New Mercies Every Day- A Thought on Lamentations 3.22-24

July 3, 2009

The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases;
his mercies never come to an end;
they are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.
Lord is my portion,’ says my soul,
‘therefore I will hope in him.’
” -Lamentations 3.22-24

The Lord is both steadfast and fresh.  His loving kindness for his people never dies nor grows old.  Those whom he predestined “in love” from “before the foundation of the world” (Ephesians 1.3-6), daily he still has affection for.

How convicting is this?  The greatest commandment is to “love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” (Matthew 22.37) and this I can’t do for a moment even though he is so worthy.  Yet for me, God comes up with new mercies every day!  This is solely by his grace, that he forgives my iniquities and transgressions, “remember[ing] that [I am] dust” (Psalm 103.14b) and utterly incapable of showing back his love through my own power.

Father, o how weak I am!  Each hour I fail you countless times, neglecting your sacrifice and making a mockery of the cross by my selfish behavior.  I fall on my face and ask forgiveness.  Thank you for your steadfastness.  Thank you for never tiring of me, even though I tire of following you so often.  Thank you for your Son.  Thank you, Father, thank you!

Understanding Election as Comfort- A Testimony on Election and Adoption

June 25, 2009

There is probably no more maligned doctrine in the soteriological system known as Calvinism than that which the Bible refers to as election.  This surely was attested to every time someone attempted to speak against Calvinism at the SBC Annual Meeting earlier this week.

However, as I have said many times before, I find Election to be among the most glorious blessings we have received from God as believers.  Today, I wish to give you a few verses and then cast them in light of a personal story in order to make this blessing clear.  Here are three passages with the parts I wish to emphasize in bold:

Ephesians 1.3-6, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved.”

John 1.12-13, “But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.”

James 1.18, “Of his own will he brought us forth by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures.”

Many of you are probably unaware that my daughter was born to me when I was just 15 years old.  There are many wonderful stories of God’s goodness surrounding this fact that I have tried to share in my testimony series, but today I want to focus on one in particular.

From the beginning I raised my daughter as a single parent, knowing that her biological mother was not fit to be the mother that she needed growing up.  Thus, I knew that along with finding a spouse who completed me as a person I would also need to find a woman who was prepared to be a mother as soon as she became a wife.

By the plan of God I found such a woman while in college and after a year and a half of dating we got married.  Then, once married, one of the first things she did was to file for formal adoption of our daughter, making her from top to bottom the legally recognized mother of our little girl.  Our daughter, already being five at that time, understood pretty well all that was going on, and fully embraced my wife as her mommy.

Today, the two of them still talk about the adoption, and the way in which they do brings much joy to our little girl’s heart.  They discuss how my wife knew that being in love with me was not enough, but to truly be able to choose me as a spouse she also needed to be willing to choose my daughter as a child.  This she did, and much in the way she married me, she adopted our daughter.  She saw her and loved her and chose her to be her daughter by adoption.

Our daughter never forgets this.  She cherishes the fact that her mommy chose her.  Similarly we as believers should cherish the fact that God chose us!  God saw us “before the foundation of the world” and through his great love, not dependent upon anything we acted on our own, he adopted us as sons and daughters, to receive full standing beside Christ in the line of his promised inheritance.  That is election and that is a doctrine that we can lift up for the love of God that it so clearly puts on display!

John 3.16 Recovered!- John Piper Preaches the Glory in a Much Abused Text

June 18, 2009

We all know it: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”  This is probably even the first Bible verse most of us learned (it was for me, I memorized it off of a pencil from the Christian bookstore).  And it is a great verse.  But is it all it’s cracked up to be?

Last year a group of raging Southern Baptists used this verse as a bludgeon to attack Calvinism as if it were an R-rated movie or a half-empty bottle of Jack Daniels.  They preached John 3.16 as a defense against the doctrines of grace, saying that the claims of this verse and the claims of 5-point Refromed soteriology could not be any further apart.

In light of that, there was much anticipation (at least in my heart) for the day when the well-known Calvinist John Piper, in what is sure to be a decade long exegesis of the Gospel of John, finally arrived at this verse.  This he did recently, spending two weeks on it, and boy did he not disappoint.

The first week was just a going through of the terms used in John 3.16.  God.  The world.  Gave.  Son.  Believe.  Perish.  Life.  And in doing this he did not sound all that different than his non-Calvinist (Arminian?) counter-parts, even agreeing that ‘the world’ refers to all of fallen humanity and not just the elect.

Oh, but then, then there is the one word he left out.  Love!  This was week two and this is where he recovered the glory of this passage from its prooftexting idolaters.   I will not go into what he said, I encourage you to just listen for yourself, but here is his main thrust: “Those who believe, God wants you to know his love beyond simply the love spoken of in John 3.16!”

Just listen to it.  You’ll be glad you did.

John Piper- God So Loved the World, Part 1

John Piper- God So Loved the World, Part 2

Revolutionary Christianity- Living the Revolutionary Lifestyle in Love

May 24, 2009

“By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers…. If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen.” – 1 John 3:16, 4:20

” ‘This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.’ “ – John 15:12-13

“And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.” – Colossians 3:14

“Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins.” – 1 Peter 4:8

One would be hard pressed to live any sort of Christian life, much less a life of revolutionary Christianity, without having some notion of the importance of love in sustaining that life. Heck, the great endzone verse, John 3:16, gives a statement which is fully predicated on the basis that God so loved us. And so, through the ministry of Jesus and the apostles we see that this act of love on the part of God, and the act of love on the part of Jesus for dying on the cross (1 John 4:10), the call to love is transferred to us.

However, many these days want to confuse love as spoken of in the gospel with the love found in the world. They teach that we should love the earth, love ourselves, and no matter what, as long as it is done in “love”, any action is just peachy. Yet, what the world and liberal theologians paint as “love” often times stands in stark contrast to the love we’re called to as a revolutionary Christian. We are told that “God is love” (1 John 4:16), and not that this is an equality, that there is something called “love” and something called “God” and they are actually the same thing, but instead that whatever there is that is love can be wholly found in the character of God. Thus, we must be slow to assume anything is love that is clearly in contradiction to God as revealed in scripture.

Moreover, the message we see in 1 John 3:16 and the Gospel of John 15:12-13 is clear: the greatest love is shown by the willingness to lay our life down for the sake of another. Then, interpreting this with the understanding that love reflects the character of God, and equipped with the knowledge that Christ’s love lead him to die a sacrificial death on the cross so that we may be reconciled to God, we understand that to love in the way Christ instructs us means that we should sacrifice all of our physical pleasures and ties for the cause of making Christs name known. As it says in Matthew, whoever loves their family more than Jesus is not worthy of following him (ch. 10:37), nor is anyone who values their possessions on this earth (ch. 19:21), and so anyone who tries to hold onto their worldly life will surely lose everything in eternity (ch. 10:39).

Furthermore, if we are to imitate Christ’s love in this manner, then we must also acknowledge that this love is especially for the unbelievers. Romans 5:6-8 says:

For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

So often we are proficient at demonstrating love to fellow believers, but in order to be truly revolutionary we must be even more willing, willing enough to “take up our cross daily” and to die for those still trapped in sin. If we are to demonstrate true revolutionary Christian love, we must be willing to lay down our lives, risk everything we have in this world, in order to see the reconciliation of every alcoholic and prostitute and deadbeat dad and homosexual and drug addict and pedophile to the one true God.

The people living in the world hate us. They hate us not only because they disagree with us, but also because we know the mystery of life everlasting, we know the peace of living a life in which Christ has redeemed us from sin, and yet all too often we are too afraid to exercise the revolutionary love to which we are called, laying down our lives in order that they may know this as well!

God’s Embarassing Love- Reminiscing over Relient K

May 15, 2009

I was sitting at my computer today compiling an iTunes playlist of my favorite songs, one from each band on my iTunes, for my wife to have while I’m out of town this next week (It’s half sweet and half an inside joke about how she was so worried going into our premarital counseling because she could not remember if my favorite band was Pearl Jam or Nirvana (It’s Nirvana!)), and so anyways, I got to my Relient K albums and in picking out my favorite song from among them I was reminded of this incredible song that appeared on their first big album called “I am Understood?”

Now, I know that Relient K is not (a) the coolest band nor (b) the deepest lyrically, but this song really says what I’ve often felt in such a profound yet blunt way.  The lyrics are this:

Sometimes it’s embarrassing to talk to you
To hold a conversation with the only one who sees right through
This version of myself
I try to hide behind
I’ll bury my face because my disgrace will leave me terrified

And sometimes I’m so thankful for your loyalty
Your love regardless of
The mistakes I make will spoil me
My confidence is, in a sense, a gift you’ve given me
And I’m satisfied to realize you’re all I’ll ever need

You looked into my life and never stopped
And you’re thinking all my thoughts
Are so simple, but so beautiful
And you recite my words right back to me
Before I even speak
You let me know, I am understood

And sometimes I spend my time
Just trying to escape
I work so hard so desperately, in an attempt to create space
Cause I want distance from the utmost important thing I know
I see your love, then turn my back and beg for you to go

You looked into my life and never stopped
And you’re thinking all my thoughts
Are so simple, but so beautiful
And you recite my words right back to me
Before I even speak
You let me know, I am understood

You’re the only one who understands completely
You’re the only one knows me yet still loves completely  And sometimes the place I’m at is at a loss for words
If I think of something worthy I know that its already yours
And through the times I’ve faded and you’ve outlined me again
You’ve just patiently waited, to bring me back and then    

You looked into my life and never stopped
And you’re thinking all my thoughts
Are so simple, but so beautiful
And you recite my words right back to me
Before I even speak
You let me know, I am understood

The noise has broken my defense
Let me embrace salvation
Your voice has broken my defense
Let me embrace salvation

Wow!  I mean, just read that first line: “Sometimes it’s embarrassing to talk to you, to hold a conversation with the only one who sees right through this version of myself I try to hide behind.” That is right where I am every time I have to come to God asking for forgiveness over the next in my long string of offenses (never mind all the ones I don’t feel the need to ask special forgiveness over).

Or what about, “If I think of something worthy I know that its already yours”?  So often we think that our words and show is so impressive to God when really it’s already his to begin with.  It reminds me of Paul in Acts 17 where he says, “The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything” (vv.24-25).  We never really seem to get this, do we?.  

Again, please read this and let the lyrics sink in.  Like I said, they’re surprisingly deep and will make a big impact on your worship and prayer if you let them.  Enjoy!

Unconditional Love to Unwavering Universalism- Rediscovering God’s Love in the Bible

May 2, 2009

Some of you may have noticed I keep a running list of “Books I’m Reading” on the side of this blog.  Some of the books are ones I’m going through in discipleship or for men’s groups and Sunday School, but others are books I’m simply reading for my own enjoyment.  One book I’m currently reading for both enjoyment and for an upcoming course at Southern Seminary is David Powlison’s introductory counseling book, Seeing with New Eyes.  As I was reading through it today he brought up an interesting point which I thought was worth sharing with you.

The name of the chapter is “God’s Love: Better than Unconditional,” and the thesis Powlison advances is this:

I’d like to propose that God’s love is much different and better than unconditional.  Unconditional love, as most of us understand it, begins and ends with sympathy and empathy, with blanket acceptance.  It accepts you as you are with no exceptions.  You in turn can take it or leave it.

But think about what God’s love for you is like.  God does not calmly gaze on you in benign affirmation.  God cares too much to be unconditional in his love. (p.164)

Following this Powlison argues for how God’s love in better than unconditional, how it embraces and yet goes further than some aspects of unconditionality, and how the idea of unconditional love is in some ways inadequate to explain God’s love for his people.  Of these the one that struck me the most, and what I believe is the impetus behind why true biblical counseling must be different than secular psychology, is the fact that speaking of God’s love as unconditional misses the point that “God’s grace is intended to change people.”  Powlison says that,

There is something wrong with you!  From God’s point of view, you not only need someone else to be killed in your place in order to be forgiven, you need to be transformed to be fit to live with.  The word ‘unconditional’ may be an acceptable way to express God’s welcome, but it fails to communicate its purpose: a comprehensive and lifelong rehabilitation, learning ‘the holiness without which no one will see the Lord.’ (pp.168-169)

These words are so important for us to hear today.  I would argue that probably 95% of the people in our congregations would affirm that God’s love is unconditional– I might even have raised a hand in agreement  to this at the start of the day– but when pressed to define what the Bible really says about God’s love we have to acknowledge that the modern secular psychological concept of “unconditional positive affirmation” (the jargon equivalent of “unconditional love”) is in no way sufficient to speak of what is revealed to us.  

But even further than this, I think that by referring to God’s love as unconditional we have begun importing the cultural understanding of this concept into our Christian practice.  We are tolerant of all sorts of devaint behavior and sin, especially our own, and so is “God”.  We want to be able to pray a prayer and then go back to business as usual and so that’s what “God” commands.  We have trouble speaking up about the Bible’s comments on gender roles and sexuality and so we find inventive ways to change “God’s” mind on them.  From all of this we get things such as easy believism, free grace theology, and even Christian universalism, which in my mind is the next big conflict rising within the church.  

As our culture becomes more and more tolerant, more and more antinomian, then picturing for ourselves a “God” who embodies all that our culture hails as virtuous makes him less and less  likely to pronounce judgment, discipline those out of line with his commands, or ultimately send unbelievers to an eternal hell.  If we are unable to refine our concept of God’s love as something more than unconditional we are in for a nasty awakening when the somewhat fringe belief in a God who is all-forgiving and all-accepting outside of the requirement of faith becomes the norm in many of our churches.  This is not just a radical dissent from the mainstream, it is slowly creeping into the popular literature that younger generations are picking up and following, and before long it will take our pulpits and seminaries by storm.  

We started the stream by softening God’s commands on those who are known by his name and now the flood is waiting to burst free from the dam.  Now, we must fight to regain control, which starts by once again proclaiming a biblical understanding of God’s love as he has made it known to us in Scripture.

A Kind Hand in Times of Darkness?- Thoughts on Loving God and Helping People

March 20, 2009

Mental health is a big issue, and in my own life it has become a topic with which I am highly interested.  Between spending a weekend learning from To Write Love on Her Arms counsellors to my pending arrival in seminary, the thought of dealing with mental health issues as a pastor has been square in my focus recently.  I do not believe there is any other social good the church can do that is in more need in mainstream America today than to be able to counsel people on mental health issues.  Sure, there are poor people.  And of course there are those with AIDS or other physical ailments.  But by in large, Americans are wealthy, healthy people (which, as an aside, makes the health-wealth-and-prosperity gospel all that more ridiculous since we are already much healthier and wealthier than 95% of the world).  However, what we are not is a very psychologically stable bunch.  Mental health issues such as depression, addiction, self-injury and suicide affect many Americans, regardless color, class, or gender, and should be just as prime a target of our churches as any other more tangible need.

A question that arises in mental health then, at least from the Christian perspective, is what can we say about it?  I will state right off that I think Christians can say a lot on the topic of mental health and that a reluctance to do so has led to a number of worsened conditions over the years.  Some mental health issues have a physical component to them, and handling that with medication should not be frowned upon.  But, where it really gets gritty is in trying to flesh out what we see the ultimate goal of the sufferer to be.  Is it just to contain a condition?  Or should we attempt to extinguish an issue altogether, if that is even possible?  Are we to rely on secular psychology or only Christian theology?

You can work through these questions on your own, as I have been doing and keep doing the more and more I am confronted with it.  As you think on it though, I would like to point you to a quote from John Piper talking about social justice that I think we can use to glean some information for ourselves in this situation:

“If you don’t love God, you can’t do anybody any ultimate good.  You can feed them and clothe them and house them and keep them comfortable while they perish.  But in God’s mind, that by itself is not what love is.  Love does feed and clothe and house- and keeps the commandments that include helping others know and love God in Christ.  But if you don’t love God, you can’t do that.  So if you don’t love God, you can’t love people in the way that counts for eternity.” [Finally Alive, pp.135-136]

Think about that.  Think about what it he means by “lov[ing] people in the way that counts for eternity.”   What might that look like for a Christian pastor or counsellor? and what is meant by “lov[ing] God” in such a way that doing this is possible?  If we really understand and embrace this thought I think it will inform a great deal of Christian psychology and will help us who desire to be pastors to actually be effective pastors in the truest meaning of the word.

Not Meant to Suffer Alone- Experiencing Community with TWLOHA and What it Means to the Church

March 17, 2009

(Note: If you like what you have read on this blog, please go here and vote for it in the 2009 Blog Madness competition. I am listed as the 15th ranked blog in the West Division. Thank you for your support.)

This past weekend I went out of town to participate in the first ever To Write Love on Her Arms (TWLOHA) Move Conference.  If you are not familiar with them yet, TWLOHA is a non-profit organization that focuses on starting the conversation with people about various mental health issues such as depression, addiction, self-injury, and suicide; trying to help move people suffering from these towards treatment and recovery and trying to raise awareness among everyone else about the prevalence and symptoms of such problems.  The Move ’09 Conference was a weekend experience where the participants were trained in recognizing, understanding, and dealing with these issues, as well as learning about and working towards the ideal of community with a group of people.  It was an incredible experience and one I walked away from thankful that I was able to participate in.

Being there this weekend really encouraged me a lot as well.  I got to be surrounded by a number of people who were alright with being open about the problems that they have and still suffer through.  People who are broken, who realize that they have many things they need to work through, many insecurities and experiences that haunt them from day to day, and yet understand that there is hope of being better one day.  These people, who I feel I was one of, really tried to embrace the philosophy of “It’s okay to not be okay.”

Unfortunately, this is not the case in so many places.  Particularly in my mind I automatically think about the church and how shut off we are to each other in it.  If there is any one place where people should embrace the “It’s okay to not be okay” mindset it should be the church, and yet what we often see is the opposite.  Instead we get rows and rows of plastered on smiles and ironed-out clothes, when underneath of many of them is a balled up hot mess of a life that is barely being held together.  Of course, many people will say that we just need to have faith that God will make it all right, but I can’t help but believe that that hardly scratches the surface of what God really wants us to do.  If it were just about having faith that God will provide, then for what reason did he call us into communion with one another in the church?  

Hebrews 10.24-25 says, “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.”  Who is the ‘us’ here?  It is the body of believers, the church.  And what are we told to do?  Far from sitting around and exchanging ‘Nice to see you’ and ‘How’ya doing?’, we are called to “stir up one another to love and good works“, to “not [neglect] . . . meet[ing] together“, and to “encourag[e] one another.”  This is community.  This is caring for one another.  And this does not occur unless we tear down the plastic facade that we so quickly put up on Sunday morning and bear our broken souls out in front of each other.

A large part of this starts with “not neglecting to meet together.”  If we ever want to feel comfortable with fellow believers and feel alright with being open with them, we have to spend time together.  Yet so many of us just treat Sunday morning first, as if its optional, and second, as if its enough.  How do you expect to grow together with people who you spend at best two hours a week with?  How do you expect to let people speak into your life in times of trouble and self-doubt if you never see them and they never get to know what it is that beats you down?  God did not ask you to sit back and simply rest on a promise of his provision.  God provided you with a community to be in, to grow together with, and to get healed and encouraged by.  It is part of the plan.  God built it in.  He meant for us to use it.  We will never see the maximum change in our lives, the full change and healing that God intended, if we do not learn to embrace this and to start walking with one another through life instead of simply walking alone into the same building for a short time each Sunday morning.

I am so thankful to To Write Love on Her Arms for what they are doing.  Though they are not overtly Christian, the principles of community and compassion that they embrace are at the core of what Christians should be participating in.  I pray that we can realize this and that as time moves forward we will learn the true purpose of the church and what a difference it can make in our broken and hurting lives.

As an aside, I am supporting TWLOHA through the SocialVibe network.  Please consider getting involved and helping raise money for this organization so they can continue reaching out and making a difference in the area of mental health.

Calvinism Really is the Gospel- Calvinism Preaches God’s Unchanging, Eternal, Electing Love

March 14, 2009

Okay, I’ll admit, the first two days of comparing Calvinism with the gospel through Spurgeon’s quote were probably quite uncontroversial.  Very few of us in Protestant evangelicalism are likely to say we object to justification by faith and God’s sovereignty in granting his grace, even if practically we deny these things through how we behave.  However, this next part is different, and is truly where we will start to see the divide between the general ‘gospel’ and the gospel as championed by Charles Spurgeon.  Here is what it says:

Calvinism is the gospel, and nothing else. I do not believe we can preach the gospel if we do not preach justification by faith without works; nor unless we preach the sovereignty of God in His dispensation of grace; nor unless we exalt the electing unchangeable eternal, immutable, conquering love of Jehovah . . .

Spurgeon’s third evidence that Calvinism is the gospel is that, if one is to truly preach the gospel then they must ”exalt the electing unchangeable eternal, immutable, conquering love” of God.  Of course the rub here is in exalting God’s (unconditionally) electing love, so let’s approach the other characteristics first, seeing that all of these aspects are pictured in the great passage of Romans 8.31-39.

(Note: We must remark here that God’s love is being said to be unchangeable eternal, immutable, and  conquering for the believer.  This is carried in the quote by the fact that Spurgeon refers to it as “electing love.”)

God’s love is unchangeable eternal.  In Romans 8.38-39 Paul tells us, “For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Those are a great many things and yet none of them can separate believers from the love of Christ.  As well, Psalm 136.1 says, “Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever.”  If anything is good news, the unchangeable eternal love of God for the redeemed would surely have to fit that description.

God’s love is immutable.  Now, I realize that this sounds quite like “God’s love is unchangeable eternal” but I think there is a difference.  In the first condition, there is nothing external that can change God’s love.  With immutability, we say that God will never change his love internally.  The immutability of God’s love is commensurate with the immutability of God proper, and this is testified in places like Numbers 23.19 which says, “God is not man, that he should lie, or a son of man, that he should change his mind.  Has he said, and will he not do it?  Or has he spoken, and will he not fulfill it?”  Therefore, just as God’s love being safe from external influence is good news, so is God’s love being safe from internal fluxuation.

God’s love is conquering.  Really all of Romans 8.31-39 proclaims this truth, but in particular we see verses 33 and 34 which declare, “Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect?  It is God who justifies.  Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised— who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us.”  No one may condemn us now, no one may prevail over us today, thanks to the conquering love of God which sent his son to bear the wrath we were to receive (1 John 4.10).  This is definitely good news, and is probably the best news never understood by most “Christians”– that our fate apart from Christ is death and eternal punishment (John 3.18), but through the sacrifical love of Christ and God in sending his son we may now become “more than conquerers” over sin and death (v.37).

Finally, that leads us to the idea of unconditional election.  How is it that God’s love is shown forth in unconditional election and how might that qualify as good news?  To start, Ephesians 1.3-6 says,

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will,  to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. (emphasis added)

So, Paul tells us that the mere act of electing is done in love.  Likewise, in 2 Thessalonians 2.13 Paul calls the Christians in Thesslonica “beloved by the Lord” because they have been “[chosen] as the firstfruits to be saved, through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth.”  Thus, pretty clearly it is told that the acts of unconditional election and love go together in God’s plan of salvation.

But is this good news?  How could it not be?  Romans 8.33, “Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies.”  The elect are safe, why? because they are the elect.  With election comes the sure promise of redemption (cf. Romans 8.30) as well as the comfort in knowing that it is by no merit of their own that they are guaranteed this, but upon the unchanging purpose of him who chose them (cf. Romans 8.28, Ephesians 1.5).

Therefore, we have thus argued that the third evidence from Spurgeon’s quote, that God’s “electing unchangeable eternal, immutable, conquering love” is good news, is true and so stands as further proof that Calvinism really is the gospel.

A Time for Unity and Concern- A Thought Going into the New Year

January 1, 2009

When I first looked at the text that I am supposed to be teaching this coming week in Sunday School, 1 Thessalonains 4.1-12, I knew that God had providentially placed it.  Mind you, we are just going straight through the books of 1 and 2 Thessalonians so it is not like it was planned by anyone this way, but the passage we came upon starts like this:

Finally, then, brothers, we ask and urge you in the Lord Jesus, that as you received from us how you ought to walk and to please God, just as you are doing, that you do so more and more. (1 Thessalonians 4.1)

Paul then proceeds to lay out two ways in which the Thessalonians can walk to please God: through (sexual) sanctification and through brotherly love.  Why then do I feel this is so providential?  Because, simply put, these are two, um . . . “resolutions” have you, that I think people in my age group (and so particularly the class I teach) need to make, though maybe not for the obvious reason.

Sure, we know anecdotally about sexual sin that occurs among Christians, and sure, we have seen Christian brothers not act so brotherly, but that is not here what Paul is addressing.  Paul is not looking into gross moral failures and calling out the Thessalonians like he had to do with the Corinthians, but instead he is looking at their lives through a microscope and calling them to a fine-tuned holiness that may not be so apparently needed from the outside.

John Piper, in preaching on this passage, points out what it is that Paul is warning against and what his intention is of writing these things:

We humans, we don’t like anybody stepping into our soul space and calling us to account and encouraging us and exhorting us as though everything weren’t going perfectly when they look like they are going perfectly.

Paul, in writing to the Thessalonians about “the will of God, [their] sanctification” (v.3) and “to [practice brotherly love] more and more” (v.10),  is speaking into their lives, into their “soul space” as Piper puts it, where they aren’t necessarily as holy as the exterior makes it look.

I think of this like the difference between when my wife and I do housework.  When I clean things I see that they are basically clean and walk away, but when my wife walks up to them she sees a finer level of filth that I neglected to clean up.  I was pleased with the exterior appearance of cleanliness but she required a more thorough job to be done.

In the same way we can’t be satisfied with the appearance of a right walk, we must push on to actually be as righteous as possible.  Now, it is not that this is our salvation, that is only through faith, but, as Paul makes perfectly clear in this passage, there is a way to walk that is “how [we] ought” and pleasing to God (v.1).  If we only look good outwardly but still have that “layer of filth” at a deeper level, there is still a foothold for the enemy to drag us into full-on uncleanliness some day.

However us in our fear of accountability and our desire to keep a piece of the worldiness we had before Christ allow this to be so, and thus it must be our resolution to change that mindset, to work towards a more fine-tuned holiness so that we may fulfill Paul’s final command to the Thessalonains in this passage, to “walk properly before outsiders and be dependent on no one” (v.12).