Thursday, 29 January 2015

Is Gratitude the Ultimate Reason behind the Christian's Good works?

It is a widespread belief that Christian's do good works out of gratitude to God. That is the Christian does good works because he offers thanks to God for all that He has done for him especially in salvation. This is true. But what lies behind this motivation? Sadly many today focus merely upon the motivations of man rather than on the purposes of God. An important issue that often does not get addressed is, where is God in the good works of the Christian? With good works as in many other areas Christians all too often focus upon man rather than upon God. For the very same God who saves is the very same God who does so for his own glory as he redeems a people and offers them unto his Son. And it is God who is at work in the Christian to mold him and renew him so that every good work is evidence of the potter who is is forming from the lump of clay one who glorifies Him. 

The apostle Paul wrote in his epistle to the Ephesians that,

"we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them." (Ephesians 2:10)

The reasons the Apostle gives for the Christian doing good works are far removed from the man centered reasons given by many modern day evangelicals. He simply does not give gratitude as the ultimate reason for Christian good works. Instead he gives the following reasons:

(1) The Christian is the workmanship of God. He is the Creator and he is the Saviour so that all Christians belong to him. And he is the one who has all rights and all power to do with the Christian whatsoever he chooses. God saved the Christian with an ultimate end in mind and this he accomplishes in the life of every Christian without exception. He is the molder of the clay working upon the Christian life to make vessels that achieve His end.

(2) The Christian is "created in Christ Jesus." He has been made a new Creation who bears the very nature of the one who died for him on the cross. This nature though it is born yet has not come to full fruition. So it is that it can be said that the Christian who is created in Christ is being daily recreated so that he will one day fully bear his likeness.

(3) The evidence that a person is a Christian and is therefore saved are good works. The works themselves save no one since salvation is solely the work of God in Jesus Christ. Yet the very same God who saves has not stopped working in the life of the Christian. He daily shapes and changes the Christian so that they reflect back to him his own glory as they bear with increasing measure the image of Christ in them.

(4) These good works are not something that God makes up as he goes along. They were prepared beforehand, that is before the foundation of the world. They existed in the mind of God before he had created a single living soul. These works originate in God and trace their purpose and their ability to be done not in man but in Him. For it is from God that those works have meaning and it is from God that the Christian receives grace so that he does all that the Father has prepared beforehand. 

(5) The words, "should walk in them" can be misunderstood. They can be used to cast doubt on the good works that were prepared before hand. In truth there is no doubt from God's perspective. Because God is the one who prepared these works it is absolutely certain that every Christian will walk in them. For the same God who powerfully saves is the same God who powerfully renews his people from the internal outwards and as he does so this flows from the unseen to be seen in the changed life of the Christian.

A Note

A friend recently pointed out to me an imbalance in my theology. That is I brought to the fore God's role in good works while denigrating the Christian's motives and desires to do good. The bible clearly teaches that God so works in the Christian that they bear the fruit of belonging to him in good works. 

"But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires." 
(Galatians 5:22-24)

 But it also teaches that the Christian is to give thanks to God as he does good towards others. 

"And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him."
(Colossians 3:17)

I thank my friend for pointing out to me that while God changes the Christian so that they then do good they are also to seek to do good in thankfulness to God. That is the divine and human aspect to good works both need to be kept in their right balance and equally taught for both are found in the pages of Scripture.

Sunday, 18 January 2015

The Weak Saviour of Arminianism

The most widely held theology in this country is Arminianism. At the heart of this theology is man's libertarian free will. It is man's ability to choose God whenever he chooses. Though he is sick in his sin God gives him enough grace so that he is made well enough to respond to him. Though God extends prevenient grace to all men and Jesus Christ died for all men it is the will of man that makes that grace and Christ's death effectual. God has done all he can but it is up to men to make what he has done effectual for them. This is the very core of Arminianism. It is the extension of salvation to all but it is up to man in his free will to accept what he has done. 

Very few ask the question, "what does this make of Christ?" So centered is this theology upon man and the defense of man and his free will that Christ is given a secondary thought. But it is absolutely essential to ask what does any system of theology make of Christ. For what a system of theology makes of Christ determines whether it is biblical and true, or unbiblical and not. So what does Arminianism make of Christ?

