Saturday, July 31, 2010

The Church's Task

"The task of the church is to make the invisible kingdom visible through faithful Christian living and witness-bearing." -- J.I. Packer

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Your Actual Theology

"What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us." -- A.W. Tozer ("The Knowledge of the Holy")

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Good posts from Justin Taylor

Justin Taylor's blog is probably the best I know of, and he has three especially good posts today including one featuring Dave Harvey on "What Grace Will Do to You" and C.S. Lewis on "The First Things First Principle." He also has an excerpt from Murray Harris' book, "Slave of Christ: A New Testament Metaphor for Total Devotion to Christ, NSBT (IVP)

What We Really Think About God

"We cannot hide what we really believe God is like. Our personal disposition is an unending expression of our understanding of and trust in his character. How we live, how we respond to challenges, crises and trials, reveals what we really believe about God, what we really think 'deep down' about him."

-- Sinclair Ferguson, "Faithful God" p. 111 (Bryntirion Press)

Sunday, July 25, 2010

J.C. Ryle on Justification & Sanctification, pt. 3

I commend these distinctions to the attention of all my readers, and I ask them to ponder them well. I am persuaded that one great cause of the darkness and uncomfortable feelings of many well-meaning people in the matter of religion is their habit of confounding, and not distinguishing, justification and sanctification. It can never be too strongly impressed on our minds that they are two separate things. No doubt they cannot be divided, and everyone that is a partaker of either is a partaker of both. But never, never ought they to be confounded, and never ought the distinction between them to be forgotten. It only remains for me now to bring this subject to a conclusion by a few plain words of application. The nature and visible marks of sanctification have been brought before us.

What practical reflections ought the whole matter to raise in our minds?

(1) For one thing, let us all awake to a sense of the perilous state of many professing Christians.”Without holiness no man shall see the Lord”; without sanctification there is no salvation. (Heb.xii. 14.) Then what an enormous amount of so-called religion there is which is perfectly useless!

What an immense proportion of church-goers and chapel-goers are in the broad road that leadeth to destruction! The thought is awful, crushing, and overwhelming. Oh, that preachers and teachers would open their eyes and realize the condition of souls around them! Oh, that man could be persuaded to “flee from the wrath to come”!

If unsanctified souls can be saved and go to heaven, the Bible is not true. Yet the Bible is true and cannot lie! What must the end be!

(2) For another thing, let us make sure work of our own condition, and never rest till we feel and know that we are “sanctified” ourselves. What are our tastes, and choices, and likings, and inclinations?

This is the great testing question. It matters little what we wish, and what we hope, and what we desire to be before we die. Where are we now? What are we doing? Are we sanctified or not? If not, the fault is all our own.

(3) For another thing, if we would be sanctified, our course is clear and plain— we must begin with Christ. We must go to Him as sinners, with no plea but that of utter need, and cast our souls on Him by faith, for peace and reconciliation with God. We must place ourselves in His hands, as in the hands of a good physician, and cry to Him for mercy and grace. We must wait for nothing to bring with us as a recommendation. The very first step towards sanctification, no less than justification, is to come with faith to Christ. We must first live and then work.

(4) For another thing, if we would grow in holiness and become more sanctified, we must continually go on as we began, and be ever making fresh applications to Christ. He is the Head from which every member must be supplied. (Ephes. iv. 16.)

To live the life of daily faith in the Son of God, and to be daily drawing out of His fulness the promised grace and strength which He has laid up for His people—this is the grand secret of progressive sanctification.

Believers who seem at a standstill are generally neglecting close communion with Jesus, and so grieving the Spirit.

He that prayed, ”Sanctify them,” the last night before His crucifixion, is infinitely willing to help everyone who by faith applies to Him for help, and desires to be made more holy.

(5) For another thing, let us not expect too much from our own hearts here below.

At our best we shall find in ourselves daily cause for humiliation, and discover that we are needy debtors to mercy and grace every hour.

The more light we have, the more we shall see our own imperfection. Sinners we were when we began, sinners we shall find ourselves as we go on; renewed, pardoned, justified—yet sinners to the very last.

Our absolute perfection is yet to come, and the expectation of it is one reason why we should long for heaven.
(6) Finally, let us never be ashamed of making much of sanctification,, and contending for a high standard of holiness.

While some are satisfied with a miserably low degree of attainment, and others are not ashamed to live on without any holiness at all—content with a mere round of church-going and chapel-going, but never getting on, like a horse in a mill—let us stand fast in the old paths, follow after eminent holiness ourselves, and recommend it boldly to others.

This is the only way to be really happy.

Let us feel convinced, whatever others may say, that holiness is happiness, and that the man who gets through life most comfortably [i.e., with the most comfort/assurance] is the sanctified man.

No doubt there are some true Christians who from ill-health, or family trials, or other secret causes, enjoy little sensible comfort, and go mourning all their days on the way to heaven. But these are exceptional cases.

As a general rule, in the long run of life, it will be found true that sanctified people are the happiest people on earth. They have solid comforts which the world can neither give nor take away.

“The ways of wisdom are ways of pleasantness.”— “Great peace has they that love Thy law.”—

It was said by One who cannot lie, “My yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”—

But it is also written, “There is no peace unto the wicked.” (Prov iii. 17; Ps. cxix. 165; Matt, xi. 30; Is. xlviii. 22.)

P. S. THE subject of sanctification is of such deep importance, and the mistakes made about it so many and great, that I make no apology for strongly recommending “Owen on the Holy Spirit” to all who want to study more thoroughly the whole doctrine of sanctification. No single paper like this can embrace it all. I am quite aware that Owen's writings are not fashionable in the present day, and that many think fit to neglect and sneer at him as a Puritan! Yet the great divine who in Commonwealth times was Dean of Christ Church, Oxford, does not deserve to be treated in this way. He had more learning and sound knowledge of Scripture in his little finger than many who depreciate him have in their whole bodies. I assert unhesitatingly that the man who wants to study experimental theology will find no books equal to those of Owen and some of his contemporaries, for complete, Scriptural, and exhaustive treatment of the subjects they handle.

J.C. Ryle on Justification & Sanctification, pt. 2

Such are the points on which justification and sanctification agree. Let us now reverse the picture, and see wherein they differ.

(a) Justification is the reckoning and counting a man to be righteous for the sake of another, even Jesus Christ the Lord. Sanctification is the actual making a man inwardly righteous, though it may be in a very feeble degree.

(b) The righteousness we have by our justification is not our own, but the everlasting perfect righteousness of our great Mediator Christ, imputed to us, and made our own by faith. The righteousness we have by sanctification is our own righteousness, imparted, inherent, and wrought in us by the Holy Spirit, but mingled with much infirmity and imperfection.

In justification our own works have no place at all, and simple faith in Christ is the one thing needful.

In sanctification our own works are of vast importance and God bids us fight, and watch, and pray, and strive, and take pains, and labour.

(d) Justification is a finished and complete work, and a man is perfectly justified the moment he believes. Sanctification is an imperfect work, comparatively, and will never be perfected until we reach heaven.

(e) Justification admits of no growth or increase: a man is as much justified the hour he first comes to Christ by faith as he will be to all eternity. Sanctification is eminently a progressive work, and admits of continual growth and enlargement so long as a man lives.

Justification has special reference to our persons, our standing in God's sight, and our deliverance from guilt. Sanctification has special reference to our natures, and the moral renewal of our hearts.

Justification gives us our title to heaven, and boldness to enter in. Sanctification gives us our meetness [fitness, worthiness] for heaven, and prepares us to enjoy it when we dwell there.

Justification is the act of God about us, and is not easily discerned by others. Sanctification is the work of God within us, and cannot be hid in its outward manifestation from the eyes of men.

J.C. Ryle on Justification & Sanctification, pt. 1

Justification and Sanctification
How do they Differ?
by J.C. Ryle

I now propose to consider, in the last place, the distinction between justification and sanctification. Wherein do they agree, and wherein do they differ?

This branch of our subject is one of great importance, though I fear it will not seem so to all my readers. I shall handle it briefly, but I dare not pass it over altogether. Too many are apt to look at nothing but the surface of things in religion, and regard nice distinctions in theology as questions ofwords and names,which are of little real value. But I warn all who are in earnest about their souls, that the discomfort which arises from notdistinguishing things that differin Christian doctrine is very great indeed;and I especially advise them, if they love peace, to seek clear views about the matter before us. Justification and sanctification are two distinct things we must always remember. Yet there are points in which they agree and points in which they differ. Letus try to find out what they are.

In what, then, are justification and sanctification alike?

(a) Both proceed originally from the free grace of God. It is of His gift alone that believers are justified or sanctified at all.

(b) Both are part of that great work of salvation which Christ, in the eternal covenant, has undertaken on behalf of His people. Christ is the fountain of life, from which pardon and holiness both flow. The root of each is Christ.

Both are to be found in the same persons. Those who are justified are always sanctified, and those who are sanctified are always justified. God has joined them together, and they cannot be put asunder.

Both begin at the same time. The moment a person begins to be a justified person; he also begins to be a sanctified person. He may not feel it, but it is a fact.

