Monday, April 23, 2007

Question about doing good

Can a sinner do anything good by God's standard? How would you go about showing what the Bible speaks of on this matter?

When a non-Christian helps an old lady across the street, that is sin, because it is not done for the glory of God, and therefore is stealing what is rightfully God's.

"We are all like one who is unclean, all our so-called righteous acts are like a menstrual rag in your sight. We all wither like a leaf; our sins carry us away like the wind." (Isaiah 64:6)

"Everyone rejects God; they are all morally corrupt. None of them does what is right, not even one!" (Psalm 14:3)

Those who are not saved have no faith in God therefore sin in everything they do: "But the man who doubts is condemned if he eats, because he does not do so from faith, and whatever is not from faith is sin." (Romans 14:23)

"No one is good but God" - Jesus to the rich young ruler (Luke 18:18-19).

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Friday, April 20, 2007

Taking Up Your Cross in the American Suburbs - Terms - Part One

What does it look like to take up your cross in the American Suburbs?

First of all, I think asking ourselves some questions (devised from William MacDonald's "Terms of Discipleship" chapter in his book True Discipleship) will help us discern what a disciple of Christ should look like. These are simple, but sometimes it is good to think on the simple.

Do I love Christ more than anything else?

"If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and his own life also, he cannot be My disciple " (Lk. 14:26).

Have I submitted my life to the Lordship of Christ?

"If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross... " (Mt. 16:24).

Have I chosen to align myself with the shame, persecution, and abuse of my Lord?

"If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross... " (Mt. 16:24).

Have I spent my life in following Christ?

"If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me" (Mt. 16:24).

Do I love my brothers and sisters in Christ?

"By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another" (Jn. 13:35).

Is my life characterized by consistent, unquestioning obedience to the Word of God ?

"If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed" (Jn. 8:31).

So what does it look like? I think in many ways it can look very differently. One might be really rich, drive a nice car, and another extremely poor, and not even own a car. But, all, when it comes down to it, come under these terms of discipleship that Jesus laid out.

I think these terms are vague in some ways - let's work to smooth them out. If it interests you, take one or two and go for it. Or, add another term, you think is necessary.

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Epistemological Context

En re the godtube discussion, I think you guys are talking past each other. Even though that dude is not part of our group, I thought it might be helpful for me to boil down my perspective on this discussion, seeing as it's related to a topic that comes up occasionally on our blog. I'm going to talk mostly about the discussion Nathan's having, because it's more interesting. Here's what I read.

Russ says: Godtube claims to be Christian but is not. Though it may fall in line with conventional ideas of Christian culture, it does not accomplish the true nature of Christianity. But I'm not going to bother to define what the true nature of Christianity is, or how Godtube misses it.

My take: Flamebait. This guy is ranting about how embarrassed he was by this site. He doesn't bother to make any sort of cogent argument, just a general "get out of the closet and engage with the culture" kind of statement. He doesn't intend to prove anything, possibly because he is not himself accustomed to arguing with people that he disagrees with, and is merely stating his opinions as facts.

Nathan says: You say that you can't know what is truly Christian, but I think you can; here's 35 points and a 5000-word quote from an 18th century theologian. With no paragraph breaks. Obviously, you are a crazy postmodern relativist.

My take: You missed his point, I think. His primary statement was that Godtube would probably produce mostly hypocritical religious content; and that if it was to produce true Christian content, it would be more appropriate to disseminate that content into the world, rather than "hide your light under a bushel." His questioning of a person's ability to evaluate the Christian nature of content is a throwaway, more a vote of "No Confidence" in Godtube than an epistemological stance.

Russ says: You claim you can know what is Christian. But it's not that simple, because the Bible doesn't mention Godtube.

My take: He may be saying, "the noumena of Christian truths are not humanly knowable, therefore to apply them to a new context you must take the stance of a person who is merely making educated guesses." Not that he'd say it that way. I don't think he really has put enough thought into it to get to that point, though.

Nathan says: Because humans are fallible, the Bible is the only source of truth. Therefore you are a Buddhist.

My take: If humans are fallible, their interpretation of the Bible is also fallible. The truth is, though, that humans are not 100% fallible. Maybe, like 30%. So a human source of truth might be more fallible due to our limited knowledge: something like 60%. A human interpretation of something absolutely true, though, could be less fallible, depending on the relative fallibility of the particular subject: possibly as low as 15%! So, the Bible is the source of absolute truth. Humans on their own are prone to great fallibility. Humans working in concert with the Bible are still fallible, but the fallibility quotient has been significantly decreased.

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More on GodTube

In response to this:


I did not mean to suggest that we should not be attempting to discern what is true and what isn’t true. But rather, that this is the task in front of us. And whatever we claim, is exactly that: our claim. When we label things as christian, what we are really saying is that “I think this is inline with my understanding of what it means to follow christ.” I guess the problem is that we all have very different understandings of what that means… which makes using the adjective in a global sense very difficult, and dangerous. But that is just “my claim”.

You said…

"I believe we can know. And I believe the Bible teaches that we can know what is right and what is wrong."

The bible does not mention GodTube, “christian” books, “christian” music, etc. So your ideas of what the Bible’s perspective is on these this are no more valid than mine. The difference is that you are claiming your perspective to be God’s. I am claiming my perspective to be my perspective of God’s perspective. I never said that God approves of my perspective… but it seems you have somehow interpreted it that way.

Note: I removed the text from the Jonathan Edwards quote you referenced. It was quite long. If it is in fact public domain please consider extracting the relevant pieces and referencing where the source can be obtained.




You said, "I guess the problem is that we all have very different understandings of what that means… which makes using the adjective in a global sense very difficult, and dangerous. But that is just “my claim”."

I'm not sure if you read the quote I put by Jonathan Edwards (you are right, it was long, sorry but I felt the whole was needed, and just so you know it is public domain, he wrote it about 200 years ago), if you did, that's fine, if you didn't, that might be why you still have a problem with adjectives or labels. Language is our tool, if we cannot use it, or if we do not allow people to us it, how will we communicate?

You said, "The bible does not mention GodTube, “christian” books, “christian” music, etc. So your ideas of what the Bible’s perspective is on these this are no more valid than mine."

You are right, the Bible doesn't mention these things. So I guess we'll never know will we... If you truly believe what you have just said, you would not have written what you wrote. You are saying that everyone's opinion is worthless (or of equal value making them worthless in the end), because the truth of the matter cannot be found out. If the truth cannot be known, there is absolutely no reason to try and search it out because in the end, you have nothing.

I do not agree with your statement about everyone's opinion being of equal merit - if their opinion is human based, I would agree with you, it is worthless. That really is the problem isn't it, because as humans, our wisdom is as good or as bad as everyone else's, because it is opinion, and men lie as well and are limited in their knowledge. But I want to move us from man's opinions to God's.

You said, "I am claiming my perspective to be my perspective of God’s perspective. I never said that God approves of my perspective… but it seems you have somehow interpreted it that way."

So I ask you, if men can only give a perspective of God's perspective, how can men know if someone is really true or not? I am capable of lying, of misunderstanding, therefore what I say must come from God's Word; truth must originate outside of man, because men cannot be trusted. Truth must come from God if it is to be real.

If no one can know what is true, what is the value in attempting? Buddhists have a perspective on God's perspective. What makes Christianity better, or more true then their opinion? If what you claim is correct, being a Buddhist is just as good as being a Christian and the end result of it all is unknown.

Again, I ask that you interact with the Bible and Jesus' words about truth and the value of the words or thoughts of men. Our ideas have no value and cannot be trusted. But, God has revealed himself to us, and can be known.

"Then Jesus said to those Judeans who had believed him, “If you continue to follow my teaching, you are really my disciples and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”" (John 8:31-32)

"We are from God; the person who knows God listens to us, but whoever is not from God does not listen to us. By this we know the Spirit of truth and the spirit of deceit." (1 John 4:6)

If we claim things on our own authority, we are arrogant. If we claim things on the basis of God's revealed word, that is humility and truth.

"The person who speaks on his own authority desires to receive honor for himself; the one who desires the honor of the one who sent him is a man of integrity, and there is no unrighteousness in him." (John 7:18)

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Thursday, April 19, 2007

Is Godtube stupid?

This is my response to a post here:

I would be interested to hear what you guys think about that guy's post.


"Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things." (Philippians 4:8)

"Make every effort to present yourself before God as a proven worker who does not need to be ashamed, teaching the message of truth accurately." (2 Timothy 2:15)

"Do not be conformed to this present world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may test and approve what is the will of God – what is good and well-pleasing and perfect." (Romans 12:2)

What God approves is clearly seen in Scripture. Anyone who says we cannot know, cannot know that we cannot know. By telling us it is wrong to call something Christian because we cannot know what God approves, you are going against your own advice. You act as though God would not approve of GodTube - but who are you?

I believe we can know. And I believe the Bible teaches that we can know what is right and what is wrong.

"But solid food is for the mature, whose perceptions are trained by practice to discern both good and evil." (Hebrews 5:14)

If you cannot discern both good and evil, the Bible says you are not mature. I cannot discern perfectly, but by God's grace I am growing.

You don't use Scripture in your argument. As a Christian, that is a fatal flaw. Who cares what you think? Should people follow you, or God? Why have you so boldly spoken on your own authority? Shouldn't we only believe teaching that comes from God? How can I know what you are saying is true? Men lie, God does not - therefore, in order for something to be trustworthy, it must be from God. Jesus plainly stated this in John 7:

"So Jesus replied, “My teaching is not from me, but from the one who sent me. If anyone wants to do God’s will, he will know about my teaching, whether it is from God or whether I speak from my own authority. The person who speaks on his own authority desires to receive honor for himself; the one who desires the honor of the one who sent him is a man of integrity, and there is no unrighteousness in him." (John 7:16-18)

If what we say is based on our own authority, it cannot be trusted and should be ignored. But, if what we say is based on the authority of God, we should listen and obey. Christ did not speak on his own authority, should we?

On another level, if a person wants to read a book written by a Christian author - how would they find that book if the world adhered to your system? Do you think we should have to wade through everything ourselves and find what is good without being able to label things?

On the question of labels, I think Jonathan Edwards made a good point in calling certain groups of Christians by names. Not exactly the same as what you are suggesting, but I think the same principle applies:

"Many find much fault with calling professing Christians, that differ one from another in some matters of opinion, by distinct names ; especially calling them by the names of particular men, who have distinguished themselves as maintainers and promoters of those opinions: as calling some professing Christians Arminians, from Arminius; others Arians, from Arius; others Socinians, from Socinus, and the like. They think it unjust in itself; as it seems to suppose and suggest, that the persons marked out by these names, received those doctrines which they entertain, out of regard to, and reliance on , those men after whom they are named; as though they made them their rule; in the same manner, as the followers of Christ are called Christians, after his name, whom they regard and depend upon, as their great Head and Rule. Whereas, this is an unjust and groundless imputation on those that go under the forementioned denominations. Thus, say they, there is not the least ground to suppose, that the chief divines, who embrace the scheme of doctrine which is, by many, called Arminianism believe it the more, because Arminius. believed it: and that there is no reason to think any other, than that they sincerely and impartially study the Holy Scriptures, and inquire after the mind of Christ, with as much judgment and sincerity, as any of those that call them by these names; that they seek after truth, and are not careful whether they think exactly as Arminius did; yea, that, in some things, they actually differ from him. This practice is also esteemed actually injurious on this account, that it is supposed naturally to lead the multitude to imagine the difference between persons thus named, and others, to be greater than it is; so great, as if they were another species of beings. And they object against it as arising from an uncharitable, narrow ,contracted spirit; which, they say, commonly inclines persons to confine all that is good to themselves, and their own party, and to make a wide distinction between themselves and others, and stigmatize those that differ from them with odious names. They say, moreover, that the keeping up such a distinction of names, has a direct tendency to uphold distance and disaffection, and keep alive mutual hatred among Christians, who ought all to be united in friendship and charity, though they cannot, in all things, think alike.
I confess, these things are very plausible; and I will not deny, that there are some unhappy consequences of this distinction of names, and that men’s infirmities and evil dispositions often make an ill improvement of it. But yet, I humbly conceive, these objections are carried far beyond reason. The generality of mankind are disposed enough, and a great deal too much, to uncharitableness, and to be censorious and bitter towards those that differ from them in religious opinions: which evil temper of mind will take occasion to exert itself from many things in themselves innocent, useful, and necessary. But yet there is no necessity to suppose, that our thus distinguishing persons of different opinions by different names, arises mainly from an uncharitable spirit. It may arise from the disposition there is in mankind (whom God has distinguished with an ability and inclination for speech) to improve the benefit of language, in the proper use and design of names, given to things of which they have often occasion to speak, which is to enable them to express their ideas with ease and expedition, without being encumbered with an obscure and difficult circumlocution. And our thus distinguishing persons of different opinions in religious matters may not imply any more, than that there is a difference ; a difference of which we find we have often occasion to take notice: and it is always a defect in language, in such cases, to be obliged to make use of a description, instead of a name. Thus we have often occasion to speak of those who are the descendants of the ancient inhabitants of France, in distinction from the descendants of the inhabitants of Spain ; and find the great convenience of those distinguishing words, French and Spaniard ; by which the signification of our minds is quick and easy, and our speech is delivered from the burden of a continual reiteration of diffuse descriptions, with which it must otherwise be embarrassed.
That there is occasion to speak often concerning the difference of those, who in their general scheme of divinity agree with these two noted men, Calvin and Arminius, is what the practice of the latter confesses; who are often, in their discourses and writings, taking notice of the supposed absurd and pernicious opinions of the former sort. And therefore the making use of different names in this case cannot reasonably be objected against, as a thing which must come from so bad a cause as they assign. It is easy to be accounted for, without supposing it to arise from any other source, than the exigence of the case, whereby mankind express those things, which they have frequent occasion to mention, by certain distinguishing names. It is an effect, similar to what we see in cases innumerable, where the cause is not at all blameworthy.
Nevertheless, at first, I had thoughts of carefully avoiding the use of the appellation, Arminian, in this Treatise. But I soon found I should be put to great difficulty by it; and that my discourse would be too much encumbered with circumlocution, instead of a name, which would better express the thing intended. And therefore I must ask the excuse of such as are apt to be offended with things of this nature, that I have so freely used the term Arminian in the following Discourse. I profess it to be without any design to stigmatize persons of any sort with a name of reproach, or at all to make them appear more odious. If, when I had occasion to speak of those divines who are commonly called by this name, I had, instead of styling them Arminians, called them ” these men “ as Dr. Whitby does Calvinistic divines, it probably would not have been taken any better, or thought to show a better temper, or more good manners. I have done as I would be done by, in this matter. However the term Calvinistic is, in these days, among most, a term of greater reproach than the term Arminian ; yet I should not take it at all amiss, to be called a Calvinist, for distinction’s sake: though I utterly disclaim a dependence on calvin., or believing the doctrines which I hold, because he believed and taught them; and cannot justly be charged with believing in every thing just as he taught.
But, lest I should really be an occasion of injury to some persons, I would here give notice, that though I generally speak of that doctrine, concerning free-will and moral agency, which I oppose as an Arminian doctrine; yet I would not be understood as asserting, that every divine or author, whom I have occasion to mention as maintaining that doctrine, was properly an Arminian, or one of that sort which is commonly called by that name. Some of them went far beyond the Arminians ; and I would by no means charge Arminians in general with all the corrupt doctrine which these maintained. Thus, for instance, it would be very injurious, if I should rank Arminian divines, in general, with such authors as Mr. Chubb. I doubt not, many of them have some of his doctrines in abhorrence; though he agrees, for the most part, with Arminians, in his notion of the Freedom of the Will. And, on the other hand, though I suppose this notion to be a leading article in the Arminian scheme, that which, if pursued in its consequences, will truly infer, or naturally lead to all the rest; yet I do not charge all that have held this doctrine, with being Arminians. For whatever may be the consequences of the doctrine really, yet some that hold this doctrine, may not own nor see these consequences; and it would be unjust, in many instances, to charge every author with believing and maintaining all the real consequences of his avowed doctrines. And I desire it may be particularly noted, that though I have occasion, in the following Discourse, often to mention the author of the book, entitled An Essay on the Freedom of the Will, in God and the Creature, as holding that notion of Freedom of Will, which I oppose; yet I do not mean to call him an Arminian : however, in that doctrine he agrees with Arminians, and departs from the current and general opinion of Calvinists. If the author of that Essay be the same as it is commonly ascribed to, he doubtless was not one that ought to bear that name. But however good a divine he was in many respects, yet that particular Arminian doctrine which he maintained, is never the better for being held by such an one: nor is there less need of opposing it on that account, but rather more; as it will be likely to have the more pernicious influence, for being taught by a divine of his name and character; supposing the doctrine to be wrong, and in itself to be of an ill tendency.
I have nothing further to say by way of preface; but only to bespeak the reader’s candour, and calm attention to what I have written. The subject is of such importance, as to demand attention, and the most thorough consideration. Of all kinds of knowledge that we can ever obtain, the knowledge of God, and the knowledge of ourselves, are the most important. As religion is the great business for which we are created, and on which our happiness depends; and as religion consists in an intercourse between ourselves and our Maker; and so has its foundation in God’s nature and ours, and in the relation that God and we stand in to each other; therefore a true knowledge of both must be needful, in order to true religion. But the knowledge of ourselves consists chiefly in right apprehensions concerning those two chief faculties of our nature, the understanding and will. Both are very important: yet the science of the latter must be confessed to be of greatest moment; inasmuch as all virtue and religion have their seat more immediately in the will, consisting more especially in right acts and habits of this faculty. And the grand question about the Freedom of the Will, is the main point that belongs to the science of the Will. Therefore, I say, the importance of the subject greatly demands the attention of Christians, and especially of divines. But as to my manner of handling the subject, I would be far from presuming to say, that it is such as demands the attention of the reader to what I have written. I am ready to own, that in this matter I depend on the reader’s courtesy. But only thus for I may have some colour for putting in a claim ; that if the reader be disposed to pass his censure on what I have written, I may be fully and patiently heard, and well attended to, before I am condemned. However, this is what I would humbly ask of my readers; together with the prayers of all sincere lovers of truth, that I may have much of that Spirit which Christ promised his disciples, which guides into all truth; and that the blessed and powerful influences of this Spirit would make truth victorious in the world."

Edwards, J. The Works of Jonathan Edwards - Volume 1 (3).

The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you.

Because He lives,
Nathan Wells
1 Cor. 15:19

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Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Book Review: The Baptism with the Holy Spirit and the Value of Speaking in Tongues Today by Oral Roberts

Oral Roberts was born in 1918 and is an American leader in the Charismatic movement. He is a televangelist and also started a university that bears his name in Tulsa, Oklahoma. His book The Baptism with the Holy Spirit is basically a defense and explanation of being baptized by the Holy Spirit with an emphasis on the outflowing gift of tongues.

Roberts' theological positions reflect the fact that he is a leader in the Charismatic movement as he tries to prove from the Bible that being baptized with the Holy Spirit takes place after salvation and is accompanied by the gift of speaking in tongues. Using Acts 1:8 he argues that the baptism of the Spirit took place, for the disciples, on the day of Pentecost and should be a normative experience for all believers. Looking into the Greek word dunamis, translated in English as “power”, Roberts claims the word means “dynamite” and proves that “This power of the Holy Ghost is more explosive than the power experienced in salvation” (pp. 6, 9). Because of his understanding of the baptism of the Holy Spirit being post salvation, being years in his own experience (p. 8), Roberts believes that only after a person has been filled with the Spirit through baptism with the spirit are they able to “walk in the Spirit” (Gal. 5:16; p. 45). As tongues was the natural evidence of baptism with the Holy Spirit, according to Roberts belief, he claims that the experience of speaking in tongues, “is one of the most revolutionary experiences that can happen to a believer” (p. 15) and is key for “experiencing a new aliveness in Christ” and for having a far more effective witness for Christ (p. 21). Roberts believes instructing believers who are unaware of how the baptism of the Holy Spirit and speaking in tongues works is very beneficial and attempts to do so in his book, instructing believers who have never spoken in tongues with words such as these: “As the welling up comes again to you, open your mouth and submit your tongue to God” (p. 35).

Academically Roberts does a better job in the beginning of the book than at the end. He really seems to be trying to get his ideas from the Word and draw conclusions based on what is in the text. Although his reference to the Greek word dunamis and his claim that it means “dynamite” (pp. 6, 9) cuts negatively into his credibility, being that dynamite didn't exist at the time the New Testament was being written. Roberts' effort to come to his beliefs biblically is commendable, but he seems to contradict this effort at times. Speaking of the process by which he evaluated a certain idea he says, “I immediately began to examine it; first by God's Word, next by the experiences of myself and others” (p. 29). But he seems to ignore this process later when he goes on to build a major argument for how the receive the Holy Spirit by a claiming that Peter's sermon in Acts 2 was “probably an abbreviated form of Peter's sermon” (p. 33), and then goes on to add in details that he feels Peter would have spoken. Beyond this, in a section devoted to explaining what the “gift” that the Paul refers to in 2 Timothy 1:6 was, he has a series of “if” statements and then acts as though he proved his point (pp. 46-47). Logically, his argument does not prove to be very strong.

Personally I was impressed with some of Roberts' statements regarding the priority of the Bible and preaching (p. 20), but overall found most of his arguments hard to buy, being that they were mostly based on experience, not the Word of God. One of the most sobering piece of information Roberts gave this: “Every morning when I waken, the Holy Spirit and I begin the day by praying in tongues” (p. 43). He seems to almost to place himself on the same level of causal power as the Holy Spirit and made me think of the words of Moses, “shall we bring forth water for you out of this rock?” (Num. 20:10). Roberts seems to be genuine in his desire to know God and in his understanding of his need for a Savior, but it seems that he has let his experience cloud his mind and cause him to interpret the Scripture to fit his own fancies. People can be sincere, and sincerely wrong (a common phrase of Dr. Rosscup one of my professors at TMS).

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Attitudal and Transactional forgiveness?

Is there such a thing as attitudal forgiveness and transactional forgiveness?

Possible Attitudal Forgiveness:
"“Whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone, so that your Father who is in heaven will also forgive you your transgressions." (Mark 11:25)

Possible Transactional Forgiveness:
"“Be on your guard! If your brother sins, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him." (Luke 17:3)

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Responses on the Spirit

It looks like the main issues in question are:

1. The Spirit in the Old Testament
2. The role of the "sign gifts"
3. The nature of "baptism of the Spirit"

1. The Spirit in the OT

The entire Old Covenant economy was different from the New as it relates to the Spirit in the lives of God's people. Joel 2 (which Peter quotes at Pentecost) is seen as foreseeing a fundamentally New Covenant reality: "And in the last days it shall be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh..." (Joel 2:28; Acts 2:17). Under the Old Covenant the people had the law written upon tablets of stone, but in the New it is written on hearts of flesh. I agree with Ben's point: in 2 Corinthians 3, Paul's whole point is that the New Covenant is superior to the Old, more glorious and un-veiled -- and the fundamental difference between them is the presence of the Spirit in the New Covenant!

Similarly, John 7:37-39 says: "In the last day of the feast, the great day, Jesus stood up and cried out, 'If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, "Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water."' Now this he said about the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were to receive, for as yet the Spirit had not been given, because Jesus was not yet glorified." The point here being that the giving of the Spirit (Pentecost) is directly related to the glorification of Jesus (post-Ascension).

2. The role of the "sign gifts"

I don't see Paul cutting a neat dichotomy between the "sign gifts" and the other gifts of the Spirit. In 1 Corinthians 12:7-10, I see the "sign gifts" -- healing, miracles, tongues, etc -- lumped together with other less "exciting" gifts -- utterances of wisdom and knowledge, faith, discernment. Similarly, in verses 27-31 Paul says: "Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it. And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, helping, administrating, and various kinds of tongues. Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? Do all possess gifts of healing? Do all speak with tongues? Do all interpret? But earnestly desire the higher gifts. And I will show you a still more excellent way." Again, Paul lumps all kinds of gifts together, both "sign gifts" and mundane gifts, like helping and administrating.

Also, in 1 Cor 14:4 Paul says, "The one who speaks in a tongue builds up himself." Therefore, I think that the role of this gift can also be for private edification. Paul says further in that chapter (1 Cor 14:18-19): "I thank God that I speak in tongues more than all of you. Nevertheless, in church I would rather speak five words with my mind in order to instruct others, than ten thousand words in a tongue." Paul here directly contrasts speaking in tongues with what he does "in church." It seems that Paul here envisions tongues as a private gift, for his own personal edification. Surely, tongues were a public action of the Spirit in order to authenticate the Gospel (see Acts 2), but they were also, it seems clear from Paul's argument here, a private gift for personal edification.

3. The nature of "Spirit baptism"

Overall, I would say that the post-Pentecost baptisms of the Spirit took place at a very specific place in redemptive history, for a very specific purpose. Each occurs in the context of the Jerusalem-Judea-Samaria-ends of the earth framework of the whole book of Acts. I take these to be special, one-time events in which the Spirit is progressively given to all types of people -- Jews, Samaritans, Gentiles -- thereby in fulfillment of OT prophecy.

Also, Paul seems to clearly state in Eph 4:5 that there is "one baptism." The same applies to 1 Corinthians 12:13: "For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body- Jews or Greeks, slaves or free- and all were made to drink of one Spirit." If there was a separate experientially related baptism of the Spirit, surely Paul would've mentioned it in this context. But instead he seems to relate the one-time baptism of all believers without exception, to the receiving and "drinking" of the one Spirit of God.

That's all for now.

As a side note:
I confess a certain amount of pride in my heart/desire to "win" as I write this. That's not the attitude I want to have, and not the attitude God desires for me. I want to sharpen and be sharpened. I also don't want to posture as falsely humble. I'm not. Forgive me for that.

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Some Thoughts on the Spirit

I've been thinking about my own personal experience with the Spirit recently. It has been a long, gradual process. For a long time I've wanted to understand what the Charismatics were going on about, because I've felt my own experience of the Spirit could and should be deeper. For the sake of time and energy, I'm only going to post some of my conclusions for now:

1. The Spirit's main role in believer's lives is to glorify and reveal Christ, and to make us like Christ.
2. Our experience of Christ on earth is mediated by the Spirit, both through the Word and personal experience.
3. The gift of the Holy Spirit is one of the main benefits of salvation on earth, and the primary means of assurance of being a son of God/being in Christ.
4. The Spirit is one of the major differences in the New Covenant, and our experience of the Spirit should be qualitatively and quantitatively different and deeper than the Old Covenant saints.
5. There is NOT a second, separate "baptism of the Holy Spirit" apart from conversion.
6. There ARE post-conversion "fillings" of the Spirit, and deep, powerful post-conversion experiences of the Spirit (with the manifestation of the miraculous gifts like tongues, healing, and prophecy).
7. We are to ask for and seek such experiences seen in #5 above. It is not sinful or a lack of faith to seek communion with the Spirit and Christ through the Spirit.
8. God distributes his Spirit to whom he wills, when he wills. We can't demand the Spirit because of our faith/asking. We can, however, expect the Spirit through faithful prayer.

These are some preliminary conclusions. Thoughts?

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Friday, April 13, 2007

A Summery of The Religious Affections

Jonathan Edwards set out to find in his book The Religious Affections what the distinguishing qualities between those who have truly gracious affections and those who have false affections (p. 15). The differences between the two are of highest importance to all people, being that their eternal destiny is held within the answer (p. 15). The quest that Edwards set out on in this book is divided into three major sections, the first concerns the nature of affections and their importance in religion, the second concerns signs that are not sure proofs that an affection is truly gracious, and the third and final section concerns those signs that distinguish truly gracious affections from those that are false.

To begin, Edwards writes that true religion does in fact lay much in the affections (p. 23), being in its nature “the more vigorous and sensible exercises of the inclination and will of the soul” (p. 24). He proves his point based on 1 Peter 1:8 and the two operations of true religion that are mentioned there: love and joy (pp. 21-23)—both of which, it may be observed, are affections (p. 24). He then goes on to prove this point through various other biblical passages such as Romans 12:2 and Deuteronomy 10:12 where God commands us to be “fervent in spirit” and to “love him, and to serve the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul” (p. 27). Edward claims that if the Bible is correctly understood it will affect the heart of the person who understands it, for an unaffected heart is a stony heart and has no place in true religion (see Ezekiel 11:19, p. 46). The “reason why men are not affected by such infinitely great, important, glorious, and wonderful undoubtedly because they are blind; if they were not so, it would be impossible...that their hearts should be otherwise than...greatly moved by such things” (p. 50).

Moving past the foundational arguments regarding the necessity of affections in religion, Edwards moves on to look at those signs which do not distinguish true affections from those that are false (p. 54). For although affections are necessary for a person to be truly saved, just because someone has has affections to a greater or lesser degree or because their affections are many does not mean that they are saved, because those very affections can be counterfeited (pp. 54, 75). “It may be observed that the more excellent anything is, the more will be the counterfeits of it. Thus there are many more counterfeits of silver and gold than of iron and copper...but who goes around counterfeiting common stones?” (p. 73). Religious affections being very excellent therefore have numerous counterfeits. But while it is true that true affections can be counterfeited, Edwards continues to elaborate on the differences between the true and false affections in that false affections, even if equally strong, will be more apt to declare themselves than true affections because the nature of false affections leads them to desire to be observed and praised by others as it was with the Pharisees (p. 64). Therefore Edwards states that even though someone has religious affections in fervor and speaks much about those affections, it is no sure sign that those affections are true, and though for a time those unholy affections would go unsuspected, they are as those described by the Apostle Jude in verse 4 and 12 of his gospel, clouds without water and carried about by the winds (p. 64). All types of affections can be counterfeited, and it is no sure sign that affections are gracious that someone has many affections. Though they have a love to God, a love to other Christians, and a godly sorrow for sin it is no sure proof that they are saved. For, Edwards argues, the Galatians were willing to go so far as to pluck out their eyes and give them to the Apostle Paul, yet the apostle feared that all their affections would come to nothing and that he had labored with them in vain (p. 75). Even Pharaoh, Saul and Ahab had some measure of sorrow for their sins and expressed that sorrow quite convincingly, but it was no sign of their salvation but was a counterfeit affection (p. 75). People can express their unworthiness as Saul did when he was chosen to be king over Israel, and for some time be fearful of hell and judgment and then through some delusion, vision or Scripture verse feel that God has pardoned them and then continue throughout life with a great peace in their heart, but to Edwards these cannot be sure signs of true religious affections, for the unsaved are able to produce them. In fact, the unsaved produce these counterfeit affections to such perfection that by outward observation it is impossible to tell the difference from the real, except one wait for the fruit of those affections. For, “As from true divine love flow all Christian affections, so from a counterfeit love...flow other false affections (p. 78).

Continuing his discussion of those signs which do not prove affection to be true or false, Edwards cites some examples to prove that just because a person feels that affections were raised up within them apart from their own doing or their own strength it is no sure sign that they are saved (p. 65). For it is not outside the power of Satan to suggest such things as joy and comforts as he does suggest terror and doubt, these being suggested to the mind without any effort on the part of the mind that is affected (p. 69). In fact, Edwards reminds his readers that the power for a person to have voluntary impressions is not even outside human ability, for as people dream involuntarily, so people can be the recipients of involuntary impressions while they are awake (p. 69). Even the Holy Spirit Himself can give those who are not truly saved a heavenly taste of the heavenly gift, a taste of the good of the Word – these things are within the bounds of common grace and give no proof that a person is truly saved (p.69). When people have Scripture brought to their mind, again this being seemingly apart from their own doing, it does not prove that they are saved for, “What evidence is there that the devil cannot bring texts of Scripture to the mind, and misapply them to deceive persons?” (p. 71). Even that people receive great joy from Scripture is not a sure sign of true salvation, for as in the parable that Jesus told of the seeds and the sower, “the stony ground hearers had great joy from the word...and their affections had in their appearance a very great and exact resemblance with those represented by the growth on the good ground...yet there was no saving religion in these affections” (p. 73).

Other signs that Edwards cites as useless in determining the authenticity of religious affections are that there be many kinds of affections or some certain order of convictions, joys and comforts in a person (pp. 75-91) or even that someone zealously spends much of their time in things regarding religion (p. 91) and who praise God with many words in public or that someone is confident that they are in a good estate (p. 95). In closing the section written about those signs which cannot prove or disprove the authenticity of affections Edwards states that there really is no fool-proof way for a person to know if another is truly godly or not, because “they can neither feel nor see in the heart of another” (p. 110). All these signs mentioned in this section of the book, can be counterfeited, and therefore the author calls all those who believe they can know for certain whether or not someone else is saved arrogant and shows that as the Apostle Paul said, that we should, “judge nothing before the time, until the Lord come” (p. 118).

After closing his arguments in regard to those signs which do not distinguish true affections from false Edwards directs his attention to those signs which do distinguish false affections from truly gracious affections the first being that truly gracious affections arise in the heart from spiritual influences. This is shown to be true in that Scripture calls people spiritual because they have the virtues of the Spirit of God being that they are indwelled by the Spirit (p. 127). The opposite to being spiritual is a person who is carnal, or natural in nature and so Edwards states that there is a sure distinction, for “the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God” (p. 126). The author relates the spiritual to a new sense that is wholly different than anything that natural man can imagine, and that this is why Scripture often calls the work of the Spirit of God in regeneration as “giving a new sense, giving eyes to see and ears to hear” (p. 133) and such. The spiritual are enlightened so as to understand divine things, things that natural men have no understanding of (p. 195). So great is this enlightenment that Edward states, “when a person has this sense and knowledge given him, he will view nothing as he did before: though before he knew all things” (pp. 200-201). An understanding of Scripture that beholds the wondrous and glorious truths therein is given those indwelled by the Spirit, and they have a spiritual sense as to the truth verses the false, as one who sees beauty needs not but glance to recognize it (p. 207). True saints are convinced of the reality of divine things for though they have not seen Christ, they love and believe – the great doctrines of the Gospel are undoubted and undisputed and therefore they are unafraid to place their whole lives upon their truth (p. 217). But this conviction is not without reason, as some other religions are – it is not a blind conviction but is one that is founded on real evidence (p. 221). Not only do they argue the truth of this reality based on reason but they see it and see the divine glory of the gospel. The union that is created through this indwelling by the Spirit Edwards states is seen and felt plainly by the saint and is “so strong and lively that he cannot doubt it” (p. 164) in that the bond of this union is love, and a love that cries Abba, Father (p. 164).

In addition to true religious affections being arise from spiritual influences, Edwards continues and argues that rather than true affections being based on selfish motives, they find their basis on the beauty of divine things (p. 165). Those who have have false affections are likened unto Saul for he was very grateful to David for sparing his life, and yet soon after continued to pursue David to kill him. While those who have true affections love God for who He is before they ever love him for the benefits he bestows. For if one loves only the benefits that God bestows, Edwards argues that that person only loves himself and derives joy from his belief that God makes so much of him (pp. 176-177). Delight in the holiness of God is essential to a true love of God (p. 183) because the beauty of divine things consists mainly in holiness (p. 184). Edwards argues that this love of holiness is a sure sign of true religious affections because although the wicked and devils “will see and have a great sense of everything that appertains to the glory of God” (p. 190), they see no beauty, as true saints do. Nebuchadnezzar is recorded in the book of Daniel to have a great sense of God's greatness, majesty, power, and his sovereignty, but saw no beauty in the holiness of God as do the chosen angels and saints who cry out “Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty” (p. 187, 190).

After observing these things Edwards goes on to explain that true affections come with evangelical humiliation, meaning that the Christian understands “his own utter insufficiency, despicableness, and odiousness, with an answerable frame of heart” (p. 237). Those of unholy affections will, in the day of judgment, be legally humiliated, in that they will be shown that they are little and nothing before God, but there will be nothing of evangelical humiliation which is only in those who have holy affections. For those who have true affections voluntarily deny themselves and make themselves low, there is no coercion, but with delight they bow before the feet of God (p. 238). This humility leads those with holy affections to think others better than themselves and causes them to be more eager to hear than to speak (p. 247). When the truly humble are brought down low, they do not think they are being treated unjustly, but rather they marvel that they are not brought down lower – this stands in stark contrast to false affections, for they tend to think highly of themselves and hate those who make little of them (pp. 258-259).

Edwards goes on to relate the signs of a dove-like spirit and tenderness of spirit citing again the fact that true affections come from the Spirit of God and that “The new man is renewed, after the image of him that created him” (Colosians 3:10, p. 274, 285). And it is following these signs that Edwards argues that true religious affections have a beautiful symmetry to them (p. 292). While it is true that believers are not perfect, “there is in no wise that monstrous disproportion in gracious affections, and the various parts of true religion in the saints, that is very commonly to be observed in the false religion and counterfeit graces of hypocrites” (p. 292). Edwards proves this point from various scriptures including Hosea 7:8 where God rebukes the Israelites because they are “half roasted and half raw” (p. 293). True saints are not greatly affected in public and little affected in private, but rather there is a symmetry to their lives for they delight in fellowship with other believers but also delight in secret prayer and conversation with God (p. 300).

Another sure sign of true affections that Edwards gives is that as true affections are increased so are the spiritual appetites for false affections are satisfied in themselves (p. 303). The true saint is never satisfied with his current state – in his love for God he desires to love God more and though he sins less than in the past he hates his sin all the more and mourns the fact that there is so much sin that remains and that he continues to love his sin. In his mourning of sin sin he desires to mourn even more, and as his heart is broken he desires it to be broken even to a greater degree. The true saint's thirst for spiritual things is as a baby for his mother's milk (p. 303).

But the final and chief sign (p. 315) that Edwards gives as a distinguishing mark of true religious affections is that true affections produce the fruit of Christian practice (p. 308). Edwards argues that this is true because “the things revealed in the Word of God are so great, and so infinitely more important than all other things, that it is inconsistent with human nature, that a man should fully believe the truth of them, and not be influenced by them above all things in his practice” (p. 318). If in fact the old nature is really dead and replaced by the new spiritual nature then it is to be expected that that person will walk in accordance with that Spirit and to do so all the rest of his life (p. 318). Jesus said that we will know true believers by their fruit as a tree is known by its fruit for everything can be counterfeit except for fruit – fruit shows the heart (p. 327). It does not amount to anything that someone claims to be a Christian, but “He that hath my commandments, and keepeth them, he it is that loveth me” (John 14:21, p. 330).

In conclusion Edwards says that although all these proofs are indeed proofs of true affections, there are no external proofs that one might without a doubt judge whether or not someone is truly saved (p. 340). But Edwards believes the manifestations that he has mentioned in this book are the best that are available to us, being human and unable to look into the hearts of men (p. 341). Edwards goes on to say that while it is true that it is impossible for a person to truly know the state of another, Scripture speaks of persons' actions as “sure evidence of grace to persons' own consciences” (p. 341). For although religion does consist much in holy affection it is the practical exercises of that affection that are the most easily distinguishable and therefore assurance is most likely to be had through action and the observation of the fruit produced (p. 373).

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A Critique of David O. Beale's In Pursuit of Purity

David Beale wrote In Pursuit of Purity in order to provide an historical record of American Fundamentalism since the 1850's (p. xi), but in doing so, fails to see major problems within the movement and gives praise to a movement that in many ways does not deserve it. He defines the ideal Christian Fundamentalist as one who, “desires to reach out in love and compassion to people, believes and defends the whole Bible as the absolute, inerrant, and authoritative Word of God, and stands committed to the doctrine and practice of holiness” (p. 3). The roots of Fundamentalism, Beale claims, run deep, and among these roots are Moses and the prophets, along with Christ and the apostles and many of the early church fathers as well as more modern church leaders such as Wesley and Spurgeon (p. 3). All of these are claimed to have striven for “biblical purity” (p. 5).

Fundamentalism has never been a denomination but rather it “has always been interdenominational in character and fellowship” (p. 6). According to Beale, Fundamentalists are constantly either separating liberals from the church or separating from liberal churches, in order that they might pursue “their foremost concern” of ecclesiastical purity and therefore unite around “the whole counsel of God” (pp. 7-8). The birth of American Fundamentalism, Beale claims, came from the Prayer Meeting Revivals and the great revival in Ireland that occurred in the years around 1860 (p. 13). Conferences were key to the movement, and really were a major focal point of the movement since it was not connected with one local church or denomination. From the Old Niagara Bible Conference to the World's Christian Fundamentals Association, Fundamentalism saw itself to be a lifeline for the preservation of truth in a world of falsehood. They fought “militantly” for such doctrines as the inspiration and inerrancy of Scripture, the virgin birth of Jesus, the substitutionary death of Christ, and the premillennial return of Christ.

One of the main problems I had with Beale's book is that he basically goes so far as to claim the Bible to have Fundamentalist leanings, and Biblical characters and Church fathers to be Fundamentalists (p. 3). This “freedom” of association seems to characterize Beale's work and puts doubt into the reader's mind to whether or not Beale can really be believed. Claiming J. Gresham Machen for the Fundamentalists does not seem to be fair, especially since Machen greatly disliked the term (pp. 316-317). Basically, Beale is claiming that all “true” Christians are really Fundamentalists, and if that's true, then really there is no need for the extra-biblical term “Fundamentalist” rather, the word “Christian” would do just fine. Beale's over-reaching only does his work a disservice.

Also, because of Beale's obvious love for Fundamentalism, he fails to have a clear view to their faults. No movement is as pure as Beale makes Fundamentalism out to be, and while this truth is apparent from the content of his book, he fails to take a critical look into some of the problems that have occurred over the history of the movement. An example of this is in Beale's recounting of T. T. Shield's purchase of the Des Moines University (pp. 237-241). It seems from what Beale states that Shield had major problems. The first of which is that his church was known for its music not for its Bible teaching. He also seemed to have a fascination with the dangerous rise of modernism in the Northern Baptist Convention, and constantly reported it in his periodical The Gospel Witness. He established a seminary and led two organizations and when his church was kicked out of one organization, five days later he started a new one. Then when Shields organized the purchase of Des Moines University he left it in the hands of a woman because he was too busy with other things. And while Beale claims Shields attempted to reform the university from its liberal past, the only controversies that seemed to come up had to do with national background. It ended with the students revolting, not because they were having trouble being “Fundamentalists” but because Shields had created anti-Canadian sentiment on the campus by making fun of Americans. Beale's response to all of this is weak: “The Des Moines University debacle should not overshadow the positive contributions that T. T. Shields made to classical Fundamentalism...It could have happened to any number of great men” (p. 241). Maybe Shields should have paid more attention to his own church, so that rather than the music be praised, it would have been a place known for the accurate preaching of the Word of God.

Shields' seeming neglect of his church and militancy in regards to his own nationalistic tendencies brings me to a final critique of Beale's work. Rather than call this movement Fundamentalism as it has been in the past, I submit a new term, “Conferencism”. It seems that Fundamentalists were consumed with conferences and institutions and Beale even admits these to be the “most important” bases of Fundamentalism (p. 251). But that does not seem to bother Beale. Nothing is really ever said of the local churches in his work, and many of those involved in the Fundamentalist movement seemed to be more concerned about having a conference than taking care of and shepherding their own people. Beale says they were seeking ecclesiastical purity at conferences, but ecclesiology has nothing to do with conferences, rather it has to do with the church (p. 7).

Machen had it right, “the term fundamentalism is distasteful...It seems to suggest that we are adherents of some strange new sect, whereas in point of fact we are conscious simply of maintaining the historic Christian faith and of moving in the great central current of Christian life” (pp. 316-317). And while Beale claims Machen for his Fundamentalists – Machen was not a Fundamentalist, but rather, he was a Christian, pursuing Christ, not purity.

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Seeing Jesus in Mark 9

A few days ago, I wrote this entry in my journal. It led to the poem that I posted yesterday.

I have to confess: sometimes I don’t see Christ as glorious. This morning I listened to a snippet of Piper’s message at SBTS from a few weeks ago. He was proclaiming the gospel as “the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of the invisible God.” And I really want to see this and believe this.

Driscoll says he himself needs time with Jesus.
I want to spend some time with Jesus.

I want to love Jesus and see his glory, like the disciples on the Mount.

I read Mark 9 just a few minutes ago, but I couldn’t see it.
It was, honestly, not all that thrilling. The Transfiguration, healing the boy with an unclean spirit, prophecy, arguments among the disciples. All of it, familiar; the same. I didn’t pray, either. To see, I mean. I can hear Piper’s voice in my head, “Oh, God, just let me see!”

So, I’m praying it: LET ME SEE! Christ’s words rebuke me, his incredulous response to the boy’s father: “If you can?!?” And the boy’s father cries out, “I believe! Help my unbelief!”

So do I. I know the blindness is in me. The complacency. The apathy. How sinful it is. How easily I can feel godly sorrow for lust. The sin of blindness and not caring, though, just sits there. I feel nothing. I’m sure that if, right now, I heard that someone or something I love was lost, or my stock went up double-digit percentage, I’m sure that I’d feel something then. Seeing Jesus, though, is another thing, and I don’t see him, I don’t love him, and his glory isn’t exciting. His blood covers it, though! The apathy, the complacency, the blindness!

It creeps in, then, the vision. In snippets. Like glancing over to the Bible next to me, seeing Christ ask, perfectly timed and worded, “What were you discussing on the way?”

He had things to teach them, lessons the crowds weren’t privy to.

I am servant.
Receive a child like this one. That’s how I receive you.
Be like me.

The lowliness of earth surrounds me, and I will die.
I became a man.
I am a man.
I’ll be delivered to death.
The glory of heaven surrounds me, and I will rise.
I am God.
I am God.
I’ll be delivered from death.

And God is faithful, because the glory of his Son trumps hazy apathy, if only I’ll take the time to sit and sup with him awhile.

So I praise him:
Thank you for your faithfulness.

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Thursday, April 12, 2007

His Prophecy

The lowliness of earth surrounds me, and I’ll be delivered to death.
I became a man.
I am a man.
I will die.
The glory of heaven surrounds me, and I'll be delivered from death.
I was God.
I am God.
I will rise.

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Seventh Principle Drawn From God's Sovereignty in Relation to Prayer

    1. Prayer is a Profound Privilege

      1. With Respect to Who God Is
        As one ponders all these truths about prayer and who God is, one cannot but fall down in worship. God, the Unsearchable (Job 11:7), the Incorruptible (Rom. 1:23), the Eternal (Ps. 90:2), the Only-wise (Rom. 16:27), the Most High (Ps. 83:18), the Holy One (Rev. 16:5), can be approached, and conversed with in prayer! How is it, that the Lord who does all things after the counsel of his will (Eph. 1:11) interact with our own desires that we express in prayer – what is the relationship between the ultimate purpose of God, and our human desires? I do not know. And even beyond this mystery, how can it be, that the Lord of the universe would incline his ear toward men? This is the true mystery of prayer – for there is absolutely no reason in us that God should chose to hear us. Yet he does. What an awesome privilege!

      2. With Respect to Who We Are
        As sinners, we are separated from God, and deserve nothing but eternal death (Rom. 3:23; 6:23), and yet as Edward Bickerateth so rightly put it that prayer gives us, “every day, yes, every hour, this great privilege of access to the King of kings and the Lord of lords, to the Most High and the Most Holy, and this with the utmost freedom and confidence; the access not merely of a servant to a master, or a subject to a king, but of a child to a tender parent” (Edward Bickersteth, A Treatise On Prayer, p. 8). Though our sins were as scarlet, by the blood of Christ we are washed clean – through his great gift, we have this profound privilege. Let us now pray all the more fervently, for God is sovereign, and through Christ, we have access to the throne room of grace (Heb. 4:16).

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Wednesday, April 11, 2007

How about this?

The LORD said to Moses, "I have seen this people, and behold, they are an obstinate people.

"Now then let Me alone, that My anger may burn against them and that I may destroy them; and I will make of you a great nation."

Then Moses entreated the LORD his God, and said, "O LORD, why does Your anger burn against Your people whom You have brought out from the land of Egypt with great power and with a mighty hand?

"Why should the Egyptians speak, saying, 'With evil intent He brought them out to kill them in the mountains and to destroy them from the face of the earth'? Turn from Your burning anger and change Your mind about doing harm to Your people.

"Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, Your servants to whom You swore by Yourself, and said to them, 'I will multiply your descendants as the stars of the heavens, and all this land of which I have spoken I will give to your descendants, and they shall inherit it forever.'"

So the LORD changed His mind about the harm which He said He would do to His people.
How does that factor in?

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Sixth Principle Drawn From God's Sovereignty in Relation to Prayer

    1. Prayer is Beneficial Because it Changes Us

      1. Abiding in Christ
        In John 15:7 Jesus says, “If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.” This principle that Jesus laid out is key to our understanding of the relationship God's sovereignty has with our prayers. When we abide in Christ, and his words abide in us, we can ask God for whatever we want and it will be done! When Jesus says this, he speaks of our conforming to himself. God does not change when we ask him for things, rather, we change as we grow in our abiding, and as his words grow in us. “Only prayer according to God's will is granted” (Hunter, p. 60), our own wills must move to match his if our requests are to be granted.

      2. An Example from Scripture Showing How Prayer Changes Us
        When Paul entreated the Lord three times that the thorn in his flesh to be removed (2 Cor. 12:7-9), God did not remove the thorn. Rather the Lord replied, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness” (2 Cor. 12:9). But rather than cause Paul to be angry, it caused him to change, and align himself with what God wanted and gladly boast about his weaknesses so that the power of Christ might dwell in him (2 Cor. 12:9).
        While at first Paul did not understand that God desired the thorn in the flesh to torment Paul for his own benifit, Paul learned through prayer that God allowed the thorn in the flesh to torment him so that the Lord would be glorified through Paul's weakness. Originally, Paul did not want the thorn in the flesh, but through prayer, he came to realize that it was for his own benefit, keeping him from pride (2 Cor. 12:7) and allowing him to display the power of Christ (2 Cor. 12:9).
        Paul knew that what God had planned was better than anything he could have thought of himself. Therefore he was more than willing to submit himself to the sovereign plan of God. Paul understood that God knows best and is working all things for good to those who love him and are called according to his purpose as clearly shown in his letter to the Romans which he penned by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit (Rom. 8:28).

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Fifth Principle Drawn From God's Sovereignty in Relation to Prayer

    1. Prayer is Beneficial Because God's Sovereign Plan is Good
      It would not do us much good if God was sovereign but was not good. Though he would have the capability to answer our prayers, there would be little to look forward to in asking God for something or even in praising his name (Hunter, p. 49). In fact, we might actually get what we ask for when in fact it would not be best for us! The Bible clearly states that God is good (Ps 25:8, Nah. 1:7), and so in God's sovereign response to prayer, all that he does will be good. As a parent desires to give good things to his or her children, so much more, the Bible says, does God, our heavenly Father, desire to give what is good to those that ask (Matt. 7:9-11).

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Monday, April 09, 2007

Fourth Principle Drawn From God's Sovereignty in Relation to Prayer

    1. Prayer is Effective Because It is a Part of God's Sovereign Plan

      1. Prayer as a Means
        Many people assume that if in fact, God is sovereign, and everything in life has been “scripted” by God in eternity past, there is no reason to pray. But in fact, this should give us even more incentive to pray! God has sovereignly ordained prayer as a means to accomplish his will and he says that “The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much” (Jam. 5:16, John MacArthur, Lord, Teach Me to Pray, p. 29). The only reason prayer is effective in accomplishing the will of God, is because God sovereignly planned it that way.

      2. Prayer as a Means Exemplified in Scripture
        The prayer of King Hezekiah is a wonderful example of how the prayers of men work in the sovereign plan of God (2 Kgs. 20:1-11, 2 Chr. 32:24, Isa. 38:1-8). When Hezekiah became mortally ill (2 Kgs. 20:1, 2 Chr. 32:24, Isa. 38:1-3), he prayed to the Lord for healing (2 Kgs. 20:2-3, 2 Chr. 32:24, Isa. 38:2-3) and God extended his life by fifteen years. God's plan regarding the length of Hezekiah's life had not changed (Ps. 139:16, William D. Barrick, “The Openness of God: Does Prayer Change God?”, The Master's Seminary Journal, 12 (fall 2001), 156) yet, because God sovereignly uses prayer as a means to accomplish his plan, Hezekiah's prayer for healing was granted, not for Hezekiah's sake, but for the sake of the Lord and his promise to David (2 Kgs. 20:6, Isa. 38:6, Barrick, p. 156).

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Third Principle Drawn From God's Sovereignty in Relation to Prayer

    1. Prayer is Effective Because God Commands It

      1. A Simple Command
        In both the New and the Old Testament God commands his people to pray (Isa. 55:6, Matt. 7:7, Phil. 4:6, Eph. 6:18, 1 Thes. 5:17). Though people desired to pray, if God had not commanded it, there would be no way that it would be of any effect. If fact, if God had not commanded us to pray, it would be sin to do so. Because God is sovereign, he has the authority to command us to pray. A person would be foolish to think that God would respond in a positive way to them if they approached him in a way that he had not ascribed; far from being beneficial, it would be deadly (Lev. 10:1-2).
        Prayer is commanded by God, and therefore is effective as a means for such things as to ask for temporal blessing (Gen. 28:20), to ask for spiritual blessing (Matt. 6:33), to ask for help in time of need (Heb. 4:16), to repent (1 Kgs. 8:33), and to praise God (Ps. 66:17). All these things we can do with confidence, knowing that God has commanded us to do them according to his sovereign plan and has provided us a way to approach him (Heb. 4:16).

      2. A Command from a Sovereign God
        Rather than speak to the question of how God, being sovereign can be influenced by the prayers of his people, if in fact he is influenced at all, there is a positive way to look at the fact that a sovereign God commands his people to pray. God is sovereign, and therefore because he commands his people to pray we can know that regardless of how, prayer is a means for God's will to be accomplished on earth as it is in heaven (Matt. 6:10). Therefore, because the sovereign God of the whole universe, who is able to do all that we ask and abundantly more (Eph. 3:10), has commanded us to pray; let us pray all the more and with boldness!

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Friday, April 06, 2007

Second Principle Drawn From God's Sovereignty in Relation to Prayer

    1. Prayer is Effective Because God's Will is Not Influenced by Humans

      1. God is Not Divided
        When a person prays and asks God for something, that prayer does not alter the will of God. If it did, God would not longer be sovereign, because his will would no longer be supreme, but rather, God would be doing the bidding of a mere human. It is foolish to think that prayer changes the will of God, for people have many different and conflicting wills. One person may pray for rain, another sun and therefore if God's will was affected by humans, he would be a walking contradiction (Hunter, p. 61). As Jesus said, “If a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand” (Mark 3:25). When talking about God's sovereignty, no one would claim that if there is a conflict of interests between his or her will and God's that his or her own will would prevail. (Robert C. Sproul, "Does Prayer Change Things?", Tenth: An Evangelical Quarterly, 6 (July, 1976), 53). God is God and therefore is not influenced by human will.

      2. A Never Changing Sovereign God
        In addition, if God's will was influenced by human prayers, then he could not be working “all things after the counsel of His will” (Eph. 1:11). There can be no changing the purposes of God, for his purposes are “eternal” (Eph. 3:11). What chaos there would be if God's will changed to match the will of humans, having one mind yesterday and another today (Pink, p. 207). God never changes (Jam. 1:17) and therefore his will is not changed by men, but rather he is constant, immovable. This truth builds trust towards God and to pray because God's will does not bend to the suggestions of mere men but the Lord does as he pleases and will accomplish everything that he desires.

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How To Use This Information on Repentance vs. Penance In A Counseling Situation

Having biblically established the Biblical mandate for repentance, we will now turn our attention to giving some practical and personal advice regarding how a person can help a fellow believer who has confessed to an immoral affair to understand biblical repentance and the dangers of penance. Because this case has to do with a person who has confessed to an immoral affair, one of the most natural places in Scripture to use to help this person understand biblical repentance is Psalm 511. There are five general principles that can be taken from the first twelve verses of Psalm 51 and applied to the counselee's situation. First of all, God's Word condemns the sinner (based on the title of Psalm 51). Sometimes that comes through another person, as it did with David, but other times it is through the direct reading of God's word. It is important to convey to the counselee that God is clear, the wages of sin is death (Rom 6:23), and there is a choice, either to agree with God, or to rebel against His assessment of the severity of your sin. Second, we see that we should cry out to God to be gracious and cleanse us from our sin based on God's lovingkindness and great compassion (Psa 51:1-2). Remind the counselee that God's forgiveness is not based on what we do, because our works are filthy rags to Him (Isa 64:6), but rather God's forgiveness is based on God's own character (Psa 51:1-2). Christ did not die because people had worked to pay for their sin, or punished themselves for disobeying God – no, rather Christ died while we were still sinners (Rom 5:8), while we were enemies of God (Rom 5:10)! Thirdly, sin is primarily against God (Psa 51:4-6). It is essential that the counselee understand that while sin does effect others (2 Sam 24), our sin is first and foremost against God – it is breaking His standard and doing what is evil in His sight (Psa 51:4). God is blameless and just (Psa 51:4), while we are born sinners (Psa 51:5) – He is not responsible for our sin, we are! We are fallen sinners, we are not good people who sometimes do wrong things2 but are, of ourselves, wicked to the very core of our hearts (Jer 17:9-10). God's standard is perfection, not only outwardly, but inwardly (Psa 51:6) and we cannot meet that standard, but fall far short (Rom 3:23). Fourthly, we should ask God to purify and renew us (Psa 51:7-9). Remind the counselee, that although on our own there is no hope of restoration of a right relationship with God, there is hope because God forgives! And when God forgives it is not some superficial band-aid on a cancer patient, but is real forgiveness that cleanses to the core! Christ is our hope, for in Him we have “the forgiveness of sins” (Col 1:13). While we may be tempted to sulk and become depressed because of our sin, this should not be our goal, rather renewal should be our desire, based on the completed work of Christ. Stress the fact that when we sin, our joy is taken away (Gen 4:6-7), but because of Christ's finished work on the cross, the crushing weight of sin is lifted – we can be restored! And finally, we must recognize our utter reliance on God for the will to please Him in the future (Psa 51:10-12). Convey to the counselee the danger of trying to work off our sin through various good deeds or self-imposed suffering, for the fruit of self-effort is death (Rom 8:13). In our own strength we cannot do what God wants, but rather we produce the exact opposite (Gal 5:19-21). We must rely on God to produce faithfulness in our hearts towards Him (Psa 51:10-12), and use the means by which He has ordained for our sanctification, walking in the Spirit (Gal 5:22-25). As believers we live by the Spirit (Gal 5:22a), therefore we must urge the counselee to walk by the Spirit, putting to death the flesh, and because of his regenerated heart, live as God would have him to live from this time forth. And when sin is again committed, confess it, turn from it to God, knowing that “He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9b).

1David Covington. "Psalm 51: Repenter's Guide" Journal of Biblical Counseling 20, no. 1 (Fall 2001): 21-39.

2Ibid., 33.

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For what it's worth, Bruce Demarest in The Cross and Salvation says this:

True repetance possesses three essential aspects. (1) An intellectualaspect. The repentant soul must understand God's holiness, righteousness, and displeasure at sin; must be be aware of personal sin and guilt; and must be persuaded of God's readiness to forgive. (2) An emotional element, in which the penitent abhors sin and experiences godly sorrow [=penitance] and remorse, not for the pain it has caused himself, but for the gried it has caused God and others. This aspect of repentance appears in the verb naham, to "be sorry," "regret,", "repent" -- where the root idea means to breath deeply. After gaining a fuller knowledge of God and a clearer perspective on himself, Job exclaimed, "I despise myself and repent [same verb] in dust and ashes" (Job 42:6). (3) A volitional aspect, which involves determination to forsake sins and amend one's life.

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Thursday, April 05, 2007

The First Major Difference Between Repentance and Penance

Corresponding with the fact that the word “penance” never appears in Scripture, the first major difference between repentance and penance is that repentance is explicitly commanded by God whereas penance is nowhere found to be required by God. Numerous times throughout Scripture God outright calls people to repent (Eze 14:6; 18:30; Matt 3:2; 4:17; Mark 1:15; Acts 2:38; 3:19; 8:22; Rev 2:5, 16; 3:3, 19). In fact, He calls all people everywhere to repent (Acts 17:30). It is a call from the highest source of authority and therefore must be obeyed or there will be dire consequences (1 Sam 2:10). When God calls Israel to repent from their idol worship in Ezekiel 14:7, He warns them that if they do not repent, He will pour out His wrath on them (Eze 14:8).

In the New Testament, when Jesus was asked why a group of people had been killed in a barbarous fashion, rather than directly answering the question, He urges them all to repent, warning that if they do not, they would perish in the same way as those who had been killed (Luke 13:3). Nowhere in Scripture is the idea of penance ever commanded by God. Actually, the idea that a person has the ability to pay for his own sins is completely foreign to Scripture.

In the Old Testament, the sacrificial system makes it clear that men cannot pay for their sins, for an animal's blood must be shed in order to cover sins – and this system is a shadow of the greater sacrifice of Christ (Heb 10:1), who came for the very reason that humans are unable to atone for their own sins. If penance was able to save, there would have been no reason for Christ to come to earth, live a perfect life, die, and be raised from the dead. Men need a savior! For no one can be justified through works of the law – man's efforts to atone for himself, to make himself righteous, are worthless before God (Gal 3:11).

The Pharisees are a perfect example of the failure of men to make themselves righteous before God through works. They forsook the commands of God for the tradition of men (Matt 15:3), and this is exactly what is involved in evangelical penance – rejecting the clear commands of God, replacing them with man's own way and ideas on the matter. Even as a believer, one who has repented of their sin as God has commanded in His Word, one can have a tendency to fall back on the traditions of men, or try to do things his own way and feel that he must gain back favour with God after he has committed a sin through inflicting suffering on himself or by doing good works. While it may seem that this Christian desires to be obedient to God, and is therefore sorrowful because of sin and the feeling that he must do something to pay for the wrong; in reality, this Christian is acting in contradiction to Scripture. For what is obedience but doing what God has commanded? God has never commanded anyone to pay for his own sin; rather, God commands all to use the means that God has ordained to pay for his sins. A person’s effort to atone for his own sin is in direct violation with the Word of God. Therefore, "Self-justification is the goal of this effort",1 and not obedience. The Bible speaks of only one way to be saved, and that is the way that God Himself has prescribed – through Jesus Christ and through Him alone (John 14:6). Penance is clearly an idea conjured up from man's own thinking, and all those who practice it are in direct disobedience to God and His command for people everywhere to repent (Acts 17:30).

1C. John Miller. Repentance and the 20th Century Man (Fort Washington: Christian Literature Crusade, 1980), 20.

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The Second Major Difference Between Repentance and Penance

A second major difference between repentance and penance is that repentance is a work of God in the heart, while penance is a work of man in his own heart. As discussed previously, repentance is commanded of God, and anyone who repents has obeyed God and done what is right. However, it must be clarified that repentance is not a work of man, but rather a work of God. For it is impossible for men to please God, doing what He has asked of them, being that there is no one who is good and no one who does anything good on his own merit (Rom 3:10-12) except God Himself (Luke 18:19). While men might preach and instruct others to repent, “It is the Holy Spirit breathing in them that makes their words effectual” (Acts 10:44).1

Another way to show that God is the author of repentance comes about through a careful study of Romans 12:2. As believers, Romans 12:2 states that we are not to “be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” This transformation allows us to, “prove what the will of God is” (Rom 12:2). A link between this transformation and repentance is clearly seen,2 for as was stated before, repentance is essentially “a change of mind”.3 Titus 3:5 states clearly that the Holy Spirit is the agent of this change – it is not accomplished by a person's own effort or his own righteousness. A correct understanding of the source of repentance is vital to believers who practice penance, because they are in direct violation of the truth of God's Word. They cannot do anything in and of themselves to make themselves right before God. Their work is of no avail in God's economy. And so rather than focus on their own efforts to pay for their sins, they should look to Christ as their only hope, and the one to whom they can look for the forgiveness of sin (1 Tim 1:1).

1Thomas Watson. The Doctrine of Repentance (Carlisle: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1999), 14.

2William Douglas Chamberlain. The Meaning of Repentance (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1943), 172-173.

3Bauer. A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1957), 513.

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First Principle Drawn From God's Sovereignty in Relation to Prayer

    1. Prayer is Effective Because God is Sovereign

      1. A World Without a Sovereign God
        While the truth that God is sovereign does present problems to the human mind in regards to its interaction with prayer, before we go to far down the road of belittling God's sovereign control over all things in order to “solve” the problem, as some do (such as Gregory A. Boyd in his book, God of the Possible: A Biblical Introduction to the Open View of God), we must look at the other side of the coin. What if God was not sovereign? What if, although willing to answer prayer and desiring to provide for his children, God was unable to do so? There would be absolutely no reason to pray to God at all! Because he would be just like us, unable to do anything about it. “At its root, prayer grows from the certainty of God's omnipotence and sovereignty. Job says, 'I know that you can do all things; no plan of yours can be thwarted' (42:2). Obviously it would be a waste of time to pray to a wimp” (W. Bingham Hunter, The God Who Hears, p. 47). God rules over all, and therefore has the ability to do whatever He pleases, and that includes answering prayer.

      2. The Sovereignty of God Exemplified in Answered Prayers
        In our own Christian experience, this writer, as well as countless others pray to God for example, for the salvation of lost souls, that they would place their faith in Christ. And sometimes we receive answers to the positive! But if God was not sovereign over all things, these prayers would be total foolishness! Aside from our own personal experience we see in Scripture countless examples of prayers that were offered up to God that were answered – prayers that apart from God's sovereignty could not have been answered. Christ Himself prayed for Peter, that his faith would not fail and that he would be restored after his denials of Christ (Luke 22:32), and Peter was restored (John 21:15-17). Abraham's servant prayed that God would guide him in the selection of a wife for Isaac (Gen. 24:12-14), and God did (Gen. 24:15-27). When God was going to destroy the people of Israel for their disobedience (Ex. 32:10), Moses entreated God to turn from his wrath (Ex. 32:11-13), and God did. Joshua prayed that the sun and the moon would stand still (Josh. 10:12), and they did (Josh. 10:13). Hannah prayed that she would have a son (1 Sam. 1:11), and she did (1 Sam. 1:19-20). Far from being a problem, prayer only works because God is sovereign.

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