We Dare Not Trust Ourselves… (Packer)

knowing god j i packer cover image

Here’s an excellent devotional thought for today. It’s from one of my favorites: Knowing God by J. I. Packer.

What is the purpose of grace? Primarily, to restore man’s relationship with God. …Grace is God drawing sinners closer and closer to Himself.

How does God in grace prosecute this purpose? Not by shielding us from assault by the world, the flesh, and the devil, nor by protecting us from burdensome and frustrating circumstances, nor yet by shielding us from troubles created by our own temperament and psychology; but rather by exposing us to all these things, so as to overwhelm us with a sense of our own inadequacy, and to drive us to cling to Him more closely.

This is the ultimate reason, from our standpoint, why God fills our lives with troubles and perplexities of one sort and another—it is to ensure that we shall learn to hold Him fast. The reason why the Bible spends so much of its time reiterating that God is a strong rock, a firm defense, and a sure refuge and help for the weak is that God spends so much of his time showing us that we are weak, both mentally and morally, and dare not trust ourselves to find or follow the right road. When we walk along a clear road feeling fine, and someone takes our arm to help us, likely we would impatiently shake him off; but when we are caught in rough country in the dark, with a storm brewing and our strength spent, and someone takes our arm to help us, we would thankfully lean on him. And God wants us to feel that our way through life is rough and perplexing, so that we may learn thankfully to lean on Him. Therefore He takes steps to drive us out of self-confidence to trust in Himself — in the classic scriptural phrase for the secret of the godly man’s life — to “wait on the Lord.”

J. I. Packer, Knowing God, p. 227.

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

New Evidence of Your Depravity? (Packer)

 Many of us know the words of Paul in Romans 8 quite well, including verses 33-34: “Who will bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies.  Who is the one who will condemn? Christ is the one who died (and more than that, he was raised), who is at the right hand of God, and who also is interceding for us” (NET).  J.I. Packer said that in these words Paul gives us a “reminder of God’s sovereignty in judgment.”  This is comforting for the Christian, and a source of solid assurance:

‘It is God who justifies; who is to condemn?’  If it is God, Maker and Judge of all, who passes the justifying sentence – that is, who declares that you have been set right with His law and with Himself, and are not now liable to death for your sins, but are accepted in Christ — and if God has passed this sentence in full view of all your shortcomings, justifying you on the explicit basis and understanding that you were not righteous, but ungodly (cf. Romans 4:5), then nobody can ever challenge the verdict, not even ‘the accuser of the brethren’ himself.  Nobody can alter God’s decision over his head – there is only one Judge! – and nobody can produce new evidence of your depravity that will make God changed his mind.  For God justified you with (so to speak) His eyes open.  He knew the worst about you at the time when He accepted you for Jesus’ sake; and the verdict which He passed then was, and is, final.

J. I. Packer, Knowing God, p. 248.

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

A Metanarrative Distraction?

N.T. Wright and others in the New Perspectives on Paul movement have given us some helpful insights into biblical theology.  We should not deny this even if we might very much disagree [as I do] with the NPP’s [re]definitions of justification, covenant, law, etc.  I have to admit, though, when I read Wright, I often question his interpretive emphasis on Israel.  It seems to me that Wright finds the story of Israel under almost every interpretive stone in the Bible.  J. I. Packer hints at this well in his contribution to the book, In My Place Condemned He Stood.

“In recent years, great strides in biblical theology and contemporary canonical exegesis have brought new precision to our grasp of the Bible’s overall story of how God’s plan to bless Israel, and thorough Israel the world, came to its climax in and through Christ.  But I do not see how it can be denied that each New Testament book, whatever other job it may be doing, has in view, in one way or another, Luther’s primary question: how may a weak, perverse, and guilty sinner find a gracious God?”

“Nor can it be denied that real Christianity only starts when that discovery is made.  And to the extent that modern developments, by filling our horizon with the great metanarrative, distract us from pursuing Luther’s question in personal terms, they hinder as well as help in our appreciation of the gospel.”

“The church is and will always be at its healthiest when every Christian can line up with every other Christian to sing… P. P. Bliss’ simple words, which really say it all:

Bearing shame and scoffing rude
In my place condemned he stood,
Sealed my pardon with this blood –
Hallelujah! What a Savior!”

J. I. Packer, “Introduction: Penal Substitution Revisited” in In My Place Condemned He Stood ed. J. I. Packer and Mark Dever (Wheaton: Crossway, 2007).

shane lems

Growing in Christ: Creed, Commandments, and Prayer

I’ve found J. I. Packer’s Growing in Christ to be a helpful and brief summary of the basics of the Christian faith: the themes of the Apostle’s Creed, the Ten Commandments, and the Lord’s Prayer.  Indeed, most Reformation catechisms contain discussions of these three basics since even young children can learn and should know them.  (As a side note, if you have kids these three basics should be foundational in their Christian training at home.)

I appreciate Packer’s book because each lesson is around 3 pages long and contains several application questions.  I used this book for a high school level class in a church setting and it worked out pretty well.  It would also be good for a small group setting or for teaching a new Christian the main aspects of Christianity. 

Here’s a short excerpt from chapter fifteen, which is a discussion on the last phrase of the Lord’s Prayer.

“When in the traditional Lord’s Prayer doxology we ascribe the glory, along with the royal rule, to God forever, we are, first, telling God (and thus reminding ourselves) that he, our Maker and Redeemer, is, and always will be, glorious in all he does, especially in his acts of grace (‘we give thanks to thee for thy great glory‘); and, second, we are committing ourselves, now and always, to worship and adore him for it all (‘glory be to God on high’).  The doxology thus makes the Lord’s Prayer end in praise, just as the Christian life itself will do: for while petition will cease with this life, the happy task of giving God glory will last for all eternity.”

J. I. Packer, Growing in Christ (Wheaton: Crossway, 1994), 212.

shane lems

Adding to the Word?

Here’s one more great section from Packer’s Fundamentalism and the Word of God. In the concluding section Packer mentions how salvation from sin is a gift of divine grace alone through faith alone, “and faith is no more than an activity of reception, contributing nothing to that which it receives.”  Since Christ’s work is perfect and completed, there is nothing for the Christian to add.  However, pride creeps in and we often want to find a way to claim credit in salvation by some sort of contribution.  Sometimes we start to think our works play a part in our justification, which should lead us to repent and remember Paul’s sharp words against such unchristian thoughts (see Galatians for example).  Packer notes another way we may want to contribute something to our salvation: by “explicating and qualifying God’s revealed truth.”  What does that mean?  He uses the liberalism of 100 years ago for an example.

“Liberalism, as we saw, sets us the task of sorting out the divine utterances from the total mass of Scripture by the exercise of our own wits, guided in part by extra-biblical principles of judgment.  But in this, again, we are being told to do for ourselves what Christ has done for us already.  Christ located the utterance of God for us once and for all; it is Scripture, as such.  That being so, it is not for us to pick and choose within Scripture, or to bring speculative principles to bear on Scripture, any more than we should go about to establish our own righteousness; instead, we should bow before God’s written revelation without more ado, just as we should submit forthwith to the righteousness of God in the gospel.”

“Our part is simply to receive what God graciously gives – a perfect righteousness in the one case, a perfect revelation in the other.  Liberalism, like all Subjectivism, discounts the perfection and truth of Scripture in order to make room for man to contribute his own merits to his acceptance with God.  But Christ’s merits do not need to be augmented by human works; and God’s revealed truth does not need to be edited, cut, corrected, and improved by the cleverness of man.  To attempt either task is to insult God (by denying the perfection of his gifts) and to flatter ourselves (by supposing that we can improve on them).”

“The only right attitude for us is to confess that our works are vile and our wisdom foolishness, and to receive with thankfulness the flawless righteousness and the perfect Scriptures which God in mercy gives us.  Anything else is a conceited affront to divine grace.  And evangelical theology is bound to oppose the attitude which under-values the gift of Scripture and presumes to correct the inerrant Word of God, just as it will oppose all misguided endeavors to supplement by human merit the perfect righteousness of Christ.”

That is one outstanding observation.  Not only is Christ’s righteousness perfect, complete, and sufficient for salvation, so is his Word – neither needs to be supplemented, added to, or fixed.

Again, I highly recommend this book!

shane lems