Sunday, March 31, 2013

"Hell Grasped a Corpse, and Met God"

"Let no one lament persistent failings, for forgiveness has risen from the grave. Let no one fear death, for the death of our Saviour has set us free.

"The Lord has destroyed death by enduring it. The Lord vanquished hell when he descended into it. The Lord put hell in turmoil even as it tasted of his flesh.

"Hell was in turmoil having been eclipsed. Hell was in turmoil having been mocked. Hell was in turmoil having been destroyed. Hell was in turmoil having been abolished. Hell was in turmoil having been made captive.

"Hell grasped a corpse, and met God. Hell seized earth, and encountered Heaven. Hell took what it saw, and was overcome by what it could not see.

"O Death, where is your sting? O Hell, where is your victory? Christ is risen, and you are cast down! Christ is risen, and the tomb is emptied of its dead."

— John Chrysostom
An Easter Sermon

Saturday, March 30, 2013

John Updike: "Seven Stanzas at Easter"

John Updike...

Make no mistake: if He rose at all
it was as His body;
if the cells’ dissolution did not reverse, the molecules
reknit, the amino acids rekindle,
the Church will fall.

It was not as the flowers,
each soft Spring recurrent;
it was not as His Spirit in the mouths and fuddled
eyes of the eleven apostles;
it was as His Flesh: ours.

The same hinged thumbs and toes,
the same valved heart
that—pierced—died, withered, paused, and then
regathered out of enduring Might
new strength to enclose.

Let us not mock God with metaphor,
analogy, sidestepping transcendence;
making of the event a parable, a sign painted in the
faded credulity of earlier ages:
let us walk through the door.

The stone is rolled back, not papier-mache,
not a stone in a story,
but the vast rock of materiality that in the slow
grinding of time will eclipse for each of us
the wide light of day.

And if we will have an angel at the tomb,
make it a real angel,
weighty with Max Planck’s quanta, vivid with hair,
opaque in the dawn light, robed in real linen
spun on a definite loom.

Let us not seek to make it less monstrous,
for our own convenience, our own sense of beauty,
lest, awakened in one unthinkable hour, we are
embarrassed by the miracle,
and crushed by remonstrance.

Friday, March 29, 2013

Living Orthodoxy

“The main condition of spiritual life, according to 1 John 1, is fellowship with God; and the prerequisite for communion with God is ‘walking in the light,’ which may be defined as an honest heart awareness of the truth about the condition of one’s life and the truth of God’s grace, which both covers sin and provides a dynamic of sanctifying transformation.  Live orthodoxy is found not among those who wave the flag of commitment to biblicism but among those who live in this focused spotlight of applied biblical truth.”

-- Richard F. Lovelace, Dynamics of Spiritual Life (Downers Grove, 1979), page 284.
HT:  Ray Ortlund, Jr.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

The Foundation of the Christian Faith

"So it was necessary, since God had purposed to save his church, to transfer the punishment from them who deserved it but could not bear it, to one who had not deserved it but could bear it.

"This transfer of punishment by divine dispensation is the foundation of the Christian faith, indeed of all the supernatural revelation contained in Scripture."

— John Owen, "The Glory of Christ"
(Carlisle, PA: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1994), 74

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

"All Are Welcome at the Cross"

“The cross of Jesus displays the most awful exhibition of God’s hatred of sin and at the same time the most august manifestation of his readiness to pardon it.  Pardon, full and free, is written out in every drop of blood that is seen, is proclaimed in every groan that is heard, and shines in the very prodigy of mercy that closes the solemn scene upon the cross.  O blessed door of return, open and never shut, to the wanderer from God!  How glorious, how free, how accessible!  Here the sinful, the vile, the guilty, the unworthy, the poor, the penniless, may come.  Here too the weary spirit may bring its burden, the broken spirit its sorrow, the guilty spirit its sin, the backsliding spirit its wandering.  All are welcome here.

The death of Jesus was the opening and the emptying of the full heart of God; it was the outgushing of that ocean of infinite mercy that heaved and panted and longed for an outlet; it was God showing how he could love a poor, guilty sinner.”

-- Octavius Winslow, Personal Declension and Revival of Religion in the Soul (London, 1962), pages 183-184.
HT:  Ray Ortlund, Jr.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

"Radical" Does Not Mean Perfect

How Faith Works
The volcanic issue of "Lordship Salvation" is still emitting the smoke and fumes of controversy.
S. Lewis Johnson Jr.

This article originally appeared in the September 22, 1989, issue of Christianity Today.
* * *

We call Jesus both "the Savior" and "the Lord."
How does our obedience (treating him as Lord) relate to our salvation (accepting him as Savior)?

Christians seem to have difficulty sorting out that relationship. And with this difficulty comes doctrinal conflict and, occasionally, harsh words: legalism, works righteousness, easy believism, cheap grace.
After a debate over "Lordship Salvation" burst into flame once more, Christianity Today sought a senior theologian to analyze the issues and give guidance to our readers. Here S. Lewis Johnson Jr., veteran teacher of New Testament and theology, reviews the basics of our beliefs about grace and faith and sets the debate over Lordship Salvation in the context of classic evangelical teaching.
* * *

The phases through which the issue of "Lordship Salvation" passes may be likened to those of a volcano. The issue often lies dormant for years, but then it suddenly erupts violently. Unfortunately, unlike volcanoes, the issue of Lordship Salvation refuses to grow extinct. The issue is still active, emitting the smoke and sulfurous fumes of controversy.

