We need to warn people not to be lulled into a false sense of peace in this world. The peace they feel is not the peace of paradise, but the peace of the morgue. Our ears need to be saturated with the Bible and our minds shaped by the worldview the Bible creates, so that we will recognize the lie when it’s whispered softly and sweetly in our ear.
Michael Lawrence, Biblical Theology in the Life of the Church, 134
Justification. Sometimes it only takes the mention of the word to make eyes glaze over. Why is that? Why do we love to talk about love and grow bored, if not antagonistic, when discussing God’s righteousness?
This from Geerhardus Vos is worth slow and repeated readings.
It is to be feared that the modern antipathy to Paul’s conception of justification, as it finds expression in the charge of Judaism, as well as the neglect into which this doctrine has fallen in the sphere of experimental religion, are but little due to a desire to keep the Protestant doctrine of grace free from every admixture of legalism. The very fact that it is not so much the grace but rather the love of God which is pitted against His righteousness betrays the true motive of the antagonism. This fact means, first of all, that there is a weakening of the sense of sin. The modern religious subject thirsts for love as such, not in the first place for forgiving, justifying grace. But this in itself is but a symptom of the general abandonment of the theocentric attitude in the present-day religious consciousness. Love is magnified because at bottom God is conceived of as existing for the sake of man. In a religion thus oriented there can be no legitimate place, of course, for a purely forensic justification such as Paul teaches. But it is foolish for that reason to charge the apostle with contradicting himself. His religious consciousness differed from the modern one in that it revolved around the center, not of man, but of God. The most consistently Pauline theology is that which cultivates not the divine love alone, but seeks supremely the divine glory and thus teaches men to thirst alike for the divine righteousness and the divine love. A theology doing this will not feel the need of apologizing for, but will glory in, the forensic character of the apostle’s doctrine of justification.
Redemptive History and Biblical Intepretation, Geerhardus Vos, page 399
From time to time I turn to William Barclay’s commentaries and have been helped. I also have been often warned to be careful with William Barclay. It’s kind of like being a snake handling preacher. You may get by with it for a time but eventually you’re going to be bitten. Here is one of Barclay’s poisonous bites in his commentary on 1 Timothy 1:3-7:
“In this passage there is a clear picture of the mind of the dangerous heretic. There is a kind of heresy in which a man differs from orthodox belief because he has honestly thought things out and cannot agree with it. He does not take any pride in being different; he is different simply because he has to be. Such a heresy does not spoil a man’s character; it may in fact enhance his character, because he has really thought out his faith and is not living on a second-hand orthodoxy” (William Barclay, The Letters to Timothy, Titus, and Philemon, DSB, pg. 31).
How does that strike you? Is there a real difference between a dangerous heretic and any other heretic?
I wonder if Barclay recognized the difference between the faith once for all delivered to the saints (Jude 3) and a man’s own faith cooked up to his own liking? Apparently a man’s own home brew is more noble than orthodoxy?
My goal here is not to discourage well thought out questions and disagreements with biblical truth. God’s word can stand against any challenge. My goal is to point out the danger of prizing the rejection of orthodoxy. A rejection of the truth no matter how apparently noble the reasons is still a rejection of the truth.
Here is a common way of thinking: If God was just He would prevent sin. If God was just He would use his omnipotence to stop bad things from happening. Since bad things happen God must not be just.
This would mean God must somehow always prevent everyone from speeding. Since we are required to obey the government and the government has set the speed limits it is necessary that we obey the speed limit. Therefore for God to be just he must prevent the evil of speeding.
To do this he must someone govern creation so that automobiles are incapable of speeding. He must give us something like a supernatural governor. This must be a supernatural governor because, of course, we don’t have one speed limit but a multitude of speed limits depending on the circumstances (highways, neighborhoods, school zones, construction zones, etc.). Though individuals might want to speed and might try to speed God would prevent all speeding by limiting the capabilities of the automobile.
Another way to prevent the evil of speeding is not to limit the automobile but to limit the driver. God must supernaturally force us always to stay within the speed limit. Here the governor is on the one making the decision not on the potential of the vehicle. Though the vehicle could speed God would supernaturally work to prohibit everyone from ever wanting to speed. (There are other options like God making a world in which vehicles and drivers are capable of evil but the very terrain makes the evil impossible. I think you get my point).
For God to be just he must remove the possibility of the vehicle or the possibility of the driver. Since God has not universally removed this possibility of evil, therefore not actively preventing evil, God is not just.
The argument appears to be this: for God to be just he must make us incapable of evil. Since we are capable of evil and actually do commit evil (we speed) God is not just.
Or, God could give us the potentials which can be used for good or evil. Some goods would be rushing someone to the hospital or learning to harness potentials in safe, productive, God-glorifying ways. With this potential comes the promise of accountability. God will allow no evil deed to go unpunished. Every act of rebellious speeding must be dealt with. The responsibility God gives us and the surety of judgment makes God just. God is not just because he removes potentials but because he promises and delivers perfect judgment.
There are days when reading the bible functions as a steady reminder: these are the things that are true, you know them, walk in them. But on other days reading the bible is like receiving a surprising text message in the course of the day. What I read shocks me; sometimes cutting and at other times encouraging. Today was surprising. I was encouraged. This is what stood out:
And he healed many who were sick with various diseases, and cast out demons. And he would not permit the demons to speak, because they knew him (Mark 1:34).
Remember, demons were at once angels in the presence of the Father, Son, and Spirit. The Son of God had made the soon to be fallen angels and given them life. Demons had once been with the Trinitarian God serving and enjoying God. But then they rebelled. There was a battle and those rebellious angels were cast out of heaven and were destined for an eternal hell.
Demons hate the One who has defeated them and demons despise the One who is coming again to bind them and cast them into unending torment.
Demons have an ax to grind against the Son of God.
Now here is what stood out. I do not have the ability to silence anyone. We have four children. That means we have had four babies who have screamed. I had no power over those little mouths. We have a dog who loves to bark. I have no power to silence that blessed creature. People have said, and when confronted have continued saying, all kinds of things that are not true. I have no power over those lips. From angry teenagers to disgruntled employees to condemned criminals we do not have the power to silence anyone.
But the Son of God does.
He would not permit the demons to speak, because they knew him.
That simple verse reminds me that the Father, Son, and Spirit have a plan and they are working that plan. What has been ordained will not happen a second too early or a second too late. The demons wanted to rush things. They sought to gain the upper hand in order to derail the plan. Jesus wouldn’t let them. He silenced them. He shut their mouths. His was a mission of redemption and not even the demons could thwart one detail.
Trust the God who silences demons. He is sovereign. He is able. Trust Him.
Today I’m catching up in my daily bible reading. My heart and mind have been looking into specific pressing truths as of late. So as I read multiple Psalms and tried to slow down with pen in hand, I have been impressed with the repeated command to sing praises to God. Read Psalm 100 and follow the cross references for a small taste.
How should we view the command to sing praises to God?
One way is to think of God like the Phantom of the Opera coaxing and forcing Christine to “Sing for me!”. The Phantom’s command is completely selfish without regard for Christine’s good. Does God desperately yearn for the praises of his people. Does he command us to sing to him so he can get pepped up for the big game of being God? Hardly.
The true way to think of God commanding us to sing praises is like a doctor screaming at a flat-lined patient to breath. This is what you must do. You must breath. This is what you were made to do. You must breath. To breath is to be physically alive. To sing God’s praises is to be spiritually alive. God does not need our songs any more than a doctor needs a person to breath. But in his benevolence God commands us to sing. In his glory he gives us every reason to sing. In his sovereignty he stirs us to sing.
God commands us to sing his praises because this is what we were made to do. Singing his praises is good for us. God commands us always for our good.
While studying 1 Corinthians I put this together. I hope it helps you understand how to treat your pastor.
There once was a man with loose screws. God graciously gave him a screw driver in order to tighten those screws. But instead of using that screw driver as God intended the man went around bragging that his screw driver was better than all others. This man’s problems became more pronounced because he would not use the tool that God had given for the end that God had given it. He treated the screw driver like a trophy and did not use it as a tool. In the same sense, apostles, prophets, evangelists, shepherds, and teachers have been given to the church in order to equip the church. If we glory in men and worship men we are using what God has given for the wrong purpose. Teachers are tools to be used not trophies to brag about.
So let no one boast in men. For all things are yours, whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future–all are yours, and you are Christ’s, and Christ is God’s. 1 Corinthians 3:21-23
To be spiritual…is to have apprehended the word of the cross in such a way that it has transformed the entire existence of the believer into its image–to a cruciform life, a life characterized by self-sacrificing love, and where power is manifest through weakness.
-Grindheim (quoted by David Garland, BECNT 1 Corinthians, 102)
Often everyday decisions boil down to questions about allegiance and worship; what will you follow and what will you prize? We must decide every day: will we choose to be slaves worshipping sin and stuff or will we be a holy people worshipping God? As you go about your work today what are you worshipping? When your mind wandered and you had to decide to either go after sin or make a course correction to think godly thoughts what did you worship?
Go back with me to that first generation of Hebrews who have just come out of Egypt, crossed, the Red Sea, and headed to Mount Sinai. They have been set free from slavery. They have been set free so that they can worship. They are God’s people. They have a future and a promise to bless the nations. But they have everyday decisions. Will they worship sin and stuff or will they truly live? Well, they choose slavery?
Every generation faces the same decision every day.
As for me and my house we will serve the LORD.
“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. 2 Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. 3 Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you. 4 Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. 5 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. 6 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.” (ESV)
How do you know which branch you are? Are you the branch that does not bear much fruit and gets taken away? Are you the branch that bears fruit and gets pruned? Both branches are cut by the vine dresser. In times of cutting you need to look for and have other godly friends help you see the new growth. The branch that gets taken away withers. The branch that was pruned grows to bear more fruit. After the cut, after the difficulty and the pain, are you withering or are you growing?
Abide in Christ.
Stand in grace (Romans 5:2)
Hold fast to the word and stand in the gospel (1 Corinthians 15:1-2)
During times of pruning I want to say to God, “Hey! You cut me and it hurts.” But when I slow down I hear God say, “Though your outer self is wasting away your inner self can be renewed day by day. This pain, this cutting, this difficulty, this light momentary affliction is preparing for you an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison. Do not get hung up on the cut. Do not look at the things that are seen. You won’t grow looking at that. Instead, keep looking at Jesus. Keep abiding in Him. Look at the things that are unseen because the things that are seen are transient but the things that are unseen are eternal.”
Late winter every year I prune a rose bush in my front yard. The bush looks terribly ugly when I do. Oh but when the spring comes that bush is full and strong and healthy. Abide in Christ and you will be pruned but you will bear much fruit.