Saved and Being Saved (Warfield)

 The Bible talks about salvation in many different places.  It also uses different tenses when it talks about the salvation of God’s people.  For example, we have been saved (Eph 2:5).  We are being saved (2 Cor. 2:15), and we will be saved (Mt. 24:13).  This language means that when God graciously rescues a person from sin, death, and hell, he doesn’t just bring the person immediately to glory.  Instead, there’s a path, or journey called the Christian life.  Here’s how B. B. Warfield put it:

What is chiefly of importance for us to bear in mind here, is that God’s plan is to save, whether the individual or the world, by process. No doubt the whole salvation of the individual sinner is already accomplished on the cross: but the sinner enters into the full enjoyment of this accomplished salvation only by stages and in the course of time. Redeemed by Christ, regenerated by the Holy Spirit, justified through faith, received into the very household of God as his sons, led by the Spirit into the flowering and fruiting activities of the new life, our salvation is still only in process and not yet complete.

We still are the prey of temptation; we still fall into sin; we still suffer sickness, sorrow, death itself. Our redeemed bodies can hope for nothing but to wear out in weakness and to break down in decay in the grave. Our redeemed souls only slowly enter into their heritage. Only when the last trump shall sound and we shall rise from our graves, and perfected souls and incorruptible bodies shall together enter into the glory prepared for God’s children, is our salvation complete.

 Benjamin B. Warfield, The Plan of Salvation: Five Lectures (Philadelphia: Presbyterian Board of Publication, 1915), 129.

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


Calvin on the Great Usefulness of the Law

Institutes of the Christian Religion, Beveridge Translation In his Institutes of the Christian Religion, Calvin talks about three parts, or uses, of the law (I.II.VII.6-12).  First, he said, the law “warns, informs, convicts, and lastly condemns, every man of his own unrighteousness. …The law is like a mirror.  In it, we contemplate our weakness….”  Second, Calvin said the law restrains people by the fear of punishment: “The law is like a halter to check the raging and otherwise limitlessly ranging lusts of the flesh.”  What did he say about the third use of the law?

“The third use of the Law (being also the principal use, and more closely connected with its proper end) has respect to believers in whose hearts the Spirit of God already flourishes and reigns. For although the Law is written and engraven on their hearts by the finger of God, that is, although they are so influenced and actuated by the Spirit, that they desire to obey God, there are two ways in which they still profit in the Law.”

The “two ways” Christians can profit from the law are:

 1) It teaches us the will of the Lord.  “It is the best instrument for enabling them daily to learn with greater truth and certainty what that will of the Lord is which they aspire to follow.  …Let none of us deem ourselves exempt from this necessity, for none have as yet attained to such a degree of wisdom, as that they may not, by the daily instruction of the Law, advance to a purer knowledge of the Divine will.”

2) It exhorts us to and encourages us in obedience: “The servant of God will derive this further advantage from the Law: by frequently meditating upon it, he will be excited to obedience, and confirmed in it, and so drawn away from the slippery paths of sin.  On this theme, Calvin says that in Psalm 119 the prophet “proclaims the great usefulness of the law: the Lord instructs by their reading of it those whom he inwardly instills with a readiness to obey.  He lays hold not only of the precepts, but the accompanying promise of grace, which alone sweetens what is bitter.”

I appreciate how Calvin said the third use of the law is the principle part, or use.  This is one reason why the Reformed/Presbyterian catechisms have a large section on the 10 commandments as they apply to the Christian life.

Tomorrow I’ll note what Calvin said about those who want to do away with the law in the Christian life – the antinomians.  Stay tuned…

shane lems
hammond, wi

Surrender and Consecration: Life and Ministry

Faith and Life Many of B. B. Warfield’s Princeton sermons are wonderful and edifying pieces to read.  One that I appreciate is from Acts 22:10 (What shall I do, Lord?) called “Surrender and Consecration.”  Here are two paragraphs from it – the second one applies to ministers of the gospel.  These words make me think of the hymn “Take My Life.”

In this latter question (“What shall I do, Lord?”) there unite the two essential elements of all [true] religion, surrender and consecration—the passive and active aspects of that faith which on the human side is the fundamental element of religion, as grace is on God’s side, when dealing with sinful men. “What shall I do, Lord?” In that simple question, as it trembled on the lips of Paul lying prostrate in the presence of the heavenly glory, there pulsated all that abnegation of self, that casting of oneself wholly on Christ, that firm entrusting of oneself in all the future to Him and His guidance,—in a word, the whole of the “assensus” and “fiducia,” which (the “notitia” being presupposed) constitute saving faith. And saving faith wherever found is sure to take this position, perhaps not purely—for what faith of man is absolutely pure?—but in direct proportion to its purity, its governing power over the life. Surrender and consecration, we may take it then, are the twin key-notes of the Christian life: “What shall I do, Lord?” the one question which echoes through all the corridors of the Christian heart.

And as our life as ministers of the Gospel is nothing else but one side of our Christian life— the flower and fruit of our Christian life—surrender and consecration must be made also its notes. It is in direct proportion as they are made its key-notes that we may hope for success in our ministry; for only in this proportion are we Christ’s ministers and not servitors of our own selves. Let us, then, approach this holy calling in this spirit, the spirit of Paul before us and of every child of Christ through all the ages. Let us now as we enter these halls to begin or to re-begin our preparation for the great work before us, have no reservations—that we will serve the Lord in this sphere, but not in that; that we will serve Him to this extent, but not to that; that we will serve Him in this mode, but not in that. Let surrender and consecration be our watch-words. “What shall I do, Lord?”—let that question be the spirit of all our lives.

B. B. Warfield, Faith and Life (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust, 1974),155-6.

shane lems

The Happy Christian – A Review

I try to be a positive Christian with a positive outlook on life.  Generally speaking, I look on the bright side and press on in the Christian life with hopefulness because Christ is on the throne.  But sometimes I fall into a rut of gloom, cynicism, and I think the cup is “half empty,” so to speak.  From time to time I can identify with Christians who are always gloomy, pessimistic, and critical.  The question is, how can we get out of the rut of gloom?  We should want to, since the Christian faith is not one of gloom, doom, and extreme cynicism!

David Murray answers this question in his new book, The Happy Christian.   In ten chapters, Murray tackles gloom armed first with Scripture and secondly with some helpful scientific studies and insights about pessimism and optimism.  If I can make a generalization, Murray is basically calling God’s people to a Christian optimism, or a biblical optimism based on the truths of Scripture.  The book is just over 260 pages.

The chapters go like this: To gain a more positive outlook on life 1) focus on facts more than feelings, 2) avoid so much bad news and focus on good news, 3) focus on the fact that Christ’s work of salvation is finished, 4) focus on the strengths of other Christians instead of their weaknesses, 5) focus on the blessed future we have in Christ rather than the past, 6) Find God’s common grace in the world instead of sin and evil, 7) Find things to praise people for instead of critique them, 8) give money and things away instead of hoarding, 9) View your work as a calling instead of a job, 10) be around people of different ethnicities instead of one ethnicity.

Overall, I enjoyed the book and much of it made perfect sense.  I appreciated Murray’s call to focus on the facts rather than be led by feelings (I’ve learned that over the years!), and I appreciated his emphasis on the gospel (chapter 3), which leads us to joyful freedom and service instead of a constant negative guilt for sin.  I also appreciated Murray’s call to stay away from so much news/media, since the news tends to focus on the negative and then makes us negative (I agree; I quit following the news years ago and it has helped me be more optimistic).  Murray was also dead-on when he encouraged churches to aim for joy, grace, and a spotlight on the Good News.  His chapter on praising others was also a good reminder for me to work harder to encourage and bless people with my words.

There were a few things in the book about which I was less enthusiastic.  First, Scripture citations are endnotes rather than written in the text or as footnotes (minor,  I know, but endnotes kill my reading optimism!).  Second, there was a ton of information covered in this book.  I was almost overwhelmed at times, since Murray did quite a few bullet point type lists/paragraphs.  For one example, in his discussion on the benefits of Christian hope (p. 95ff), Murray lists twelve benefits followed by eight ways to grow in hope.  The notes were good, but it was almost an information overload for me since there were many lists/paragraphs like this (e.g. ten parts of constructive criticism, ten ways of learning to praise others, nine ways to give biblically, eight ways to pursue diversity personally, ten ways for a church to pursue diversity, five truths about giving in leadership positions, etc.).  I realize all readers are different, so perhaps this is subjective, but those lists sort of bogged me down in the reading.

One other question I had about the book is the chapter on diversity.  I fully agree with Murray’s emphasis on breaking racial barriers down, since Scripture calls us to love others and since Jesus died for people from every tribe, tongue, and nation.  However, I didn’t quite see exactly how diversity increases joy; does this mean that the less ethnic diversity there is in a person’s life, the less joy he or she has?  Many house churches in China can’t really be diverse; the same can be said about a church in a tribal jungle location or in some rural parts of other countries.  Also, if I have a handful of good Christian friends, can’t they increase my joy no matter what ethnicity they are?  Maybe I’m missing something; and I am honestly open to correction here!  And again, I agree that Scripture does call us away from racism and it calls us to love others based on the gospel and God’s love for all sorts of people.

In summary, I’m glad I read this book, The Happy Christian.  The church for sure does need more emphasis on the true, the beautiful, and the good since she usually talks too much about what is wrong with the world.  I’m going to incorporate some parts of this book into my own actions, conversation, and Christian teaching.  It’s always a good thing for me to be pointed in the right way of Christian optimism, since Jesus does reign!  God treats us, his people, like sons and daughters, therefore “lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees (Heb. 12:7, 12)!”

[As a side, it was neat to learn that David Murray is a Reformed pastor and seminary professor.  I’m thankful he put so much time and energy into this helpful resource!]

David Murray, The Happy Christian (Nashville: Nelson Books, 2015).

((I received this book from the Booklook blogging program; per FCC rules, I need to note that I was not compelled to write a positive review.))

shane lems
hammond, wi

The “Trivial” Old Testament?

An Old Testament Theology: A Canonical and Thematic Approach Do we really need to read and study as well as preach and teach from the Old Testament?  Can’t we just stick with the Gospels and Paul’s letters? To answer these questions briefly, it would be unbiblical and unchristian to avoid and ignore the Old Testament.  I appreciate Bruce Waltke’s words on this topic:

“The Old Testament contains much that seems trivial to the modern Christian.  That is because we fail to understand the functions of these texts.  Aside from teaching us about God, sin, and the need for redemption, a significant portion of the Old Testament recounts the history of the people of God.  These are the narratives that constitute the memories of the Christian community.  These memories inform our identity as Christians.  Thus, Abraham is our spiritual father.  His story becomes part of our past.  The exodus, the monarchy of Israel and Judah, and the exile cease to be ancient tales of a distant people, but the triumphs and tragedies of our own history.  Moreover, its ceremonial laws, such as abstaining from ‘unclean’ foods are ‘visual aids’ to instruct God’s people of all ages to be pure.”

“…In this fashion the stories of the Old Testament communicate at a level beyond cognitive propositions.  They challenge us to identify with Abraham as our father, to share his faith that rejoices to see the day of Jesus Christ, and to look forward to a heavenly city whose builder and maker is God.  They engender a transformed self-perception and an altered worldview.  This is one of the most powerful functions of the Old Testament; unfortunately, it is also one of the least understood among the community of faith” (p. 14).

Bruce Waltke, An Old Testament Theology (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2007).

shane lems

Radical(ly Normal)

“You don’t have to live crazy to follow Jesus.”  As the subtitle, that statement is a great summary of Josh Kelley’s new book, Radically NormalAs you may have already guessed, this book was written in response to some movements in American evangelicalism that lay a guilt trip on Christians for not following Jesus in radical ways (i.e. selling all and going on the mission field).  Kelley’s book is a fine complement to Matt Redmond’s The God of the Mundane (which I reviewed here).

