Call To Die

Then [Jesus] said to them all, "If anyone wants to come with Me, he must deny himself, take up his cross daily, and follow Me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life because of Me will save it. (Luke 9:23-24, HCSB)

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Follower of Christ, husband of Abby, member of Kosmosdale Baptist Church, and tutor/staff member at Sayers Classical Academy.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Bible Reading Like An Apostle: Reading for the Purpose of Application

[The following post was originally published on 1/31/07.]

All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Tim. 3:16-17 NIV 1984).
As we begin to examine the apostles' example for reading Scripture it is important to note that though we may distinguish between biblical interpretation and biblical application– and this may be a helpful distinction to make on a regular basis– we must never separate the two. Scripture is useful so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work. Understanding this, we realize that when the apostles read the Scripture, they did so for the specific purpose of applying it to their lives and the lives of others in the Church. This is why the Apostle Paul may read a particular civil law from Moses: Do not muzzle an ox while it is treading out the grain (Deut. 25:4 NIV 1984), and derive a principle for specific application within the New Covenant community (see 1 Cor. 9:8-12). We too are to read the Bible with this purpose, as instructed by the Apostle, Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom,” (Col. 3:16a NIV 1984). So we cannot imagine that we may properly interpret what is being communicated in the biblical text unless we come to the Scripture with a fervent desire to put what God has revealed into practice.

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Monday, June 29, 2015

The Mosaic Covenant: Only for "Life in the Land"?

"So you shall keep My statutes and My judgments, by which a man may live if he does them; I am the LORD." (Leviticus 18:5 NASB)

In a recent interview with Dr. Guy Waters, Brandon Adams and Pascal Denault helpfully pointed out how the above verse demonstrates that the Mosaic Covenant is not simply an administration of the Covenant of Grace (the standard Presbyterian view, which effectively erases key differences between the Old and New Covenants); rather, the Mosaic Covenant is a covenant of works. In explaining how the Mosaic Covenant was a covenant of works, Adams was careful to say that the Mosaic Covenant did not promise eternal life, but only “life in the land.” There may be some problems, however, with viewing the life indicated in Leviticus 18:5 as only involving “life in the land.” Notably:

1.   If the Mosaic Covenant could only secure “life in the land,” then this fact would immediately defeat the assertions of the Apostle Paul’s opponents. When arguing against anti-Christian Jewish opponents and Judaizers, who would seek to bind people to certain aspects of the Law in order to achieve salvation,  Paul never writes, “Look, the Law can only give you ‘life in the land’ rather than eternal life anyway.” If the Law only had “life in the land” in view, then pointing this out would immediately undermine the arguments of those seeking to use the Law for soteriological purposes.

2.   On the other hand, New Testament passages exploring the function of the Mosaic Covenant make a different point about why it could not secure life: a point inconsistent with the view that the Law was only able to secure “life in the land.” NT passages where Leviticus 18:5 is cited (see Rom 10:5, Gal 3:12) are explicitly soteriological; the life under consideration can hardly be only “life in the land” any more than the “curse of the Law” that we actually earn (as mentioned in Gal 3) could conceivably be limited to the loss of real estate.  Jeffrey Smith rightly summarizes key components of Paul’s view concerning the Mosaic law, writing:

The Judaizers were insisting that Gentiles be circumcised. Paul argues that insistence on the necessity of circumcision in order to be justified brings one under a debt to obey the whole law in order to be justified. The law and its obligations cannot be treated piece-meal. If one insists on adherence to any aspect of the law as the means or ground of justification, then one is under obligation to obey the whole law as the means of justification. [Jeffery Smith, “An Overview and Critique of the New Perspective,” Reformed Baptist Theological Review 4 (2007), 112.]


3.   Finally, the view that the Mosaic Covenant could only secure "life in the land" for the one perfectly keeping it may undermine the doctrine of Christ's active righteousness. Christ fulfilled the law of Moses (Matt 5:17-19; Gal 3:10-14). Why did He do this? It was not for His own sake (the eternal Son of God had no need in Himself to be subjected to regulations mediated by one of His creatures); rather, it was for us and our salvation. He did not fulfill the Law on our behalf just in order to secure an area of ground in the Middle East; rather, He fulfilled the Law in order to secure eternal life for His elect bride.

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Friday, May 22, 2015

God the Sustainer: Almighty and Sovereign


"...then we must conclude that the storms that blow against us are not from God. They are part of the natural order which follows a course of natural law." [Jim Evans, quoted in the Opelika-Auburn News, C1, 3 September 2005 under "Where is God in the Storm?"]

In response to the above quote concerning Hurricane Katrina made by a pastor near Auburn, Alabama (where I used to live), Paul Stith, of Grace Heritage Church (where I was once a member), made the following comments:

Why is it that we feel compelled to let God off the hook, as it were? Why do we want to find comfort by saying that God had nothing to do with this? Are we really better off with a God who is little more powerful than the Red Cross, running to the disaster to hold our hand in the aftermath? This is the god that some have constructed in their imaginations.

In stark contrast to this ‘god of our imaginations’ the Bible presents God as omnipotent [that is, "all-powerful"].

God’s omnipotence is majestically and undeniably demonstrated in the first act of creation in which the universe was created out of nothing by God's Word, but often we are distracted by the visible matter around us in such a way as to miss the continuing activity of God throughout creation. We may be quick to acknowledge God as Creator, as I am sure the pastor quoted from the article above would do, but may fail to glorify God by declaring that “He sustains all things by His powerful word” (Hebrews 1:3). That ‘all things are sustained by God’s might’ should clue us in to what the phrase “all-mighty” really indicates: namely, that “God’s omnipotence brings out every phenomenon of existence. This is the essential and sufficient cause of all things.” [Fredrik Brosche, Luther on Predestination (1978).]

God is in control because He is almighty. All power belongs to God. Any power in the natural world–from the force of the hurricane to each movement of the human will–is secondary and derivative from God, who is the Sustainer.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Divine Sovereignty Over the Human Will


Both the scriptural evidence and proper theological reflection demonstrate that God is sovereign over His creation in general. But there is a commonly held view that God has limited His sovereignty when it comes to human choices. This popular view is due more to human philosophy than to God’s revelation, for the Bible clearly declares God’s sovereignty over the human will.

God’s sovereignty in the will of the lost is demonstrated in Scripture. God is presented as sovereign in judging the wicked by hardening their will against His Word in Romans 9:17-18, “For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, ‘For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I might show my power in you, and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.’ So then he has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills.” God is presented as sovereign in the saving His elect from their lost condition by the intervention of His Word in Acts 9:1-6,

But Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any belonging to the Way, men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem. Now as he went on his way, he approached Damascus, and suddenly a light from heaven shone around him. And falling to the ground he heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” And he said, “Who are you, Lord?” And he said, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. But rise and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do.”

God’s sovereignty in the will of believers is also demonstrated in Scripture. God is presented as sovereign over our hearts’ desires in Psa 37:4, “Delight yourself in the LORD, and he will give you the desires of your heart.” God is specifically presented as sovereign over our desire to do His will in Phil 2:12-13,

Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.

God is in control. There is no corner of the universe–even within the human heart–outside of God’s control.

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Wednesday, May 20, 2015

No Maverick Molecules


My purpose will stand, and I will do all that I please” (Isa 46:10b).

Bible teacher R.C. Sproul, in his classic work Chosen by God, magnifies God’s sovereignty in governing His creation:
God is sovereign over His entire creation. If something could come to pass apart from His sovereign permission, then that which would come to pass would frustrate His sovereignty. If God refused to permit something to happen and it happened anyway, then whatever happened would have more power and authority than God Himself. If there is any part of creation outside of God’s sovereignty, then God is simply not sovereign. If God is not sovereign, then God is not God.
If there is one single molecule in this universe running around loose, totally free of God’s sovereignty, then we have no guarantee that a single promise of God will ever be fulfilled. Perhaps that one maverick molecule will lay waste all the grand and glorious plan that God has made and promised us. If a grain of sand in the kidney of Oliver Cromwell changed the course of English history, so our maverick molecule could change the course of all redemptive history. Maybe that one molecule will be the thing that prevents Christ from returning. (26-27)
The LORD is God. He is sovereign. No part of His creation is outside His control. His purposes cannot be thwarted. 

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Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Divine Sovereignty: Scripture and Reflection


God is presented as the Sovereign Creator at the beginning of Scripture in Genesis 1:1, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.”
God is presented as the Sovereign Creator again when creation is spoken of in light of Christ in John 1:3, “All things were created through Him, and apart from Him not one thing was created that has been created.”
God’s sovereignty is established in creation as we read in Acts 17:24, “The God who made the world and everything in it: He is Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in shrines made by hands.” God’s sovereignty is demonstrated in His sustaining power over His creation as we read in Acts 17:28, “For in Him we live and move and exist, as even some of your own poets have said, 'For we are also His offspring.'”
God’s sovereignty over His creation is seen throughout the Scriptures:
· In inanimate creation (Job 37:6-13; 38:12, 22-32; Ps. 104:4, 14; 135:6-7; 148:8 Matt. 5:45)
· In animals (Job 38:39-41; Ps. 104:27-29; Matt. 6:26; 10:29)
· In seemingly random or chance events (Prov. 16:33)
· In the affairs of nations (Job 12:23; Ps. 22:28; Dan. 4:34-35)
· In the will of kings (Ezra 1:1; 6:22; Ps. 33:14-15; Prov, 21:1)
· In the will of believers (Phil. 2:13)
· In every aspect of our lives (Job 14:5; Ps. 139:16; Prov. 16:9; Prov. 20:24; Jer. 10:23; Matt.6:11; Gal. 1:15; Phil. 4:19)
We may sometimes feel out of control. The truth is, even on our best days– as we exercise God-given wisdom in how we order our actions, as we practice godly self-control–the amount of control we are able to exercise is still quite limited. But God is always in control. As we trust in God through Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit, we can take comfort that He is working out everything for our ultimate good and His glory (Rom 8:28).

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Monday, May 11, 2015

A Summary of the Doctrines of Grace Expressed in the 1689 Confession

[Below is the text of a document-the title of which is listed as the title of this post-that has hung on the wall in the older adult Sunday school class of Kosmosdale Baptist Church since before I first became a member there, about eight years ago. I do not think that other Baptist confessions lend themselves to such a summary-with the doctrines of grace so explicit-as readily as the 1689. The 1689 is, in the words of Dr. Tom Nettles, who once served as pastor for Kosmosdale, our "richest confessional treasure." As we at Kosmosdale are currently considering whether to amend our constitution regarding our confessional standard, I believe that it serves us to once again consider these things.]

We believe in the one true and living God, in three persons: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, who is invisible, personal, omnipresent, eternal, dependent on none, unchanging, truthful, trustworthy, almighty, sovereign, omniscient, righteous, holy, good, loving, merciful, longsuffering, and gracious.

We believe that Almighty God has revealed all that is necessary to life and salvation in the sixty-six books of Holy Scripture which are the Word of God. All Scripture was given by inspiration of God, is infallible and inerrant, and is the final arbiter in all disputes. Its authority is derived from its author and not from the opinions of men.

We believe that God made our first father Adam perfect, holy and upright. He was appointed representative and head of the human race thereby exposing all his offspring to the effects of his obedience or disobedience to God’s commands.

We believe that Adam fell from his original righteousness into sin and brought on himself and all of his offspring death, condemnation, and sinnership.

We believe that it is completely beyond the power of fallen man to love God.

We believe that God sent His Son into the world, conceived of the virgin Mary by the Holy Spirit, unchangeably sinless, brought God’s righteousness on behalf of His people.

We believe that God’s Son died upon the cross to effect propitiation, reconciliation, redemption, and atonement for His elect people. God bore testimony to His acceptance of His Son’s work by raising Him from the dead. The Lord Jesus Christ is now seated at the right hand of His Father and is enthroned in glory where He intercedes on behalf of His people and rules over all things for their sake.

We believe the elect, who are called by grace, are justified in the sight of God on account of the imputed righteousness of Jesus Christ which is received by faith alone.

We believe that such are regenerated, called, and justified shall persevere in holiness and never finally fall away.

We believe that baptism by immersion and the Lord’s Supper are gospel ordinances belonging only to believers.

We believe that the local church is under the authority of Christ alone. Nevertheless, He has appointed pastors (as His undershepherds) and deacons (as His ministers of mercy) to represent Him as they care for His body.

We believe that the local church is an assembly of baptized believers covenanted together for the furtherance of the Gospel and their mutual edification and fellowship. The worship and ministry of the church finds its primary expression in the exposition and application of the Word of God through preaching.

We believe that the Lord Jesus Christ shall personally and visibly return to judge this sinful world, and that the righteous shall enjoy everlasting life and the wicked endure everlasting punishment.

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Monday, May 04, 2015

Classic, Calvinistic, Confessional Christian Doctrine and Greek Philosophical Thought


Often, in theological debates between fellow Christians (or, sometimes, in debates involving heretical groups seeking to claim the Christian label), a certain charge will be made by the party seeking to re-examine the established doctrine. We find this charge expressed by Clark Pinnock in his infamous article, “From Augustine to Arminius” [Pinnock actually went beyond Arminius into the heresy of Open Theism]:
[T]he classical model of Christian theism, [was shaped] decisively by Augustine under the influence of Greek philosophy, [placing] high value on the Deity's being timeless, changeless, passionless, unmoved, and unmovable… classical theism [accommodated itself] to the Hellenistic culture.

Claiming that theology has been polluted with Greek philosophy: the Open Theist objects to the classical Christian theist doctrine of God’s perfect knowledge; the Arminian objects to the Calvinist doctrine of God’s perfect sovereignty; the current modifier/denier of impassibility objects to the confessional doctrine of God’s perfect affections. How should someone who seeks to defend the classical, Calvinistic, and confessional view of God evaluate and respond to the charge(s) that Christian theology has become polluted with Greek philosophy?

[The following observation and response(s) are summarized from statements made by James Dolezal, in his interview on The Reformed Forum.]

Observation:
For those who seek to argue against a doctrine of classical Christian theism (or Reformed theology, or whatever doctrine[s] are being objected to) the bare assertion that the doctrine(s) are a product of Greek thought seems to suffice for an argument.

Response:
Notice: 1. the objector should have to prove that whatever Greek sources the early theologians may have been drawing upon were actually wrong; 2. the accusation of Hellenism often seems to [falsely] assume that there was a Greek consensus concerning the theology; 3. the objector should also consider whether in appropriating some forms of arguments found in Greek thought, the early Christians did not radically transform the substance of those arguments (formal similarities may exist with deep and significant differences).

Conclusion:
Though philosophical reflection must always be subservient to Scripture, philosophy can sometimes be an aid, rather than a hindrance, to rightly understanding God. The distinction between nature and person is a philosophical distinction, yet it helps in our reflection about the relationship of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. When someone raises the charge that an aspect classical, Calvinistic, and confessional Christian doctrine is a product of Greek thought, we must carefully think about this charge.

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Thursday, April 30, 2015

The One Divine Will, Eternal Roles, and the Covenant of Redemption: Some Questions


To affirm dyotheletism regarding the Person of Christ [that is, the classic Christological view that Jesus, as the God-Man, had both a divine and human will] is to locate the will in "nature," not "person." This means that, though there are three co-eternal persons in the one being who is God, since He only has one undivided nature, He only has one will in His divine essence (though He added a human will through the incarnation). This observation leads to a serious questioning of the idea that ‘there are eternal roles of authority and submission within the Trinity’ [an idea currently popular in some evangelical circles]. If there is a single divine will, then what within the Son could eternally submit to the Father?

ON THE OTHER HAND:
Does an understanding that the single divine will precludes ‘eternal roles of authority and submission’ also argue against the Reformed understanding of an eternal Covenant of Redemption? Does the revelation of the Son as “the Lamb slain before the foundation of the world” (Rev 13:8) indicate an eternal arrangement by which the Son submits to the Father?

A series of questions I’m struggling with, in hoping to grow in my understanding of our glorious God, involves whether–in affirming the single divine will (an affirmation that I believe is necessary in order to properly affirm that “YHWH is One,” Deut 6:4)–we might also need to somehow affirm (in order to make since of other biblical texts) that the single divine will is eternally expressed through the three subsistencies [Father, Son, and Holy Spirit].

ALSO: does the current notion of ‘eternal roles of authority and submission’ dovetail with the Covenant of Redemption, or are these doctrines entirely distinct? Does an affirmation of the Covenant of Redemption undermine any proper basis for questioning the idea of ‘eternal roles of authority and submission’? If I believe that the Covenant of Redemption is a valid biblical category, am I–in fact–either affirming ‘eternal roles of authority and submission’ or at least admitting that there is nothing in principle barring such an arrangement?

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Tuesday, April 28, 2015

God's Love and Impassibility


God is love. Since God is love, God can neither decrease nor increase in love. God’s love–as an
attribute of One who is eternal, who is ever active (always empowering, never empowered by His creatures; always providing, never passively receiving from His creatures), and who is pure being (never becoming)–is perfection rather than passion. This love is immutable, from within the Trinity, and had elect sinners especially in view from before the foundation of the world through the Covenant of Redemption. God’s love is presented as the basis for the incarnation: the means by which the second Person of the Trinity experiences suffering for the salvation of sinners. This passion is experienced according to His human nature, as it is impossible for the ever-blessed divine nature to suffer. The unchangeable love of God, expressed through the passion of the God-Man Jesus Christ, is the basis for our initial salvation and our perseverance in Him.

[My thinking on this matter has been tremendously helped by Samuel Renihan, in his teaching series,
his interview at Confessing Baptist, and the reader he produced: God Without Passions.]

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