The Rule of the Covenant

January 7, 2015 in Bible - OT - Psalms, Covenantal Living, Ecclesiology, Federal Vision, John Calvin, Justification, Quotations, Sanctification

“No doubt, [God] adopted Abraham freely, but, at the same time, he stipulated with him that he should live a holy and an upright life, and this is the general rule of the covenant which God has, from the beginning, made with his Church. The sum is, that hypocrites, who occupy a place in the temple of God, in vain pretend to be his people, for he acknowledges none as such but those who follow after justice and uprightness during the whole course of their life.”

John Calvin, Commentary upon the Book of Psalms, Psalm 15.

Shortsighted, Even to Blindness

November 16, 2014 in Baptism, Bible - NT - 2 Peter, Bible - NT - Acts, Federal Vision, Justification, Meditations, Sanctification
2 Peter 1:5–9 (NKJV)
5 But also for this very reason, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue, to virtue knowledge, 6 to knowledge self-control, to self-control perseverance, to perseverance godliness, 7 to godliness brotherly kindness, and to brotherly kindness love. 8 For if these things are yours and abound, you will be neither barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. 9 For he who lacks these things is shortsighted, even to blindness, and has forgotten that he was cleansed from his old sins.
During the height of the so-called Lordship Salvation controversy, there were teachers who wanted to claim that one could have Jesus as one’s Savior but not as one’s Lord. All that is necessary to be saved from judgment, so it was said, is to believe in Jesus. Thereafter one should and ought to make Jesus one’s Lord, to obey Him in the nitty gritty of life; but this making Jesus Lord was, as it were, optional. One could be saved by Christ and not manifest that salvation in a life of obedience.
How different have been the words of Peter in our text – and how different is his closing observation. He writes in verse 9: For he who lacks these things is shortsighted, even to blindness, and has forgotten that he was cleansed from his old sins.
The man who has been baptized into Christ and pronounced forgiven on the basis of faith in Him and yet who lives a life of sin and rebellion is still in his sins. He remains blind even though he claims that he has been brought into the light. He is wandering about in the darkness, still ensnared by the clutches of the Evil One. Such was Simon Magus in the book of Acts and such is many another who claims to believe in Jesus but denies Him with his life.
Peter will go on in the next verse to command his readers to “make their calling and election sure.” And one of the ways that God assures us that we have been called by Him is by working in us the virtues that Peter identifies: faith, virtue, knowledge, self-control, perseverance, godliness, brotherly kindness, and love. God’s Spirit works in His elect to cultivate such virtues – and so the way we reveal that we are among the elect is by pursuing them with all diligence. Obedience is a fruit of faith – we are saved by faith alone – which just means that we are saved by Christ alone. And when Christ saves us, He doesn’t do a piecemeal job. He delivers us not only from the penalty of sin by forgiving us, He delivers us from the power of sin by sanctifying us.
And so reminded of our call to pursue virtue; of our deep need for the grace of God to free us from blindness; let us confess our sins to the Lord and ask Him to empower us for obedience. Let us kneel as we confess.

Add to Godliness Brotherly Kindness

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

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

The Sign and the Thing Signified

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

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

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

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

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

Eternal Election and External Calling

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

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

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

Justification in the Old Testament

August 5, 2014 in Church History, Federal Vision, Justification, Old Testament, Quotations, Sanctification

“The faith of the fathers was grounded on Christ who was to come, as ours is on Christ who has now come. Different times do not change faith, nor the Holy Spirit, nor his gifts. There has been, there is, and there will always be one mind, one judgment and understanding concerning Christ, in the ancient fathers and in believers today and in the future.”

Luther, Galatians, p. 137.

External Members of the Covenant

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

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

John Frame, Systematic Theology, p. 81.

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

Unconditional Covenants?

July 28, 2014 in Covenantal Living, Faith, Federal Vision, Justification, Quotations, Sanctification

“…all covenants require obedient faith. This is a not a condition of one covenant or another; it is essential to all human dealings with God, simply by virtue of who God is. It is a requirement of what I have called the universal covenant. Individual covenants require specific forms of obedience, but obedience itself, springing from faith, is simply a requirement of all relations between God and human beings. This requirement is implicit in the very distinction between Creator and creature….

“This emphasis on faithful obedience does not compromise grace at all. For we can never begin to earn God’s forgiveness of our sins through good works, and the blessings that God promises to Abraham are far beyond what any human being could accomplish….

“So like all the other covenants, the Abrahamic covenant is unconditional in the sense that in it God declares that he will certainly accomplish his own purpose, the blessing of the nations through Abraham. But it is conditional in that those who would receive that blessing must trust and obey. As sovereign controller, God is the God of grace. As sovereign authority, he demands obedience of his covenant partners.”

John Frame, Systematic Theology, pp. 70-71.

Justification and Sanctification

July 24, 2014 in Bible - NT - Galatians, Bible - NT - John, Bible - NT - Romans, Cross of Christ, Federal Vision, Justification, King Jesus, Law and Gospel, Rome, Sanctification

“Of course, we must also teach good works and love, but it must be done in the right place – that is, when we are dealing with works, not justification. Here the question is how we are justified and attain eternal life, and so we reject and condemn all good works, for this passage will not allow any argument based on good works.

“Indeed, ‘the law is holy, and the commandment is holy, righteous and good’ (Romans 7:12). But when we are dealing with justification, it is not the time or place to speak about the law. The question is, who is Christ, and what benefit has he brought us? Christ is not the law; he is not what I have done or what the law has done; he is not my love, my obedience, my poverty. He is the Lord of life and death, a mediator, the Savior, the redeemer of those who are under the law and sin. By faith we are in him and he in us….

“Christ is no law, and therefore he does not exact the law and its observance. He is ‘the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world’ (John 1:29). It is only faith that takes hold of this, not love. Love, however, must follow faith, as a sort of thankfulness. Victory over sin and death, then, and salvation and everlasting life too, did not come through the law, nor through the observance of the law, nor yet through the power of free will, but through the Lord Jesus Christ alone.”

Martin Luther, Galatians, p. 91.