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Thursday, July 30, 2009

...but what about 2 Peter 3:9?

It occurred to me last week after posting about John 3:16 that even though it is the most prominent proof-text used by opponents of the doctrines of grace, it is certainly not the only one. It seems to me that it would be a disservice to our church family for me to leave the impression that once we have a clear understanding of John 3:16, all arguments against God’s sovereignty in salvation have been vanquished. For this reason, I have decided to write a series of posts dealing with the other favorite texts of those who would (a) deny the reformed doctrine of election outright, or (b) assume a synergistic stance on the issue, that is, that God and man both equally initiate salvation.

(Before I proceed, let me define one term. I will be referring to those who deny the doctrine of election outright as Arminians. I realize that a classical Arminian is one who denies the doctrine of the perseverance of the saints, but in modern usage, “Arminian” has come to be used as a label for those who deny the doctrine of election, regardless of their stance on the doctrine of the perseverance of the saints. I will use this label to save myself the trouble of typing “those who deny the doctrine of election outright” each time I wish to refer to this group.)

2 Peter 3:9 is among the most popular texts used to deny the doctrine of election: The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance. It is thought by Arminians that this verse eliminates the possibility that God desires to save certain individuals whom He has chosen. Rather, they argue, God desires all individuals without exception to be saved and is patiently waiting for as many as possible to choose to repent. “All always means all.”

The arguments with which this interpretation is destroyed are so copious and varied that one blog post will simply not be sufficient. I will divide the arguments into three groups – semantic, contextual, and syntactical/logical – and will use as many posts as necessary to present them.

The biggest semantic (what the words mean) argument against the Arminian interpretation is simply that the blanket statement “all always means all” is horrible exegesis. Most biblical words have a range of meaning and the actual meaning of each occurrence must be determined by the context. “All” is no different. Looking up the word in an exhaustive concordance is enough to validate the fact that “all” does not always mean “all in existence.” Among other things, it can mean “all kinds” or “all in a certain group.” The context determines the meaning.

Conversely, I’ve heard Arminians accuse reformed people of believing that “all always means the elect.” I don’t know anyone who is reformed who believes such a thing. Rather, they would argue that the context must always determine the meaning of “all,” as with other biblical words that have a range of meaning.

Most of the arguments refuting an Arminian interpretation of 2 Peter 3:9 have centered on that word and its meaning as determined by the context. To be specific, the “all” in 3:9 cannot mean “all” in a universal sense – all people in existence – because the context will not allow it. These arguments are valid and strong and I will get to them in due course. But first, I’d like to show how one can reject the Arminian interpretation without ever leaving 3:9.

There are at least two features of the syntax of 3:9 that disallow the Arminian view. Syntax refers to how the words, phrases, clauses, sentences, and paragraphs of a text work together to convey meaning. This is crucial to understanding how each part of a sentence is working together, and therefore, what the sentence means.

The second half of 3:9 – not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance – is one participial phrase that modifies the previous verb, is patient. This participial phrase is functioning as an adverb, telling why the Lord is patient.

Now, it is important to look closely at what is said about this patience. The Lord…is patient toward you Therefore, the second half of the verse – not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance – is not given as a reason for the Lord’s patience in general, i.e. his patience toward every living person. Rather, it is given as the reason for His patience toward the “you” in the text. The “all” is contained in the “you.” When I get to the contextual arguments, I will develop this further, but suffice to say here that this letter is not addressed to all mankind. The recipients are a group of individuals professing faith, among whom Peter assumes are some who have not yet come to faith, as indicated in 3:9 and 1:10.

The second syntactical argument involves the same phrase - not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance. The participle wishing has a double predicate. It is explicit with the first predicate and implied with the second, so that it should be understood as, “not wishing that any should perish, but wishing that all should reach repentance.” This is where the syntax of the verse logically rules out an Arminian understanding. The Arminian position views “wishing” as a reference to God’s sovereign will. This interpretation would then mean that God is not sovereignly willing that any should perish, but is sovereignly willing that all should reach repentance. This puts the Arminian in a difficult spot. He is forced to argue one of two things: (1) God does not always accomplish His sovereign will, since some do perish and not all reach repentance; or (2) No one perishes and all reach repentance, which amounts to universal salvation.

You can see the difficulty with both options. The argument that God does not always accomplish His sovereign will cannot be taken seriously. The following references are but a fraction of the texts that categorically deny such a thought – Ps 33:11, 115:3; Isa 14:24-27, 46:9-10, 55:10-11; Dan 4:35; Eph 1:11. The other option, that none perish and all are saved, is equally ridiculous even if one only had to contend with the material in 2 Peter alone (1:10-11; 2:1, 3-10; 3:7). It simply cannot be that God sovereignly wills that none should perish but all should come to repentance. If He did, it would be so, but in light of the voluminous biblical teaching that it is not so, we can rest assured this is not His sovereign will.

The Arminian argument becomes even more preposterous if we look at it from another angle. 2 Peter 3:9 is written as an explanation for why the Lord has not yet returned (3:4). He has not returned because He is patient “toward you”, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance. Again, the interpretation forces the Arminian into one of two corners: (1) the Lord can never come back since lost people continue to be born and He is forced to wait for this never-ending trail of generations to come to repentance; or (2) Peter is lying about the nature of the Lord’s patience (i.e. that He wills that all mankind come to repentance), since His return will remove forever the opportunity for repentance among those unbelievers still alive on that last day.

I agree with the Arminian that “wishing” refers to God’s sovereign will, but I believe that the “you” and the “all” in 3:9 refer to the elect. I’ll make a contextual argument for that assertion next time.

I should point out that a popular argument in reformed circles is that “wishing” does not refer to God’s sovereign will, but to His revealed will, i.e. His moral requirement that all men repent and believe. While I believe this is far more likely than the completely untenable Arminian position, I do not think it makes sense in the context as an explanation for why the Lord is tarrying. In order for the Lord to return, there would have to be a change in His desire that none should perish and all should repent. If the typical reformed view is correct, then the Lord’s moral requirement for repentance must go away in order for Him to return, which would represent a change in His character.

In my view, the second half of 3:9 – [He is] not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance – only makes sense as a reason for the Lord’s tarrying if His patience is toward the elect and He is still accomplishing His sovereign will to save them. Once the elect are all saved, only then would His return not represent a failure of His patience.

Next time, we’ll look at the larger context of 2 Peter to see why the Arminian appeal to 2 Peter 3:9 is invalid.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

PBF Distinctive: The Sufficiency of Scripture

When Providence Bible Fellowship was started we identified three distinctive convictions that would allow anyone interested in the church to know relatively quickly what kind of a body we are. Anyone who has attended one of our membership meetings or received a membership packet should be familiar with them. First, it is our conviction that expository preaching is the mode of teaching that most glorifies God. Therefore, we preach expository messages exclusively. Second, we hold to reformed theology. Therefore, our teaching and preaching upholds a high view of the sovereignty of God in all things, including salvation. Third, we hold to an elder-led form of church government. Therefore, the elders of the church oversee all areas of ministry and stewardship, and are responsible for the spiritual well-being of the congregation.

There is another strong conviction that the elders have articulated on numerous occasions, including at each of the membership meetings held so far. It is such a vital part of the health of the church that we have decided to recognize it as a fourth distinctive of Providence Bible Fellowship. Below is our explanation of this distinctive:

PBF Distinctive: The Sufficiency of Scripture in Counseling

All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work. (2Tim 3:16-17)

Much time and ink has been spent in recent decades defending the inerrancy of Scripture, that doctrine which asserts that “Scripture is without error or fault in all its teaching, no less in what it states about God's acts in creation, about the events of world history, and about its own literary origins under God, than in its witness to God's saving grace in individual lives.” We rejoice that among conservative evangelical churches the question of inerrancy has been largely settled.

However, there is another debate raging and it surrounds the issue of the sufficiency of Scripture. While most conservative bodies will attest to the inerrancy of Scripture, some deny, whether by word or by practice, the biblical teaching that God’s Word is sufficient for all matters pertaining to life and godliness. This is evidenced not only in their modes of teaching and preaching, but also in their attempt to integrate worldly belief systems (such as psychology, philosophy, and sociology) into their Christian counseling methods. It is believed by some that the Word of God addresses the most rudimentary of personal problems, but that extra-biblical thought must be utilized for life’s more serious issues.

At Providence Bible Fellowship, we uphold 2 Timothy 3:16-17, recognizing not only that God’s Word is inspired and inerrant, but just as important, that God’s Word is sufficient to deal with all issues of the heart, “that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work.” 2 Peter 1:3-4 tells us, His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence,
by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire. It is through the all-sufficient Word of God that we become partakers of the divine nature (“life”), and escape from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire (“godliness”). There is no problem of the heart that cannot be addressed through the principles found in the Word.

In short, we believe that the Bible is the tool that the Holy Spirit uses to bring one to salvation and sanctification. For this reason, all counseling needs at PBF are met within the church using the principles of God’s Word.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

John 3:16 and "...whosoever believeth..."

"For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life." John 3:16

I can’t say for certain that this is the first Bible verse I ever memorized. I can say that is the one I know the best. Growing up in Elmcrest Baptist Church in Abilene, Texas, it seemed that we recited it every week in Sunday School. We recited it so many times that even though I’ve been using a different translation of the Bible for the last 20 years, John 3:16 is the only verse in the Bible that I continue to recite in the King James Version.

The wide knowledge of this verse is undoubtedly due not only to the succinct picture of the gospel that it presents, but also to the sentimental value it holds for all of us who see ourselves as the object of that great love. With the years, its significance to me has not at all waned, but grown evermore precious.

Ironically, not only does John 3:16 hold the honor of being perhaps the most well-known verse of the Bible, but I would contend that it is likely the most misused verse in the Bible, as well. At one time, I used this verse as a proof-text against the doctrine of predestination. And while I would not claim to fully comprehend the profundity of the verse’s meaning, I can say confidently that it in no way refutes any tenet of reformed theology.

About 10 years ago, while studying the book of Romans, I was persuaded by Paul’s argument in chapters 9-11 that God does indeed exert a determinative influence over the salvation of those He has chosen to redeem. I accepted the clear teaching of those chapters, resigning myself to the fact that the apparent contradiction between Romans 9-11 and John 3:16 was one of the mysteries of God that man may never understand. God chooses those He will save, and yet anyone is free to come to Him, so I thought.

As I continued to study the Scriptures, learning more about man’s slavery to sin (Rom 3:10-18) and his absolutely depraved nature (Eph 2:1-3), I became more and more convinced that were it not for God’s gift of faith and repentance, no man would believe because no man in his natural state can believe, nor does he desire to believe. So what about John 3:16?

I eventually discovered that the contradiction existed only in my mind and was the result of that beloved KJV rendering of three Greek words, “…whosoever believeth…”

Whosoever…seems to imply that everyone can believe – all are able to believe. But that is not at all what the verse proclaims because that is not at all what the underlying Greek text says. Those three Greek words are pas ho pisteu├Án“all the believing.” To assert that John 3:16 teaches or even implies that everyone is able to believe in Christ amounts to eisegesis – that is, reading into the text what is not there.

John 3:16 does not tell us that everyone can believe. It teaches that everyone who does believe will not perish, but have eternal life. The New American Standard and English Standard Version both have “whoever believes” which is better than the KJV, but can still be construed as “everyone can” by those who are inclined to read it that way. The most accurate English translation of this verse that I have found comes from the New English Translation, which has “everyone who believes...”

Does this make John 3:16 any less meaningful? First, we shouldn’t base our interpretation of any verse of Scripture on our own sentimentality. But even that point is irrelevant since this isn’t even a question of interpretation, but rather translation, that of accurately reading the original text. But in the end, Christ’s point is untouched. John 3:16 is a statement of the unfathomable love and grace of a God who would give His only Son to die for sinners. How much more precious that love becomes when we acknowledge that were it not for His grace, none would have believed.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

A Vacation from the World's Influence

In Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians, he confessed a concern for them, and therefore the Holy Spirit confessed a concern for us, “that as the serpent deceived Eve by his cunning, your thoughts will be led astray from a sincere and pure devotion to Christ” (11:3). Obviously, that concern was well-founded then and is well-founded today. There are numerous deluding influences, not only in the form of false teaching within the church, but also in the idolatrous culture around us (1 John 2:15, 5:21). The constant challenge for the believer is how to be in the world without being of the world.

In our Saturday men’s group this morning, we were discussing how Satan has used the culture to invade the church’s understanding of and attitude toward sexuality. It is difficult to go into public without being bombarded by sexual images. From the magazines at the checkout counter at the grocery store, to the windows of the clothing shops at the mall, to suggestive billboards on the freeway, the world is doing all it can to eroticize every aspect of life. Even in our own homes if you turn on the TV or watch a movie there are the same influences.

This is true not just in the area of sexuality, but also in the area of gender roles, the definitions of the family and marriage, and the existence of moral absolutes. The deception is gradual and insidious and can mold our thoughts on certain issues without our realizing it. How then do we take inventory of our own minds and hearts to find out if we are being conformed to the world or transformed into the likeness of Christ (Rom 12:2)?

Of course, there should be the positive renewal of the mind through the intake and application of the Word. I would suggest that a good diagnostic exam of our hearts would be helped by limiting worldly influences for a time while devoting ourselves to deeper study, meditation, and prayer.

I know someone who twice in the last year has engaged in a 40-day fast from electronic entertainment and communication. For 40-days, she didn’t watch TV or movies. She didn’t surf the internet (including Facebook). She had her husband check her email for her so that she wouldn’t miss anything truly important. And she spent extra time in the Word, in prayer, in reading books, and devoting herself to her roles as a wife and mother. She testifies that the experience both times has been tremendously beneficial in helping her to refocus on the things that are truly important, as well as revealing areas of her life where she had gone astray in her thinking and attitudes, which allowed her to concentrate on renewing her mind in those areas through God’s Word.

It would be a healthy exercise to find some way to pull out of the influence of our culture for a time in order to devote ourselves to prayer and the Word, for the purpose of discerning how our thoughts and attitudes have been “led astray from a sincere and pure devotion to Christ.” It may shed light on the amount of time we spend on things of no eternal value. It may reveal to us how dependent we have become upon the world to tell us what to think. It may show us how much of life we have been devoting to entertaining ourselves while denying that we have enough time for daily devotions.

Please understand – I’m not saying that enjoying TV, movies, the internet, email, or the radio is sinful. Paul said in 1Corinthians 6:12, All things are lawful for me, but not all things are helpful. All things are lawful for me, but I will not be enslaved by anything. There is nothing inherently sinful about entertainment or hobbies. But many times we concentrate on the "all things are lawful" part, while ignoring Paul's point in its context, "I will not be enslaved by anything." What if we are devoting the balance of our free time to things that are not helpful, when we could be engaging in activities that are truly helpful.

So I say this not as a strong exhortation, not as a condemnation of certain activities, but just as a friendly suggestion. Why not consider turning off the TV for 7 days and doing some intentional service project or catching up with your spouse and children? Why not leave the computer off for a couple of days to devote yourself to the Word and prayer? Why not intentionally and significantly limit the influence of the world and intensify the influence of the Word for a time? You may find that you’ve strayed in your thinking or attitudes or relationship or devotion to Christ. You may come away refreshed in a way you haven’t experienced in a long time. One thing is certain – any time spent with the Lord is never a waste. Its doubtful that you’ll look back and think, “I wish I hadn’t blown all that time with the Lord instead of watching TV.”

Again, this is just a friendly suggestion. Whatever you do, may you become ever more enthralled with the unsearchable riches of Christ.

Can’t wait to worship with you tomorrow. See you then.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Psalm 75 and "Settled Law"

As I read the news last night, I came across one of many stories about the Senate confirmation hearings for Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor. The headline was “Sotomayor calls abortion rights ‘settled law’.” That in itself was not surprising. Troubling, but not surprising. Sotomayor was quoted as saying, “all precedents of the Supreme Court I consider settled law.”

Just now, I was reading the Psalms of the day, and was struck by what I would consider the answer of Psalm 75 to the claim made by Sotomayor. It is a psalm exalting the Lord for His righteous judgment.

vv2-5 are written from God’s point of view:

2 "At the set time that I appoint I will judge with equity.
3 When the earth totters, and all its inhabitants, it is I who keep steady its pillars. Selah
4 I say to the boastful, 'Do not boast,' and to the wicked, 'Do not lift up your horn;
5 do not lift up your horn on high, or speak with haughty neck.'"

Here God holds Himself up as the preeminent authority and judge over all things. He will judge with equity. v3 notes that as the world waivers, He keeps intact the order that He created when He made the world. I believe in this context, He is speaking specifically of His ordained standards of justice. Though the morality and judgments of the world sway with the whims of men, God’s justice doesn’t budge.

In v4 God warns those who would hold up a standard of their own. When He says, “do not lift up your horn,” He is referring to making a claim of power and authority. In other words, do not make proud assertions about your own authority, power, and wicked form of justice.

What could be a more twisted sense of justice than considering abortion to be just and lawful? Legalized abortion seems to me to be the ultimate example of how right and wrong are reversed when men and women reject the law of God. They do what is right in their own eyes (Jdg 17:6, 21:25). They become their own standard, so that the convenience of a mother and father is a higher good than the preservation of the life of their child.

Romans 1:18-32 tells us of the road to the depraved mind. It begins with a rejection of the glory of God in favor of idolatry (v23). Then there is a rejection of God’s truth in favor of a lie (v25). Then there is a rejection of God’s natural order for that which is unnatural (v26-27). Finally, in vv29-31, we are given the attributes of the depraved mind: They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless.

The second to last word, heartless, is an interesting word. It is literally, unloving. The root for "love" here is not agape or phile, both of which we see all over the New Testament. It is astorge, used only here and in 2 Tim 3:3. It means “natural affection” and refers to the love that exists between family members, especially mother and child.

I think that is what is at the heart of the abortion issue – a depravity so deep that even the natural love between parent and child is decimated. The last verse of Romans 1 is a chillingly accurate portrayal of the issue: Though they know God's decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them.

They give approval to those who practice them – or in the case of those like Sotomayor, they consider it “settled law.”

But do not be deceived. The rejection of God’s law and the adoption of man’s own law does not result in the inefficacy of God’s law or the removal of God as the ultimate Judge. In the end man will not be judged by his own law, but by God’s. It is to this truth that the psalmist refers in vv6-8 of Psalm 75:

6 For not from the east or from the west and not from the wilderness comes lifting up,
7 but it is God who executes judgment, putting down one and lifting up another.
8 For in the hand of the LORD there is a cup with foaming wine, well mixed, and he pours out from it, and all the wicked of the earth shall drain it down to the dregs.

In reality, there is only one body of settled law in existence. It stands the test of time. It will never pass away. It will never be left void. It is the Word of God. Those who raise up a law against it do so to their own peril.

Something else about Psalm 75 stands out to me. It begins and ends with worship.

Verse 1: We give thanks to you, O God; we give thanks, for your name is near. We recount your wondrous deeds.

Verses 9-10: But I will declare it forever; I will sing praises to the God of Jacob. All the horns of the wicked I will cut off, but the horns of the righteous shall be lifted up.

We should pray for those like Sonia Sotomayor that God would grant them repentance and faith, sparing them from judgment. At the same time, we should along with the psalmist also give thanks and praise to a God who will not allow the perverted justice of men to stand forever, but will bring to bear His own righteous settled law. “At the set time that I appoint I will judge with equity.”

Friday, July 10, 2009

Truth or Consequences

It has been more than a little disturbing to watch a couple of stories develop in political news over the last several weeks. I'm not referring to universal health care or the aggressive behavior of North Korea, but to the marital infidelity of two political figures, SC governor Mark Sanford and the US Senator from Nevada, John Ensign.

Infidelity among politicians is no new story. It happens all the time. Sometimes it ruins the person’s career, sometimes it is merely a speed-bump. So for me it was not surprising that two politicians admitted to extramarital affairs. It was not surprising that they were both Republicans. It was not surprising that they both intend to retain their respective offices. What was surprising is that both were confessing Christians.

How does this kind of thing happen? I think there are layers of responsibility that should be addressed. First of all, the pulpits in this country have largely abandoned the doctrine of sin. Whether intentional or not, it can be no coincidence that the more offensive elements of the gospel are increasingly absent in our churches. Sin, wrath, responsibility, and hell do not get much pulpit-time outside of the more conservative denominations. Instead, preachers have majored on the love of God, grace, and the blurring of doctrinal lines for the sake of unity. There is very little appetite for the rest of the gospel. There is no understanding of the sinfulness of sin or its offense against a holy God. There is no appreciation for the daily dying required of a true disciple.

Because the doctrine of sin is not understood, the doctrine of man is not fully understood. We have allowed the world’s wisdom and psychological theory to sneak into the church in the form of the notion that man is basically good and merely needs help to be better. However, the Bible teaches that unregenerate man is absolutely depraved, unwilling and unable to believe in God, love God, love man, or turn away from sin (Rom 1:28-32; Eph 2:1-3). It is his nature to hate God and love iniquity.

Because the doctrines of sin and of man are not understood, temptation is neither understood nor respected. With no appreciation for the seriousness of sin, there is no consideration of temptation as our mortal enemy. I’m convinced that most believers are unaware that the most dangerous part of temptation is the element that resides within their own hearts: But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death (James 1:14-15). If a person is to successfully fight against temptation, he must keep a careful watch on his own heart, from which flow the issues of life, with all manner of sinful thoughts and deeds, including “adulteries” (Prov 4:23; Mark 7:21-22).

Because temptation is not taken seriously, neither is devotion or accountability. The importance of the intentional pursuit of holiness is unknown. But we know that in order to run the race well, there must be the intentional killing of sin and gazing upon Christ (Heb 12:1-2). Add to that the enlistment of other brothers and sisters to help us maintain our focus and devotion (1 Thess 5:14; Eph 4:11-16).

As long as preaching is intended to draw a crowd rather than challenge and feed the believing, a lack of discernment and conviction will be the hallmark of the Christian witness in this country. Rather than being taught of the one-flesh covenant miracle of marriage, we will continue to see marriage as merely the God-given provision for our sexual appetites. The result of this kind of teaching is exactly what we’ve been seeing on the news: if ever that well runs dry, either in reality or in our own self-deception, we move on to the next well, rather than trusting in the all sufficient grace of Christ to see us through any and every trial of our lives. In this brand of Christianity, marriage is cheapened and Christ is unnecessary.

So much of the blame falls at the feet of the pastors. The rest falls at the feet of those who listen to them. Paul’s warning to Timothy seems particularly prescient of modern evangelicalism: For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths (2Tim 4:3-4). Many today are receiving anemic teaching because that is precisely what they want. Those having their ears tickled will be held responsible right along with the ticklers, although perhaps not in the same measure. Make no mistake, we are paying a price for this and will continue to pay a price as long as truth is left outside the the doors of the local church.

Undoubtedly, there were other factors leading to the falls of Ensign and Sanford - perhaps, pride and the lust for power. But at the end of the day, these things too are free to grow unchecked in a human heart that has no appetite for truth. Where there is no truth, sin will follow along with its dire consequences.

So how do we keep from walking in the same paths as these politicians? Several things: First, we must desire truth and be satisfied with nothing less than truth. That means valuing the preaching and teaching of the whole counsel of God. Second, we must understand the deceitfulness of sin and the mechanics of temptation. We need to know and guard our own hearts. Third, we need to have relationships with other believers who can sharpen us and keep us accountable for staying after Christ.

God is gracious and He will forgive sins even as heinous as adultery. He is able to restore the sinning believer to spiritual health. But before we get to that point, why not call on God for the grace to love truth, guard our hearts, and press on to obedience today?

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Book Review - Because He Loves Me

“In your pursuit of godliness, have you left Jesus behind?”

That may seem like an odd question, but if we take a look at the modern conservative church, there are signs that it is a valid one. I say “conservative” rather than “evangelical” because, sadly, it seems that in the much of the evangelical community, the pursuit of godliness is a foreign concept. But in the reformed world, where we believe in the mortification of sin and the pursuit of personal holiness, there can be a tendency to strive toward those goals in our own strength, rather than in His. We may be found more often working out of duty than out of love.

I mentioned in a message a couple of weeks ago that many of us look at the gospel – and Jesus – as the gateway to Christianity, and in a sense that is true. But how many of us see the gospel as relevant to every step we take after we are converted? In your pursuit of godliness, have you left Jesus behind?

That is the question posed by Elyse Fitzpatrick in her new book Because He Loves Me: How Christ Transforms Our Daily Life. In the introduction, she asks a few other clarifying questions:

- If I said that we’re going to spend page after page considering God’s love, would you feel the need to stifle a yawn? What does his transforming love mean to you today? - Are you more focused on your performance for him or his for you?
- At the end of the day is there a rest in your soul because of him, or is there guilt and a determination that tomorrow you’re going to “do better”?
- You know that Jesus is the door. Do you see how he is your life? Could you tell me exactly how he has transformed your daily life?

Fitzpatrick asserts and then argues that the love and undiminished presence of Christ is the most relevant aspect of the believer’s life. He is not a figure from our past. He is our past, present, and future. He is the key to understanding who we are, and He is the key to doing what we are called to do.

As we have worked our way through Ephesians on Sunday mornings, we’ve seen how very different the two halves of the book are. The first half seems to be all theology – we have Paul, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, telling us things. We call this kind of text “indicative”. It makes statements. It teaches theology. Essentially, the first half of Ephesians is spent informing us about who we are and what God did through Christ to get us there.

But the second half of Ephesians is different. There we have Paul, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, telling us to do things. This kind of text is called “imperative.” It teaches us how to live in light of who we are in Christ.

As Fitzpatrick points out, many believers focus all their attention on the imperatives of Scripture, without understanding that the doing of the imperative is anchored in the indicative. She explains by using Eph 4:32 as an example:

“Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.” Can you see how the imperative, “Be kind, tenderhearted and forgiving,” is firmly anchored in the indicative, “you’re forgiven in Christ”? This verse demonstrates the beautiful synergy that not only tells us what to do, but also plants within our souls the only motive that will empower God-pleasing compliance: what God has already done…Our obedience has its origin in God’s prior action, and forgetting that truth results in self-righteousness, pride, and despair.

Fitzpatrick’s book wonderfully explains how to apply this concept to everyday living. Many books on sanctification talk in lofty, ambiguous terms, but Elyse Fitzpatrick deals in the concrete without sounding like a how-to manual.

She spends the first half of the book on how God’s love transforms our identity. I’ll admit, about halfway through the first section, I was afraid that the book might be a variation of the “let go and let God” model of sanctification, in which a believer exerts no effort in the pursuit of godliness, but simply trusts God to do it all. I was wrong. The author was simply outlining the “indicative” of God’s love as shown in the gospel. The second half of the book is dedicated to showing how God’s love transforms our everyday living. Fitzpatrick does not discount the believer’s own responsibility to “work out [his] own salvation,” but makes the point that the success of that venture depends upon his clinging to the indicative truth of who he is in Christ.

This is an excellent book – theologically solid, encouraging, challenging, and insightful. The cover looks decidedly girly, but it does not seem to be written towards a female-only audience. (Men can remove the dust jacket if they feel threatened.) The book is highly recommended by people like Donald Whitney and Stuart Scott of Southern Seminary, Ed Welch of CCEF, Nancy Leigh DeMoss, and Phil Johnson, executive director of Grace to You. It’s one of those good books that you can’t find in your average Christian bookstore, but it is available at Enjoy.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Love Languages and the Bible

I mentioned in the message Sunday that Paul’s exhortation in Eph 5:25 to the husband to love his wife as Christ loved the church is not an exhortation to love his wife the way that she wants to be loved. It occurred to me as I prepared that message last week that the idea of loving someone the way that he or she wants to be loved is precisely what the Love Languages encourage us to do.