The forerunner of the current debate erupted in the late 1950s and early 1960s. Two well-known evangelicals, Everett F. Harrison and John R. W. Stott, debated the issue in Eternity magazine in September 1959. Harrison was the first professor of New Testament at Fuller Theological Seminary and Stott was at the time rector of All Souls Church in London. Harrison took the position that, while the acknowledgment of Jesus as Lord is essential to salvation, the demand that "one must make Jesus his Lord as well as his Savior to be truly redeemed" is to confuse salvation with the legitimate obligations of the Christian life. Stott, on the other hand, insisted that one must "surrender to the Lordship of Christ" to be saved. "Lordship Salvation," then, is the claim that, to be saved, one must not only believe and acknowledge that Christ is Lord, but also submit to his lordship.

In his 1969 book Balancing the Christian Life, Charles C. Ryrie, who was then professor of systematic theology at Dallas Theological Seminary, made the claim, now widely cited, that one could have Christ as Savior without having him as Lord. This rekindled the controversy throughout the 1970s. In my opinion, Ryrie was misunderstood. What he was trying to say was that a genuine believer might not always be walking in the light.

The latest eruption has occurred with the publication of The Gospel According to Jesus (Zondervan, 1988), by John F. MacArthur, popular California pastor and president of the Master's College and Seminary. MacArthur's book has produced an explosion of comment, discussion, and feisty debate.
One final name important to the current debate is Zane C. Hodges, former professor of New Testament at Dallas Theological Seminary. His book, The Gospel Under Siege (Redencion Viva, 1981), contains the charge that much evangelical gospel preaching is guilty of compromising the grace of the gospel. Hodges insists that there is no necessary connection between saving faith and works. In fact, to insist on good works as the evidence of salvation introduces obedience into the plan of salvation, compromising seriously, if not fatally, the freeness of the gospel offer.

Sadly, the issue has not claimed the attention of systematic theologians as it should. Definitions of terms are fundamental in theological analysis. In the present debate they are often wanting, occasionally fuzzy, sometimes inept, and even theologically inaccurate. This problem of definitions accounts for the fact that persons holding the same theological views debate and disagree with one another. Their standards of reference are not common to them.

The Lordship Salvation debate is a debate over the gospel and, specifically, the nature of salvation, saving faith, and the relation of salvation to sanctification.

To have a standard of reference that evangelicals as a whole will accept in the main, I shall first clarify the definitions of justification, saving faith, and sanctification by referring to the Westminster Confession of Faith (the historic doctrinal summary for English-speaking Reformed Christians). Then I shall relate the concept of Lordship Salvation to these definitions. Persons from the Wesleyan tradition should not have too many difficulties with the Confession's definitions of these doctrines.

Justification by Faith

The seeds of the dispute lie in the 19th century with the rise of evangelistic campaigns and the "decisional evangelism" that characterized them— that is, the tendency to regard the raising of one's hand in a public meeting, the signing of a card, the walking of an aisle, or similar activities as evidence of salvation. It is not surprising that such terms as "easy believism" and "cheap grace" arose, for so many of the supposed conversions did not stand the test of time. This practice has led to confusion over what happens when we are "justified by faith."

The Westminster Confession defines justification in this way:
Those whom God effectually calleth he also freely justifieth; not by infusing righteousness into them, but by pardoning their sins, and by accounting and accepting their persons as righteous: not for anything wrought in them, or done by them, but for Christ's sake alone: not by imputing faith itself, the act of believing. or any other evangelical obedience, to them as their righteousness; but by imputing the obedience and satisfaction of Christ unto them, they receiving and resting on him and his righteousness by faith: which faith they have not of themselves; it is the gift of God. (11.1)

This grand central principle of the Reformation teaches that believers are declared righteous before God by the instrumentality of faith alone, Christ having made a full satisfaction to his Father's justice in their behalf by his death on the cross. They, therefore, receive the gift of righteousness and rest upon Christ and his work.

The Confession makes the point that, while God's righteousness is bestowed through faith alone and not by works, yet when faith is genuine it is "ever accompanied with all other saving graces"—that is, all other graces have their root in faith. Good works, then, are not the ground of justification but are possible only as its consequences. The Reformation battle cry was Sola fides justificat, sed non fides quae est sola, or, "Faith alone justifies, but not the faith that is alone." "Works," Luther said, "are not taken into consideration when the question respects justification. But true faith will no more fail to produce them than the sun can cease to give light."

The Confession recognizes that believers continue to sin, stating, "God doth continue to forgive the sins of those that are justified; and although they can never fall from the state of justification, yet they may by their sins fall under God's fatherly displeasure, and not have the light of his countenance restored unto them, until they humble themselves, confess their sins, beg pardon, and renew their faith and repentance" (11.5).

Much of this is important for the debate over Lordship Salvation. It is plain that the Confession denies that faith is merely intellectual assent to truths about Jesus. MacArthur, Ryrie, and Hodges agree.
The Confession further sees our Lord as a divine being, for he is the author of a "full satisfaction to the Father's justice" in behalf of sinners. Thus he is properly called Lord; only a Lord can save souls by sacrificing himself.

The Confession states that the justified may fall into sin and carnality. In other words, a complete commitment is not a prerequisite of salvation. MacArthur, however, occasionally appears to be arguing the position that a full commitment is such a prerequisite. In other places he modifies his position. He has said that Jesus "never held forth the hope of salvation to anyone who refused to submit to His sovereign lordship" (p. 134), but he has qualified the demand for submission and obedience to a "willingness to obey" (p. 88).

The Confession clearly connects good works with justification as the expected issue of faith. Hodges, too, says good works are "expected" and "ought" to be found in the believer's life. He contends, however, that they are not inevitable (pp. 8, 94). On the contrary, Paul says works are the purpose of a "fore-preparing" God (Eph. 2:10). Shall a sovereign God's purposes be uncertain of realization?

Saving Faith

In the Confession the "grace of faith," by which the elect are enabled to believe and be saved, is the work of the Spirit "by the ministry of the Word"; and by the Word, the ordinances, and prayer, the "grace of faith" is increased and strengthened (14.1). In the next section, the Confession teaches that saving faith rests on the truth of God's testimony in the Word and that it yields obedience to its commands, although in section three it is stated that this faith is "different in degrees, weak or strong," and that it may be often "assailed and weakened." In section two an important statement is made about faith's make-up: "But the principal acts of saving faith are accepting, receiving, and resting upon Christ alone for justification, sanctification, and eternal life, by virtue of the covenant of grace."

What, then, may be inferred regarding saving faith? It is God's gracious gift by which we are enabled to rest upon the truth of God's Word and specifically upon Christ and his satisfaction of God's just claims against us by his atoning death. This belief in or on Christ, the Reformed theologians have contended, consists of knowledge, assent, and trust (or notitia, assensus, and fiducia, to use the classical terms). It is important to note that saving faith, while always in essence the same, is often different in degrees (see Heb. 5:13-14; Matt. 6:30; 8:10; Rom. 4:19-20).

How does this bear on the Lordship Salvation controversy? It appears clear that a total commitment of one's life to Christ in all life's details is impossible; yet saving faith envisions such a change of life that its bent is forever after toward righteousness. Speaking of the people of God, the late John Murray of Westminster Seminary wrote:
They are not perfect in holiness. But they have been translated from the realm of sin and death to that of righteousness and life. Sin is their burden and plague. Why? Because it is not their realm, they are not at home with it. It is foreign country to them (cf. 1 Peter 4:3-4). They are in the world, but not of it.
They who are of the world are those who live in sin, in the realm of sin. They are those to whom holiness is abhorrent even though they may be able to keep up a good front before the church and the world. They do not hunger and thirst after righteousness. Their aspirations are not heavenly. They are not strangers and pilgrims on the earth, looking for the city which hath the foundations. (Works, 3:278-79)

Murray's words are true to the lives of the great saints of the Bible, as the experiences of Abraham, Jacob, Lot, and others indicate. Even Paul could say, "I am not aware of anything against myself, but I am not therefore acquitted. It is the Lord who judges me" (1 Cor. 4:4).

The rhetoric on both sides of the debate is not always helpful. Cries that "total commitment" is necessary to salvation or the citing of the weary aphorism, "If he is not Lord of all, he is not Lord at all," are surely misleading, and those who use such words usually in other contexts modify them. The Confession's statement that there are degrees of faith, and that it may be assailed and weakened in one's life, is true to Christian experience (see Acts 10:14—"Not so, Lord!").

In his book, Zane Hodges never carefully defines the faith that saves. One cannot satisfactorily interact with him on the subject. When faith is left undefined, it is inevitable that one leaves himself open to the charge of "easy believism." There are people who profess faith who do not genuinely believe (Titus 1:16).

Authentic faith, given by God, includes knowledge of the gospel's great historical facts, an assent to the truthfulness of them, and a trust in Christ who accomplished them. Is not this the faith that saves?

The Nature of Repentance

The Confession says, "Repentance unto life is an evangelical grace, the doctrine whereof is to be preached by every minister of the gospel, as well as that of faith in Christ" (15.1). In repentance, sinners, moved by a sense of the danger and filthiness of their sins and by the apprehension of God's mercy in Christ to the penitent, so grieve over and hate their sins "as to turn from them all unto God, purposing and endeavoring to walk with him in all the ways of his commandments" (15.2). No one may expect pardon without it, although the Confession strongly makes the point that it is an "act of God's free grace in Christ."

The term repentance is the translation of a Greek noun derived from the Greek verb metanoeĊ. It is composed of a preposition meaning after, and a verb meaning "to perceive" or "to think." The resulting compound has the general sense of "to have an afterthought" and, since such afterthoughts are usually different thoughts, the verb has the sense of "to change the mind." Repentance, then, is a changing of the mind, and its uses in the New Testament suggest a change of mind in relation to one's sin (see Luke 5:32; 15:7, 10; Acts 2:38; 3:19; 8:22) and in relation to God (Acts 2:36, 38; 17:29-30; 20:21). The change of mind, however, is not simply that; it is to lead to "deeds worthy of repentance" (Acts 26:20; see also Matt. 3:8).

It is clear that the apostles Peter and Paul preached repentance, finding it a necessary emphasis in the gospel. It is the view of most orthodox theologians that repentance is an essential part of saving faith, both repentance and faith being God's gifts (Acts 5:31; 11:18; 2 Tim. 2:25; Eph. 2:8-9). It is an interesting fact that John the Baptist, presented by the evangelist Matthew as preaching repentance, is said by the apostle John to have come bearing witness "that all might believe through him" (John 1:7; see also Matt. 3:2). There is no contradiction between the two. Perhaps repentance underlines the negative aspects of a proper response to the gospel, while faith more easily stresses the positive commitment to Christ.


Concentrating on the major facet of sanctification, its progressive character, the Confession makes the point that under the influence of the Word and the Spirit, through the virtue of the redemptive work of Christ and the new, created life of regeneration, believers begin to grow in holiness. "The dominion of the whole body of sin is destroyed" (the Greek word is better rendered by the NIV "rendered powerless"). The graces of the new nature are "more and more quickened and strengthened" to "the practice of true holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord" (13.1).

This sanctification is "imperfect in this life; there still abide remnants of corruption in every part" of our human nature. A "continual and irreconcilable war" with the flesh lusting against the Spirit abides throughout this life (13.2).

Further, while "the remaining corruption for a time may much prevail" (see Rom. 7:23), by the strength supplied "from the sanctifying Spirit of Christ," the regenerate life grows in grace, "perfecting holiness in the fear of God" (13.3).

Sanctification as defined in the Confession does not include complete deliverance in this life, for the struggle in our members is always present (Gal. 5:17; 1 Pet. 2:11). Perfection in holiness comes only at death.

The believer, by union with God's covenantal representative in death and resurrection, has made a definitive break with sin and has become obligated to a life of holiness and good works. In the purpose of God, justification has as its intermediate goal deliverance from the dominion of sin and growth in holiness (Rom. 6:6; Eph. 2:10). We may, therefore, expect such things, especially when we consider the sovereign power of God in accomplishing his purposes (see Isa. 46:10; Ps. 135:6). The test of God's purposes and desires is his accomplishments.

It is at this point that we must consider the question of Christian ethics. The redemptive work of Christ provides the supernatural power of the indwelling Spirit of God and the stimulus that strengthens the failing human will to perform works pleasing to God. The connection between justification and sanctification, that of ground and issue, is crucial.

Good works in biblical thought are those works that proceed from evangelical faith and are done for the glory of God. The unregenerate may do works of benefaction that in the eyes of the world merit the term "good," but they fall short of the divine approval. One can see, then, how important it is to insist on the redemption of Jesus Christ as the necessary ground of ethical behavior acceptable to God, and to expect such behavior as the evidence of faith.

While on the one hand MacArthur overdoes the absolute commitment, the "complete change" (p. 32), the "willing to forsake everything" (whence does the willing come?), on the other hand Professor Hodges seems bent on discovering how sparse the faith that justifies can be. These overemphases are not helpful.

Mercy and Lordship

I will conclude with some observations that follow from the definitions and terms discussed above and bear on the claims of Lordship Salvation—the view that one cannot receive Christ simply as Savior, but must also give him total control of one's life, and if this is not done, one is not saved.

First of all, it is true that one must confess the lordship of Christ to be saved. Only a sovereign God can save sinners, and the calling on the Lord for mercy is an implicit recognition of his lordship and of his right of control over us.

Second, such confession must be genuine, not mere profession without reality. John MacArthur handles this point ably.

Third, the preeminent term by which salvation is received is faith, or belief (I regard repentance as a necessary part of faith). Understood properly, this is not easy believism; in fact, such faith can only be given by God (Eph. 2:8-9, 1 Cor. 12:3). It was Jesus himself who said to Jairus, "Only believe, and she shall be well" (Luke 8:50). The Gospel of John was written to induce faith, and its demand is for faith alone (John 20:30-31).

Fourth, as we have seen from the Confession, the realization of Christ's lordship in growing obedience and submission to his will is the work of sanctification, not justification. The two great teachings must not be confounded, or the peril of mixing things that differ threatens us.

Fifth, as is clear from the Confession's words regarding saving faith and sanctification, Christians may for a time live in carnality, but only for a time, since divine discipline, which may become severe enough to necessitate physical death, is applied by God (1 Cor. 5:5; 11:29-30). The term "the carnal Christian," therefore, is not a category of a Christian acceptable to God, nor does it represent a permanent status in the Christian life.

Sixth, to insist on a complete submission to God's will as necessary for salvation is unsupported by not only the Gospel of John, but also the Book of Acts. Prof. Everett F. Harrison has claimed, "A faithful reading of the entire book of Acts fails to reveal a single passage where people are pressed to acknowledge Jesus Christ as their personal Lord [he seems to mean personal Lord in the sense of complete submission to his will] in order to be saved." The insistence is contrary to the experience of many well-known Christians who relate more easily with the progressive sanctification experience set out in the Confession.

Seventh, it is sounder and simpler to keep to Paul's invitation as delivered to the Philippian jailer: "Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you shall be saved, you and your household" (Acts 16:31, NASB). If we keep in mind that the Lord Jesus is he who has offered himself as a propitiatory substitutionary sacrifice for sinners, and if we remember that saving faith comprehends knowledge, assent, and trust, and if we see that the new life and standing given in justification must issue in a new submission to God's will, then we shall have our gospel thinking in order.

It was inevitable that the volcano should erupt again and the smoke of controversy arise. It is discouraging to preach the gospel and see so little convincingly genuine and longlasting fruit. The glory of the gospel of grace and a limited response do not seem compatible, but the solution is not to be found in inducing shallow professions that do not last by the questionable methods of "decisional evangelism," or by introducing sterner demands that have problematic biblical support.

Let us remember that our sovereign God alone saves souls, and he can be trusted with that work. Let us do our work of preaching his saving Word. Lewis Sperry Chafer used to exhort his students (all men in those days), "Men, preach an accurate gospel." That's still good counsel. Then the results may be left safely with the Lord.

S. Lewis Johnson Jr. (1915-2004) was a pastor for more than 45 years, most notably at Believers Chapel in Dallas, Texas. He also served as professor of New Testament and professor of systematic theology at Dallas Theological Seminary, and as professor of biblical and systematic theology at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. This article originally appeared in the September 22, 1989, issue of Christianity Today.

Monday, March 25, 2013

"Countercultural Spirituality"

From Ray Ortlund, Jr.,:

As the latest volume in the new Crossway series, "Theologians on The Christian Life," William Edgar’s Schaeffer on The Christian Life compels my respectful attention.  The subtitle, in particular, “Countercultural Spirituality,” combines two things attractive to me, true to Francis Schaeffer and prophetic in our time.

Countercultural.  Counter, especially, to a compromised church culture.  Biblical Christianity is a radical adjustment.  We would gain immeasurably from being confronted, even opposed, by the biblical witness.  Our gracious Justifier, who is for us (Romans 8:31), also says to us, “But I have a few things against you” (Revelation 2:14).  Are we willing to face that honestly and find out what he means and receive his correction?

Spirituality.  Personal reality with the living God, according to Scripture.  The Bible is not there for us to polish our theories.  It is not there to reinforce any status quo.  It is there to bring us to God and move us to deeper change and empower us for bold witness in our generation.  This is the rugged, costly spirituality nothing on earth, nothing within the church, can withstand, because God is in it.

Schaeffer: “The central problem of our age is not liberalism or modernism [or postmodernism] . . . . The real problem is this: the church of the Lord Jesus Christ, individually or corporately, tending to do the Lord’s work in the power of the flesh rather than of the Spirit.  The central problem is always in the midst of the people of God, not in the circumstances surrounding them” (page 148, italics original).

Such a stance lifts this book above merely speculative interest, thought-provoking though it is.  The entire outlook of Francis Schaeffer, well summarized on pages 189-192, demands personal and corporate reassessment at a basic level.

I needed to read this book.  Maybe you do too.

-- Ray Ortlund, Jr.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Spurgeon on Temptations and Trials

'Come, then, beloved, let all mystery with regard to your temptations be banished. Mystery puts an edge upon the sword of trial; perhaps the hand that wrote upon the wall would not have frightened Belshazzar if he could have seen the body to which that hand belonged. there is no mystery about your trouble, after all. though you did write it down as being bigger than any that ever happened to a human being before, that is not the truth; you are not an emperor in the realm of misery. you cannot truly say, "I am the man that hath seen affliction above all others," for your Lord endured far more than you have ever done, and many of his saints, who passed from the stake to the crown, must have suffered much more than you have been called to undergo thus far.'

-Charles Spurgeon

Friday, March 22, 2013


After hearing a CNN panel yammering about the 'late night talk show wars' I thought of this quote, that applies to a lot more going on in American culture too:

 "When a population becomes distracted by trivia, when cultural life is redefined as a perpetual round of entertainments, when serious public conversation becomes a form of baby-talk, when, in short, a people become an audience and their public business a vaudeville act, then a nation finds itself at risk; culture-death is a clear possibility. " -- Neil Postman, "Amusing Ourselves to Death"

Thursday, March 21, 2013

An Atheist's Honesty...and Terror

Some years ago Arthur Leff gave a lecture at Duke University School of Law entitled “Unspeakable Ethics, Unnatural Law.” He was not a Christian, and he understood where his position led him.

Leff went on to argue that, since there is no God, the only law we have is our own arbitrary will, and he calls that realization terrifying. He concludes his article this way:

"It looks as if we are all we have. Given what we know about ourselves and each other, this is an extraordinarily unappetizing prospect; looking around the world, it appears that if all men are brothers, the ruling model is Cain and Abel. Neither reason, nor love, nor even terror, seems to have worked to make us 'good,' and worse than that, there is no reason why anything should. . . . As things now stand, everything is up for grabs. . . . God help us."

