The Workings of our Remaining Sinful Nature

51Wtr7fGObL._SX358_BO1,204,203,200_ Those who have true faith have truly been given new life in Christ.  If a person believes in Christ, he or she has been “born of God” (1 John 5:1).  Regeneration means that someone who was dead in sin is now alive in Christ (Eph. 2:4-5).  However, new birth (regeneration) does not mean that the old sinful nature is completely gone.  True believers still struggle with indwelling sin (Gal. 5:17).  As Luther rightly said, the Christian is a saint and a sinner at the same time.

This means that when we stumble into sin, we can’t simply blame the devil or the world.  The devil can mess with us and the world can entice us, but we sin because we still have the “old man” in us, the “flesh.”  So how does this “old man” function in us?  W. Brakel (d. 1711) explained this well in his discussion on sanctification.  I’ll summarize it below:

  1. Sometimes the old nature stirs us up to sin by violent assaults.  The lusts are so agitated and are stirring so vehemently that there is no time to think upon the fear of God. Even if the fear of the Lord is present, the lust is so strong and forceful that any good inclinations are quickly extinguished.
  2. Sometimes the old nature seeks some rest and relaxation.  He begins to think upon natural things and the lusts of the flesh begin to stir, and the thoughts pertaining to natural things become sinful.  His mind wanders and he lusts, covets, or becomes proud.  He falls into more sin as the moment permits, or even to the degree he never thought himself capable of.
  3. Sometimes the old nature gains strength due to recklessness.  He puts himself into situations he knows will ensnare him, but he does it anyway.  The sin at hand gains the upper hand.  Contact with grease cannot but leave a stain (vetjes maken smetjes).
  4. The old sinful nature also is engaged in keeping us from doing good.  A) He makes us think there is no time to pray, read Scripture, sing, or meditate upon the word.  B) He makes us procrastinate and say we will do godly things later.  C) He makes us believe that doing good is too difficult and impossible to do.  D) He makes us think that doing good is in vain because God is not paying attention and it will not benefit us. E) He makes us compromisers by saying the path is not as narrow as we think.
  5. The old sinful nature also wants to keep us from doing good so he attempts to spoil that which is good.  A) He makes our thoughts wander.  B) He distracts us by making us think about a good thing that isn’t applicable to the situation. C) He causes us to be proud of doing good, and the purity of the duty is contaminated.  D) He causes us to think we do not have the Spirit.  E) His atheism and unbelief surface and it ruins the good with evil.

Why is this important?  For one thing, it helps us as Christians to know ourselves.  We can’t point fingers and blame others for our sinful words, thoughts, and actions (Ps. 51:3-4).  It also keeps us truly humble to know we still have the old man of sin dwelling in us.  It helps us stay near the cross, where we receive continual cleansing from Jesus’ blood.  It makes us constantly confess our sins to God.  It makes us all the more dependent upon the Holy Spirit to give the new man strength in the battle.  It teaches us that God gets all the credit for any good in us or anything good we do in his sight.  Realizing that our old man remains in us also makes us long for heaven, when sanctification will be complete and we will be fully delivered from our remaining sinful flesh.  And the list goes on.  Paul put it this way: What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this dying body?  I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord! (Rom 7:24-25 HCSB).

The above edited and summarized quote is found in volume three of Brakel’s The Christian’s Reasonable Service, p. 9-11.

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

Advertisements

Purgatory, Grace, and Works (Hodge)

Systematic Theology (3 vols.) The Roman Catholic Church still believes and teaches that purgatory is real.  Paragraph 1030 of Rome’s catechism says this:

“All who die in God’s grace and friendship, but still imperfectly purified, are indeed assured of their eternal salvation; but after death they undergo purification, so as to achieve the holiness necessary to enter the joy of heaven.”

Rome’s catechism uses good words like “grace” and “eternal salvation,” but this teaching is anything but good and it is certainly not biblical!  Charles Hodge wrote a helpful critique of purgatory in his Systematic Theology.  I’ll quote parts of it below:

The first, most obvious, and, for Protestants, the most decisive argument against the doctrine [of purgatory] is, that it is not taught in the Bible.  ….There is no passage that asserts it.  There is no evidence that it formed a part of the instructions of Christ or his Apostles.

…[The doctrine of purgatory] rests avowedly on the assumption that notwithstanding the infinitely meritorious sacrifice of Christ, the sinner is bound to make satisfaction for his own sins. This the Bible declares to be impossible. No man does or can perfectly keep the commandments of God, much less can he not only abstain from incurring new guilt, but also make atonement for sins that are past.