What are Love Languages? The concept comes from a book written by Dr. Gary Chapman entitled The Five Languages. Here is the publisher’s description of the book:
Are you and your spouse speaking the same language? While love is a many splendored thing, it is sometimes a very confusing thing, too. And as people come in all varieties, shapes, and sizes, so do their choices of personal expressions of love. But more often than not, the giver and the receiver express love in two different ways. This can lead to misunderstanding, quarrels, and even divorce. Quality Time, Words of Affirmation, Gifts, Acts of Service, and Physical Touch. Dr. Gary Chapman identifies five basic languages of love and then guides couples towards a better understanding of their unique languages of love. Learn to speak and understand your mate's love language, and in no time you will be able to effectively love and truly feel loved in return. Skillful communication is within your grasp!

There is one sentence (at least) in the above paragraph that raises a red flag for me. This can lead to misunderstanding, quarrels, and even divorce. What can lead to misunderstandings, quarrels, and even divorce? Spouses not speaking each other’s love language – in other words, spouses not loving each other the way they want to be loved.

What does God’s Word have to say? Do misunderstandings, quarrels, and divorce come from a failure to speak the right love language? James 4:1-3 addresses the question:
1 What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? 2 You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have, because you do not ask. 3 You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions.

What causes strife? Not getting what you want (v1). What is the result of not getting what you want? Sin (v2). Why do you not get what you want? Two reasons: 1) you do not ask, or 2) you ask selfishly.

Strife in marriage is not a result of an ignorance of love languages. Strife in marriage is a result of the sinful response to not getting what you want. Your passions are at war within you.

So shouldn’t we just give our spouses’ what they want? Wouldn’t that fix the problem? That is the solution proposed by the Five Love Languages, but not James 4. If we take a look at the next few verses, the whole point of the passage becomes clear:

4 You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. 5 Or do you suppose it is to no purpose that the Scripture says, "He yearns jealously over the spirit that he has made to dwell in us"? 6 But he gives more grace. Therefore it says, "God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble." 7 Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. 8 Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. 9 Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. 10 Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you.

What is the real issue? Is it that other humans are not meeting our needs, whether that be a spouse, a friend, or a pastor? No. The real problem lies in seeking our fulfillment in the world rather than in God (v4). God jealously desires our worship (v5). But when we seek fulfillment in our spouses and sin because they do not give us what we want, it becomes clear that we are not worshiping God, but the things of this world. All sin is an offense against God, therefore when we sin because we do not get worldly fulfillment, we have placed worldly things above God in our hearts. Essentially, we choose the devil over God.

What is the solution? Submit to God, and resist the devil (v7). Draw near to God, cleanse your hands, purify your hearts, mourn over your selfishness, and humble yourself before the Lord. In other words, desire God above all things, not the self-centered worship of what your spouse (or anyone else) can do for you.

It all comes down to your definition of love. The worldly definition is “give them what ever they want.” The biblical definition is to desire the person’s highest good. And as I mentioned last Sunday, sometimes desiring your spouse’s highest good will require doing exactly what they don’t want you to do.

Let me say clearly that I do think it is a good thing to give preference to your spouse. Romans 12:10 tells us to “give preference to one another in honor.” There is nothing wrong with wanting to please your spouse or show your affection in a tangible way that they prefer. However, this should not be seen as the key to marital bliss, especially if in the end the motive for serving your spouse is self-centered.

The problem with some of these books is the implicit “give-in-order-to-get” mentality that they produce. It accommodates the reduction of your spouse to nothing more than a vending machine – give them what they want and they’ll dispense what you want. Biblical love is so much higher and more selfless than this.

God’s Word is sufficient. In Christ, as revealed in Scripture, we have been given all things pertaining to life and godliness (2 Pet 1:3-4). And yet, new books are being touted all the time as the best thing that ever happened to marriage. Do we really need these things? 1 Corinthians 13 tells us what love is. And in v5 it says that love does not insist on its own way.

I would submit that if a marriage is suffering from misunderstanding, quarrels, and even impending divorce, it is not a result of an ignorance of the love languages. It is a result of a man and woman refusing to obey God’s revealed will. Follow God’s Word and you’ll never need another marriage book again.