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Charismatic Puritan

Right doctrine leads to right thinking, and right thinking leads to right living.

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Location: Gaithersburg, MD, United States

Jealous for the truth, beauty and majesty of our glorious risen Savior.

Sunday, May 29, 2005

Sin, the Attributes of God and the Gospel

I think my natural examination of sin is from an altered perspective. I recognize untoward effects of my behavior, examine those products, seek out causes, motivations and root distempers that stir vile passions and carnal acts, and then look backwards through the process, seeking to fathom the nature and character of our enemy through his machinations, as if to say, “Aha! I see your mischievousness here and your attacks there.” Through this I seek to discern sin’s battle plans in an effort to match or thwart its process and progress. From my rational examination of the mechanics of sin in a given situation, I develop a profile of sin, a generalization of its activities to guide my behavior in the defense of my soul against my next encounter. When I sin again, I wonder at my failure and begin the analysis anew, tracking back steps from sinful consequence, through sinful behavior to sinful motivation in the attempt to locate some previously unseen or undefended against agent of sin. That is the failure of my scientific rationality in the spiritual warfare against sin, Satan and his lies.

Satan’s agents are innumerable, his methodologies chimerical, and rapidly so, and his instruments are as varied as the material, intellectual, emotional and spiritual distractions I have created and permitted in my life. His assault will not be on the same front twice, or if it is, not with the same forces, or if they are, not with the same weapons, banners and bugle calls. But even if it were, even if he comes against me with the exact same force in the exact same array with the exact same battle plan, he simply sends his messengers to remind me of my previous defeats and in my fear, self-doubt and guilt, I recommit my forces in an unprofitable order of march when I have failed first and foremost in not seeking my wise counselor, armorer and sword smith, the Lord Jesus Christ, at the first hint of dust on the horizon.

This is where scientific rationality – recognizing results, evaluating processes, determining predispositions and motivations, establishing general characteristics – will, in and of itself, fail to combat the sinful nature. Scientific rationality is, by its very nature, natural and man centered, and so can be and is useful – for understanding man is vital for understanding sin since he is the ubiquitous agent of it – but cannot bring victory, for the battle against sin is ultimately spiritual and spiritual rationality is thus required.

Spiritual rationality seeks first the nature and character of God (Proverbs 3.5) “The most portentous fact about any man is not what he at any given time may say or do, but what he in his deep heart conceives God to be like.” (Tozer) As God is the standard and source of all that is holy – that is, transcendent, perfect and pure – and as Christ is the founder and perfector of our faith, so there must I fix my gaze and set my standards and my hopes. From there must I proceed in my assessment of any situation and evaluation of any assault of the enemies of my soul for they will be in opposition to God’s attributes.

What this necessitates, then, is a detailed study of and constant reflection on the attributes of God. If this sounds like a weighty and insurmountable task, I would suggest it is; we will never for all eternity, finish our study of God. The Spirit Himself continually searches the depths of the mind of God, and He is God! How much more will be exploring the inifinitude that is God and all His attributes. In this, I would highly suggest A.W. Tozer’s The Knowledge of the Holy. It is thin but very rich and dense and is an excellent treatise of the attributes of God and a brief but powerful treatment of the definition of Holy.

Three things (my things, not Tozer’s) to consider when we study the attributes of God:

1. He is the complete and perfect example of that attribute. Of God’s communicable attributes – those which we reflect some characteristic or trait of, such as mercy or justice – we will only ever reach a shadow of His perfection, and even then but for a moment, whereas He is that attribute always. His mercy is perfect mercy. All mercy we see and display and experience from each other must be held against our Heavenly Father’s mercy as the ultimate standard. Likewise, His justice is perfect Justice, not fair or legal by our human standards, but just in the ultimate and eternal standards of complete holiness coupled with supreme hatred for sin and His aforementioned mercy, all of which flow perfectly and in perfect harmony with His pure, passionate, perfect love.

2. Ultimately, infinitely, God is perfect in His perfection. This may be a redundant statement, but it is essential. Our standards are inherently fallible and vulgar, and so we make gradations of superlatives. We use "great," "greater," and "greatest," and even have lists and rankings of greatest things (yet Christ was completely correct and satisfied to simply call God His Father "good" knowing that no one else could be good like God is good, which is to say perfectly good). God, however is not to be troubled with titrations of quality. He is a thing or a way in its pure and undiluted form: in its essence. Considering this, His perfection must be declared as perfect perfection because we would seek to establish a hallmark of perfection based on something we have seen or done which we found laudable but which is genuinely tried when viewed against the perfect perfection of the Sovereign Creator of the universe. It was this vision of the holy perfection of God that caused Isaiah to cry out, “Woe is me! I am undone.”

3. Anything other or less than God's standard is sin. This may seem an outlandish statement considering the previous two, for certainly if God is perfect in all his attributes, and His perfection is perfectly perfect, such that we can't even glimpse the true and complete perfection that He is, then everything we think, say and do must necessarily be less than His perfection, and therefore sin. I would suggest that is correct. I would submit to you, and reading Tozer may help to convince you of this, that scripture’s continued testimony to God's holiness reinforces the fact that we are wretched sinners and can do nothing of eternal value, nothing that is genuinely pleasing to God, without His grace and sovereign intervention in our lives. This gets at the root of the Puritan concept of total depravity; not that we are completely depraved in all that we do, that is to say completely wicked for God certainly restrains us and no one is as wicked as they could be, but rather that everything we do is stained with sin. If we were not born again in the Spirit, covered in the blood of the Lamb, and clothed in pure holy righteousness of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, our finest most noble moments would be but filthy rags.

There are times when I would rather be silent, and let the rocks cry out for me, because I am acutely aware that I don't have a single moment or a single thought that is not tainted by my sin. My most precious and beautiful and adoring prayers are always marred with the blackness of my sin and would be completely unacceptable - no, that is too forgiving a term; rather they are completely despicable - to a God whose standard is holiness. I think this is an appropriate attitude. Consider Tozer again: “Unless the weight of the burden [of obligation to love and worship God acceptably] is felt the gospel can mean nothing to the man; and until he sees a vision of God high and lifted up, there will be no woe and no burden. Low views of God destroy the gospel for all who hold them.”

We must fix our eyes on God, knowing that we will never behold all there is to behold, knowing that our creature-language to describe our creature-thoughts about Him are at their core potentially idolatrous for, “When we try to imagine what God is like we must of necessity use that-which-is-not-God as the raw material for our minds to work on; hence whatever we visualize God to be, He is not…If we insist upon trying to imagine Him, we end with an idol, made not with hands but with thoughts; and an idol of the mind is as offensive to God as an idol of the hand.” (Tozer)

I would be moved to complete despair upon consideration of these facts were it not for my total trust in Jesus Christ as my substitutionary sacrifice on the cross and now as my constant intercessor at the right hand of God. All of this confirms that we cannot enter in to the presence of God on our own, but only through the perfection of Jesus Christ. The gospel is sweeter and Christ that much more beautiful and grace so much more amazing when we see how desperate and wretched our natural condition is. Thank you God for Your perfection and Your holiness.

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Hardening Hearts

Romans 11.7,8 “What then? Israel failed to obtain it, but the rest were hardened, as it is written ‘God gave them a spirit of stupor, eyes that would not see and ears that would not hear, down to this very day.’”

Deuteronomy 29.4 “But to this day the LORD has not given you a heart to understand or eyes to see or ears to hear.”

How is this hardening, then, not God forcing us to sin? How is God not responsible for our sin and how can He hold us accountable for our sin if He hardens a heart into sin? Can God be just when He hardens a heart?

1. The inclination to sin is in each one of us. It is an inherent part of our fleshly existence that will be manifest in one form or another. God directs and restrains the manifestations of sin in each individual person, but the sin nature was already present and active. When God hardens a heart, He is simply confirming and making permanent the determination of a situation already in effect. Pharaoh was not a godly and just man whom God transformed into wickedness; on the contrary, he was a thoroughly wicked man that God even restrained from performing as much evil as he could have. God simply pronounced a final decision upon Pharaoh by hardening Pharaoh’s heart and eternally confirming the previously extant condition of his soul through Pharaoh’s continued evil actions. Pharaoh was evil; God made it a permanent condition. This is how God hardens the heart practically.

2. The judgment for sin and the legal, federal declaration of guilt for sin comes from Adam and is handed over to every human being, probably at conception, but certainly by birth. We are born as Adam’s seed and bearing the fullness of his guilt. That is the same type of federal relationship that God has established for us in Christ. If we deny the former, we must deny the latter, but since this representation is perfect and declared so by God, we can tremble at the wrath we deserve as Adam’s heirs, and endure that fear, because we can also stand firm in the knowledge of justification and adoption as joint heirs with Christ because He, as our federal representative, took the wrath in our place.

Romans 5.18,19 “Therefore as one trespass led to condemnation for all, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men. For as by the one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience, many will be made righteous.”

If we accept our permanent justification through Christ, which is a free gift to the elect, then we must accept the condition of condemnation that is permanent to the reprobate (but is obviated by God’s sovereign grace in election, regeneration, justification). It would be intellectually dishonest and logically duplicitous to accept the federal representation of one condition – righteousness through Christ – without accepting the other when both are clearly delineated, and in opposition to one another, in scripture. Because of the permanent forensic condition of sin and condemnation that is a character of the natural human condition as Adam’s lineage, then God is perfectly just in confirming that condition by hardening the hearts of those in that condition and withholding his free gift of grace for their salvation. This is how God hardens the heart legally.

3. Finally, God hardens the heart epistemologically. Romans 1.18-32 is probably the most definitive doctrinal exposition of this phenomenon of God’s giving sinful and ignorant humans over to their prideful and self-glorifying but grossly inadequate knowledge and reasoning. We assume ourselves the measure of all things and our intellects to be the arbiters of truth rather than humbly seeking God’s gifts of discernment and wisdom to be shown the fullness of His truth. We have a natural knowledge of God but transfer our intellectual and spiritual fidelity to worship of the creature in willful ignorance of the creator. That is our natural tendency. God, in His mercy, opens the minds and hearts of His elect (Luke 24.25-35) to see the truth clearly so as to bring them to repentance, forgiveness and adoption. To the natural man, the reprobate, He gives them up completely to their debased minds, bringing a hardening of their reasoning such that it no longer regards or cares for the truth. This is how God hardens the heart epistemologically.

Fortunately, these are natural conditions that are then supernaturally fixed. We in Christ Jesus, however, are no longer natural but are supernatural and then supernaturally fixed there. God has put His Spirit in us to break the stony ground of our hearts and to remake us in the image of His Son. By grace, God grants life abundantly to His elect, for His glory. Thanks be to God for His miraculous mercy to save even one of us who richly deserve to be hardened and rejected, yet we know that He will surround us with that great cloud of witnesses to testify that He will fulfill His promise of salvation.

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

Ruminations on Sin

That is some examination, about its mortification, and it contradicted with God’s holiness and our pursuit thereof.

I have spent a great deal of time and effort on engineering and administrative controls to prevent my sin, but have found that they do not deal specifically with the heart issues of my depravity or look seriously and biblically at the character of sin. I want to mortify sin and live for God, and that is an issue of heart motivation; sin must be addressed in the same way, because I can get around the filters and the obstacles I set for myself.

The root causes, the indulgent desires of my flesh, are not addressed by external controls, and so my self-made rules may thwart a particular behavior, but are not powerful enough to kill indwelling sin. The controls are good in and of themselves – they help keep me from sinning and help reduce the habit of a particular sin activity – but if it is simply a matter of external conduct and not a matter of heart desire, I am a moralist, a Pharisee, and still in sin. My sinful nature resides in all my flesh and will find outlet in another form if I simply limit or eliminate one form. John Owen would teach that we cannot simply mortify a sin but must mortify all sin.

It is only through the renewing of our minds that the Holy Spirit directs us. The biblical Christian has emotion, joy, peace, ecstasy and godliness that flow from the renewed mind, a mind renewed by the overgrowth of godliness resulting from spiritual discipline, a mind renewed through sound doctrine being brought to bear on sinful thoughts and emotional impulses, and a mind renewed by a conscious relationship with God.

This is an active, intelligent and purposeful relationship. It is about loving God, not being “in love” with God. The latter is a result of our circumstances and our emotions and our hormones and our diet, etc. It is a barometer of our fickle human affections. It says, “God, I am feeling sad, tired, bored, anxious, guilty, hungry or otherwise not particularly impressed with You right now and my affection for You is bland. Since I am not ‘in love’ with you right now, I will ignore You or perhaps feign some obedience to You for my own guilt’s sake.”

The former is a conscious decision, a willful choice that says, “God, I am feeling sad, tired, bored, anxious, guilty, hungry or otherwise not particularly impressed with You right now and my affection for You is bland, but that doesn’t matter. You are God and I will love You with all my heart. I will extol Your goodness and rejoice in the fact that You do not change.” This is agape love, the love that Christ has for us. It is not derived from our feelings, rather our feelings proceed from it. Our feelings say, “I can” or I can’t;” “I will” or “I won’t;” “I feel” or “I’m dry.” These are lures away from “God is.” And what is more essential than the great I Am?

This, then, is a means of renewing our minds. As The Valley of Vision states in the prayer titled, The Divine Will: “Help me to honour thee by believing before I feel, for great is the sin if I make feeling a cause of faith.” Or again, from Resting on God: “Give me intenser faith in the eternal verities, burning into me by experience the things I know.” It is a purposeful control of our behavior such that it is not proceeding from emotions, instincts or tendencies – unless they be forged of godly habits – but rather that it moves from an understanding of who and what God is, namely holy and sovereign, and what that means to our daily lives. How do I make that practical, you may ask. And so I offer up some suggestions.

1) Daily consider God’s holiness, what it means to be holy, how far away from that we are and how filthy our thoughts and desires tend to be compared to that standard, for that is our standard.

2) Daily preach the gospel to yourself. The gospel is not just for the lost as the means of their conversion. It is the primary instrument that we have to renew our minds. To recognize that our sin caused the death of sinless son of God and that the result of that is that my sins, all of them, are eternally forgiven. Because of the cross, and only because of the cross, grace is available for me to be transformed into the image of Christ.

3) Owen is helpful here again: replace the sin with a means or evidence of God’s grace that is directly opposite to the sin in question. If I am feeling prideful in my work, let me recall a time when God delivered me from my imminent failures by His obvious grace, or better yet, let me seek to humble myself by serving someone else, and especially by performing a task I would, in my pride, consider far beneath me. If I am moved to anger because of some slight or injustice I feel has been perpetrated upon me, let me recall the wrath that I deserve for my many offenses against God, or better yet become a reflection of his mercy by not only forgiving the one who has offended me, but seek to serve them and honor them and lavish them with love. We must not only clean our house, but fill it with the bright light of the stuff of godliness. (Matt 12. 43-45)

4) Regularly confess and repent and be held accountable to like-minded brothers or sisters. Name sin as sin and name it with the hatred that God has for sin. Then replace the sin with the things of God.

Godliness is and must be purposeful, for sin is likewise in its attacks against us.

Sunday, May 01, 2005

Faith and Repentance

A friend from church read my blog (HOORAY!). Really that's enough for me, I could stop there. But actually, she mentioned a conversation she was having with someone about to 1 John 1.9 (If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.) and actually asked for my opinion, even said she'd like to see it on my blog. I’m very excited. “Lemme sum up; no, there is too much. Lemme esplain.”

If I remember correctly the conversation Laura was having was about whether 1 John 1.9 was a formula or ritual for salvation, an “if, then” proposition by which God seems to be obliged to forgive us in response to a particular action we perform. (Laura, if I'm getting the details wrong or don't answer your question please let me know. I'll try again.) At first blanch this may seem so, but the larger context of verses 5 through 10, and even to 2. 2 (quoted at the end), establish a context which opposes truth and light with darkness and lies. If we are walking in the light, that is the light of the Gospel, our sin should be painfully evident to us, and if we are walking in the truth, the truth of God's infallible Word, we should have some appreciation for how terrible that sin is. Not only should we see our sin, and have some appreciation for our sin, we should also recognize that in the face of a holy and righteous God we have absolutely no other recourse than to throw ourselves on His mercy for the forgiveness of that sin.

Verse 9, in the larger context, demonstrates God's response to our right response from the Holy Spirit's conviction of our sin and regeneration of our dead hearts. When we confess our sin, meaning not just that we say, “Hey, God, these are my sins,” but truly confess them, we identify them as what they are, violations of God's holiness. In the same way that we must confess Jesus as Christ, that is identifying him as who He is, the man-God Messiah, with full faith that He will save us from our sins, so to our confession of sin must be to name our sins as offenses that are worthy of wrath and that can only be pardoned by the propitiating sacrifice of our Savior.

In this fact there is the union of repentance and faith; we confess our sins with the intention of turning from them, not merely unloading them, and simultaneously trust in God to fulfill His promise of redemption and forgive us. As Calvin says, "But this confession, as it is made to God, must be in sincerity; and the heart cannot speak to God without newness of life: it then includes true repentance. God, indeed, forgives freely, but in such a way, that the facility of mercy does not become an enticement for sin." This confession of sin comes from the burden of knowing that we have sinned and having some idea of what that sin means to God, namely a violation of His honor so grievous that only the sacrifice of His own Son could turn His anger away from it. But thanks be to God, He has done that, and so John can declare that “Jesus Christ the righteous… is the propitiation for our sins (1 Jn 2.1b-2a).”

Because of that propitiation, the fact that God has imputed all our sin onto His perfect Son and simultaneously imputed Jesus’ perfect righteousness to us, we can have complete faith that He is faithful to forgive us our sins in accord with His legal declaration of our justification through faith in Christ. Not only that, not only does God forgive the sins that we've confessed, but He cleanses us from all unrighteousness, that being every sin from our whole lives even the ones we don't see or recognize as sin. This doesn't mean, however, that we have immediately become holy and perfect in this life, but rather, that God has made the promise that He has legally declared us righteous and will, on the last day, bring that promise to its completion when we are perfectly united with Him in Christ. Again, a little J. C. (John Calvin, that is): “Were anyone to object and say, that as long as we sojourn in the world, we are never cleansed from all unrighteousness, with regard to our reformation: this is indeed true; but John does not refer to what God now performs in us. He is faithful, he says, to cleanse us, not today or tomorrow; for as long as we are surrounded with flesh we ought to be in a continual state of progress; but what he has once begun, he goes on daily to do, until at length he completes it… that we may appear without blame before God (Col 1.22, Phil 1.6).”

Also, a little Matthew Henry: “The Christian religion is the religion of sinners, of such as have sinned, and in whom sin in some measure still dwells. The Christian life is a life of continued repentance, humiliation for and mortification of sin, of continual faith in, thankfulness for, and love to the Redeemer, and hopeful joyful expectation of a day of glorious redemption, in which the believer shall be fully and finally acquitted, and sin abolished for ever. The denial of our sin not only deceives ourselves, but reflects dishonour upon God. It challenges his veracity. He has abundantly testified of, and testified against, the sin of the world. But God has given his testimony to the continued sin and sinfulness of the world…and to the continued sinfulness of believers themselves by requiring them continually to confess their sins, and apply themselves by faith to the blood of [Jesus’] sacrifice.” OK, a lot of Matthew Henry.

One final note. If we confess with the intention of sinning again under the assumption that God must continue to honor His promise to be faithful and forgive us, well clearly the truth is not in us and we have no right understanding of either our sin, or the cost of our forgiveness, and so cannot expect God’s mercy. This is not a matter of effort, but of intention.

“This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us. 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. He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.” 1 John 1.5-2.2