I Hate My Sin!

The Godly Man's Picture: Some Characteristic Marks of a Man Who is going to Heaven (Puritan Paperbacks) A true Christian not only recognizes his own sin and openly confesses it to God, but also mourns over his sin because it is offensive to God and his law.  While we shouldn’t judge a person’s repentance by the amount of tears he sheds, we can safely say that a true Christian will feel godly sorrow in his heart because of his sin (i.e. Ps. 51, Mark 14:72, 2 Cor. 7:10, etc.).  Thomas Watson, in The Godly Man’s Picture, said that a godly person is an “evangelical weeper.”  What does this mean?  Why does a godly person weep?  Watson gave six reasons (summarized here):

1) He weeps for indwelling sin, the law in his members (Rom. 7:23).  A regenerate person grieves that he carries that about him which is enmity to God; his heart is like a wide sea in which there are innumerable creeping things – vain, sinful thoughts.  A child of God laments hidden wickedness; he has more evil in him than he knows of.

2) A godly man weeps for clinging corruption.  If he could get rid of sin, there would be some comfort, but he cannot shake of this viper.  Though a child of God forsakes his sin, yet sin will not forsake him.  …Sin wars against the soul (1 Pet. 2:11), and there is no cessation of this war until death.  Will not this cause tears?

3) A child of God weeps that he is sometimes overcome by the prevalence of corruption (Rom. 7:19).  When David sinned, he steeped his soul in the tears of repentance.  It cannot but grieve a regenerate person to think that he should be so foolish, even after he has felt the smart of sin, to put this fire in his bosom again.

4) A godly heart grieves that he can isn’t holier.  It troubles him that he falls short of the rule and standard God has set.  ‘I should love the Lord with my whole heart, but how defective my love is!  How short have I fallen!’

5) A godly man sometimes weeps out of the sense of God’s love.  Gracious hearts, which are golden hearts, are the soonest melted into tears by the fire of God’s love.  The love of Christ melts the clouds into water – the rain of tear drops.

6) A godly person weeps because the sins he commits are in some sense worse than the sins of other people.  His sin is odious because he acts contrary to his own principles, because his sin is unkindness, and it dishonors God.  He knows the truth, but still sins against it.

But there is hope – our tears will not last forever!  Watson also said:

“This sorrow of a godly man for sin is not a despairing sorrow.  He does not mourn without hope.  Like Psalm 65:3 says, ‘Iniquities prevail against me’ (there is the soul weeping), but ‘you atone for our transgressions’ (there is faith triumphing).  …Let us give Christ the water of our tears, and he will give us the wine of his blood.”

Thomas Watson, The Godly Man’s Picture, section 8.

shane lems

The NASB Note-Taker’s Bible

While I generally appreciate and utilize several translations and paraphrases of the Bible, I’ve recently come to like the NASB more and more.  The NASB’s translation principles are solid, its use of Hebrew and Greek manuscripts is level-headed, and it is generally a very good translation for daily use.  Speaking of the NASB, I recently received a copy of the “NASB Note-Taker’s Bible” from the BookLook blogging program, so I want to review it here.

The NASB Note-Taker’s Bible is a pretty basic Bible.  I own the hardcover edition which is bound quite well; it is a solid and sturdy Bible.  The font is smaller than I like (8.5 point?) and I’m not wild about the words of Christ in red.  It is also worth mentioning that there are no “bells and whistles” in this Bible.  What I mean by that is this: there are no maps, study notes, application insights, cross-reference charts, “gospel insights” or anything like that (aside from a few charts in the back).  I’m not a big fan of study Bibles with all sorts of bulk, so I don’t mind the fact that this “thinline” Bible is just a Bible without anything else.

This NASB Bible is a “Note-Taker’s” Bible which means that there are wide unlined margins for writing and note taking.  The margin on the top is minimal, but the sides are around 1 3/8 inches wide and the bottom is just under 2 inches wide.  Some people might want bigger margins, but it is fine for me.  All in all, I recommend this Bible for those who want a basic NASB with wide margins.

In case you don’t know much about the NASB, I’ll end with the preface found in this NASB, which gives a summary of itself:

In the history of English Bible translations, the King James Version is the most prestigious. This time-honored version of 1611, itself a revision of the Bishops’ Bible of 1568, became the basis for the English Revised Version appearing in 1881 (New Testament) and 1885 (Old Testament). The American counterpart of this last work was published in 1901 as the American Standard Version. The ASV, a product of both British and American scholarship, has been highly regarded for its scholarship and accuracy. Recognizing the values of the American Standard Version, the Lockman Foundation felt an urgency to preserve these and other lasting values of the ASV by incorporating recent discoveries of Hebrew and Greek textual sources and by rendering it into more current English. Therefore, in 1959 a new translation project was launched, based on the time-honored principles of translation of the ASV and KJV. The result is the New American Standard Bible.

