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”Do not challenge sin to a duel with your own resolve. You are not strong enough or smart enough to win. God can give you more grace than you have sin, more humility than you have pride.” William Gurnell
This post was too good to pass up – it highlights the importance of creeds that you actually subscribe to – in other words you stay standing. (Episcopal Life – Feb 2008)
The Rev. Tom Woodward of Santa Fe, N.M., once devised a startling way to show a congregation its belief, unbelief, and the value of community. He calls it “an experience with the Nicene Creed.”
After explaining that they would be reading through the creed phrase by phrase, Woodward would give the charge: “When the phrase is something you understand on one level or another, and believe, stand up or remain standing. When the phrase is something that makes no sense to you, or is something you do not believe, sit down or remain sitting.”
The resulting dance, he said, appeared to be something akin “to a rebellious exercise class,” with folks popping up, sitting down and squirming to watch their neighbors as they stood and sat and stood again.
At the end, Woodward would ask what they had observed. “The answers were always the same: No one stood all the way through the creed, and no one stayed seated all the way through, and there was always someone standing for every phrase.”
Martin Downes over at Against Heresies points out another disturbing trend with “minimalist doctrines” (broad but minimal statements of faith) which he laments as the a-historicizing of Christianity:
Phil Johnson …referred to the short life-span of theological views held by the people in their twenties. Every eighteen months or so some people go through a revolution in their thinking, a paradigm shift that leaves behind one view and is off touting a new one…
Hence, some people change their theology more often than Madonna changed her image in her illustrious pop career. The point at issue is not of course the exact time frame involved but the short term exposure to, and grasp of, a particular view or church tradition.
Some think that if we would just use “minimalist doctrines” we’d avoid “creedal gymnastics”. True, but wouldn’t we be left with congregations that could remain standing but all to ready to hop to the next doctrine (heresy) that comes along? Maybe that would be the new definition of “Hip-Hop” in relation to doctrine – congregants ready to hop to the next doctrine every 18 months, in order to stay standing to their minimalist “creed”.
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In our study class on the Westminster Confession we discussed whether unbelief is a sin. I cannot recall the specifics – but the question was asked in regards to the Christian. I came across this sermon from Spurgeon on the “The Sin of Unbelief”, based on 2 Kings 7:19. This excerpt was originally preached on Jan. 14, 1855 at the New Park Street Chapel. Jump to the last paragraph and than read the whole thing for the Spurgeon’s compelling answer.
His sin was unbelief. He doubted the promise of God.
In this particular case unbelief took the form of a doubt of the divine reality, or a mistrust of God’s power. Either he doubted whether God really meant what he said, or whether it was within the range of possibility that God would fulfill his promise. Unbelief has more phases than the moon, and more colors than the chameleon. Common people, when speaking of the devil, say, that he is sometimes seen in one shape, and sometimes in another. I am sure this is true of Satan’s first-born child–unbelief, for it has a multitude of forms.
At one time I see unbelief dressed up as an angel of light. It calls itself humility, and it says, “I would not be presumptuous; I dare not believe that God would pardon me; I am too great a sinner.” We call that humility, and thank God that our friend is in such a good condition. I don’t thank God for any such delusion. It is the devil dressed as an angel of light; it is unbelief after all.
At other times we detect unbelief in the shape of a doubt of God’s immutability: “The Lord has loved me, but perhaps he will cast me away tomorrow. He helped me yesterday, and under the shadows of his wings I trust; but perhaps I will receive no help in the next affliction. He may have thrown me away; he may not remember his covenant, and forget to be gracious.”
Sometimes this infidelity is embodied in a doubt of God’s power. Every day we see new problems, we are involved in a net of difficulties, and we think “surely the Lord cannot deliver us.” We strive to get rid of our burden, and finding that we can’t do it, we think God’s arm is as short as ours, and his power as little as human might.
A fearful form of unbelief is that doubt which keeps men from coming to Christ; which leads the sinner to distrust the ability of Christ to save him, to doubt the willingness of Jesus to accept such a great transgressor. But the most hideous of all is the traitor, in its true colors, blaspheming God, and madly denying his existence. Infidelity, deism, and atheism, are the ripe fruits of this deadly tree; they are the most massive eruptions of the volcano of unbelief. Unbelief has become full mature, when removing the mask and laying aside the disguise, it profanely stalks the earth, uttering the rebellious cry, “There is no God,” striving in vain to shake the throne of the divinity, by lifting up its arm against Jehovah, and in its arrogance would,
“Snatch from his hand the balance and the rod,
Rejudge his justice–be the god of God.”