-- Arthur Allen Leff, “Unspeakable Ethics, Unnatural Law,” Duke Law Journal 1979, no. 6 (1979): 1229–49)

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Worship...a Resounding 'No' to the Lies....

"Worship isn't merely a yes to the God who saves, but also a resounding and furious no to the lies that echo in the mountains around us." —Mike Cosper

Saturday, March 16, 2013

"What to do when you betray Jesus?"

"The reasons why you want to follow Jesus will only become clear in the hard times."  -- Mike McKinley   Go here for a thoughtful essay.

Friday, March 15, 2013

"Jesus Is Turning Your Shame into a Showcase of His Grace"

from Jon Bloom (Desiring God Ministries):

You know that part of you that you really want others not to see — that stubborn weakness, humiliating failure, embarrassing illness, horrible past event, or present struggle with sin? There’s very good news for you in the story of the woman with a hemorrhage in Luke 8. 
Jesus was now a reluctant celebrity. And a crowd was teeming around him as he made his way toward Jairus’s home to heal the synagogue ruler’s twelve year-old daughter. 
In the crowd was a desperate woman. For twelve years she had suffered from a vaginal hemorrhage. All the medical treatments she sought had bled her savings. Nothing had helped.
But she had seen Jesus’ healing power. When he touched people they were healed. If he could just touch her… 
However, she had a problem. Her problem was the problem. Everyone who came to Jesus for healing had to tell him — and thus everyone else — what his or her problem was. Jairus had just done that. But a vaginal discharge? In front of all those men? Even worse, her bleeding made her unclean, which added a deeper shame to her embarrassment. 
But maybe Jesus didn’t need to know that he touched her at all. What if she touched him? With that mass of people all trying to get close to him, she could just quickly touch his cloak. Nobody would ever know! 
She pushed and jostled her way toward the Rabbi. The closer she got the greater the knot in her stomach. His disciples were trying to keep people from grabbing him. Her desperation fueled her determination. Suddenly there was opening and she quickly bent down and swept her hand along the edge of Jesus’s cloak. 
As she straightened up and stepped back she felt a flash of heat through her abdomen. She knew instantly she was healed. A flash of shocked joy washed over her.
For about five seconds. 
Then Jesus stopped and began searching the crowd. He looked concerned and said loudly, “Who was it that touched me?” (Luke 8:45) 
A flash of fear washed over the woman. Those closest pulled back from Jesus. Everyone looked at everyone else. There were various declarations of “I didn’t do anything!” But the woman froze. 
Peter, with some irritation, said to Jesus, “Master, the crowds surround you and are pressing in on you!” For goodness’ sake, everybody’s trying to touch you! 
But Jesus, still looking, said, “Someone touched me, for I perceive that power has gone out from me” (Luke 8:46). 
The woman realized she had been caught. It had never occurred to her that she might be stealing this healing. 
Meekly she said, “It was me.” She stepped back toward Jesus and the crowd parted. In tears she dropped to her knees in front of him. “I touched you, Master.” And she poured out her shame in front of everyone. 
Jesus was clearly moved. He leaned toward her and wiped her tears and said, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace.” 
When Jesus finally got to Jairus’s home and resurrected his daughter, he told her parents not to tell anyone (Luke 8:56). And yet this woman, who tried so hard to keep her healing a secret, was required to tell everyone. Why? 
Because this woman believed in him. 
What Jesus was exposing in that moment was not her weakness and shame. What he was exposing was her faith. He wanted her faith visible so that everyone who carries a secret shame — which is every one of us — might have hope. 
Jesus, the Great Physician, has the power to heal us from every sin, every weakness, every failure, every illness and every evil ever committed against us. And he promises this healing to everyone who believes in him (John 3:16; Matthew 21:22). 
Faith is what pleases God (Hebrews 11:6) and faith is what releases the grace of God in your life (Ephesians 2:8; Luke 8:48). Do you want deliverance from your shame? Come to Jesus believing. Come desperately determined to touch him. And if faith is weak, cry out, “I believe; help my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24) and “increase [my] faith!” (Luke 17:5). 
No, not every promised grace will be received in this age (Hebrews 11:39). In fact, most are being saved for your best life that is coming (Hebrews 11:35). 
But you, if you believe in him, will receive sufficient grace (2 Corinthians 12:9) to help you in your time of need (Hebrews 4:16). 
So trust him and take heart! That place of shame will not remain. Jesus is turning it into a showcase of his grace.

-- from Jon Bloom (Desiring God Ministries):

Thursday, March 14, 2013

"What Andre the Giant Can Teach Us About Church Growth"

"If the local church is truly the body of Christ, then we have to believe that overgrowth is just as problematic as anemia. We have to peel back the growth question a few layers and ask a new one: Is our body growing in a healthy way? Are the building blocks of our organization solid or weak? Is our DNA healthy? Or are there overriding dysfunctions that will take a good thing (i.e. growth) and pervert it into a bad thing?"

-- Eric Reed, "Leadership" magazine online

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

The Happiest Moments

"The happiest moments are when we forget our precious selves . . . but have everything else (God, our fellow humans, the animals, the garden and the sky) instead." -- C.S. Lewis

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Is Heaven a Bribe?

"We are afraid that heaven is a bribe, and that if we make it our goal we shall no longer be disinterested. It is not so. Heaven offers nothing that a mercenary soul can desire. It is safe to tell the pure in heart that they shall see God, for only the pure in heart want to. There are rewards that do not sully motives. A man's love for a woman is not mercenary because he wants to marry her, nor his love for poetry mercenary because he wants to read it, nor his love of exercise less disinterested because he wants to run and leap and walk. Love, by its very nature, seeks to enjoy its object."

-- C.S. Lewis, "The Problem of Pain"

Monday, March 11, 2013

God's reign vindicated and demonstrated

"In Jesus Christ we witness the long-awaited vindication and effective demonstration of God’s kingship in the world. The coming of Christ is the climax of the whole history of redemption as recorded in the Scriptures. The rightful king has established a beachhead in his territory and calls his subjects to press his claims ever farther in creation."

— Albert Wolters
Creation Regained
(Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2005), 74

Sunday, March 10, 2013

"We long for revival"

“The best way to begin is to stress the importance of our subject by confessing our great need of the power of the Holy Spirit today. We are ashamed of the general worldliness of the church and disturbed by its weakness, its steadily diminishing influence on the country as a whole. Moreover, many of us are oppressed by our own personal failures in Christian life and Christian ministry. We are conscious that we fall short both of the experience of the early church and of the plain promises of God in his Word. We are thankful indeed for what God has done and is doing, and we do not want to denigrate his grace by minimizing it. But we hunger and thirst for more. We long for ‘revival,’ an altogether supernatural visitation of the Holy Spirit in the church, and meanwhile for a deeper, richer, fuller experience of the Holy Spirit in our own lives.”

-- John Stott, "The Baptism and Fulness of the Holy Spirit"

Friday, March 8, 2013

"Make me a servant...." Do you mean it?

‎"You can gauge how far along you are in developing a servant's heart by taking note of how you respond when someone treats you like a servant. " —Tom Ascol

Job and the Pathway Through Suffering

'I used to think the book of Job is in the Bible because it presents a rare and extreme case of human suffering.  “Look at this worst case scenario.  If you can see the truth here, then surely in your comparatively small problems . . . .”

'Now I think the book of Job is in the Bible because the story is so common.  Many are wondering, “What on earth has happened to me?  What have I done that explains this devastation?  Where is God in this?”

'Enter Job’s three friends.  They were cautious at first.  But with their tidy notions threatened by his untidy realities, the moralism started pouring out of them: “Come on, Job, get real with us.  You must have some dirty secret that explains all this.  Admit it, and this misery will start going away.”  Their finger-pointing oversimplifications intensified Job’s sufferings, and this too is a common experience.

'I don’t think the book of Job is about suffering as a theoretical problem — why do the righteous suffer?  I think it’s about suffering as a practical problem — when (not if) the righteous suffer, what does God want from them?  And what he wants is trust.  When the righteous cannot connect the realities of their experience with the truths of God, then God is calling them to trust him that there is more to it than they can see.  As with Job, there is a battle being fought in the heavenlies.

'Trust in God, not explanations from God, is the pathway through suffering.'

-- Ray Ortlund, Jr.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

The Definitive World-view of a Distinguished Author

"All my own experience has been that of the writer who believes, again in Pascal's words, in the 'God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and not of the philosophers and scholars.' This is an unlimited God and one who has revealed himself specifically. It is one who became man and rose from the dead. It is one who confounds the senses and the sensibilities, one known early on as a stumbling block. There is no way to gloss over this specification or to make it more acceptable to modern thought. This God is the object of ultimate concern and he has a name." (Flannery O'Connor, "Mystery & Manners," p.161)

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

"Why one sin condemns"

More Biblical wisdom from Ray Ortlund:

For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it.  James 2:10

“One failure, and total guilt crashes down on me?  Kind of an overreaction, isn’t it?  Hmmm.  So that’s what God is really like.  Figures.”

Let’s admit it.  That turn of mind is inside us all.  But is it just?

Every American knows the name Benedict Arnold.  He was a traitor.  He betrayed the American cause in the Revolutionary War.  The memory of Benedict Arnold conjures up one thought: treason.

What we also need to know is that Arnold had served energetically and effectively on the American side.  As a general in our Continental Army, he bravely fought and won at Fort Ticonderoga.  But he was passed over for promotion, he ran up some personal debts, he came under criticism by political competitors, so he switched sides.  He got himself assigned to the command of West Point, in order to hand it over to the British.  But his plot was discovered.

I wonder what he was thinking.  I wonder if he weighed all the good he had done for the Americans against the bad he was receiving from the Americans, and he justified himself, he told himself it was okay.  But that isn’t how the moral calculus works.  Doing good does not offset doing evil.  Doing evil offsets doing good.  That is why the good record of Benedict Arnold will forever be overshadowed in the American consciousness by his one act of betrayal.  His treachery revealed the true state of his heart.  He had not been serving America sincerely but for ulterior motives.  And when he was not served to his own satisfaction, he turned.  If he had been served to his satisfaction, he doubtless would have stayed true.  But even then, his loyalty would have been deeply false.  Undiscovered, but false.

Our obedience to God doesn’t necessarily mean a thing.  It might not be obedience at all.  It might be coincidence.  It might be that what the Bible says and what we wanted to do anyway just happen to line up.  We claim to be pro-God, but what reveals our hearts is our disobedience.  This is why one violation of the law condemns us.  Our sin exposes the fraudulence of our righteousness, not the other way around.

Christ died for us, his betrayers.  Now he offers us his royal amnesty on terms of grace, received with the empty hands of faith, which we are finally able to hold out before him when we admit what we really are inside.

-- Ray Ortlund, Jr.

Monday, March 4, 2013

"Restraining Grace"

The PyroManiacs devote some space each weekend to highlights from the lifetime of works from the Prince of Preachers, Charles Haddon Spurgeon.  The following excerpt is from The Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit, volume 11, sermon number 656, "Prevenient grace."

How many saints fall into sins which they have to regret even after conversion, while others are saved from leaving the path of morality to wander in the morass of lust and crime! Why, some of us were, by God’s grace, placed in positions where we could not well have been guilty of any gross acts of immorality, even if we had tried. We were so hedged about by guardian-care, so watched and tended on every side, that we should have been dashing our heads against a stone wall if we had run into any great or open sin.

Oh! what a mercy to be prevented from sinning, when God puts chains across the road, digs ditches, makes hedges, builds walls, and says to us, “No, you shall not go that way, I will not let you; you shall never have that to regret; you may desire it, but I will hedge up your way with thorns; you may wish it, but it never shall be yours.”

Beloved, I have thanked God a thousand times in my life, that before my conversion, when I had ill desires I had no opportunities; and on the other hand, that when I had opportunities I had no desires; for when desires and opportunities come together like the flint and steel, they make the spark that kindles the fire, but neither the one nor the other, though they may both be dangerous, can bring about any very great amount of evil so long as they are kept apart.

Let us, then, look back, and if this has been our experience bless the preventing grace of God.

Again, there is another form of grace I must mention, namely, restraining grace. Here, you see, I am making a distinction. There are many who did go into sin; they were not wholly prevented from it, but they could not go as far into it as they wanted to do. There is a young man here to-night—he will say how should I know—well, I do know—there is a young man here tonight who wants to commit a certain sin, but he cannot. Oh! how he wishes to go, but he cannot; he is placed in such a position of poverty that he cannot play the fine gentleman he would like.

There is another; he wants to be dancing at such-and-such a place, but thank God he is lame; there is another, who, if he had had is wish would have lost his soul, but since his blindness has come upon him there is some hope for him. Oh! how often God has thrown a man on a sick bed to make him well! He would have been such as he was even unto death if he had been well, but God has made him sick, and that sickness has restrained him from sin. It is a mercy for some men that they cannot do what they would, and though “to will is present” with them, yet even in sin, “how to perform that which they would they find not.”

Ah! my fine fellow, if you could have had your own way, you would have been at the top of the mountain by now! So you think, but no, you would have been over the precipice long before this if
God had let you climb at all, and so he has kept you in the valley because he has designs of love towards you, and because you shall not sin as others sin.

Divine grace has its hand upon the bridle of your horse. You may spur your steed, and use the lash against the man who holds you back; or perhaps it is a woman, and you may speak bitter words against that wife, that sister, or that mother, whom God has put there to hold you back; but you cannot go on, you shall not go on. Another inch forward and you will be over the precipice and lost, and therefore God has put that hand there to throw your horse back on its haunches, and make you pause, and think, and turn from the error of your ways.

What a mercy it is that when God’s people do go into sin to any extent, he speaks and says, “Hitherto shalt thou go, but no further; here shall thy proud sins be stayed!” There is, then, restraining grace.

-- Charles Spurgeon

-- from the Pyromaniacs website

Sunday, March 3, 2013

"Let us read our Bibles more diligently than ever..."

‎"Let us arm ourselves with a thorough knowledge of the Word of God. Let us read our Bibles more diligently than ever, and become familiar with every part of them. Let the Word dwell in us richly. Let us beware of anything which would make us give less time and less heart to the perusal of its sacred pages. The Bible is the sword of the Spirit – let it never be laid aside. The Bible is the true lantern for a dark and cloudy time – let us beware of traveling without its light." ~ J.C. Ryle

Saturday, March 2, 2013

"Why pro-lifers keep fighting abortion"

A good, comprehensive editorial in the Washington Post.

A fundamental problem for our culture and times...

It seems to me that our fundamental problem is this: Living according to reason, that is rightly attached to reality/truth, has given way to living according to one’s emotions, passions, preferences and not-well-attached-to-reality musings that masquerade as ‘thinking’. (And it's happening personally, culturally and politically.) The great problem with this approach?: reality is a very stubborn thing.