Josh Kelley is the pastor of a smaller evangelical church in Washington State.  Having been raised in conservative evangelical circles, he had met Christians who were overly zealous (“Radical Randy”) and Christians who were too lazy.  These are two extremes: obsessive Christians and complacent Christians.  In this book, Kelley refutes both of these extremes and argues for a more biblical way: following Jesus in “normal” ways.  This is how he states his case – and what he unpacks in the book:

“[Many Christians] look at missionaries, street preachers, and pastors and feel certain they just aren’t on the same level as professional Christians.  Too many Christians feel guilty for their normal, everyday lives, which doesn’t involve performing miracles, standing behind a pulpit, or sharing the gospel in a distant jungle. …They live under the burden of believing that God would have been a little happier if they had sold everything and become missionaries….  I’ve come to believe that the entire system is absolute nonsense, a trap of the enemy that puffs up a few Christians and deflates the rest” (p. 35, 46).

From a different angle, Radically Normal might be viewed as a book that discusses (in a positive way) everyday Christian spirituality.  Kelley discusses evangelism, money, holiness, legalism, worldliness, suffering, and other such aspects of the Christian life.  I appreciated how he tried to stay balanced and level-headed throughout the book.  Using many personal stories, Kelley calls the reader to follow Jesus in a serious way, but he focuses on the Scriptures that talk about living “ordinary” lives while following Jesus.

I did put a few question marks in the margins as I read.  I’m not wild about giving up something for Lent or holding a Passover meal, as Kelley explained.  I also wish he would have spoken more about the church – he did, to be sure, in a positive way, but without much detail.  More emphasis on preaching and the sacraments would also have been nice, since God’s ordinary means of grace have everything to do with living ordinary Christian lives.

All in all, this book, Radically Normal, is a helpful evangelical counterpoint to the “radical” American evangelical emphases and movements (emphases and movements which have been around for more than 30 years).  It’s well written, not too difficult to read, and provides a good remedy for those Christians who feel guilty for not being radical.  Thankfully, you (usually) don’t have to quit your day job to follow the Lord Jesus in a biblical, God-glorifying way.

Josh Kelley, Radically Normal (Eugene: Harvest House Publishers, 2014).

*Note: this book was given to me by the author (thanks Josh!) and the publisher in exchange for an honest review.*

shane lems
hammond, wi

“God Seeks Nothing Extraordinary From Us”

Here’s a great excerpt from a 1534 sermon Martin Luther preached on Matthew 22:34-46.  These are good words to think about in response to the modern-day “radical” movement.

“The Lord’s reply is especially irksome, that the everyday routine works which people are commanded to do, namely, that they are to love God and the neighbor, supersede all other works, regardless of how they shine and glitter.  The fact is, not only the Pharisees among the Jews, and the hypocrites under the papacy, have regarded human traditions as more important than God’s commandments; for there is a little monk that sticks in all of us from youth on.  We, too, regard the ordinary works God has commanded as insignificant, but the special, diverse works done by the Carthusians, monks, and hermits, about which God has commanded nothing, as especially noteworthy.”

“However, our Lord God is averse to such distinction.  He does not prefer one before another, nor does he exclude anyone from serving him, no matter how lowly he might be.  Instead, he enjoins upon everyone to exercise love to God and his neighbor.  Since God seeks nothing extraordinary from us and tolerates no distinctions, we must conclude that when a maid, who has faith in Christ, dusts the house her work is more pleasing in service to God than that of St. Anthony in the wilderness.  That is Christ’s meaning here.  This is the highest commandment: to love God and one’s neighbor.  God is not concerned about the rules of the Franciscans, Dominicans, or other monks, but wants us to serve him obediently and love the neighbor.  They may consider their monastic rules to be something wonderful and special, but before God they are nothing.  The very highest, best, and holiest work is when one loves God and the neighbor, whether a person is a monk or nun, priest or layperson, great or small.”

A few paragraphs later, Luther summarizes this discussion well:

“…We, therefore, must learn to think and answer like this: Not something extraordinary, but to love God and your neighbor, that is the best way of life!  If I do that, I don’t have to be searching for another way.  It is so very true that loving God and the neighbor is the greatest and best work, even though it appears to be so very ordinary and insignificant.”

Martin Luther, Luther’s Sermons, vol. 7, pages 75-6.  Also see my review of Matthew Redmond’s helpful book, The God of the Mundane.

shane lems