The Workings of our Remaining Sinful Nature

51Wtr7fGObL._SX358_BO1,204,203,200_ Those who have true faith have truly been given new life in Christ.  If a person believes in Christ, he or she has been “born of God” (1 John 5:1).  Regeneration means that someone who was dead in sin is now alive in Christ (Eph. 2:4-5).  However, new birth (regeneration) does not mean that the old sinful nature is completely gone.  True believers still struggle with indwelling sin (Gal. 5:17).  As Luther rightly said, the Christian is a saint and a sinner at the same time.

This means that when we stumble into sin, we can’t simply blame the devil or the world.  The devil can mess with us and the world can entice us, but we sin because we still have the “old man” in us, the “flesh.”  So how does this “old man” function in us?  W. Brakel (d. 1711) explained this well in his discussion on sanctification.  I’ll summarize it below:

  1. Sometimes the old nature stirs us up to sin by violent assaults.  The lusts are so agitated and are stirring so vehemently that there is no time to think upon the fear of God. Even if the fear of the Lord is present, the lust is so strong and forceful that any good inclinations are quickly extinguished.
  2. Sometimes the old nature seeks some rest and relaxation.  He begins to think upon natural things and the lusts of the flesh begin to stir, and the thoughts pertaining to natural things become sinful.  His mind wanders and he lusts, covets, or becomes proud.  He falls into more sin as the moment permits, or even to the degree he never thought himself capable of.
  3. Sometimes the old nature gains strength due to recklessness.  He puts himself into situations he knows will ensnare him, but he does it anyway.  The sin at hand gains the upper hand.  Contact with grease cannot but leave a stain (vetjes maken smetjes).
  4. The old sinful nature also is engaged in keeping us from doing good.  A) He makes us think there is no time to pray, read Scripture, sing, or meditate upon the word.  B) He makes us procrastinate and say we will do godly things later.  C) He makes us believe that doing good is too difficult and impossible to do.  D) He makes us think that doing good is in vain because God is not paying attention and it will not benefit us. E) He makes us compromisers by saying the path is not as narrow as we think.
  5. The old sinful nature also wants to keep us from doing good so he attempts to spoil that which is good.  A) He makes our thoughts wander.  B) He distracts us by making us think about a good thing that isn’t applicable to the situation. C) He causes us to be proud of doing good, and the purity of the duty is contaminated.  D) He causes us to think we do not have the Spirit.  E) His atheism and unbelief surface and it ruins the good with evil.

Why is this important?  For one thing, it helps us as Christians to know ourselves.  We can’t point fingers and blame others for our sinful words, thoughts, and actions (Ps. 51:3-4).  It also keeps us truly humble to know we still have the old man of sin dwelling in us.  It helps us stay near the cross, where we receive continual cleansing from Jesus’ blood.  It makes us constantly confess our sins to God.  It makes us all the more dependent upon the Holy Spirit to give the new man strength in the battle.  It teaches us that God gets all the credit for any good in us or anything good we do in his sight.  Realizing that our old man remains in us also makes us long for heaven, when sanctification will be complete and we will be fully delivered from our remaining sinful flesh.  And the list goes on.  Paul put it this way: What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this dying body?  I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord! (Rom 7:24-25 HCSB).

The above edited and summarized quote is found in volume three of Brakel’s The Christian’s Reasonable Service, p. 9-11.

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

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Faith Follows Regeneration (Phillips)

What's So Great About the Doctrines of Grace? by [Phillips, Richard D.] Here’s a brief but biblical explanation of the truth that faith follows regeneration:

“…It is clear from the Bible that the Spirit’s regenerating work always precedes and causes faith.  Jesus stated this to Nicodemus: ‘Unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3).  This is reflected more or less clearly in every conversation recorded in the New Testament.  An excellent example is the conversion of Lydia, which Luke records by writing, ‘The Lord opened her heart to pay attention to what was said by Paul” (Acts 16:14).  Likewise, Jesus ascribed Peter’s great confession not to the operations of his flesh but to divine grace: ‘Flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven.’ (Matt. 16:17).”

“Regeneration – the new birth – precedes faith, so that prior to being born again it is impossible for anyone to believe on Jesus.  Paul explains why: ‘The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned’ (1 Cor. 2:14).  Therefore, if regeneration had to result from faith – if unregenerate sinners had to believe in order to be saved – then according to Paul, no one would ever be regenerated and saved.  Instead, the Bible uniformly teaches what our sinful condition demands: regeneration precedes and causes saving faith.  The apostle John put it succinctly: ‘Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God’ (1 John 5:1).”

Richard Phillips, What’s So Great about the Doctrines of Grace, p. 76-7.

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

The Necessity of Effectual Calling (Or: We Need a Miracle!)

Saved by Grace by [Hoekema, Anthony A.] This is a very helpful discussion of effectual calling/regeneration:

If you believe that the natural state of human beings today is that of moral and spiritual neutrality, so that they can do good or bad as they please (the Pelagian view), you will not even feel the need for an effectual call or for regeneration. If you believe that our natural state is one of spiritual and moral sickness, but that we all still have the ability to respond favorably to the gospel call (the Semi-Pelagian view), you will not need an effectual call. If you believe that, though we are partially or totally depraved, God gives to all a sufficient enabling grace so that everyone who hears the gospel call is able to accept it by cooperating with this sufficient grace (the Arminian view), you will not feel the need for an effectual call. But if you believe that we are by nature totally dead in sin, and therefore unable to respond favorably to the gospel call unless God in his sovereign grace changes our hearts so that we become spiritually alive (the Reformed view), you will realize how desperately you need God’s effectual call. The view last described, I believe, most faithfully reflects biblical teaching.

Let me use an illustration. Let us suppose that you are drowning within earshot of friends on the shore. You cannot swim. Wishing to respect your integrity as a person, and wanting to enable you to help yourself as much as possible, one of your friends standing on the shore, an excellent swimmer, shouts to you that you should start swimming to shore. The advice, though well-meant, is worse than useless, since you can’t swim. What you need, and need desperately, is for your friend to jump in and tow you to shore with powerful strokes, so that your life may be saved. What you need at the moment is not just advice, good advice, even gracious advice—you need to be rescued!

This, now, is our situation by nature. We are lost sinners. We are dead in sin. Being dead in sin, we cannot make ourselves alive. Since we are dead in sin, our ears are deaf to the gospel call and our eyes are blind to the gospel light. We need a miracle. This miracle occurs when God in his amazing grace calls us effectually through his Spirit from spiritual death to spiritual life, from spiritual darkness into his marvelous light. After we have been made spiritually alive, we can once again become actively involved in the process of our salvation—in repentance, faith, sanctification, and perseverance. But at the very beginning of the process, at the point where, being spiritually dead, we need to become spiritually alive, we need nothing less than a miraculous rescue from the murky waters of sin in which, if left alone, we would drown. This is what happens in the effectual call.

Anthony A. Hoekema, Saved by Grace (Grand Rapids, MI; Cambridge, U.K.: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1994), 91.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI

God Has Called You: On Effectual Calling (Murray)

Scripture teaches that a person dead in sin will remain dead in sin unless God graciously gives him or her new life in Christ (Eph. 2:5).  In theological terms, we say God effectually calls his elect and regenerates them by the power of his Spirit and word.  God is the author of this gracious, sovereign, effectual call.  John Murray explains it well:

“‘God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of his Son Jesus Christ our Lord” (1 Cor. 1:9).  ‘…[God] …called us with a holy calling’ (2 Tim. 1:8-9).  In this respect calling is an act of God’s grace and power just as regeneration, justification, and adoption are.  We do not call ourselves, we do not set ourselves apart by sovereign volition any more than we regenerate, justify, or adopt ourselves.  Calling is an act of God and of God alone.  This fact should make us keenly aware how dependent are upon the sovereign grace of God in the application of redemption.  If calling is the initial step in our becoming actual partakers of salvation, the fact that God is its author forcefully reminds us that the pure sovereignty of God’s work of salvation is not suspended at the point of application any more than at the point of design and objective accomplishment.  We may not like this doctrine.  But, if so, it is because we are averse to the grace of God and wish to arrogate to ourselves the prerogative that belongs to God.  And we know where that disposition had its origin.”

John Murray, Redemption Accomplished and Applied, p. 110.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI

Regeneration, Christian Graces, and Assurance of Salvation (Gurnall)

When God sovereignly regenerates a sinner, that person is renewed, reborn, made new.  “…If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come” (2 Cor. 5:17 NASB; c.f. Gal. 6:15).  The person then walks in the newness of life (Rom. 6:4).  This doesn’t mean a regenerate person is sinless and perfect, but it does mean that his whole person is made new by God.  William Gurnall put it this way:

“As natural corruption is a universal principle of all sin that sours the whole lump of man’s nature; so sanctifying grace is a universal principle that sweetly seasons and renews the whole man at once, though not completely.  Grace indeed grows by steps, but is born at once.  The new creature has all its parts formed together, though not its degrees.  One grace may, we confess, be perceived to stir and so come to be noticed by the Christian before other graces.”

Gurnall is saying that when God renews and regenerates a person, that person is given true faith, repentance, love, fear of God, evangelical obedience, and so forth.  These things are called “graces.”  Sometimes a Christian sees one of his graces more than another, but it doesn’t mean that other graces aren’t there.  God doesn’t just give someone repentance but not godly fear or true faith.  Gurnall said that some parts of the world have been discovered before other parts of the world, but the whole world has been in existence since God created it.  So it is with Christian graces: God has given them all to all his people, even if we don’t always discover them or notice all these graces at once.

So what?  Why is this important?  Well, as Gurnall noted, knowing this fact gives relief to the Christian when he’s in doubt of his salvation.  Just because a Christian can’t immediately discern godly fear doesn’t mean he should “unsaint” himself.  If you don’t have godly fear but you do have a sincere desire to please him, be assured that God’s grace is at work in you, and in time you’ll notice godly fear.  Or if your faith is seemingly gone but you have a hearty sorrow when you sin against God, don’t despair.  Know that you are a new creation in Christ, and you will again see your faith – it is there!  Here’s Gurnall again:

“As by taking hold of one link you may draw up the rest of the chain that lies under water, so by discovering one grace, you may bring all to sight.  …This holy kindred of graces go ever together, they are knit, as members of the body, one to another.  Though you see only the face of a man, yet you do not doubt that the whole man is there.”

Here’s a good quote to end on:

“Moses would not go out of Egypt with half his company (Ex. 10).  Either all must go or none shall stir.  Neither will the Spirit of God come into a soul with half his sanctifying graces, but with all his train.”

(These slightly modernized and edited quotes are found in the beginning of “Direction Ninth” in Gurnall’s The Christian in Complete Armor.)

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI

 

The Lord Opened Her Heart (Acts 16:14)

One of the places in Scripture that teaches effectual calling (irresistible grace) and the sovereignty of God in regeneration is Acts 16:14, where Luke writes this about Lydia: “The Lord opened her heart to respond to the things spoken by Paul (NASB).”  I appreciate Richard Sibbes’ comments on this text:

“…As our hearts are shut and closed up naturally, so God, and God alone, opens the heart, by his Spirit in the use of the means. God opened Lydia’s heart.

God hath many keys. He hath the key of heaven to command the rain to come down. He hath the key of the womb; the key of hell and the grave; and the key of the heart especially. ‘He opens, and no man shuts; and shuts and no man opens’ (Rev. 3:7). He hath the key of the heart to open the understanding, the memory, the will, and affections. God, and God only, hath the key of the heart to open that. It is his prerogative. He made the heart, and he only hath to do with the heart. He can unmake it, and make it new again, as those that make locks can do. And if the heart be in ill temper, he can take it in pieces, and bring it to nothing as it were, as it must be before conversion; and he can make it a new heart again.

It is God that opens the heart, and God only. All the angels in heaven cannot give one grace, not the least grace. Grace comes merely (only) from God. It is merely (only) from God. All the creatures in the world cannot open the heart, but God only by his Holy Spirit. For nature cannot do above its sphere, as we say, above its own power. Natural things can do but natural things. For nature to raise itself up to believe heavenly things, it cannot be. Therefore as you see vapors go as high as the sun draws them up, and no higher, so the soul of man is lift up to heavenly things by the power of God’s Spirit. God draws us and then we follow. God, I say, only openeth the heart.

Richard Sibbes, The Complete Works of Richard Sibbes, ed. Alexander Balloch Grosart, vol. 6 (Edinburgh; London; Dublin: James Nichol; James Nisbet and Co.; W. Robertson, 1863), 523–524.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church
Hammond, WI

Effectual Calling and Regeneration in the 2nd Century

Apostolic Fathers, The, 3rd ed.: Greek Texts and English Translations (This is a repost from February, 2013)

2 Clement is an early sermon or “word of exhortation” that was written around 100 AD (or possible around 130 AD).  It was probably not written by Clement, but by an anonymous presbyter.  Michael Holmes calls it “the oldest surviving complete Christian sermon outside the New Testament.”

The sermon opens with an exhortation to “think of Jesus Christ as we do of God.”  The preacher then states that since Christ has suffered so greatly for us to save us, we owe him our praise.  Here’s how he explains this salvation (in 1:7-8).

“Our minds were blinded, and we worshiped stones and wood and gold and silver and brass, things made by humans; indeed, our whole life was nothing but death.  So while we were thus wrapped in darkness and our vision was filled with this thick mist we recovered our sight, by his will laying aside the cloud wrapped around us.”

“For he had mercy upon us and in his compassion he saved us when we had no hope of salvation except that which comes from him, even though he had seen in us much deception and destruction.  For he called us when we did not exist, and out of nothing willed us into being.”

These are great phrases that describe God’s sovereign grace in effectual calling and regeneration.  The Apostle put it this way: God…gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist (Rom 4.17).  Even when we were dead in our trespasses [he] made us alive together with Christ – by grace you have been saved (Eph 2:5).  We can’t be 100% sure, but it does seem like the author of 2 Clement was thinking about Romans 4:17 when he wrote these words.

This passage from 2 Clement is a great reminder that the Protestant Reformers didn’t make up the doctrines of grace; they stood in line with the historic Christian church, and on the shoulders of the Apostle Paul.

The above quote from 2 Clement can be found in The Apostolic Fathers, 3rd edition, edited and translated by Michael W. Holmes.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI