Paul’s Devastating Exposure of Universal Sin and Guilt (Stott)

 Romans 3:19-20 makes this declaration: “Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be silenced and the whole world may be held accountable to God. For no one is declared righteous before him by the works of the law, for through the law comes the knowledge of sin” (NET Bible).

I appreciate John Stott’s conclusions on this part of Romans 3:

In conclusion, how should we respond to Paul’s devastating exposure of universal sin and guilt, as we read it at the end of the twentieth century? We should not try to evade it by changing the subject and talking instead of the need for self-esteem, or by blaming our behaviour on our genes, nurturing, education or society. It is an essential part of our dignity as human beings that, however much we may have been affected by negative influences, we are not their helpless victims, but rather responsible for our conduct. Our first response to Paul’s indictment, then, should be to make it as certain as we possibly can that we have ourselves accepted this divine diagnosis of our human condition as true, and that we have fled from the just judgment of God on our sins to the only refuge there is, namely Jesus Christ who died for our sins. For we have no merit to plead and no excuse to make. We too stand before God speechless and condemned. Only then shall we be ready to hear the great ‘But now’ of verse 21, as Paul begins to explain how God has intervened through Christ and his cross for our salvation.

 Stott, J. R. W. (2001). The Message of Romans: God’s Good News for the World (pp. 104–105). Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54015

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Justified Today, Damned Tomorrow? Never! (Sibbes)

 We are weak.  Our faith is often feeble and barely flickering.  We have doubts; despair sometimes is a dark cloud in the Christian life.  “Prone to wander” is an understatement at times!  I appreciate how Richard Sibbes discussed this hard reality in the Christian life.  He met it with the gospel, with the comforting truths of the doctrines of grace:

Objection: “Oh… says the poor soul, I am a poor weak creature, and ready to fall away every day.”

Answer: “Yes, but Christ’s love is constant.  ‘Whom he loves, he loves to the end.’  What does the apostle say (Rom. 8:38-39)? ‘Neither things present, nor things to come, shall be able to separate us from the love of Christ.’  Therefore be strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might; do not trust yourselves, nor trouble yourselves for things to come.  If you be free from guilt of former sins, never question time to come.  God is unchangeable in his nature, unchangeable in his love.  He is ‘Yahweh I AM’, always – not ‘I was or will be’, but ‘I am always.’  If ever he loved you, he will love you forever.”

“You see the constancy of Christ’s love when he told Mary, ‘Go tell my brothers’ (John 20:17).  Now when they had most deeply offended him, they were renegades, having all left him even then when he had most need of their comfort, being in greatest extremity – yet he called them brothers when he said, ‘Go tell my brothers.'”

“Beloved, let us not lose the comfort of the constancy and immutability of Christ’s love. Let us conceive that all the sweet links of salvation are held on God’s part strong, not on ours; the firmness is on God’s part, not on ours. Election is firm on God’s part, not on ours. We choose indeed as he chooses us, but the firmness is of his choosing; so he calles us, we answer, but the firmness is of his action. He justifies; we are made righteous, but the firmness is of his imputation. Will he forgive sins today, and bring us into court and damn us tomorrow? No. The firmness is of his action. We are ready to run into new debts every day, but whom he justifies he will glorify. The whole chain so holds, that all the creatures in heaven and earth cannot break a link of it. Whom he calls he will justify and glorify. Therefore never doubt of continuance, for it holds firm on God’s part, not thine.”

Richard Sibbes, A Heavenly Conference, p. 53.

(Note: the above quotes have been slightly edited for readability.)

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

Christ’s Blood and the Christian Conscience (Ash)

 One absolutely wonderful part of being a Christian is having a clear conscience before God and others.  It all has to do with what Jesus did for me: he lived a perfect life for me, died on the cross for me, and was raised from the dead for me.  Because of this, by faith I receive his righteousness and my sins are washed away: I am justified by God.  Therefore I have peace with God and there is no condemnation in my future (Rom. 5:1, 8:1).  Over and over I look to Christ to remember and rejoice in the fact that these things are true – this helps my conscience remain free and clear.  Christopher Ash comments well on this:

Learning to do this [look to Christ and his cleansing blood] is important for Christian stability.  If I am not sure about what Christ has done for me, I will always be dissatisfied how I relate to God, dogged by uncertainty and insecurity.  When someone (a peddler in the spirituality marketplace) offers me a new technique that will cure my spiritual depression, I will be the first to sign up.  If someone tells me about a church on the other side of the world where this cure is being experienced, I will save up and fly out there to get the cure, the ‘new thing that God is doing,’ all because I will not believe what God says.  Instead of wasting my money, I need to think about the new and living way Jesus has opened up for me into the immediate presence of God.  When my heart is filled with the wonder of this truth, I will be oblivious to the attraction of second-rate substitutes.

