Sanctification: Not Sitting Back (Letham)

Systematic Theology Through the power of the Holy Spirit, God sanctifies the ones he calls out of darkness into his marvelous light.  But we who are called out of darkness and given the Holy Spirit are also responsible for growing in faith and obedience.  I appreciate how Robert Letham summarizes this:

Paul writes of us having been predestined to sanctification by the Father (Eph. 1:4-5).  Elsewhere he speaks of it being the will of God (1 Thess. 4:3), and of our receiving the Holy Spirit for that purpose (John 17:17, 19; Eph. 5:25, 27; 1 Thess. 4:7-8; 5:23; etc.). Specifically, sanctification is appropriated to the Spirit (Rom. 8:13-14; 2 Thess. 2:13; 1 Pet. 1:1-2). He indwells the people of God. Scripture is silent as to how the Spirit operates, for this is beyond our understanding, as Jesus points out in John 3.

Notwithstanding, sanctification requires our fullest effort as well.  It is not a case of sitting back and letting the Holy Spirit take over, for the Spirit works through our own responsible engagement.  Here Romans 8:12ff is important to grasp.  We are obliged to put to death the deeds of the flesh.  However, it is by the Spirit that this is done.  Again, in Philippians 2:11-12, Paul writes that we are to work out our salvation; but it is God who puts this desire in us and brings it to effect.  Similarly, Paul can say that the grace of God was evident in his life, since he worked harder than anyone else (1 Cor. 15:10).

Robert Letham, Systematic Theology, p. 734-735.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI

Union, Justification, Sanctification, Glorification (Horton)

Justification: Two-Volume Set (New Studies in Dogmatics) Horton, Michael ; Michael Allen, Swain, Scott R. cover imageI appreciate the following selection from Michael Horton’s Justification (Vol 2).  It’s about union with Christ, justification, sanctification, and glorification:

Union is not a goal but the source of our life.  Chosen in him [Christ], redeemed by him, and crucified, buried, and raised with him, we share in Christ’s pioneering journey in an ‘already’ and ‘not-yet’ manner.  Justification is the fundamental turning point in the sinner’s status before God, while sanctification is the turning point in the sinner’s condition, and glorification will be the turning point in the whole existence of the saints.

Although we will be all that he is in his glorified humanity, we are not yet raised bodily.  Yet we have been raised from spiritual death, justified and definitively renewed. We are being conformed to the image of Christ daily, suffering in the joy of the prize that has already been won for us. ‘There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. (Rom 8:1).  Although we still struggle mightily against Satan, sin, and the realities of a fallen world, Christ has already subdued Satan.  “The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet’ (Rom 16:20).

Union with Christ (or the ‘great exchange’) is the braoder intersection where rival perspectives demand a fork in the road – the false choices that we have met frequently along the way – but where, in a more integrated account, they meet without any contradiction. Covenantal and apocalyptic, personal and corporate, soteriology and ecclesiology, the historia salutis and the ordo salutis, forensic justification and transforming renewal, faith and works all find unity without conflating one with the other.

Michael Horton, Justification, Vol 2, p. 451.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI

On The Proper Use of Sickness (Pascal)

The Harvard Classics, vol. 48: Blaise Pascal: Thoughts, Letters, and Minor Works In a written prayer called “To Ask God the Proper Use of Sickness,” Blaise Pascal (d. 1662) reflected on health and sickness in the Christian life.  More specifically, Pascal confessed that when he was healthy, he didn’t thank God for it and use his health to serve Him.  When he became ill, Pascal prayed that God would use the illness to help strengthen his faith.  While I don’t agree with every aspect of this prayer, parts of it are quite good and edifying.  Here are a few sections I appreciate:

Thou gavest me health to serve thee, and I made a profane use of it. Thou sendest me sickness now to correct me; suffer not that I use it to irritate thee by my impatience. I made a bad use of my health, and thou hast justly punished me for it. Suffer not that I make a bad use of my punishment.

To whom shall I cry, O Lord, to whom shall I have recourse, if not to thee? Nothing that is less than God can fulfil my expectation. It is God himself that I ask and seek; and it is to thee alone, my God, that I address myself to obtain thee, Open my heart, O Lord; enter into the rebellious place which has been occupied by vices. They hold it subject. Enter into it as into the strong man’s house; but first bind the strong and powerful enemy that has possession of it, and then take the treasures which are there. Lord, take my affections, which the world had stolen; take this treasure thyself, or rather retake it, since it belongs to thee as a tribute that I owe thee, since thy image is imprinted in it

…Grant me the favor, Lord, to join thy consolations to my sufferings, that I may suffer like a Christian. …But I ask, Lord, to feel at the same time both the sorrows of nature for my sins, and the consolations of thy spirit through thy grace; for this is the true condition of Christianity. Let me not feel sorrow without consolation; but let me feel sorrow and consolation together, that I may come at last to feel thy consolation without any sorrow.

