Sunday, November 25, 2012

Zeal For God Is Not Enough

“Well at least he’s passionate about what he believes.”

 Do you hear this too? It’s as if passion justifies belief.

A passion for God is not enough. Paul said as much speaking of the Jews: “For I bear them witness that they have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge” (Romans 10:2). Zeal is not enough. A strong desire is not enough. Passion won’t save your soul.

Zeal (which I am using interchangeably with passion) is a wonderful thing that we see in strong Christian men and women. We see it in Christ in the Scriptures: “For zeal for your house has consumed me, and the reproaches of those who reproach you have fallen on me” (Psalm 69:9).

But Christ said, “‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God’” (Matthew 4:4). He did not say, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by being zealous.”

We live by God’s word. God’s word (through the Spirit) produces a passion based on the truth of special revelation.

Therefore, correct knowledge kindles the flame of zeal. Therefore my heart is glad, and my whole being rejoices…” (Psalm 16:9). This rejoicing of the whole being is based on the first verses of Psalm 16. God gives David counsel. God is with David so he will not be shaken. David has no good apart from God.

Correct knowledge frees our consciences from wondering if the passion we have is truly godly.

Christianity is a religion of thinking, not irrational emotionalism. It involves knowledge, comprehension, understanding, insight, wisdom, and enlightenment. Paul talks about this often, especially (as I’ve learned recently) in the book of Ephesians.

Ephesians 1:17-18
“…that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints…”

Ephesians 3:18-19
“…may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God…”

Ephesians 4:13-15
“…until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ…”

Ephesians 5:10
“…and try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord.”

Ephesians 5:17
“Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is.”

Other passages include: 1 Peter 1:13, Romans 12:2, Colossians 1:6

True knowledge coupled with passion for the truth is a beautiful thing. True knowledge unleashes passion because the truth is rich and exciting (Psalm 119:18). When knowledge comes through the mind and drops into our heart, our whole being is enthralled with the glory of God.

This is why we need to read our Bibles. Because God has ordained that the Spirit work through the Word so we would come to know the things of God. 

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Clarification on Justification

As Louis Berkhof says, “Justification is always a declaration of God, not on the basis of an existing condition, but on that of a gracious imputation...”

Justification changes our legal status from unholy and repugnant to righteous. But it doesn’t change us. Justification happens outside of us. It is simply a status change based on Christ’s righteousness (which becomes ours) through faith.

Mirror reading the book of Romans then, we see that those who were charging the apostles of antinomianism (“We shall sin that grace may abound”) were correctly assessing the logic of Paul’s doctrine of justification.

Only being declared righteous would be grounds for being able to do whatever we want. If we were only declared righteous and that was that, there really would be no danger in sinning! If the doctrine of justification is about foreign righteousness and a guilty verdict being removed –then truly no heart change can happen in us if we are only justified.

But we weren't only justified. 

Romans 6:5-11
For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. For one who has died has been set free from sin. Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.

A guilty verdict reversal does not change our hearts. The Spirit in the rebirth changes our hearts from those of stone to those of flesh. All those (truly) justified have Union with Christ.

When someone believes in Christ, their old self is crucified as Christ was, and raised to new life. This is the reason we can now walk in the newness of life. We can do this because we are no longer enslaved to sin. Sin’s dominion over us has been crushed through the cross. We’ve been reborn by the Spirit, given a new heart. Our redemption has finally been applied when we believe. Before the Christian had faith, all the benefits from their union with Christ were apart from them.

It is like all the spiritual blessings of union with Christ were behind a giant dam. But upon believing in Christ that dam is broken and all the benefits which the believer possesses in Christ from the beginning are applied to them. Justification is a fundamental piece of union with Christ, but it certainly isn’t all there is.

Here’s the reason for the clarification: It seems to me that in many Reformed churches the idea is stressed that justification by faith alone gives us the power to do good works. After the reading of the law, the pastor will say, “Look at what you’ve been given! You’ve been justified! You are righteous because of Christ! Now go and live a week of good works in thankfulness.”

But isn’t this fundamentally flawed thinking? It leaves out the real power source, forcing us into another week of reliance upon our justification, which is the basis for our changed life and our salvation, but cannot impart to us a changed life.

Shouldn’t reliance upon the Spirit be stressed instead? Isn't all grace in the Christian life instigated by the Spirit? He had to regenerate us before we had faith and were justified. 

Rather than pointing to our justification by faith alone for a life of good works (though a life of good works would be impossible without justification, for we must be made right before we can hope to work), shouldn’t we be pointing to reliance on the Spirit, our “newness,” our Union with Christ?

We are to count ourselves as dead to sin and alive to Christ, because we really are dead to sin! We have been united to Christ by the Spirit. It is no longer we who live but Christ who lives in us. The Spirit gives us Christ’s resurrection power for our lives now.

Some final clarifying statements:
When we fail in the Christian life, of course we look to our Savior Jesus Christ and our justification through him. As 1 John 2:1 says, "My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous."

We have salvation because Christ’s work has been imputed to us. As J.V. Fesko states in his book Justification: Understanding the Classic Reformed Doctrine, “Justification, not Union with Christ, is the foundation upon which the believer’s Salvation is established” (279). Our perfection and salvation come only through Christ’s blood! Our works add nothing.

But since justification is not based on any change in us, we must realize that good works flow from the resurrection power of  Christ in our lives, which only the Spirit gives.

We can't do the whole, "You've been justified, so try harder this week" thing. We should count ourselves as dead to sin because in Christ, through the Spirit, we are! We can conquer sin because sin's dominion has been crushed.

Of course we should live lives of thankfulness in response to justification, but we can only do that because we have been made new by the Spirit. We are Spirit-empowered people!

Monday, November 5, 2012

Partakers of the Promise in Christ Jesus (and all that that means)

In the first two chapters of Ephesians Paul outlines what the “unsearchable riches of Christ” are for the Christian. That is, he outlines what being a “partaker of the Promise in Christ Jesus” means. In every aspect of the Christian spiritual life, the center of everything is through and in Christ! 

He divulges that the Christian’s (awesome) union with Christ began in eternity before the foundations of the world (Ephesians 1:4). 

God predestined Christians for adoption “through Jesus Christ” (Ephesians 1:5) and blessed them with his glorious grace “in the Beloved” (Ephesians 1:6). 

In Christ, Christians have redemption and the forgiveness of sins (Ephesians 1:7).  

The secret of God’s will, formed in all wisdom and insight (Ephesians 1:8), was set forth in Christ (Ephesians 1:9). 

In Christ, believers “have obtained an inheritance” (Ephesians 1:11). 

In Christ, believers were sealed with the Holy Spirit who guarantees their inheritance (Ephesians 1:13-14). 

The power that God worked in Christ to raise him from the dead is now being worked in those who believe (Ephesians 1:19-20). 

Christians have been raised up and seated with God “in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus” (Ephesians 2:6). This was done so God “might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Jesus Christ” (Ephesians 2:7). 

In Christ, the gentiles who once had no hope and were without God have been brought near by Jesus’ blood (Ephesians 2:13).

In Christ, Christians have peace (Ephesians 2:14). 

Through him, Christians “have access in one Spirit to the Father” (Ephesians 2:18). 

In Him, the household of God “grows into a holy temple in the Lord” (Ephesians 2:21). 

Abundant (more and more) riches flow from the believer's union with Christ, even the seemingly oxymoronic comprehension of the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, which comes through the power of Christ’s Spirit (Ephesians 3:16-19).