ARE YOU A SINNER? (A Brief Meditation)

Mark 2:13-17 (ESV)
13  He went out again beside the sea, and all the crowd was coming to him, and he was teaching them.
14   And as he passed by, he saw Levi the son of Alphaeus sitting at the tax booth, and he said to him, “Follow me.” And he rose and followed him.
15  And as he reclined at table in his house, many tax collectors and sinners were reclining with Jesus and his disciples, for there were many who followed him.
16  And the scribes of the Pharisees, when they saw that he was eating with sinners and tax collectors, said to his disciples, “Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?”
17  And when Jesus heard it, he said to them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.”

I would hope that your answer to the title of this short blog article would be “yes.” I would hope that such is the case because you realize that, no matter how mature you are as a Christian, the call of our Lord and Savior never intended to call any to perfection in this life, but towards perfection in the age to come.

Every day, it is brought home to me how far I fall short of the grace and glory of God. I have some dear brothers and friends on Facebook who incorporate the term “wretch” into their Facebook name, and I can well understand that need to recognize the reality of the remaining corruption of the flesh we must endure, constantly repenting and, by our Lord’s grace, overcoming it, until that time when we will be perfected, not by our own efforts to attain that holiness without which no one will see the Lord, but by the Lord of perfection Himself.

This, however, does not mean we do not strive toward such holiness; rather, it keeps us in the knowledge that what began with the grace of God continues with the grace of God, and will be completed by the grace of God.

It is very tempting to think we have arrived at some semblance of that perfection to which we are called. The reality, however, is that no matter what we attain in this life, none of it is to be considered as having arrived at anything that would make us more acceptable to God than when we first were called into that grace by which we are saved (Philippians 3:12-14).

The works we do now, in the present age, were preordained, not to give us that assurance that God alone bestows upon those who are His, but to give Him glory (praise) in various expression. Yes, we may gain some assurance when we do such good works, but the true assurance is always in the objective promises of our great God and Savior.

Too often, we look to the works of piety for that assurance, and doing such a thing will only end up leading us to that place where we see that we have fallen short of that perfection which is in, of and through God alone, and which we will only see and realize in the age to come. When we turn inward, looking at that which we have attained, we fail to see that all perfections are of that grace which called us, and that we were called as sinners.

The New Testament used frequent and various terms to designate those who have believed in Christ Jesus for salvation: called ones, saints, holy, beloved, etc. However, none of these descriptive terms should ever cause us to cease to know, and wonder at, the fact that our Lord called us as sinners, and that even as we have been saved, are being saved, and will ultimately be saved, at this time, He still calls us as sinners. We are to strive for those things which reflect our ongoing conformity to our Lord Jesus Christ, because these prove that fruit which is from abiding in Him; however, it must not be lost sight of that it is because of what He did, is doing, and will do, that these fruitful works are possible (John 15:1-12; cf. 2 Peter 1:1-10). To view these good works as meritorious in and of themselves is to take out of the equation He who brought us into union with Himself, His Spirit and our heavenly Father, as well as one another (thus, the greatest of the fruits we manifest, after love to God, is love to one another).

Our focus must be outside ourselves, which I have found is not that easy a thing for me, but which I am realizing, more and more, is necessary to experience that peace we have with God. It must focus on, first, He who called us, His perfections and merits, and secondly, those He has put us in covenant union with through His work. When these things of objective view are our focus, we can also see the need of those who have not yet gained that grace-given faith, and appeal to them to be reconciled with He who died to save sinners.

SDG – Bill

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WHEN LAW BECOMES GRACE

There are those who will immediately bridle at such a title, who make the distinction that the law of God can never become synonymous with the grace of God. After all, aren’t we told in the gospel of John, “For the law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ?” And isn’t that a dialectic statement permanently pitting the two aspects of God’s revelation against one another?

The answer to the first question above is yes, we are told that; the answer to the second question, however, is no, and because of the focus on these issues presently going on within the broader confines of what could be called orthodox evangelicalism (for want of a better term), this negative answer to the second of the two questions posed needs some qualification.

While admitting that there are many extremely gifted men of God within what we have labeled orthodox evangelicalism, it is necessary to see where such a distinction that denies the law any part of the grace of God contained therein comes from, and this we will do quite simply. We do not claim to be as gifted in exegesis as many (if not most) of these men (whom we will not name separately for what should be obvious reasons). Not all of these men in these movements that deny the perpetuity of the moral law of God actually advocate lawlessness in living, and often, quite the opposite. The problem lies in their denial of God’s moral law as an extension of His character which was not abrogated, as were the ceremonial and civil laws of the nation Israel, which, in and of itself, can be referred to as “doctrinal antinomianism.”  Antinomianism simply means “against the law,” and doctrinal antinomianism may not lead to practical (practicing) antinomianism, but often, sadly, does that very thing. It is chiefly in denying the perpetuity of God’s moral law, most especially in the Reformed understanding of the third use of the law, that this error propagates itself, and often, it is more those who come after the teachers of doctrinal antinomianism who advocate a practical antinomianism which focuses on God’s grace to the exclusion of good works (the error Paul refers to in Romans 6:1, 15).

For the purposes of this article, we do claim that the understanding of the three-fold use of the law, as understood within Reformed orthodoxy, is the proper biblical understanding of that border where law, indeed, becomes grace, and that it is within the confines of various other camps which deny the perpetuity of the usefulness of God’s law to the believer from which the unnecessary dichotomy, pitting God’s law against His grace, has come.

It must be understood that the term “law,” as used in both the New Testament and the Old, has reference to various things, which are defined within their context. For instance, sometimes it is referring to what theologians call “the law of nature,” while in other places it refers to the fullness of the expression of the rites and ceremonies of the Mosaic Law; in still other places it refers to the Decalogue, which, while written on tablets of stone in the establishment of the Mosaic economy, is said to be written on the hearts of all those who come to know God and Christ savingly. These categorical uses, as already said, are determined largely by context.

There are various schools of thought regarding the abrogation of the law of God as set forth in the Old and New Testaments, where one is pitted against the other, as already mentioned above. Since many great works by many gifted theologians are available to study these matters, it is not the purpose of this article to attempt to go into an in-depth study of these various views, but to promote, in as few words as possible, that which is commonly known, in Reformed theology, as the three-fold use of the law, for it is within such an understanding that the third use of the law is seen as proceeding from grace, rather than being replaced, in any manner, by grace (see, for instance, Romans 3:31).

A few brief definitions will be helpful, at this point.

Since the law, in all its forms, derives from the only true Lawmaker, God, the Scriptures state that in all its forms, “the law is holy, and the commandment is holy, righteous and good…the law is spiritual” (Romans 7:12, 14). To gain further confirmation of the character of the law, a reading of Psalm 119 is highly instructive; in shorter form, Psalm 19:7-11 gives us insight into this character of the law.

In Romans, Paul, right before saying “the law…commandment is holy,” has made reference to the Tenth commandment from the Decalogue, and as with all other partial references to the inscripturated form of God’s moral law from the Decalogue that occur in the New Testament, this should be understood as an affirming of the entirety of the moral character of that law (cf. Romans 13:8-10; Matthew 22:37-40), which is to say, it is not subject to fleshly frailties. Again, in Romans 7:14, when Paul states that the law is spiritual, he compares it diametrically to the character of the flesh: “For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am of the flesh, sold under sin.” This comparison establishes that, like God, the law is spiritual, which is to say moral, and not subject to change, as it derives its spiritual character from He who gives it.

Again, because the essence, or character, of the moral law is of God’s character, it does not change, since He does not change. Where further delineation of the moral law of God is given in various ceremonial and civil commandments, these do not limit the nature of the law, as to its essence, but rather, the limitation is specifically pertaining to its application according to those ceremonial and civil laws as they are given in the covenantal context they occur within. This would mean that the application of the moral law under the economy of the Old Covenant was instituted according to the regulations God instituted which particularly pertain to that economy, and in the New Covenant, likewise, which, while the essence of the moral law can be seen not to change, the implementation of it in the required services to God parallel the specific economy. [1]

Paul again shows that the moral law of God is first seen in its natural setting, which natural setting shows the attributes of God, from whom the law derives:

Romans 1:19-20: For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse.

Natural revelation reveals what may be known about God, but due to man’s corrupt nature, this natural revelation is not salvific. Additionally, because what may be known of God is clearly perceived in natural revelation, the moral law of God is likewise clearly perceived, for His attributes are the basis of that moral law. Since God is “holy and good” as well as altogether righteous, merciful, loving, etc. – indeed, since these qualities all derived from God’s very nature – and since the law is defined, throughout Scripture, as having these qualities, every revelation and definition of the law in Scripture may be understood as affirming that which is essential of God’s nature. We already viewed this, above, in Romans 7:12, 14, and Psalm 19.

Simply to view that God is holy and good, in infinite and eternal measure, unchangeably, we can refer to some short statements about God’s nature from Scripture. We have noted, above, that the law is holy, and the commandment is holy, righteous and good…spiritual, and we may also note that God is spoken of as holy, righteous and good, as well as spiritual, in such Scripture citations as 1 Peter 1:16 (cf. Leviticus 19:2, 20:7), Psalm 145:17, 100:5, and John 4:24.  The references could be multiplied, but these will suffice to show the link between God’s moral law and His character. Both are described as spiritual for a very marked reason, which is that both are invisible, eternal, infinite, and unchangeable, since the moral law proceeds from the very character of God.

In reference to the moral law being that which marks out the character of a Christian as the result of the deposit of God’s grace within them, we will simply mention one Scripture and expand upon the meaning.

In 1 Peter 1:16, we are told, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.” This is a restatement of that which was spoken to Israel when the law was given through Moses, as we see in Leviticus 19:2 and 20:7. There is a context for the passages in Leviticus, and that context is the ten words, otherwise known as the Ten Commandments, or Decalogue, given in Exodus 20:1-17. It is understood that all of the Ten Commandments are the eternal foundation of every temporary ceremonial and civil statute given to the nation Israel, and therefore these ceremonial and civil laws have sometimes been defined as “the holiness code.” The purpose of the temporal, positive extensions[2] of the Decalogue among the people of the nation of Israel was to set them apart as the covenant people of God, therefore the reference and description “holiness code” (Deuteronomy 4:1-8). Although the ceremonial and civil laws were never intended to be eternal, they set apart the nation of Israel from all other nations on the earth as being the covenant people of God.

In like manner, Peter’s restatement that the eternal reality of God’s holiness is to be mirrored in His people has a context. He contrasts the price paid for those in the New Covenant directly with, first, precious metals, in v. 18, and second, indirectly, with the temporal nature of the ceremonial sacrifices of bulls, goats and other animals which prefigured the eternal sacrifice of the Lamb of God, in v. 19. We see this contrast more prominently in Hebrews 10:1-14.

These two Scripture references from 1 Peter and Hebrews give us the context of both God’s wrath and grace, which two attributes are inherent in His holiness.[3] By Christ’s sacrifice of Himself God’s wrath against sin (unholiness) is forever appeased for those He calls to Himself, and Christ’s righteousness is given to those same people who believe by grace given faith. Perfect obedience to God’s law was necessary, and having obeyed that perfectly, Christ offered Himself with the body God prepared for Him for our sins, which sins include our imperfect obedience. God then raised Him for our justification. Again, both these points are brought out simply in Roman 4:25, so we see that the justification which Christ earned for His people is imputed to them after that which offends God has been put to death. When considered in this way, God’s admonition through Moses, the prophets, Peter (indeed, throughout Scripture) to be holy, for I am holy, is contextually relative to our nature as redeemed children of God. We cannot literally be as holy as God, therefore, we must understand such admonitions to be striving towards that perfection of the imago dei that only exists in our Lord glorified, knowing that God will grant to us this full conformity of His command at the time He graciously completes our salvation in glory. In a practical aspect, it means to set one’s self apart for worshipful service to God because He has set one apart to Him in Christ.

It is in this manner that God’s moral law became grace, in that Christ fulfilled it, and imputed that righteousness which He earned as the firstborn of the new creation to those who place their faith in Him (2 Corinthians 5:21; Romans 8:29; Colossians 1:15, 18). Because our Lord not only paid the penalty for our sins, but fulfilled the righteous requirement of the law of God, we who are joined by faith to Him are also said to fulfill that requirement, and are also constrained to follow after those eternal laws which depend from God’s own being, not for attaining right standing with God, but because in Christ, we have attained right standing with God (Romans 3:31; cf. 2 Peter 1:5-8; Romans 13:8-10; Galatians 5:14). Good works, as spoken of in the Scriptures of the New Testament as those works which are to be performed by the Christian, are not a means of attaining right standing with God, but the result of that right standing attained by faith in Christ through God’s grace, and are indeed ordained. To separate the meaning of the moral law from the meaning of good works which are preordained in Christ for those who have been saved by His grace is to separate out that unique character of being God’s children, and indeed, every list in the New Testament which mentions good works may easily be traced to the Decalogue (Ephesians 2:10; Galatians 5:22-23). This may also be observed in negative prohibitions of those sins which are a violation of the law (Galatians 5:19-21; Ephesians 4:17-32). Any discerning student of the Word of  God will readily acknowledge that both the negative prohibitions and the positive admonitions and commands in such lists harken back to the two tables of the law, respectively.

Therefore, to be holy because God is holy is to behave in a manner consistent with the regenerate life which is being conformed into the image of He who lived perfectly according to that same moral law of God. This is why, in Romans 3:31, the apostle Paul clearly states that our faith upholds or establishes the law. It is an agreement that those who are of the faith of Christ our Lord acknowledge the moral law of God as an accurate expression of His character and a fit meter to measure and further mold our conformity to that character as image bearers being conformed into He who is the ultimate image bearer of God (Colossians 1:15 [4]). Since it (this agreement with and obedience to) stems from grace through God’s decree, it is no more a burden that crushes those who are His in Christ, but a helper which proceeds from that same grace from which the holy character of each believer is being formed into towards that day of completion at the eschaton. Keeping the commandments of God, therefore, is both from that love that God lavished upon us in Christ, and an expression of our reciprocal, grace-dependant love of God (1 John 5:3). Therefore, it could rightly be said that, in the sense of the believer agreeing with the moral law of God, and behaving in accordance with that agreement to His moral law by a new nature imparted (Romans 6:1-4), that that which was before beyond our ability to obey is now a means of measuring our fulfillment of such commands of our God to be holy, as He is holy. That which proceeds from ordained grace is, itself, of that grace, therefore, in this sense, the law (moral) is gracious, and obedience to it is, in itself, a result of and form of that same grace.

Since nature reveals God’s divine attributes, the revelation of nature may be understood to show that which is true of the moral law of God. What can be known about God is clearly perceived; therefore what is properly moral is, likewise, clearly perceived. This representation of God through nature is known as the “natural revelation,” in theology proper (cf. above citation from Romans 1:19-20 with Psalms 19:2-6), and as it reveals the moral law that is consistent with God’s attributes, this natural revelation of the moral law is known as the “law of nature.” [5]

The basic premise of this article is thus established, and that is this: God did not give us to do good works to obtain our salvation, but as the visible fruit, or evidence, of the new nature He alone imparts to those who then exercise faith in Christ, and repentance for their sin.

Rather than being a co-mingling of grace and law, as various opponents of the Reformed definition of the three part use of the law have caricatured it, such living out good works is the  divinely powered outcome of a new life imparted.

The opponents of the Reformed three fold division of the use of the law of God have not, at this point, or at any point in church history, successfully discounted the Scripture which states that good works are ordained by God for those connected by His grace-given faith to Christ, and indwelt by His Spirit to perform, even in part, such good works. Scripture citations which they fail to adequately account for are Matthew 5:17-18, Romans 3:31, Ephesians 2:10, Titus 2:14, and indeed, a plethora of other passages which they either mistranslate, misunderstand, or otherwise seek to explain away. These opponents, although oftentimes well meaning, thus undermine the very expression of the life of Christ within us through teaching that, while not necessarily explicitly maintaining that one live a life of non-conformity to the perpetual moral law of God as revealed throughout Scripture, often results in those who follow their teaching in a manner that ends up, sadly, doing that very thing, and calling it grace (See Romans 6 references above).

God’s grace has, thus, insured that, however haltingly, we abandon lawlessness and live in expression of His perfections in Christ. He has done so by giving us a new nature, and indwelling that new nature with His Spirit to reproduce that conformity to Christ who lived God’s law perfectly. Living in conformity to Christ produces those grace-given good works of His moral law which are a signal evidence of Christ dwelling in us.

SDG –Bill

[1] See Chapter 19, 1689 London Baptist Confession of Faith (hereafter LBCF). Also helpful is Richard A. Muller, Dictionary of Latin and Greek Theological Terms: Drawn Principally from Protestant Scholastic Theology, regarding the various uses of the terms for God’s law and the manifestation of the same.

[2] A discussion of the various functions of the law of God in the Scripture is beyond the scope of this article, however, regarding positive extensions in reference to the Decalogue, which represents the Moral Law of God in inscripturated form, such are said to be positive law(s); that is, they are commanded by God based upon the foundation of His Moral Law, but are not themselves intended to last forever, being temporally connected to their respective covenants. Examples would be circumcision, animal sacrifices, baptism, & etc.

[3] Although it may properly be said that God’s wrath is an attribute which may be described separately, as with all God’s attributes, it may also be properly said that this attribute is not one part of God, and another of His attributes is another part of God; rather, He is the infinite, eternal, immutable sum of His attributes, and His attributes are equally who He is in sum, definitionally speaking. That is to say, His holiness is not simply one part of Him, any more than His love is only a part of Him, but as we say that God is love, we may also say that He is wrath, righteousness, etc. We cannot split off parts of God as if He is a temporal being such as ourselves. He is completely who He is, and each attribute is as much of His essence as the other, which is to say, completely, so that holiness is inextricably interconnected with goodness, love, knowledge, wrath, etc. It should be noted, however, that out of all His attributes, that which most defines Him, in relation to His uniqueness of being as the only God (there are none others like HimIsaiah 45:21-22), is His holiness.

[4] The intent of this passage in Colossians is to show that Christ is deity; it is also to show that He is “the firstborn of all creation,” however, meaning the new creation which began at His resurrection, and will culminate at His return. Although “we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is (1 John 3:2), this being like Him has particular reference to His glorified humanity, not His deity, thus, He is “the firstborn” of the new humanity which will inhabit the new creation of God.

[5] Lex naturalls: natural law; also lex naturae: law of nature; the universal moral law either impressed by God upon the mind of all people or immediately discerned by the reason in its encounter with the order of nature. The natural law was therefore available even to those pagans who did not have the advantage of the Sinaitic revelation and the lex Mosaica (q.v.), with the result that they were left without excuse in their sins, convicted by conscientia (q.v.). The scholastics argue the identity of the lex naturalis with the lex Mosaica or lex moralis quoad substantiam, according to substance, and distinguish them quoad formam, according to form. The lex naturalis is inward, written on the heart and therefore obscure, whereas the lex Mosaica is revealed externally and written on tablets and thus of greater clarity.

Richard A. Muller, Dictionary of Latin and Greek Theological Terms: Drawn Principally from Protestant Scholastic Theology.

Meditations and Exposition From the Gospel of John, Chapter 7

John 7:30-36: So they were seeking to arrest him, but no one laid a hand on him, because his hour had not yet come. Yet many of the people believed in him. They said, “When the Christ appears, will he do more signs than this man has done?” The Pharisees heard the crowd muttering these things about him, and the chief priests and Pharisees sent officers to arrest him. Jesus then said, “I will be with you a little longer, and then I am going to him who sent me.   You will seek me and you will not find me. Where I am you cannot come.” The Jews said to one another, “Where does this man intend to go that we will not find him? Does he intend to go to the Dispersion among the Greeks and teach the Greeks? What does he mean by saying, ‘You will seek me and you will not find me,’ and, ‘Where I am you cannot come’?”

That many of the people believed in Him is not necessarily a statement that they believed salvifically, but that they had that momentary belief which is not ongoing. As we have stated many times in this study, John uses the various tenses for belief in a manner that is generally quite consistent. The tense used here is of that faith that believes due to things seen at one point in the past (noting that such a past point of time can be indicated by a present exercise of temporary faith). Like the faith expressed in the crowd of five thousand that went away from our Lord when He spoke of His being the true bread from God, and that those who ate His flesh and drank His blood would be partakers of eternal life (John 6:54), these people are exercising that faith that follows as far as it can see, but will not follow to the cross to die, and be raised in newness of life. Looking for the signs of the Savior, they miss the fact of His work to secure the salvation of His people, and so fail at the point where that which He speaks becomes offensive to either their sensibilities or their temporal practice of religion according to that system which He abolishes in His body being broken (Hebrews 10:1-10).

Such temporary faith is conditioned, in some cases, on the carnal provisions (the eating of the bread and fish in chapter 6), or because of the miracles (as in our present case) without understanding that miracles are always revelatory, and point to the purpose of God by which He intends to communicate His glory. The verb tense of the word appears in our text speaks of that which will happen at some point, and can be used to refer to mere possibility; here, since the Jews believed Messiah would come, we take the former sense, but this also tells us that they are holding that He who is before them is not Messiah. They are believing He is a prophet, at most, holding forth truths of God, without understanding that He IS the truth of God, and the only way to eternally enter the kingdom of the Father (John 14:6) by those things that they should have seen in His doctrine, for the purpose of the miracles is, as we said, to revelational. Basically, we may say that the miracles our Lord wrought, in their primary function, were to act as signs to point to His person as that Messiah they awaited, and open their ears to those great, glorious, gracious and merciful truths He spoke.

However, when men fail to see their salvation in the grace, love and mercy of God, there remains revelational truth of the most dire kind. In this case, it is that where our Lord is going – He who is the firstfruits of those who are to be raised after and in the likeness of His resurrection to glory (1 Corinthians 15:22-23) – these others cannot come, for they lack such ears to hear and eyes to see, given only by that mercy and grace of God. The wrath of God is the flip side of the coin of redemptive revelation, which man, without the working of the Spirit of God to give him the new birth, remains under (John 3:16-21 shows us both sides of this dual purpose of revelational truth, as well as other portions of this gospel, which we will get to in their time).God displays His glory in both instances – the giving of that renewal of the inward man which results in salvation to those who believe, and the damnation of those who do not believe. This is not to equate these as equal acts (fallacy of equal ultimacy), for God, though He hardens those who do not believe, merely confirms them in their unbelief, while the gracious power which raises from spiritual death those who have believed is far more glorious, being equated to the raising of our Lord from the grave to His present session in glory (Ephesians 1:18-23, esp. vv. 18-20).

Soli Deo Gloria – Bill

Work Out Your Own Salvation?

Yes. Why? To borrow a line from Dr. Mark Jones- “because the Bible says so.” But what does it mean to “work out your own salvation?” Some tend to think that it simply means to focus on the Gospel and what Christ has accomplished for sinners to the glory of God. The idea is to reflect upon that and the Spirit will move the sinner towards obedience. While I agree that any sanctification (progressive) in the pursuit of holiness needs to have a sound understanding of the Gospel, justification by faith alone and must do as the author of Hebrews encourages “looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God” (Heb. 12:2). To be sure, there is no such thing as pursuing holiness in sanctification apart from Hebrews 12:2. Yet I do not believe that is all Paul is saying when he writes ,“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” (Phil. 2:12).

So what does it mean to work out your own salvation with fear and trembling? Well I believe it looks like what the author of Hebrews writes in Hebrews 12:1- “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us,.”  That is to say that personal holiness in the life of believers is a deliberate, willful and conscious effort to eliminate sin in their lives; as empowered by the Holy Spirit, by the grace of God, as justified sinners declared righteous by virtue of Christ’s perfect law-keeping life. It is to “mortify the flesh,” ” to be killing sin,”and to be actively doing as Peter says “…make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, 6 and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness,  and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. For whoever lacks these qualities is so nearsighted that he is blind, having forgotten that he was cleansed from his former sins” (2 Pe. 1:5-9).

 

At this moment I will now turn it over to Matthew Poole to elaborate on Philippians 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.”

Poole writes:

Wherefore, my beloved, as ye have always obeyed: having confirmed the example of Christ’s admirable condescension and affection from the glorious issue of it, he doth here reassume his exhortation, with a friendly compellation, commending their former sincere endeavours to obey the gospel (so chap. 1:5, and ver. 15 of this) in following Christ, Matt. 11:28, and moving them to persevere in obedience and love to God and man. Not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence; that it might be evident, whether the eye of their pastor were upon them or no, a prevailing love to Christ, and their own souls’ welfare, was prevalent with them; but especially, being he was now detained from them, and might be jealous of some defects in them, James 3:2; 1 John 1:8, did engage them more than any thing to embrace his exhortation, which he enlargeth in other words. Work out your own salvation: he moves them as saints, chap. 1:1, in whom God would perfect his work begun, ver. 6, having given them to believe and suffer, ver. 29, that they would seriously and earnestly busy themselves in those things, which on their parts are necessary to salvation, as John 6:27; Heb. 6:9, and without which it cannot be had, as chap. 1:10; Matt. 24:13; Col. 3:10, 12, &c.; 1 Tim. 1:18, 19; 6:19; 2 Tim. 2:5; 4:7, 8; 2 Pet. 3:17; yea, press on in the way to their own salvation, as he moved, 1 Tim. 4:16, not that they should not be solicitous about others, for that mutual care is implied, as elsewhere required, Heb. 3:13; 10:24; but that every one should strenuously go on towards the mark with a special regard to himself, and the temptations he may meet with, knowing he must bear his own burden, Gal. 6:1, 5, and therefore should take heed lest he fall. The papists’ arguings hence that our actions are sufficient and meritorious causes of salvation, are altogether inconsequent. For the apostle doth not say our actions work out salvation, but, Work out your own salvation, which is much different. It were absurd to say, because the Jews were enjoined to eat the passover with loins girt, that loins girt were eating of the passover. Indeed, what the papists urge is contrary to this doctrine of Paul, who doth elsewhere place blessedness in remission of sins, and shows eternal life is the gift of God, Rom. 4:6, 7; 6:23; and we are saved by grace, not of works, Rom. 3:20, 24, 25; 4:16; Eph. 2:8; Tit. 3:5; and contrary to the main scope of the apostle, which is to beat down pride and conceit of deserving, and persuade to humility. He drives at this, that we should not be idle or lazy in the business of salvation, but work together with God, (yet as instruments, in whom there is no strength which is not derived from him,) that we may evidence we do not receive his grace in vain, 2 Cor. 6:1, 2. But this co-operation doth not respect the acquiring or meriting of salvation, which is proper to Christ alone, and incommunicable to any others, Acts 4:12, who cannot be said to be their own saviours: this co-operation, or working out, respects only the application, not the performing of the payment, which Christ hath abundantly perfected: but the embracing of the perfect payment, is not that which can be the cause and foundation of right for which it is deservedly conferred; but only the way and means by which we come to partake of salvation. With fear and trembling; i. e. with a holy care to do all acceptably: he doth by these two words mean not any servile fear and slavish despondency, arising from doubting, chap. 4:4, but only a serious, filial fear, implying a deep humility and submissiveness of mind, with a reverential awe of the Divine Majesty, and a solicitude to avoid that evil which is offensive to him and separates from him. We find these words used to the like import, Psal. 2:11; Dan. 5:19; 6:26; Rom. 11:20; with 1 Cor. 2:3; 2 Cor. 7:5; Eph. 6:5; connoting that, after the example of Christ, we should be humble, and though we distrust ourselves, yet we are to trust solely to God, (as an infant may be afraid, and yet cling fast to and depend upon, begging help of, the parent, going over a dangerous precipice,) for the accomplishment of our salvation.

13 For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure.
That they might not be negligent in working out their salvation with humility, from any conceit or carnal confidence any might have that they could believe and repent when they pleased, imagining their wills to be as pliable to good as evil; the apostle urgeth the effectual grace of God, as a powerful inducement and encouragement to embrace his exhortation. For it is God which worketh in you: they should not despond of any attaining salvation, or think they did labour in vain in the diligent use of means, and should altogether fall under the dominion of sin, considering, though they were free agents, yet the efficiency and sufficiency was of God, Rom. 6:13, 14; 1 Cor. 4:7; 2 Cor. 3:5; who worketh within them powerfully and effectually, carrying on the work through all difficulties and obstacles, with victorious efficacy, till it be wrought, chap. 1:6; Isa. 41:4; Heb. 13:20, 21: God worketh not only by suasion to gain assent, but by a special energy effecting what he would have us to do. Both to will: and not only in a general way, Acts 17:28, but in a special way, making us willing, Psal. 110:3, remotely in regard of the principle, nextly in regard of the act: circumcising the heart, Deut. 30:6; taking away the heart of stone, and giving a heart of flesh, Ezek. 11:19; 36:26, 27; causing light to shine out of darkness, 2 Cor. 4:6; and so renewing the will, to choose that which is savingly good, the natural bent of which, before the influence of this insuperable grace, stands another way, John 8:44, viz. to will and do contrary: yet he doth not necessitate by any compulsion, but powerfully, yet sweetly, and suitably to man’s free faculty, incline the will to that which is good, John 6:37, 44, i. e. to a certain effect. For the will influenced to will that it doth perform, it undoubtedly wills somewhat that is certain, and so is determined by God. And to do; to do that which is savingly good. Whereupon being made willing, it hath not only an inclination, and doth not only exert a woulding, but, being moved by God’s insuperable grace, 1 Cor. 3:7, that will is effectual, and is the very deed, where the command of the will is executed to the glory of God, as the author. As in alms, not only doth God incline the will to relieve the poor, but further contributes special gracious aids to perform what was deliberated, which evinceth that it is from another principle than ourselves. It is not, that ye may be able to will, and may be able to do; but he worketh both to will and to do: which connotes the very act itself; that ye will to believe, obey, pray, persevere, and that ye do believe, obey, pray, persevere: of unwilling, he makes willing; and further, to will and to do. It is true, to will, as it is an act of the will, is ours by creation; and to will well is so far ours, we being made effectually willing by God’s grace: yet not ours, as though of ourselves we begin to will, or go on, but it is of him who worketh in us. Not that we cannot will well, but that of ourselves we cannot will well. The precept therefore requiring our obedience does not show what we can or will of ourselves, but what we ought to will and to do by God’s special help. But though God work in us obedience, yet we obey, we ourselves act, being acted of God. Of his good pleasure; not for any previous disposition in any of us, but of, or according to, his own good pleasure, Luke 10:21; Eph. 1:5, 9, 11; 2:8; 2 Thess. 1:11, with 2 Tim. 1:9. In working out our own salvation, the very beginning in the will, as well as the perfection, is ascribed to the efficacy of God; his good pleasure is the procreating and helping cause of this work on the will, and not the will’s good pleasure.”*

 

*Poole, M. (1853). Annotations upon the Holy Bible (Vol. 3, pp. 691–692). New York: Robert Carter and Brothers.

Of Christian Biographies – A Plain Article

Since I read and listened to my first biographical sketches of various Christians throughout the ages of the church, one thing has struck me:

They generally point to devotion to God in Christ Jesus, in service and sacrifice.

Another thing strikes me: We have the greatest of such sketches in the gospels, of our Lord Himself, and in the Acts, of the apostles of our Lord. Paul’s biography, gleaned from both Acts and his epistles, is particularly striking, if not as much as that perfect example of Christ Jesus.

The last thing that strikes me is that all these point us to the source of all truth, which is the special revelation of our God in Christ Jesus which we call the Holy Scriptures.

We do not match up to the biographical sketch of our Lord; we will likely not match up to that of the apostle Paul, or even such as the great preachers, theologians, Reformers, Puritans, and even many who were not among the learned, but quietly modeled devotion to our Lord in their everyday life until such a time as someone modeled that life in a biography.

We are not supposed to match these whose lives have been temporarily immortalized in such a manner. Their lives, from the apostles onward, are to point us to the impossible example of that Life which we are to follow after, knowing we will not match it until such a time as God has decreed to bring us to that perfection which we so imperfectly work towards, by that same grace that saved us.

Romans 12:6-18: Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith; if service, in our serving; the one who teaches, in his teaching; the one who exhorts, in his exhortation; the one who contributes, in generosity; the one who leads, with zeal; the one who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness. Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight. Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.

Each member of the church is integrally joined to the others. I speak of the local church here, in the most practical terms, not of that mystical union of each and every member of Christ’s church universal, which is always a factor inherent in considering these practical aspects of application.

In this passage, the apostle puts forth that practical application that is directed to the church of Rome. The words in bold highlight that which is true of the love of Christ, and without negating the necessity of discipline in the local church, certainly gives a context within which such will be practiced with the necessary discrimination.

Frequently, upon hearing Christian biographies of famous men in church history, we react in the same way that we do to the example of Paul: I can never be like that! The good news includes within it more good news, and that is that we are not called to be like others, but to exercise that which the Lord has given us within the context of the local body in a manner which both glorifies the Lord, and deems others as more worthy than ourselves (for these two are inseparable). Biographies, whether those in Holy Writ or those throughout the pages of the history of the church, should wake in us that desire to follow hard after our Lord as those the biographies are about, yet be tempered with the realization of that grace with which we were saved, are being sanctified, and will be glorified. Ultimately, we can never, this side of glory, be like He who died for us, or even like many who have been specially gifted to be such a Christ honoring example of that same grace of our Lord and God; we can, however, be that which He has decreed we be, and this should be done in a humble, mutually dependent manner, from the elder who leads, feeds and protects the flock, to the one who, by the world’s standards (and too frequently, these have been brought into covenant relations within the church, which is the reason we are taught, admonished, and encouraged so frequently by such as is in this passage from Romans), is the meanest, least esteemed member of the congregation.

The last verse in this section from Paul’s epistle to the Roman church is quite practical, and relies, for its applicational punch, on its association with the rest of the passage. Peace is the outcome of order, so where you have order, there will be peace. (1) Nowhere should this be more evident than in our corporate relations with one another, on the Christian Sabbath during the worship service and studies, and throughout the week. This extends to our dealings with those outside the household of faith, but the thrust is towards those within, primarily. Such pragmatism runs throughout the apostle’s writings to the church, couched within paeans of doxology and didactic, theological depth, and such should also run through our relations with one another in the same manner.

I recently read a book entitled The God of the Mundane: Reflections on Ordinary Life for Ordinary People, by Matthew B. Redmond. There is much to commend the book, not least of all its plain writing style and addressing of a subject many believers need to hear.

We have been inundated with terms like “radical,” “revolutionary,” and similar descriptive terms, as referring to that which each and every believer in  Christ must do. Matthew B. Redmond’s book, much like Paul’s passage in this chapter of Romans, is a much needed balm for those whose lives are devoted, however imperfectly, to their Lord, God and Savior, yet who cannot participate, for providential reasons, in great theological or evangelical endeavors. They can, however, be faithful with what God has given them, at the place He has put them, within the context of the local body, and that is what this post seeks to highlight.

Not all are teachers of the Word; not all teachers of the Word have the opportunity to go out and participate in formal evangelism (though the evangel should be at least implicit in their teaching, and where explicit in the passage[s] being taught from, brought out explicitly). If we are honoring others within the congregation – indeed, seeking to endeavor to outdo one another in such honor – and doing that which Christ has gifted us to do, being faithful in reading and study of the Word, in prayer, and sharing the gospel as He gives opportunity, we may be excited  – and even intimidated – by the biographies of Christians more famous than ourselves, but we must keep in mind that we are neither these people, the apostle Paul, or any other from church history. We are that member of the body which gives generously to support the ministry, or teaches faithfully, laboring in the Word; we are that member who shows acts of kindness out of proportion with that which is generally considered kindness, or that member who leads the others in a manner consistent with the doctrine and faith of our God in  Christ Jesus.

None is better than the other, nor should any seek to be the other; however, all are absolutely dependent upon one another, and each is completely dependent on that grace of God in Christ that not only gave them eternal new life, but changed their temporal lives, now, to do that which shows the glory of God in Christ Jesus through covenant relations with the other members, no matter how plain or spotlighted that might turn out to be. God gains the glory from even the most unnoticed and innocuous of believers, as He has ordained.

Soli Deo Gloria – Bill

(1) My favorite lexicon, Louw & Nida, defines peace in the context of 1 Corinthians 14:33 as a set of favorable circumstances involving peace and tranquility—‘peace, tranquility – this naturally connects to the meaning of “order” as found in 1 Corinthians 14:40 – 62.7 τάξιςb, εως f; τάγμα, τος n: a proper and correct order—‘right order, good order, in order, in an orderly manner.’
τάξιςb: πάντα δὲ εὐσχημόνως καὶ κατὰ τάξιν γινέσθω ‘everything must be done in a proper and orderly manner’ 1 Cor 14:40; χαίρων καὶ βλέπων ὑμῶν τὴν τάξιν ‘rejoicing to see your orderliness’ Col 2:5. In Col 2:5 τάξις may refer to the orderly manner in which the church at Colossae conducted its affairs or carried on its worship.

Louw, J. P., & Nida, E. A. (1996). Vol. 1: Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament: Based on semantic domains (electronic ed. of the 2nd edition.) (246, 612).). New York: United Bible Societies.