Speaking at the Ligonier Partner Dinner 2014

Last night I had the privilege of giving a brief testimony of how God has used Dr. R.C. Sproul and Ligonier Ministries in my life. Below is the video from the dinner – I hope you enjoy, and are edified by the content.  It was an extremely encouraging evening.  Katie and I went together and are in the midst of attending the Ligonier National Conference here in Orlando as I type this. For more information about Ligonier you can visit them here. I can’t say enough about this fantastic ministry.  They really do a lot to train people and bridge that gap between sunday school and seminary.

Upcoming Discipleship Groups

In the month of February I, along with Parris Payden and Derek Stone and several other men from Dublin Baptist Church will be starting up new discipleship groups focused on key areas of spiritual growth.  We wanted to post the information here on those groups, along with specific times and contact info should anyone want to be involved.

Details

Group 1: Derek Stone & Parris Payden
Begins February 18th 
6:00pm-8:00pm @Dublin Baptist Church, Room 135, every sunday evening weekly
Contact Parris: parrispayden@gmail.com or Derek: dstonedo@yahoo.com
 
Group 2: PJ Wenzel & Bo Dobbs
Begins February 9th 
6:30pm-8:30pm @Rod Kinsey’s Home (Dublin) every sunday evening weekly
Contact PJ: pjwenzel@gmail.com or Bo: bodobbs1@gmail.com
 
Group 3: Ben Frank & John Short
Begins February 11th 
8pm-10pm @Ben Frank’s home (Dublin) every Tuesday evening weekly
Contact John: john.short@hotmail.com or Ben: benfrank94@gmail.com

 

Areas of Study Include: 

  • Biblical Roles (parenting, marriage, leadership etc.)
  • Church History and Evangelism
  • The Doctrines of Grace and the Gospel
  • Everyday Living/Sanctification and Knowing God’s Character
  • First Things: How the Gospel/Cross Applies to Our Lives

Key Components of a Discipleship Group’s Activities

  1. Prayer – devote a significant period of time during the group’s meeting to corporate prayer, and continue to pray for each other throughout the week (Phil. 4:46; James 5:16, etc.)
  2. Accountability/Encouragement – lovingly encourage one another in our walk with Christ. As requests, praises and life is shared group members we must strive to lift each other up, be honest with each other, and exhort one another toward Christ-like behavior (Heb. 3:13, 10:24; James 5:16a; 1 Thess. 5:11, etc.).
  3. Scripture Memorization/Meditation – corporate recitation and encouragement of scripture memorization (Ps. 119:11; Rom. 12:1-2, etc.)
  4. Regular serving and outreach – participation as a group in outreach, evangelistic, and service opportunities such as GROW, Bill Glass Prison Ministries, helping elderly or widows in the church, preparing/delivering meals for the homebound and other opportunities for service (John 13:35; Gal. 2:10; James 1:27, 2:14-26 etc.).
  5. Doctrinal/Theological Growth – We are called to leave the elementary principles (Heb. 6:1) and press on toward maturity in Christ in order that our lives might be more conformed to His image (2 Cor. 3:18).  In order to do this we must spend more time learning about who God is, and what His Word says.

We have already had a great amount of interest in these groups, so much so that they’re filling up quickly.  If you’d like to be involved please contact us immediately and we’ll get you plugged in.

I have personally found a great deal of encouragement and experienced a lot of growth spiritually because of the men and the time I’ve spent in discipleship groups over the past few years.  The goal of these groups is simple: make disciples.  We want to press on toward maturity in Christ.  Once a group has been together a few years, we will (by the grace of God) split off and disciple more men who haven’t had the ability to be a part of any training.

PJ Wenzel

Study Notes 11-25-12

8:37-38 I know that you are offspring of Abraham; yet you seek to kill me because my word finds no place in you. I speak of what I have seen with my Father, and you do what you have heard from your father.”

Who’s Your Daddy?

Now Jesus turns to address their confusion, and while He acknowledges that they are the physical offspring of Abraham, yet they are obviously missing the point, so He uses this as an opportunity to teach them something about Abraham, something about themselves, something about the Himself, and something about the Fatherhood of God.

First let’s address these Pharisees and their relation to Abraham. They may technically be descendants of Abraham by genealogy, but that is missing the point – and they are probably claiming much more.  As Calvin explains:

What they continually claim and vaunt of is, that they are Abraham’s children; by which they do not simply mean that they are the lineal descendants of Abraham, but that they are a holy race, the heritage of God, and the children of God. And yet they rely on nothing but the confidence of the flesh. But carnal descent, without faith, is nothing more than a false pretense.

Furthermore, Paul points out that coming from the seed of Abraham was not necessarily the only qualification for being a spiritual (chosen) child of God (Gen. 21:9-10; Rom. 9:7; Gal. 4:21-31).  Their sinfulness exhibits the very reason they cannot be rightfully called sons of Abraham.

Paul explains that there was a reason why Abraham received his promises prior to Israel even becoming a nation. These people are claiming that they are part of the genealogical nation of Israel – “we are Jews” they are saying.  But they do not understand that the promise of Abraham being a Father to many nations came prior to the existence of Israel.  Here is what Paul says in Galatians:

Know then that it is those of faith who are the sons of Abraham. [8] And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, “In you shall all the nations be blessed.” [9] So then, those who are of faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith. (Galatians 3:7-9)

Calvin further illumines our minds as to what is at stake here:

The state of the question therefore is this: Ought they to be accounted Abraham’s children who reject the blessing offered to them in the word, so that, notwithstanding of this, they shall be a holy nation, the heritage of God, and a royal priesthood? (Exodus 19:6; Joel 3:2.) Christ denies this, and justly; for they who are the children of the promise must be born again by the Spirit, and all who desire to obtain a place in the kingdom of God ought to be new creatures. Carnal descent from Abraham was not indeed useless, and of no value, provided that the truth were added to it. For election dwells in the seed of Abraham, but it is free, so that all whom God sanctifies by his Spirit are accounted heirs of life.

Second, they miss this first point not because they weren’t as smart as Paul, but because His word “finds no place in (them).” This tells us something about them as a people. They are unregenerate haters of God. This is simply the inverse of what He said in verse 31 when He said that His disciples would be ones who “abided” in His word. These people are not His disciples, therefore His word (the very word of God) found no place in them.

Here is what Paul says in 1 Corinthians:

For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. (1 Corinthians 1:18)

Thirdly, He makes yet another astounding claim to deity.  I explained earlier how He made a veiled claim at deity when He said in verse 14 “Even if I do bear witness about myself, my testimony is true, for I know where I came from and where I am going, but you do not know where I come from or where I am going.”

We had concluded that He was essentially saying that His word could be trusted because He was the Son of God. He had come from God, and was indeed God.

Here is more explicit and says that what He is stating is true because “I speak of what I have seen with my Father.”  This is sort of an escalation in His dialogue from the implicit to the explicit.  Now He is claiming outright to have seen God.

If their minds were able to move as quickly as Christ’s, the Pharisees would have seen that in this short saying Jesus was stating:

1. He has seen God with His own eyes – something no mere mortal can do.  Only the Son can be pros ton theon (with/facing God) and live.

2. He is saying that God the Father is “my Father” – He is claiming divine sonship.

This reminds me of what the angel said to Zachariah in Luke 1:

And Zechariah said to the angel, “How shall I know this? For I am an old man, and my wife is advanced in years.” And the angel answered him, “I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I was sent to speak to you and to bring you this good news. And behold, you will be silent and unable to speak until the day that these things take place, because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled in their time.” (Luke 1:18-20)

The main reason that the angel said he was to be believed was due to what he had seen and heard – where he had just come from, the throne of God. Jesus is saying the same thing here, He is saying that He is testifying to the truth of what He has seen and heard from the God of the Universe Himself, the great I AM.  He has come down from the throne room of the Lord of heaven and earth and is therefore to be believed.

The last thing Christ says, and we’ll get into this a little further down in the chapter, is that there’s a difference between His father and their father.

Clarke cites Lightfoot and helps prime the topic:

From what is here said, it is manifest, says Dr. Lightfoot, that the whole tendency of our Savior’s discourse is to show the Jews, that they are the seed of that serpent which was to bruise the heel of the Messiah: else what could that mean, John 8:44: Ye are of your father the devil, i.e. ye are the seed of the serpent.

8:39-41a They answered him, “Abraham is our father.” Jesus said to them, “If you were Abraham’s children, you would be doing the works Abraham did, [40] but now you seek to kill me, a man who has told you the truth that I heard from God. This is not what Abraham did. You are doing the works your father did.”

The trust of this passage is that the Pharisees are still completely baffled by what Jesus is getting at.  They don’t quite know where He is going with this line of argument, but they don’t like it one bit.  Jesus is also saying that while they might (rightfully even) claim to be descendents of Abraham, they are not behaving like children of Abraham.  Christ excoriates them for their behavior – particularly their murderous intent.

Therefore, Christ is saying, “you might be physical descendents of Abraham but you are not acting like God’s people. You are trying to murder yet another man who has been sent from God – a man who has heard the very words of God. Abraham never would have behaved in this way.”

This reminds me of what Christ said to them at another time when in the temple:

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you build the tombs of the prophets and decorate the monuments of the righteous, [30] saying, ‘If we had lived in the days of our fathers, we would not have taken part with them in shedding the blood of the prophets.’ [31] Thus you witness against yourselves that you are sons of those who murdered the prophets. [32] Fill up, then, the measure of your fathers. [33] You serpents, you brood of vipers, how are you to escape being sentenced to hell? [34] Therefore I send you prophets and wise men and scribes, some of whom you will kill and crucify, and some you will flog in your synagogues and persecute from town to town, [35] so that on you may come all the righteous blood shed on earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah the son of Barachiah, whom you murdered between the sanctuary and the altar. [36] Truly, I say to you, all these things will come upon this generation. (Matthew 23:29-36 ESV)

Adoption – A Wonderful Doctrine!

So contrary to the words of those who are under the control of the Devil, the sway of this world, and their flesh are the works of those who are God’s children.

There is a misconception in the world today among many practicing evangelical Christians, and also among many other religions leaders and followers of other religions.  The misconception is this: that we are all “children of the same God.”  You here this kind of language used a lot with the hopes of sounding ecumenical and peaceful and loving toward others.  But we cannot love others if we lie to others.

J.I. Packer clears the air on this in his classic book ‘Knowing God’, he says:

The idea that all are children of God is not found in the Bible anywhere. The Old Testament shows God as the Father, not of all, but of his own people, the seed of Abraham. “Israel is my first born son,…Let my son go” (Ex. 4:22-23). The New Testament has a world vision, but it too shows God as the Father, not of all, but of those who, knowing themselves to be sinners, put their trust in the Lord Jesus Christ as their divine sin-bearer and master, and so become Abraham’s spiritual seed. “You are all sons of God through faith in Jesus Christ…You are all one in Jesus Christ. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed” (Gal. 3:26-29).  Sonship to God is not, therefore, a universal status into which everyone enters by natural birth, but a supernatural gift which one receives through receiving Jesus. (‘Knowing God’ – Chapter 19)

Furthermore, in his first epistle, John gives us more reason to believe Packer’s words:

See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him. [2] Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. (1 John 3:1-2)

God’s love, as described by the apostle John, would not be anything distinguishing or amazing if it were given to all mankind. In fact John makes a distinction between those of the world, and those who are children of God.  That alone ought to dispel any lingering notion of the entirety of humanity being God’s children.

But far apart from what sonship is not, Packer reminds us of the awesome privilege of being called sons of God. What an amazing thing to meditate upon. It is certainly one of the Bible’s most wonderful truths!

8:41b They said to him, “We were not born of sexual immorality. We have one Father—even God.”

This is a nasty little hint that they are making – essentially some commentators say that they’re hinting that Jesus Himself was born of sexual immorality. I’m not sure if this is because of His unknown origins, or because of nasty rumors spread about Him.  Either way, they are now dipping down past a real debate on the issues and into a nasty exchange of slurs against Jesus.

And this is pretty typical, if you think about it, in a debate when one is losing the high ground.  In desperation the man slipping from his sure debate footing resorts to a personal attack instead of backing up his facts, or exposing his challenger’s premises as false etc. They have no more fact to resort to; they are completely empty of sound argument.

Lastly, we see that their hubris knows no bounds.  In their stupidity, they go so far as to assert that they are children of the Most High. Thus, they have set themselves up for the final lesson of the discourse on the nature of the Fatherhood of God.

8:42 Jesus said to them, “If God were your Father, you would love me, for I came from God and I am here. I came not of my own accord, but he sent me.

Jesus reiterates that He came from God, and that God sent Him, which He has stated before. But He also addresses their claim at a familial relationship with the Most High.

John says this later in his first epistle:

Whoever says he is in the light and hates his brother is still in darkness. [10] Whoever loves his brother abides in the light, and in him there is no cause for stumbling. [11] But whoever hates his brother is in the darkness and walks in the darkness, and does not know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded his eyes. (1 John 2:9-11)

These men were still in darkness and therefore they hated Jesus.  Can this be anymore plain? I think not.  Those who are not saved, not born again, hate instead of love.  They persecute instead of protect, they harbor darkness in their hearts instead of confessing their sins to God their Father. The contrast is clear and evident from their behavior – that is the essence of what Christ is saying to them here.

Application…this leads me to look inwardly and wonder at how often I have acted as one who is an unbeliever.  How often, with coolness in my demeanor, have I slandered my brother?  How often have I showed hatred instead of love? What about you? Do you find that you are not showing love to one another? There ought to be nothing but love for all who are believers.  If someone is wrong, if someone has sinned, approach them in love with a sincere heard because you love them. I think so often we grow up cold. We need to never cease to find ways to shower one another in love. Let us think actively on how we can show each other love. Here is what Paul said in Romans:

Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. [11] Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. [12] Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. [13] Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality. (Romans 12:10-13)

8:43 Why do you not understand what I say? It is because you cannot bear to hear my word.

This is a repetition of what he said earlier in verse 37 – namely that His word had found no place in them. Not only can they not understand what he is saying, they cannot even bear to hear what he is saying! It causes them revulsion inside.  For what fellowship has light with darkness (2 Cor. 6:14)?

8:44 You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies.

Now we come to it, Jesus makes it plane exactly who their father is, and you can bet that they aren’t going to like what He says.  Sometimes I think it’s easy to gloss over this.  We wince a little bit, and then move on. We think, “Wow Jesus, that’s pretty harsh! Did you really have to go that far? I mean you basically said it, you inferred it, but did you have to actually SAY it???”  You bet He did!  You see, when a great truth is being explained in the Bible, the way writers and teachers would make sure that the listener understood a topic’s importance would be to continually repeat the explanation or the key points over and over.

