A Good Grounding // Romans 5:1-11

A Good Grounding

[This sermon was inspired by another sermon entitled, “Anchors During Adversity” by Dr. Timothy Beougher found in the 2005 Nelson’s Annual Preacher’s Sourcebook. I preached this sermon Sunday evening, July 22nd, 2018 at Newton Springs Full Gospel Church.]

Text: Romans 5:1-11

Introduction:

Dr. Thomas Lambie was a missionary to Ethiopia. He had to ford a lot of streams and rivers while he was over there, and there was a lot of danger in doing that because you could get swept off of your feet in the current and get carried down the river and possibly drown because you can’t get back up or even get thrown into some sharp rocks.

Well, Dr. Lambie learned from the locals that the best way to make such a dangerous crossing was carry a large stone on your shoulders while you were crossing. The larger, the better. Because if you were carrying something heavy across the river, it would act as a “ballast.” The extra weight of the stone would kept your feet solid on the bed of the stream allowing you to safely cross without being swept away.

In Romans 5:1-11, I think we need to see the love of God as a ballast that keeps us grounded in times of trial. Everything in your life can be going downhill, but knowing that God loves you in spite of your failures can make all the difference in the world.

The first thing we need to do is realize our present position.

We Need to Realize Our Present Position (v. 1-2a)

“Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ: 2By whom also we have access by faith into this grace wherein we stand…”
– Romans 5:1-2a, KJV

Verse 1 starts with a therefore. Whenever you see a “therefore” in Scripture, the author is making a logical connection. He’s saying that because what we just said was true, what we’re about to say is also true.

When I taught the young adults Sunday School class at another church, I always to used to tell my class that when you see a therefore in the Bible, you’ve got to go back and see what it’s there for. And that’s what we’re because this points us back to the first four chapters of Romans.

  • Chapter 1 – In Romans 1:16, Paul points out that he is not ashamed of the Gospel of Jesus Christ because it’s the power of God unto salvation, and then verse 17, Paul says that because of the Gospel, because of the good news of Jesus we who are just shall live by faith, and then in the rest of chapter 1, Paul talks about how God pours His wrath out on those who blinded to the glory of God by their own sin even though the evidence is all around them. They would rather worship the creation rather than the creator.
  • Chapter 2 – In chapter 2, just to make sure that all of his audience is getting the message Paul says, “You’re just as inexcusable as they are, and every time you judge them for their sin, you condemn yourself.” But in Romans 2, Paul talks about the righteous judgement of God, and the Jews relationship to the law.
  • Chapter 3 – In Romans 3, Paul uses Psalm 14 as a proof text to say that no one is righteous. It doesn’t matter: Jew or Gentile. You’re all law breakers, you’re all unrighteous, none of you seek after God. However, Paul goes on to say that the righteousness of God is available in Christ, and you receive it by faith alone, apart from works.

    • That’s why the cry of the Christian faith for the last 500 years has been that salvation is by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone.

  • Chapter 4 – In chapter 4, Paul uses the illustration of the faith of Abraham, and he said that he received the sign of circumcision by faith. He believed God and it was accounted to him for righteousness. All you have to do is believe what God says about Himself, and what His Word says that Jesus has done on your behalf, and your belief is counted to you for righteousness.

And all of that brings us to where we are in chapter 5 where Paul says that because all of this is true, we are justified by faith, and we have peace with God. That’s our present position, and Paul says, if all of that is true, then “we glory in tribulations also knowing that tribulation worketh patience.”

So, we need to realize our present position, but we also need reflect on our future hope.

We Need to Reflect on Our Future Hope (v. 3-4)

“…we glory in tribulations also: knowing that tribulation worketh patience; 4And patience, experience; and experience, hope:” – Romans 5:3-4, KJV

I think it’s good to think about Romans 5:3-4 in these terms: every time we go through trials in life, God always uses those trials to produce in us patience for the present, experience to look back on, and hope for the future.

  • Have you ever had those times in life where it just looked like it was one bad thing after another. You come through one trial just to go through another one.

You get over one sickness just to get sick again. One of your cars breaks down, you get it fixed, and then your other car breaks down. You’re always having to spend money that you really don’t have on something that you need, and then there’s a big bill that comes out of nowhere.

Every time you go through something like that God is working patience in you. You don’t always feel patient, but that’s what it is.

A man in Los Angeles, California was arrested for negligent discharge of a weapon after shooting his toilet bowl five times with a 38 caliber handgun. He claims that he just got upset. He couldn’t take it any longer. His daughter had flushed a hairbrush earlier in the day and clogged the pipes. So he shot the offending toilet. I have no word on the toilet’s condition, but the man’s patience was long gone.

  • Now. the problem is that expressing patience always requires you to be annoyed first, but when you’re patient, it pays off because patience is a form of sacrifice. You’re sacrifice what you want now for something better later. You’re sacrificing your time for a reward later. And it seems like people with the most contentment are people that have learned to sacrifice well over the years whether that’s time, energy, or money.

Not only does God use trials to develop patience in us for the present, but also experience to look back on.

For my Pastor and Public Worship class I have to read “From Memory to Imagination” by C. Randall Bradley, and in that book Bradley notes that a lot of our faith is based on memory.

 

  • “Memory is an important spiritual exercise because so much of our faith is informed by memory. Memory is reliving our experiences. Memory can be active storytelling, individual reflection, or shared silence surrounding mutual encounters… God’s plan for humankind was to create a memory for us on which we can hang everything. From the beginning, God designed a covenant with his creation through which we were able to remember God’s love and actions on our behalf. This covenant of assurance was designed to launch us on our journey to fulfill God’s plan. Throughout the Old Testament, God continually called his followers to remember, to allow their memory of God to inform all that they did.”[1] – C. Randall Bradley

 

So, every time God brings you through a trial that’s another testimony that you have to God’s faithfulness. That’s a memory you can look back on and see God at work. 

So, this is what Paul means when he says, that tribulation worketh experience, patience, and hope.

If we have patience in the present, if we have past experiences we can look back on, then we can have hope for the future.

This is isn’t an uncertain kind of hope. The way we talk about hope isn’t the same way the Bible talks about hope. We say, “Well, I hope it all works out.” But Paul says that the hope of our salvation is an anchor for the soul in Hebrews 6:19.

Paul says that hope doesn’t make us ashamed because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost so there’s no chance that our hope in God can fail. Failure is not an option when hope is involved.

Once we realize our present position, and reflect on our future hope, then we need to recall the love of God.

Recalling the Love of God (v. 6-8)

“For when we were yet without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly. 7For scarcely for a righteous man will one die: yet peradventure for a good man some would even dare to die. 8But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” – Romans 5:6-8, KJV

We might be willing to die for a friend or a family member, but for an enemy?

I know we’ve heard this all of our lives that we should love our enemies, but do we really do it? I mean, think about it. When you think about your enemies, you know there’s some people in your life that if they were on fire and you have a glass of water, you would drink it, but did you know you were an enemy of God?

In Ephesians 2:12, Paul tells us to remember that at one time we were apart from Christ without hope and without God in the world.

God’s love is revolutionary because He doesn’t just smite His enemies, He dies in their place. God the Son accepted the wrath of God the Father on our behalf. Jesus died on our behalf. We didn’t deserve it, we didn’t earn it, but it was freely given to us.

Christ’s death on the cross was an actual event in the past. He went to the cross knowing all of your sin, your faults, your failures, your hangups, and habits, and He took that punishment that you deserve for those things. He went to the cross knowing that the Apostle Paul was going to not do the things he wanted to do, and do the things he didn’t want to do. Jesus went to the cross knowing that you life would be hard, and that you would struggle.

And you know what? When Jesus died, your sin died with Him, and when He rose, your sin didn’t rise with Him. If you’re saved, then your sin is a dead issue, and you are clothed with His righteousness.

You’re gonna suffer. Jesus said you would, but He said that we should take heart because He has overcome the world.

So, far, Romans 5 has taught us to realize our present position, reflect on our future hope, recall God’s love, and now finally we need to rejoice in God’s Work in Christ.

Rejoice in God’s Work in Christ (v. 9-11)

“Much more then, being now justified by his blood, we shall be saved from wrath through him. 10For if, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by his life. 11And not only so, but we also joy in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom we have now received the atonement.” – Romans 5:9-11, KJV

You have to think about who Paul’s audience is. He’s writing to the church in Rome that’s made up Jews who became believers, but there’s also Gentiles there who were Pagans.

These people who used to be Pagans heard a lot of stories of the Roman and Greek gods of the pantheon, and all of this talk about God reconciling the world to Himself through the death of His Son was completely new to them.

“Greeks spoke about reconciliation between persons in conflict, but did not think of deities initiating reconciliation with mortals who had offended them. The idea that God would do so at the cost of his own Son would be shocking.”
– NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible

This is the revolutionary love of God at work on our behalf.

And not only was His death for us, but so was His life. That’s what Paul says at the end of verse 10, “much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by His life.”

For a long time I didn’t understand that. I always knew that His death was for me, but what does it mean that His life was for me? I think the author of Hebrews explains it well in Hebrews 4:14-16.

“Since, then, we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast to our confession. 15For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin. 16Let us therefore approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” – Hebrews 4:14-16, NRSV

Jesus lived a perfect life that we couldn’t live. He had no sin, and we’re born into a world of sin with a sinful nature.

Jesus endured all the same temptations that we’ve been tempted with and He succeeded. He didn’t just go through those temptations and endure for us, but all the saints of the Old Testament too.

Where Adam failed to obey God, Jesus obeyed God perfectly. That’s why the Apostle Paul calls him the second Adam in 1 Corinthians 15.

And it’s by Jesus Christ, the second Adam, that we’ve received atonement.

All atonement really means is at-one-ment. We are at one with God because of Jesus’ work on the cross on our behalf.

So, tonight, trust Jesus. I know you’ve probably all at one time trusted Jesus, but do you need to renew your trust? Do you need to be called back to a place of repentance?

When Martin Luther first started getting a congregation together after he’d been booted from the Catholic Church, he would serve communion every week, and he would explain the death and resurrection of Jesus every week. And one of his congregants asked him, “Brother Martin, why do you preach the Gospel every week?” And he said, “Because you forget it every week.” And we’re not better.

A lot of you had to pour out blood, sweat, and tears for everything you earned, and your work ethic is commendable, but sometimes we translate that over into our faith.

We think we have to make up for all the bad stuff we’ve done, so we better pray extra hard, we better read more this week. We better really show God we’re sorry. Listen, Jesus already paid your debt on the cross. All you have to trust Him.

In the book of Acts, the call of the Gospel was simple. Repent, and believe the Gospel.

So, tonight, I’m going to pray for us, and these altars are opened. If you want to come and pray, that’s fine. If you want to pray in your seat, that’s fine too, but I’m going to pray for us, and we’re going to have one more song.

Closing Prayer

Heavenly Father, You sent Your Son to be a sacrifice for our sin, and we thank you. We thank you that you’ve placed all the sins of those who believe upon Him. We thank you that by His stripes we are healed, and our sins are forgiven. Lord, we ask that if there’s anyone here who doesn’t know You that You would draw them to Yourself with irresistible grace. In the name of Your Son, Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever. Amen.


[1]  Bradley, C. Randall. From Memory to Imagination: Reforming the Church’s Music. Eerdmans, 2012.

Fighting the Same Battles (Yes, We’re Still Talking about Sanctification…)

SameBattles

[Just as a disclaimer, not everyone here at LNT will agree with every jot and tittle of what I’m about to say, but that’s the beauty of LNT, we are proud to be a theologically eclectic bunch.]

I know I said I was taking some time off from LNT, but I felt the need to crawl out of my hidey hole for one more article.

I left the world of Pentecostalism because I couldn’t come to terms with the fact that no matter how much “do more, try harder” religion I crammed down my throat it wasn’t helping me do more and try harder. (Go figure!) I started reading the Bible for myself and sure enough, I realized that my grandparents’ worst nightmares were coming true – I started to understand eternal security or as they called it “Once saved, always saved.”

Now, I feel like I need to stop here and explain something. A lot of the Reformed community (particularly Piper’s side) will say, “We don’t believe ‘once saved, always saved,’ we believe in ‘Perseverance of the Saints.'” They say that they want to make that distinction because they don’t want to be accused of “easy believism,” and after the recent Desiring God/R. Scott Clark Sanctification debate, I can see why. I mean, if I didn’t believe what the Bible is actually saying about salvation and sanctification, I wouldn’t want someone saying that I did.

So, as I said, I left Pentecostalism and found a home within the Reformed ranks because I thought I was safe. I thought I was free to explore the Gospel and see that it really was everything that I was reading about in Paul’s writings, and that I really was interpreting Jesus’ words in John 10 correctly when He says, “My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand.” For once in my life, I could actually take what Jesus said to the bank, I didn’t have to rely on the weird ‘if’s or ‘but’s that Wesleyan Pentecostals tend to add in there just so they don’t feel uncomfortable. (Fun Fact: In this camp, I was told, “Yes, no one can snatch you out of His hand, but you can jump out of His hand if you want to.” So, basically, I was taught that God was powerful enough to make someone speak in tongues, but not powerful enough to keep someone’s soul.)

As I settled into the Reformed community, I knew nothing about Federal Vision or Norman Shepherd. I would occasionally read Douglas Wilson’s books and articles (and still do), but I never really saw anything troubling, other than his hyper-conservative ideas of complementarianism, but finding someone whose Reformed and not complementarian  is finding a needle in a haystack so I just did what I was do when I eat fried chicken, I took the meat and threw away the bones.

In spite of all of this, I never thought in my wildest dreams there would be such controversy over something that is so clear, and so freeing. I’ve read the arguments, I’ve read the quotes, and I’ll provide an abridged list of articles on both sides, but the fact of that matter is that there are those who claim the Reformed banner who want their works to count for something so badly that they need to hold to a Romanist view of the book of James in order to feel like they’re ‘doing enough.’ They are more deceived than our Roman Catholic friends because they’ll at least admit that works contribute to their salvation, and they’ll say that Sola Fide is false. Our Reformed friends who side with Piper on the other hand, will say ‘faith alone’ out of one side of their mouth and ‘works are necessary for salvation’ on the side. They are the true double-tongued serpents.

I don’t believe the False Prophet of Revelation is one specific person or group, but if I did, then it wouldn’t surprise me to see that person rise from ranks of Christendom claiming the Reformed banner and paying lip service to Sola Fide while saying that our salvation hinges on what we do for Christ rather than what He has done for us.

So, in conclusion, I didn’t jump ship to fight the same battle. I’m here because this is where my reading of Scripture and my study of theology has taken me. It’s taken me a long time to come to terms with the fact that God doesn’t see my works as something that allows me to be one of His, and I’m not turning back. Call me a heretic. Call me a backslider. Call me an antinomian. Go ahead and tell me that I’m not really Reformed. I’ll gladly wear those labels as long it means that I’m sticking with what the Bible has said. I’m in the same company as Paul whenever he felt that he had to qualify the Gospel when he wrote the beginning of Romans 6, and if you don’t like it you can straight to… my Father in Heaven, and take it up with Him.

Piper’s Side:
Does Faith Alone Really Save? – John Piper
John Piper Compromising Sola Fide? – Mark Jones
The “Means and Way” to Salvation – Mark Jones
How to Train Your Dragons – Greg Morse

R. Scott Clark’s Side:
Salvation Sola Gratia, Sola Fide: On Distinguishing Is, With, And Through – R. Scott Clark
Resources On The Controversy Over “Final Salvation Through Works” – R. Scott Clark
The Marrow of the Matter: The Sanctification Debate Returns – Jay Sawrie
Keep Looking: A Response to Greg Morse and Desiring God – Jay Sawrie
Dressed in His Righteousness Alone: The Sanctification Debate, Round 3 – Jay Sawrie

Dressed in His Righteousness Alone: The Sanctification Debate, Round 3

Dressed in His Righteousness Alone

We cannot just speak of the sanctification in the theological realm and ignore the pastoral implications of our conclusions. To do so is to divorce orthodoxy and orthpraxy and dismiss the impact that this teaching has on our people. It’s not just the textbooks that will be impacted when we get this wrong. It’s the covenant child, the clinging doubter, the weary wife, or the aging senior who will bear the true weight if we err.

So if we think pastorally about what’s being said in the New Law/Sola Fide Debate we realize that where this debate leads us is in two distinct directions.

Let’s suppose that a pastor notices that there is a lack of fruit among his parishioners. Worship may be attended, but the worshippers seem disinterested. They may be apathetic to chatechisis or have begrudgingly serve their fellow members. There could be internal strife or division among brothers with no desire to reconcile. And yes, there could be greivous sin; even sin that must be disciplined.

What is a pastor to do?

He could whip them with the Law. He could demand their obedience to God’s righteous standards. He could plead and fight and remind them of their Christian duty. He may stand up every Lord’s Day and preach hellfire and damnation. He could repeat until he’s red faced that “Whoever loves me will obey my commandments” from that sacred platform.

