Escape from Monkey Hill

Monkey Hill

It has been three years since Allyson and I honeymooned in New Orleans. We had a great time eating our way through the French Quarter, learning to drive in a city of only ways, and forgetting that real life existed for only a few days. But as the exhaustive planner and lover of my wife, I decided to really go all out and take her on Allyson’s All Day Animal Adventure. See, Allyson loves animals and the zoo. If she could, she would go every day. But in New Orleans, you can buy a day pass and go t the insectarium, aquarium, and zoo for a discounted price. This is a top notch zoo with live exhibits where you can see and even touch the animals. We’re newlyweds and so of course poor. But this, I’m all over this; Day 3 of Husband Jay is going to kill it.

We arrived, only to wait in line for our passes to get stamped. Now we weren’t in line for a long time, probably fifteen minutes. But it was summer and the humidity was getting to all of us in line as we patiently stood in our Purgatorial Sweat Box. As Allyson and I are joking and kidding around, I saw the family in front of us. It’s a typical touristy family parents, two kids, and a grandparent; our fellow members of the sauna like queue. But about halfway through the line the older child began getting fussy. He was probably no more than six or seven. Now would I say that he was acting bad. He wasn’t throwing a tantrum or crying. He was just a bored, hot, child ready to get in to see the animals. So he’s hanging onto the dad, and just complaining. “How long is it going to be? I’m bored? Are we almost there? It’s hot today? What can we see first? Can I play Angry Birds?” You get the idea. But then he said the thing that really piqued my interest: I just want to go to Monkey Hill. Please can we go?

And he repeated it. For about two minutes straight.

Now Monkey Hill is actually quite famous. They built it in the 1930’s so that kids in New Orleans would know what a hill looks like. There’s a five story tree house, a wading pool, and kids often roll down the grass of the hill. It’s been there forever and kids of all ages still go ape for it. It is right in the middle of the zoo and so for parents it’s a great midway point to rest while kids play. However, after a while the dad had grown impatient about the Monkey Hill subject. Then he said it.

This father bent down to his son, mustering up all the kindness and tenderness in his voice. He ruffled his hair and said, “Brandon, I’ll tell you what. If you’re good, we’ll go to Monkey Hill.”

My heart sank. Not because this guy is a bad father. I don’t think he is. I’ve heard many parents say similar things. I get that I don’t get parenting decisions because I’m not one. That wasn’t my issue. But because in it I heard the legalism I had so often struggled with as a teen and younger adult. I heard all the legalism in that moment of “quid pro quo”

I think so often, I view God as this type of Father: one who looks at me and says, “Now Jay, if you act right, then I will come and save you. But you have to make sure that you have your act together in order to get the reward.” I struggle with viewing God from a place that if when I sin, He’s coming after me and mine to get me back. Or He’s causing bad things to happen because I wasn’t as faithful as I should’ve been. So then, what do I do? I try to grit and grind my way to holiness. I study the Catechism more, I sing out of the Psalter, I make sure that I’m listening to religious podcasts. But not out of a heart longing to know God or to worship him, but because I have to make sure I’m crossing things off my list.

When I was at CBC, I made sure that I had whatever new book I was reading at the time in my backpack and read before class. Not because I just loved reading, but because I wanted people to see my Older Brother self reading it. I wanted people to go “that Jay Sawrie is just so dedicated”. I made sure all of my tweets were deep theological truths, because that’s what I thought would be God pleasing. That was the deal. I was good, so I get to go to Monkey Hill. I was good, so now God doesn’t have a reason to ditch me when I sin. I was faithful and pious, so God now owes me to never leave.

But God’s faithfulness to us isn’t “quid pro quo” but rather “it is finished” faithfulness. God’s promise to keep us is based on nothing that we have brought, are bringing, or will bring to the table. Christ died for future sins too; so that now whatever we do wind up bringing is still going to the trash heap. Our Pharisaical righteousness doesn’t earn us our place or earn our keep. We don’t get in by faith and stay in by faithfulness. When God looks at us, He sees Christ. He actively obeys and then gives us His obedience for our disobedience. He works, we get the reward. He takes the spanking, we get to go outside and play. Any attempt to add to the works of Christ by our own bootstrap pulled attempts, really just scream “Eh I’ll do it myself”.

But here’s the ironic thing. As we made the turn in the zoo and approached the Hill, right at the entrance was the sign: Monkey Hill Closed for Repairs. No one got into Monkey Hill that day. The promise of legalism is so empty, that even when we strive and work so that God will delight in us, all we find is the broken promise that this wasn’t the way after all. Legalism only leads to tears and disappointment. Because then we feel cheated. We believe that God now owes us something in return for all the merit that we brought Him. But God has not promised us anything that He has not already provided in Christ.

So then, let’s keep looking to Christ. Let us see Him and taste of Him in the Sacraments. Let us run to Him by faith. Keep hearing and believing the Gospel.

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 Proper Distinction Between Law & Gospel by C.F.W. Walther

Law&Gospel

Thesis I.
The doctrinal contents of the entire Holy Scriptures, both of the Old and the New Testament, are made up of two doctrines differing fundamentally from each other, viz., the Law and the Gospel.

