Justifying Faith: Receiving Christ (Owen)

When the Westminster Confession explains justifying faith, it uses the term “receiving.”  Here’s chapter XI.2: “Faith, thus receiving and resting on Christ and his righteousness, is the alone instrument of justification…” (emphasis mine).  The Heidelberg Catechism also uses this word in answer 30: “For either Jesus is not a complete Savior, or they who by true faith receive this Savior must have in him all that is necessary to their salvation” (emphasis mine).  Are there biblical reasons to use the phrase “receiving Christ” when talking about faith?  Yes, for sure!  Here’s how John Owen nicely explained it:

That faith whereby we are justified is most frequently in the New Testament expressed by receiving…  First, That it is so expressed with respect unto the whole object of faith, or unto all that does any way concur unto our justification; for we are said to receive Christ himself: “As many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God,” John 1:12; “As ye have received Christ Jesus the Lord,” Col. 2:6.  In opposition hereunto unbelief is expressed by not receiving of him, John 1:11, 3:11, 12:48, 14:17.

And it is a receiving of Christ as he is “The Lord our Righteousness,” as of God he is made righteousness unto us. And as no grace, no duty, can have any co-operation with faith herein — this reception of Christ not belonging unto their nature, nor comprised in their exercise — so it excludes any other righteousness from our justification but that of Christ alone; for we are “justified by faith.”

Faith alone receiveth Christ; and what it receives is the cause of our justification, whereon we become the sons of God. So we “receive the atonement” made by the blood of Christ, Rom. 5:11; for “God hath set him forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood.” And this receiving of the atonement includes the soul’s approbation of the way of salvation by the blood of Christ, and the appropriation of the atonement made thereby unto our own souls. For thereby also we receive the forgiveness of sins: “That they may receive forgiveness of sins …… by faith that is in me,” Acts 26:18. In receiving Christ we receive the atonement; and in the atonement we receive the forgiveness of sins. But, moreover, the grace of God, and righteousness itself, as the efficient and material cause of our justification, are received also; even the “abundance of grace and the gift of righteousness,” Rom. 5:17.

So that faith, with respect unto all the causes of justification, is expressed by “receiving;” for it also receiveth the promise, the instrumental cause on the part of God thereof, Acts 2:41; Heb. 9:15.

John Owen, The Works of John Owen, ed. William H. Goold, vol. 5 (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, n.d.), 291–292.

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

The “Old Mire” of Works-Righteousness (Luther)

  Although I appreciate almost any sermon by Martin Luther, there are some that brilliantly stand out to me. One of those is a sermon called “Concerning the Sum of the Christian Life.”  It’s a sermon on 1 Timothy 1:5-7:  “But the goal of our instruction is love from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith. For some men, straying from these things, have turned aside to fruitless discussion, wanting to be teachers of the Law, even though they do not understand either what they are saying or the matters about which they make confident assertions” (NASB).

At one point in the sermon when Luther was discussing “sincere faith” he contrasted faith in Christ to works of the law.  The law, he wrote, drags us to the judgment seat of God, shows all the ways we’ve disobeyed, and calls down the sentence of the Judge.  The gospel, however, is the fact that Christ is our mercy seat, and through faith alone in him alone, we find forgiveness and the favor of God.  Luther said that even though we might understand this reality, it’s very difficult to let go of the law and our works in order to hold only to Christ for acceptance and peace with God.  Here’s how he explained it:

Let him that will, try and enter upon the beginning of this matter, and he shall soon see and experience, how hard and difficult a matter it is for a man who has passed all his life in works of great holiness, to leave the whole and cleave with his whole heart through faith unto this Mediator only.

I myself have now preached the Gospel for nearly twenty years, and have assiduously devoted myself to reading and writing upon faith, and may justly seem to have emerged from this false opinion. Yet even now, at times, I feel that old mire sticking to my heart; under the influence of which, I would willingly so act towards God, as to take a something with me in my hand to him, for the sake of which he should give me grace according to my righteousness. And scarcely can I be brought to commit myself with all confidence to mere grace only. And yet it must be so, and cannot be otherwise. The mercy-seat must stand and prevail alone (seeing that he has set himself before us as the only refuge) or no one shall ever be saved.

…And I have no other consolation, no other help or hope of salvation, than that Christ my mercy-seat, who never sinned, who never was defiled with iniquity, who died for me and rose again, now sits at the right hand of the Father, covers me with the overshadowing wings of his protection; so that I doubt not, that through his benefits and intercession, I am safe before God, and delivered from all wrath and terror of judgment. Thus, faith sets nothing before itself to trust in rashly, but remains pure in all things by resting in Christ alone.

 Martin Luther, “Sermon VIII: Concerning the Sum of the Christian Life,” in Select Works of Martin Luther: An Offering to the Church of God in “The Last Days,” trans. Henry Cole, vol. I (London: T. Bensley, 1826), 542.

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

I’ll Keep On by NF (Music Monday)

I'll Keep On [feat. Jeremiah Carlson]  I realize that rap or hip-hop is not everyone’s favorite music genre or style. And, of course, some rap and hip-hop songs are explicit, downright filthy, and not for Christian ears.  But I really enjoy this style of music when it steers clear of the filth and explicit themes.  Unlike some other music, rap/hip-hop can say so much with just a few phrases.  In good rap and hip hop, there are typically no wasted words or lines.  Good rap is often deep and thoughtful.  It makes me think hard and it gets to my heart.  (It’s just the opposite of those annoying pop choruses that drive us crazy when they get stuck on ‘repeat’ in our heads!)

One of my favorite rap artists is NF (Nathan Feuerstein).  NF has a handful of albums out which are all full of high-quality music and intense, profound, and moving lyrics.  (As a side, I let my teenage sons listen to NF, and they really enjoy it.)  For this edition of “Music Monday” I’d like to point out one of my favorite songs by NF: “I’ll Keep On.”  This song is found on his album called Mansion.  Notice the honesty, the confession of weakness and sin, and the Augustinian theme that our hearts are restless until they find rest in God.

…Faith is something I am not accustomed to
And trusting other people’s something I don’t really love to do
I’ve never been a fan of it, I act tougher
Really my shoulders they ain’t built for this
And I don’t have nothing

It’s like I’m standing in the rain and you offer me a raincoat
But I would rather stand there and get wet than take the handout
What’s wrong with me? You said you’ve always got your hands out
And I cannot continue on my own, so take my hands now

I give you everything, God, not just a little bit
Take it from me, I am nothing but a hypocrite
I hate sin, but I built a house and I still live in it
Afraid to open up the door to You and let You into it
My soul is lost and what it needs is Your direction
I know, I’ve told You I do not need Your protection
But I lied to You, this thing is tiring
And man was not created for it,
God, please retire me now!

Oh these hands are tired
Oh this heart is tired
Oh this soul is tired
But I’ll keep on
I’ll keep on…

Trust is something I am not accustomed to
And I know the Bible says that I should always trust in You
But, I don’t ever read that book enough
And when I have a question I don’t take the time to look it up
Or pick it up
It collects dust on my nightstand
I’m just being honest
Please take this out of my hands
I have no control – I am just a person

But thank the Lord that I serve a God who’s perfect
I do not deserve the opportunity You’ve given me
I never knew what freedom was until I learned what prison means
I am not ashamed, I don’t care if they remember me
My life will always have a hole if You are not the centerpiece
Take me out of bondage, take all of my pride
If I don’t have a Savior, I don’t have nothing inside
Take all of my lust, take all of my lies
There’s no better feeling than when I look in the sky, in Your eyes,
it’s amazing!

Oh these hands are tired
Oh this heart is tired
Oh this soul is tired
But I’ll keep on
I’ll keep on…

NF, “I’ll Keep On”, from the album Mansion.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54015

“In Those Dark Hours” (Machen)


J. Gresham Machen: Selected Shorter Writings

(This is a re-post from September, 2010)

In the early 1900s, J. Gresham Machen faced intense spiritual struggles – he was asking some deep questions about Christianity.  There were three people who helped him through it: Francis Patton, Bishop Blougram, and his own dear mother.  Here’s what he said of his mother – how she helped him through his spiritual struggles.

“Another thing used to be said to me by my mother in those dark hours when the lamp burned dim, when I thought that faith was gone and shipwreck had been made of my soul.  ‘Christ,’ she used to say, ‘keeps firmer hold on us than we keep on him.’”

“That means, at least, when translated into worldly terms, that we ought to distrust our moods.  Many a man has fallen into despair because, losing the heavenly vision for a moment, passing through the dull lowlands of life, he takes such experience as though it were permanent, and desserts a well-grounded conviction which was the real foundation of his life.  Faith is often diversified by doubt, but a man should not desert the conviction of his better moments because the dark moments come.”

“But my mother’s word meant something far deeper than all that.  It meant rather that salvation by faith does not mean that we are saved because we keep ourselves at every moment in an ideally perfect attitude of confidence in Christ.  No, we are saved because, having once been united to Christ by faith, we are his forever.  Calvinism is a very comforting doctrine indeed.  Without its comfort, I think I should have perished long ago in the castle of Giant Despair.”

The above quote is found on page 561 of Machen’s Selected Shorter Writings.

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

A Most Important Question (Machen)

What is Faith? Machen, J. Gresham cover image What is saving faith?  This is one of the most important questions we can ask and have answered!  I like how J. Gresham Machen addressed the question:

A more “practical” question could hardly be conceived. The preacher says: “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shall be saved.” But how can a man possibly act on that suggestion, unless he knows what it is to believe. It was at that point that the “doctrinal” preaching of a former generation was far more practical than the “practical” preaching of the present day. I shall never forget the pastor of the church in which I grew up. He was a good preacher in many ways, but his most marked characteristic was the plainness and definiteness with which he told the people what a man should do to be saved. The preachers of the present time allude to the importance of becoming a Christian, but they seldom seem to make the matter the subject of express exposition; they leave the people with a vague impression to the effect that being a Christian is a good thing, but this impression is difficult to translate into action because definite directions are absent. These preachers speak about faith, but they do not tell what faith is.

It is to help in some small way to supply this lack that the present little book (called What is Faith?) has been written. If the way of salvation is faith, it does seem to be highly important to tell people who want to be saved just what faith means. If a preacher cannot do that, he can hardly be a true evangelist.

In seven brief chapters, Machen goes on to give a solid, biblical answer to the important question.  Here are the chapter titles: Faith in God, Faith in Christ, Faith Born of Need, Faith and the Gospel, Faith and Salvation, Faith and Works, and finally, Faith and Hope.  If you’ve not read this book, I very much recommend it.  What is Faith? is not too long or difficult, and it is full of gospel truth and comfort.  For those of you who need a hand to lead you again to Jesus, this book will do that.

The above quote is found in the introduction of Machen’s, What is Faith?

(This post is a re-blog from November 2015)

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

The Word and Assurance (Bavinck)​

Reformed Ethics: Created, Fallen, and Converted Humanity Herman Bavinck cover image Here’s a nice section on faith, the Spirit, the Word, and the Christian’s assurance of salvation.  It’s found in volume one of Bavinck’s Reformed Ethics:  (Note: if you want to know why the language is somewhat choppy, see below.)

“The Holy Spirit… brings us to that point; first, through the Word by making the major premise – God’s promises are true – clear to us.  The Word, with the sacraments – in a word, the promises of God – are always the objective foundation of our assurance.  Faith must ground its assurance in the Word.  Those grounds are innumerable; think of all those passages that we mentioned in connection with the perseverance of the saints.  God, his attributes (faithfulness, goodness, love, power, etc.), the permanence of the covenant of grace that is confirmed with sacramental oath, God’s delight in conversion; Christ’s love, grace, divine and human natures, his person and work, his office and state; likewise, the work of the Holy Spirit, how he remains within us, comforts, etc.

Scripture is full of promises upon which believers can base their existence. Now it is true that Holy Scripture speaks in general: whoever believes is saved. It does not say: You, Person A or Person B, are saved. But the particular is included within the general, the universal contains the singular. Nevertheless, no matter how firm and rich those promises may be, our eyes may well be closed to them. Doubt can enter our soul regarding those promises through various causes, including the whisperings of Satan, historical criticism, the misunderstanding and ignorance of Scripture, and through various doubts: Would God, Christ even, desire to have me, such a great sinner? Am I included among those called by God? Preaching from the pulpit and pastoral visitation must counter these doubts regarding the major premise by emphasizing the permanence, richness, extensiveness, omnipotence, etc., of God’s promises. This is foundational and must be established.

This is then the means whereby the Holy Spirit usually delivers people from those doubts. By means of sermons, home visiting, reading of Scripture, etc., the Holy Spirit occasionally allows new light to fall, so that we suddenly behold the permanence of the promises and are assured.

Herman Bavinck, Reformed Ethics, vol. 1, p. 399.

(Note: The manuscripts of Bavinck’s Reformed Ethics were seminary lectures that were not ready for publication.  What has been published recently in English is the product of taking Bavinck’s own manuscripts and filling them out a using extensive class notes taken by two men in Bavinck’s ethics class.)

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54015


You Are My God (Lloyd-Jones)

 The first words of David’s prayer in Psalm 63 are, “[O] God, my God you are” (אֱלֹהִ֤ים אֵלִ֥י אַתָּ֗ה).  Or, in better English: “O God, you are my God!”  I like how Martyn Lloyd-Jones reflected on these words:

Listen to David in this psalm; here is the language always of the true children of God. He begins with an expressive exclamation: “O God.” No one ever uses that unless he or she is a child of God. I know that the world in its blasphemy utters these two words as an expletive, but it does not know what it is saying. But here the psalmist offers it from the very depth of his being: “O God.” You sense the feeling—the whole man is involved in it. He turns to the one whom he knows is going to listen. He flees to Him.

And further, he is able to say, “Thou art my God.” Not merely God as such but “my God” in particular. In other words, there is a consciousness of this personal relationship. He does not go doubtfully and uncertainly; he knows that God is his God and that he is God’s child. He turns to God as a child turns to his father and with the same instinctive movement. There is no query, no doubt, no uncertainty. He knows the way is open; he has traveled so often upon it that he can at times utter nothing but “O God.”

David Martyn Lloyd-Jones and Christopher Catherwood, Seeking the Face of God: Nine Reflections on the Psalms (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2005), 104.

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