Friday, February 27, 2009
Wednesday, February 25, 2009
Monday, February 23, 2009
Friday, February 20, 2009
Question 77: Wherein do justification and sanctification differ?
Wednesday, February 18, 2009
Sunday morning, I was struck by the "Call to worship." In the beginning of our service, there is a call and response, inviting us to worship God. I suppose I was struck by our even having a "call to worship." The call was not merely a Southern hospitable "howdy." It was not something that communicated that we did a good work in coming to church this morning. No. It was the invitation of God, allowing us the privilege and pleasure of worship. The condescension of an infinite God to finite humans that “the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him.” (John 4:23) The call to worship reminds us that God is seeking worshippers, and He, not man, has invited us on the Sabbath Sunday to rest in His Son.
“The congregation being assembled, the minister, after solemn calling on them to the worshipping of the great name of God, is to begin with prayer; In all reverence and humility acknowledging the incomprehensible greatness and majesty of the Lord, (in whose presence they do then in a special manner appear,) and their own vileness and unworthiness to approach so near him, with their utter inability of themselves to so great a work; and humbly beseeching him for pardon, assistance, and acceptance, in the whole service then to be performed; and for a blessing on that particular portion of his word then to be read: And all in the name and mediation of the Lord Jesus Christ."
-The Directory for Public Worship of the Church of Scotland 1645
Monday, February 16, 2009
Saturday, February 14, 2009
A Reflection on Smaller Catechism Questions 30-35.
In Question 32, we are told that our union with Christ (in Q30) results in us being made to “partake of justification, adoption, sanctification,” which are then described in Questions 33, 34, and 35 respectively. Looking at the answers in the catechism: what is similar and what is different between these three benefits of Justification, Adoption and Sanctification?
Question 33 defines justification as “an act of God’s free grace.” Reformation Christians know justification is an event, whereby we are once found in the courtroom of the Judge and once declared righteous based on Christ’s work. What might make this doctrine more precious to the believer is realizing not all Christians enjoy this Pauline perspective on justification. Roman Catholicism sees justification as a process, and so we are never out from under the glare and judgment of the righteous Judge. Our works are continually on trial, to be weighed in justification. How we view God and relate to Him in the rest of our Christian walk flows from this difference.
In our calling, we receive a new relationship between us and God. Obedience is not to appease a Judge, but in love of the Father as we are now, in an event and act, also adopted as sons and daughters (Question 34). Thus, our obedient works are not under the eyes of a Judge, but a Father and accepted as such. Our elder brother Jesus has perfectly pleased our Father, and now our poor works are accepted in that light, as a Father accepts a bad drawing of a child, so our good works are accepted by the Father. Still we grow, still our good motives are mixed with bad so that we must repent even of our good works, but seeing the Christian life as a life of repentance, as both Calvin and Luther described it, does not mean was live in fear in a process of justification, but in joy in the light of adoption.
The means of our status as children of God also informs our devotion. Paul tells us in Galatians 4:4-5, “God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.” We receive our adoption by the work of the Son. This is because, as Paul tells the Galatians earlier, of their union with Christ. “in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God”( Gal 3:26) Christ has his Sonship by nature. In Christ’s work, He allows us union with him to share in the blessings of sonship. Paul tells us the Holy Spirit applies this to us in chapter 4, “And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, ‘Abba! Father!’”(Gal 4:6) Paul specifically describes this as adoption in his later letter to Romans where he writes, “you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’” (Romans 8:15)
Seeing all the members of the Trinity involved in our salvation softens our hearts to our new family role. A Father we once feared has been given the title of “Abba” or “Daddy.” Close familial love replaces our alienation. Christ is looked up to as, firstly our Savior, but also our example. We learn from Jesus as we would an older brother. As an adopted member of the family, we can look to Him to see how to talk to the Father as Jesus gives us the Lord’s Prayer. We can see what actions please the Father in Jesus’ conduct. We can relate about suffering we both share in the experience of life. All these are benefits given to us by the Holy Spirit, the tie and rope that raises us up into the divine family.
What is accomplished by following the Law then? Certainly, we add nothing to Christ’s fulfillment. We do, however, share in the likeness of our Lord in our conduct. Just as Paul delighted in “filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions,” not that Christ lacked full punishment of sin, but that Paul could walk in the same path as Christ. The imitation of Christ as the Son of God allows the believer as the adopted son of God to pattern their life in the manner in which they will grow up into. This might be likened to a child following an older sibling's foot prints walking in deep snow. The future perfection will allow us to walk more fluidly and perfectly, but until then we merely have the example of our older brother to follow. We add nothing to His path, but make gains in the path due to His going ahead of us.
Sanctification is infused with new meaning in this light, for sanctification occurs in the shadow of adoption. We are in the process of being “renewed in the whole man after the image of God, and are enabled more and more to die unto sin and live unto righteousness.” The application of Christ’s death and resurrection, thus, are applied to sons and daughters of God.
[If you would like to explore the aspects of Adoption as related to Obedience, listen to an interview of Peter Lillback as he discusses this theme in Calvin.]
Thursday, February 12, 2009
I’ve made some broad statements about union and Paul’s emphasis of it and the centrality of it in Paul’s addressing of the problem of sin. But what is the nature of this union? How do we talk about union with Christ?
NATURE OF THE UNION
There are many pictures given of this union and what it is like. Paul employs two images in Ephesians 5. Paul calls Christians “Members of one body,” (Ephesians 4, 5:30) namely Christ’s body. Paul also interweaves that analogy with one of marriage, speaking of how the Church is Christ’s Bride and quotes Genesis about how “the two became one” picturing how Christ is united to His church. John uses organic imagery such as a vine and branches in John 15. Life flows from the vine to the branches, picturing the vital connection of believers to Christ.
The most mysterious imagery used, however, must be said to be John’s imagery in John 17. There, John records the words of Christ:
John 17:21 that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.
Here, John links the union of Father and Son and union with Christians. Union with Christ is seen to also be union with the Father. But also, the closeness of the Father to the Son is used as a goal for the completeness and nearness of union desired with believers.
The mysterious part of John’s image is the realization that such a reflection without qualification can lead to an idea that is counted heretical. We cannot understand Jesus to mean that believers are united in essence with the Father as Jesus is, becoming God as Christ is. However, Eastern Orthodoxy has spoken about the concept of “deification” as the final element of salvation. Reformed Christians have as their final element “glorification” meaning much of what Eastern Orthodox mean by “deification,” namely not that we become by nature God, but that we come all that Christ was in his human nature in his glorified state. Such a state, we must understand, means a nearness and abilities of perception, enjoyment of God and even becoming “partakers of the divine nature” as Peter says. The Greek word “partaking” there means partnering, companion, or communing fellow. Not becoming God, but communing on the most intimate level with God, in like manner as God the Father and God the Son commune with each other. A request at this point for more precision in definition will leave us wanting. Peter’s words are perhaps the highest thoughts and manner of putting such a reality as we are able to grasp this side of the experience.
Thus we see, the task of grasping union’s nature may be slippery due to 2 factors:
1. Union is spiritual. Paul tells us that in union, we are “made to drink of one spirit” (1 Cor 12:13). Then, in Ephesians 1 Paul tells us we are united to Christ, by being sealed by the Spirit. The Spirit is the means of union. The Holy Spirit ties one to Christ and applies the benefits of that union, thereby binding all partakers together in one body. Such a truth leads us to declare:
2. Union is Mystical, or a mystery. As Paul explores this idea of being bound together into Christ’s body he writes:
Eph 5:30 because we are members of his body.
Eph 5:31 "Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh."
Eph 5:32 This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church.
This doctrine is mystical. It is even called that by John Calvin: “The Mystical Union.” It is frustrating preparing a lesson for, because you ask certain questions of it and you get back Paul’s answer: “This mystery is profound.” We are rationally minded, especially as Reformed believers, but here is a mystery beyond our reason. The exact nature of this union is beyond our comprehension, so all we are left with is the awe of it. Our questions on the exact nature then are passed by to ask what are the benefits of union.
HOW BLESSINGS ARE BESTOWED
When looking to the work of Christ in regards to salvation, our main concern tends to be Christ’s death. Christ died for sins, and we may call this Passive Obedience, or suffering the penalty of sin. This is what Paul was speaking of in Romans 5:10 when we learn that we are “reconciled to God by the death of his Son.” In Christ’s death, we share in this reconciliation. Yet, this is not all that Christ did. Christ declares:
Matt 5:17 "Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.”