Thesis II.
Only he is an orthodox teacher who not only presents all articles of faith in accordance with Scripture, but also rightly distinguishes from each other the Law and the Gospel.

Thesis III.
Rightly distinguishing the Law and the Gospel is the most difficult and the highest art of Christians in general and of theologians in particular. It is taught only by the Holy Spirit in the school of experience.

Thesis IV.
The true knowledge of the distinction between the Law and the Gospel is not only a glorious light, affording the correct understanding of the entire Holy Scriptures, but without this knowledge Scripture is and remains a sealed book.

Thesis V.
The first manner of confounding Law and Gospel is the one most easily recognized — and the grossest. It is adopted, for instance, by Papists, Socinians, and Rationalists, and consists in this, that Christ is represented as a new Moses, or Lawgiver, and the Gospel turned into a doctrine of meritorious works, while at the same time those who teach that the Gospel is the message of the free grace of God in Christ are condemned and anathematized, as is done by the papists.

Thesis VI.
In the second place, the Word of God is not rightly divided when the Law is not preached in its full sternness and the Gospel not in its full sweetness, when, on the contrary, Gospel elements are mingled with the Law and Law elements with the Gospel.

Thesis VII.
In the third place, the Word of God is not rightly divided when the Gospel is preached first and then the Law; sanctification first and then justification; faith first and then repentance; good works first and then grace.

Thesis VIII.
In the fourth place, the Word of God is not rightly divided when the Law is preached to those who are already in terror on account of their sins, or the Gospel to those who live securely in their sins.

Thesis IX.
In the fifth place, the Word of God is not rightly divided when sinners who have been struck down and terrified by the Law are directed, not to the Word and the Sacraments, but to their own prayers and wrestlings with God in order that they may win their way into a state of grace; in other words, when thy are told to keep on praying and struggling until they feel that God has received them into grace.

Thesis X.
In the sixth place, the Word of God is not rightly divided when the preacher describes faith in a manner as if the mere inert acceptance of truths, even while a person is living in mortal sins, renders that person righteous in the sight of God and saves him; or as if faith makes a person righteous and saves him for the reason that it produces in him love and reformation of his mode of living.

Thesis XI.
In the seventh place, the Word of God is not rightly divided when there is a disposition to offer the comfort of the Gospel only to those who have been made contrite by the Law, not from fear of the wrath and punishment of God, but from love of God.

Thesis XII.
In the eighth place, the Word of God is not rightly divided when the preacher represents contrition alongside of faith as a cause of the forgiveness of sin.

Thesis XIII.
In the ninth place, the Word of God is not rightly divided when one makes an appeal to believe in a manner as if a person could make himself believe or at least help towards that end, instead of preaching faith into a person’s heart by laying the Gospel promises before him.

Thesis XIV.
In the tenth place, the Word of God is not rightly divided when faith is required as a condition of justification and salvation, as if a person were righteous in the sight of God and saved, not only by faith, but also on account of his faith, for the sake of his faith, and in view of his faith.

Thesis XV.
In the eleventh place, the Word of God is not rightly divided when the Gospel is turned into a preaching of repentance.

Thesis XVI.
In twelfth place, the Word of God is not rightly divided when the preacher tries to make people believe that they are truly converted as soon as they have become rid of certain vices and engage in certain works of piety and virtuous practices.

Thesis XVII.
In the thirteenth place, the Word of God is not rightly divided when a description is given of faith, both as regards its strength and the consciousness and productiveness of it, that does not fit all believers at all times.

Thesis XVIII.
In the fourteenth place, the Word of God is not rightly divided when the universal corruption of mankind is described in such a manner as to create the impression that even true believers are still under the spell of ruling sins and are sinning purposely.

Thesis XIX.
In the fifteenth place, the Word of God is not rightly divided when the preacher speaks of certain sins as if there were not of a damnable, but of a venial nature.

Thesis XX.
In the sixteenth place, the Word of God is not rightly divided when a person’s salvation is made to depend on his association with the visible orthodox Church and when salvation is denied to every person who errs in any article of faith.

Thesis XXI.
In the seventeenth place, the Word of God is not rightly divided when men are taught that the Sacraments produce salutary effects ex opere operato, that is, by the mere outward performance of a sacramental act.

Thesis XXII.
In the eighteenth place, the Word of God is not rightly divided when a false distinction is made between a person’s being awakened and his being converted; moreover, when a person’s inability to believe is mistaken for his not being permitted to believe.

Thesis XXIII.
In the nineteenth place, the Word of God is not rightly divided when an attempt is made by means of the demands or the threats or the promises of the Law to induce the unregenerate to put away their sins and engage in good works and thus become godly; on the other hand, when an endeavor is made, by means of the commands of the Law rather than by the admonitions of the Gospel, to urge the regenerate to do good.

Thesis XXIV.
In the twentieth place, the Word of God is not rightly divided when the unforgiven sin against the Holy Ghost is described in a manner as if it could not be forgiven because of its magnitude.

Thesis XXV.
In the twenty-first place, the Word of God is not rightly divided when the person teaching it does not allow the Gospel to have a general predominance in his teaching.

You may read each of C.F.W. Walther’s lectures on these theses at this link.