The doctrine [of purgatory] moreover assumes the merit of good works. Here again it is clearer than the sun that the New Testament teaches that we are saved by grace and not by works; that to him that worketh, the reward is a matter of debt; but to him who simply believes, it is a matter of grace; and that the two are incompatible.

What is of grace is not of works; and what is of works is not of grace. There is nothing more absolutely incompatible with the nature of the Gospel than the idea that man can “satisfy divine justice” for his sins. Yet this idea lies at the foundation of the doctrine of purgatory. If there be no satisfaction of justice, on the part of the sinner, there is no purgatory, for, according to Romanists, purgatory is the place and state in which such satisfaction is rendered. As the renunciation of all dependence upon our own merit, of all purpose, desire, or effort to make satisfaction for ourselves, and trusting exclusively to the satisfaction rendered by Jesus Christ, is of the very essence of Christian experience, it will be seen that the doctrine of purgatory is in conflict not only with the doctrines of the Bible but also with the religious consciousness of the believer….

 Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology, vol. 3 (Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1997), 757–758.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI

The Hiding Place of His Righteousness (Toplady)

The Works of Augustus M. Toplady, vol. 6 Here’s a wonderful section of a letter Augustus Toplady wrote in 1767 to a friend who was very ill:

I hope, sir, you are enabled to trust your soul to Christ, and to cast your care on God. Satan, no doubt, will be ever ready to bring in the indictment, and conscience cannot help pleading guilty to a great part of the charge: but remember, that your judge is, at the very same time, your advocate and Saviour. He is a lover of your soul, and was the propitiation for your sins; they cannot be too numerous, nor too heinous, for mercy like his to pardon, nor for merit like his to cover. Only flee to him for refuge, fly to the hiding place of his righteousness, death and intercession; and then, the enemy can have no final advantage over you, nor the son of wickedness approach to hurt you, in your everlasting interest. Assault you he may, in your way to the kingdom of God; overcome you he cannot, if you look, or desire to look, to Jesus for safety; lie at his blessed feet for protection; lay hold on his victorious cross for salvation; and then you shall find him gracious to relieve, mighty to deliver, and faithful to uphold.

Cast anchor on his love, and be happy, rely on his omnipotence, and be safe. …In life, in death, in eternity, may he be your light, your strength, and your exceeding great reward! I know that your health is so bad, you cannot read much, but you can pray; you can send up your desires as incense, to the throne of God, almost every moment. As you sit, as you walk, as you take an airing, you may cultivate an intimacy with heaven; you may carry on a correspondence with God, you may hold silent intercourse with the Spirit of grace. Every sigh, if directed to him, is a prayer; every tear shed for sin, is a sort of oblation, acceptable to him in Christ, and shall be noted in his book.

Yet, not the sighs we breathe, nor the tears we pour, are our justifying merit; but the sigh, the tears, the obedience, the death, of his co-eternal Son: his are the propitiations; ours are the memorial, and the proof of the work of grace, which his Spirit begins in the soul. Resign yourself to his will in every dispensation; lie passive in his hand, stir not from his footstool, take all your spiritual distresses, as commissioned from him. The cup, the medicinal cup, is of his mixing; the chastisement is the chastisement of a father, who loves while he strikes, and whose seeming wrath is real mercy. May his everlasting arms be spread beneath you; may his grace (as I doubt not it will) be sufficient for you…

Augustus M. Toplady, The Works of Augustus M. Toplady, vol. 6 (London; Edinburgh: William Baynes and Son; H. S. Baynes, 1825), 136–138.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI

Judge Not the Lord by Feeble Sense (Feelings and Faith)

 The way we react or respond to the gospel is not the gospel.  My feelings and emotions about Christ are not good news.  The empty tomb does not depend upon how much I treasure Jesus.  My delighting in Christ is not at the heart of the apostolic preaching of the cross.  The level of my satisfaction in Jesus doesn’t affect the historical facts that he died and was raised.

Why are these things worth mentioning?  Well, for one thing, they have to do with assurance of salvation.  If a Christian thinks his response to the gospel is part of the gospel, his assurance will be like a roller coaster that rises and falls with his feelings.  If a believer thinks her delighting in Christ or finding satisfaction in Christ is part of the good news, her assurance will ebb and flow with her emotional state.  In other words, if I think my feelings and emotions are part of the gospel, my assurance will quickly decline on days I’m not treasuring Christ above all.