Christ also gains the rewards of the law merited by his obedience. We call this Active Obedience. All that might be gained by obedience to the Law is gained for believers through Christ.
In explaining how this relationship works, Reformation Christians have either refered to this as a Law and Gospel Hermeneutic (Lutherans) or in terms of a Covenant of works and a Covenant of grace. The Law or the covenant of works is given to Adam and humanity, that “if you do this, you will live.” Adam violates the covenant and the rest of humanity, marred by sin, are unwilling and unable to fulfill the covenant of works. In Paul’s language, it takes a second Adam, a new man to fulfill the Law. That man is Christ. By virtue of Christ’s obedience to the covenant of works, a covenant of Grace is given. We first see this in Gensis 3:15, a promise of a seed that will defeat sin and restore humanity to fellowship with God. On this basis is the covenant of grace given, one based on Christ’s fulfillment of the covenant of works. The rewards of Christ's fulfilling the law by works are given merely to be received by faith. Whereas the covenant of works was “obey and you will live,” (Genesis 2:16-17) the covenant of grace is “believe and you will be justified.” (Genesis 15:6)
THE BENEFITS GAINED BY CHRIST
Looking at Questions 30-36 in the Smaller Catechism, we now may see something we hadn’t noticed before:
Question 30. How does the Spirit apply to us the redemption purchased Christ?
Answer. The Spirit applies to us the redemption purchased by Christ, by working faith in us, and thereby uniting us to Christ in our effectual calling.
What then is applied in uniting us to Christ’s work?:
Question 32. What benefits do they that are effectually called partake of in this life?
Answer. They that are effectually called do in this life partake of justification, adoption, sanctification, and the several benefits which, in this life, do either accompany or flow from them.
Though we will name more, the important three named are justification, adoption and sanctification.
Reformed Christians tend to express the benefits of salvation in the Order of Salvation (the Ordo Solutis). Unnamed in the ordo solutes is union. This is because union is not a step in the process, but the foundation from which all other benefits flow. Looking at a few of the elements we can see our regeneration being Christ’s regeneration:
regeneration, (resurrection applied to soul)
(1Co 15:21-22 For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive.)We also see our justification by grace through faith being on the basis of Christ’s justification by merit through works:
Rom 4:25 - [Christ] was delivered up for our trespasses, and was raised for our justification.Christ's resurrection, then, can be seen as his justification, the basis of our justification bestowed to us.
Php 2:8-9 And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.
Php 2:9 Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name,
Our sanctification is on the basis of Christ’s sanctified work:
1Co 1:2 To the church of God that is in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints together with all those who in every place call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours:Our adoption is because we are united to the Son:
Eph 1:5 he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will
And our glorification awaits as Christ’s has been gained:
Rom 8:17 and if children, then heirs--heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.
Such an understanding of salvation based on Christ’s passive and active obedience gives us a larger, broader picture of the accomplishment of Christ. We are not merely saved “by His death” as great and wonderful news as atonement and reconciliation is to our war-beaten souls. We are also “saved by His life.” We are saved on the basis of Christ’s fulfillment of the law in our place, applied to us by the Holy Spirit in union with us, as Christ’s life is communicated to those in covenant with God.
J. Gresham Machen, a founder of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church and Westminster Theological Seminary, was near death in the Midwest. In his last communication to John Murray, Machen communicated what doctrine gave him comfort at such a time:
“I'm so thankful for the active obedience of Christ. No hope without it."
Tuesday, February 10, 2009
[more class notes on Reformed Spirituality]
We may know, from growing up in Church what the Christian answer to the question of sin is: Christ’s work. However, we want to explore how “the Christ event,” how in Christ the problem of sin is addressed to restore man’s communion with God in its most practical doctrine, which will then take us into how we apply that doctrine to our lives in battling sin, live together, and seek God.
How does one answer the question of the problem of sin? The Reformed tradition has often seen the answer of Christ to sin paralleling the argument flow of Romans:
I. Chapter 1:1-17 - Introduction of topic
II. Chapter 1:18-2:29– The way of righteousness displayed:
Paul introduces his discussion of Salvation by talking about the Law. Paul says the Gentiles have the law manifest to them in nature and Jews by special revelation. It might seem to some a strange way to start, especially if we do not believe salvation comes by the law. Especially when Paul states in Romans 2:6:
Romans 2:6 – "He will render each according to his works"Paul seems to be saying, bluntly, that eternal life can be merited by works. Indeed, this is not merely what Paul seems to say, but what he does say here: salvation is by works.
III. Chapter 3 – No one fulfills the requirement of righteousness, all are condemned (Romans 3:10-12, 3:23)
Paul details how no one lives up to the standard of the law. All are violators. To all that God offers life to be merited by works, none do so and are righteous, none fulfill the demands of the law. But now this next part of Romans may be hard to read in the way I will suggest, since Reformed Christians love the doctrine of justification. But I am here positing, dare I say it, that justification is not the main motif and lens by which Paul views salvation. Saying such a thing will keep me from being any kind of teacher or member in good standing in a Lutheran Church, but I hope to demonstrate to you, that the alternative is right at home in the Reformed tradition and confession and most importantly in the text of the New Testament.
Let us look at Chapter 4 as pointing further into the argument and not the final point of Paul.
In his argument, what might Jews protest against? “But Abraham is our father! (John 5)” “Abraham is our example of how to be righteous!”
IV. Chapter 4 – Abraham was justified by faith
Paul first states that not even Abraham was saved by the law, as some Jews may have been claiming, but by faith:
Rom 4:1 What then shall we say was gained by Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh?
Rom 4:2 For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God.
Rom 4:3 For what does the Scripture say? "Abraham believed God, and it was counted (imputed – KJV) to him as righteousness."
Paul’s response then?: Not even Abraham was righteous based on works, not even Abraham has done Romans 2:6. Righteousness was imputed to Abraham, not bestowed due to works.
Chapter 4 is not the pinnacle of Paul’s argument, but begs the question: how can Abraham be justified by faith when the requirement was works? Where does this imputation come from and on what basis?
V. Chapter 5 – How (and why) one is justified with God through Faith
Rom 5:10 For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life.2 observations: Both death and life is talked about here.
Rom 5:11 More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.
1- Paul speaks of death bringing reconciliation. Christ gives relational redemption. As 5:9 said before it:
“we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God.”
No longer is the person in the relationship of defendant before a Judge, but is now reconciled to God. Justified is understood as a forensic, legal term. Yet, to say this is to risk the objection of “legal fiction.” Do we partake of salvation merely by believing we are alright? Does the act of faith somehow make God overlook our sin?
2- Paul speaks of salvation by life. What does it mean “shall we be saved by his life.”? Tuck that question away for a few minutes.
First, how does one man’s sin and one man’s obedience affect me? (as Romans 5:12 and Romans 5:15-21 says)? Why talk here about Adam and Christ?
• Federal Headship
Paul is here talking using the concept of “Federal Headship.” This term refers to the representation of one or a group by another in covenant.
For example, look at Hebrews 7:7-10.
Heb 7:7-10 It is beyond dispute that the inferior is blessed by the superior. In the one case tithes are received by mortal men, but in the other case, by one of whom it is testified that he lives. One might even say that Levi himself, who receives tithes, paid tithes through Abraham, for he was still in the loins of his ancestor when Melchizedek met him.
The author of Hebrews is making the case that Melchizedek is greater than Levi. That Levi and Melchizedek never met is not a problem, because Levi was in Abraham. Abraham was the federal head of Levi, representing him and acting for him. Now we might see how Paul is using this concept in Romans 5 (as well as stated in 1 Corinthians 15). We see, for Paul, there are two headships:
– 1. In Adam (Rom 5:12, 1 Cor 15:22)
• 1Cor 15:22a - "For as in Adam all die,"
Through Adam all (who are in him) die and sin. Somehow, we participated in the sin of Adam. How? There are theories, but not certainties, Paul does not explain.
– 2. In Christ (Rom 5:15-21, 1 Cor 15:22)
• 1Cor 15:22b - "so also in Christ shall all be made alive."
Through Christ, all (who are in him) live, are redeemed. The works of Christ are then attributed, accounted to those with Christ’s federal headship.
In understanding how Paul is using the idea of headship, we know can see the main motif and answer to the problem of sin in Romans:
VI. Chapter 6 - Paul’s answer to the problem of sin is UNION WITH CHRIST.
In 5:12 we see our union with Adam. This is then contrasted in 5:15-17 with Union with Christ. When we get to Chapter 6, we see union declared and the implications of that union. In Romans 6, Baptism is Paul’s analogy of choice here. We will talk more about this later, but for now:
Rom 6:4 We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.
Rom 6:5 For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.
The problem of sin was a problem of a DEAD MAN. The solution to DEATH is RESURRECTION. So Paul tells us we obtain the benefits of resurrection by UNION WITH CHRIST. We see now why Paul talked of both life and death in Romans 5. The means of our death to sin before God is Christ’s death, that we are vitally and really connected to Christ and die with Him. The means of our resurrected, regenerated life is our being saved by Christ’s life in a vital and real union with Christ that allows us to share in his (ζωῇ) life. The life we have in Christ is Christ’s life.
Everything we have as a spiritual blessing in salvation, then, we can see that Christ first had to merit for us, in perfect obedience. Christ has done Romans 2:6, not to mention Gen 2:16-17, Christ has done what Adam did not, and Christ has done Exodus 24:3 and Lev 18:5, Christ has done what Israel has not. Then:
In UNION we are given the benefits that Christ earned.
Sometimes benefits are spoken with the specific word “union” or “united” but we also see the Greek phrase “en Christo.” Once you start looking for it, you find this phrase all over. The New Testament depicts Union as the basis of every aspect of salvation. Union with Christ is the basis of the blessings of redemption:
• Ephesians 1:3-14
– 1:3 - blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places
• Ephesians 2:4-5
– …even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ--by grace you have been saved–
• 2 Corinthians 5:21
– For he has made Him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him.
Just look at Ephesians 1:
3- Every Spiritual Blessing in Christ
4 – God chose us in Christ
5 – adoption through Christ
6 – Blessed us in the Beloved.
7 – in Him we have redemption
11 – in Him we have an inheritance
Not every time the phrase “in him” or “in Christ” is used does it mean Union. But most of the time, for many of the other occurrences are “faith in Christ.” Start looking for that phrase instead of skipping over it and it will blow you away how central it is to the teachings about salvation in the Bible.
[next, the nature of the union and the nature of the merits of Christ given to us]
Thursday, February 05, 2009
The Reformation gave birth to two major streams of theological tradition: Lutheranism and Calvinism (the Reformed faith). The two streams share much common doctrine: justification by faith alone (sola fide), the active and passive obedience of Christ, the Law-Gospel hermeneutic, monergism, Sola Scriptura, Sola Gratia, Confessionalist definition of the church, etc.
They also have their differences. Sometimes the differences can be highlighted in unhelpful and angry discussions. However, the link above is a great, friendly and intellectually stretching conversation on a Lutheran talk show between a Lutheran and a Calvinist (Kim Riddlebarger) on what are the differences between Lutheranism and Calvinism. It is encouraging and exciting to hear such a conversation occur between two people who are confident enough in their beliefs that in hearing the other side they often look for common ground before highlighting the differences, all the time not compromising their doctrine.
Tuesday, February 03, 2009
Lies such a wretch as I;
Thou know’st my need is great indeed,
Lord hear me when I cry.
With guilt beset and deep in debt,
For pardon Lord I pray;
O let Thy love sufficient prove,
To take my sins away,
A wicked heart is no small part,
Of my distress and shame;
Let sovereign grace its crimes efface,
Through Jesus’ blessed name.
My darkened mind I daily find,
Is prone to go astray;
Lord on it shine with light divine,
And guide it in Thy way.
My stubborn will opposes still,
Thy wise and holy hand;
Thy Spirit send to make it bend,
To Thy supreme command.
Affections wild by sin defiled,
Oft hurry me away;
Lord bring them home nor let them roam,
From Christ the Living Way.
Before Thy face I’ve told my case;
Lord help and mercy send;
Pity my soul and make me whole,
And love me to the end.