Preference versus Principle

October 4, 2015 in Bible - NT - James, Law and Gospel, Meditations, Sexuality, Ten Commandments
James 1:22-25 (NKJV)
But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. 23 For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man observing his natural face in a mirror; 24 for he observes himself, goes away, and immediately forgets what kind of man he was. 25 But he who looks into the perfect law of liberty and continues in it, and is not a forgetful hearer but a doer of the work, this one will be blessed in what he does.
As we have emphasized various times, it is imperative for us as the people of God to distinguish between being men and women of preference and being men and women of principle. James urges us to be doers of the Word and not merely hearers who delude themselves. As doers of the Word our calling is to understand what God says and then practice it. As Luther so robustly emphasized, we are set right with God by faith alone but not by a faith that is alone. True faith manifests itself in good works. So let us recall the difference between a man or woman of preference and a man or woman of principle.
A man or woman of preference is one who would prefer things to be a certain way but who can’t seem, for one reason or another, to accomplish his objective. He would prefer to be sexually pure, but he just can’t seem to resist looking at pornography. She would prefer to be respectful to her husband, but he’s just so unworthy of respect. He would prefer to be honest at work, but the boss simply doesn’t pay him enough. She would prefer to live a life characterized by joy and gladness, but what her parents did to her when she was young is just too much to forgive. He would prefer to have obedient children, but the children God has given him are difficult and his wife just doesn’t do a good job with them. She would prefer to be content, but all her friends have much nicer things than she. He would prefer to make it to church each Lord’s Day, but it’s simply too hard to get the whole family ready ahead of time. She would prefer not to gossip, but she’s just so lonely she needs someone to talk with.
Contrast these scenarios with a man or woman of principle. He knows it is sinful to be sexually impure, and so he does whatever is necessary to shield himself from temptation. She knows that she must respect her husband, and so she begins honoring him with her words and actions, praying that her heart attitude will gradually change. He knows the utter necessity of honesty, and so he takes another job rather than steal from his employer. She knows that God commands her to be joyful, and so she confesses her sin of bitterness and refuses to listen to her own sob story. He knows he is responsible for the disobedience of his children, and so he asks his wife’s forgiveness for failing to train them and then sets about to do so. She knows that contentment is not an option, and so she meditates on the Word of God and rejoices that God is her portion in the land of the living. He knows that his family needs to be in worship every Lord’s Day, and so he organizes everything Saturday evening so they can make it. She knows it is a sin to gossip, and so she confides her loneliness to the Lord and looks for ways to praise others with her words.
What kind of man or woman are you? Are you a man or woman of preference or of principle? If the former heed the warning of James – But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.

Reminded that we often fail to be men and women of principle and that we make excuses for our disobedience, let us kneel and ask our Lord’s forgiveness.