Teachers in Jesus’ day would repeat their key points because, chances are, their listeners weren’t taking notes – they were having to mentally memorize all that they said.  So here we have something that, while it seems harsh (and indeed it is), is an important truth coming from the embodiment of truth Himself.

So Jesus is saying that far from simply living in darkness and not loving His words, they also love to do the will of the one who is the dominant force for evil in this world, namely, the Devil. In John 3 we read a little about this:

And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. [20] For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. [21] But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God.” (John 3:19-21)

The next important thing Jesus lets us in on here is a little history about the person we know as Satan. We learn two important things about Satan:

  1. He is a liar – it is in his very nature to be a liar
  2. He is a murderer – and has been from the beginning

Let me address each characteristic.

Satan is a Liar

Lying is Satan’s chief tool.  We read about this all over the Bible, but since Christ pointed to “the beginning” here, let’s take a look at his first recorded (spoken) lie:

Now the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field that the LORD God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?” [2] And the woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, [3] but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.’” [4] But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. [5] For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” (Genesis 3:1-5)

And so we see here that ever since the beginning of time, Satan has been lying to human beings. Why? Because it is in his character to do so, and because he has an end-goal…which we’ll talk about next…

Satan is a Murderer – and Christ Conquered Him at the Cross

As we continue on in Genesis 3 we read the following:

The LORD God said to the serpent, “Because you have done this, cursed are you above all livestock and above all beasts of the field; on your belly you shall go, and dust you shall eat all the days of your life. I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.”(Genesis 3:14-15)

I have briefly talked about this passage in the past, this is what theologians call the protoevangelium because it is the “first Gospel” message in the Bible. In this passage we hear God cursing Satan, and we learn that Satan’s fate is sealed.  One day he will receive a permanent blow to the head. This will come from the Son of Man – the Christ, Jesus Himself – and indeed this blow came at the cross.

But we also learn from this passage that there is enmity between mankind and between Satan. This word enmity is a war-like word, it is a murderous word, it means “hatred” and is the signaling of war between Satan and the mankind – specifically between Satan and those who are God’s elect here on earth.

As we see above Satan is a liar, but the reason he is a liar is because his intention is to kill all of the offspring of Adam, especially God’s elect. He is a murderer, Christ says, and he has been since he first deceived Adam and Even.

So make no mistake about this: Satan is not interested in simply tripping you up so that you won’t be a kind, gentle person who is nice to their neighbors. No, while that is certainly on his agenda, his goal is your death – especially your spiritual death.

However, when Christ came and died on the cross He dealt a fatal blow to Satan. He conquered sin and He conquered death as well.  Satan, who had the power of death, no longer had that power. Spiritual death was no longer in the cards for everyone. In fact, low and behold, all who were the saints come before were also given the righteousness and life that Christ earned during His life and death here on earth!

This is important to understand. Christ fulfilled this promise on the cross. Satan’s power has been dramatically impugned. Listen to what Christ says:

Now is the judgment of this world; now will the ruler of this world be cast out. (John 12:31)

Elsewhere Christ explains in a parable that He has bound and curtailed Satan’s activity here on earth:

But if it is by the Spirit of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you. [29] Or how can someone enter a strong man’s house and plunder his goods, unless he first binds the strong man? Then indeed he may plunder his house. (Matthew 12:28-29 ESV)

John explains this further in his first epistle, and also echoes Christ’s words on Satan’s character:

Whoever makes a practice of sinning is of the devil, for the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil. (1 John 3:8)

In fact, in both Revelation 12 and Revelation 20 Satan is seen as cast down from his lofty perch, as Christ has come at His first advent.  Robert Strimple explains:

Revelation 12 describes a restraint placed on Satan at Christ’s first coming. Satan wanted to destroy the woman and her child, but could not. Accompanying these events was a heavenly battle in which Satan was cast down from heaven. Might Rev 20 be a recapitulation of his? In both places Satan is “cast down” by an angel or angels.

As a side note, some might wonder, “if Satan has been bound as Scripture says he is, then why are there so many trials and death and such still among the people of God, and in the world in general?”  Strimple explains in outline form:

Evidence that Revelation 20:1 is a Figurative Representation of Christ’s Victory Over Satan at the Cross

  1. At the cross Satan was bound – but not absolutely. Similarly, Rev. 20 says that Satan is bound, but adds: that he might deceive the nations no longer. The word, ethn(“nations”) was used by the Jews to designate the Gentiles. Hence, Rev 20 links Satan’s binding with the arrival of salvation for the Gentiles in the present age.
    1. Jesus did commission the mission to the gentiles (Acts 26:17-18)
    2. Our struggle with evil powers (Eph 6:11-12) is not inconsistent with their being bound: Jude 6, 2 Pet 2:4, Rev 9:14 all speak of the fallen angels being bound, awaiting punishment. But this does not mean that they are not active.

Therefore the blow has been dealt, and the end of Satan will come at the close of the age, when Christ consummates his kingdom and destroys Satan forever.

Christ’s Foreknowledge

Lastly, this may seem obvious, but listen to how Christ talks about “the beginning.”  He is talking as one with authority.  He is talking as if He has been their Himself! As so He was. I don’t know if this was lost on His listeners at the time, but its significant for what we’ll be reading next week, because Christ is leading up to an amazing statement in verses 56 and 58 that is about to blow their minds.

Side Note: One of the things that Jesus is doing here is layering His argument. He gives them a little something, and then a little more, and little by little as He peals back the layers on the onion you begin to realize that He is teaching several very profound truths here one on top of another, and each truth becoming clearer and clearer as He goes, all leading to the ultimate truth which we’ll read about next time in verse 58.

8:45 But because I tell the truth, you do not believe me. [46] Which one of you convicts me of sin? If I tell the truth, why do you not believe me? [47] Whoever is of God hears the words of God. The reason why you do not hear them is that you are not of God.”

In verse 47 we see a repetition of what Christ has said earlier, namely that because they are not from God they do not understand what He is saying. John later wrote in his epistle:

Who is the liar but he who denies that Jesus is the Christ? This is the antichrist, he who denies the Father and the Son. No one who denies the Son has the Father. Whoever confesses the Son has the Father also. (1 John 2:22-23 ESV)

But there is more ground here that we haven’t covered. Namely, that He is claiming absolute sinlessness, and He is giving them a reason for why they don’t believe them in a way that we ought to meditate upon.

Look at verse 45, but especially the word “because” – if this word were omitted, then we would simply have two factual statements:

  1. That He is telling the truth
  2. That they don’t believe Him

Only when we consider the word “because” are we let into the stinging reason they don’t believe Him, and this reason ties in everything we have talked about earlier with regard to their nature, their not being born again, and the nature of Satan himself.

He says that the reason they don’t believe Him, is “because” He tells the truth! It isn’t that He’s saying that they don’t’ believe Him because they don’t like what He says, or because its antithetical to their behavior or their background or learning. No He is more acute than that.  He is saying that simply on the basis of His telling the truth they weren’t going to believe Him.

