess their sins trusting in Jesus as their sacrifice. Through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, the Spirit of God empowers all those who trust in Christ to begin loving righteousness and practicing the same.

So reminded that the law of God is holy and just and good and that, in ourselves, we do not desire to practice it in our lives, let us confess our sins to the Lord, seeking His forgiveness through His Son Jesus. Let us kneel as we confess together.

Not all Israel is Israel

March 10, 2014 in Church History, Ecclesiology, Eschatology, Regeneration

Following up the reading of Doug Wilson’s Against the Church, the following excerpt from the Second Helvetic Confession emphasizes the mixed nature of the visible church and the need for personal faith.

NOT ALL WHO ARE IN THE CHURCH ARE OF THE CHURCH. Again, not all that are reckoned in the number of the Church are saints, and living and true members of the Church. For there are many hypocrites, who outwardly hear the Word of God, and publicly receive the sacraments, and seem to pray to God through Christ alone, to confess Christ to be their only righteousness, and to worship God, and to exercise the duties of charity, and for a time to endure with patience in misfortune. And yet they are inwardly destitute of true illumination of the Spirit, of faith and sincerity of heart, and of perseverance to the end. But eventually the character of these men, for the most part, will be disclosed. For the apostle John says: “They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would indeed have continued with us” (I John 2:19). And although while they simulate piety they are not of the Church, yet they are considered to be in the Church, just as traitors in a state are numbered among its citizens before they are discovered; and as the tares or darnel and chaff are found among the wheat, and as swellings and tumors are found in a sound body, And therefore the Church of God is rightly compared to a net which catches fish of all kinds, and to a field, in which both wheat and tares are found (Matt. 13:24 ff., 47 ff.).

The Ship in the Ocean or the Ocean in the Ship?

February 28, 2014 in Book Reviews, Church History, Ecclesiology, Regeneration, Sanctification

“God effects and expects a moral distinction between His people and the world. And when the world starts to flood into the church (in the form of unconverted professors of faith), this line starts to blur. The church is in the world the way a ship is in the ocean, and that is the way it should be. But bad things start happening when the ocean gets into the ship.”

Douglas Wilson, Against the Church, p. 96

Against the Church

February 27, 2014 in Baptism, Book Reviews, Federal Vision, John Calvin, Reformation, Regeneration, Sacraments

I just finished reading Against the Church by my friend Doug Wilson. I found Doug’s book extremely helpful and think that all those concerned about the Federal Vision controversy will profit from it. Doug emphasizes repeatedly here the absolute necessity of individual regeneration, rebirth, effectual calling for those inside, outside, and beside the covenant. You must be born again. You must move from death to life, from slaves of sin to slaves of righteousness, from tares to wheat, from darkness to light not only objectively but personally. All these things Doug has said repeatedly before but some have insisted that he must not really be saying that because why would sacraments and liturgy still be important? Thom Notaro did us a great service years ago clarifying in his book Van Til and the Use of Evidence that Van Til’s critiques of the wrong use of evidence didn’t mean that Van Til was completely opposed to the use of evidences in the right way. Hopefully Doug’s book Against the Church will serve a similar function to dispel the myth that an emphasis on the objectivity of the covenant, an emphasis on the significance of baptism and the Supper, does not entail a repudiation of the necessity for personal rebirth, faith, and righteousness. Rather the two go are to go together. Pick it up here.