Responding to Obergefell

June 28, 2015 in Bible - NT - James, Bible - OT - Isaiah, Bible - OT - Psalms, Homosexuality, Law and Gospel, Meditations, Politics, Ten Commandments
James 4:12a (NKJV)
12 There is one Lawgiver, who is able to save and to destroy.
Isaiah 5:20–21 (NKJV)
20 Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil; Who put darkness for light, and light for darkness; Who put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter! 21 Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes, And prudent in their own sight!
Psalm 94:20–23 (NKJV)
20 Shall the throne of iniquity, which devises evil by law, Have fellowship with You? 21 They gather together against the life of the righteous, And condemn innocent blood. 22 But the LORD has been my defense, And my God the rock of my refuge. 23 He has brought on them their own iniquity, And shall cut them off in their own wickedness; The LORD our God shall cut them off.
God is the Lord. He is Himself the embodiment of all that is good and beautiful and true. As human beings, however, we often go astray, seeking to define these things for ourselves. This inevitably results in evil, ugliness, and lies. The brutality and wickedness of the Egyptians, the Assyrians, the Romans, the Huns, the Vandals, the Mongols, the Turks, the Japanese Empire, the Nazis, the Soviets, the Saudis, and, increasingly, the United States of America are well known and grievous. Woe, says Isaiah, to those who call evil good.
This past week the Supreme Court of the United States continued to exalt itself against the Most High God and pretend that it can make laws contrary to the moral law of God. It declared that same sex unions are a constitutional right. Such a declaration is an abomination to God, an affront to our forefathers, a violation of our Constitutional Republic, and a further invitation of divine judgment. God will destroy the throne that devises wickedness by law.
CREC Response to the Obergefell Decision
In light of the Obergefell decision by the United States Supreme Court on June 26th, [our denomination] the Communion of Reformed Evangelical Churches makes the following declaration.
All the varied expressions of transgressive sexuality currently being celebrated in our culture, and now by the highest court in the land, are out of accord with God’s creational design for human sexuality, and are therefore sinful in the eyes of God. Whenever men set themselves up arrogantly to challenge God’s holy standards for sexuality, seeking to teach contrary to what God has taught us in His Word, they are vainly attempting something that is not within their authority to accomplish. We cannot bestow dignity where God has withheld it, and we cannot join together what God has determined shall remain forever separated.
Because we in the CREC submit to the full and complete authority of Scripture, we accept our responsibility to reach out in true compassion to those caught in the snare of such sexual sin. At the same time, we refuse to accept that false compassion which leaves men and women alone with their sin, and so we declare that Jesus Christ died and rose, and we plead with all such to turn to the Lord Jesus Christ so that they might be forgiven, just as we have been forgiven.
In light of this decision, the CREC calls upon the leaders of these United States, whether elected or appointed, whether legislative, judicial, or executive, whether local or national, to repent of this egregious and arrogant sin of attempting to define reality contrary to how God has defined it. In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, amen.

Reminded that the Sovereign Lord is the Lawgiver and Judge, let us confess our own sins and the sins of our nation this morning. We’ll have a time of silent confession followed by the corporate confession in your bulletin.

Pentecost and the Ten Commandments

May 24, 2015 in Bible - OT - Exodus, Law and Gospel, Meditations, Pentecost, Ten Commandments
One of the ancient associations of Pentecost is with the giving of God’s Law on Mt. Sinai. While the feast of Passover was associated with the deliverance from Egypt, Pentecost 50 days later came to be associated with the giving of the Law on Mt. Sinai. As Christians, it is important, as we celebrate the outpouring of the Spirit at Pentecost, that we not drive a wedge between God’s Law and His Spirit. For the Spirit who has been poured out upon us is the Spirit of holiness who enables us, by His grace, to live lives that fulfill God’s law. The Spirit teaches us to cry out with David, “O how I love your law! It is my meditation day and night.” So this morning we mark our celebration of Pentecost with a responsive reading of God’s law – I will be reading each of the Ten Commandments and you will respond with passages from the New Testament that parallel these commandments.
Responsive Reading of the Law of God (Exodus 20:1-17)
Minister: Then God spoke all these words, saying, “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. You shall have no other gods before Me.”
People: For us there is but one God, the Father, from whom are all things, and we exist for Him; and one Lord, Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we exist through Him. (1 Corinthians 8:6)
M: “You shall not make for yourself an idol, or any likeness of what is in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the water under the earth. You shall not worship them or serve them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children, on the third and the fourth generations of those who hate Me, but showing lovingkindness to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments.”
P: Little children, guard yourselves from idols. (1 John 5:21)
M: “You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain, for the Lord will not leave him unpunished who takes His name in vain.”
P: “Pray, then, in this way: ‘Our Father who art in heaven, Hallowed be Thy name.’” (Matthew 6:9)
M: “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath of the Lord your God; in it you shall not do any work, you or your son or your daughter, your male or your female servant or your cattle or your sojourner who stays with you. For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day; therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.”
P: And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching.(Hebrews 10:24-25)

M: “Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be prolonged in the land which the Lord your God gives you.”
P: Children, be obedient to your parents in all things, for this is well-pleasing to the Lord. (Colossians 3:20)
M: “You shall not murder.”
P: Owe nothing to anyone except to love one another; for he who loves his neighbor has fulfilled the law. For this, “You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,” and if there is any other commandment, it is summed up in this saying, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (Romans 13:8, 9)
M: “You shall not commit adultery.”
P: Let marriage be held in honor among all, and let the marriage bed be undefiled; for fornicators and adulterers God will judge. (Hebrews 13:4)
M: “You shall not steal.”
P: Let him who steals steal no longer; but rather let him labor, performing with his own hands what is good, in order that he may have something to share with him who has need. (Ephesians 4:28)
M: “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.”
P: Therefore, laying aside falsehood, speak truth, each one of you, with his neighbor, for we are members of one another. (Ephesians 4:25)
M: “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, nor his male servant, nor his female servant, nor his ox, nor his donkey, nor anything that is your neighbor’s.”
P: Do not let immorality or any impurity or greed even be named among you, as is proper among saints. (Ephesians 5:3)

All: Amen!

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.

Add to Knowledge Self-Control

October 5, 2014 in Bible - NT - 2 Peter, Bible - NT - Galatians, Bible - OT - Proverbs, Ecclesiology, Law and Gospel, 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.
For the last couple weeks we have been studying Peter’s exhortation here in his second epistle. He has instructed us to employ all diligence as we add to our faith virtue and to our virtue knowledge. Today he exhorts us to add to our knowledge self-control.
Webster defines self-control as “control over your feelings or actions; restraint exercised over one’s own impulses, emotions, or desires.” While self-control is sometimes an unpopular subject, it is one that is frequently addressed in Scripture – in both the Old and New Testaments. Solomon tells us in Proverbs 16:32, He who is slow to anger is better than the mighty, And he who rules his spirit than he who takes a city. And later in 25:28 he reminds us, Whoever has no rule over his own spirit Is like a city broken down, without walls. In the New Testament, Paul teaches us that self-control is one of the fruits of the Spirit and that a lack of self-control is evidence of a people under God’s judgment.
So let us note a few things: first, self-control is a gift of God’s Spirit. And so if we would grow in self-control we must seek it from God Himself. This reminds us to pray regularly for God’s grace and mercy. When the Spirit is at work in our lives, we will gain increasing self-control. Despite the claims of some, the Spirit doesn’t primarily manifest Himself in miracles and signs and wonders. His primary work is the hum-drum work of equipping us to resist that second bowl of ice-cream.
Second, self-control is a Christian virtue which we are to develop with all diligence. We are to gain increasing control over our feelings and actions, over our impulses, emotions, and desires. The feeling of anger wells up within us – we need to control it. The impulse to spend money and go into debt strikes us – we need to control it. The desire to look at pornography assaults us – we need to control it.
This diligent cultivation of self-control is something that applies to adults and children alike. Parents, one of your primary duties is to teach your children self-control. And children, one of your primary callings is to develop self-control in your youth. You want to lay in bed all day; control your feeling and get up. You want to open your lips and be disrespectful; control your impulse and speak respectfully. Self-control is a Christian virtue which we are to develop with all diligence.
Finally, Peter’s calling to add to knowledge self-control means that we are to use the various means at our disposal to cultivate this virtue. We are to study, observe, and gain knowledge of ourselves and the world, so that we can become increasingly self-controlled. So how are you doing? Teens, are your music choices helping you cultivate self-control? Music is one of the most powerful means for strengthening virtue and, on the other hand, destroying inhibitions, destroying self-control. What is your music doing for you? What do the musicians you listen to want it to do? Concerts are a good indication of the direction the music you’re listening to leads. Study. Think. Consider. Add to your knowledge self-control.

Reminded that we are to be a people who control our emotions and actions, let us confess that we often fail to do so. We are often driven by our impulses, controlled by our feelings, governed by our desires. So let us confess our lack of self-control to the Lord and kneel as we’re able.

