Critical Calvinists and Pride (Hughes, Bridges)

Preaching the Word: Sermon on the Mount—The Message of the Kingdom  One thing I’ve noticed over the years is the fact that some Calvinists are also very critical of others.  I know that some people in general are critical by nature, but to me it seems worse when someone who holds to the doctrines of grace is always super critical about others.  Maybe you’ve seen it: these people are always pointing out the flaws in someone’s theology, they’re quick to find fault in someone’s beliefs, they generally don’t give others the benefit of the doubt, and you won’t hear this type of person speak loving or kind words to those with whom they disagree.  To be honest, I sometimes struggle with a critical spirit, so I’m not claiming the higher moral ground here!  My point is that a critical spirit is not a Christian attitude or mentality.  And further, the more we understand the truths of the doctrines of grace, the more our critical spirit should decrease and decline.  Why?  Because the doctrines of grace kill pride and produce humility.

I appreciate how Kent Hughes describes this as he comments on Matthew 7:1-5:

A critical spirit, a judgmental, condemning spirit, is endemic to the human situation. The media, our social relationships, our schooling, and our work situations are immersed in it. And though we often joke about it, experiencing it is most unpleasant. Few things are more exhausting and debilitating than harsh, unloving criticism.

Even sadder, the church of Jesus Christ is itself full of those who make a habit of criticism and condemnation. Some seem to think their critical spirit is a spiritual gift. But the Lord does not agree. In the opening verses of Matthew 7 (the final chapter of the Sermon on the Mount), our Lord sets the record straight in no uncertain terms. He tells us how we should relate to our brothers and sisters in this matter of judgmentalism, especially in respect to the fact that we will all undergo a final judgment.

…When a critic discovers faults in another, he feels a malignant satisfaction and always sees the worst possible motives in the other’s actions. The critical spirit is like the carrion fly that buzzes with a sickening hum of satisfaction over sores, preferring corruption to health.

…We see critical spirits all around us—in our media, in our schools, in our social relationships. But it should not be a part of the church. May God purge it from our lives and from our churches. We would each do well to ask ourselves, who have I been critical of this week? Has my focus on their faults blinded me to my own? Then we need to ask God to help us see ourselves as we are. (R. Kent Hughes, The Sermon on the Mount: The Message of the Kingdom, Preaching the Word (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2001), 227–228.)

Jerry Bridges also wrote well on this when he discussed sins like pride, bitterness, envy, and an unforgiving spirit:

One of the most difficult defilements of spirit to deal with is the critical spirit. A critical spirit has its root in pride. Because of the “plank” of pride in our own eye we are not capable of dealing with the “speck” of need in someone else. We are often like the Pharisee who, completely unconscious of his own need, prayed, “God, I thank you that I am not like other men” (Luke 18:11). We are quick to see—and to speak of—the faults of others, but slow to see our own needs. How sweetly we relish the opportunity to speak critically of someone else—even when we are unsure of our facts. We forget that “a man who stirs up dissension among brothers” by criticizing one to another is one of the “six things which the Lord hates” (Proverbs 6:16–19).

All of these attitudes—envy, jealousy, bitterness, an unforgiving and retaliatory spirit, and a critical and gossiping spirit—defile us and keep us from being holy before God. They are just as evil as immorality, drunkenness, and debauchery. Therefore, we must work diligently at rooting out these sinful attitudes from our minds. Often we are not even aware our attitudes are sinful. We cloak these defiling thoughts under the guise of justice and righteous indignation. But we need to pray daily for humility and honesty to see these sinful attitudes for what they really are, and then for grace and discipline to root them out of our minds and replace them with thoughts pleasing to God.  Jerry Bridges, The Pursuit of Holiness (Colorado Springs: Navpress, 1978), 122.

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

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Legalism Indulges the Sinful Nature (Bridges)

 “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free…. You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free” (Gal. 5:1; 13 NIV).  One awesome outcome of Christ’s death and resurrection is that we are free in Christ.  Now it is true that sometimes Christians flaunt their freedom by bragging about what kind of alcohol they drink or by using foul language.  People who flaunt their freedom actually lack love towards other Christians (Rom 14:15).

Alternatively, sometimes Christians go to the other extreme by living as if they are not free in Christ.  I appreciate how Jerry Bridges addresses this problem:

Despite God’s call to be free and his earnest admonition to resist all efforts to curtail it, there is very little emphasis in Christian circles today on the importance of Christian freedom.  Instead of promoting freedom, we stress our rules of conformity.  Instead of preaching living by grace, we preach living by performance.  Instead of encouraging new believers to be conformed to Christ, we subtly insist that they be conformed to our particular style of Christian culture.  Yet that’s the ‘bottom line’ effect of most of our emphases in Christian circles today.

…We are much more concerned about someone abusing his freedom than we are about his guarding it.  We are more afraid of indulging the sinful nature than we are of falling into legalism.  Yet legalism does indulge the sinful nature because it fosters self-righteousness and religious pride.  It also diverts us from the real issues of the Christian life by focusing on external and sometimes trivial rules.

Jerry Bridges, Transforming Grace, page 134.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54015

The Gospel and Daily Humility (Bridges)

 I enjoyed Jerry Bridges’ book, The Blessing of Humility.  It’s a readable discussion of humility based on the Beatitudes.  Chapter ten of this book is called, “The Humility and the Gospel.”  Below are four main points Bridges makes in this chapter.  I’ve summarized them for the sake of space.  The question is this: How does the good news of the gospel help keep us humble every day?

  1. For one thing, it frees us up to be honest with ourselves about our sin.  We can face our sin squarely when we know that it is forgiven.  Even when a particular sin is vile in our eyes – not to mention God’s eyes – we can call it what it is, and thank God for his forgiveness.

  2. The second way the gospel helps us live a life of humility is to show us another person’s sin in light of our own.  To paraphrase and even enlarge on the words of one of the Puritans, the proud person is so busy judging the sins of other people that he or she has no time to see the sins of his or her own heart.  Meanwhile, the humble person is so busy dealing with his or her own sins that he or she has no time to judge the sins  of others.

  3. A third way the gospel helps us walk in humility is that it helps us practice meekness and mercy.  We can only truly appreciate the gospel when we see it through the lens of our sin.  And as we do that, we can forgive the sins of others because we have been forgiven so much.

  4. Fourth, the gospel motivates us to want to live in purity of heart – that is, to have as our supreme goal in life to live no longer for ourselves but Him who redeemed us to be a people for his own possession. …I find myself often praying over a few phrases from the old hymn “My Faith Looks Up to Thee.” ‘Take all my guilt away / O let me from this day / Be wholly Thine!’

In summary, I would say that it is impossible to truly walk in humility without to some degree appropriating the truth of the gospel every day.

Jerry Bridges, The Blessing of Humility, p. 86-88.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54015

 

Living By Grace (Bridges)

Packaging Martin Lloyd-Jones once famously said that the loud and clear preaching of salvation by grace alone will lead to a misunderstanding.  The misunderstanding is this: if we are saved by grace alone, then it doesn’t matter how we live.  Jerry Bridges comments on this topic:

That charge was brought against Martin Luther and all the other great preachers of the Reformation when they preached salvation by grace alone through faith in Christ.  The charge was brought against the apostle Paul himself: ‘Why not say – as we are being slanderously reported as saying and as some claim that we say – “Let us do evil that good may result”? Their condemnation is deserved’ (Romans 3:8).

The grace of salvation is the same grace by which we live the Christian life.  Paul said in Romans 5:2, ‘We have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand.  We are not only justified by grace through faith, we stand every day in this same grace.  And just as the preaching of justification by grace is open to misunderstanding, so is the teaching of living by grace.

The solution to the problem is not to add legalism to grace.  Rather, the solution is to be so gripped by the magnificence and boundless generosity of God’s grace that we respond out of gratitude rather than out of a sense of duty….

We have loaded down the gospel of the grace of God in Christ with a lot of ‘oughts.’ ‘I ought to do this,’ and ‘I ought to do that.’  I ought to be more committed, more disciplined, more obedient.’  When we think or teach this way, we are substituting duty and obligation for a loving response to God’s grace.

Let me be very clear at this point.  I firmly believe in and seek to practice commitment, discipline, and obedience.  I am thoroughly committed to submission to the lordship of Jesus Christ in every area of my life.  And I believe in and seek to practice other commitments that flow out of that basic commitment….  But I am committed in these areas out of a grateful response to God’s grace, not to try to earn God’s blessings.

Bridges makes some helpful comments in this book on what it means to live by grace.  For example, in one chapter he talks about how holiness is a gift of God’s grace and in another chapter he describes the sufficiency of God’s grace for living the Christian life.  He nicely steers clear of both legalism and antinomianism in these pages by explaining the fact that both justification and sanctification are by grace:

We are brought into God’s Kingdom by grace; we are sanctified by grace; we receive both temporal and spiritual blessings by grace; we are motivated to obedience by grace; we are called to serve and enabled to serve by grace; we receive strength to endure trials by grace; and finally, we are glorified by grace.  The entire Christian life is lived under the reign of God’s grace.

The above quotes are found in  Jerry Bridges, Transforming Grace, p. 21 & 74.

(Note: I was given this book by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.)

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI

God’s Sovereignty, Our Suffering (Bridges)

Is God Really in Control?: Trusting God in a World of Terrorism, Tsunamis, and Personal Tragedy This is one of the better books I’ve read on suffering and the sovereignty of God: Is God Really in Control by Jerry Bridges.  This book is outstanding because it is very biblical, pastoral, and practical.  You won’t find a detailed philosophical discussion of theodicy in these pages, but you will find hope, comfort, and encouragement in the sovereignty of God’s love in Christ.  As always, Bridges writes in a straightforward manner that most Christians can understand.  You can give this book to a 60-year-old Christian going through a trial or a newly married husband and wife grieving over a miscarriage.  This is truly a book for the church.

Here are a couple of highlights from the book:

“In order to trust God, we must always view our adverse circumstances through the eyes of faith, not of sense.  …We must shape our vision of God by the Bible, not by our experiences” (p. 19 & 35).

“God never wastes pain.  He always uses it to accomplish his purpose.  And his purpose is for his glory and our good.  Therefore we can trust him when our hearts are aching or our bodies are racked with pain” (p. 65).

“We must depend upon God to do for us to do what we cannot do for ourselves.  We must, to the same degree, depend on him to enable us to do what we must do for ourselves” (p. 75).

“The good that God works for us in our lives is conformity to the likeness of his Son (Rom. 8:28-30).  So, his good is not necessarily our present comfort or happiness but rather conformity to Christ in ever-increasing measure for eternity” (p. 85).

“In adversity we tend to doubt God’s fatherly care, but in prosperity we tend to forget it.  If we are to trust God, we must acknowledge our dependence upon him at all times, good times as well as bad times” (p. 131).

We all face trials and suffering in life at one point or another.  When the dark valleys in life come, this book will help you keep your eyes on the Lord and strengthen your trust in his Word.

Jerry Bridges, Is God Really In Control?  Trusting God in a World of Hurt (Colorado Springs: NavPress, 2006).

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI

Daily Devotionals: Recommendations

(This is a repost from May, 2012)

I’ve been asked by quite a few different people if I had any suggestions for a day-by-day devotional book.  Those little white pocket-size devotional booklets are often fluffy, moralistic, cheesy, or theologically weak – I can see why people are looking for something better.  To make a longer blog post short, here are a few I recommend:

 Holiness Day by Day by Jerry Bridges.  In this book, each day’s devotional starts with a verse from Scripture then consists of a one page reading from various books Bridges wrote.  This is a good one for most Christians – it is understandable, theologically sound, and gospel centered.  There is no fluff here!

Another one page daily devotional I recommend is J. M Boice’s Come to the Waters.  This daily reading starts with a verse from Scripture and then has a one page portion of Boice’s writing.  This book is also solid and understandable, though each devotional isn’t necessarily an explanation of the gospel. Come to The Waters is also readable for most Christians.

The J. I. Packer Classic Collection: Daily Readings for Your Spiritual Journey Here’s a day-by-day reading written by J. I. Packer: Daily Readings for Your Spiritual Journey.  This day-by-day devotional book is just like the first two I noted.  There is a verse and then a short section of Packer’s writing. This too is solid and understandable – it also covers a broad range of doctrines and application.

Comforts from the Cross: Celebrating the Gospel One Day at a Time (Revised Edition) Another one I’ve purchased and given out is Comforts from the Cross by E. Fitzpatrick.  This devotional is a little different from the above only because it is a little longer and specifically focuses on the cross.  Each daily reading is around two pages – and each day there is a verse and a closing prayer.  Also worth noting here is that this devotional is for one month, while the others listed here would take longer to complete.