But I’ve been there  I’ve been in that pew and felt the weight of it all. It just made me feel guilty. I didn’t obey because I loved God, I obeyed because I was guilty. I obeyed because, at the end of the day, I wasn’t sure of my salvation.

However, he won’t see true fruit because he’s not working on the root. The root of sanctification is built on the foundation of our Union with Christ. If we want to see fruit of true faith, we must preach the Gospel and pray for the Spirit to work in them.

There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. – Romans 8:1

The mistake our New Law brothers are making is they’re making Works the basis of our “final salvation” (again this is a term that has only recently come up). Let’s take Mark Jones’ article where he talks about “ways and means”. Here’s what he says:

“Good works are not, therefore, “merely evidence of sanctity and nothing more.” They are the “way and means” that God has ordained for his children to walk to glory. If we do not walk on this path we will not be saved.”

If it sounds like that famous Norman Shepherd line “brought in by faith, kept in by faithfulness” that’s because it is. If it sounds like we’re repeating the Marrow debate it’s because we are.

Good works are not the means of sanctification, they are the evidence of it. If what Jones is putting forward is the preponderance of what the Reformed Church has held to someone didn’t tell the writers of the Heidelberg Catechism for it says

Q. 60
How are you righteous before God?

A. Only by true faith in Jesus Christ. Although my conscience accuses me that I have grievously sinned against all God’s commandments, have never kept any of them,
and am still inclined to all evil, yet God, without any merit of my own, out of mere grace, imputes to me the perfect satisfaction, righteousness, and holiness of Christ. He grants these to me as if I had never had nor committed any sin, and as if I myself had accomplished all the obedience which Christ has rendered for me, if only I accept this gift with a believing heart.

Q. 61
Why do you say that you are righteous only by faith?

A. Not that I am acceptable to God on account of the worthiness of my faith, for only the satisfaction, righteousness, and holiness of Christ is my righteousness before God. I can receive this righteousness and make it my own by faith only.

Q. 62
But why can our good works not be our righteousness before God, or at least a part of it?

A. Because the righteousness which can stand before God’s judgment must be absolutely perfect and in complete agreement with the law of God, whereas even our best works in this life are all imperfect and defiled with sin.

Q. 63
But do our good works earn nothing, even though God promises to reward them in this life and the next?

A. This reward is not earned; it is a gift of grace.

But yes, our New Law brothers will try to argue that it is of Grace and Spirit. But this is the third time now and it sounds like they’re trying to make their Nomian doctrine fit a Reformed position.

So what will we tell our people? “Perform good works and live” or “Look to Christ”? Does Christ truly give us His righteousness imputed to us or do we only return to neutral and walk back to Sinai? Is the Law a guide for Christian living or the means by which we obtain or posses our full salvation?

In other words: is it truly “finished”? Can I tell my fellow Christians they are truly “dressed in a His righteousness alone?” Or must they return to the Law to live?

The Marrow of the Matter: The Sanctification Debate Returns

Marrow Matter

It has taken me almost 27 years, and sanctification is still a tough subject to get around. It is, in my opinion, the doctrine where the rubber meets the road. The nature of good works and their relationship to sanctification is not a new debate. The Reformed tradition has come to this dispatch box for centuries, the Marrow Controversy has not died yet. Last week, John Piper lit the powder keg again saying,  These works of faith, and this obedience of faith, these fruits of the Spirit that come by faith, are necessary for our final salvation. No holiness, no heaven”. Of course, the Reformed community came back with either push back for affirmation.

But my effort in this is not to respond to either Dr. Piper or the responses to him. This of course may seem like I am dodging the war; but I want to respond to two things I myself have seen. I want to clarify the position of the “Free Grace” boys and give some push back to my New Law brothers. I think we have a serious discussion creeping up on us, and it has the potential to teach something that is contrary to the Scriptures.

What is sanctification? According to our Confession,

Sanctification is the work of God’s free grace,[97] whereby we are renewed in the whole man after the image of God,[98] and are enabled more and more to die unto sin, and live unto righteousness.[99] (WSC #35)

Right from the onset we must dispel some things about Sanctification. First, sanctification is a work of God’s grace. Man cannot please God apart from the Spirit’s work within him. He cannot merit for Himself any righteousness before God. The Confession leaves us no room to say that sanctification is our work. It is something that is wrought in us by the Holy Spirit. The prophet Ezekiel tells us this when he says:

And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules. (ESV)

Second, sanctification is not passive. We are truly active in sanctification. We are equipped, by God’s free grace, to truly resist sin and to live according to God’s commands. Sin has no power over the Christian insofar that he cannot resist it. The believer is certainly given a new spirit that wills and wants that which is pleasing to God. We cannot deny this from the Confession either. By God’s grace we actively obey Him, and we break off the chains of sin.

I want to be very clear in these statements. Doubtless some will throw around the dread term antinomian for what I will say. However, I am not saying that the Christian should live in a state of unrepentance and passivity. Yes of course we should put to death the deeds of the flesh and chase after righteousness. We would not disagree on this.

However, my concern arises when we begin to treat good works as either the basis for our sanctification or the instrument by which the Spirit sanctifies us. Or that the Christian has a somewhat two fold justification: one that is given to us sola gratia, sola fide and one that is taken hold of per opera bona. This is utterly foreign to the Reformed tradition. Paul is clear that those who are justified and surely glorified.  (Romans 8:31) If these good works are Spirit wrought, how then can one obtain the promise of eternal life but never take it in actuality? However our Confession teaches that through good works believers manifest their thankfulness, strengthen their assurance, edify their brethren, adorn the profession of the Gospel, stop the mouths of the adversaries, and glorify God. But none of this speaks of good works being the instrument nor is it the means by which we take possession of eternal life.

Berkhof writes that good works, “do not have the inherit value which naturally carries with it a just claim to a reward.” This is because they are Spirit-wrought, not Christian-wrought. Whatever claim we have to them, we must be very quick to remind ourselves that they God working through us.

Good works then cannot be the instrument of sanctification. It is not that we are equipped to work and are thus sanctified. To argue this is to put the cart before the horse. It makes our sanctification (and thus our final salvation) dependent on our good works meriting God’s sanctifying work.

My fear is that there is a conflation in these discussions between justification and sanctification. Our New Law brothers at best are trying to ward off against anti-nomianism. I can appreciate that. However, they do a great disservice when they argue that our salvation is through good works and not unto good works. It is a dangerous place that this leads us to.

It leads us to a place that I saw one Southern Baptist seminarian go this weekend. Let’s call him Tim. Tim, in one of his many attempts to ignite the passions of his social media echo chamber, began to put a former Presbyterian minister on blast for an antinomian view. This pastor has not been on the stage for some time. But Tim likes to be heard and so attacked a formally ordained minister. However in doing so he makes the statement that it is “not enough” that we rest in our justification. My question is then: In whom then should I rest for my salvation? Jay? Jay is a terrible person to rest in. Jay is a sinner who daily has to repent. Do I have all that I need in Christ to be fully redeemed? Is it really finished? Or must I add to Christ’s work with my own sanctifying efforts as Rome tells me?

This is how serious the discussion is, it is the crux of the Reformation. Scripture clearly teaches that we are saved not by our works but by Christ. Our works are evidences of the faith and grace that has been freely given to us. But they are not the instrument of some final salvation. So to Tim, or anyone else who asks, “What must we do to be doing the works of God?” I look to Christ who says, “Believe” and “come to me and take my yoke, for it is easy and my burden is light.”

Reflections on the Valley of Vision: Sincerity, Part 2: Commentary on the Prayer

reflections-of-sincerity


“You desire truth in the inward being;

Therefore teach me wisdom in my secret being.”
– Psalm 51:6, NRSV

(Full prayer may be read here)

In my last post, I shared some thoughts on sincerity and authenticity, and I ranted about Christians who don’t seem to appreciate authentic Christianity. Maybe they only want authenticity when it’s nice, neat, and doesn’t have to do with struggling with the really dirty sins. Regardless of the reason, I’ll probably rant about it later in another blog post or even on the podcast. Right now, I mostly want to talk about the Sincerity prayer found in the Valley of Vision.

The Elector of Saints


“Elector of Saints,”
Notice how the prayer opens up. It addresses God as Elector of Saints. The prayer recognizes the sovereignty of God in the election and predestination of His people. If you read the Bible and believe in the inerrancy of Scripture then you can’t deny that God is sovereign in salvation and the author of this prayer is making it clear that he is thankful for this divine sovereignty.

Blessed is the Man…


“Blessed is the man whom thou choosest
     and callest to thyself.
With thee is mercy, redemption, assurance,
   Forgiveness;”

When I read this portion of the prayer, my mind immediately goes to Romans 4:4-8 (particularly verses 7 and 8) which reads like this:

“Now to one who works, wages are not reckoned as a gift but as something due. But to one who without works trusts him who justifies the ungodly, such faith is reckoned as righteousness. So also David speaks of the blessedness of those to whom God reckons righteousness apart from works: “Blessed are those whose iniquities are forgiven, and whose sins are covered; blessed is the one against whom the Lord will not reckon sin.” – Romans 4:4-8, NRSV

In this prayer, we acknowledge God as the one who elects His saints, and calls them to Himself by grace through faith. Pay close attention to verses 4 and 5. Verse 4 states something that’s common sense. We know that if someone works then they deserve a wage, and when you give the worker their wage that is something that they have earned by their work. Then Paul contrasts that idea in verse 5 when he says that God justifies the ungodly without works so that when faith is granted to them God counts it as righteousness. I think the NIV communicates verse 5 the best when, instead of using the word, “reckoned,” it uses the word, “credited.” God “credits” righteousness to us according to the very faith that He grants to us.

Now, when we examine justification, we see in Romans 5:1 we see that the only way a person can be justified is by faith. So, where does the faith come from? I believe we just established that faith comes from God.

So, we see Scripturally that God calls us, and justifies us by faith that He grants to us therefore we say with the Puritans in our prayer, “With thee is mercy, redemption, assurance, forgiveness.”

Deliverance from the Pit


“Thou hast lifted me, a prisoner, out of
   the pit of sin
 and pronounced my discharge,
   not only in the courts of heaven,
   but in the dock of conscience;
 hast justified me by faith,
   given me peace with thee,
 made me to enjoy glorious liberty as thy child.”

The beginning of this passage of the Sincerity prayer seems to be inspired by the words of Psalm 40.

“I waited patiently for the Lord;
   he inclined to me and heard my cry.
2He drew me up from the desolate pit,
   out of the miry bog,
and set my feet upon a rock,
   making my steps secure.
3He put a new song in my mouth,
   a song of praise to our God.
Many will see and fear,
   and put their trust in the Lord.”
– Psalm 40:1-3, NRSV

Psalm 40 gives us a picture of God’s delivering power. In the Sincerity prayer we see the author using the idea of a pit to describe sin, and I think it’s important to note that right after he talks about the ‘pit of sin’ he says that God has ‘pronounced [his] discharge not only in courts of heaven, but in the dock of conscience.’ The author has a clear understanding of his assurance. In this prayer the author points out that Christ not only declares us righteous before our Father in heaven, but He speaks to the storm of thoughts that ask these questions:

“What if Christ’s sacrifice wasn’t enough?”
“What if I can’t really be assured of my salvation?”
“What if I have blown it and presumed the grace of God too many times?”

One of my favorite quotes is from Jon Acuff. If you know anything about Acuff you know that he’s a Christian comedian and is very quick with his witty observational humor, but he made a very serious statement: “”It is finished.” May those words land on your bones for the nights when fear tells you the cross was a beginning and you must finish grace.” I almost want to speak in tongues every time I read that. God’s grace is sufficient bring us up from the pit of sin. It is finished.

And notice the last part of this section, the author says that God has made us to enjoy glorious liberty as a child. We’re free. I can spend a dollar on a scratch-off lotto ticket (as unwise as that may be) without some old fart telling me that I’m “scratching my soul into hell.” (Yes, I’ve actually heard that in the pulpit.)

I can have a cigar and a scotch to the glory of God. I’m not free to rebel against God because I won’t want to rebel against God. A circumcised heart has no desire to turn away from the One that has set it free.

Assurance, Sincerity, and the Difference Between These Two Animals


“Save me from the false hope of the hypocrite:
May I never suppose I am in Christ unless I am
   a new creature,
 never think I am born of the Spirit
   unless I mind the things of the Spirit,
 never rest satisfied with professions of belief
   and outward forms and services,
     while my heart is not right with thee.
May I judge my sincerity in religion
 by my fear to offend thee,
 my concern to know thy will,
 my willingness to deny myself.”

The author believes that the standard for sincerity in our religion comes from our fear of offending God, our concern to know God’s will, and our willingness to deny ourselves. No doubt these are good things and these are signs that God is at work in our lives in a positive way. However, let us be careful not to assume that we can look to these things for the assurance of our salvation. Our assurance is only found in Christ. There will always be someone who fears God more. There will always be someone who is more concerned to know God’s will more than we are. There will always be someone who is more willing to deny themselves than we do.

We can’t confuse assurance and sincerity. In the context of soteriology proper, I would say that sincerity is being sure of the substance that supports our profession of faith and assurance is being sure of what Christ has done to give us that substance.

One Thing Needful: Learning at the Feet of Jesus


“Let not my temporal occupations injure
   my spiritual concerns,
 or the cares of life make me neglect
   the one thing needful.”

At the end of Luke 10, we encounter Jesus teaching in the home of Martha. Her sister, Mary is there and she has chosen to sit at the feet of Jesus while Martha does all the work around the house.

“She had a sister named Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to what he was saying. 40But Martha was distracted by her many tasks; so she came to him and asked, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her then to help me.” 41But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; 42there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.” – Luke 10:39-42, NRSV

Without getting into the revolutionary aspects of the thought of a woman sitting at the feet of a rabbi, we see that Jesus is showing us that the “one thing needful” for us is to learn at his feet. The author of the prayer is praying for empowerment to recognize that nothing is more important than learning at the feet of Jesus, and the first step to learning is admitting that we know nothing.

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” – Matthew 5:3, NRSV

““Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. 29Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
– Matthew 11:28-30, NRSV

Life is a burden and Jesus wants to see that we can’t carry the load on our own. We need Him. The only time we’re going to see any progress in our relationship with God is when we admit that He’s our source of life, our source of salvation, our source of joy. In Psalm 87:7, the New Living Translation poetically says it this way, “As they make music they will sing, “All my fountains are in you.”

To the Laodecian church, in Revelation 3, Jesus says, “I know your works; you are neither cold nor hot. I wish that you were either cold or hot. So, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I am about to spit you out of my mouth. For you say, ‘I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing.’ You do not realize that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked.”

How do you convince people that believe they are rich and have need of nothing that they’re actually naked, poor, and blind? Until we can admit that we’re blind we’ll never see Jesus clearly, and we’ll never see that the invitation to sit at His feet and learn is for us.

God’s Dealings


“May I not be inattentive to the design
   of thy dealings with me,
 or insensible under thy rebukes,
 or immobile at thy calls.”

As Christians we have the Holy Spirit living on the inside of us and He is the means by which God deals with our hearts, and we must be sensitive to the voice of the Holy Spirit. Over and over again in chapters 2 and 3 of Revelation we are exhorted, “He that hath an ear, let Him hear what the Spirit saith.”

“And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with which you were marked with a seal for the day of redemption.” – Ephesians 4:30, NRSV

Ephesians 4:30 is one of my favorite verses because it clearly states that the Holy Spirit has sealed us until the day that Jesus comes back. And what Paul, the author of Ephesians, is saying is that we can grieve the Holy Spirit by harboring bitterness towards others in our heart. We harbor bitterness when we remember the pain and grief that someone else has caused us. Instead of listening to the voice of pain and grief, we must listen to the voice of the Holy Spirit and be sensitive, as this prayer says, to God’s dealings with us.

A Holy Art
“May I learn the holy art of abiding in thee,
 of being in the world and not of it,
 of making everything not only consistent with
   but conducive to my religion.”

“Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me. 5I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing. 6Whoever does not abide in me is thrown away like a branch and withers; such branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned.” – John 15:4-6, NRSV

Abiding in Christ is the intention of God for His elect sons and daughters. According to Ephesians 1, God chose us in Christ before the foundations of the earth. (Ephesians 1:4) God’s choice of our election does not alleviate us of any responsibility to abide in Christ, but at the same time because God has chosen us in Christ, we are held firm by His grasp and can never be removed from His hand. It’s a paradox of God’s sovereignty and our responsibility.

Our abiding in Christ doesn’t come from our own ability to stay in Him because we just don’t have that ability in and of ourselves. As an old hymn writer has said, “Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it, Prone to leave the God I love.” Our ability to abide comes from the fact that the Holy Spirit abides in us. If you read John 15 without considering the context of Jesus’s talk about the Holy Spirit abiding with us in John 14, then you’ll walk believing that abiding is entirely dependent upon you.

This is why we pray. We pray because in prayer, God empowers to keep abiding and to lean on him for our every need. This is the holiest of arts.