Ignorant Christians?

September 29, 2014 in Bible - NT - 1 Corinthians, Bible - NT - 2 Peter, Justification, Law and Gospel, Meditations, Mosaic Law, Sanctification, Wisdom, Word of God
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.
Last week we learned that our call as Christians is to add to our faith virtue. Holiness is not optional but a natural outgrowth of God’s work in our lives. He who has been born of God will become like God.
Today Peter exhorts us to add to virtue knowledge. Webster defines knowledge as “acts, information, and skills acquired by a person through experience or education; the theoretical or practical understanding of a subject.” So let us explore two implications of Peter’s words:
First, Peter tells us that we are to acquire knowledge, to gain a greater understanding of the Christian faith through experience and education. Remember that the greatest commandment is to love the Lord our God with, among other things, all our minds. God has given us minds to understand the Word of God, to apply it in our lives, and to grow in knowledge. So Paul commands us, Brethren, do not be children in [your thinking]; however, in malice be babes, but in [your thinking] be mature (1 Cor 14:20). Being an ignorant Christian is simply not a godly option.
What this means, therefore, is that each of us is commanded by Peter to grow in knowledge. We are to use the abilities and opportunities that God gives us to expand our minds. And we are, remember, to devote ourselves to this task with all diligence. Read your Bibles; read sound Christian literature; listen carefully to the sermons; review and discuss them through the week. Add to your virtue knowledge.
Second, the order in which Peter places virtue and knowledge is important. We are to add knowledge on top of virtue. Knowledge in itself is not the object; rather, it is knowledge in the service of faith and virtue. Paul warns us that knowledge puffs up but love edifies. In other words, it is possible to abuse knowledge. As J.I. Packer writes in Knowing God:
“if we pursue theological knowledge for its own sake, it is bound to go bad on us. It will make us proud and conceited. The very greatness of the subject-matter will intoxicate us, and we shall come to think of ourselves as a cut above other Christians because of our interest in it and grasp of it; and we shall look down on those whose theolgical ideas seem to us crude and inadquate, and dismiss them as very poor specimins… We need to guard our hearts against such an attitude, and pray to be kept from it.”

So this morning Peter would remind us to add to your virtue knowledge. In light of this, we must admit that we are often either lazy and slothful, failing to gain the knowledge that we ought, or proud and arrogant, looking down on those who haven’t learned as much as we. Reminded of our sins in these areas, let us seek the Lord’s forgiveness through Jesus. Let us kneel as we confess our sin.

Let Go and Let God? Nope.

September 21, 2014 in Bible - NT - 1 John, Bible - NT - 2 Peter, Holy Spirit, Justification, Law and Gospel, 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.
Last week we learned from Peter that God’s work in our lives does not stop with our regeneration and conversion, does not stop when we profess faith in Jesus as Lord. God’s work continues as He teaches and trains us to be holy. God has called us, Peter wrote, by glory and virtue – to make us glorious and virtuous. And how does He accomplish this? By His divine power. Peter wrote that His divine power has given to us all things that pertain to life and godliness. The Risen Christ has poured out His Spirit upon the Church and His Spirit makes us glorious and virtuous.
Because holiness of life is a work of the Spirit, some Christians have erroneously maintained that the path to true holiness is through passivity: “Let go and let God; relax and let God work through you.” But Peter reasons in the exact opposite direction. Notice that Peter writes in verse 5: But also for this very reason – in other words, because God in His grace and mercy has delivered us from our sin and given us His Spirit to make us holy – for this very reason, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue…
Notice two things in Peter’s command: first, we are to add to our faith virtue. It is not enough to believe in God, not enough to profess faith in Him. That faith must manifest itself in virtue – in holiness of life. Faith without works is dead, as James declares. Or as the Apostle John phrases it, the one who claims to know God and does not begin becoming like God has not truly known God. Holiness is not optional – for the same Spirit who gave us faith will also give us virtue and holiness of life.

Second, notice that the knowledge that the Holy Spirit is the One making us holy should not drive us to passivitybut to activity. Knowing that God is the One at work in us to will and to work for His good pleasure should produce in us, Peter writes, all diligence. Webster defines diligence as “careful and persistent work or effort.” Synonyms include “conscientiousness, assiduousness, hard work, application, concentration, effort, care, industriousness, rigor, meticulousness, thoroughness” – you get the idea. Peter wants us to give all diligence to the pursuit of virtue.
So what about you? Are you giving all diligence to the pursuit of virtue? That sin that’s been dogging you – have you given all diligence to rid yourself of it? Have you prayed for God to take it away? Have you confessed it? Have you memorized Scripture? Have you pursued accountability? Have you guarded yourself from temptation? Have you given all diligence?
For listen, brethren, the kingdom of God is like a merchant seeking beautiful pearls, who, when he had found one pearl of great price, went and sold all that he had and bought it. Knowing Christ, serving Him, attaining to the resurrection of the dead, is worth all the effort, all the industry, all the diligence, we can muster.

So reminded of our call to give all diligence to our pursuit of holiness, let us confess that we have often been passive in our pursuit of holiness and have need of God’s forgiveness and strength. Let us kneel as we confess together.

All Things Necessary for Life and Godliness

September 14, 2014 in Bible - NT - 1 John, Bible - NT - 2 Peter, Holy Spirit, Justification, Law and Gospel, Sanctification
2 Peter 1:2–4 (NKJV)
2 Grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord, 3 as His divine power has given to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him who called us by glory and virtue, 4 by which have been given to us exceedingly great and precious promises, that through these you may be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust.
The Apostle John reminds us in his first epistle that Jesus appeared for this purpose: to destroy the works of the devil. And what are the works of the devil? The works of the devil are obvious: lies, deceit, murder, lust, hatred, covetousness. Jesus took on human flesh to deliver us from such things. He gave his life that we might be forgiven for having done such things and rose again from the dead that He might empower us to live in newness of life – that we might have power to practice virtue in our lives and overcome the degrading vices of the Evil One.
It is this message which Peter announces in the beginning of his second epistle. First, Peter reminds us from whence God has rescued us. We used to be slaves of sin, slaves of Satan, and slaves of our own passions. But God in Christ delivered us. We have escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust.
So why did God rescue us? Peter reminds us that God rescued us that we might be partakers of the divine nature. In other words, God graciously redeemed us that we might come to reflect His character increasingly in our lives. He called us, Peter notes, by glory and virtue. He came to make us glorious – to free us from shameful attitudes and actions – and to make us virtuous – to free us from vicious, sinful attitudes and actions.
So how does God accomplish this? Peter gives us the answer: His divine power has given to us all things that pertain to life and godliness. The Risen Christ has poured out His Spirit upon the Church and His Spirit teaches us and instructs us in righteousness and holiness and self-control. The Spirit poured out upon us is the Spirit of holiness – come to make us increasingly holy. So did you catch Peter’s words? His divine power has given to us all things that pertain to life and godliness. Today we read of Enoch, a sinful man who walked faithfully with God, who pleased God such that God delivered him from death. Holiness is possible.
So what excuses have you made this week for your sinful attitudes and actions? You yelled at your spouse; you were harsh with your children; you looked at pornography; you nagged your husband; you were lazy at work; you lied to a friend; you were afraid to speak of Christ; you neglected to pray; you became bitter toward your spouse; you engaged in self-pity. “But it’s okay,” you said to yourself, “I can’t really help it. If they hadn’t done that to me…” But Peter says to you, His divine power has given to us all things that pertain to life and godliness.There is no excuse for behaving sinfully.
Reminded that we often make excuses for our sin rather than seek the face of God and ask Him for power to be glorious and virtuous, let us kneel and seek His forgiveness in Christ.

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.