Firstly, Christ cannot save anyone, he merely extends his salvation to men in the hope that they will receive it. He does not know who or if any will. He came to this world, died on the cross without knowing who he was dying for because his death is only made effectual when man uses his free will to receive his death for him. The cross of Christ to powerfully save is emptied of its power, it is stripped of its effectiveness to redeem the lost from the slave market of sin. Instead he has died, has been resurrected, ascended to heaven, and sat down at the right hand of God, where he waits and hopes that someone will choose him. What a frustrated and anxious Saviour he must be.

Secondly, the grace of God is made prevenient. It is a grace that is extended to all men and makes all men savable. It is the free will of man which is such an essential of Arminianist theology that determines whether this grace saves or it does not. Though it is extended to all it is not sufficient to save any. It is only when man in his free will chooses grace that it has any power to regenerate and bring about new birth. How powerless is God that he can save no one without their permission. How feeble is God's grace that it needs the cooperation of a sinner before it can save even a single soul.

Thirdly, who is Jesus the mediator for in heaven? For whom does he stand before the Father and offer his sacrifice for? Since, in Arminianist theology, Christ died for all does this also mean he is also the mediator for all? Very few are those who are willing to take their theology to its logical conclusion.Very few will say that since Christ died for all he is also the mediator for all. But this is the logical conclusion of Arminianism. Since if he died for all it follows he must also be the mediator for all. And yet to believe this would be to say that there are people who Christ died for, he is the mediator for, yet they will go to hell because they use their free will to deny Christ. How useless a mediator is Christ. How unjust is God to condemn to hell those who Christ has died for and is the mediator for. Thankfully many are the Arminianists who are inconsistent.

Fourthly, how weak are the Father and the Son to keep any from permanently falling away. Many Arminianists will say that God will cause them to persevere to the end. But how can he do this? Can't the same free will man uses to enter into relationship with God be used to walk away from him? Does man lose his free will when he becomes a Christian? The Arminianist, if they are consistent with their theology, must believe that the same will they used to come to Christ and believe is the same will they can use to turn their back on Christ and to reject the faith they once confessed. Again, thankfully, very few are the Arminianists who are consistent with their theology.

Friday, 26 December 2014

Women Pastors and Elders: A Degradation of Scripture

It is very common today, even in churches that have elders, for there to be women elders. Many today see no problem with this and in fact see it as a great advancement from what was perceived to be male domination in all areas of leadership including the church. A great imbalance that existed between men and women has thus been addressed by the ordination of women elders into the church. And yet the ordination of women elders into certain churches emanates from two main presuppositions which are either that:

1) Culture has advanced since the time of the writing of the bible. What was written then was for that culture and is no longer relevant for today. We have come a long way since then. The male biases and domination in authority need to be overthrown and this is especially true in the church. This presupposition places culture as the defining factor as to how Scripture is interpreted and how it is applied in the church today.

2) The bible is unclear about whether women elders are allowed in the church. The bible lacks clarity as to its context, interpretation and application as to the ordination of women elders in the church. Based on this supposed lack of clarity there is therefore no prohibition against women elders. The Scriptures are simply silent about the matter. Thus we simply do not know and so in light of how the role of women in society has progressed it is appropriate that women should be allowed the same leadership positions as they do in other areas of life. 

Both of these positions undermine the authority of Scripture. The first position because it makes culture as the lens through which the bible is read and when the bible does not line up with culture it must either be reinterpreted so as to fit or be rejected altogether. The second because it supposes that God has spoken with so little clarity in the bible about elders that it is not binding or that the bible simply does not address it at all. So whether it is the lens of culture or supposing that God has not spoken clearly, what is being undermined is the authority of Scripture to define elders not only for today but for the church in every generation.

It is right, I believe, that wherever such an approach to Scripture is adopted that then allows women elders it will inevitably be followed by other teachings that fall outside biblical parameters. This is because what is at stake is not primarily female vs male elders in church but the authority of Scripture to teach us what God has spoken with clarity. What at stake is the bible as the sole source of teaching both for Christian faith and living especially as to how Christ's church is to be led and who is to lead it. What under girds the belief that women elders are allowed today is the belief that the biblical teaching is no longer applicable or is no longer clear and if this is so with regards to elders then it stands to reason that when biblical authority and clarity is degraded then the doors are opened for a whole plethora of unbiblical teachings to come into the church because when Scripture is no longer the measure of what is true and what is right men and women will be.

The Abhorrent Religion of Roman Catholicism

It has been said the Galatians were amateurs compared to the modern day Roman Catholic Church. While the Apostle Paul rebuked the Galatians for adding circumcision to faith in Christ and thus negating the gospel, the Roman Catholic Church has added hundreds of rituals and beliefs to the gospel. From the Marian dogmas especially as her being sinless and therefore the mediatrix between man and God and her being the mother of God, to the priesthood and the priest as being the alter Christus (as acting in the place of Christ) as he calls down the person of Christ from heaven and sacrifices him every Sunday in the Eucharist by which God is placated and the priest's office as the intercessor of man's prayers so that through the priest they are offered up to God, to purgatory and the intermediate state whereby man is purged of his remaining sin, to indulgences whereby a person can purchase righteousness for those who are in purgatory from the overflow of merit be it Christ's, Mary's or the Saints, to the belief that faith alone does not save but it is faith and works that save, to the Pope and his title as the Vicar of Christ (Christ's representative on earth and the direct successor of the Apostle Peter) whereby when he speaks ex cathedra he speaks infallibly as the very voice of God , to the Roman Catholic magisterium as giving the sole infallible interpretation of the bible and as it not being the sole source of Christ’s teaching but that there is a double rule of faith, namely, Bible and Tradition. Tradition being the sum of revealed doctrine which has not been put down in Sacred Scripture but has been handed down to the Church from age to age. It is this belief that the bible is not the sole source of Christ's teaching and the appeal to Tradition that allows all sorts of modern Catholic beliefs to be defended even if they are not found in Scripture.

In view of all this, which is not taught in Scripture and which are direct attacks on the authority of Scripture, the personhood of Christ and his substitutionary atonement, and the grace of God which is sufficient to save, modern day Catholicism is not only not a denomination of Christianity but falls outside Christianity all together. Sadly many Christians today do not view these heresies with the seriousness that they need to be. Those who speak out against modern day Roman Catholicism are often seen as eccentric voices in the wilderness. Yet since the time of the reformation, when Martin Luther then John Calvin rallied against the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church, those teachings have only become more heretical not less. And yet many today view the divide between the Roman Catholic Church and Protestantism as being slight and minor. But I view the beliefs of the Roman Catholic Church as being so serious that if a person believes them and therefore follows them they are walking down a path that will lead them to hell. This is therefore serious because it is a matter of   the gospel and a person's soul. (Romans 1:16-17) It is a matter of how a sinful person is saved and reconciled to a holy God. (Ephesians 2:13-16) It is a matter, not of the necessity of grace, but of the sufficiency of grace to save. (Ephesians 2:8-9) It is a matter of the sufficiency of Christ's death to save to the uttermost those who would draw near to God and his intercession for them. (Hebrews 7:22-25)

Thursday, 25 December 2014

A Certain Kind of Calvinism

I am a Calvinist. I am a Calvinist because this theology teaches that the bible is the infallible and sole rule of faith and living for the Christian life. The bible exalts the glory of God over the glory of man. Declares that God is sovereign over all things including man's salvation. And teaches that God's grace is not only necessary but is sufficient to save. This is the heart of biblical teaching and because of this it is the heart of Calvinism. 

And yet there is a kind of Calvinism that I have little time for. There is a kind of Calvinism that believes in the right doctrines but those doctrines have not impacted on the heart such that they cause a person to be more loving towards God and people. There is a kind of Calvinism that says all the right things and yet is cold in worship, and is ungracious and condemning of those who are fellow Christians but who do not yet embrace all that the bible teaches. There is a kind of Calvinism that will trample on people's feelings just to prove a point, will speak truth with little accompanying love, and will be argumentative and combative towards any who are unsure. 

There is a kind of Calvinism that can hold to all that Calvinism has historically taught and yet be as dangerous as a caged tiger ready to be set free upon an unsuspecting fellow Christian. This kind of Calvinist does not yet know that he is no better than anyone else for he is the recipient of God's undeserving grace without which he would perish. He does not yet know what it is to totally rely on the sovereignty of a loving God during the most debilitating and agonizing times of suffering. He does not yet know what it is to have all his legs of self-righteousness taken out from under him and to find his peace and rest not in the rightness of his theology merely but in Christ which the rightness of his theology points him to. And this kind of Calvinism views emotions as being inferior to knowledge rather than allowing the emotions to be swelled up in adoration and affection to God because of what is known about God especially in Jesus Christ. 

This kind of Calvinism I have little time for. For if you believe in Calvinism and the doctrines of grace, how much for should your love burn for God and for all people. How much more should you be gracious towards those who would disagree with you, and how much more should your words be spoken and expressed with the adornments of love. How much more should your worship burn with emotions of adoration because of what is known about God and his saving grace in Christ. I love this Calvinism, I embrace this Calvinism. This is the Calvinism of the bible.

The Atonement of Christ

Another Christmas has past. Another Christmas to celebrate all that Jesus came into the world to do for sinners like me. Another Christmas to celebrate the amazing grace and love of God that came in the world in the life and death of his Son. For Jesus came into the world for the end of dying that sinners might live. And so it seems a good time to ask the question, "who did Jesus die for. For whom does his death make atonement?" Most Christians today believe that Jesus died for the sins of the whole world. That is, his atonement is for every one's sin. And the usual scripture which will be used as evidence for this is,

"For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life." (John 3:16)

And so those who believe that Jesus died for the sins of the whole world will say "look Jesus died for your sins and it is only your not believing that makes his death ineffective for you." But is this what this passage of Scripture teaches?

Firstly John uses the term "world" in 10 different ways in his gospel:

1. The Entire Universe - John 1:10; 1:3; 17:5

2. The Physical Earth - John 13:1; 16:33; 21:25

3. The World System - John 12:31; 14:30; 16:11 

4. All humanity minus believers - John 7:7; 15:18

5. A Big Group but less than all people everywhere - John 12:19

6. The Elect Only - John 3:17

7. The Non-Elect Only - John 17:9

8. The Realm of Mankind - John 1:10; (this is very probably the 

best understanding of the word "world" in John 3:16 also)

9. Jews and Gentiles (not just Israel but many Gentiles too) - John 4:42

10. The General Public (as distinguished from a private group) 

not those in small private groups - John 7:4

("WORLD" - John's Ten Uses of the Word by Pastor John Samson)

Firstly, it is thus simplistic to say than when John uses the word world means the entire world. It must first be ascertained as to what context John is using the word in. And it is right to interpret the world as the mass of sinful humanity into which the Son was coming to give his life. It is into this mass which encompasses the whole world that Jesus was coming to give his life. And his coming proceeds out of God's love for the mass of this sinful humanity.

Secondly, the English words "whosoever believes" read in the Greek, hina pas ho pisteuwn. They literally mean, "everyone believing" and it is because of their believing in Jesus that they "should not perish but have eternal life." This believing is on-going and though it may diminish and increase it remains continuous through out a person's life. Jesus did not come to die for the sins of the whole but only for those in the world who would belong to the group called "everyone believing." 

Thirdly, God does not love everyone in the world in the same way. It is very common to restrict God's love to one type, and yet we do not love other people in this way. A husband should love his wife in a far different way than other women. And parents should love their children in a far different way to other children. We distinguish between the different types of love we have depending on who the people are. Like wise God loves in different ways depending upon who the people are. The two main types of God's love is his general love such that he, 

"makes his sun rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust." 
(Matthew 5:45)

And his specific love or the love he has for the elect such that he,

"chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he blessed us in the beloved." (Ephesians 1:4-6)

So when John wrote "for God so loved the world" he is speaking of God's specific love as being towards who would believe from the mass of sinful humanity and it is for this group that Jesus came and died.

Fourthly, if Jesus died for the sins of the whole world does his death then only make men savable but it is up to men to contribute their part if they are to be saved. Does Jesus death fail to save? If he died for the sins of the whole world then how can God send anyone to hell, for Christ has already been punished for those sins on the cross? Is Christ the High Priest for the whole world and does he make intercession for the whole world? Is the the mediator between man and God for all men?