So the death of Christ not only deals with the objective truth of our guilt before God, but also addresses our subjective awareness of that guilt.  It changes not only the way we are before God, our actual status, but also our perception and our inward thoughts about ourselves. By faith we say to ourselves, ‘God says I have been made perfect in and by the obedience of Jesus Christ.  And I believe that what God says is true.  I have been made perfect.  I am cleansed at the deepest level of human personhood.  Not only my actions and words, but my memories are cleansed too.  So that when conscience drags up in my memory something of which I am ashamed, faith says to conscience that this thing, this sin, this impurity, this greed, this omission, this cowardice, whatever it may be, has been made clean by the blood of Christ.  All of it.”

I take it that this is what John means in 1 John 1:9 when he says, ‘If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.’

Christopher Ash, Discovering the Joy of a Clear Conscience, p.146-7.

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

 

Grace: More Than Unmerited Favor!

 Since I read this around ten years ago, I’ve really been helped and even comforted by Meredith Kline’s explanation of saving grace.  He noted that “in the biblical proclamation of the gospel, grace is the antithesis of the works principle.”  Later he wrote,

“The distinctive meaning of [saving] grace in its biblical-theological usage is a divine response of favor and blessing in the face of human violation of obligation.  Gospel grace takes account of man in his responsibility under the demands of the covenant and specifically as a covenant breaker….  Accordingly, the grace of Christ comes to expression in his active and passive obedience, together constituting a vicarious satisfaction for the obligations and liabilities of his people, who through failure and transgression are debtors before the covenant Lord, the Judge of all the earth.  Gospel grace emerges in a forensic framework as a response of mercy to demerit.

In other words, because we transgressed the law, we rightly deserve its curses and punishments.  But God shows grace and mercy in sending Christ to save us – to both obey the law and suffer the curse in our place.  We deserve death, by grace alone he gives life!

Theologically it is of the greatest importance to recognize that the idea of demerit is an essential element in the definition of grace.  In its proper theological sense as the opposite of law-works, grace is more than unmerited favor.  That is, divine grace directs itself not merely to the absence of merit but to the presence of demerit.  …It is a granting of blessing, as an act of mercy, in spite of previous covenant breaking by which man has forfeited all claims to participation in the kingdom and has incurred God’s disfavor and righteous wrath.  It bestows the good offered in the covenant’s blessing sanctions rather than the evil of the threatened curse even though man has done evil rather than good in terms of the covenant stipulations.

Meredith Kline, Kingdom Prologue, pages 112-113.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54015

The Principal Foundation of our Salvation (Turretin)

 I’ve always appreciated Francis Turretin’s discussion of justification by faith alone.  Here are some of his quotes on this topic that I’ve found quite comforting:

For the righteousness of Christ alone imputed to us is the foundation and meritorious cause upon which our absolutary (absolving) sentence rests, so that for no other reason does God bestow the pardon of sin and the right to life than on account of the most perfect righteousness of Christ imputed to us and apprehended by faith.  Hence it is readily gathered that we have not here a mere dispute about words (as some falsely imagine), but a controversy most real and indeed of the highest moment.  In it we treat of the principal foundation of our salvation, which being overthrown or weakened, all our confidence and consolation both in life and in death must necessarily perish.

…The gospel teaches that what could not be found in us was to be sought in another, could be found nowhere else than in Christ, the God-man; who taking upon himself the office of surety most fully satisfied the justice of God by his perfect obedience and thus brought to us an everlasting righteousness by which alone we can be justified before God; in order that covered and clothed with that garment as though it were of our first-born (like Jacob), we may obtain under in the eternal blessing of our heavenly Father.

…The obedience of Christ rendered in our name to God the Father is so given to us by God that it is reckoned to be truly ours and that it is the sole and only righteousness on account of and by the merit of which we are absolved from the guilt of our sins and obtain a right to life….”

Francis Turretin, Institutes, vol 2, p. 639, 647, 648.

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

Pray Hard, For You Are Quite A Sinner (Luther)

The following paragraph is from a famous letter of Martin Luther to Phillip Melanchthon.  I’ve posted it on this blog before, but it’s worth doing again.  This letter shows two things: 1) Luther well understood Rome’s unbiblical doctrines [note the “imaginary” language below] and 2) he understood the gospel clearly.

If you are a preacher of mercy, do not preach an imaginary but
the true mercy.  If the mercy is true, you must therefore bear the
true, not an imaginary sin.  God does not save those who are only
imaginary sinners.  Be a sinner, and let your sins be strong, but let
your trust in Christ be stronger, and rejoice in Christ who is the
victor over sin, death, and the world.  We will commit sins while we
are here, for this life is not a place where justice resides.  We,
however, says Peter (2 Peter 3:13) are looking forward to a new
heaven and a new earth where justice will reign.  It suffices that
through God’s glory we have recognized the Lamb who takes away the
sin of the world. No sin can separate us from Him, even if we were to
kill or commit adultery thousands of times each day.  Do you think
such an exalted Lamb paid merely a small price with a meager
sacrifice for our sins?  Pray hard for you are quite a sinner.”

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI