Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Which Church?

In an astonishing sign of gospel reconciliation, in 2017 the Bible Presbyterian Church reestablished relations with the Orthodox Presbyterian Church from which it separated in 1938.  Nearly eighty years of hostility turned around and a bright future awaited both denominations.  Even in the midst of such a joyous moment, the taint of sin was not missing.  During an address, one member recounted how different the welcoming attitude of the OPC was to the BPC's reception by other reformed denominations.  This experience is the unfortunate norm rather than the rule.  Certainly, there are historic and theological reasons for division and difference, however, within a shared theological framework, charity and fellowship should reign.  How lamentable that organizations committed to bringing God's people together would include those who advance division without warrant.

This presents a question for those who would live Christian in an unchristian world.  The church is not unified and wears a great many names.  How ought a Christian consider the question of which church or denomination with which to associate?  This is a knotty question to address and one fraught with difficulties.  Nevertheless, it is a necessary one, for it determines the very heart of our souls.

To begin, we must define the sine qua non of the church, the necessary elements of a Christian church.  Throughout the life of the church this question has been debated.  During the reformation, theologians described three marks of the true church in contrast to the marks the Roman church advocated.  These follow from the one core value of the reformation, sola scriptura, one that we have already examined in this study.  With the primacy of the word of God, what the church does with the word of God marks it as the true church.  The marks of the true church then consist in the faithful preaching of the word, the faithful administration of the sacraments (sensible word), and the faithful exercise of discipline (administrative word).

From these marks, we observe that two of the primarily appear in corporate worship.  We must then assume that a corporate community is also necessary for the existence of the true church.  At its heart, the church is a worshipping community.  It is not a social club, a moral education society, or an entertainment venue.  The first question one ought to answer is this.  Is this were God's people gather to worship?  This question rests at the heart of the rest of the biblical criteria

The worship of this community must then be by the book.  We often try to separate the preaching portion of worship from the rest of worship, but this will not do.  The entire worship service preaches to us.  How one worships preaches a sermon on worship.  If one would hear that sermon, one must ask whether it is faithful to the Word of God.  The Westminster Confession of Faith puts it this way.  "[T]he acceptable way of worshiping the true God is instituted by himself, and so limited by his own revealed will, that he may not be worshiped according to the imaginations and devices of men, or the suggestions of Satan, under any visible representation, or any other way not prescribed in the Holy Scripture." (WCF 21.1)  This states the so-called regulative principle of worship, that we may only worship as God has expressly prescribed in Holy Scripture.  This does not answer all questions about the character and particulars on worship, but it does guide those decisions in a Biblical way.  One ought to ask of a prospective church, does the worship conform to the regulations of the Bible?

The next mark indicates the faithful administration of the sacraments.  The sacraments are the Word made sensible, that is, appreciable to our senses.  Many churches don't have problems with the correct observance of the Sacraments since the instructions for their use appear plainly in Scripture.  Baptism is to be administered with water in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. (Acts 8:36; Matthew 28:19)  The Lord's Supper is to be administered through the bread and cup according to the instruction in I Corinthians 11:23-34.  Where many churches reveal a latent problem, their low estimation of the sacraments, is in their delinquency and irregularity in their observance.  Baptism, by its nature, is an irregular sacrament.  The Lord's Supper, on the other hand, must be scheduled.  While properly occasional, it does not have to be irregular.  The lack of regular observance says something about how important a church considers the sacrament.  If a church does not regularly observe the Lord's Supper, that church communicates to its membership that the sacrament is not a necessary part of their spiritual life.  This expresses a low view of the sacrament.  A church that has a low view of the sacraments often struggles with a low view of Scripture.  As the sacrament is the word of God made sensible, a low view of the sacrament suggests a low view of the word of God in all its forms.  One ought to ask of a prospective church, what is their view of the sacraments?  Do the regularly observe the Lord's Supper?

The final mark noted by the reformers involved the faithful exercise of church disciple.  The reformers took seriously the Scriptures teaching on the new life that believers have in Christ.  Failure to live this new life required action by the church.  This principle requires careful and biblical analysis.  Faithful exercise of discipline does not mean that the church regularly engages in public censures.  Excommunication should remain a rare occasion.  This extreme censure should only occur when all calls to repent have gone unheeded.  The object of discipline is first, the repentance of the sinner.  All are sinners and must live lives of repentance.  Lack of repentance brings ones profession of faith into doubt.  Only at this point ought excommunication be effected.  The church must be willing to engage in this act if repentance does not appear in the life of a sinner.

Discipline includes more than the official censures of the church.  Discipline begins in the preaching of the Word.  A church that fails to call people to repentance by showing them their sin through the preaching ministry is not engaged in the faithful exercise of church discipline.  The church must proclaim the reality and heinousness of sin, all sin that the Bible condemns.  We have no warrant to call sin what the Bible does not condemn, nor to ignore those things the Bible clearly condemns.  Both violate the duty to faithful church disciple.

Within Christianity we find churches who have abandoned discipline altogether.  Nothing is ever considered sin.  Sin is not discussed, nor are people warned of its danger.  This lack of teaching and warning shows that the church does not take the Bible's message seriously.  Whatever contextualizing argument might be advanced, the Scripture's warnings ought not be ignored in order to accommodate the modern, worldly opinion.

In this vein, we must also observe the truth of churches the wound their members.  In these recent years, the discussion of so-called "spiritual abuse" has increased.  While the language often gets applied too broadly, examples appear all too often of religious groups and churches that use religious authority and power to violate the consciences of those under their jurisdiction.  Even otherwise Biblical churches have fallen into these errors.  Nevertheless, we must be careful before condemning any church, minister, or elder.  Ministers and elders sin like any other human.  They can wound their flock, intentionally or unintentionally.  We must charitably analyze their work and practice.  Are they ready to repent and make things right when they overstep their duties?  Have they created an environment of fear or suspicion?  Does the congregation share their censorious (def., severely critical of others) attitude?  These factors will indicate whether there has been a breaking of the duty to the faithful exercise of disciple for severity.

In analyzing a church, I encourage you to consider whether you trust the leadership of the church.  In most churches, either by vow or expectation, the members promise to submit to church leadership.  If you do not trust that leadership, you should never make that promise.  Do you believe that the leadership of the church loves you and seeks your best?  Can you listen to their criticism knowing that they bring it to you not quickly, but with consideration and thought?  Can you trust the minister and elders with the care of your soul?

One final mark that the reformers did not consider is that of fellowship.  The concept of unity appears throughout Scripture.  The one body of Christ pictures the nature of the church.  To that end, we are commanded not to forsake the gathering of the church. (Heb.10:25)  This warning does not appear in a purely worship or preaching context, but appears as a practical application of the church's duty to encourage and edify one another.  Again, Paul in Philippians encourages the church to put deeds into their fellowship one with another. (Phil. 4)  This means that the fellowship of the church is necessary to its spiritual life.

Again, this mark needs proper biblical analysis.  Fellowship does not mean that you ought to find a church filled with people like you where no one ever disagrees.  No church is free from a difference of opinion or practice.  Paul's discussion of the strong and weak christians reflect the way we ought to deal with differences within the church. (I Cor. 8,9, Ro.14,15)  This means that love ought to rule our relationships within the church.  We respect our differences in love, knowing that we have one Lord and are part of one body.

Here again are the marks:  Bible teaching, Bible sacraments, Bible discipline, and Bible fellowship.  When we address these marks to denominations, we must exercise caution.  Some groups have so abandoned these principles, that though there may be some isolated examples of true churches within that group, the trajectory of the whole ought to warn us that the natural pressure will be toward that abandonment.  Other groups known to be faithful to these principles may include churches that contain serious failings in one or more of these marks.  While denominational reputation may be helpful, it is certainly not determinative.

While we use these marks to determine which church with which we wish to associate ourselves, we ought also to consider how we interact with the church to encourage these marks.  Are we preaching the word faithfully to ourselves and others?  Are we taking the sacraments seriously?  Are we disciplining ourselves, participating in discipline well, and encouraging others in their obedience?  Are we participating in church fellowship, and edifying one another?  If we would live Christian in an unchristian world, we must do so first in the church.

Monday, July 31, 2017

The Lord's Day

As we begin looking at the particulars of how to live Christian in an unchristian world, we will begin with a rather easy question.  How ought the Christian observe the Lord's Day?   Much of this involves the clear teaching of Scripture in conflict with a society that would encourage us to ignore the significance of the Lord's Day.

As we consider this question, it gives us the opportunity to consider how this study teaches us to live Christian in an unchristian world.  We will not offer concrete answers to particular questions.  God made life too varied to compile a list of absolute laws for every circumstance.  Those laws He has ordained we find plainly in Scripture.  Most of life requires the use of discernment, taking the absolute teaching of Scripture and applying it to the very particular and individual question the beset us.  We discussed this truth in a previous lesson.

The relative ease of the question about the Lord's Day comes from the clear teaching of Scripture.  We don't have to search for an implication that might apply to the circumstance.  Rather, the Bible clearly tells us how we are to act on the Sabbath.  Within those regulations, modern life confronts us with particular questions how to sanctify the Lord's Day in light of our current situation.

Let us begin with the Biblical witness.  In any discussion of the Sabbath, we must begin with its origin in Genesis 2. "And on the seventh day God ended his work which he had made; and he rested on the seventh day from all his work which he had made. And God blessed the seventh day, and sanctified it: because that in it he had rested from all his work which God created and made." (2:2-3)  Care must be taken how one understands God's rest.  This day occurs after the work of creation.  The sixth day ended the work of creation so that the seventh day God rested or stopped doing the work of creation.  This distinction is necessary because we cannot attribute to God the complete cessation of effort.  Were that to be so, the universe had ceased to exist.  God continued His work of providence even as He rested from His creational work.  This informs our understanding that it is not all work that ought cease on the Sabbath, but the work God commands that we set aside.

The legal edict for the Sabbath appears in two chief places.  In the first giving of the Ten Commandments by God to His people, we read the following.
Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy.  Six days shalt thou labour, and do all thy work: but the seventh day is the sabbath of the LORD thy God: in it thou shalt not do any work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, thy manservant, nor thy maidservant, nor thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy gates: for in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day: wherefore the LORD blessed the sabbath day, and hallowed it. (Exodus 20:8-11)
Notice three thing in this command.  First, the command seems absolute.  We are to cease from all our work.  The rest of the teaching on the Sabbath clarifies that this refers to the normal labors man undertakes for his wealth and estate.  It does not mean we remain idol, but that we set aside our ordinary activity of the rest of the week to rest.

Second, notice that the command applies especially to heads of households.  As those who can direct others to work, they are to ensure that they enable those who they may oversee to observe the Sabbath.  The command requires God's people to, so far as it is in our power, to enable others to rest on the Sabbath.

Thirdly, notice the reason we are to observe the Sabbath.  The Lord takes us back to Genesis and His own resting after the creation of the world.  In this passage, the emphasis is on the people of God imitating their God, having accepted the foundation of the relationship, that the Lord would be their God, and they would be His people.  As His people, they ought to desire to imitate the Lord.

This reason changes when Moses reiterates the commandments in Deuteronomy. "And remember that thou wast a servant in the land of Egypt, and that the LORD thy God brought thee out thence through a mighty hand and by a stretched out arm: therefore the LORD thy God commanded thee to keep the sabbath day." (5:15)  This change ought not cause us to conclude an inconsistency within Scripture, but rather, as there were two copies of the law written on stone, so the Lord probably repeated the law to Moses and Israel.  In one the reason for the observing the Sabbath was imitating the Lord, in another, the reason includes the people's own experience.  The Sabbath, then not only gives us the opportunity to imitate the Lord, but also gives life space to remember our redemption.  We are to remember who we were before God intervened in our lives, rejoicing in His grace to us.

The importance of the Sabbath day appears also in Isaiah.  In a portion describing the Lord's restoration of His people, the Lord addresses the topic of Sabbath keeping.
If thou turn away thy foot from the sabbath, from doing thy pleasure on my holy day; and call the sabbath a delight, the holy of the LORD, honourable; and shalt honour him, not doing thine own ways, nor finding thine own pleasure, nor speaking thine own words: then shalt thou delight thyself in the LORD; and I will cause thee to ride upon the high places of the earth, and feed thee with the heritage of Jacob thy father: for the mouth of the LORD hath spoken it. (Isaiah 58:13-14)
Here is the heart of the Sabbath.  The Lord has set aside a day for us to stop doing what our sinful hearts want to do, to stop doing that we ordinarily do, to do what the Lord wants to do.

I suggest we think of the Sabbath this way.  Many fathers I know have the practice of "special time" with their children.  One such father told the story of one child who was more interested in eating their treat than spending time with their father.  I think this speaks to us about the Sabbath.  The Lord has set aside a day to spend especially with His people.  This is not to say He is not present the rest of the week, but the Sabbath is His "special time" with His people.  Instead of enjoying the fellowship we ought to have with the Lord, we want to eat our dainties.  Instead of appreciating the time the Lord has designate to delight in Him, we seek to delight in anything else.  We despise the Lord's special time when we fail to observe the Sabbath.

This point appears in Jesus teaching about the Sabbath day.  The lord of the Sabbath, as Jesus styled Himself, stated, "The sabbath was made for man, and not man for the sabbath." (Mark 2:27)  This statement countered the teaching of the Pharisees who had so labored the day with regulations to prevent work, that in spending the day keeping them, the people had forgotten the purpose of their special day with the Lord.  Instead of wasting time with dainties, they didn't even come out of their rooms for fear.  Jesus reminds us that the people need the Sabbath.  They need it to reconnect them with the source of their redemption.

As we come to the principle of the Lord's Day, we must first address the question of how the day of rest changed from the last day of the week to the first.  The first day is the day upon which Jesus rose from the dead.  We have examples of the church meeting on this day. (I Cor.16:1-2; Acts 20:7)  We also see this worship day called the Lord's Day. (Rev. 1:10)  We then rightly observe the Sabbath on Sunday, and rightly call it the Lord's Day.

From this we see that Christ has fundamentally changed the construction of time.  Remember the two reasons for the Sabbath.  The first still applies as we observe one day in seven for rest.  The second also applies in greater ways.  Before, it merely reminded Israel of the mighty redemption the Lord had accomplished for them in the Exodus from Egypt.  Now, it reminds us of the completed redemption that Jesus has accomplished for us, not from physical slavery, but from spiritual slavery, freedom not from the lash, but from sin.

The Westminster Confession of Faith fitly summarizes our duties toward God on the Sabbath.
This Sabbath is then kept holy unto the Lord, when men, after a due preparing of their hearts, and ordering of their common affairs beforehand, do not only observe an holy rest, all the day, from their own works, words, and thoughts about their worldly employments and recreations, but also are taken up, the whole time, in the public and private exercises of his worship, and in the duties of necessity and mercy. (WCF 20.8)  
The requirement of preparation here comes from the account of the law to Israel regarding manna collection. (Exodus 16)  Each day, each person was to collect only enough for that day.  Any excess would rot.  On the sixth day, Israel was to collect and prepare twice as much in preparation for the Sabbath on which no manna would fall.

The term "worldly" here does not mean sinful, but having to do with our ordinary and common work and recreation.  The concept of worship here indicate the time we ought to spend with the Lord.  This day of all days is the day we spend time with our Savior.

Here is where many Christians turn delight into duty.  Instead of focusing their attention on what they get to do, the special day with God, they focus on what they cannot do.  This is what Isaiah warns of when he encourages Israel to turn away from their own pleasures and delighting in the Lord.

At this point, I'm sure you want me to answer the question, "Can I do X on the Lord's Day?"  I'm not going to answer that question.  This is our problem with the Lord's Day.  The world has so infiltrated our minds that we think of all the things the world offers for us to do on the Lord's Day.  We live in Vanity Fair.  Every day is the market day of the flesh.  But the Puritans famously called the Lord's Day the market day of the soul.  We need to understand the on the Lord's Day, it is our duty to turn away from Vanity Fair and to feed our souls.

Instead of answering those particular questions, I will give you a question that ought to help you answer those questions.  "Is X the way you want to spend your special time with the Lord?"  The God of the universe set aside one day to spend with you each week.  How will you spend your time with the Lord?  How will you spend your special time with Jesus?  These are the question we should be asking and answering of ourselves if we would live Christian in an unchristian world.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

The Hand of Providence

Nostalgia is a powerful force.  It can bend time to make us relive the past.  When I was a teenager, I attended a summer camp.  This part of my life often lingers in the dark recesses of my mind.  Even so, it only take one song to draw me back to the recreation center of the camp.  In that building, a stereo sat filling the room with one album by the artist Michael W. Smith, the album entitled, "I 2 Eye."  The first track of that album was the song titled "Hand of Providence."

The term "providence" has a unique history.  In the history of the United States, the founders of the nation often used "Providence" to refer to God Himself.  Denotatively, the word refers to the acts of God within His creation.  The Westminster Shorter Catechism splits the execution of the decrees of God into the works of creation and providence.  Thus, whatever is not the work of creation, that God does in conformity with His decrees (wherein He ordains whatever comes to pass), consists in His work of providence.  Thus, providence includes all the events that occur within the universe.

The Shorter Catechism further defines the works of providence. "God’s works of providence are, his most holy, wise, and powerful preserving and governing all his creatures, and all their actions." (WSC 11)  This over-arching statement reminds us that providence is the practical application of divine sovereignty.  Sovereignty refers to the quality of God as ruler over all things.  It includes His ability to control all things as well.  By His sovereign decrees, He has declared all that will take place in His creation throughout time.  Nothing has occurred, is occurring, nor will occur but that which He has decreed from before time began.  This quality interfaces with God's eternal nature, so that being external to time (if we can use that phrase without spacial implications), He decrees all things that occur in time without subjecting Himself to time.  He is ruler over all time and space.

Providence, as the practical application of this truth, refers to God's direction of the course of events.  Whereas, we may posit a rather deistic view of God as the one who decrees and lets His decrees occur without His intervention, the Bible is filled with examples of the Lord's direct involvement with the events of history.  The very Bible itself demonstrates God's activity in the world as God speaks to and through the prophets and inspires the writing of scripture.

We must carefully understand how this providence works.  The Westminster confession explains that providence works in any number of ways. "Although, in relation to the foreknowledge and decree of God, the First Cause, all things come to pass immutably, and infallibly; yet, by the same providence, he ordereth them to fall out, according to the nature of second causes, either necessarily, freely, or contingently." (WCF 5.2)  As "First Cause,"  God decrees all things and the manner in which those things will occur, how His providence will effect these events.  They may occur by His direct intervention, but they also may follow natural orders of cause and effect.

The Confession uses the term of art, "second causes."  These operate in three ways: necessarily, freely, or contingently.  In the biblical references added to the confession, the necessary manner of second causes appears in the normal rotation and revolution of the earth. (Gen.8:22)  God has ordained this as a consequence of His promise to preserve the earth.

The free cause appears in Isaiah 10.  There, the Lord decrees that Assyria will work His judgment on Israel even though Assyria does not intend to do so, but rather simply seeks domination of many nations. (Isa.10:5-8)  Assyria does not see itself as an agent of the Lord.  The kingdom makes its decisions freely without consultation with the Lord's prophets.  Even so, they do what God intends and are used of Him to judge Israel.

Contingently, we see the decrees of God operating in the many examples of God "relenting".  (Exodus 32, II Kings 20)  In these examples God declares a future act.  Someone prays for God to do something else.  God grants the request.  The contingent decree is true.  It would have happened that way but for the human act, but the ultimate decree of God was for it to fall out as it did.

Finally, we must consider the next statement of the confession. "God, in his ordinary providence, maketh use of means, yet is free to work without, above, and against them, at his pleasure." (WCF 5.3)  All these things can be altered.  The examples included regarding without means refer to people surviving without bread.  Above means refer to the birth of Isaac by Sarah.  Against means, we may remember the halting of the sun for Joshua (Joshua 10) and its return for Hezekiah. (II Kings 20)

N.B.  The confession also deals with the relationship between providence and sin, which goes beyond the goal of this study, but special attention should be paid to the wording of Westminster Confession of Faith chapter 5 paragraphs 4-6.

By these reminders of what the Bible says, we see that providence includes a wider scope than merely what we would consider supernatural events.  God does not merely interact with His creation through burning bushes, mountains on fire, still, small voices, and miracles.  God's providence may appear in a multitude of small ways that seem merely coincidental or natural.  That does not mean that we ought attribute meaning or guidance to every event.  Rather, we ought remember that God's care of His creation never ceases.

With that care, we ought also remember the final point of the Confession's teaching on providence. "As the providence of God doth, in general, reach to all creatures; so, after a most special manner, it taketh care of his church, and disposeth all things to the good thereof." (WCF 5.7)  God has a general concern for the welfare of all His created order.  Jesus speak God clothing the grass. (Matt. 6:30)  In His address to the twelve before sending them on their mission work, Jesus encourages them with these words. "Are not two sparrows sold for a farthing? and one of them shall not fall on the ground without your Father. But the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear ye not therefore, ye are of more value than many sparrows."  Though the Father has a general care for all creation, Jesus reminds the disciples that the Father's care for them exceeds His care for the rest of His creation.

This particular providence for the people of God is seen throughout scripture.  The Confession refers to a few. (Amos 9:8-9; Isaiah 43:3-5,14)  Of particular note for us, we look to the concluding words of Romans 8.  As Paul concludes that great chapter on the benefits we have in Christ, He begins thinking about the particular blessings of the redeemed with these words. "And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose." (Romans 8:28)  Providence works good for those the Lord has called to Himself.  God is for us, as Paul also writes. "What shall we then say to these things? If God be for us, who can be against us? He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him also freely give us all things?" (Romans 8:31-32)  As God is for His people, He will give them "all things."  This refers primarily to all things necessary for salvation, but secondarily, it includes all thing to bring about their good.  Paul goes on to remind the church that nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ.  Thus, providence brings to God's people good out of God's love for them.

My father had an expression for this reality that he would regularly use with his children, "providence works."  I used to have a hard time understanding what he meant, but I eventually got it.  He meant that instead of overanalyzing or seeking for signs, we should take steps by faith using good reason understanding that providence guides us well and believe that God will bring good to us.  God directs us even when we cannot see nor understand why things happen to us.  This reminder proved a good corrective to the "finding God's will" self-help material that floats around Christendom.  Instead of worrying about the big questions, if an opportunity appears, we may assume that God put it there, absent conflicting data.  Instead of wondering, does God want me to do X?  If there is no sin in X, the question should be, has God given me the desire to do X?  Do I want to do X?  Satan (FT: and the flesh and the world) want to make us trust our unsanctified judgment to sin, but distrust our sanctified judgment to follow Christ.  This is not to say that we merely invert our natural feelings, but it does instruct us how to use our minds and desires.

The Lord has a work for us to do and will providentially guide us to and in that work.  We often get trapped in our own minds overanalyzing choices.  Then again, some don't think and boldly go where angels fear to tread.  God call us to understand providence in our decisions not despite our decisions or locking our decisions.  We ought not look for windows or open doors.  I am speaking out of my own experience, but God has graciously given me two vocations.  In each, I was doings what I enjoyed and what He had gifted me to do.  That providence guided me to where I am and continues to guide me.

Providence reminds us that life doesn't depend on our choices alone.  Yes, we make choices and some bad ones.  We must learn from those bad decisions for their consequences are God's lesson of good for us.  Learning from them is why God decreed them to be.  Even in the face of disastrous decisions, we have not ruined our lives.  We have not made ourselves irredeemable.  We have not left ourselves without value to God, His church, or His kingdom.  We still have gifts and a calling to fulfill.  It may not look like what it was before our disastrous choice, but God never casts aside members of His body.

We often think choices are disastrous because we end up in a position we never envisioned.  This reveals that our conception of our ministry or life must be held loosely.  God alone knows the course our life and ministry will take.  It can change suddenly even without our intervention.  I did not make any choice and my present ministry looks almost nothing like the one I had before.  God changed it for His glory.

How we interpret providence matters.  We must remember that providence may look rather ordinary.  We ought not expect spectacular signs.  We must use ordinary events and our minds and hearts, filtered through God's word, to make decisions.  As we habitually feed our minds and hearts with God's word, as we train our minds and hearts to think and feel biblically, we may rely upon our sanctified logic to follow providence, and thus live Christian in an unchristian world.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

For Freedom

Holidays often commemorate the work of longer periods of time.  In the USA, we call July 4, "Independence Day."  On that day in 1776, the final vote was taken ratifying the text of the Declaration of Independence, a document whose drafting began nearly a month earlier.  In fact, the motion for independence was originally made on June 7 and passed July 2. Nevertheless, the text of the document is of such importance that we continue to celebrate the nation's independence on the day when the text was ratified by the Continental Congress, even if very few citizens have read its text or traced its arguments.

The United States faces a true problem of people importing their preconceptions about freedom to the provision of freedom from the founders and the system of government they established.  This brings confusion to the question of the purpose of government.  Is it then any wonder that the freedom that scripture describes also faces the same problems?  We understand that Christ has set us free, but we rarely ask from what or for what.  Just like many don't read or understand the Declaration of Independence, we haven't read the Scriptural equivalent, the Bible's declaration of freedom.  Let's change that.
"For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery." (Galatians 5:1 ESV)
Paul's letter to the churches of Galatia describes the freedom accomplished by Christ for the church against the legalism of the Judaizers, those who preached that Christians needed to be circumcized and obey other Mosaic laws.  Having proclaimed the superiority of Jesus Christ to the types and shadows of the Old Testament, Paul urges the church to live in the freedom the gospel gives to those who receive Christ.  His point is not that we are freed from all obligations to God, but that we are freed from the imperfect foreshadowings which were being advocated because of a false idea that they were necessary to make one right with God.  The slavery to that idea offended Paul to such an extent that he would wish for those who taught this idea to "cut themselves off."  Instead, Paul wanted the church to remember the reality of freedom that we enjoy in Christ.

What freedom does Paul have in mind?  In Galatians, Paul uses bondage to refer to the mindset that makes salvation dependent upon man's works, particularly the work of circumcision, but encompassing all the outward Old Testament rituals.  In Romans, the slavery of this bondage comes into focus.  The futility and pain of this mindset comes from the reality of sin working against our vain effort to make ourselves right with God. (Ro.6:6)  In truth, we are slaves to sin, unable to do anything other than sin.

Paul uses the image of a slave in its worst, secular, unbiblical view.  Old Testament law gave the slave a way of escape.  No slave in Israel should have lived without hope of redemption or release.  The laws of manumission provided that someone could pay to release a slave or that during the year of jubilee, all Israelites would go back to the land given to their families.  Instead, Paul uses what we could equate with the situation of the Israelites in slavery in Egypt.  We remember that the Israelites were prisoners in Egypt, slaves bound to serve without hope of redemption, release, or escape.  For the rest of their lives, the people of Israel in Egypt could look forward to nothing other than bitter service and death.

This is the image Paul intends for us to see when he speaks about the former bondage of the Christian.  The image of a slave is appropriate here because it expresses our inability before coming to Christ.  As a slave is bound to his master and cannot escape or work his way out of his condition, so were we once.  What we needed is what Israel in Egypt needed, an exodus.

The story of the exodus plays a much bigger role in the Bible that most Christians credit it.  In one sense, it shows the power and determination of God to keep His promises to His people.  In another, it show the Lord's superiority over the idols of Egypt, especially in answer to Pharaoh's question, "Who is the Lord?"  For our present study, we see how the exodus stood for the rescue of God's people from physical bondage, promising and pointing forward to the greater exodus where God would free His people from their slavery to sin.  In this light, the final plague, the death of the firstborn, the passover, the blood on the house that caused the angel of death to pass over the house, and the sacrificial lamb take on special significance to Christ.  He was the Son slain.  His blood causes the wrath of God to pass over us.  He inaugurated the Lord's Supper at the feast of Passover.  He was the sacrificial lamb that accomplished our exodus from sin.  This exodus gives us a present experience of freedom.

One excellent description of this freedom appears in the Westminster Confession of Faith.  The twentieth chapter describes "Christian Liberty and Liberty of Conscience."  The first paragraph sets the foundation of our liberty.
The liberty which Christ hath purchased for believers under the gospel, consists in their freedom from the guilt of sin, the condemning wrath of God, the curse of the moral law; and in their being delivered from this present evil world, bondage to Satan, and dominion of sin, from the evil of afflictions, the sting of death, the victory of the grave, and everlasting damnation; as also in their free access to God, and their yielding obedience unto him, not out of slavish fear, but a child-like love, and willing mind. All which were common also to believers under the law; but under the new testament, the liberty of Christians is farther enlarged in their freedom from the yoke of the ceremonial law, to which the Jewish Church was subjected, and in greater boldness of access to the throne of grace, and in fuller communications of the free Spirit of God, than believers under the law did ordinarily partake of.  (WCF 20.1)
Here the Westminster Assembly describes the reality of the covenant of grace reflecting the freedom purchased by Christ and the difference between the old and new administrations of that one covenant.  This description explains why Paul is so adamant about the danger of returning to the rituals of the old administration.  Because of the appearance of Christ, all the old rituals had become obsolete and obeying them from conscience constituted bondage to sin.

This freedom has many aspects.  Its primary focus is the spiritual freedom we have, our freedom from sin and ability to serve God.  Before the Holy Spirit regenerated us, we were bound to sin.  In Christ, He has set us free from the power of sin.  Whereas we could do nothing but sin, now we can choose to obey rather than sin.  Yet one more step remains for our freedom.  When Jesus returns to earth, He will perfect our freedom by freeing us from the presence of sin.  Then we will be unable to sin any longer.  We often overlook this concept in our vision of heaven.  The pearly gates and streets of gold often overwhelm our senses.  We remember the lack of sorrow, toil, and pain.  We long for the freedom from physical and mental limitations of sin in this life.  These truths distract us from the spiritual reality that ought mean more to us.  Freedom from sin ought to thrill our soul as much as if not more than freedom from physical impairment.

However, the spiritual freedom also spills over into the way we think.  Before Christ, our minds were darkened by sin. (Ro. 1:21-22)  We could not think accurately.  We we deceived by sin and blinded to the truth of the world in which we live.  We were enslaved by the lies of sin. The connection between the spiritual freedom and our mental ability appears in another of Paul's letter.  "But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned." (I Cor.2:14)  Spiritual freedom gives us the ability to understand reality truly.  Sin blinds us to reality because within it shines the reality of God.  Satan would prefer that we not see that reality.  In Christ, we can see reality, how all that exists points to the Lord.

The extent of our freedom also appears in the Confession.
God alone is Lord of the conscience, and hath left it free from the doctrines and commandments of men which are in any thing contrary to his word, or beside it, in matters of faith or worship. So that to believe such doctrines, or to obey such commandments out of conscience, is to betray true liberty of conscience; and the requiring of an implicit faith, and an absolute and blind obedience, is to destroy liberty of conscience, and reason also. (WCF 20.2)
This section reminds us that part of the freedom Christ won for us includes freedom from anyone who would attempt to define good and evil for us.  God alone does this.  As Paul saw the return of the churches in Galatia to the Old Testament observances, especially requiring circumcision, as sin, so every violation of conscience is sin.  Only the Lord ought be obeyed as a matter of conscience.  When we obey the doctrines of men out of conscience, we make those men idols.  We obey men only as unto Christ.  We obey them only as they reflect the order and law of God.  We obey those God commands us to obey and only so far as their commands do not transgress our obligation to God required of us in the Bible.

Why did God grant us this freedom in Christ?  Again, the Confession helps us.
They who, upon pretense of Christian liberty, do practice any sin, or cherish any lust, do thereby destroy the end of Christian liberty; which is, that, being delivered out of the hands of our enemies, we might serve the Lord without fear, in holiness and righteousness before him, all the days of our life. (WCF 20.3)
This section echoes what Paul says in Romans 6.  "What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound?  God forbid. How shall we, that are dead to sin, live any longer therein?"  Paul and the Confession challenge us to think differently about freedom.  The unchristian world defines "freedom" as the absence of restraint.  The Bible defines "freedom" differently.  Thomas Boston described the fourfold state of man.  Before the fall, man was able to sin, but not required to sin.  After the fall, man could not help but sin.  He was enslaved to sin.  In Christ, we are able not to sin, that bondage has ceased.  However, our freedom even now is not fully perfected.  We look forward to glory where we will enjoy the totality of our freedom.  That freedom, Boston describes accurately as the inability to sin.

Christian liberty is the liberty from sin, not the liberty to sin.  This demands our humble submission of mind to the truth of scripture concerning sin.  It also challenges our presentation of righteousness to the world.  Righteousness is not bondage to the law, but freedom from sin.  When we call people to obedience or point out their lack of obedience, we are calling them to live in the freedom that we have in Christ.  We confront the temptation to see correction as a negative act, and in some ways it is.  However, the glorious reality of freedom reminds us that the pursuit of righteousness is the pursuit of liberty.  Correction then positively encourages people not to remain in bondage but to participate in the liberty of Christ.

If we would live Christian in an unchristian world, we must think biblically about freedom.  This requires us to think opposite of the mindset of the world.  We must advance the call to holiness as a positive thing, not only primarily as obedience and duty to God, but also as participating in the freedom purchased for us at the cost of the blood of Christ.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

An Everlasting Kingdom

Westminster Shorter Catechism #26
Q. How doth Christ execute the office of a king?
A. Christ executeth the office of a king, in subduing us to himself, in ruling and defending us, and in restraining and conquering all his and our enemies.

The terminology of the kingdom of God does not appear at the beginning of the Bible.  While God gives man the dominion over the creatures at creation, the kingship language does not appear for quite a while.  The process of gradual revelation of the plan of redemption requires this to a point.  We begin with a family, that turns into a nation, a nation overseen by God, and Moses.  From this origin the Bible begins creating an identity of the king.

The King Promised

The promise and laws for the king actually appears in the words of Moses.  The Lord anticipated the need of the nation to have a king, but ordered the regency in submission to His law.

When thou art come unto the land which the LORD thy God giveth thee, and shalt possess it, and shalt dwell therein, and shalt say, I will set a king over me, like as all the nations that are about me; thou shalt in any wise set him king over thee, whom the LORD thy God shall choose: one from among thy brethren shalt thou set king over thee: thou mayest not set a stranger over thee, which is not thy brother.  But he shall not multiply horses to himself, nor cause the people to return to Egypt, to the end that he should multiply horses: forasmuch as the LORD hath said unto you, Ye shall henceforth return no more that way. Neither shall he multiply wives to himself, that his heart turn not away: neither shall he greatly multiply to himself silver and gold. And it shall be, when he sitteth upon the throne of his kingdom, that he shall write him a copy of this law in a book out of that which is before the priests the Levites: and it shall be with him, and he shall read therein all the days of his life: that he may learn to fear the LORD his God, to keep all the words of this law and these statutes, to do them: that his heart be not lifted up above his brethren, and that he turn not aside from the commandment, to the right hand, or to the left: to the end that he may prolong his days in his kingdom, he, and his children, in the midst of Israel.     Deuteronomy 17:14-20

The surrounding nations become the impetus for the desire of the king.  The king represents not foreign power, but the desire for a divine representative to the people of God's care for them.  The king must be a member of Israel.  The king must not rely upon military might (horses) to protect the people.  The king must not take the nation back to Egypt, the place of bondage.  To do so would indicate a rejection of the grace of God who rescued them from Egypt.  Even in the early days of the nation, the Lord foresaw the dangers of multiplying wives.  Even then a king multiplied wives to form alliances between countries, a practice that persisted to the early modern age.

The majority of the law of the king involved his relationship to the law of God.  This law was to be the king's constant companion.  First of all to remind him that as powerful as he was, the Lord gave him the office and could remove Him.  The king ruled under God.  Second, the law reminded the king of his position as one of, not greater than, the rest of Israel.  The king served for the benefit of the nation, not the nation for the king.  Finally, the king read the law daily to keep him obedient to God, not merely the law of the king, but all the law of Israel.

The King Needed

This promise and law of the king lay dormant for a long time in Israel's history.  From the day Moses spoke it at the end of His life to the close of the life of Samuel, the promise of the king remained unfulfilled.  One of the oddest books in the Old Testament appears during this period.  The book of Judges was included in the Old Testament to express this simple message.  Israel needed a king.  The book begins in the aftermath of Joshua.  In chapter 2, the so-called "Judges cycle" appears in descriptive terms. (Judges 2:6-23)  During the life of Joshua, the people obeyed the Lord.  After the death of Joshua, they went after other gods.  The Lord responds by "selling" them into the hands of their enemies.  Israel would then cry out for deliverance.  The Lord would raise up a judge to deliver the people.  While the judge lived, the people would obey.  Once the judge died, they returned to idolatry, and the cycle began again.

Toward the end of the book at its most putrid, this refrain appears.  "In those days there was no king in Israel, but every man did that which was right in his own eyes." (Judges 17:6)  The lack of the king also appears in 18:1 and 19:1.  The last verse of Judges copies 17:6.  The problem with the judges was the lack of dynasty.  There was no ruler to keep the nation on track once the judge died.  The book anticipates the coming king and notes why the nation thinks he is needed.  This crisis appears at the end of the last judge's life.  Samuel is aging and his sons are not spiritually qualified to succeed him.  This impels the elders of Israel to demand a king, thinking that his dynasty will do what the judges had not, bring stable consecutive government to the nation.

The People's King

Little did they understand. Notice their demand for a king. "Nevertheless the people refused to obey the voice of Samuel; and they said, Nay; but we will have a king over us; that we also may be like all the nations; and that our king may judge us, and go out before us, and fight our battles." (I Samuel 8:19-20)  In their previous demand, they had echoed the promise of Moses.  Now, in their rejection of Samuel's God-given warnings, they reveal what is at the heart of their demand.  Instead of the nations being the impetus for the king, the nations become the example for the nation.  Instead of seeing the advantage of the king, they want to be like the pagan nations.  The heart of the judges has not left the people.  Also, notice the other problem.  They want the king to fight for them.  Instead of seeing their military failure as evidence of their spiritual failure, they blame their failure on lack of leadership.  The need a standing military with a leader, at least in their mind.  Instead of trusting God with their protection, they want a human warrior.

God gives them what they want.  He gives them Saul.  He was the biggest, strongest, and most equipped person in Israel.  He was the warrior that the people wanted.  But he shared their failings.  His heart was far from God.  He took upon himself the work of the priest, which he was forbidden to do, not being a levite.  He failed to obey God in eradicating the Amalekites.  Following this failure, the dynasty of Israel's first king was over.

The Lord's King

We know the rest of the story.  The Lord sends Samuel to anoint a king "after His own heart." (I Samuel 13:14)  This king comes from the sheep, a lad who plays the harp to soothe the spirit of the king.  He cannot match Saul for might, height, or equipment, but he trusts the Lord and represents what Israel ought to be: failing but faithful.

The great test between the two kings appears in the valley of Elah.  Goliath in some way represents what Israel wanted as king, a big warrior.  Their big warrior, Saul, wimps out.  The biggest, strongest, and best equipped Israelite offers gifts to anyone who will take on the Philistine champion.  Instead of the people's king, it is the Lord's king that walks into the valley, without sword, without armor, a little man, with a stick and stones.  This lad has nothing but one truth. "And all this assembly shall know that the LORD saveth not with sword and spear: for the battle is the LORD’S, and he will give you into our hands." (I Samuel 17:47)  The Lord's king wins because the battle is the Lord's.  David walks into the valley representing the true victor over Goliath.

The Dynasty Promised

David's winning streak continues with only a few bumps along with quick repentance.  After the Lord makes him king, David sees a troubling contrast.  "[T]he king said unto Nathan the prophet, See now, I dwell in an house of cedar, but the ark of God dwelleth within curtains." (II Samuel 7:2)  The desire to build a temple for God opens a dialogue where the Lord makes an important promise for the unfolding of the plan of redemption.  "Also the LORD telleth thee that he will make thee an house. And when thy days be fulfilled, and thou shalt sleep with thy fathers, I will set up thy seed after thee, which shall proceed out of thy bowels, and I will establish his kingdom." (II Samuel 7:11b-12)  Instead of David building a house for God, the Lord would build a house for David, a dynasty that would last forever.


The rest of the story doesn't exactly match our expectations.  Solomon, David's son does build the first temple, but also commits every sin forbidden the king.  He accumulates to himself both horses and wives.  The wives draw his heart away from God and leads to the split of the nation, civil war, and eventual exile.  The kings, the hope of the nation for consecutive stable government fail to accomplish their purpose.  The exile finally seems to cure Israel of its addiction to idols.  They return seeming to understand that their problem was never an outward one, but an inward problem.  Or so it seemed.

The Final King

In the ruin of David's immediate dynasty, Israel learned that the promise of an everlasting kingdom looked forward to a final king of the lineage of David.  Under the dominion of Rome, again, the attention of the nation focused outward.  Secure in their rejection of idols, they saw their problem as the pagan nation instead of their new idol, their own "righteousness."  Is it any wonder then that the officials in Israel rejected the final king when he arrived.

The gospel according to Matthew was written to prove that Jesus fulfilled the promises to David as the new and final king of Israel.  The rejection of the king appears in the gospel accounts as well.  The people so fixated on Roman paganism, could not see their own idolatry, even when the Lord sent the forerunner to remind them.  What was the message of John the Baptist?  "The voice of one crying in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.  John did baptize in the wilderness, and preach the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins." (Mark 1:3-4)  The parallel passage in Matthew as well reflects the mission of John.  He was the one preparing the way for the Messiah.  He preached that what the nation needed was repentance, a turning from their sins.  What sins?  Listen to what he tells the religious leaders.  "O generation of vipers, who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come?  Bring forth therefore fruits meet for repentance: and think not to say within yourselves, We have Abraham to our father: for I say unto you, that God is able of these stones to raise up children unto Abraham." (Matthew 3:7-9)  John points to their serpentine way, though outwardly obedient.  Their faith rests in their conception of themselves, their works, and their heritage.

The rejection of the people of their king appears in the trial of Jesus.  "[Pilate] saith unto the Jews, Behold your King!  But they cried out, Away with him, away with him, crucify him. Pilate saith unto them, Shall I crucify your King? The chief priests answered, We have no king but Caesar." (John 19:14-15)  An astonishing statement from a people historically violent against Roman culture and rule.  Pilate has politically and masterfully turned their pressure on him, "If thou let this man go, thou art not Caesar’s friend," (John 19:12) to an admission of submission.  Spiritually, this statement is a rejection of the Lord's final king.

The resurrection and ascension established the everlasting kingdom of Christ Jesus.  He rules and reigns even now from the throne in heaven.  He waits until the Father makes all His enemies His footstool.  The kingdom exists now and continues forever.

Over what does Christ reign?  Over all things.  There is not one atom of the created order over which God does not say, "Mine."  To Jesus as the second Adam, He has given the dominion.  As He gave it to Adam, wherein he failed, so He gives it to Jesus, who evermore obeys.  This dominion over all things some have separated from the rule over the church.  This division does not appear in Scripture.  As Adam had dominion over all things, so does our Lord.  There is a special regard for the place of the church in this dominion, but as shared rule and not separate rule.  The rule of Christ over the church is a rule over co-regents in training, younger siblings, spouses, not inferiors.

The Present Kingdom

What does this mean for our life as Christian in an unchristian world?  As regents in training, we occupy this earth as its rulers under Christ.  This gives us a new way of thinking about this world.  One pastor put it this way.  We are hosts of this earth rather than guests.  Think of the difference between being in your own house and being in the house of another.  In your own house, you are host and have certain rights and responsibilities.  In the house of another, you are a guest and nothing around you is yours.  This demands of us a new way of thinking.  We do not flagrantly act as owners of all.  The Bible gives no warrant for such arrogance.  Christ gives us in this life as He pleases for our regency in training.  We are to be content.  However, the kingdom reminds us that this world is for us to enjoy.

What about being Pilgrims and strangers?  This statement is true, for we find it in Scripture.  What does it mean?  Are we strangers to the creation made for man?  This cannot logically be true.  God made the world for man and therefor for His people.  What then are we alienated from?  We are strangers in the predominant world system that surrounds us.  This world, the world stained by sin, the world rejecting Christ, the society of unbelief, is not our home.  Earth is.  It constitutes part of the kingdom of God.

As a member of the kingdom, our citizenship is in that kingdom and not here.  We participate in this nation's government because it has given us the ability to.  We have a privilege that most Christians before us were denied.  The government listens to us, barely.  If we have this blessing, should we not use what God has ordained the government give to us?

Though we may participate in the earthly kingdom, we are not ultimately bound by them.  We are citizens of heaven and that law must reign over the law of man.  The heavenly law requires us to obey the earthly governor so long as we can without violating the moral law.  The moral law binds our conscience and our activities within the earthly government.

Finally, as citizens of the heavenly kingdom, we serve king Jesus in His work of kingdom expansion.  We are presently regents in training, await our full rule when Jesus returns.  Until then, we are to see our gifts and calling as advancing the kingdom.  Bringing order to this earth is kingdom work.  Whether that work is raising children, writing code, managing a business, teaching, manufacturing, repairing, or governing, what we do is for the kingdom of God and the glory of God first.  Our decisions about our occupation ought to be based on this reality.  We ask the question, what has God gifted and given me to do to glorify Him and advance the kingdom.  More on this later.

Living Christian in an unchristian world requires seeing ourselves as citizens of Christ's heavenly kingdom, awaiting until that kingdom becomes a reality upon earth when He returns.  Until we have that citizenship before our eyes, we will face the confusion of temptation to follow the unchristian world.  With this understanding firmly in mind, God grants us the vision to see clearly how to live in His kingdom, though treading within the fallen world.

Monday, June 12, 2017

The Law of God

I still remember one of the trick questions asked by Dr. Derek Thomas in seminary.  He asked, "What do we call the overemphasis on the law of God?"  The expected answer was "legalism."  Dr. Thomas then corrected our understanding.  You cannot overstate the importance of God's law since His law is a reflection of His own character.  To claim a possible overemphasis on the law of God is to claim that it is possible to overemphasize the importance of God Himself.  Instead, like God Himself, it is possible to misunderstand and misuse the law.

The goodness of the law appears throughout the Bible.  The key passage where the goodness of the law appears most is found in Psalm 119.  The longest chapter of the Bible also proclaims the greatness of the law of God and the word of God in every verse.  "And I will delight myself in thy commandments, which I have loved." (Psalm 119:47)  "The law of thy mouth is better unto me than thousands of gold and silver." (72)  "O how love I thy law! it is my meditation all the day." (97)

In Psalm 19, the greatness of the law appears as well. "The law of the LORD is perfect, converting the soul: the testimony of the LORD is sure, making wise the simple.  The statutes of the LORD are right, rejoicing the heart: the commandment of the LORD is pure, enlightening the eyes.  The fear of the LORD is clean, enduring for ever: the judgments of the LORD are true and righteous altogether.  More to be desired are they than gold, yea, than much fine gold: sweeter also than honey and the honeycomb.  Moreover by them is thy servant warned: and in keeping of them there is great reward." (Psalm 19:7-11)  We find here the great value that the psalmist sets on the law and its benefits.

The Types of God's Law

While the law in general is good and useful, the law is more complex than a simply monolithic idea.  Theologians divide the law into three types: civil, ceremonial, and moral.  Each has their own focus and use.  To begin with, the civil law dealt with the nation of Israel.  As we read in the Westminster Confession of Faith, "To them [Israel] also, as a body politic, he gave sundry judicial laws, which expired together with the State of that people; not obliging any other now, further than the general equity thereof may require." (WCF 19.4)  God gave Israel laws on how to conduct themselves as a nation, a legal code.  These expired on the dissolution of that nation, and only apply so far as the general equity would require.  For instance, the law required the home builder to erect a fence around the roof of the house. (Deuteronomy 22:8)  The reason for this was that they roofs of the houses of that day were flat and regularly had people upon them.  In order to prevent people falling off and hurting them, the law required the fence.  Modern building regulations for balconies would present a modern day analog where the general equity would apply.  However, for the most part, we rarely interact with the civil law.

The ceremonial law includes the feasts and sacrifices of the Old Testament.  Again, we find in the Confession of Faith, "God was pleased to give to the people of Israel, as a church under age, ceremonial laws, containing several typical ordinances, partly of worship, prefiguring Christ, his graces, actions, sufferings, and benefits; and partly, holding forth divers instructions of moral duties. All which ceremonial laws are now abrogated, under the new testament."(WCF 19.3)  The ceremonial law pointed forward to the person and work of Jesus.  After the ascension, Jesus had fulfilled all that those laws pointed toward.  Thus, the ceremonies of the New Testament are different but no less important.  Again, the Confession of Faith describes the ceremonies under the gospel as, "fewer in number, and administered with more simplicity, and less outward glory, yet, in them, it is held forth in more fullness, evidence, and spiritual efficacy, to all nations, both Jews and Gentiles." (WCF 7.6) The ceremonial law will play little part in this study.

The moral law concerns us most and general attracts our attention when we talk about the law of God.  The Confession of Faith defines it this way. It is, "a perfect rule of righteousness; and, as such, was delivered by God upon Mount Sinai, in ten commandments, and written in two tables: the first four commandments containing our duty towards God; and the other six, our duty to man." (WCF 19.2)  The moral law then it the definition of righteousness and appears in summation in the Ten Commandments.  It's regulations remain upon men for all time.  "The moral law doth forever bind all, as well justified persons as others, to the obedience thereof; and that, not only in regard of the matter contained in it, but also in respect of the authority of God the Creator, who gave it. Neither doth Christ, in the gospel, any way dissolve, but much strengthen this obligation." (WCF 19.5)  All the moral law still applies to us and functions as the manner in which we live Christian in an unchristian world.

The Three Uses of the Law

Theological distinction can be helpful even if capable of confusion.  I remember struggling to understand distinction between the types of law and uses of the law for the reason that some share the same name.  Since the Reformation, theologians have identified three uses of the moral law.  The first is often called the "civil use."  Therein lies the confusion.  It is not the civil law that finds a civil use, but the moral law that has a civil use.  Here, the Reformers reflected on how the law applies to society at large.  They concluded that it has a restraining effect on sin.  Unregenerate man is less likely to sin when the moral law is proclaimed.  A study done in 2008 showed that simply writing down the Ten Commandments reduced the incidence of cheating whether or not the student remembered the commandments or professed any belief in God. (Nina Mazar, On Amir, Dan Ariely (2008) The Dishonesty of Honest People: A Theory of Self-Concept Maintenance. Journal of Marketing Research: December 2008, Vol. 45, No. 6, pp. 633-644.)  Even the society being affects acknowledges the impact of the moral law.  One must then speculate regarding the consequences or connection between the crusade to remove the moral law from the public square and the increase of societal fraud.

The second use of the law appears in Paul's letter to the churches of Galatia.  "But before faith came, we were kept under the law, shut up unto the faith which should afterwards be revealed.  Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith.  But after that faith is come, we are no longer under a schoolmaster." (Galatians 3:23-25)  This is called the pedagogical use of the law.  This comes from the idea of the schoolmaster.  The word in Greek is "παιδαγωγὸς".  This word does not simply mean school teacher like we think.  It was a tutor slave responsible for the education of the child.  That is why it is leading us to Christ, the final teacher.  Here, the Bible speaks of the law as that which leads us to Jesus.  The Confession describes it this way. The law "[discovers] also the sinful pollutions of their nature, hearts, and lives; so as, examining themselves thereby, they may come to further conviction of, humiliation for, and hatred against sin, together with a clearer sight of the need they have of Christ, and the perfection of his obedience." (WCF 19.6)  The law shows us our sin and our need of Christ's righteousness.

The third use of the law comes from the theologian John Calvin.  Other reformed traditions do not see the importance of this use of the law.  We may observe the distinction in the use of the Ten Commandments in reformed worship.  In Lutheran liturgy, the reading of the law appears before the confession of sin and assurance of pardon.  Luther believed only in the second use of the law, showing us our sin, leading us to repentance and the righteousness of Christ.  Calvin put the reading of the law after the confession of sin and assurance of pardon, signaling that after pardon, the moral law still had a role to play in the life of the believer.  This also appears in the Westminster Confession. (WCF 19.6)  The third use of the moral law means that the law shows us how God's people live.  We have already spoken of this in the previous lesson.  As those who are part of the family of God, we live according to the character of our Father.  We have the privilege of living as Eden restored in us.

Why did Luther not appreciate this use of the law?  To Luther, grace trumped the law.  He placed the gospel of righteousness in Christ above any duty to the moral law.  Any renewal of duty he saw as legalism, not applying the truth of adoption.  The Westminster Confession discusses this battle between law and gospel.  "Neither are the forementioned uses of the law contrary to the grace of the gospel, but do sweetly comply with it; the Spirit of Christ subduing and enabling the will of man to do that freely, and cheerfully, which the will of God, revealed in the law, requireth to be done." (WCF 19.7)  This is why adoption is so important in our theology.  It allows the law and gospel to sweetly comply.  Our adoption under the gospel permits a proper view of the law in the life of the believer.  The law and gospel or grace never conflict.  Those who think they do fail to understand aright either law, gospel, or both.

The Principles in the Law

If the moral law applies to the Christian, then it must provide definite principles that we must apply to live Christian in an unchristian world.  As we consider the moral law summarized in the Ten Commandments, we remember that they can be separated into two tables corresponding to the two commandments of Jesus: loving God and loving neighbor.  The first table, consisting of the first four commandments deal with our duty toward God.  The last six deal with our duty to love our neighbor.  The direction of this study requires us to focus on the second table of the law.

The fifth commandment ("Honour thy father and thy mother" Exodus 20:12) means more than mere family relationships.  "The fifth commandment requireth the preserving the honor, and performing the duties, belonging to everyone in their several places and relations, as superiors, inferiors, or equals." (WSC 64)  The moral law requires the proper honor for superiors, the proper care of inferiors, and the proper respect for equals.  This principle will apply to many events that confront us in life.

The sixth commandment requires us to respect life. ("Thou shalt not kill." Exodus 20:13)  "The sixth commandment requireth all lawful endeavors to preserve our own life, and the life of others.  The sixth commandment forbiddeth the taking away of our own life, or the life of our neighbor unjustly, or whatsoever tendeth thereunto." (WSC 68-69)  This respect for life includes the preservation of life and the avoidance of anything that tends to limit, hinder, or reduce life.

The seventh commandment deals with our duty to be faithful in our relationships. ("Thou shalt not commit adultery." Exodus 20:14)  "The seventh commandment requireth the preservation of our own and our neighbor’s chastity, in heart, speech, and behavior." (WSC 71)  This faithfulness is not merely in body, but in every aspect of our lives.  It is not limited to marital commitments, but every relationship that requires fidelity.

The eighth commandment ("Thou shalt not steal."  Exodus 20:15)and tenth deal with our relationship to property.  ("Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s house, thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s wife, nor his manservant, nor his maidservant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor any thing that is thy neighbour’s." Exodus 20:17)  "The eighth commandment requireth the lawful procuring and furthering the wealth and outward estate of ourselves and others." (WSC 74)  We are not to hinder the property of other, but also are called to use proper means to increase our own estate.  "The tenth commandment requireth full contentment with our own condition, with a right and charitable frame of spirit toward our neighbor, and all that is his." (WSC 80)  We are to be content with our property and not indulge discontent or longing after the property owned by others.

The ninth commandment deals with truth. ("Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour." Exodus 20:16)  "The ninth commandment requireth the maintaining and promoting of truth between man and man, and of our own and our neighbor’s good name, especially in witness bearing." (WSC 77)  We are to pursue the truth, to tell the truth, and to honor reputation.  Justice places greater demands on truth in bearing witness.

If you noticed that many of the principles reflect principles we have already studied in the character of God, the reason appears easily.  The moral law reflects many of the characteristics of God, since the foundation of the law is to be holy as God is holy.  Bearing the name Christian means we are labeled with the name of the Savior.  We must then live according to the character of God.  This is what it means to live as a Christian.  Being human means we must do this in the midst of an unchristian world.

Sunday, May 14, 2017


I only ever did one adoption as an attorney, but I vividly remember preparing the parents before the hearing.  As they stood before the judge, I wanted them to get the right answer to one question, a question likely to throw them for a loop.  "Why do you want to adopt this child?"  In the heat of the moment, with a judge staring at you, any number of reasons can flood into the mind.  Which one is the right one?  Which answer is the judge looking for?  Often, people try to outthink the judge or give him the answer they think he is looking for.  As I prepared these parents, I asked them this question.  I cannot remember what they said.  I do remember the advice I was taught to give.  The answer every judge looks for.  You adopt out of love.

Adoption plays an important role in the biblical story of redemption.  From the first family, the Lord promises a split of people, as the seed of the woman would be at enmity with the serpent. (Genesis 3:15)  Abraham was set apart as the family of faith into whom many would be ingrafted.  Paul would speak of adoption as a part of the application of redemption in Galatians and Ephesians. "But when the fulness of the time was come, God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law, to redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons." (Galatians 4:4-5)  God sent His Son into the world that we might become His sons through adoption.  In Ephesians, Paul writes, "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ: according as he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love: having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself, according to the good pleasure of his will, to the praise of the glory of his grace, wherein he hath made us accepted in the beloved." (Ephesians 1:3-6)  We were chosen as His sons before the foundation of the world and adopted in the fullness of time.

Adoption denotes the changing of familial relationship.  Before adoption, we were part of one family and after part of another.  This means that before our conversion, we were part of the family of sin but God brought us into the family of God.  Part of our concept of identity, who we are has fundamentally changed in adoption.

This doctrine brings with it great joy.  Paul writes about adoption much in Romans 8.
"The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God: and if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified together." (Romans 8:16-17)
Paul describes adoption as that which makes us heirs of the riches that Christ possesses.  The glorified life promises great wealth and power, as great as that of the humanity of the Son.

Paul earlier spoke of adoption as that which encourages us to live different from the dead works of the world.
"Therefore, brethren, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live after the flesh.  For if ye live after the flesh, ye shall die: but if ye through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body, ye shall live.  For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God.  For ye have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear; but ye have received the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father."
(Romans 8:12-15)
Here, adoption is listed as the reason that we cannot live like we used to.

Reformed Christianity recently endured another controversy regarding the conflict between so-called "legalism" and "antinomianism."  This conflict did not initially appear in the present moment, but can trace its origin as far back as the early church.  Reformed theology added to the confusion as the discussion generally concerns the theological issues of justification and sanctification.  As it applies to our study, we will not address these two doctrines as separate studies, for their content appears elsewhere.  Justification appears in our discussion of the gospel.  Sanctification constitutes the totality of this series.  After all, the process of sanctification involves learning to live Christian in an unchristian world.

Returning to the battle regarding sanctification, the true issue is the confusion between justification, adoption, and sanctification.  These three doctrine form the core of our understanding of what benefits we receive from Christ our mediator.  To understand adoption, we must understand it in context of the other two.

To begin, we return to the Westminster standards, and specifically, the Shorter Catechism.  These simpler definitions will help us form the contextual picture.  According to the catechism, "Justification is an act of God’s free grace, wherein he pardoneth all our sins, and accepteth us as righteous in his sight, only for the righteousness of Christ imputed to us, and received by faith alone." (WSC 33)  Notice three elements we have already mentioned.  Justification is an act, a one time, never to be repeated, event.  It is forensic, having to do with the judgment of God regarding us, declaring us righteous.  It is based on imputation, Christ's righteousness imputed to us and our sin imputed to Him, by faith.

In contrast, the Catechism summarizes sanctification with the following definition.  "Sanctification is the work of God’s free grace, whereby we are renewed in the whole man after the image of God, and are enabled more and more to die unto sin, and live unto righteousness."  In contrast to justification, which is an act, sanctification is a work, a process, something that takes time to improve.  Whereas justification is the act of God alone, sanctification is based on the activity of God but also involves the work of man.  Finally, justification is a declaration of righteousness, but sanctification is the practical working of righteousness.

In the battles that rage, many who assert the necessity of the law focus on the absolute distinction between justification and sanctification.  Those who focus on the subordinate role of the law discuss the interrelationship between justification and sanctification.  What I am afraid both sides forget is the significance adoption plays in the interstices between justification and sanctification.  I assert that without adoption the law tends towards legalism and without adoption grace tends toward antinomianism.

What then is this critical doctrine? We return to the Shorter Catechism.  "Adoption is an act of God’s free grace, whereby we are received into the number, and have a right to all the privileges, of the sons of God."  Notice that like justification, adoption is also a once for all act of God alone.  This act makes us part of God's family with all rights and privileges appertaining thereto.  In summary, we could say that justification is the judicial part of redemption, sanctification is the practical pare of redemption, and adoption is the relational part of redemption.  Justification is an act that judicially makes us righteous.  Sanctification is a process that makes us more righteous.  Adoption is an act that makes us one of the family of the righteous.

Here is where adoption plays such a critical role in the controversy regarding sanctification.  If one eliminates it, you lose the context of the law and the motivation of grace.  The law was given to the people of God, not as the way to obtain God's favor, not as the means of retaining God's favor, but as instructions for life to those who eternally have God's favor.  God will not eject His own from His family.  We obey the law not out of fear of abandonment, but for joy of our acceptance.  The law is no heinous imposition to spoil our fun.  It is no set of hoops to jump through for a peaceful life.  It is the household code, defining the rules of God's family.

Think of the law this way.  Humanity was created in holiness, which we lost in the fall.  In Christ, we have been redeemed from the fall.  We have been promised the restoration of that pre-fall life.  The law describes the new life we have.  The law describes who we are as Eden restored.  How can we ignore the law?  How can we not love the law, seen in this light?  The law is our dearest friend as it describes what we have in Christ.

Adoption reminds us that living in an unchristian world requires an element of separation.  This world is not our home.  That is to say, that we are not a part of the family of fallen humanity anymore.  We are strangers to them, as we should be.  We cannot think that the rules of the world will fit with the law of God.  We will ever struggle with the different.  We will ever face the temptation to revert to our old family ways.  Adoption reminds us that we are not of this world and must live different.

Adoption also motivates us to this new life.  We don't have to seek the approval of the world.  We no longer have to march to their tune lest they reject us.  We are rejected of the world, yet eternally accepted in Christ.  We long to live authentically Christian, authentically human because we are new in Him.

Adoption gives us the freedom to live for others because we no longer have to live for ourselves.  Living Christian in an unchristian world demands a lack of self-centeredness.  As we have already seen, we are called upon to love our neighbor in the way the God' has loved us.  We can do this because adoption reminds us that the relationship we have with God never changes.  We ever will be His children.  In this assurance, we can spend our lives for others.  We can love others secure that we are loved by God.