Both are alike necessary to salvation. No one ever reached heaven without a renewed heart as well as forgiveness, without the Spirit's grace as well as the blood of Christ, without a meetness [fitness] for eternal glory as well as a title. The one is just as necessary as the other.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

How to Love One Another...

From Justin Taylor...

Most of us are familiar with the “one another” commands of the New Testament. In the study guide for Gospel in Life: Grace Changes Everything, Tim Keller offers a helpful taxonomy under the categories of affirming one another, sharing with one another, and serving one another. These form, he says, “nine ‘community-building practices’—specific behaviors that build Christian community.” For a more detailed unpacking of each point, see pp. 58-71.

Read the rest of this summary of Keller's good teaching here.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

God's Plan for You from the Beginning

“Making us like Jesus was God’s plan from the beginning. God ‘predestined’ or planned for us to be like his Son (Romans 8:29). Before God even made the world, his plan for you and me was to make us like Jesus. And everything that happens to us is part of that plan.”

- Tim Chester, You Can Change (Wheaton, Ill.; Crossway, 2010), 15.

HT: Of First Importance

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

What makes grace seem so amazing....

"If we spoke less of God's love and more of His holiness & judgment, we'd say much more when we spoke of His love."

-- P.T. Forsyth

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

An Amazing Exchange

“When we are united to Christ a mysterious exchange takes place: he took our curse, so that we may receive his blessing; he became sin with our sin, so that we may become righteous with his righteousness. . . . On the one hand, God declined to ‘impute’ our sins to us, or ‘count’ them against us, with the implication that he imputed them to Christ instead. On the other, God has imputed Christ’s righteousness to us. . . . We ourselves have done nothing of what is imputed to us, nor Christ anything of what is imputed to him. . . . He voluntarily accepted liability for our sins.”

-- John R. W. Stott, The Cross of Christ (Downers Grove, 1986), pages 148-149.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Life-related counsel from David Powlison

David Powlison is one of the wisest, Bible-based counselors and authors I know of. Justin Taylor has been posting some insightful excerpts from his book, "Seeing with New Eyes."

Sunday, July 18, 2010

"You shall love the Lord your God...."

Help from the NIV Study Bible (Zondervan) on what it means to love God: in its note on Deuteronomy 6:5 it says, “Primarily in view here is the love shown by a subject to a king.... To love King Yahweh is to be his loyal and obedient servant (Israel was the Lord’s kingdom people)….”

And in its note on Ex. 20:6, in the section of the Ten Commandments when it speaks of those who “love God” the Study Bible note says: “In the treaty language of the ancient Near East the ‘love’ owed to the great king was a conventional term for total allegiance and implicit trust expressing itself in obedient service.”

Saturday, July 17, 2010


Embracing that which is almost Christianity, or almost embracing authentic Christianity will almost save you....almost.

Friday, July 16, 2010

The Only Haven of Safety

“For as the surest source of destruction to men is to obey themselves, so the only haven of safety is to have no other will, no other wisdom, than to follow the Lord wherever he leads. Let this then be the first step -- to abandon ourselves, and devote the whole energy of our minds to the service of God.”

--John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, vol. 2 (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1975) p. 7

Thursday, July 15, 2010

"If you want to be perfect..."

What did Jesus mean when he said this to the 'rich young ruler' in Matthew 19:21? Here is an excerpt from D.A. Carson's commentary (Expositors Bible Comm. -- Zondervan):

“What the word ‘perfect’ suggests here is what it commonly means in the OT: undivided loyalty and full-hearted obedience….”

“…because of his wealth, he [the rich young ruler] had a divided heart. His money was competing with God; and what Jesus everywhere demands as a condition for eternal life is absolute, radical discipleship.

“This entails the surrender of self. ‘Keeping the individual commandments is no substitute for the readiness for self-surrender to the absolute claim of God imposed through the call of the gospel. Jesus’ summons in this context means that true obedience to the Law is rendered ultimately in discipleship.”

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

"Souls in Transition"

Here is a review of an important book, "Souls in Transition: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of Emerging Adults." This looks like insightful analysis for parents and pastors alike (and for young adults!).

Monday, July 12, 2010

"No Awful Beyond..."

“In Christ all things are ours. There is now for us no awful Beyond of mystery and fear. We cannot, indeed, explain the world, but we rejoice now that we cannot explain it. To us it is all unknown, but it contains no mysteries for our Saviour; He is on the throne; He is at the centre; He is ground and explanation of all things; He pervades the remotest bounds; by Him all things consist. The world is full of dread, mysterious powers; they touch us already in a thousand woes. But from all them we are safe.”

