Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Luther: "Not all are Christians who boast of faith...."

“Not all are Christians who boast of faith. Christ has shed His blood. We are justified by faith alone without works. You say, “I believe this.” The devil, you say! You have learned the words you have heard the same way mockingbirds learn to repeat things. Where are the fruits demonstrating that you truly believe? You remain in sins; you are a usurer [i.e.,one that lends money at an exorbitant rate]  and more. Surely Christ did not die and shed His blood for the sins that you are intent on committing continually, but so that He might destroy the works of the devil [1 John 3:8]. If you were formerly a usurer, say, like Zacchaeus: “I will give half of my goods, and if I have defrauded anyone, I will restore it fourfold.” [Luke 19:8].

"The blood of Christ kills sin; it does not make it alive, which is the work of the devil, who inflames the desire that makes human beings murderers and adulterers. Christ did not die so that you might remain that kind of sinner, but so that sin, having been slain, might be blotted out, and you might henceforth love God and your neighbor. Faith takes away sins and puts them to death, so that you might not live in them but in righteousness. Therefore, show by your works and your fruits that there is faith in you. If not, the blood of Christ does not help.

"If you are a usurer, disobedient, neglectful of your station, then look to see whether you believe. For faith is victorious, triumphant, a conqueror of the world [1 John 5:4]. If you truly believe, you would not commit usury or adultery; you would not be disobedient. Let each one think: 'I have been made a believer; I have been washed in Baptism with the blood of the Son of God, so that my sins might be dead. [I will] not be disobedient and will declare this with my deeds.” Otherwise, give up the boast of being a believer. You know that you are a disobedient son, an adulterer; do not boast of faith and the blood of Christ. You belong to the devil, the way you are going, etc. You are bringing the name of the Lord into shame and yourself to eternal damnation.”

— Martin Luther, Sermon for the First Sunday after Trinity on 1 John 4:16-21, Preached in St. Mary’s Church, Wittenberg, Germany June 7, 1545. Translated by Christopher Boyd Brown. Unpublished translation. Pr 2002; WA 49:80-87. Copyright Concordia Publishing House, 2010.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

God's Law of Love

“There is nothing in the law of God that will rob you of happiness; it only denies you that which would cost you sorrow.” ~ C. Spurgeon

Saturday, February 23, 2013

"Rest in the glorious fact that we are loved"

"If we are to change we must be regularly preaching the gospel to ourselves and believing it. We must be continually showing ourselves, and those we counsel, the depths and greatness of God’s love for them. We must stop wasting our time trying to convince ourselves that we are lovable, and instead rest in the glorious fact that we are loved. It is this message which God uses to change us at the motivational level."

— Redeemer Presbyterian Church
Fellowship Group Handbook

Friday, February 22, 2013

"If anyone does not love the Lord Jesus..."

“If any man love not the Lord Jesus Christ, let him be Anathema…”  1 Cor. 16:22

“…The criterion is love, love to Christ, and the thought is that the only alternative to this love of Christ is damnation….  The apostle could have said, ‘If anyone does not have faith in Christ, let him be anathema.’  But, instead, he speaks of love to Christ and we must take account of this direction of thought and interest.  One lesson to be learned is that faith in Christ is not a momentary and fleeting act of will.  Faith is an act of commitment to Christ and it results in permanent attachment to him.  It knows not divided allegiance.  It is total commitment in love and devotion because we discover in him that which demands our whole being.  Faith means Christ’s  absolute Lordship and it is significant that it is the title Lord that is employed and thrust into the foreground – ‘if  anyone does not love the Lord’….”

-- John Murray, sermon:  “Love to Christ Indispensable” (from “Collected Writings… vol. 3, p. 223)

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Motivations to Pursuing Holiness

‎"The fear of punishment, the desire of reward, the sense of duty, are all useful arguments, in their way, to persuade people to holiness. But they are all weak and powerless, until a person loves Christ."

 ~ J.C. Ryle

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

A Whole Committee of Selves

“We are trying to be several selves at once, without all our selves being organized by a single, mastering Life within us.  Each of us tends to be, not a single self, but a whole committee of selves.  There is the civic self, the parental self, the financial self, the religious self, the society self, the professional self, the literary self.  And each of our selves is in turn a rank individualist, not cooperative but shouting out his vote loudly for himself when the voting time comes. . . .  We are not integrated.  We are distraught.  We feel honestly the pull of many obligations and try to fulfill them all.  And we are unhappy, uneasy, strained, oppressed, and fearful we shall be shallow.  For over the margins of life comes a whisper, a faint call, a premonition of richer living which we know we are passing by.”

Thomas R. Kelly, A Testament of Devotion (New York, 1941), pages 114-115.
HT: Ray Ortlund, Jr.

Monday, February 18, 2013


“A man can fail many times, but he isn't a failure until he begins to blame somebody else.”
― John Burroughs

Saturday, February 16, 2013

The Meltdown of Biblical Truth

"When reason insists on ruling—that is, making original decisions of its own—in the realm of faith, where, as we have seen, God’s truth should be received on God’s authority via God’s authoritative written Word, the results are bleak indeed. In comes relativism, the abolishing of all absolute standards for belief and behavior; in comes skepticism about all long-standing beliefs, as if their age automatically destroys their credibility; in comes pluralism, the confused condition in which we accept incompatibles side by side without full commitment to any of them; in comes agnosticism, the don’t-know, can’t-be-sure, who-am-I-to-say?, I-give-up, don’t-bug-me state of mind. Each of these isms is familiar among us today, they creep into churches as well as going on parade outside them, and the church of Christ is sadly enfeebled in consequence."

-- J.I. Packer, "Taking God Seriously"

Thursday, February 14, 2013

"God loves you..."

A post about the fight for joy on Valentine's Day....and every day:

"...God loves you. That simple statement should blow you out of your chair. Sadly, however, the truth has lost its power for many Christians. Our culture assumes and even demands God love everyone the same—no exceptions. Even within the church, God's love can be tossed around so lightly believers begin to think he's required to love them. If we're honest, his love rarely shocks us anymore, since we rarely pause to ponder the scandal of a holy God embracing a rebellious people...."

Read the entire post here.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

"God Had Visited"

“In one of the streets of Bedford I came to where there were three or four poor women sitting at a door in the sun and talking about the things of God.  Willing to listen, I drew near to hear what they said, for I was a brisk talker myself in matters of religion.  But I have to say that I heard, but I didn’t understand, for they were far above, out of my reach.  They spoke about a new birth, the work of God in their hearts . . . . They said how God had visited their souls with his love in the Lord Jesus, and with what words and promises they had been refreshed, comforted and supported against the temptations of the devil . . . . And it seemed to me they spoke as if joy did make them speak.  They spoke with such pleasantness of biblical language, and with such obvious grace in all they said, that they were to me as if they had found a new world.”

-- John Bunyan, quoted in Monica Furlong, The Trial of John Bunyan & The Persecution of the Puritans (London, 1978), page 56.  Style updated.

HT: Ray Ortlund, Jr.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

What We Really Are When We Come...

“We don’t come to Him as bad people trying to become good people; we come as rebels to lay down our arms.”

-- C.S. Lewis

Monday, February 11, 2013

"What is the Greatest of All Protestant 'Heresies'?"

From Sinclair Ferguson (at

Let us begin with a church history exam question. Cardinal Robert Bellarmine (1542–1621) was a figure not to be taken lightly. He was Pope Clement VIII’s personal theologian and one of the most able figures in the Counter-Reformation movement within sixteenth-century Roman Catholicism. On one occasion, he wrote: “The greatest of all Protestant heresies is _______ .” Complete, explain, and discuss Bellarmine’s statement.

How would you answer? What is the greatest of all Protestant heresies? Perhaps justification by faith? Perhaps Scripture alone, or one of the other Reformation watchwords?

Those answers make logical sense. But none of them completes Bellarmine’s sentence. What he wrote was: “The greatest of all Protestant heresies is assurance.”

A moment’s reflection explains why. If justification is not by faith alone, in Christ alone, by grace alone — if faith needs to be completed by works; if Christ’s work is somehow repeated; if grace is not free and sovereign, then something always needs to be done, to be “added” for final justification to be ours. That is exactly the problem. If final justification is dependent on something we have to complete it is not possible to enjoy assurance of salvation. For then, theologically, final justification is contingent and uncertain, and it is impossible for anyone (apart from special revelation, Rome conceded) to be sure of salvation. But if Christ has done everything, if justification is by grace, without contributory works; it is received by faith’s empty hands — then assurance, even “full assurance” is possible for every believer.