I appreciate how Thomas Brooks discussed this in his book The Unsearchable Riches of Christ.  When talking to Christians about growing in grace, one bit of counsel he gives is this: “Take heed of making sense and feeling a judge of your condition.”

Though there is nothing more dangerous, yet there is nothing more ordinary, than for weak saints to make their sense and feeling the judge of their condition. Ah, poor souls, this is dishonorable to God and very disadvantageous to yourselves.  Sense is sometimes opposite to reason, but always to faith.  Therefore do as those worthies did, ‘We walk by faith, and not by sight’ (2 Cor. 5.8-9).

Brooks then lists many emotional worries a Christian may have, like not feeling God’s “enlivening presence” or not being “melted” or “enlarged” as earlier in his Christian life.  A Christian might not feel God’s nearness or perhaps not find prayer as sweet as before.  Brooks writes,

If you will make sense and feeling the judge of your state and condition, you will never have peace or comfort all your days.  Your state, O Christian, may be very good, when sense and feeling says it is very bad.  …The best of Christian men have at times lost that quickening, ravishing, and comforting presence of God that once they have enjoyed.  And verily, he that makes sense and carnal reason a judge of his condition, shall be happy and miserable, blessed and cursed, saved and lost, many times in a day, yes, in an hour.

The counsel that I would give to such a soul that is apt to set up reason [or feeling] in the place of faith is this: Whatsoever your state and condition is, never makes sense and feeling the judge of it, but only the word of God.  …It will never be well with you as long as you are swayed by carnal reason, and rely more on your five senses than the four evangelists.  Remember Job was famous for his confidence as for his patience: “Though he slay me, yet I will trust in him” (Job 13:15).

I don’t always feel like a good Christian.  I sometimes don’t think about satisfaction in Christ.  Other times I feel quite close to the Lord and am abundantly thankful for his blessings.  However, no matter how I feel, no matter what emotional state I’m in, I know that the gospel is still true.  The blood of Jesus that he shed on the cross still cleanses me from all my sin.  The tomb is still empty even if at the moment I’m not emotionally moved by that awesome truth.  My assurance stands firm because my faith rests in facts, not feelings.  Feelings come and go, but facts stay put.  As the old hymn says, “Judge not the Lord by feeble sense but trust him for his grace.”

The above quote by Brooks is found on pages 94-95 of his Works, Volume III.

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

On Disciplining Your Children: Do It!

It seems that from one perspective disciplining our kids isn’t a kind or nice thing to do.  Think about it.  If your child disrespects you, you might take his dessert away for a week.  If company comes over, they’d all get dessert, but your kid won’t.  Seems mean.  Or maybe your teenage daughter was terribly disobedient and you took her phone away for three months.  All the other parents let their kids have phones, but you don’t.  Are you being cruel?  The list goes on.  Discipline – especially more severe kinds of discipline – seems unkind from one perspective.

However, from a Christian and biblical perspective discipline is beneficial for our kids.  Of course, I mean discipline that comes from Christian love and a concern for the child’s well-being.  In fact, biblically speaking, if we fail to discipline our kids for disrespect and disobedience we are failing to show them love.  We’re letting them go down the path of sin and destruction.  Proverbs 13:24 puts it this way: “Whoever spares the rod hates their children, but the one who loves their children is careful to discipline them” (NIV).  John Kitchen has a helpful commentary on this verse:

The notion of corporal punishment flies in the face of much popular psychology, but is a clear part of God’s program for parenting a child to maturity.  To withhold corporal punishment is not a sign of advanced learning, wisdom, or even greater love for the child.  Far from it, it proves that a parent ‘hates his son’!  The contrast between ‘hates’ and ‘loves’ is intentionally strong.  The notion conveyed by these words is often that of comparative love, rather than emotional revulsion over someone (Gen. 29:31; Deut. 21:15; Mal. 1:2f; Rom. 9:13).

Thus, withholding appropriate spankings is not a sign of superior love for one’s children, but rather a signal that one loves something, or someone, more than his child.  Perhaps the parent loves himself (avoiding the personal pain or self-discipline that comes with disciplining his child) more than his child, or perhaps he loves the affirmation and approval of others (who may disapprove of corporal punishment) more than he desires his child’s welfare.  Certainly, such a one loves someone more than he loves God, since he yields his obedience to them in this matter, rather than following God’s word.

The true signal that parents love their child is their willingness to do the painful work of discipline.  Here, ‘discipline’ certainly includes corporal punishment, but Proverbs also demands other forms of ‘discipline,’ which include verbal instruction, reproof, and correction (Prov. 15:5) as well as action.

Disciplining our children isn’t easy, nor is it fun.  It’s hard to be fair and consistent.  But discipline for sure has to be done – even swift, severe discipline!  It’s not an option in a Christian home.  If you’ve slacked in your discipline, now is a good time to remember Scripture’s call to parents: discipline your child (see Prov. 19:18; 22:15; 23:13, 14; 29:15, 17)!  If you do so with Christian love and instruction, it’ll help them learn right from wrong, good from evil, and it will give them a reflection of our heavenly Father’s love in Christ: …The LORD disciplines those he loves, as a father [disciplines] the son he delights in (NIV).

The above quotes are found in John Kitchen, Proverbs: A Mentor Commentary, p. 296-7.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54015

 

Justification Can Never Be Lost (Watson)

This is very good, very biblical, and very comforting:

Justification is ‘inamissibilis;’ it is a fixed permanent thing, it can never be lost.  The Arminians hold an apostasy from justification; today justified, tomorrow unjustified; today a Peter, tomorrow a Judas; today a member of Christ, tomorrow a limb of Satan.  This [Arminian doctrine] is a most uncomfortable doctrine.

Justified persons may fall from degrees of grace, they may leave their first love, they may lose God’s favor for a time, but not lose their justification.  If they are justified they are elected; and they can no more fall from their justification than from their election.  If they are justified they have union with Christ; and can a member of Christ be broken off?  If one justified person may fall away from Christ, all may; and so Christ would be a head without a body.

See from hence [this], that there is nothing within us that could justify but something without [outside] us; not any righteous inherent, but imputed.  We may as well look for a star in the earth as for justification in our own righteousness. The Papists say we are justified by works; but the Apostle confutes it, for he says, ‘not of works, lest any man should boast.’ (Eph 2.9).

Thomas Watson, A Body of Divinity, p. 229.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI

Family Visitation > Small Groups

If done wisely, small groups can be a benefit to Christ’s church.  On the other hand, small groups can sometimes get in the way of the church’s ministry.  It takes wisdom, patience, grace, and work to ensure that small groups help rather than hinder spiritual growth in the local church.  One aspect of the church’s spiritual growth that many forget today is the practice of family visitation.  In historic Reformed churches the elders and pastors go “from house to house” every two or three years to visit the members of the congregation (Acts 20:20b).  During these visits, they pray, read Scripture, and discuss the Christian church and life with God’s people.  Some might disagree, but I would say that this kind of family visiting is even more important than small groups.

Here’s a book that I very much recommend on this topic: Taking Heed to the Flock by P. Y. DeJong. This book talks about various aspects of family visit: its history, biblical basis, spiritual purpose, necessity, value, and so on.  Taking Heed to the Flock is one of the best books you’ll find on family visiting.  Here’s one excerpt that was encouraging for me thinking about family visits in the church I serve:

In an age in which individualism is rampant and has wreaked havoc everywhere, it is essential to stress the organic aspect of life.  We cannot live without each other.  Nowhere is this more valid than in the church among the communion of saints.

Where this law of life is understood, the elders do not regard themselves as policemen of the congregation.  Theirs is not the duty of trying to uncover all the sins which mar the hearts of God’s people who are as yet imperfect.  But, realizing the almost insurmountable obstacles in the way of a well-rounded Christian life, they visit the families for the purpose of helping all to see their duty more clearly.

This makes for the closest possible fellowship between the officers and members of the church on the one hand and between the m embers among each other on the other.  They learn to stand shoulder to shoulder in the great spiritual struggle against the common foe and learn to wage this war more successfully.  It makes of the church truly a ‘militant’ church.  As each soldier has his own position and duty and obliges himself to carry it out in strict obedience to the commands of his superior, so too in the church all the members find their calling outlined by Christ in His Word.  The purpose of the work of the elders is to remind the believers in the name of the Commander-in-Chief of their personal and social responsibilities.  Where this is found, the words of the well-known hymn are immortalized in the life of the congregation:

Like a mighty army
Moves the church of God
Brothers, we are treading
Where the saints have trod.
We are not divided,
All one body we,
One in hope and doctrine,
One in charity.

As this is progressively realized in the life of the church, she marches forward from victory to victory in the name of the Captain of her salvation.

P. Y. DeJong, Taking Heed to the Flock (1948), p. 38.

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