…Thou alone knowest what is most expedient for me: thou art the sovereign master, do what thou wilt. Give to me, take from me; but conform my will to thine; and grant that in humble and perfect submission and in holy confidence, I may be disposed to receive the orders of thy eternal providence, and that I may adore alike all that comes to me from thee.

Blaise Pascal, The Harvard Classics 48: Blaise Pascal: Thoughts, Letters, and Minor Works, ed. Charles W. Eliot, trans. W. F. Trotter, M. L. Booth, and O. W. Wight (New York: P. F. Collier & Son, 1910), 369-377.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54015

Diehard Sins: A Brief Review

Diehard Sins: How to Fight Wisely against Destructive Daily Habits by [Witt, Rush] Here’s a newer and very good resource on fighting sin and growing in grace: Diehard Sins by Rush Witt.  I have to admit when I first got this book I wasn’t sure what to expect since I’ve read similar books on the topic – some good, some not so good.  This is one of the good ones!

There are three main parts: 1) Enter with Joy into Your Struggle against Daily Sin, 2) Understand the True Needs of Your Heart, and 3) Bring Christ and his Provisions to Your Fight.  The topics covered include a discussion of the nature of sin, what it means to struggle with sin, how to detect sin in your own life, and applying the gospel to the struggle with sin (among others).

I appreciate the book first because it is rooted in Scripture and very much grounded in the gospel.  Witt strikes a nice balance between resting in Christ and actively putting sin to death – you can only do the latter by doing the former.  A big picture summary of the book would probably be like this: How to fight sin by depending on Christ.  Since there is a proper law/gospel distinction, the book gives some helpful biblical lessons in fighting sin.

Another strength of the book is that Witt approaches the topic from a counseling perspective.  It’s not a counseling book specifically, but there are some counseling themes and, in my opinion, helpful wisdom on practical ways to put sin to death.  For example, one appendix is a brief outline to resisting temptation: Refuse, Replace, Pray, and Praise.

Finally, I appreciate how the author mentions that we fight sin best in the context of the body of Christ and the means of grace: the last chapter is called “Fighting Sin in the Community of Faith.”  This book isn’t a call to fight sin on our own, but to do it depending on grace while walking beside and with other believers.

If you want a good resource on fighting sin, I very much recommend this one: Diehard Sins.  There are a few reflection questions after each chapter, so it would make a good group study or book club resource.  I’m glad I own this book, and I’ve already used it in my own ministry!

Rush Witt, Diehard Sins, (P&R Publishing, 2018).

(Note: The author kindly sent me a copy to review, although I was not compelled in any way to write a positive review.  If I didn’t like the book, I would’ve said so!)

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54015

…Less of Our Hearts (Wilberforce)

Real Christianity by [Wilberforce, William] I appreciate the following section of William Wilberforce’s book called “A Practical View of the Prevailing Religious System of Professed Christians, in the Higher and Middle Classes in This Country, Contrasted with Real Christianity.”  I’ve edited it slightly:

True, practical Christianity consists in devoting the heart and life to God.  It is governed supremely and habitually by a desire to know God, to be disposed to God’s will, and to live in his glory.  Where these essential requisites are wanting, one cannot complement it with the name of Christianity.

…Is he [the Christian] too keenly engaged in worldly business?  Let him carefully examine the state of his own heart.  If he finds himself pursuing wealth or status or reputation too much, he must realize, ‘No man can serve two masters’ (Mt. 6:24).  The world evidently possess his heart.  So it is no wonder that he finds himself dulled, or rather, dead to the impression and enjoyment of spiritual things.

Let us carefully scrutinize our whole conduct to see if we have breached or omitted a duty toward God.  Particularly, we need to see if we are negligent of self-examination, of secret and public prayer, of reading the Scriptures, and of other prescribed means of grace.  If we find the allotment of time that should be devoted to our spiritual development lacking, let us be open about it with ourselves and remedy the situation.  Otherwise, this fatal negligence will begin to affect our hearts and our conduct.  So we need to ascertain if other matters that preoccupy us are not consuming too large a share of our time.  By careful management, we might still fully satisfy their legitimate claims and then devote time to our devotional life.

But if we deliberately and honestly conclude that we ought not to give these worldly affairs less of our time, let us endeavor at least to give them less of our hearts.

Let us at least have a just sense of our great weaknesses and numerous infirmities.  This is a becoming spirit in those who are commanded to “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling” (Phil. 2:12).  It prompts us to constant and earnest prayer.  It produces that sobriety, lowliness, and tenderness of mind, that meekness of behavior and care in conduct, that are such notable characteristics of the true Christian.

This is not a state devoid of consolation.  ‘Wait for the Lord; be strong and let your heart take courage; yes, wait for the Lord” (Ps. 27:14).  “They that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength” (Is. 40:31). “Blessed are they that mourn, for they shall be comforted” (Mt. 5:4).  These divine assurances soothe and encourage the Christian’s disturbed and dejected mind and instill unconsciously a holy composure.

William Wilberforce, Real Christianity (Victor: Colorado Springs, 2005), p123-124.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54015

Doctrinism and Antinomianism (Newton)

 Here’s a section from one of John Newton’s sermons on those who are orthodox in doctrine but destitute of good works.  Or, in other words, their doctrine is right, but they have no deeds that show their faith to be true.  Maybe we could call this “doctrinism,” when a person is only concerned about doctrine and not practice.  Notice below how “doctrinism” goes hand in hand with antinomianism.

It is very possible, yea, very easy, by the help of books, sermons, and conversation, to acquire an orderly and systematic knowledge of divine truths.  It may be learned thus, like any other branch of human science, and the head be well stored with orthodox sentiments.  There may also be an ability to prove and defend them, in a way of argumentation, while the heart is utterly a stranger to their salutary influence.

Such characters are too common. None make a greater parade and boast of seeing than these persons. None are more fatally blinded. They smile, with disdain, when they speak of a self-righteousness founded upon prayers, alms-deeds, and sacraments but are not aware that they themselves live in the very spirit of the Pharisees (Lk 18:2) so clearly described and so expressly condemned in the New Testament. Their supposed knowledge of the doctrines which they misunderstand and abused is the righteousness on which they base their hopes.  And trusting to this, they despise all those who are stricter in practice than themselves, as ignorant and legal.  They discover, almost as great a dislike to close and faithful preaching, as they could do to poison.

Though the doctrines of the Gospel, when rightly received, are productive of godliness, it is to be feared, there are people who espouse and plead for them, to quiet their consciences, by furnishing them with excuses for the sins they are unwilling to forsake. It is not surprising, that they who are displeased with the yoke of our Lord’s precepts, should seem friendly to the idea of salvation without the works of the law.

In other words, there are some people who have their doctrine straight but they do not live godly lives.  It’s one strain of antinomianism: I know my doctrine, so I can live how I want.  Newton continues his discussion about those people who are doctrinally sound but lacking in good works:

The notion of the final perseverance of believers, may afford a pillow for those to rest on, who being at present destitute of all feeling of spiritual life, labour to persuade themselves that they are Christians, because they had some serious thoughts, and made some profession of the truth, many years ago. So, likewise, in what the Scriptures teach, of the total inability of fallen man, they think they have a plea to justify their negligence and sloth, and therefore are not disposed to contradict the testimony. They evade the invitation and command to wait, and watch, and strive, in the ways and means of the Lord’s appointment, as they think, with impunity, by confessing the charge, and saying, ‘I am a poor creature indeed, I can do nothing of myself aright, and therefore to what purpose should I attempt to do any thing?’

A minister may preach upon these points, in general terms, and obtain their good word. But if he speaks plainly and faithfully to conscience; if he bears testimony not only against dead works, but against a dead faith, against spiritual pride, evil tempers, evil speaking, love of the world, and sinful compliances; if he insists that the branches of the true vine should bear grapes, and not the same fruit as the bramble, hearers of this stamp will think they do God service by censuring all he can say, as low and legal trash. How awful(!) that people should be blinded by the very truths which they profess to believe!

Yet I fear such cases are too frequent. God grant a delusion of this kind may never be found amongst us! For if the salt itself should lose its savor, wherewith shall it be salted? (Mt 5:13). May we come simply to the light, with a desire of seeing more of ourselves, and more of our Savior; that we may be more humble and spiritual, more afraid of sin, more watchful and successful in striving against it; and, in our whole conversation, more conformable to our glorious Head!

John Newton, Works, volume 4 pages 145-146.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI

A Poem for the Ill (Toplady)

 Here are a few verses from a poem Augustus Toplady wrote for those suffering with sickness:

Jesus, since I with thee am one;
Confirm my soul in thee,
And still continue to tread down
The man of sin in me.

Let not the subtle foe prevail
In this my feeble hour
Frustrate all the hopes of hell
Redeem from Satan’s power

Arm me O Lord from head to foot
With righteousness divine;
My soul in Jesus firmly root,
and seal the Savior mine.

Proportioned to my pains below,
O let my joys increase,
And mercy to my spirit flow
In healing streams of peace.

In life and death be thou my God,
And I am more than safe;
Chastised by thy paternal rod,
Support me with thy staff.

Lay on me Savior what thou wilt,
But give me strength to bear;
Thy gracious hand this cross hath dealt,
Which cannot be severe.*

As gold refined may I come out,
In sorrow’s furnace tried;
Preserved from faithlessness and doubt,
And fully purified.

*(“Severe” here means “unnecessarily extreme” or “harsh in an unloving way.”)

There are other verses; these are just a few.  The entire poem can be found in the Works of Augustus Toplady, volume six.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI