The Ordinary Means of Grace

November 15, 2015 in Bible - NT - Luke, Church Calendar, Holy Spirit, King Jesus, Meditations, Sanctification
Luke 13:18–19 (NKJV)
18 Then He said, “What is the kingdom of God like? And to what shall I compare it? 19 It is like a mustard seed, which a man took and put in his garden; and it grew and became a large tree, and the birds of the air nested in its branches.”
As I have emphasized the last couple years at this time, we are often tempted to muddle our Christianity with our Americanness. This temptation to mistake our cultural mileau for Christian piety is not unique to us, but the particular ways in which our culture influences us are unique. One way our Americanness affects our conception of Christianity is our love affair with that which is spontaneous or new or different. We tend to grow tired of, what we call, the “same old thing” and have a hankering for some new fad to bring life back into our Christian walk.
But what Jesus articulates for us in his parables of the kingdom is that the way the Holy Spirit works both in our individual lives and in the life of His Church is better pictured by the growth of a tree than the lighting of a sparkler. Sparklers, of course, are fun and exciting – they burn bright and shed their fire on all around them. But sparklers soon burn out while trees, planted and taking root, slowly grow over time; growing almost imperceptibly, soaking up the nutrients in the soil and increasingly displaying the glory of their Creator.
This steady, slow, natural growth is the way Christ typically works in the lives of His disciples. Normal Christian growth involves long periods of steady plodding – plodding that brings prosperity but plodding nonetheless. Steady plodding. Few sprints; mainly marathons. A long obedience in the same direction.
You may not know, but the last five months in the Church Year are called “ordinary time.” It is a time of year when there are no special feasts and celebrations; just the regular time of the Spirit’s work in the Church. After the pouring out of the Spirit at Pentecost, the Spirit began working in the Church, gradually transforming the people of God into the image of Christ. Hence the color of this period is green, a color of growth. Tree-like growth.
So one thing that you probably noticed, if you’ve been at Trinity Church a while, is that for these last five months we have used the same greeting, the same words of confession, and the same version of the Creed. For five months. Why have we done this? There’s no biblical requirement that we do so. We could have changed them weekly, monthly, or periodically – and we have in the past. God has left such decisions to the wisdom of church officers. So why have we kept them the same the last couple years? To highlight that the course of our Christian lives is only occasionally interrupted by unusual acts and works of God. More typically God works in our lives through steady plodding, slow growth, gradual transformation – through what theologians have called the ordinary means of grace: the preaching of the Word and the administration of the sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s Supper.
In a couple weeks we’ll be introducing some changes: entering a new church year when Advent arrives and we’ll have a different Call to Worship, a different Confession, a different Creed. Before we change, I wanted to draw to your attention the fact that for these last five months we haven’t changed. Perhaps you noticed; perhaps you’ve wondered if this is ever going to change. And perhaps you’ve thought the same thing about periods in your own life and spiritual development. And the message of Jesus is that He is at work growing His kingdom and even growing you – so trust Him and keep plodding.

Reminded that Jesus’ work in our lives is often gradual, like the growth of a tree, we are alerted that often our hankering for something spontaneous or new or different is not an impulse of our Christian faith but our Americanness. And this reminds us that we need to confess our fickleness to the Lord and ask Him to enable us to practice a long obedience in the same direction. So let us kneel as we confess our sins together.

The Sin of Drunkenness

June 21, 2015 in Bible - NT - 1 Corinthians, Bible - NT - Ephesians, Bible - OT - Ecclesiastes, Bible - OT - Proverbs, Holy Spirit, Meditations
1 Corinthians 6:9–11 (NKJV)
9 Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived. Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor sodomites, 10 nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners will inherit the kingdom of God. 11 And such were some of you. But you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God.
Today we continue to study Paul’s catalogue of sins from which God in His grace and mercy has determined to free us through Christ. These sins damage and distort the image of God in us, destroy our humanity and subvert community. Hence, God’s intention in Christ is to deliver us from such things. Today we consider drunkenness.
Throughout Scripture wine in itself is considered a gift from God, one of the blessings that He has given to the sons of men. The psalmist reminds us that God has given wine to make glad the heart of man. God created it to give joy and delight; this is its design.
As sinners, however, we often misuse the good gifts that God has given; rather than use wine for joy and refreshment, we misuse it for drunkenness, laziness, and destruction. So the Scriptures routinely command us to use and not abuse this gift of God. Solomon writes in Proverbs 23:29-32:
Who has woe? Who has sorrow? Who has contentions? Who has complaints? Who has wounds without cause? Who has redness of eyes? Those who linger long at the wine, Those who go in search of mixed wine. Do not look on the wine when it is red, When it sparkles in the cup, When it swirls around smoothly; At the last it bites like a serpent, And stings like a viper.
In his list of qualifications for elders and deacons, Paul writes that no officer may “be given to much wine.” Likewise, he tells Titus to command the older women to “be reverent in behavior,…not given to much wine.” Drunkenness is the opposite of reverence and honor.
Paul commands us in Ephesians 5:18-20, “And do not be drunk with wine, in which is dissipation [a lack of self-control]; but be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart ot the Lord, giving thanks always for all things to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Paul’s words reveal that drunkenness dulls not only our physical senses but also our spiritual senses. And so the opposite of drunkenness is being filled with the Spirit – and how does being filled with the Spirit manifest itself? In singing. Drunks sing in folly; Christians sing in joy, delight, and self-control.
So what of you? Are you given to much wine? Are you misusing the good gifts of God? Or are you using these good gifts of God so that you might become more strong physically and spiritually?
Woe to you, O land, when your king is a child, And your princes feast in the morning! Blessed are you, O land, when your king is the son of nobles, And your princes feast at the proper time— For strength and not for drunkenness!

Reminded that drunkards shall not inherit the kingdom of God, let us kneel and seek the Lord’s forgiveness for abusing the gifts of God.

It is the Spirit Who Gives Life

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

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

Homily for Tal and Cristina Williams

March 15, 2015 in Bible - NT - Colossians, Election, Holy Spirit, Love, Marriage, Sanctification
Colossians 3:12–14 (NKJV)
Therefore, as theelect of God, holy and beloved, put on tender mercies, kindness, humility, meekness, longsuffering; bearing with one another, and forgiving one another, if anyone has a complaint against another; even as Christ forgave you, so you also must do. But above all these things put on love, which is the bond of perfection.
Tal and Cristina, it is a joy to be with you here today and to celebrate the pledging of your marriage vows. I debated preaching an extensive sermon today but knowing how sensitive Tal is to time I decided I’d keep it fairly brief. Paul’s words in Colossians 3 remind us that all of life, including our married life, is to be lived in the knowledge of who we are and what God has done for us; in the knowledge of who we are and what God has done for us.
First, our life is to be lived in the knowledge of who we are. Today is a day of momentous changes for you both. Tal, your identity is changing. You will no longer be just a private man but a public. You are assuming the role and responsibility of husband, the one who will answer to God for the condition of your home. Your identity is changing: Cristina is choosing you as her husband; you are now the elect of Cristina.
Cristina, your identity is changing. You are leaving your father’s house to join your life with the life of your husband. You are getting a new name: no longer a Plaza but a Williams; no longer a princess but a queen. Your identity is changing: Tal is choosing you as his wife; you are now the elect of Tal.
But Paul reminds you that though your identities are changing today in certain respects, your fundamental identities remain the same. Long before you chose one another, God chose you as objects of His love and recipients of His forgiveness in Christ. Therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved… live a life pleasing to God. Tal, before you became the elect of Cristina, Cristina’s chosen husband, you were the elect of God, God’s chosen son. Cristina, before you became the elect of Tal, Tal’s chosen wife, you were the elect of God, God’s chosen daughter. And your identities as God’s elect, God’s chosen ones, do not change today.
As Ben read this afternoon, recall that marriage is a mirror of Christ’s relationship with His Church. Paul uses two words in our text that help capture this. He writes that you are the elect of God, holy and beloved. First, you are holy – set apart for God’s own purposes in the world; set apart from those who are worshiping and serving other gods; set apart to be exclusively loyal to God. That’s who you are. So who are you becoming? Today, Tal, you are becoming Cristina’s elect one, her chosen one, and therefore her holy one – set apart as the one man in all the world to be her very own. Today, Cristina, you are becoming Tal’s elect one, his chosen one, and therefore his holy one – set apart as the one woman in all the world to be his very own. And your “holiness” to one another is a mirror of the exclusive loyalty that Christ gives to and expects of His bride, the Church. You are holy.
But not only are you holy, you are also beloved. God didn’t choose us, didn’t set us apart as holy, as His very own, in order that we might be His slaves and minions but in order that we might be His beloved. Paul writes to usas the elect of God, holy and beloved… Again, your marriage mirrors Christ’s relationship with His Church. Just as you have chosen one another to be the exclusive object of your love, Christ has chosen His bride, the Church, as the alone object of His love. You are beloved.
So, Tal, Cristina, who are you? You are the elect of God, holy and beloved; and today you become the elect of one another, holy and beloved. This is who you are. And what has God done for you? Paul writes that He has forgiven you in Christ, cleansed you of your sin, and welcomed you into His presence. That’s who you are and what God has done for you. Therefore, what manner of spouses ought you to be? Tal, what kind of husband ought you to be? Cristina, what kind of wife ought you to be? You ought to be spouses who put on tender mercies, kindness, humility, meekness, longsuffering; bearing with one another, and forgiving one another…even as God in Christ has forgiven you. And put on love, which is the bond of perfection.
So you see our responsibility as spouses emerges from who we are and what God has done for us. You are the elect of God, holy and beloved, and God has forgiven you through the sacrifice of His Son Jesus. So God’s vision for your marriage is that your relationship with one another reflect the exclusive love that Christ has for His bride, the Church, and the exclusive love that the Church is to have for her husband, Christ. This is the vision, this is the forest; don’t forget it as you begin looking at the trees.

Therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, put on tender mercies, kindness, humility, meekness, longsuffering; bearing with one another, and forgiving one another, if anyone has a complaint against another; even as Christ forgave you, so you also must do. But above all these things put on love, which is the bond of perfection.

God’s Holiness and Ours

March 1, 2015 in Bible - NT - 1 Corinthians, Bible - OT - Isaiah, Creation, Holy Spirit, Judgment, Meditations, Sanctification, Sovereignty of God
1 Corinthians 6:9–11 (NKJV)
9 Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived. Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor sodomites, 10 nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners will inherit the kingdom of God. 11 And such were some of you. But you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God.
Paul reminds us that the One who claims to love God and does not keep God’s commandments is a liar. Though the world would claim that such an idea is harsh and judgmental, the Scriptures make it quite plain: the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God.
Why is this? The Bible grounds its answer in the holiness of God: the one who serves the Holy God must himself be holy. Why? Well what does it mean that God is holy?
The word “holy” conveys the idea of “separate, distinct, or different.” Theologians note that God’s holiness is both metaphysical(referring to God’s being) and ethical (referring to His character). First, God is holy metaphysically – He is the Creator and everything else is created. He is holy – fundamentally different from His creation. There are two basic realities: God and non-God. God, in other words, is transcendent: He is not part of the created order but distinct from it. As Paul says, “Nor is He worshiped with men’s hands, as though He needed anything, since He gives to all life, breath and all things.”
Not only is God holy metaphysically, He is also holy ethically. God’s ethical holiness is His love for all that is good, righteous, just, and pure – it is His love of that which reflects His own character. As a result of our rebellion against God and our attempt to defy the metaphysical holiness of God, to breach the distance between Creator and creature, to become “like God” – as a result of this rebellion, we became morally corrupt / unholy. Hence, not only do we stand before God as creature before our Creator, we also stand before Him as sinner before our Judge.

And it is this twofold reality of God’s “otherness” as our Creator and His “righteousness” as our Judge explains why we must be holy ourselves. God’s eyes are too pure to look upon evil. He cannot just wink at sin and overlook our rebellion.
Consequently, when the prophet Isaiah saw God lofty and exalted and heard the angels crying aloud to one another, “Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God Almighty! The whole earth is full of His glory!” – when Isaiah beheld this holy God, all He could do was cry out, “Woe is me! For I am undone! For I am a man of unclean lips and I dwell among a people of unclean lips and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of Glory!” God’s holiness leaves us feeling not only small but also unclean for He is Holy – He is our Creator and our Judge.
So have you reckoned with this God? Have you considered that you live your life ever before His eyes? That He created you and has given you life, breath, and all things? That He evaluates you and speaks to you regularly in the world, in your conscience, and in His Word? And what’s more, have you reckoned that you know you have not done all He would have you do? That you have unclean lips and that you dwell among a people of unclean lips?

For if we reckon with God’s holiness, with our Creator and our Judge, then our only possible response will be to bow before Him and to seek His mercy and forgiveness. And the good news is that God has provided a way in which He can remain holy and yet restore unclean sinners to fellowship with Himself. How so? By sending His Son to live a holy life on our behalf and then to endure the punishment which our sin deserved; so for all those who seek God’s mercy and forgiveness through Jesus, He promises to forgive us, to receive us into His presence, and to give us His Spirit that we might become holy. But for those who reject Jesus there is no forgiveness but only a fearful expectation of judgment. So this morning as we enter into the worship of the Holy God, let us seek His forgiveness through our Lord Jesus Christ – and let us kneel as we do so.

Repent and Believe

February 15, 2015 in Bible - NT - 1 Corinthians, Confession, Evangelism, Faith, Holy Spirit, Justification, Meditations, Sanctification
1 Corinthians 6:9–11 (NKJV)
9 Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived. Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor sodomites, 10 nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners will inherit the kingdom of God. 11 And such were some of you. But you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God.
It seems that the Church today is in a crisis. We want to proclaim God’s holiness and the unchanging moral standards that proceed from him; simultaneously we know that we all stand in need of God’s forgiveness and that God transforms even the vilest offenders into glorious saints. So which do we preach? Do we preach God’s forgiveness for even the worst? Or do we preach God’s righteous standards for all?
The Bible’s answer is yes; we preach both. We preach that sinners both inside and outside the Church must repent and believe – must turn from sin and turn to Christ. The glorious good news of God’s salvation through Jesus does not stop with forgiveness; it includes righteousness and holiness by the Spirit. The same God who grants us free forgiveness through the shed blood of His Son Jesus also grants His Spirit to all those who believe on Jesus. And His Spirit empowers us for holiness and righteousness.
Repentance and faith aren’t like peanut butter and jelly – yummy together but enjoyable separately. Rather they are like sodium and chloride – remove one or the other and you no longer have table salt but poison.
So how do we preach the Gospel? Just like Paul we preach that men must repent and believe – turn from your idols, turn from your sexual sin, turn from your thievery, turn from your drunkenness and believe that Jesus is the One through whom you can receive God’s forgiveness. The man, woman, or child who wants to hold on to his sin does not truly want Christ. When a French Officer strode up to the British Admiral Nelson to congratulate him on his victory, Nelson stopped him. “First, give me your sword.” And Jesus says to you, “Take up your cross and follow Me!” “Die to your selfishness, your sin, your unrighteousness, and follow me!”

So Paul’s challenge to the Corinthians and to us remains: Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Pursue Christ; and pursuing Christ means shunning sin, turning from it day after day; confessing when we fall and seeking grace to live new lives by the power of the Spirit. Each day we must repent and believe anew – today if you hear his voice harden not your hearts. So this morning let us lay aside the sin that so easily ensnares us and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus, the Author and Finisher of our Faith. And as we confess our sin, let us kneel before our Lord in token of submission.

Law and Gospel

February 4, 2015 in Holy Spirit, Justification, Law and Gospel, Mosaic Law, Quotations, Sanctification

“It makes sense to say that we should not confuse God’s demands with his promises. Nevertheless, the kind of sharp distinction that Luther proposed [between Law and Gospel] is not biblical. for one thing, biblical proclamations of gospel include commands, particularly commands to repent and believe (Mark 1:15; Acts 2:38). And God gave his law to the children of Israel in a context of gospel: he had delivered them out of Egypt; therefore, they should keep his law (Ex. 20:2-17). The law is a gift of God’s grace (Ps 119:29)….

We are not saved by keeping the law, but we are always obligated to keep the law, and once we are saved and raised from death to life, we desire to keep the law out of love for God and for Jesus. The law not only is a terrifying set of commands to drive us to Christ, but also is the gentle voice of the Lord, showing his people that the best blessings of this life come from following his will.”

John Frame, Systematic Theology, pp. 96-97.

Your Fallen Spouse

November 27, 2014 in Holy Spirit, Marriage, Quotations, Sanctification

“You will never find a spouse who is not affected in some way by the reality of the Fall. If you can’t respect this spouse because he/she is prone to certain weaknesses, you will never be able to respect any spouse.”

Gary Thomas, Sacred Marriage, p. 69.