Another Christmas has come and gone and it is amazing that Jesus came die that I a sinner might have life in all its fulness in him. That my sins have been dealt with on the cross, that Jesus is my all sufficient sacrifice who saves me to the uttermost. He is my High Priest who cleanses me from all my sins by his blood. And he intercedes for me and id my mediator with the Father. It is only by his being born and by his death that he could be all of this for me.

Soli Deo Gloria!

Saturday, 18 October 2014

Loving words to Loving Friends: The Speech I gave to my friends Graeme and Zoe on their Wedding Day

Thank you so much Graeme and Zoe for inviting me to enjoy this wonderful day with you both. To see my dear friends married makes me joyful beyond words. I am so blessed to be here and I cannot thank you enough for including me in this awesome day.
And thank you so much for your wonderful friendship. You have both blessed me in amazing ways but most of all you have blessed me by being incredibly loving friends to me. I am so grateful to God for bringing such wonderful friends into my life. Our friendship is another display of God’s grace in our lives and another reason for us to be full of thankfulness and gratitude to him.
But as wonderful as our friendship is it is not perfect. We are fallible and sadly we let each other down. As you begin your lives together it brings me joy to remind you of one who will never fail you, who will always be there for you, who will never stop loving you. The bible says,
But you, O Lord, are a God merciful and gracious,
slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness.”
(Psalm 86:15)

Your steadfast love, O LORD, extends to the heavens,
your faithfulness to the clouds.” (Psalm 36:5)

The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases;
His mercies never come to an end;
They are new every morning;
Great is your faithfulness.”
(Lamentations 3:22-23)

I would also like to share with you my experience of what a faithful friend Jesus has been in my life. Many are the times when depression has plunged me into the dark depths of despair. But he has been there to comfort and care for me even when my whole world seemed to be falling apart. It has been in my darkest days that I have experienced his love most intimately and intensely, seen his sovereignty in action most clearly, and been blessed by his grace to get through another day. You have a friend who will stick by you no matter what happens in your lives. In days of joy and sadness he promises to remain faithful to you and to always set his loving affections on you.

Graeme and Zoe, I am not a wealthy man. I don’t have a financial nest egg to fall back on. I don’t have many expensive possessions. I don’t own my own house. I don’t have a high earning job. I don’t have an advanced education. I don’t have a long list of friends. These are all the things the world we live in esteems as valuable. But what I and you do have that eclipses all of these is Jesus Christ. He is infinitely more valuable than anything the world esteems as valuable. The bible says,
He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities- all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of the cross.” (Colossians 1:15-20)
And Jesus, pointing to himself as the one who satisfies the deep spiritual longings of your soul and your longing to know God, says,
I am the bread of life;
whoever comes to me shall not hunger,
and whoever believes in me shall not thirst.”
(John 6:35)

As you begin your lives together I hope and pray that each day you will point each other to the treasure that can never perish, whose love never fades, and whose grace will always be amazing. You were made for someone bigger than yourselves and bigger than each other. You were made to enjoy Jesus forever.
Recently I read these words from John Piper which I hope will encourage you as you begin a new chapter in your lives. He writes,

Marriage is not mainly about prospering economically; it is mainly about displaying the covenant-keeping love between Christ and his church. Knowing Christ is more important than making a living. Treasuring Christ is more important than bearing children. Being united to Christ by faith is a greater source of marital success than perfect sex and double-income prosperity. So it is with marriage. It is a momentary gift. It may last a lifetime, or it may be snatched away on the honeymoon. Either way, it is short. It may have many bright days, or it may be covered with clouds. If we make secondary things primary, we will be embittered at the sorrows we must face. But if we set our face to make of marriage mainly what God designed it to be, no sorrows and no calamities can stand in our way. Every one of them will be, not an obstacle to success, but a way to succeed. The beauty of the covenant-keeping love between Christ and his church shines brightest when nothing but Christ can sustain it.”

Graeme and Zoe, thank you so much for having me here to enjoy this day with you both. I wish you all the very best for the future. God bless and much love to you in our blessed Saviour Jesus Christ.