—J. Gresham Machen, What Is Faith? (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1991), 116-17

HT: Of First Importance

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Too cool?

“It has happened to me again. A friend of mine has become a Christian. I have known him for many years and have always been concerned about his relationship with God. In the past couple of years, he made some very bad decisions about his life, and I wondered if he would ever be open to the gospel. But I didn’t want to rush into talking to him about Jesus. I wanted to take it slow — to win his confidence. I didn’t want to take any chances of offending him.

While I was waiting for the right moment, someone he worked with came up to him one day at work and asked, ‘Are you going to heaven or hell?’ Can you believe that? How tacky. How insensitive and uncool. It must have been a tract-wielding fundamentalist. But . . . uh . . . my friend had never been asked that question. It bothered him. He decided he didn’t want to go to a place called ‘hell.’ To make a long story short, my friend continued talking to the ‘fanatic’ and became a Christian. Now he is preparing to go to Bible school so he can be a minister.

Uh . . . you don’t suppose this strategy of trying not to offend people is flawed, do you? You don’t suppose that the gospel is offensive by definition? You don’t suppose that anytime you talk to people about Jesus, you risk offending them? Or that being offended just might be part of the process of conversion?”

-- Mike Yaconelli, The Wittenburg Door, sometime in the late 80s.

HT: Ray Ortlund

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Authentic Expectation

"To make a pretense of coming to God, not expecting to receive good and great things from him, is to despise God." -- John Owen

Friday, July 9, 2010

Our Addiction to Distraction

Justin Taylor, quoting from Pascal and Peter Kreeft, has a fascinating post on our modern culture's addiction to distraction. Here's an excerpt from Kreeft's Christianity for Modern Pagans, Pascal’s Pensees Edited, Outlined, and Explained,...

First Kreeft quotes Pascal: "I have often said that the sole cause of man’s unhappiness is that he does not know how to stay quietly in his room."

And then he writes,

We ought to have much more time, more leisure, than our ancestors did, because technology, which is the most obvious and radical difference between their lives and ours, is essentially a series of time-saving devices.

In ancient societies, if you were rich you had slaves to do the menial work so that you could be freed to enjoy your leisure time. Life was like a vacation for the rich because the poor slaves were their machines. . . .

[But] now that everyone has slave-substitutes (machines), why doesn’t everyone enjoy the leisurely, vacationy lifestyle of the ancient rich? Why have we killed time instead of saving it? . . .

We want to complexify our lives. We don’t have to, we want to. We wanted to be harried and hassled and busy. Unconsciously, we want the very things we complain about. For if we had leisure, we would look at ourselves and listen to our hearts and see the great gaping hold in our hearts and be terrified, because that hole is so big that nothing but God can fill it.

So we run around like conscientious little bugs, scared rabbits, dancing attendance on our machines, our slaves, and making them our masters. We think we want peace and silence and freedom and leisure, but deep down we know that this would be unendurable to us, like a dark and empty room without distractions where we would be forced to confront ourselves. . .

If you are typically modern, your life is like a mansion with a terrifying hole right in the middle of the living-room floor. So you paper over the hole with a very busy wallpaper pattern to distract yourself. You find a rhinoceros in the middle of your house. The rhinoceros is wretchedness and death. How in the world can you hide a rhinoceros? Easy: cover it with a million mice. Multiple diversions. (pp.167-169)

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Why Inerrancy Still Matters

Kevin DeYoung has an excellent post summarizing the continuing importance of a commitment to the inerrancy of Scripture, as explained in the words of J.I. Packer in his important, accessible, remarkable book, Truth and Power: The Place of Scripture in the Christian Life.

Here is just an excerpt from the book:

"Any degree of skepticism about the portrait of Christ, the promises of God, the principles of godliness, and the power of the Holy Spirit, as biblically presented, has the effect of enslaving us to our own alternative ideas about these things, and thus we miss something of the freedom, joy, and vitality that the real Christ bestows. God is very patient and merciful, and I do not suggest that those who fall short here thereby forfeit all knowledge of Christ, though I recognize that when one sits loose to Scripture this may indeed happen. But I do maintain most emphatically that one cannot doubt the Bible without far-reaching loss, both of fullness of truth and of fullness of life. If therefor we have at heart spiritual renewal for society, for churches and for our own lives, we shall make much of the entire trustworthiness–that is, the inerrancy–of Holy Scripture as the inspired and liberating Word of God." (p. 55)

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

"Faith comes by hearing...the word of God"

" Faith wakes at the voice of truth but responds to no other sound. Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of GOD. Theological knowledge is the medium through which the Spirit flows into the human heart." -- A.W. Tozer

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Billy Graham on 'Repentance'

“If repentance could be described in one word, I would use the word renounce. 'Renounce what?' you ask. The answer can also be given in one word - 'sin.'…

“Not only are we told that we must renounce the principle of sin but we are also to renounce sins - plural. We are to renounce the world, the flesh and the Devil. There can be no bargaining, compromise or hesitation. Christ demands absolute renunciation…..

“…repentance and faith go hand in hand. You cannot have genuine repentance without saving faith and you cannot have saving faith without repentance….

“…[To repent] means a great deal more than just regretting and feeling sorry about sin. The Biblical word repent means 'to change, to turn.' It is a word of power and action. It is a word that signifies a complete revolution in the individual.

“When the Bible calls upon us to repent of sin, it means that we should turn away from sin, that we should do an about-face and walk in the opposite direction from sin and all that it implies….

“….True repentance means 'to change, to turn away from, to go in a new direction.' To be sorry is not enough in repentance….

“….repentance cannot take place unless first there is a movement of the Holy Spirit in the heart and mind….”

“….There must be a determination to forsake sin - to change one's attitudes toward self, toward sin, and God; to change one's feelings; to change one's will, disposition and purpose.

“Only the Spirit of God can give you the determination necessary for true repentance….

“There is not one verse of Scripture that indicates you can be a Christian and live any kind of a life you want to. When Christ enters into the human heart, He demands that He be Lord and Master. He demands complete surrender….

“…He must have first place in everything you do or think or say, for when you truly repent you turn toward God in everything.

“We have the warning of Christ that He will not receive us into His kingdom until we are ready to give up all, until we are ready to turn from all sin in our lives. Don't try to do it part way. Don't say, 'I'll give up some of my sins and hang on to some others. I'll live part of my life for Jesus and part for my own desires.'”

“God demands a total change, a total surrender.”

--“Peace with God, pp. 100-107

Monday, July 5, 2010

The Apostle Paul as a Friend

“Paul had rich and original conceptions of love, which he had learned from Christ. Christ had loved him in his unloveliness. He had been patient with him in his blindness. His love had been the love of which Matheson sings, ‘O love that will not let me go.’ It had been the love of which Paul himself sang (1 Corinthians 13:4-8). The man who had this ideal of love realized what it was to be a friend.

It was to love unselfishly. ‘The third time,’ he wrote to the Corinthians who had been such a source of care and grief to him, ‘I am ready to come to you, and I will not be a burden to you, for I seek not yours but you. I will most gladly spend and be spent for your souls.’ ‘Though,’ as the King James Version reads, ‘the more abundantly I love you, the less I be loved’ (2 Corinthians 12:14-15). He loved men for their own sakes, not for what they could be to him selfishly, though he rejoiced when they poured back such friendship love as his in return. But that was their friendship, not his. His friendship love gave and bargained for no return. It coveted good for its objects and was ready to purchase this with pain.”

-- Robert E. Speer, Paul The All-Round Man (New York, 1909), pages 68-69.

HT: Ray Ortlund, Jr.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

"...He gives us all things richly to enjoy."

"There is not one blade of grass, there is no color in this world that is not intended to make us rejoice."

-- John Calvin

Friday, July 2, 2010

"O Great God" (a new hymn)

Here is 'contemporary Christian music' at its best.

It’s a newer hymn based on The Valley of Vision prayer “Regeneration.” The words and music are by Bob Kauflin. You can hear the song sung by seven-thousand people here.

O great God of highest heaven
Occupy my lowly heart
Own it all and reign supreme
Conquer every rebel power
Let no vice or sin remain
That resists Your holy war
You have loved and purchased me
Make me Yours forevermore

I was blinded by my sin
Had no ears to hear Your voice
Did not know Your love within
Had no taste for heaven’s joys
Then Your Spirit gave me life
Opened up Your Word to me
Through the gospel of Your Son
Gave me endless hope and peace

Help me now to live a life
That’s dependent on Your grace
Keep my heart and guard my soul
From the evils that I face
You are worthy to be praised
With my every thought and deed
O great God of highest heaven
Glorify Your Name through me.

HT: Tullian Tchividjian

Thursday, July 1, 2010

"Let God Be God"

Here's the link to the entire devotional from D.A. Carson that I quoted from in the previous post.

The Right Kind of "Possibility Thinking"

"...God may normally work through ordinary means. But he is not limited by them. That is why all the military muscle in the world cannot itself guarantee victory, and all the secularization, postmodernism, naturalism, and paganism in the world cannot by themselves prevent revival. Let God be God."

-- D.A. Carson in "For the Love of God" (vol. 1, entry for June 30; Crossway Books)