Perfectionism, Pride, and Grace (Winter)

 This is one of those books I keep coming back to even though I read it quite a few years ago: Perfecting Ourselves to Death by Richard Winter.  It really is worth the read if you need a resource on the topic of trying to be perfect (having the perfect job, the perfect kitchen, perfect kids, a perfect body, perfect grades, etc.).  Here’s one section near the end of the book where Winter talks about perfectionism, pride, and grace:

You may be wondering why my focus is on Christianity alone. All the great religions of the world, except one, have developed rituals and duties that are designed to make us feel more secure in an uncertain, lonely and threatening world.  But, whether it is Islam, Judaism, Buddhism, Hinduism or Confucianism (and even in some versions of Christianity), believers can never be sure that they have done enough to make themselves acceptable to “God.”

… This is why Christianity has such a profound answer to some of the issues at the heart of perfectionism. The philosopher and theologian Francis Schaeffer never tired of saying that Christianity is both the easiest and hardest religion. His reasoning was that it is the easiest because we do not have to do anything to contribute to our salvation; we need only come with empty hands and a repentant heart to receive the free gift of God’s forgiveness and love. it is the hardest because we are proud, and we do not want to be indebted to anyone, not even God. We want to do something to ensure our own salvation. But the core of Christianity is about receiving God’s free gift of grace.

Richard Winter, Perfecting Ourselves to Death, p. 130-131.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54002

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Come: Eat and Drink for Free!

Isaiah: An Introduction and Commentary Isaiah 55:1-2 is beautiful biblical poetry that calls all people drink freely from the well of living water:

Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters; and you who have no money, come, buy and eat!  Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost.  Why spend money on what is not bread, and your labor on what does not satisfy?  Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good, and you will delight in the richest of fare. (NIV)

I like how Alec Motyer comments on these verses (emphases his):

v1–2, Free provision for every need. The contrasting promises of waters to drink and the richest of fare (2d) to eat embraces every need and every necessary supply. The first invitation, Come to the waters, underlines a life-threatening need and an abundant supply. The second invitation, come, buy and eat, extended to the one who has no money, highlights inability and helplessness: on the one hand, how can one without money buy? But, on the other hand, nothing can be had without payment (buy). Someone—in context, by implication, the Servant in his saving efficacy—has paid the purchase price. The third invitation, Come, buy wine and milk, without money, stresses the richness of the provision: not just the water of bare necessity but the wine and milk of luxurious satisfaction. Isaiah has already pictured the idolater pouring out gold and silver (46:6) in order to ‘feed on ashes’ (44:20). The antidote to such lack of discernment (44:19; cf. 40:18–20, 25), mental delusion (44:20) and pointless labour (44:12)—what an exposure of religion without revelation!—is to listen, listen (lit. ‘listen listeningly’): to give full attention to listening and do nothing else at all, to give full and undivided attention to the word of God. It is in this way that the ashes of false religion are replaced by the richest of fare.

 J. Alec Motyer, Isaiah: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 20, Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1999), 387–388.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI 54015

The Limits of Science Concerning Human Nature (Moreland/Rae)

 Since I’m doing a sermon series on image and identity, I picked up Love Thy Body by Nancy Pearcey.  I’ve mentioned it here several times in the past month or two.  I also recently picked up Body and Soul: Human Nature and the Crisis in Ethics by J. P. Moreland and Scott Rae.  Body and Soul is a biblical and philosophical study of the human body and the human soul: what they are and how they relate.  It’s a rather difficult read, to be honest, since it is a philosophical look at these topics.  I’m learning some new things such as metaphysical distinctions relevant to anthropology, degreed and nondegreed property, mereology, and so on.

The main thesis of the book is that, in the authors’ view, human persons are not property-things, but substances.  They back up their thesis with Scripture and with logical arguments from philosophy.  The last three chapters are application chapters where the authors discuss beginning of life ethics and end of life ethics based on their biblical and philosophical view that humans are substances, not property-things.

One part I appreciated was where they discussed science’s input on human persons:

In our view, when it comes to addressing the nature of human persons, science is largely incompetent either to frame the correct questions or to provide answers.  The hard sciences are at their best when they describe how physical systems work, but they are largely incompetent when settling questions about the nature of consciousness, intentionality, personal identity and agency, and related matters. Recently, philosopher and scientific naturalist John Searle have argued that 15 years of focused on philosophy of mind, artificial intelligence and cognitive psychological models of consciousness have been a waste of time in a number of ways…

… We do not agree with everything Searle says here, but he is correct in claiming that various disciplines studying the nature of human persons have been mired in chaos and confusion for at least a half a century. In our view, the reason for this chaos has been the assumption that science is the best way to approach the relevant questions.

The authors go on to give some assertions that are very difficult, if not impossible, for hard sciences to explain (e.g. mental states, the human soul, thoughts, etc.).  I agree with Moreland and Rae in that science can do much to help our understanding of humans, but science has its limits.  Thankfully we have God’s Word, which not only tells us about him, it also tells us about ourselves, humans, made in the image of God, body and soul, male and female.  And Scripture gives us a teleological outlook: the chief end of man is to glorify and enjoy God forever!

The above quote is found on pages 41-42 of Moreland and Rae, Body & Soul: Human Nature & the Crisis in Ethics.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54015

Losing God’s Love? (Sibbes)

The Works of Richard Sibbes, vol. 7 There are times in the Christian life when, for various reasons, we don’t feel God’s love.  Sometimes the Christian doesn’t feel loved by God because of certain sins committed, because of a brutal affliction that weighs heavy, or because of something else.  Andrew Peterson put it this way in his song “Just As I Am”:

“All of my life I’ve held on to this fear / these thistles and vines ensnare and entwine / what flowers appear / it’s the fear that I’ll fall / one too many times / it’s the fear that His love / is no better than mine.”

In a sermon on Micah 7:18-20 Richard Sibbes (d. 1635) answered this fear as he reflected on God’s great mercy (the sermon is called “The Matchless Mercy”).  Below is the part of the sermon where Sibbes comments on the phrase in verse 19, “He will again have compassion on us”:

The use hereof is, first, reproof unto such who say, that if their peace be once lost, oh! they shall never have it again, they shall never have comfort, favour, or feeling of God’s love.

But mark our error: we in this case judge God to be like unto a man, who will say, Oh! I will never again love this man, who hath deceived me.

But let us remember that God did foresee all our errors and sins that ever we should commit, before we did commit the same. Now if these our sins, before our calling, which in the course of our life we were to commit, being all before God’s face, could not hinder his love unto us, what folly is it to think that now, after our effectual calling, our sins which he foresaw can stay his mercies from us.

This the apostle aimeth at, Rom. 5:10, ‘For if, whilst we were enemies, we were reconciled unto God by the death of his son; much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by his life.’ So that most certain it is he will turn again and have compassion.

 Richard Sibbes, The Complete Works of Richard Sibbes, ed. Alexander Balloch Grosart, vol. 7 (Edinburgh; London; Dublin: James Nichol; James Nisbet and Co.; W. Robertson, 1864), 161.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54015

The Spirit Gives Life (Boston)

The Whole Works of Thomas Boston (12 vols.) I really like the way Thomas Boston explained how the Holy Spirit gives life (cf. John 6:63; 2 Cor. 3:6).  I’ve updated the language slightly:

[Jesus said] “All that the Father giveth me, shall come to me.” (John  6:37) Now, this also belongs to the promise of the Spirit, who is therefore called the Spirit of faith (2 Cor. 4:13) as being the principal efficient cause of faith (Zech. 12:10).

The effect of this promise (in John 6:37) is actual believing, produced by the quickening Spirit in the soul, immediately out of the spiritual life given to it by the communication of Himself thereto.  “The dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God” (John 5:25 compare with 1:12, 13; 2 Cor. 4:13). As receiving Christ passively, the sinner that was spiritually dead, is quickened; so being quickened, he receives Christ actively.

Christ comes into the dead soul by his Spirit: and so he is passively received; even as one, having a power to raise the dead, coming into a house, where there is none but a dead man; none to open the door to him, none to desire him to come in, nor to welcome him. But Christ being thus received, or come in, the dead soul is quickened, and by faith embraces Him; even as the restorer of the dead man to life, Christ would immediately be embraced by him, and receive a thousand welcomes from him who had heard His voice and lived.

When Christ, in the womb of His mother, entered into the house of Zacharias, and she saluted Elizabeth the mother of John the Baptist, he, the babe in Elizabeth’s womb, leaped as at the entrance of life: so doth the soul, in actual believing, leap at Christ’s coming into it by His Spirit. As God breathed into the first man the breath of life, and he became a living soul, who was before but a lifeless piece of fair earth; that is, God put a spirit, a soul, into his body, which immediately showed in the man’s, breathing at his nostrils: so Jesus Christ, in the time of love, puts His Spirit into the dead soul, which immediately shows itself alive, by believing, receiving and embracing Him, known and discerned in His transcendent glory. And thus the union between Christ and the soul is completed; Christ first apprehending the soul by His Spirit; and then the soul thus apprehended and quickened, apprehending Him again in the promise of the gospel by faith.

 Thomas Boston, The Whole Works of Thomas Boston: Human Nature in Its Fourfold State and a View of the Covenant of Grace, ed. Samuel M‘Millan, vol. 8 (Aberdeen: George and Robert King, 1850), 479.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54015

Spirit-Baptism, Second Blessing??

 Some people talk about a “second blessing” or a “baptism of the Spirit” that not all Christians receive.  This view is based on several places in Acts where some people were baptized and then later received the Holy Spirit.  For example, in Acts 19 a group of people from Ephesus were baptized into John’s baptism but had never heard about the Holy Spirit.  So they were baptized in the name of Jesus,  the Holy Spirit came upon them, and they spoke in tongues and prophesied.  I appreciate how John Stott comments on this story in Acts 19:

…They experienced a mini-Pentecost. Better, Pentecost caught up on them. Better still, they were caught up into it, as its promised blessings became theirs.  The norm of Christian experience, then, is a cluster of four things: repentance, faith in Jesus, water baptism and the gift of the Spirit. Though the perceived order may vary a little, the four belong together and are universal in Christian initiation. The laying-on of apostolic hands, however, together with tongue-speaking and prophesying, were special to Ephesus, as to Samaria, in order to demonstrate visibly and publicly that particular groups were incorporated into Christ by the Spirit; the New Testament does not universalize them. There are no Samaritans or disciples of John the Baptist left in the world today.

These instances in Acts take place during a very unique and unrepeatable period of redemptive history.  Michael Horton agrees with Stott:

In this foundation-laying era of the extraordinary ministry of the apostles (in Acts), we would expect extraordinary foundation-laying episodes that are not normative for our era of the ordinary ministry.

The book of Acts is less a blueprint than it is the announcement of the acts of Christ by his Spirit through the apostles, of whom there are no living successors.  There is no reason to assume that all of the marvelous signs of the Spirit’s outpouring in the apostolic era are normative today.  This is true especially when the norm for all Christians is spelled out so clearly in the Epistles, which teach that baptism into Christ is the Spirit’s baptism and that all those who are in Christ share in his anointing.

The above quotes are found here:

John R. W. Stott, The Message of Acts: The Spirit, the Church & the World, The Bible Speaks Today (Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1994), 304–305.

Michael Horton, Rediscovering the Holy Spirit (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2017), 192-195.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54002

Our Wills: Created and Corrupted (Owen)

The Works of John Owen, Vol. 10: The Death of Christ In Reformed theology, following Augustine and ultimately Paul/Scripture, we deny the Arminian position that all people have free will which gives them the power and innate ability to believe in Christ as they wish.  John Owen brilliantly countered this Arminian position of free will in his book, A Display of ArminianismBelow is a section of chapter 12 where he discusses the nature and power of free will.  Notice how Owen refutes the Arminian position by noting that our wills are created (therefore dependent) and corrupt (therefore in bondage to sin):

That, then, which the Arminians claim here in behalf of their free-will is, an absolute independence on God’s providence in doing any thing, and of his grace in doing that which is good,—a self-sufficiency in all its operations, a plenary indifferency of doing what we will, this or that, as being neither determined to the one nor inclined to the other by any overruling influence from heaven. So that the good acts of our wills have no dependence on God’s providence as they are acts, nor on his grace as they are good; but in both regards proceed from such a principle within us as is no way moved by any superior agent.

Now, the first of these we deny unto our wills, because they are created; and the second, because they are corrupted. Their creation hinders them from doing any thing of themselves without the assistance of God’s providence; and their corruption, from doing any thing that is good without his grace. A self-sufficiency for operation, without the effectual motion of Almighty God, the first cause of all things, we can allow neither to men nor angels, unless we intend to make them gods; and a power of doing good, equal unto that they have of doing evil, we must not grant to man by nature, unless we will deny the fall of Adam, and fancy ourselves still in paradise

John Owen, The Works of John Owen, ed. William H. Goold, vol. 10 (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, n.d.), 118–119.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54015