Their minds would therefore only accept the antithesis of truth – thus explaining further why their father was the father of lies (Satan). They only accept that which is untruth and when they are encountered with the truth (the very truth incarnate in this case) they reject it outright because it is against all that they are, their mindset, their nature, their habit is against God’s truth, so far are they away from being children of God. They are, in fact, the very antithesis of what God wants for His children.

A Warning to Heed, and a Blessing to the Praise of God

These men could not hear the words of God because they were enemies of God, as you were once as well. If you have heard the words of God and have repented of your sins and become reconciled to God in Christ, you have also been adopted.  That is the message of this passage. The promise of Christ is that for all who hear His words and believe on Him will be saved – and will also be brought into a glorious new family.  Listen finally to the words of Packer:

This free gift of acquittal and peace, won for us at the cross of Calvary, is wonderful enough, in all conscience – but justification does not of itself imply any intimate for deep relationship with God the judge.  In idea, at any rate, you could have the reality of justification without any close fellowship with God result.

But contrast this, now, with adoption. Adoption is a family idea, conceived in terms of love, and viewing God as father. In adoption God takes us into his family and fellowship – he establishes us as his children and heirs. Closeness, affection and generosity are at the heart of the relationship. To be right with God the Judge is a great thing, but to be loved and cared for by God the father is a greater.

It’s coming up on Christmas time, and this always reminds me of the great gift that God gave the world in His Son. The doctrine of Adoption says that not only do we receive the gift of salvation, but also of brotherhood with Christ and the fatherhood of the Most High.  Lastly, we know that because of this Christ receives us as a love gift from the Father. The elect of God are His gift to His son.  We have been purchased and adopted by the Father. A gift planned for Jesus from the beginning of time! An amazing thought to meditate upon this Christmas season.

God’s Plan from Eternity Past

I was reading Steve Lawson’s ‘Foundations of Grace‘ this evening, and was struck by how clearly and magnificently he lays out the gospel and God’s sovereignty. I recommend buying the book, but here’s a sneak peak of what he says in the introduction:

“This resplendent, intrinsic glory of God, awesome and magnificent, is most fully displayed in the doctrines of grace. And in this order of truth, ascribed glory is most freely and fully given to God. Here all three members of the Godhead—God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit—work together as one Savior, indivisibly united in rescuing radically corrupt sinners. Before time began, the Bible teaches, God the Father chose a people for Him-self to be worshipers of His glory by becoming the objects of His grace. As an expression of His infinite love for His Son, the Father gave His elect to Christ as a love gift, a people who would praise Him forever and ever.

“The Father then commissioned His Son to come into this world in order to redeem these chosen ones through His sacrificial death. The Father, along with the Son, also sent the Spirit into this world to apply the saving work of the Son to this same group of elect sinners. This vast number of redeemed saints—those elected by God, purchased by Christ, and called by the Spirit—will never fall from grace. They all shall be transported safely to heaven and glorified forever. This is the God-honoring triumph of sovereign grace.”

Wow! What a great summary. I hope it is as uplifting to you as it was to me. God’s thoughts and plans are so far above us – His plans are for good and not for evil for those whom He loves and (reciprocal) love Him.

Soli Deo Gloria

PJW

The Narrow Gate and the Gospel

Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few. Matthew 7:13-14

A few weeks ago (maybe a few months ago even) during a discussion on the “narrow gate” in class, I mentioned how Dr. Paul Washer has preached an amazing sermon on this passage in Matthew that everyone ought to listen to. Washer is know in the evangelical community as a leading proponent of getting the (universal) church back to the back truths of the gospel.

To give you some context of where his head’s at, here is an excerpt from his new book ‘The Gospel’s Power and Message’:

One of the greatest crimes committed by this present Christian generation is its neglect of the gospel, and it is from this neglect that all our other maladies spring forth. The lost world is not so much gospel hardened as it is gospel ignorant because many of those who proclaim the gospel are also ignorant of its most basic truths. The essential themes that make up the very core of the gospel—the justice of God, the radical depravity of man, the blood atonement, the nature of true conversion, and the biblical basis of assurance—are absent from too many pulpits. Churches reduce the gospel message to a few creedal statements, teach that conversion is a mere human decision, and pronounce assurance of salvation over anyone who prays the sinner’s prayer.

I promised that I would post Washer’s hour-long sermon on the “narrow gate” here and have neglected to do so…until now.  It was Parris Payden who first introduced me to Paul Washer, and this was the first sermon I ever heard from him – it blew me away.

Buckle your seat-belts, and enjoy!

Abiding in Christ: Its meaning, importance, and paradox

As Kate and I were talking this evening about some of the major concepts that our class has tackled over the past few months, the topic of abiding came to the forefront of our discussion, and she suggested that I post a separate sort of stand-alone article simply on this principle for easy access down the road.  Enjoy!

 Abiding in Christ

There are several places in the Gospel of John where the word “abiding” is used to describe a believer’s right actions in/on his Christian journey. I’ve posted a little about this when we studied 6:55-56 and most recently 8:31-32, and during our most recently lesson I mentioned John 14:21 where our Lord says, “Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me. And he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him.”

There are 120 different times that this word is used throughout scripture. Perhaps the most familiar of all is found in John 15:1-11 where Christ delivers the last of his “I AM sayings” and tell us that it is our abiding in Him that gives us our live and vitality. Here’s what that passage says:

I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. [2] Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. [3] Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you. [4] Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. [5] I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. [6] If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. [7] If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. [8] By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples. [9] As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. [10] If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. [11] These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.

Defining our Terms

Before we go much further, let’s ask what exactly this word “abide” means. The word “abide” is “meno” in the Greek and can mean to sojourn or tarry in a place, to be kept continually, to continue to be present, to endure, and when talking about it in relation to a state a condition of a person it can mean to “remain as one” and “not become different.”

To abide in Christ and have Him abide in us is normally meant that we are continually relying on Christ for our vitality.  The ESV Study notes say, “abide in me means to continue in a daily, personal relationship with Jesus, characterized by trust, prayer, obedience, and joy.”

Sinclair Ferguson says, “Abiding in Christ means allowing His Word to fill our minds, direct our wills, and transform our affections.”

The Paradox of Abiding

The more one studies abiding, and the kind of abiding Christians are called to do, the more one realizes (I think) that there are two sorts of abiding that occur in our walk with Christ.

The first kind of abiding is a synergistic work. That is to say, it is something we work with God in accomplishing. Abiding requires us reading the Word of God, and daily submitting our lives to His authority. It requires us being in prayer, and asking for God to work through our lives, and work on us – to conform us to the image of Christ. It’s a constant seeking of God’s face (1 Chron. 16:11). This idea is articulated in the Latin phrase “coram Deo” which R.C. Sproul defines in the following way: “This phrase literally refers to something that takes place in the presence of, or before the face of, God. To live coram Deo is to live one’s entire life in the presence of God, under the authority of God, to the glory of God.”

The second part of abiding, is the part that is monergistic, that is to say that it is God’s work and not ours. This kind of abiding is the kind that the Holy Spirit does in our lives after we are born again. Our abiding is done out of a motivation and love for Christ’s abiding in us and saving us.  His abiding in us causes us to want to abide in Him – to spend time in His word, to spend time in prayer. So in a sense we are always abiding in Him because He is in us. But in another sort of lower sense, there is a call here for us to “abide” in Christ – and that means seeking Him and resting in Him.