Then truly unbelief has come to its full perfection, and then you see what it really is, for the least unbelief is of the same nature as the greatest.
I am astonished, and I am sure you will be too, when I tell you that there are some strange people in the world who do not believe that unbelief is a sin. I must call them strange people, because they are sound in their faith in every other respect, but they imagine and they deny that unbelief is sinful.
I remember a young man joining a circle of friends and ministers, who were disputing whether it was a sin for men and women not to believe the gospel. While they were discussing it, he said, “Gentlemen am I in the presence of Christians? Are you believers in the Bible, or are you not?” They said, “Of course we are Christians.” “Then,” he said, “doesn’t the Scripture record Jesus as saying, ‘When the Holy Spirit comes, he will convict the world of guilt in regard to sin . . . . because men do not believe in me?’ And isn’t it the damning sin of sinners, that they do not believe on Christ?” I could not have thought that persons should be so fool-hardy as to venture to assert that, “it is not a sin for a sinner not to believe in Christ.” I thought that, however far they might wish to push their sentiments, they would not tell a lie to uphold the truth, and, in my opinion this is what such men are really doing. Truth is a strong tower and never requires to be reinforced with error. God’s Word will stand against all man’s schemes. I would never invent such an illogical argument to try to prove that it is not a sin on the part of the ungodly not to believe, for I am sure it is, for I am taught in the Scriptures that, “This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light,” and when I read, “whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son,” I affirm, and the Word declares it, unbelief is a sin. Surely with rational and unbiased persons, it cannot require any reasoning to prove it. Is it not a sin for a creature to doubt the word of its Maker? Is it not a crime and an insult to the Divinity, for me, an atom, a particle of dust, to dare to deny his words? Is it not the very summit of arrogance and extremity of pride for a son of Adam to say, even in his heart, “God I doubt your grace; God I doubt your love, God I doubt your power?” Oh! dear friends believe me, if you could roll all sins into one mass–if you could take murder, and blasphemy, and lust, adultery, and fornication, and everything that is vile and unite them all into one vast ball of filthy corruption, they would not, even then, equal the sin of unbelief. This is the king of all sins, the epitome of guilt; the mixture of the venom of all crimes; the dregs of the wine of Gomorrah; it is the number one sin, the masterpiece of Satan, the chief work of the devil.
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The saints prove their conversion by their perseverance, and that perseverance comes from a continual supply of divine grace to their souls. – Charles Spurgeon
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…but shall certainly persevere therein to the end, and be eternally saved. (WCF XVII (1)).
What does this mean? The Desiring God National Conference this year was on Stand (Persevere), a Call for the Endurance of the Saints. The theme used the word persevere interchangeably with the word endurance. The conference was about joyful living in Christ with a hopeful watching for the Kingdom and eternity perfected in Christ. Unfortunately, the twin theme of endurance and perseverance can connote a harsh and joyless gritting of teeth while counting time. These two themes are opposed to each other. The gospel is the former, but I often live in the later.
I was reading devotionally in Andrew Murray’s “Abide in Christ” as I prepare for Thursday’s study of The Westminster Confession, Chapter 17, Of the Perseverance of the Saints. For Andrew Murray – perseverance means abiding in Christ.
Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. Matthew 11:28-29
Andrew Murray points out that abiding in Christ, persevering to the end is “rest for your soul”. It is not enduring in a suffering sense – it is an abiding resting. Come to me, take my yoke, learn from me – and you will find rest for your souls.
As I enter the busy Christmas season (Bible Study preparation, Youth Group hosting, Women in the Church meetings, Fellowships, Small Group, Christmas Caroling, Baking, Decorating, Hosting, Neighborhood gatherings, Church dinners, Christmas Card sending, School Christmas events and of course Christmas shopping and wrapping) the usual goes on (websites maintained, meals served, phone calls and church work, family responsibilities and now a new house to work on) it all seems like enduring and persevering has become “grit my teeth, paste on a smile, and count the hours till it’s over”. And, oh yeah, pray for strength.
This is not a picture of me abiding and resting in Christ – who has bidden me to “Come – Learn – Rest” As Murray says:
What a blessed rest it is! The fruit, the foretaste, and the fellowship of God’s own rest are found by them who have come to Jesus to abide in Him. It is the peace of God, the great calm of the eternal world, that passes all understanding and that keeps the heart and mind. With this grace secured, we have strength for every duty, courage for every struggle, a blessing in every cross, and the joy of life eternal in death itself. (emphasis mine)
He closes with this prayer – my prayer and I hope your prayer as well:
O my Savior, if ever my heart should doubt or fear again, as if the blessing were too great to expect, or too high to attain let me hear your voice, which alone can create faith and obedience in me: “Abide in Me”; “Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me; you will find rest for your souls.” (Abiding in Christ, Andrew Murray; Bethany House, 2003, 1895 – p.17)
May I persevere therein to the end, and certainly, through the Christmas season with this grace secured!
We ended our discussion of Sanctification and Good Works today. The mystery to Gospel sanctification, mortification and vivification is the Gospel.
Puritan Thomas Brooks in The Unsearchable Riches of Christ wrote:
“Those spots which a Christian finds in his own heart can only be washed out in the blood of the Lamb.
‘Oh,’ says such a poor soul, ‘I pray—and yet I sin; I resolve against sin—and yet I sin; I combat against sin—and yet I am carried captive by sin; I have left no outward means unattempted—and yet after all, my sins are too hard for me; after all my sweating, striving, and weeping—I am carried down the stream.’
It is not our strong resolutions or purposes which will be able to overmaster these enemies.
There is nothing now but the actings of faith upon a crucified Christ, which will take off this burden from the soul of man. You must make use of your graces to draw virtue from Christ; now faith must touch the hem of Christ’s garment—or you will never be healed.” (HT: Of First Importance)
Praise God for the Gospel
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The Gospel is for Christians! We are saved by the Gospel and sanctified by the Gospel. But we live as if the Gospel was for saving and our own efforts are for living. Lewis points this out when he says, “The Christian doctrine that there is no ’salvation’ by works done to the moral law is a fact of daily experience. (emphasis mine)
Tim Keller mentions this essay by C.S. Lewis as being influential in his thinking and preaching. Read and rejoice – “Mercy will receive us“.
There are three kinds of people in the world. The first class is of those who live simply for their own sake and pleasure, regarding Man and Nature as so much raw material to be cut up into whatever shape may serve them. In the second class are those who acknowledge some other claim upon them – the will of God, the categorical imperative, or the good of society – and honestly try to pursue their own interests no further than this claim will allow. They try to surrender to the higher claim as much as it demands, like men paying a tax, but hope, like other taxpayers, that what is left over will be enough for them to live on. Their life is divided, like a soldier’s or a schoolboy’s life, into time “on parade” and “off parade”, “in school” and “out of school”. But the third class is of those who can say like St Paul that for them “to live is Christ”. These people have got rid of the tiresome business of adjusting the rival claims of Self and God by the simple expedient of rejecting the claims of Self altogether. The old egoistic will has been turned round, reconditioned, and made into a new thing. The will of Christ no longer limits theirs; it is theirs. All their time, in belonging to Him, belongs also to them, for they are His. And because there are three classes, any merely twofold division of the world into good and bad is disastrous. It overlooks the fact that the members of the second class (to which most of us belong) are always and necessarily unhappy. The tax which moral conscience levies on our desires does not in fact leave us enough to live on. As long as we are in this class we must either feel guilt because we have not paid the tax or penury because we have. The Christian doctrine that there is no “salvation” by works done to the moral law is a fact of daily experience. Back or on we must go. But there is no going on simply by our own efforts. If the new Self, the new Will, does not come at His own good pleasure to be born in us, we cannot produce Him synthetically. The price of Christ is something, in a way, much easier than moral effort – it is to want Him. It is true that the wanting itself would be beyond our power but for one fact. The world is so built that, to help us desert our own satisfactions, they desert us. War and trouble and finally old age take from us one by one all those things that the natural Self hoped for at its setting out. Begging is our only wisdom, and want in the end makes it easier for us to be beggars. Even on those terms the Mercy will receive us.
(Lewis, C. S. Present Concerns. Harvest Books, 2002. 21-22)
Are there two ways to live? God’s way and Man’s Way? Or are we living a third way?
When sanctification becomes my focus I know I often leave the Gospel behind and live the third way. What about you?
Update: See this post for excerpts from C.S. Lewis’ essay that Tim Keller references.
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