No wonder Bellarmine thought full, free, unfettered grace was dangerous! No wonder the Reformers loved the letter to the Hebrews!

This is why, as the author of Hebrews pauses for breath at the climax of his exposition of Christ’s work (Heb. 10:18), he continues his argument with a Paul-like “therefore” (Heb. 10:19). He then urges us to “draw near … in full assurance of faith” (Heb. 10:22). We do not need to re-read the whole letter to see the logical power of his “therefore.” Christ is our High Priest; our hearts have been sprinkled clean from an evil conscience just as our bodies have been washed with pure water (v.22).

Christ has once-for-all become the sacrifice for our sins, and has been raised and vindicated in the power of an indestructible life as our representative priest. By faith in Him, we are as righteous before the throne of God as He is righteous. For we are justified in His righteousness, His justification alone is ours! And we can no more lose this justification than He can fall from heaven. Thus our justification does not need to be completed any more than does Christ’s!

With this in view, the author says, “by one offering He has perfected for all time those who come to God by him” (Heb. 10:14). The reason we can stand before God in full assurance is because we now experience our “hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and … bodies washed with pure water” (Heb. 10:22).

“Ah,” retorted Cardinal Bellarmine’s Rome, “teach this and those who believe it will live in license and antinomianism.” But listen instead to the logic of Hebrews. Enjoying this assurance leads to four things: First, an unwavering faithfulness to our confession of faith in Jesus Christ alone as our hope (v.23); second, a careful consideration of how we can encourage each other to “love and good works” (v.24); third, an ongoing communion with other Christians in worship and every aspect of our fellowship (v.25a); fourth, a life in which we exhort one another to keep looking to Christ and to be faithful to him, as the time of his return draws ever nearer (25b).

It is the good tree that produces good fruit, not the other way round. We are not saved by works; we are saved for works. In fact we are God’s workmanship at work (Eph. 2:9–10)! Thus, rather than lead to a life of moral and spiritual indifference, the once-for-all work of Jesus Christ and the full-assurance faith it produces, provides believers with the most powerful impetus to live for God’s glory and pleasure. Furthermore, this full assurance is rooted in the fact that God Himself has done all this for us. He has revealed His heart to us in Christ. The Father does not require the death of Christ to persuade Him to love us. Christ died because the Father loves us (John 3:16). He does not lurk behind His Son with sinister intent wishing He could do us ill — were it not for the sacrifice his Son had made! No, a thousand times no! — the Father Himself loves us in the love of the Son and the love of the Spirit.

Those who enjoy such assurance do not go to the saints or to Mary. Those who look only to Jesus need look nowhere else. In Him we enjoy full assurance of salvation. The greatest of all heresies? If heresy, let me enjoy this most blessed of “heresies”! For it is God’s own truth and grace!

-- Sinclair FergusonG

This post was originally published in Tabletalk magazine.  (re-published at Ligonier's website)

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Good Intentions...Catastrophic Consequences

"With good intentions and sincere desires to reach as many people as possible for Jesus, we have subtly and deceptively minimized the magnitude of what it means to follow him. We’ve replaced challenging words from Christ with trite phrases in the church. We’ve taken the lifeblood out of Christianity and put Kool-Aid in its place so that it tastes better to the crowds, and the consequences are catastrophic. Multitudes of men and women at this moment think that they are saved from their sins when they are not. Scores of people around the world culturally think that they are Christians when biblically they are not." -- David Platt, "Follow Me"

Saturday, February 9, 2013

"Follow Me'

"In a world where everything revolves around self— protect yourself, promote yourself, preserve yourself, entertain yourself, comfort yourself, take care of yourself— Jesus said, “Slay yourself”…

"Somewhere along the way, amid varying cultural tides and popular church trends, it seems that we have minimized Jesus’ summons to total abandonment. Churches are filled with supposed Christians who seem content to have casual association with Christ while giving nominal adherence to Christianity. Scores of men, women, and children have been told that becoming a follower of Jesus simply involves acknowledging certain facts or saying certain words. But this is not true. Disciples like Peter, Andrew, James, [and] John…  show us that the call to follow Jesus is not simply an invitation to pray a prayer; it’s a summons to lose our lives."   (Luke 9:23-24)

-- David Platt, "Follow Me"

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Do We Have Any Place for the God of Job?

In a post from Carl Trueman, he begins with a concern about a Christian leader thinking that some evangelicals have been too critical of Joel Osteen and his version of the 'prosperity gospel'.  But that is just the starting point for profound essay on whether or not evangelicalism itself has become so superficial  that it lacks any room for the realities about God presented in the Book of Job:  

“…Do we make too much of suffering?  Is depression sinful?  Is it always the result of personal sin?  Or poor preaching?  Or defective theology and unbalanced homiletic emphases?  I am convinced that this is not so.   Once one moves in that direction, one is positing a tight and necessary connection between personal issues and specific suffering.   That is not biblical and is pastorally very dangerous.  Yes, suffering can sometimes be that way: the man who cheats on his wife and loses his family suffers as a direct result of his personal sin.  But is the depressed person necessarily suffering because of some specific sin?   The Bible, I believe, teaches that this is not so.

"Preaching through Job recently, I was very struck by the Lord's final intervention.   Job has suffered incredibly throughout the book; and we, the readers, know that none of this is his fault.  It is the result of the battle between God and the Accuser and, if anything, Job's suffering is thus the result of his devotion to the Lord, which Satan wishes to test.   And by the end of Job's last big speech (Job 31) he is depressed, and with good reason.  The man has lost everything.

"When God finally comes to Job, to this man who has suffered so much devastation, it is stunning that he comes in the whirlwind.  No still small voice here: he comes in the whirlwind (and a brief search of 'whirlwind' passages in the Old Testament indicates that is not indicative of what we might call good bedside manner).  Further, the Lord tells Job to arm himself as a man ('man up', I guess, would be the modern cliché) and then, rather than telling Job to deal with his own sin or even expressing the tiniest fragment of sympathy for him in his suffering, he subjects Job to a blistering lecture about divine greatness and sovereignty.  Then, when Job has been crushed into silence, the Lord pushes on relentlessly, describing two terrifying beasts, Behemoth and Leviathan.   If Robert Fyall's exegesis is correct (and I believe it is) then Leviathan is Satan; thus, only at this point does God offer any real help (as we might understand it) to Job, as he lifts the curtain just a little and allows Job to grasp that his suffering is a function of a greater and more complicated universe than he can possibly imagine, and that, whatever the empirical facts, the Lord has ultimate and overall control.

"As I preached on this passage, I highlighted the fact that, by the criteria of today's world, even by the criteria of modern pastoral theology, the Lord is a total failure.  Far too abrupt, harsh and unsympathetic.  This is even more striking, given that the Lord knows that Job's suffering is nothing to do with any specific sin Job has committed or harbours in his heart. Job is not responsible for his own suffering: that is, after all, the basic premise of the book.Yet the Lord comes in the whirlwind.   Not exactly touchy-feely pastoral, is it?

"The Lord knows Job's suffering is not Job's fault.   Thus, he does not tell Job to examine himself to root out his sin.  Further, he seems to show no sympathy for Job; he berates him from the whirlwind; he offers no kind words of encouragement; and he does not even restore Job until after the sacrifice and intercession of the last chapter.  We should also ask: how complete was Job's restoration?  This man had lost ten children.  Yes, he receives ten more.  But children are not like iPods: they have individual identities, faces, histories, personalities.  The loving father knows that each and every one of his children is, quite literally, irreplaceable.  How many nights in later life would Job have lain awake, remembering with a broken heart the names and faces and the stories and the good times of his first children?  And none of this was anything to do with Job's own sins or faults.

"The lessons of Job are manifold but it seems that a few rather stand out: this is a complicated, fallen, evil world; Christians can expect to suffer - hey, we all die in the end, no matter how jolly we might feel at points in the interim, so we had better get used to the idea; Christians are no more exempt from depression than they are from cancer or strokes; and the idea that these things are necessarily linked to our lack of faith, to our personal sin, to our outlook on life, or, indeed, to anything intrinsic to us, is nonsense and unbiblical.  A pastoral theology which has not grappled with the whirlwind and the speeches of the last part of Job is sub-biblical; and preaching which does not take these things into account is not biblical preaching.  One might add that perhaps one of the key lessons of Job (and the Psalms, for that matter) is: it is OK to be depressed.  It is horrible and grim and dark.  But it may not be your fault, any more than cancer or a stroke are your fault.  Above all, it does not mean that you are forgotten by God, even if God only ever seems to come to you in the whirlwind; and, finally, it does not mean that you will not participate in the glorious resurrection when all the travails of this world will be definitively left behind.

"One of the problems with Osteen is that his theology has no place for the God of Job.   But before we go after Osteen on this score, we need to ask ourselves: Does our theology have a place for such a God?"

-- Carl Trueman

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Paul's Strategic Evangelism

“It is true that as Paul debated on Mars Hill or spoke to the gullible crowd in Lystra, he did not work from his Jewish Scriptures as he did in the synagogues.  But this was a tactical device.  He reduced the differences between himself and his audience almost to a vanishing point, but only so as to stress his distinctiveness more clearly once they had seen his point.”

Os Guinness, The Gravedigger File (Downers Grove, 1983), page 201.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

The Truly Evangelical Type of Piety

Geerhardus Vos (1862-1949):

"To join the outcry against dogma and fact means to lower the ideal of what the Christian consciousness ought normally to be to the level of the spiritual depression of our own day and generation.

"How much better that we should all strive to raise our drooping faith and to re-enrich our depleted experience up to the standard of those blessed periods in the life of the Church when the belief in Bible history and the religion of the heart went hand in hand and kept equal pace, when people were ready to lay down their lives for facts and doctrines, because facts and doctrine formed the daily spiritual nourishment of the souls.

"May God by his Spirit maintain among us, and through our instrumentality revive around us, that truly evangelical type of piety which not merely tolerates facts and doctrines, but draws from them its strength and inspiration in life and service, its only comfort and hope in the hour of death."

—Geerhardus Vos, “Christian Faith and the Truthfulness of Bible History,” The Princeton Theological Review (1906): 289-305.

HT: Dane Ortlund, Justin Taylor

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Trusting God's Promise

“I am the Almighty God, able to fulfill your highest hopes and accomplish for you the brightest ideal that ever my words set before you.  There is no need of paring down the promise until it squares with human probabilities, no need of relinquishing one hope it has begotten, no need of adopting some interpretation of it which may make it seem easier to fulfill, and no need of striving to fulfill it in any second-rate way.  All possibility lies in this: I am the Almighty God.” [Gen. 17:1]

-- Marcus Dods, The Book of Genesis (New York, 1902), page 161.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

More Real

More wonderful, Bible-based wisdom from Ray Ortlund, Jr.:

“Now when they heard these things they were enraged, and they ground their teeth at him.  But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God.”  Acts 7:54-55

'We are connected with two realities simultaneously.  There is the lower reality of this world of human judgment, and there is the higher reality of the throne of God and divine judgment.

'The lower reality can be brutal.  It was brutal not only for Stephen but far more for those who stoned him.  Frederick Buechner, Peculiar Treasures, page 182: “Stoning somebody to death, even somebody as young and healthy as Stephen, isn’t easy.  You don’t get the job done with the first few rocks and broken bottles, and even after you’ve got the man down, it’s a long, hot business.”  Living at this level takes commitment, determination.  Those stones are heavy – heavy to throw.  One really has to keep up an effort.

'But whatever is happening at the lower level, the higher reality is still in authority.  And the Holy Spirit is able to make the glory of God and the approval of Jesus more real than the stones.'

“The soul that on Jesus hath leaned for repose I will not, I will not desert to his foes; that soul, though all hell should endeavor to shake, I’ll never, no never, no never forsake.”

(Go to Pastor Ortlund's site for the compelling painting of the stoning of Stephen.)

Friday, February 1, 2013

True Spiritual Maturity

“You can be theologically astute and be dramatically spiritually immature.... Just because you can communicate an idea does not mean you have submitted yourself to it." -- Paul Tripp