Finally, I certainly should mention D. A. Carson’s two volumes called For the Love of God.  This daily, one page devotional is structured after M’Cheyne’s one year Bible reading plan.  Each day consists of a meditation on the day’s Scripture reading.  This one, like the others, is solid, biblical, and covers a variety of Biblical doctrines and application.

What we’ve done (here at church) is purchased several of these and handed them out to those in the congregation who were interested in a daily Christian reading.  I think this is a good idea.  Get rid of those little fluffy devotional booklets and replace them with some (or all!) of these books I’ve listed above.  And, as always, if you have other good suggestions, list them in the comments.

Shane Lems

Seven Points on Spiritual Gifts (J. Bridges)

True Community: The Biblical Practice of Koinonia God gives all his people gifts to use for the service and enrichment of others.  Peter put it this way: God has given each of you a gift from his great variety of spiritual gifts.  Use them well to serve one another (1 Pet. 4:10 NLT).  Because the Bible talks about gifts this way, the Westminster Confession echoes this truth: “Saints by profession are bound to maintain an holy fellowship and communion in the worship of God, and in performing such other spiritual services as tend to their mutual edification” (ch. 26.2).  I appreciate how Jerry Bridges talks about this in his excellent book, True Community.  Here are Bridges’ seven points on spiritual gifts (I’ve summarized/edited the following for length):

The purpose of all spiritual gifts is to serve others and glorify God. Our gifts are not our property to use as we please; they are a trust committed to us by God to use for others and for His glory as He directs.”

Every Christian has a gift, and every gift is important.  We have already stated earlier in this chapter that God has assigned every believer a function in the body of Christ and that God has, consequently, gifted every member to fulfill that function.  To say ‘I don’t think I have a gift,’ is to say, ‘I don’t think I have a function in the body of Christ.  Such an idea flies in the face of the whole of New Testament teaching.  God has a job for every believer.  It may be seen or unseen, big or small, but each of us has a job to do.”

“Not only do we each have a gift but each one of our gifts is important.  Again, we tend to recognize the more public, noticeable gifts as important and the low-profile gifts as perhaps not so important.  The apostle Paul anticipated this tendency when he envisioned the foot saying, ‘Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,’ and the ear saying, ‘Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body’ (1 Cor. 12:15-16).”

Gifts are sovereignly bestowed by God.  You possess the gifts you have because the sovereign God of the universe wanted you to be that way.  He ordained a plan for your life even before you were born, and He has gifted you specifically to carry out that plan.  Never disparage your gift.  If you do, you are disparaging the plan of God and perhaps complaining against Him.  Similarly, never look down on the gift of another.  If you do, you are scorning the plan of God for that person.”

“Every gift is given by God’s grace.  None of us deserves the gift he or she has been given.  All gifts are given by God’s undeserved favor to us through Christ (Rom 12:6, 1 Pet. 4:10).  The highly gifted person should not think he is so gifted because of his hard work or his faithfulness in previous service to God.

“All gifts must be developed and exercised.  Even though gifts are given by God’s grace, it is our responsibility to develop and exercise them.  Paul exhorted Timothy to rekindle or ‘fan into flame the gift of God,’ and elsewhere Paul told him, ‘Do not neglect your gift’ (2 Tim. 1:6; 1 Tim. 4:14).  The effective use of our gifts does not occur without diligent effort on our part.”

The effective use of every gift is dependent on faith in Christ.  Although gifts are sovereignly bestowed and their effective exercise involves hard work and diligent effort, it is also true that no gift is exercised apart from faith in Christ.  The necessity of conscious dependence on Christ for His enabling power is a fundamental fact for every aspect of the Christian life, whether in spiritual growth in our own lives or in serves within the body.”

Only love will give true value to our gifts.  In any discussion of spiritual gifts we should give careful attention to the fact that the classic Scripture passage on Christian love, 1 Corinthians 13, is set right in the middle of the Bible’s most extensive treatment on spiritual gifts.  If we have not love, it all amounts to nothing.”

These seven points are very helpful biblical notes on spiritual gifts.  In fact, it is one of the best treatments on spiritual gifts that I’ve read.  I very much recommend this chapter to those who want a solid treatment of spiritual gifts in the body of Christ.  Furthermore, I recommend this entire book!  It’s an outstanding resource on the fellowship of the saints: True Community by Jerry Bridges.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI