Archive for July, 2008

Combating a New Arminianism

The Arminianism of our day is decidedly not the Arminianism of centuries ago. Anyone who has studied the Five Articles of Remonstrance knows this. Yet we argue against Arminianism today according to the old arguments and paradigms.

The new root of Arminianism seems to be this: coming to God for salvation counts even if it is done sinfully. By this, the Arminian undermines all of reformed thought. The modern Arminian says, it may be true, that we are so sinful as to make us unable turn to God sinlessly, but God is glorified in us as we believe in Him, even if that belief is itself not a perfectly sinless one.

I bring this up not to show how we can better argue against heterodoxy (though that is important) but as this is something all churches need to think about (reformed and non alike).

Our churches are full of men who believe that going to church, singing, praying, tithing even if done partially sinfully, even if done lazily or routinely, is acceptable before the Lord. God HATES sinful sacrifice (Prov. 15:8). We see it in giving (Acts 5:3), in communion (1 Cor. 11:29), in prayer (Prov. 28:9), and in the feasts and festivals (Isa. 66:3).

Rather, we should offer up pure and perfect worship before him. How? By faith. Do you not know that the blood of the lamb can cover our sinful worship so that it is holy and acceptable before God Almighty? Believe this. Rise thyself up to faith in your worship or it does not count, just like praying the sinners prayer for fire insurance does not count.

How are we any less Arminian when we follow their same principles in our day-to-day lives? We try to rouse ourselves to the work of worship as if it was the work that God finds acceptable, just like the Arminian sees himself as rousing himself up to the act of faith. I claim that such acts are an abomination. What God finds acceptable is not the part of worship that we give (Acts 17:24-25, Mark 10:45, Psa. 50:9-12, 1 Cor. 10:26), but the part of worship that we receive.

To make sense of this, look at Andrew Fuller’s combat against Sandemanianism. Sandeman (1718-1771) asserted that faith must not be a work, for then we would be saved by works. Sanderman’s faith thus had no activity to it, it was instead a passive persuasion of the truth.

To combat this, Fuller introduced an analogy of a magnet:

Whatever holiness there is in [faith], it is not this, but the obedience of Christ, that constitutes our justifying righteousness. Whatever other properties the magnet may possess, it is as pointing invariably to the north that it guides the mariner; and whatever other properties faith may possess, it is as receiving Christ, and bringing us into union with him, that it justifies. -Andrew Fuller

Just like that magnet there is a part of faith that makes it saving, and that part is not to be found in us. A humble and receiving faith is that which saves. But that does not mean there is no part for us to play in our faith. Faith that saves is always working (Gal. 5:6), even though it is not the working part of faith that saves.

Now worship, like faith, must act. It must act love. Yet, also like faith, our acting is not that which makes it good and acceptable before God. Left to itself our actions are an abomination before him. Holiness can only be found in our actings as they are covered by the blood of Him who was slain. This blood is not our gift to God, but His gift to us. Thus, even though worship acts, holiness is not to be found in the acting and working but in the receiving.

Stated another way, worship should never be passive, but it is the passive part of worship that is pleasing to God. Love should never be without work, but it is the non-working part of love that fulfills the command. We are saved by faith alone, but faith that saves is never alone.

We cannot add to the holiness that we have in Christ.

A brief history of Fuller’s fight with Sanderman can be seen here.

What Can We Expect From God?

Matthew 21:21-22

21 And Jesus answered them, “Truly, I say to you, if you have faith and do not doubt, you will not only do what has been done to the fig tree, but even if you say to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and thrown into the sea,’ it will happen. 22 And whatever you ask in prayer, you will receive, if you have faith.” (ESV)

I believe if we have enough faith we can literally expect God to move mountains. Yet we don’t see this power in our own prayer-lives … why? The problem of God not moving very much in our lives is not to be solved by an expectation that this is an age where God does not powerfully act but is to be solved by our lack of faith.

Sadly, we take the exact wrong approach and say that we cannot expect God to do enormously great things in the life of His Church. This yields a man-centric view of the Church. The specific outcome of this I’d like to focus on right now is a man-centric view of the Church’s fruit.

When we judge the fruit of our church, we do it in view of what man is able to accomplish. It is hard for men, on their own, to go to church every Sunday, to stay married, to get involved with non-profit groups and donate their time, to witness for God, &c. If we judge our local churches by this standard, then some of them will look bad and some of them will look good. Some will have very little fruit, and some will have much fruit.

However, if we judge things by God’s standard, things look quite a bit different. If we were acting by His power, we would expect our lives to be transformed into holy, righteous living sacrafices. We would expect much power in our witnessing, so that souls were saved. We would expect much power in overcoming sin, so that our sins would be peeling back like layers off an onion. We would expect church fellowship to be a miraculous event so that church would last all week in love and that Sunday morning would be the colossal crescendo of that week lived in love and fellowship with the brethren. We would expect men to give freely of all of their time, talents, and treasure, limiting their giving only with what love required them to hold back. If we judge our local churches and ourselves by this standard, things look much different. We become a people that have almost no fruit.

So which should it be? Should we judge ourselves and our churches by the fruit that man is able to produce, or by the fruit that only God almighty is able to produce? John 15:5 should make the answer to that question obvious.

John 15:5-10

I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples. As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. 10 If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. (ESV)

Suffer for God Not for Vanity

1 Peter 3:17

17 For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God’s will, than for doing evil. (ESV)

We will all suffer in this world. The rich along with the poor, the old along with the young, the healthy along with the sick. Some have more suffering and some have less but we all have a portion of that cup. But what good is your suffering?

If you were to pay eighty thousand dollars for a car, would you be happy with an old rusty car on cinder blocks? Doesn’t paying a high price establish the expectation of a good return? Instead, you would expect a fast, sleek, well-oiled machine. In a like manner I ask, what do you expect to get in return for your suffering?

Spend your suffering wisely. Be a good steward of it in the same way you strive to be a good steward of your money. None of you I would expect, would pay such a sum for a rusty car, much less would any of you toss the money to the wind spending it for nothing at all. Yet this is how we spend much of our suffering. Do you not know that the suffering of the saints is good tender towards the redemption of souls? Do you not understand that your suffering can purchase a crown of glory not only for you, but for your family, friends, and neighbors? What is more, suffering can purchase the glory of our Lord, Jesus Christ and buy interest in His kingdom, the kingdom he has put the down payment on with His suffering. Shall we not do likewise and pave the streets of that kingdom with our sufferings?

When we could buy such glorious things, we instead spend it on toys, on jobs, and on comforts. Men often complain because they have worked so hard at their job and they did not get the promotion they were expecting or even worse, they got fired. It is grievous indeed that men suffer such injustices and I do not wish to take away from such, but there is a still greater wrong: that these men are willing to waste their sufferings on such petty, worthless things when their sufferings could be buying priceless things. Men pray for health, for wealth, for family, for all sorts of things not because we would make those things slaves of Christ—using them up for His good and His kingdom—but we would put them all towards our own selfish interests.

These things should not be so! This is not conduct becoming bond-slaves of God most high.

Church Revival, Then and Now

Amos 6:1

6:1 “Woe to those who are at ease in Zion,
and to those who feel secure on the mountain of Samaria,
the notable men of the first of the nations,
to whom the house of Israel comes!

Amos 6:6

who drink wine in bowls
and anoint themselves with the finest oils,
but are not grieved over the ruin of Joseph!

Revelation 3:17-19

17 For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked. 18 I counsel you to buy from me gold refined by fire, so that you may be rich, and white garments so that you may clothe yourself and the shame of your nakedness may not be seen, and salve to anoint your eyes, so that you may see. 19 Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline, so be zealous and repent. (ESV)

What does revival take? Does it not take the blood, sweat, and tears of the saints?

When John Paton, missionary to the New Hebrides, was in route to his mission station, he thought of how, not twenty years earlier, the earliest missionaries to the region were eaten by cannibals. He wrote;

Alas! Within a few minutes of their touching land, both were clubbed to death ; and the savages proceeded to cook and feast upon their bodies. Thus were the New Hebrides baptized with the blood of Martyrs ; and Christ thereby told the whole Christian world that He claimed these Islands as His own. His cross must yet be lifted up, where the blood of His saints has been poured forth in His name!

Oh to be surrounded by men who think like this. The blood of martyrs is Christ’s blood to the nations! When we see it, do we only see a tragic death? When we think of our own possible suffering for Christ’s sake do we see merely what cost it will exact? Or are those thoughts secondary to the surpassing joy of how God will use the sacrifices of His people to transform this world into His kingdom?

The reason I bring this up is to lead into and give support for what I’m about to claim, which is: if there is not at least someone in a local church who yearns for its revival so badly that he is willing to trade his house, his income, his wealth, his own life, or even the lives of his children for the sake of that revival, then that church does not really want revival. Furthermore, I would speculate that a church that doesn’t yearn for its revival, for its salvation, for its sanctification, has no business existing in the first place. It is like the tree with the axe laid at the roots. What will save such a tree? Is your church such a tree?

Yearn for revival.

Did not the pre-messianic Jews yearn for their savior? Did they not plead with God for His day. And yet when He came, they rejected Him. Are we so different? God offers us revival. He offers us sanctification. We who plead for revival, are we willing to accept the cost that revival will come by? Or will we, like the Jews of old, reject that revival because it is not made according to our design? Why do we gather to pray for revival if we are not willing to accept it in whatever form God chooses to send it?

Take Not Thy Holy Spirit from Me

Psalm 51:11

11 Cast me not away from your presence,
and take not your Holy Spirit from me. (ESV)

David’s cry to not have the Holy Spirit taken from him is a confusing psalm to us. How can a man after God’s own heart be in such doubt over losing the Holy Spirit? We interpret such psalms as spiritual weakness, we say to ourselves, “see even the best of us get down.” Surely, there is a truth to seeing such in these psalms, but I’ve been learning to see them in a different way as well.

When you live past the edge of your comfort zone in Christ you learn how dependent on the Holy Spirit’s work you really are. I’ve learned lately that without God’s help, I’d fall away from the faith very quickly. I find myself having crises where I want to leave the faith, where I want to stop loving God. I’ve been finding that these crises aren’t a mark of unchristian behavior as much as they are a mark of a healthy spiritual weakness. In a life heated by the fires of suffering, which is the fruit of faith, our shortcomings and our dependence upon God rise quickly to the surface. Such utterances are the cry of the poor in spirit as our weaknesses are smelted out of us.

If your Christianity and your walk are of the sort that you can mostly do it on your own power, it is not much of a Christian walk. However if you are living so far past your own comfort zone that there is no way you can get through a moment without His sustaining grace, you are probably walking by the Spirit much more fully. David was one such man of God. Without God’s grace, David knew he would fall, he would trip, he would go headlong, he would drown. Say it however you want, but David needed God in a way we typically do not.

Live such lives! Let God craft for you such a lifestyle as forces you to pray these psalms regularly. Lord Jesus, how can I encourage men to live this type of life: the type that cannot be lived according to our own strength?