Because we are both “seeking” and “resting” at the same time, I call this “the paradox of abiding.” A paradox is defined as two things that seem on the surface to be naturally opposed or in contradiction to one another, but only through a closer look do we find that they are not opposed to each other, but are simply different ways of expressing a larger truth or relationship – in this case, our relationship with Christ and His work of sanctification within us. We rest in Him because we are secure in the promises He offers and we are secure in our salvation, but we seek Him and seek to abide in Him because we love Him and want to know Him more.

Here is how Jerry Bridges articulates this concept of abiding:

In John 15:4-5, Jesus made it clear that the divine source of life and power comes through abiding in him. How does one abide?

Most often we think of activities such as studying our Bible and praying as abiding in Christ…But these activities do not constitute abiding in Christ; rather, they belong in a subject we called communion with Christ. What then does it mean to abide in Christ? It is reliance on Him for His life and His power. By faith we renounce any confidence in our own wisdom, willpower, and moral strength and rely completely on him to supply the spiritual wisdom and power we need. This does not mean we sit back and just “turn it all over Him” to live His life through us; rather, we rely on him to enable us. So we can say that our salvation is by faith and our transformation is also by faith. But this does not mean that the object of our faith is the same in both cases…in salvation, we are passive except to believe. In transformation, we are active as we seek to pursue holiness in relying on the Holy Spirit to apply the power of Christ to our hearts and enable us to do his will.

And so abiding is both resting in Christ, and seeking the face of God in our daily walk. It is completely relying on the Lord for our every need, and staying in constant and continual touch with Him. It is diving into His Word, and leaning on the promises we find therein. It is faithfully walking the narrow path of a Christian soldier as we march toward our eternal home.

Slavery to Sin and “Free-Will”

In today’s class I touched on the much disputed, but often incorrectly explained, notion of man’s so-called “free-will”.

What I wanted to show today, and what I will demonstrate in this post, is that “free-will” must be correctly defined and understood if we’re going to use the term in a Biblical and accurate manner. Further, the idea itself that “free-will” exists is a bit of a misnomer, and I will seek to give you some logical reasoning for that truth.  Lastly, “free-will” as it relates to our choice of Christ and salvation from bondage is a most abhorrent notion in the general way Christians today think of it. I will show you why its not only abhorrent, but also a logical absurdity.

Free-Will Popularly Defined

First we must understand what we’re talking about, and that means defining our terms.  “Free-will” is often understood to mean our mind/soul/will making choices in complete freedom and liberty, with no previous (“antecedent”) influence or outside influence or internal (spiritual) influence. For brevity sake, let it suffice to say that those who define freedom this way say that our will can be completely neutral or “indifferent” before we make our decisions. That the only thing that affects our decisions is our mind, or emotion, or understanding etc. (pre-supposing an entirely “free” act of the mind upon the will…as if one can be suspended apart from the other without any antecedent motive or influence).

I believe this is a poor definition of “free-will”, but it is what most people think of when they hear the term. They think of the power to make their own choice without reference to any outside/inside agency or coercion.

There’s No Such Thing as a Perfectly “Free” and Unbiased Will

In order for this popular definition of “free-will” to work in reality, our will must first achieve a perfect state of indifference or neutrality before making a decision – before choosing one thing or another. Without laboring the point too much, let me just say that this is a logical impossibility. It is impossible to not have any prior inclination or motive informing our mind/will either internally or externally. In other words, we do not live in a vacuum.

Jonathan Edwards explains, “to make out this scheme of liberty, the indifference must be perfect and absolute; there must be a perfect freedom from all antecedent preponderation of inclination. Because if the will be already inclined  before it exerts its own sovereign power on itself, then its inclination is not wholly owing to itself…For so long as prior inclination possesses the will, and is not removed, the former binds the latter, so that it is utterly impossible that the will should act otherwise than agreeable to it. Surely the will canot act or choose contrary to a remaining prevailing inclination of the will.

Now maybe it is obvious what I am getting at…the idea of a “free-will” (as popularly defined) is really non-existent because of the fact that we always lean on prior information and current desire to form our decision making.  We cannot properly claim for ourselves perfect indifference. In fact, because we are born into a bondage to sin all of our decision making is tainted by our sinful viewpoint and sinful desires. This is why re-birth is so crucial to true sanctification, and why “renewing our minds” has a much deeper meaning than most people perhaps realize.

Our Will is Never at Liberty Until Freed by Christ

Let us now briefly take a step back before looking at what Christ has done for us through regeneration, and remember the that prior to His work we were in a state of complete mental, emotional, and spiritual captivity. A.W. Pink helps us here:

The condition of the natural man is far, far worse than he imagines, and far worse than the average preacher and Sunday school teacher supposes. Man is a fallen creature, totally depraved, with no soundness in him from the sole of his foot even unto the head (Isa. 1:6). He is completely under the dominion of sin (John 8:34), a bond-slave to divers lusts (Titus 3:3), so that he “cannot cease from sin” (2 Pet. 2:14). Moreover, the natural man is thoroughly under the dominion of it. He is taken captive by the Devil at his will (2 Tim. 2:26). He walks according to the Prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience (Eph. 2:2). He fulfills the lusts of his father, the Devil (John 8:44). He is completely dominated by Satan’s power (Col. 1:13). And from this thraldom nothing but the truth of God can deliver.

We’ve also read in our study of John that mankind not only doesn’t desire the good things of God, but actually desires to stay in his sin and darkness (see John 3:19-21).

So when Jesus and Paul say that we are in bondage to sin, they’re saying that in man’s natural fallen state he will always choose sin above the things of God. Read that carefully – he will always “choose” sin above God and righteousness. It isn’t as though we didn’t have the “freedom” to choose. It is that in our “freedom” (or shall I say “bondage”) we chose sin – and we will always choose sin until the work of the Spirit because the things of God were things that we did not desire. The “antecedent” motive that Edwards speaks of, is tainted by sinful desires and information. Not until Christ, by the power of the Holy Spirit, changed out hearts and brought us into newness of life, did we desire to choose Christ or the things of God.

You can now perhaps begin to see how we can rightfully say that as human beings we are not puppets or robots, but that the way we popularly speak about “free-will” is off-kilter and inaccurate. Our freedom exists, but it is informed by our desires, and we choose the things we desire most. Therefore, prior to Christ, we were truly free only to sin.

Calvin explains, “For so long as we are governed by our sense and by our natural disposition, we are in bondage to sin; but when the Lord regenerates us by his Spirit, he likewise makes us free, so that, loosed from the snares of Satan, we willingly obey righteousness. But regeneration proceeds from faith, and hence it is evident that freedom proceeds from the gospel.”

Edwards further elaborates, “The will, therefore, so long as it is under the influence of an old preponderating inclination, is not at liberty for a new free act; or any, that shall now be an act of self-determination.”

In Conclusion – New Creations in Christ!

This has been a short post, and certainly there is more to be said on this topic, but I wanted to explain the logical absurdity of the idea that somehow, outside of the internal sovereign work of the Spirit and the reading of His Word, we freely choose/chose God and make righteous decisions. First God loved us, then we responded in love toward Him for the irresistible beauty of the offer of eternal life. The blinders were taken off, and we now freely choose what He freely offers.

In order to appreciate this great truth, we must first understand and appreciate what freedom is, what it is not, and just how much freedom we had prior to our being born again. The power of old things (antecedent inclinations and desires) has been broken. In the context of our discussion on the will, Edwards explains this reality, “Therefore, if there be the least degree of antecedent preponderation of the will, it must be perfectly abolished, before the will can be at liberty to determine itself the contrary way.” Thanks be to God that he has “abolished” our old ways (though we still battle the flesh – Rom. 7), and given us His Spirit!

Because we are now new creations in Christ (2 Cor. 5:17), and as I explained this morning, we now have freedom to choose not to sin. Our choices always rest upon our strongest inclinations/desires at the moment of choice. If you are not a Christian, that inclination will never be for the things of God (see Romans 1). If you are a Christian, and walking in the Spirit, you will bear the fruit of that Spirit (Jn. 8:31-32), and make choices that reflect the One who is changing those desires within you (2 Cor. 3:18).

Study Notes 11-18-12

We continue our study of John’s Gospel and will be looking at some of our Lord’s greatest words (if one can possibly peal off greatness from greatness) as it pertains to freedom, and our natural state of slavery to sin and darkness.

The Lord has freed us from the galleys of slavery and to sin and self-centeredness and brought us into the glorious light of the knowledge of His gospel.  God be praised!  Let’s start into the lesson…

John 8:31-36 – Freedom from Sin

8:31-32 So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed him, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, [32] and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

First I want to go back and examine how verse 30 and verse 31 interact with each other, because many good commentators have pointed out that both verses in many of our English versions use the word “believe” to describe the people’s reaction here.

Some say there is some difference between the meanings used, Boice, for instance says that the first is meant to be saving faith and the latter to mean intellectual ascent.  But they both utilize the same Greek word “pisteuō”, so I’m not entirely convinced of that.  What I am convinced of is that those who were listening to Jesus may have believed what He was saying mentally, but obviously they didn’t stand the discipleship test, which we’ll see later on.

Abiding in the Word

The second thing we note here is the nature of a true Christian.  The true Christian “abides” in the word of Christ.

In our study of John 6:55-56 we talked about the nature of abiding.  Those verses say, “For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him.” Here is what I noted about what it meant to “abide”:

The word “abide” is “meno” in the Greek and can mean to sojourn or tarry in a place, to be kept continually, to continue to be present, to endure, and when talking about it in relation to a state a condition of a person it can mean to “remain as one” and “not become different.”

To abide in Christ and have Him abide in us is normally meant that we are continually relying on Christ for our vitality.  I like what the ESV Study notes say, “abide in me means to continue in a daily, personal relationship with Jesus, characterized by trust, prayer, obedience, and joy.”

What Christ is saying, in affect, is that a true Christian will have the desire to spend time listening, reading, and meditating on His word.  A true Christian will be obeying His word as well.  These are fruits of a true Christ-follower.  Truly it is a privilege to know something of the eternal God, and that we should know this truth in even a small way is in itself part of our reward as well as our fruit of the relationship we gain by acquaintance with Jesus.  Calvin enumerates upon this privilege as only Calvin can:

Wherefore, whatever progress any of us have made in the Gospel, let him know that he needs new additions. This is the reward which Christ bestows on their perseverance, that he admits them to greater familiarity with him; though in this way he does nothing more than add another gift to the former, so that no man ought to think that he is entitled to any reward. For it is he who impresses his word on our hearts by his Spirit, and it is he who daily chases away from our minds the clouds of ignorance which obscure the brightness of the Gospel. In order that the truth may be fully revealed to us, we ought sincerely and earnestly to endeavor to attain it. It is the same unvarying truth which Christ teaches his followers from the beginning to the end, but on those who were at first enlightened by him, as it were with small sparks, he at length pours a full light. Thus believers, until they have been fully confirmed, are in some measure ignorant of what they know; and yet it is not so small or obscure a knowledge of faith as not to be efficacious for salvation.

Freedom from Sin

The third thing we take from the passage is the result of abiding is learning the truth, and by learning that truth we will experience a great reality: freedom.  What kind of freedom could He mean?  I believe that Christ is talking about freedom from sin, freedom from guilt, freedom from the slavery to the prince of this world – what Calvin calls “an invaluable blessing.”  It is these points Jesus goes on to labor in his debate with the Pharisees.

What does true freedom looks like? Freedom looks like someone who has the fruit of the Spirit.  And, not coincidently, those who have the fruit of the Spirit are also abiding in the Word of God – written by that same Spirit.

Perhaps there is no better expositing of this truth than Paul’s writing in Romans 6.  The entire chapter is about being free from sin, and being a slave to righteousness.  The dichotomy between the two is labored by Paul because so many people think that they are basically good people who happen to sin a little here and there.

Amazing to think that what was so important for Paul to intensively labor in Romans 6, is actually more pertinent today than ever before.

Perhaps the most pertinent part of Romans 6 as it applies to this particular verse, is the section between verses 6 and 11:

[6] We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. [7] For one who has died has been set free from sin. [8] Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. [9] We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. [10] For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. [11] So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.

The main thrust of this part of the passage is that we were formally slaves to sin, but because of Christ’s work we have been set free from sin.  It is the gospel that has delivered us from our sin. That is the freedom Christ is talking about here in verse 32.  He’s saying that because He was going to conquer death, death would no longer have dominion over us. Sin’s end is death, and so sin and its result (death) would no longer have power over anyone who believes upon Christ. Calvin agrees, saying that the kind of liberty that’s being described here is “that which sets us free from the tyranny of Satan, sin, and death.”

Barnes says, “The service of God is freedom from degrading vices and carnal propensities; from the slavery of passion and inordinate desires. It is a cheerful and delightful surrender of ourselves to Him whose yoke is easy and whose burden is light.”

When we think about the practical way this has revolutionized our lives, its unthinkable to go back to living any other way. Calvin says, “All men feel and acknowledge that slavery is a very wretched state; and since the gospel delivers us from it, it follows that we derive from the gospel the treasure of a blessed life.”  To this comment I can only add “amen!”

Born Free?

I’m always amazed at how many Christians insist on stating that they “freely” chose Christ because they were born with “free will.”  But as R.C. Sproul reminds us, we need to be cautious when we talk about free will so that we know exactly what it is we’re saying.

Certainly God gives us the freedom of choice to make decisions.  We aren’t robots, and we aren’t puppets.  But there are some things that even in our natural freedom we are not free to do.  One of those things is not sinning.  When we are born into this world, we are not free not to sin.  In other words, we are going to sin because it is who we are, and we are enslaved to it.  We will continue in this sin until Christ sets us free from it.

Calvin comments, “It is astonishing that men are not convinced by their own experience, so that, laying aside their pride, they may learn to be humble. And it is a very frequent occurrence in the present day, that, the greater the load of vices by which a man is weighed down, the more fiercely does he utter unmeaning words in extolling free-will.”

This is what irked the Pharisees.  They were saying, “Hey Jesus, we’re not slaves to anyone!  We make our own decisions.  We live our own lives.  No one rules over us, or our families!” But they were wrong in saying this, and people today are wrong in thinking that mankind is free to do whatever they’d like – we aren’t free to be holy and perfect because we’re incapable of it in our natural state.

When you think about how this plays out, it’s really worth contemplating and meditating on deeply because it shows the state of our old self and where we were headed apart from Christ.  For when we were slaves to sin, not only were we tethered to that form of life that is most odious to Christ, but we are tethered to the result of that life, namely death. When Christ unchains us from our slavery to sin, He also unchains us from the pangs of death – death could not rule over him (Acts 2), and we also have victory over death due to His death and resurrection (Rom. 6).

A.W. Pink laments at how fallen we are in our natural state, and yet how unwilling we are to realize this fact:

The condition of the natural man is far, far worse than he imagines, and far worse than the average preacher and Sunday school teacher supposes. Man is a fallen creature, totally depraved, with no soundness in him from the sole of his foot even unto the head (Isa. 1:6). He is completely under the dominion of sin (John 8:34), a bond-slave to divers lusts (Titus 3:3), so that he “cannot cease from sin” (2 Pet. 2:14). Moreover, the natural man is thoroughly under the dominion of it. He is taken captive by the Devil at his will (2 Tim. 2:26). He walks according to the Prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience (Eph. 2:2). He fulfills the lusts of his father, the Devil (John 8:44). He is completely dominated by Satan’s power (Col. 1:13). And from this thraldom nothing but the truth of God can deliver.

When I first read Pink’s comments it struck me to the bone. His first sentence was aimed at me – the teacher. Am I really honest with how ugly I was before Christ? That is a question that not many men or women truly meditate on for much more than a passing thought – perhaps before taking the Lord’s Super. But what Pink is calling us to realize is our state of depravity and darkness without Jesus.

Calvin says this, “For so long as we are governed by our sense and by our natural disposition, we are in bondage to sin; but when the Lord regenerates us by his Spirit, he likewise makes us free, so that, loosed from the snares of Satan, we willingly obey righteousness. But regeneration proceeds from faith, and hence it is evident that freedom proceeds from the gospel.”

Barnes adds, “There is need of the gospel. That only can make men free, calm, collected, meek, and lovers of truth; and as every man is by nature the servant of sin, he should without delay seek an interest in that gospel which can alone make him free.”

In the midst of our celebration of this freedom, we pause and wonder, “now wait a minute, how is it that I still continue to sin?”  Well, as Paul works this matter of slavery out in Romans 6, we are glad he continued to write because when we get to Romans 7 we learn that he faced that same dilemma – namely that he still continued to battle sin.  Despite the freedom not to sin that Christ has given us, Paul says that we still sin due to the nature of the flesh. But I don’t want to get too deep into that here.  The main point we need to see is the dichotomy between one who is a slave to sin, and one who is not, and that we have been made free men and women by the power and work of Christ.

8:33 They answered him, “We are offspring of Abraham and have never been enslaved to anyone. How is it that you say, ‘You will become free’?”

Ironically, the very shackles that bound these Pharisees in their sin were the same chains causing them to claim they weren’t enslaved to anyone.  In their blindness they claimed they weren’t blind.  In their darkness they claimed to be enlightened.  These were truly men who were missing the point.

Oddly enough (and Calvin picks up on this point as well) it isn’t as though these people have never been enslaved physically to anyway…in point of fact, they were currently under a type of mild slavery/tyranny by the Romans at this very time in history – something I will address shortly. Warren Wiersbe collects these thoughts together succinctly:

Their claim that Abraham’s descendants had never been in bondage was certainly a false one that was refuted by the very record in the Old Testament Scriptures. The Jews had been enslaved by seven mighty nations, as recorded in the book of Judges. The ten northern tribes had been carried away captive by Assyria, and the two southern tribes had gone into seventy years of captivity in Babylon. And at that very hour, the Jews were under the iron heel of Rome! How difficult it is for proud religious people to admit their failings and their needs!

Pink cites all of the above that Wiersbe mentions, and then says, “It was therefore the height of absurdity and a manifest departure from the truth for them to affirm that the seed of Abraham had never been in bondage. Yet no more untenable and erroneous was this than the assertions of present-day errorists who prate so loudly of the freedom of the natural man, and who so hotly deny that his will is enslaved by sin.”

8:34-36 Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin. [35] The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son remains forever. [36] So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.

Jesus uses the emphatic phrase “truly, truly” to get our attention.  He is saying to us “pay attention to this.”

Bondage to our Self-Centeredness

D.A. Carson explores the intent of what Christ is saying, “For Jesus, then, the ultimate bondage is not enslavement to a political or economic system, but vicious slavery to moral failure, to rebellion against the God who had made us. The despotic master is not Caesar, but shameful self-centeredness, an evil and enslaving devotion to created things at the expense of worship of the Creator.”

In other words, we are so self-centered and self-serving that our own sin and moral failures are the chief problems that need to be dealt with in life.

I think this is so important because the context in which Jesus is saying this is under the oppression of the Roman regime. The Jewish people had found their freedoms limited, and their liberties cut off. We also are going through a time in America where our own liberties are in question. We see the despotic nature of our government, which is becoming ever more tyrannical and hostile to Christian beliefs and values, and we wonder (rightly) if our freedoms will all be gone within a generation.

The generation of men and women Christ was addressing were far worse off than we are today, yet, like them, we often find ourselves distracted from solving life’s most important challenges, and that is what Christ came to solve.  The real problem is with ourselves, not our government. There’s only so much you can do about government – believe me, I’ve been fighting that battle for a while now.  Jesus isn’t saying that freedom from political tyranny isn’t important, what He is saying is that there’s something even more important.  When the Son of God came to the earth, He came to address life’s biggest problems, life’s biggest challenges. He came to free us from our bondage to sin.

That’s why we gather on Sunday mornings, that’s why we “abide” in the word of God, that’s why we pray and devote ourselves to growth in Christ. Because what we are doing today and on these other days, is addressing the real problems in life – life’s most consequential and difficult challenges.

The Power of the Son

The second thing that Jesus says in this passage is that as the Son of God He has unique privileges and power. He has the ability to set them free, because He has full reign over the house of God.  Calvin comments, “By these words he means that the right of freedom belongs to himself alone, and that all others, being born slaves, cannot be delivered by his grace.  For what he possesses as his own by nature he imparts to us by adoption, when we are engrafted by faith into his body, and become his members.”

“…the Gospel is the instrument by which we obtain our freedom” – Calvin

One of the main reasons I like to bring up the issue of the way we view “free will” is because in our “freedom” we come to rely too heavily on our flesh for the support of our souls. Here is what I mean by that: when we are going through the turmoil that this life brings us, it is natural (because of the flesh) to wonder at the purpose of life, and even whether our souls are truly saved. We wonder at God and ask Him in our difficulties whether He’s really there or not.  We wonder at Him and ask if we are truly saved or not.

Well one of the great things we hear Jesus saying in this passage is that “if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” In other words, He is the one with the power over sin and death, and not your “free will” or your “fleshly power.”  To steal a recent campaign theme, “you didn’t build this” – no indeed: Christ built this!

Carson says this, “Jesus not only enjoys inalienable rights as the unique Son of God, but exercises full authority, vested in him by the Father (3:35), to liberate slaves. Those who Jesus liberates from the tyranny of sin are really (ontos) free.”

Those who build their house upon this Rock will be able to stand firm in the storm because they know they weren’t the craftsmen, they weren’t the guarantee of the foundation’s sturdiness.  Christ Himself is the cornerstone and the Master Builder, and when life’s trials come, you can say with confidence “I will survive this, and either by life or death I will be with Christ, for He is my firm foundation, and in His work I can trust.”

Carson makes the great point that once free, we have been set free for a purpose:

True freedom is not the liberty to do anything we please, but the liberty to do what we ought; and it is genuine liberty because doing what we ought now pleases us.

What an amazing truth he’s hit on here. Christ knows that those who are set free are going to want to please Christ – before we simply wanted to please ourselves, now we have a desire and are at liberty to please the Lover of our Souls.

Dear friends: step away from the reliance on your own work, and rest upon the great and mighty work of Jesus Christ – the Son who has set you free!

 

Election 2012 Aftermath

Most of you know how deeply I am involved in politics.  It’s my livelihood, and I’ve made a career out of helping candidates get elected and then helping them communicate with their constituents. As a Christian working in politics, I’ve always had a lot of thinking to do on the issues that face our country, and how exactly I ought to prioritize my efforts on these issues.

I’m more convinced than ever that the number one issue facing our nation is spiritual and moral bankruptcy. The only solution for this is the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  As Al Mohler points out this morning:

Evangelical Christians must see the 2012 election as a catastrophe for crucial moral concerns. The election of President Obama returns a radically pro-abortion President to the White House, soon after he had endorsed same-sex marriage. President Obama is likely to have the opportunity to appoint one or more justices to the U.S. Supreme Court, and they are almost sure to agree with his constitutional philosophy.

I’m in a reflective mood this morning and I’m recalling how many people have said to me “you’re really involved in an important line of work!” After all, I know important people, and I help shape the campaigns and outreach efforts of some of the most powerful people in our nation. But as I consider all that I’m involved with day-to-day, I have come to believe that my work in politics is secondary to the most important work one can be involved in, and that’s the spread of the Gospel. That is the reality – and the sooner that we conform our lives to that reality, the sooner we’ll be able to make a difference in this fallen world.

“Conforming” to this reality means conforming our minds and how we spend our time and energy to the image of Christ. Can you honestly say that you are more concerned with those dying without the Gospel than you are about whether Republicans or Democrats won or lost last night? Does your speech reflect this? Does your attitude reflect this?

If I didn’t have these truths as the anchor of my life and soul, then I would be devastated, because I’d look around and see a country on the decline, a nation which glorifies the immoral, a people who love sin with a passion that exalts man over God. And indeed I am sad, and distressed for our nation – and I intend on continuing to fight for what is right and good and moral so long as I draw breath. But my hope is not grounded in the outcome of an election. I know that these things will soon pass away. Our nation will pass into history eventually, but the things that are eternal will remain: the Word of the Lord, His Kingdom, and our faith upheld by the power of His grace, and of course, the glorious purposes of God for the consummation of all things in His Son Jesus Christ.

I’d commend anyone interested in reading more about this election and its consequences to Al Mohler’s latest blog entry.  You can read that here.

“The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God will stand forever.” (Is. 40:8)

Enslaved to Merit or Enslaved to Christ?

This past Sunday, I briefly mentioned near the end of the lesson that we ought not to think about earning any merit or grace with God.  I stressed that we need to get out of this cycle of thinking that as Christians we need to strive to “be good” as a way to earn something in heaven. For all of our reward has been purchased by Christ, and given by grace. Now, I realize, and as humans we sometimes have difficulty balancing the role of grace and merit, and understanding the purpose of Christian works here on earth.

Though we are prone to either excessive legalism, or sinful liberty, what I want to stress is that the principles of living holy lives, and understanding God’s grace in our lives are not mutually exclusive.  We need to be seeking holiness while also seeking to please God and love others through our actions. In order to do this, we must understand why we are to love others, and where our “merit” in heaven ultimately comes from.  Our motivation for loving others and doing good works is gratitude and enjoyment of God.  Likewise, any merit we have before God, ultimately, has already been won by Christ.

Let me explore these two co-existing principles further with some perspective from those who are wiser than myself.

First, we are called to holiness. JC Ryle said this about seeking holiness as it relates to our relationship to reward and closeness with Chrirst:

Above all, grieve not the Spirit. Quench not the Spirit. Vex not the Spirit. . . . Little jarrings between husbands and wives make unhappy homes; and petty inconsistencies, known and allowed, will bring in strangeness between you and the Spirit. . . . The man who walks with God in Christ most closely, will generally be kept in the greatest peace. The believer who follows the Lord most fully and aims at the highest degree of holiness will ordinarily enjoy the most assured hope, and have the clearest persuasion of his own salvation

And commenting on this passage from Ryle, John Piper says:

Can you really “drive [God] to a distance, by tampering with small bad habits”? Do “petty inconsistencies bring strangeness between you and the Spirit”? Is the greatest peace really enjoyed by those who “walk with God most closely”? Is the greatest assurance known by those who “aim at the highest degree of holiness”?  Yes. This is clearly taught in Scripture. “Draw near to God and he will draw near to you” (James 4:8).

This means that there is a precious experience of peace and assurance and harmony and intimacy that is not unconditional. It depends on our not grieving the Spirit. It depends on our putting away bad habits. It depends on forsaking the petty inconsistencies of our Christian lives. It depends on our walking closely with God and aiming at the highest degree of holiness. If this is true, I fear that the unguarded reassurances today that God’s love is unconditional may stop people from doing the very things the Bible says they need to do in order to have the peace that they so desperately crave. In trying to give peace through “unconditionality” we may be cutting people off from the very remedy the Bible prescribes. Let us declare untiringly the good news that our justification is based on the worth of Christ’s obedience and sacrifice, not ours (Romans 5:19, “as through the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, even so through the obedience of the One the many will be made righteous”).

But let us also declare the biblical truth that the enjoyment of that justification in its effect on our joy and confidence and power to grow in likeness to Jesus is conditioned on our actively forsaking sins and forsaking bad habits and mortifying lusts and pursuing intimacy with Christ, and not grieving the Spirit.

To give an even fuller perspective on the merit of Christ in all of this, Jerry Bridges labors how it is by God’s grace that we are what we are.  In his book ‘Transforming Grace’, Bridges has some great remarks on the matter.  Here are a few of them:

  • We believe God’s blessings are at least partially earned by our obedience and our spiritual disciplines. We know we are saved by grace, but we think we must live by our spiritual “sweat.”
  • If you are trusting to any degree in your own morality or religious attainments, or if you believe God will somehow recognize any of your good works as merit toward your salvation, you need to seriously consider if you are truly a Christian.
  • The generosity and the magnanimity of God are so great that he accepts nothing from us without rewarding it beyond all computation…. The vast disproportion existing between our work and God’s reward of it already displays his boundless grace, to say nothing of the gift of salvation which made before we have even begun to do any work.’
  • That is what Peter experienced. His failures and his sins abounded. There is no question about that. But however much his sin increased, God’s grace increased all the more. It superabounded. God blessed Peter, not in spite of his sins, but without regard to his sins. That’s the way His grace operates. It looks not to our sins or even to our good deeds but only to the merit of Christ.

In conclusion, let us strive toward holiness and intimacy with Christ, drawing near the throne of grace with confidence, while also realizing that we deserve not this grace, nor do our feeble works merit further blessing. The blessings we received were already purchased for us by Jesus Christ. His merit has earned our blessings, and even in our state of continual sin He is anxious to restore us, to bless us, and to conform us to His image – by His own power, not ours.  What a relief this is! How comforting! Let me close with the words of Paul in Romans 6:

What then? Are we to sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means! [16] Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness? [17] But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed, [18] and, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness. (Romans 6:15-18 ESV)

Soli Deo Gloria