Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Is there a proper, Christian use of the memory of my (repented-of) sin?

I received this very important question from a dear brother, who often finds himself mulling over his past sin, grieving over how he cannot appreciate the infinite weightiness of it. As is often the case, it's a question whose answer would be useful to many, even though it is the first time I can remember having been asked. Here's the beginning of an answer:

I'd be delighted for this to be a face to face conversation, but am also glad to give enough synopsis to provide a little relief. 

There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit.Romans 8:1

Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead,  I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.
Php 3:13-14 (admittedly, contextually, talking especially about any 'good' in our past)

We certainly must never dwell upon repented-of sin in any self-condemning way! If God "forgets" our sins in that manner, and we decide that we will continue to remember them, not only do we harm one of His dear children, but we make ourselves out to be wiser or holier than God!! In the face of such texts, we need biblical warrant to dwell upon the past at all. And we do have it.

This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief. However, for this reason I obtained mercy, that in me first Jesus Christ might show all longsuffering, as a pattern to those who are going to believe on Him for everlasting life. Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, to God who alone is wise, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.
1Timothy 1:15-17

Here is an especially helpful passage, because it gives not only warrant for remembering the past but also a biblical aim for doing so. I often hear v15 quoted, but without highlighting its relationship to vv16-17! We may make a right use of the memory of the greatness of our sin: 

(a) as a trophy of Jesus' patience with us, in order to encourage us about how He might save others; i.e. not so that we would have woeful thoughts of ourselves, but that in the face of the infinite gravity of others' sin, we would be yet more impressed with the mercy of Christ and not consider anyone else hopeless, and certainly not look down upon anyone.

(b) to be driven to great eruptions of praise to God

After all, our lives are all about God's glory--and particularly that glory as displayed in Jesus.

This has been the Holy Spirit's great work in all of creation and redemption: literally to shine light upon the glory of Jesus as God's chosen display of His glory for all time and into eternity [Shameless plug for listening to the morning sermon from the 23rd if you haven't yet--one of the best sermons (I think) that the Lord has enabled me to preach upon the Holy Spirit]. Whatever is good in us is by and from the Holy Spirit. And so we can expect that all "good" remembering of our sin will have this as its aim: shining light upon the glory of God in Jesus Christ.

Now, taking that doctrine into the realm of more directly answering the question of "how much" or "how heavily" we should remember our past sin: just as much as is conducive to and actually producing of overflowing effusions of praise of the glory of the grace of Christ!

The force that must be applied by these memories is not a weight that makes our heads to hang, but an upward pull that lifts our faces in praise.

Personally, without the aid of sins already committed, I continually produce enough new sin to end up confessing it, rejoicing in God's redeeming me in Christ, and praising His ongoing mercy and patience. 

So, the only reason I would make intentional reference to my former sin would be when working on humility toward an unbeliever who appears particularly hard, or working on encouragement about the possibility of his salvation, or working on gratitude and praise to God for His entire redeeming work from election to atonement to justification to sanctification and glorification.

And however unintentional memories of former sins arise in my mind--whether by the Holy Spirit or an angel or an accusing devil/demon or Satan himself--I seek (though imperfectly so) to employ that memory unto such biblical ends as above.

Not having made recent study of this, I would guess that there are other texts that present us with other biblical uses for remembering repented-of sin. But we can continue that conversation face to face. 2Jn v12.

Grace and peace,

Monday, September 24, 2018

Why Christian Women Did NOT Want To Vote

It's pretty amazing to think that even the title to this little post may be seen by some as provocative or controversial.

1903 may not be that long ago chronologically, but it seems like light-years, culturally.

Check out this article (it's not too long): https://www.theatlantic.com/amp/article/306616/

Just 115 years ago, as appeared in an article in The Atlantic, the women of Massachusetts overwhelmingly rejected the "right" to vote, because they were too busy doing the more important work of training up the future of the state, the church, businesses, and the army.

They had not yet been bullied and belittled into viewing the most important task in our nation as something insignificant and better left to state-industrial child-farms. They saw the family, the household, as the fundamental unit of every important institution in society. Such thinking is more biblically sound than much of the church in 2018.

Today, The Atlantic and Massachusetts are almost synonymous with a form of progressivism so obscene that it would make their great-grandparents' hair rise on the backs of their necks.

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Worship Wednesday

"Worldly recreations on the Sabbath are no more appropriate than if a groom paused in the middle of his wedding ceremony to check the scores of a football game. Recreation would be a perfectly appropriate pleasure on a day of rest from labor, but an entirely inappropriate one on a day devoted to taking pleasure in worship."

Location 930 of The Day of Worship by Ryan McGraw

Sunday, September 16, 2018

Do you know the gift of God?

(John 4:10) Jesus answered and said to her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is who says to you, ‘Give Me a drink,’ you would have asked Him, and He would have given you living water.”

Most of those who care to read anything that I write can easily answer both questions--even without looking down to v14. There, Jesus makes clear that the "gift of God" is eternal life. And, He does so while repeating twice that He Himself is the One who gives this gift--that God Himself is the One who has come as a man and is speaking to the woman at the well.

What we might miss is the way that Jesus seems to be using the word "know" here. It is not merely mental assent, but a conviction that evokes a response.

If we are not actively looking to Him for our eternal life, that's a pretty good indication that we don't "know" as we ought to. Knowledge of Christ is not a mere theological calculus. It is a recognition that produces a response.

Saturday, September 15, 2018

Getting Back to the Apostolic Church

It is always moving, and sometimes deeply frustrating, to hear or see someone talking about "getting back to the apostolic church."

But not so much because we've somehow lost our way for a couple thousand years. Rather, I am moved and sometimes frustrated by the fact that there are such apostolic churches right around most corners in the U.S.--and even, as I am increasingly learning, in many places around the world where the gospel is only recently penetrating.

Where are they? Reformed, Presbyterian churches. That was the entire point of the Reformation--back to the Bible. But here we are in a biblically illiterate age, in which it is assumed that all expressions of the church are equally man-made, and therefore this idea of "the apostolic" church is floated as something without creed, confession, or organization. 

Really, I cannot think of a more efficient way of ensuring that you will have nothing but a man-made expression of the church than to leave it up to every man to make his own expression.

The most recent reminder of this for me was in response to a Presbyterian social media meme which humorously pointed out the great danger in being without formal church membership, being without creeds and confessions, and being without church discipline.

Image may contain: 1 person, text, outdoor and water

Predictably, one commentator complained, "I don't think the disciples had any of this."

If we knew our Bibles better, such rubbish would be rather easily dismissed as the ravings of unbelievers. But I actually hear this kind of reasoning from Reformed church officers

Alas! Alas! God grant us a rediscovery of His Word as in the days of Josiah, where we realize that we need not make it up as we go along and, mourning over our past confusion and rebellion, eagerly put into place all that His Word calls for in His church.

So, is it true that the disciples had no formal church membership, no creeds or confessions, and no church discipline?

2Tim 1:13 refers to some kind of confession or catechism that Paul had given Timothy. Remarkable that, as far as we know, it doesn't appear in Scripture--just reinforces that uninspired arrangements of doctrine are a biblical response to Scriptural teaching.

Luke 1:4 ... Theophilus's instruction is literally referred to as catechizing

And of course they definitely had formal church membership and church discipline, otherwise what's with keeping a record of their number (Ac 2-4, etc), and how could someone be put out of the church if there was not a formal identification of who is in the church (1Cor 5-6, etc), and with all of the duties of believers to "one another" and of elders to their flock and the flock to their elders (Eph 4, 1Cor 12, Heb 13, 1Pet 5, all the pastoral epistles, etc), it would be impossible to know whether you are doing that without some formal recognition of who is a member and who is an elder. From whom could delegates to the Acts 15 assembly be selected? Etc. etc.

The canard of an unorganized apostolic hippie community is a figment of the imagination of an anti-authority age.

"Let's get back to the apostolic church" is just contemporary speak for "let me be rid of submission and commitment." But look at how Christ talks about being a disciple. It's all about submission and commitment. So, not at all surprising that there is plain evidence of all of these things in the New Testament.

Authority and orderliness have been instituted by Christ, through the Holy Spirit, since the very beginning.

Want to "get back to the apostolic church"? If you live in America, that's not difficult to do. Join a NAPARC (or similar) church.

If these thoughts are new to you, or you find yourself unconvinced, you may wish to read Witherow's Apostolic Church.

Friday, September 14, 2018

Walking by Faith, Not by Sight - Pastoral Letter from the 9/14/18 Hopewell Herald

Dear Congregation,

Reflecting on last Lord’s Day morning’s sermon has been a cause of much frustration for me. I know that the eternal God, the Creator, holds Himself out unto me repeatedly as Jesus Christ, the God-man, who humbled Himself and suffered much and literally bore Hell for my sake.

So why am I frustrated? Because my wonder and adoration at the greatness of His being, and my thankfulness and love for what He’s done for me, are so pathetically small. As I think back over the week, there have been so many times where I was quite forgetful of Him—even while laboring in this holy calling!

I know that He is worthy of so much more, and I grope at affections and responses that correspond. It is tempting to me to take a shortcut—figure out what kind of things bypass my ungrateful heart and stir me up into a froth of emotions and irrational, unrealistic vows to do works that feel more impressive than ordinary faithfulness and obedience in the daily callings of my life.

But, as I prepare for the Lord’s Day, I am reminded of something else that the Holy Spirit presented to us in those New Testament passages about the eternal plan of God that He put into motion in the creation: He is going to finish the work He has begun.

He didn’t predestine us merely to forgiveness, but wholly unto perfect glory—that we would be conformed to the image of His Son, and that unto the praise of the glory of His grace.

So what shall we do? Keep the Lord’s Day, which He uses to make us to delight in Him (Isaiah 58:13-14), reading and hearing preached His Word which sanctifies us and equips us and makes us wise for salvation (John 17:17, 2Timothy 3:14-17), singing by which we are filled with His Spirit and His Word dwells richly in us (Ephesians 5:15-21, Colossians 3:14-16), and celebrating that Supper by which we have fellowship in Jesus’ own body and blood (1Corinthians 10:15-18).

You see—Christianity really is about going to church and participating well in worship. But not at all because that’s some kind of work by which we earn anything or show what good Christians we are. Rather, it is because Jesus Himself is all our hope and all our need, and these are His appointed means by which He does His work, as He keeps all His promises and carries out all His plans.

Let’s walk by faith, not by sight. Rather than do what makes us “feel” like it’s working for a few moments, let us come to Him and trust His Word that He is doing a work that will be perfect forever and ever.

Looking forward to worship with you!