(Disclaimer: I received this book from the BookLook blogging program, and was not compelled to write a positive review.)

shane lems
covenant presbyterian church
hammond, wi

A God-Centered View of Self: Self-Image in Light of the Gospel

While self-esteem, self-love, and self-worth are often co-opted by our fallen inclination to find satisfaction in ourselves instead of in God, there is a sense in which the gospel does cause indeed our understanding of ourselves (as new creatures in Christ) to be positive. In his book, Created in God’s Image, Anthony Hoekema perceptively explains:

The Christian life involves not just believing something about Christ but also believing something about ourselves. We must believe that we are indeed part of Christ’s new creation. Our faith in Christ must include believing that we are exactly what the Bible says we are.

All this implies that the Christian believer may have – and should have – a self-image that is primarily positive. Such a positive self-image does not mean “feeling good about ourselves” on the basis of our own achievements or virtuous behavior. This would be sinful pride. The Christian self-image means looking at ourselves in the light of God’s gracious work of forgiveness and renewal. It involves giving God all the praise for what he by his grace has done and is still doing within us and through us. It includes confidence that God can use us, despite our shortcomings, to advance his kingdom and to bring joy to others.

This Christian self-image, when properly understood, is the opposite of spiritual pride. It goes hand in hand with a deep conviction of sin and a recognition that we are still far from what we ought to be. It means glorying not in self but in Christ.

The Christian self-image is never an end in itself. It is always a means to the end of living for God, for others, and for the preservation and development of God’s creation. It leads us outside of ourselves. It delivers us from preoccupation with ourselves and releases us so that we may happily serve God and love others.

Our self-image as Christians, therefore, must not be static but dynamic. The believer may never be satisfied with himself or herself. He or she must always be pressing on, in the strength of Christ, toward the goal of Christian perfection. Christians should see themselves as new persons who are being progressively renewed by the Holy Spirit.

It is said that sometimes an airplane pilot is not sure whether the plane he is piloting is flying upside down or right side up. At such times he needs to look at his instrument panel to find the answer to his question. By way of analogy, perhaps we could think of the Bible as our instrument panel. Keeping our eyes on the Bible will help us to remember who we really are.

Pgs. 110-111. (Bold emphasis added)

R. Andrew Compton
Christ Reformed Church (URCNA)
Anaheim, CA

Most Gracious God… (Luther’s Prayers)

Product Details This is a nice little book: Luther’s Prayers edited by Herbert Brokering (Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress, 1994).  This book is basically a topically arranged collection of 185 short prayers by Luther  The prayers are gems – beautiful words to a great and merciful God.  As the editor wrote, these prayers “show Luther as one deeply dependent upon grace and mercy.  Mercy, mercy, was his plea, and he trusted that mercy was always present in Christ. Mercy was Luther’s please.  Mercy was God’s promise” (p. 7).  Here are a few examples of Luther’s prayers:

“Lord, misery and misfortune annoy me and oppress me.  I long to be rid of them.  You have said,  Ask and it will be given to you.  So I come and ask.  Amen.”

“We are weak and sick, O Father, and the temptations of the flesh and the world are great and many.  O Father, keep us, and let us not fall again into temptation and sin.  Give us grace that we may remain steadfast and fight bravely to the end.  Without your grace and help we can do nothing.  Amen.”

“Dear Lord Christ, you have enlightened my heart with your truth.  Grant me your Spirit and the power to do and not to do whatever pleases your will.  Amen.”

“Dear God, I have begun to preach and to teach the people.  It is hard.  If it offends here and there, may no harm be done.  Since you have commanded me to preach your Word, I will not stop.  If it fails, it fails for you.  If it succeeds, it succeeds for you and me.  Amen.”

“Most gracious God, you are indeed a God of the weak and sinful.  They feel their need and anxiety, and from the heart they desire your grace, comfort, and help.  They have the promise of your Word, ‘Come to me, all that are weary and carry heavy burdens.’  Lord, I am in great trouble and distress.  I accept the invitation to come.  Help me because of your mercy and truth.  Amen.”

“Dear Lord, pour out your grace to me and give me your Holy Spirit so that I may be obedient and keep each of your commandments.  Help me to be at odds with the world and to give my heart and soul to you.  Amen.”

I highly recommend this small booklet of Luther’s prayers – they make great devotional reading.  You can get a used copy on Amazon for around $5 or on Kindle for just under $10.

shane lems

The Puritans on the Law/Gospel Distinction

Back in June, I noted that the section on the law/gospel distinction in the book A Puritan Theology was lacking and incomplete (see my review here).  In other words, the authors failed to give a summarized and systematic description of what the Puritans taught on the law/gospel distinction.  So what did the Puritans teach about the law/gospel distinction?  Generally speaking, the Puritans agreed with and taught the Reformed distinction and often discussed it in terms of the covenant of works/covenant of grace distinction.  More could be said on this for sure (i.e. how the Puritans also taught the third use of the law); below are just a few examples.

“[The law] enforced itself upon the conscience with threats and with terror; but now the Gospel comes otherwise, with beseechings and love (Rom 12:1)….  The law urges obedience upon pain of eternal death (Deut. 27:14-26; Gal. 3:10), and enforces its demands by terror, but the Gospel by sweetness and love; all terror is gone.”  Samuel Bolton, The True Bounds of Christian Freedom, p.44.

“The basic principle in application is to know whether the passage is a statement of the law or of the gospel.  For when the Word is preached, the law and the gospel operate differently….  Both the law and the gospel must be preached; the law to give birth to repentance and the gospel to lead to faith.  But they must be preached in their proper order, first the law to bring repentance and then the gospel to work faith and forgiveness – never the other way around.  William Perkins, The Art of Prophesying, p. 52, 100).

“It will prove a special help to know distinctly the difference between the covenant of works and the covenant of grace, between Moses and Christ.  Moses, without any mercy, breaks all bruised reeds, and quenches all smoking flax.  For the law requires personal, perpetual, and perfect obedience from the heart, and that under a most terrible curse, but gives no strength.  …[However,] Christ comes with blessing after blessing, even upon those whom Moses had cursed, and with healing balm for those wounds which Moses had made.  …God knows we have nothing of ourselves, therefore in the covenant of grace he requires no more than he gives, but gives what he requires, and accepts what he gives….”  Richard Sibbes, The Bruised Reed, p. 36-37.

“Let us labor by faith to get into the second covenant of grace, and then the curse of the first covenant will be taken away by Christ.  If we once get to be heirs of the covenant of grace, we are in a better state than before.  Adam stood on his own legs, and therefore he fell; we stand in the strength of Christ.  Under the first covenant, the justice of God, as an avenger of blood, pursues us; but if we get into the second covenant, we are in the city of refuge, we are safe, and the justice of God is pacified towards us.  Thomas Watson, A Body of Divinity, p. 132.

Thomas Boston, commenting on Edward Fisher’s distinction between the law and the gospel (the covenant of works and the covenant of grace), put it this way:

“The holy Scripture states it as the difference betwixt the law and the gospel, that the former is the ministration of condemnation and death, the latter, the ministration of righteousness and life (2 Cor. 3:6-9).

Finally, here’s Walter Marshall:

“The difference between the law and the gospel does not at all consist in this, that the one requires perfect doing; the other, only sincere doing – but in this, that the one requires doing, the other, not doing, but believing for life and salvation.  Their terms are different, not only in degree, but in their whole nature” Walter Marshall, Gospel Mystery of Sanctification, p.42.

There are other examples of similar language in other Puritans.  In summary, most of the Puritans taught that the law, as a covenant of works, demands perfect obedience, condemns, and shows sin, but does not save, convey grace and strength, or give life.  They also taught that the gospel in the covenant of grace does not demand perfect obedience nor does it condemn.  Rather, it saves, gives life in Christ, and comforts.  Lastly, the Puritans also said that the law must be preached in its fullness to convict of sin; then the gospel must be preached to show that the remedy for sin is not by works, but by faith alone in Christ alone.

shane lems
hammond, wi

The Apocrypha and NT Studies

Exploring Jewish Literature of the Second Temple Period: A Guide for New Testament Students In chapter two of his excellent study of Jewish literature from the Second Temple period (586 BC – 135 AD), Larry Helyer discusses the Apocrypha (mostly Tobit and the Additions to the Book of Daniel).  In this chapter, Helyer takes some time to explain how a knowledge of the Apocrypha can be a helpful tool for NT studies.  In the words of the Belgic Confession, even though the apocryphal books don’t have the “power and efficacy” of the “sacred books” (i.e., the 66 canonical books of Holy Scripture), “the Church may read and take instruction from” them “as far as they agree with the canonical books” (BCF Article 6).  Here is Helyer’s list of five ways that the Apocrypha “throws welcome light on the NT writings.”

1) We become more aware of the intense longings for national liberation lying just below the surface of the Gospels.  Details recorded in the Gospels are now seen in a new light.  We can understand better how Jesus had to refocus the priorities of the disciples (cf. Acts 1:7-8).

2) We can better appreciate the strong antipathy of Jewish-Christian missionaries, like the apostle Paul, toward idolatry and its associated practices.  Jewish-Christian missionaries sought to warn and fortify new converts against lapsing back into their former way of life.

3) The early Christians transposed the fact of Jewish exile into a new key.  Christians viewed themselves as exiles looking forward to the New Jerusalem (cf. Heb. 13:14, Jas. 1:1, 1 Pet. 1:1).  An important aspect of early Christian paraenesis turns on the importance of realizing one’s resident-alien status (Phil. 3:20).

4) Christians, like Jews, faced recurring temptations to assimilate, to compromise with the surrounding culture.  Thus, alongside warnings about failing to persevere, NT literature, like the tales from Diaspora, holds out bright hope for the future.  Like Tobit 13-14, the book of Revelation radiates with a heavenly vision.

5) Finally, we learn to appreciate how thoroughly Jewish the NT literature really is.  Language, diction, imagery, concepts, and ideas are influenced and shaped by the Judaism of the first two pre-Christian centuries and the first Christian century.  In short, we recover an essential part of the context within which to read the NT.

This list (which I’ve shortened slightly) is found on page 71 of Exploring Jewish Literature of the Second Temple Period: A Guide for New Testament Students by Larry Helyer.

shane lems

Sermon Application (Or Lack Thereof)

The Heart Is the Target: Preaching Practical Application from Every Text Sadly, some biblically sound preaching lacks application.  One question that arises from this statement is, Why?  Why do preachers sometimes lack application in their sermons?  I appreciate Murray Capill’s reasons (listed and edited below) – and I’m convicted by this list myself!  Again, the question is, why do preachers struggle to apply biblical truth in a sermon?

1) Good application is exceptionally hard work.  It’s hard enough to draw correct lines from the past to the present.  Once they are drawn, it’s hard to be fresh and varied, incisive and perceptive, specific and direct.  It’s hard, in the language of earlier generations of preachers, to both wound and heal, sing and sting, disturb the comfortable and comfort the disturbed.  It’s hard to speak to the many different people represented in a church on any given Sunday.

2) Most preachers are given few, if any, methods for developing effective application.  In most seminaries, students for the ministry will be given many tools and resources for thorough exegesis.  They will even learn entire languages to aid their study of the biblical text, and they will be drilled in the skills of examining the grammar, syntax, history, and context of the text, with a view to correct interpretation.  …But most will receive few tools or resources for developing rich, varied, penetrating application of the central meaning of the text.  …Ministry students, therefore, find that in their training, exegesis and application are often in two separate boxes, one with lots of tools included, and the other with few.

3) Some preachers are wary of putting too much emphasis on application.  They know that application is easily abused.  In an understandable reaction against preaching that is largely anthropocentric in the focus it gives to people’s felt needs, many expository preachers are fearful that an emphasis on application makes us pander to what people want to hear.  [Expository preachers rightly trust God’s Word and Spirit, and some preachers say application] is the work of the Word and of the Spirit alone.  Explain the Word and it will apply itself.  This is a noble but flawed view.  Settling for explanation of the Word but not application of it to life fails to do justice to the fact that the Spirit uses means.

4) Others may avoid application simply because it seems too culturally or politically inappropriate.  Our relativistic, pluralistic culture of tolerance makes directive application from the pulpit seem not only anachronistic but offensive.  How dare we tell others what to do?  In sensitivity to this, preachers may opt for being suggestive rather than overt in their applications.

5) Finally, some expository preachers are weak in application because they have over-intellectualized the faith.  It is not that they object to application.  They may well prize it.  But their entire experience of the Christian faith is predominately intellectual.  The main thing for them is knowing the truth.  When they apply, they apply abstractly.  They are more naturally theorists than practitioners.  They love the truth…but their teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training is not that well earthed in real life.  Their illustrations often feel remote, often being drawn from church history and the lives of preachers.  Their sermons address theological controversies that live in the academy but are distant from the lives of many of their hearers.

For the full explanation of these five points, see the introduction of Murray Capill’s excellent book, The Heart is the Target.

shane lems