Category Archives: Christian Life
Something to think about:
Christian maturity is tested by its willingness to go against the odds, to go against intellectual and practical fashions in the service of our King. It is easy enough to be a Christian when being a Christian merely requires us to be nice people. But love for Jesus, that love which is motivated by his great sacrifice, requires far more. It calls upon us to renounce what Scripture calls the “wisdom of the world,” the fashionable ideas and practices of our society, and to count them as rubbish for the sake of Christ. We honor those like Noah, who built his ark though the world scoffed; like Abraham, who set aside the evidence of his senses and the laughter of his own wife to believe that God would provide a miraculous son; like Moses, who stood up against Pharaoh the totalitarian despot to bring him the word of God; like Daniel, who endured lions rather than to worship an earthly king; like Peter and John, who told officials that “we must obey God, rather than man.”
-John M. Frame
Thoughts on our gifts, callings, and duties before God:
In general, our obligations, our moral responsibilities, differ according to our gifts, our callings, our opportunities. One who has the gifts and calling to be an architect, and the opportunity to get the training and credentials necessary for that profession, has an obligation to give more attention to architecture than most of us would dream of giving. Similarly, we can say that obligations also change with maturity (both physical and spiritual). When Paul writes to Corinth asking the people to set aside some contributions for the poor saints in Jerusalem, common sense would lead us to believe that he is not addressing children of six months and under. Those who are ordained to the eldership have a responsibilities for the welfare of the church body that “babes in Christ” do not have as yet. Scripture teaches us “From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked” (Luke 12:48). Thus Jesus is far more critical of the Jewish leaders, who have been entrusted with much knowledge, than he is of the ordinary Jews and Gentiles who are relatively ignorant of God’s word.
In the last chapter of his introduction to Systematic Theology, Salvation Belongs to the Lord, John Frame asks the “So what?” question. Given the rich variety of biblical teaching, how should it be put to use? So his book ends with ethics. While his comprehensive discussion on this topic can be found in his Doctrine of the Christian Life, here Frame provides his readers with three biblical reasons for a life of Christian obedience and good works:
The History of Redemption. Scripture uses basically three means to encourage believers to do good works. First, it appeals to the history of redemption. This is the chief motivation in the Decalogue itself: God has redeemed Israel from slavery in Egypt, therefore they should obey.
In the New Testament, the writers often urge us to do good works because of what Christ did to redeem us. Jesus himself urges that the disciples “love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another” (John 13:34). Jesus’ love, ultimately displayed on the cross, commands our response of love to one another. Another well-known appeal is found in Col. 3:1-3:
If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. 2 Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. 3 For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.
When Christ died, we died to sin; when he rose, we rose to righteousness. We are one with Christ in his death and resurrection. So those historic facts have moral implications. We should live in accord with the new life, given to us by God’s grace when we rose with Christ. See also Rom. 6:1-23, 13:11-12, 1 Cor. 6:20, 10:11, 15:58, Eph. 4:1-5, 25, 32, 5:25-33, Phil. 2:1-11, Heb. 12:1-28, 1 Pet. 2:1-3, 4:1-6.
So the Heidelberg Catechism emphasizes that our good works come from gratitude. They are not attempts to gain God’s favor, but rather grateful responses to the favor he has already shown to us.[i]
But our focus on the history of redemption is not limited to the past. It is also an anticipation of what God will do for us in the future. God’s promises of future blessing also motivate us to obey him. Jesus commands us, “seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you” (Matt. 6:33).[ii]
This motivation emphasizes God’s control, for history is the sphere of God’s control, the outworking of his eternal plan.
The Authority of God’s Commands. Scripture also motivates our good works by calling attention to God’s commands. Jesus said that he did not come to abrogate the law, but to fuilfill it, so
Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. (Matt. 5:19)
So in their preaching Jesus and the apostles often appeal to the commandments of the law, and to their own commandments, as in Matt. 7:12, 12:5, 19:18-19, 22:36-40, 23:23, Luke 10:26, John 8:17, 13:34-35, 14:15, 21, Rom. 8:4, 12:19, 13:8-10, 1 Cor. 5:13, 9:8-9, 14:34, 37, 2 Cor. 8:15, 9:9, Gal. 4:21-22, Eph. 4:20-24, 6:1-3, 1 Thess. 4:1, 2 Tim. 3:16-17, Tit. 2:1, James 1:22-25, 2:8-13, 1 Pet. 1:16, 1 John 2:3-5, 3:24, 5:2.
God’s commandment is sufficient to place an obligation upon us. We should need no other incentive. But God gives us other motivations as well, because we are fallen, and because he loves us as his redeemed children.
This motivation reflects God’s lordship attribute of authority. We should obey him, simply because he has the right to absolute obedience.
The Presence of the Spirit. Thirdly, Scripture calls us to a godly life, based on the activity of the Spirit within us. This motivation is based on God’s lordship attribute of presence. Paul says,
But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do. (Gal. 5:16-18)
God has placed his Spirit within us, to give us new life, and therefore new ethical inclinations. There is still conflict among our impulses, but we have the resources to follow the desires of the Spirit, rather than those of the flesh. So Paul appeals to the inner change God has worked in us by regeneration and sanctification. In Eph. 5:8-11, he puts it this way:
for at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light 9 (for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true), 10 and try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord. 11 Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them.
In the following verses, Paul continues to expound on the ethical results of this transformation. Compare also Rom. 8:1-17, Gal. 5:22-26.
So Scripture motivates us to do good works by the history of redemption, the commandments of God, and the work of the Spirit within us, corresponding to God’s lordship attributes of control, authority, and presence, respectively.
-John M. Frame, Salvation Belongs to the Lord
[i] This motivation is not what John Piper calls the “debtors’ ethic,” in which we do good works in a vain attempt to pay God back for our redemption. We can, of course, never do that, and we should not try to do it. See Piper, The Purifying Power of Living by Faith in Future Grace (Sisters, OR: Multnomah Publishers, 1995), and the summary discussion on pp. 33-38 of Brothers, We Are Not Professionals (Nashville: Broadman and Holman, 2002). But gratefulness, nonetheless, is the only legitimate response to the grace God has given us in Christ.
[ii] This is what Piper calls “future grace” in the works cited in the previous note.
A typical knee-jerk of many Christians is to dismiss all non-Christian thought as foolishness. This reaction is triggered by the recognition that there’s a thick wall of separation between the deepest heart commitments of Christians and non-Christians. While this is true, it’s not the whole story. Reactionary positions do not reflect a robust understanding of God’s “common grace.” Common grace teaches us that though all people are sinners, God still prevents sin from making us as bad as we could be. As Tim Keller has put it:
Because unbelievers are created in the image of God, they are far better than their wrong views should make them. But, Christians, because they are sinners, are far worse than their right views should make them.
Without a doubt, we shouldn’t forget, in principle, an absolute antithesis exists between the Christian worldview and all others. So, I can sympathize with what I’m calling knee-jerk reactions toward unbelievers. Christians take biblical passages such as 1 Cor. 1:18-2:5 seriously. Nevertheless, unbelievers do utter truths, and frequently God permits them to see into issues more clearly than do His children. It simply isn’t biblical to reject genuine insights from unbelievers. Nor is it good reasoning (it’s called the genetic fallacy, i.e. dismissing a view because of its origin).
Referring to the insights, gifts, and skills that God graciously bestows upon unbelievers, John Calvin said:
If the Lord willed that we be helped in physics, dialectic, mathematics, and the other like disciplines, by the work and ministry of the ungodly, let us use this assistance. For if we neglect God’s gift freely offered in these arts, we ought to suffer just punishment for our sloths.
Christian charity, and sound scholarship demand that we closely and patiently evaluate the thought of unbelievers, both for the purposes of exposing its departure from Christ-centered principles as well as to gather from the Spirit’s gift of common grace.
So please, don’t just disagree with someone, look for their strong points, things you can agree with and build on. If you hear that ____ is wrong about something, look it up, listen to them, and even read some of their writing. This way we won’t simply stand for truth divorced from charity, but will display faith (trust in God’s word) working through love (taking the time to understand what others are saying).
You grow in knowledge of God as you know him more and more as Lord, as King. First, he is the one who controls all things. You will grow in your knowledge of God as you see more and more things as under his control: the present, the future, your own life, your sin, your salvation. Perhaps you think now that there is some part of your life where you are in control. You will grow in your knowledge of God when you come to see that ultimately there is no part of your life that is controlled by anyone other than God, even that little part of your life. Second, you come to know God as the one who speaks with such authority that you must obey – in every area of your life: your social life, your moral life, even your intellectual life. You will grow in your knowledge of God when you come to bring every thought captive to Christ (2 Cor. 10:5). Third, you come to know God as you sense more and more his presence in your life. You can’t ever escape from him. You can’t do anything that he doesn’t see. And nothing shall ever separate you from his love.
-John M. Frame, Salvation Belongs to the Lord, 75.
“The Christian community is both a sign and a promise of God’s coming liberation. We are the presence of God’s liberating kingdom in a broken world. We are the place where liberation can be found, offering a home for exiled people. We are to welcome the broken people to a community of broken people. We are the community among whom liberation is a present reality – the jubilee people who live with new economic and social relationships. We are the light of the world, a city on a hill. The challenge for us is to articulate Jesus’ message of a liberation in a way that connects with people’s experience and offers a place of liberation in the Christian community.”
-Tim Chester, Good News to the Poor, 97.
Again, Frame clearly (and rightly, to my mind) rejects the notion that one human capacity is greater in either creation or redemption.
Redemption doesn’t make us more emotional (as some charismatics might suppose) or less so (as many Reformed would prefer), anymore than it makes us more or less intellectual. What redemption does to the intellect is to consecrate that intellect to God, whether the I.Q. is high or low. Similarly, the important thing is not whether you are highly emotional or not; the important thing is that whatever emotional capacities you have should be placed in God’s hands to be used according to His purposes.
-John M. Frame, Doctrine of the Knowledge of God, 336.
I’m with Michael Bird on this one:
I’m not a big fan of bumper sticker theology: that is, sticking pithy theological slogans onto the bumper of the car. I particularly dislike the one ‘Christians are not perfect, just forgiven.’ While true at one level, it overlooks the crucial ingredient in the Christian life being the renewing power of God working in us through the Spirit. It might be better to write, Christians are not perfect, but God is at work in them through the vitalizing power of the Holy Spirit to transform these cracked jars of clay into glorious vessels of holiness, righteousness and goodness – if only bumper stickers word that big! In Paul’s writings, renewal is the process of transformation into the image of God that is realized through the operation of God’s glory and via the agency of the Spirit. The Spirit is continually at work in believers to make them less like themselves and more like God’s son.
Michael F. Bird, Introducing Paul: The Man, His Mission and His Message
This is taken from The Valley of Vision, by far my favorite devotional literature. Each prayer is a theological and spiritual feast for the soul. Here’s what I read this morning:
The Gospel Way
Blessed Lord Jesus,
No human mind could conceive or invent the gospel.
Acting in eternal grace, thou art both its messenger and its message, lived out on earth through infinite compassion, applying thy life to insult, injury, death, that I might be redeemed, ransomed, freed.
Blessed be thou, O Father, for contriving this way,
Eternal thanks to thee, O Lamb of God, for opening this way,
Praise everlasting to thee, O Holy Spirit, for applying this way to my heart.
Glorious Trinity, impress the gospel on my soul, until its virtue diffuses every faculty; Let it be heard, acknowledged, professed, felt.
Teach me to secure this mighty blessing; Help me to give up every darling lust, to submit heart and life to its command, to have it in my will, controlling my affections, moulding my understanding; to adhere strictly to the rules of true religion, not departing from them in any instance, nor for any advantage in order to escape evil, inconvenience or danger.
Take me to the cross to seek glory from its infamy; Strip me of every pleasing pretence of righteousness by my own doings.
O gracious Redeemer,
I have neglected thee too long,
often crucified thee,
crucified thee afresh by my impenitence,
put thee to open shame.
I thank thee for the patience that has borne with me so long,
and for the grace that now makes me willing to be thine.
O unite me to thyself with inseparable bonds, that nothing may ever draw me back from thee, my Lord, my Saviour.
It’s also available in an audio format, read by Max Mclean.
“People do not drift toward holiness. Apart from grace-driven effort, people do not gravitate toward godliness, prayer, obedience to Scripture, faith, and delight in the Lord. We drift toward compromise and call it tolerance; we drift toward disobedience and call it freedom; we drift toward superstition and call it faith. We cherish the indiscipline of lost self-control and call it relaxation; we slouch toward prayerlessness and delude ourselves into thinking we have escaped legalism; we slide toward godlessness and convince ourselves we have been liberated.”
Are you wrestling with the power of indwelling sin? As a Christian, do you sometimes think your life is an ever-present struggle with an enemy that simply will not go away? According to Sinclair Ferguson in Christian Spirituality, the great Puritan theologian John Owen reminds us of a great difficulty for pastors in this regard:
[Owen] saw two major pastoral burdens to be : “to convince those in whom sin evidently hath the dominion that such indeed is there state and condition”; and “to satisfy some that sin hath not the dominion over them, notwithstanding its restless acting itself in them and warring against their souls; yet unless this can be done, it is impossible then they should enjoy solid peace and comfort in this life.“
Paul makes this second point clear in Rom. 6. For blood-bought saints, those who genuinely (though imperfectly) cling to Jesus for redemption, sin no longer reigns over them. This is an objective fact. Christ, not sin, reigns. We have been transferred from the kingdom of darkness to the kingdom of God’s beloved Son. The trials and struggles we fight in this life are real and need to be taken seriously, but that must be put in perspective. Christ has won the victory as our king, so these battles are but skirmishes in a war that already been won.
There’s no point in fighting a battle if you believe failure is just around the corner. Pursue victory. Fight sin with all your might. But remember the battle belongs to the Lord.
You’re on the winning team.
Take a minute and consider the good things in your life. Rich friendships, your job, your savings, family, etc. All of these things come from the gracious and loving hand of God, who provides good things both to his children and his enemies. Now consider how often marketing gurus sell you the idea that these good things aren’t enough. I’m no stranger to this, especially since I’ve lived so long in New York City. Everywhere I turn I see an image that hints to me that my appearance isn’t good enough, my wife isn’t “hot” enough, I don’t earn enough, my iPod is out of date, blah, blah, blah.
Advertising isn’t simply an attempt to sell a product, it creates false neeeds. The only thing free is that whopping dose of discontentment, generously dispensed of course. Our culture is so anti-intellect that products cannot possibly be sold on the sole basis of their merits. So instead what’s sold is a vision of life. What’s amazing is how most of these visions at peddled at the sub-conscious level, where words and propositions are considerably weakened in their persuasive power.
These visions of the good life don’t primarily shape our thoughts, they shape our desires, our longings, our passions. The goal is to make up into Apple-people, Nike-people, Starbucks people.
But do we really need all of this stuff? Have we really fallen for the lie that says more stuff will make us happier? I know in many aspects of my life I have. It’s not something that I rejoice in. According to Paul, God ordered our lives in such a fashion that where, when, and how we are are the result of his all-knowing, all-loving plan Cf. Acts 17).
Are you looking for someone, something other than Jesus to be your function messiah, the One that will take all of the discontent away and usher peace into your life? The Apostle Paul also faced those temptations, and his words are a beacon of light:
Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me. (Philippians 4:11-13)
Fight the fight against discontentment. Cling to Christ as your all-surpassing treasure. Partner with his people as they live a pilgrim life in this broken and dissatisfied world.
What does Scripture say about Christians doing good works? More specifically, should we do them all in private, as opposed to doing them to be seen by others?
Here was my reply:
The Bible says several things about good works. First, there are certain good works that should not be done for the observation of others (praying, giving alms, etc.). This is a quick way of letting people know how ‘spiritual” you are. God hates this showboating and clearly says that the praise of men is the only praise someone will receive for such hypocrisy. (See Matt. 6:1-4)
But, that’s not the whole story. In the same passage, Jesus clearly says,
“You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” (Matt. 5:15-16)
Clearly here people are to see what kind of lives we’re living (how else could they give thanks to God for it?). Such good works are to be our defining characteristic, the light that we set before the world. The logic of the passage is actually kind of surprising. Jesus’ point is this: Who in their right mind possess such a wonderful light and doesn’t display it?” It would be odd if our good works weren’t presented before, and noticed, by others!
The apostle Peter says basically the same thing. In 1 Pet. 2:12 he says,
“Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation.”
And lastly, note what Paul says in 2 Cor. 8:21: “for we aim at what is honorable not only in the Lord’s sight but also in the sight of man.” Paul isn’t speaking only of our inner thoughts and motives (which only God can see), but also deeds (which man can see).
So, it all depends.
Earlier today, I went to the chiropractor. Apparently my hips are slightly out of alignment and it’s been causing me problem in my left knee. The chiropractor told me a number of interesting things, but the concept of periodic realignment is what stuck the most. The everyday wear-and-tear of our bodies (ergonomics, it’s called) causes a build up tension in joints, and every so often it needs to be released. It’s the same principle behind cracking your knuckles (which, the chiropractor told me, is not harmful, despite popular opinion). That pop or snap is the pressure being released.
So, here’s what came to mind. In our relationship to God through Christ, every so often we need spiritual realignment. Let’s listen to Jesus in John 13:
Peter said to him, “You shall never wash my feet.” Jesus answered him, “If I do not wash you, you have no share with me.” Simon Peter said to him, “Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!” Jesus said to him, “The one who has bathed does not need to wash, except for his feet, but is completely clean.
Peter objects to Christ washing his feet, but Jesus knows better. When united to Christ through His perfectly atoning work, we are washed cleaned. We are imputed the righteousness of Christ and are seen be God as “in Christ.” But, much like the eventual build up of pressure in our knuckles, spine, hips, etc., there come times when we need realignment. We need to hear the gospel afresh, to remember that we still struggle with sin in this fallen world, and we must turn to Christ, and seek his forgiveness.
That’s something my soul needs to hear.
As we grow in sanctification, our compromises with unbelief will bother us to a greater and greater degree. We’ll know it’s time for a “cleansing.” I know this all too well. Lately, I’ve been dying to buy a smart phone (like an iphone), and I’ve previously mentioned my near idolatrous love of pugs. I have to tell myself that my happiness isn’t dependent on the things I own. I’m not less of a person, less precious a child of God, because I own a “plain” cel phone. In fact, I’m blessed simply in the fact that I have one at all! The American culture of consumerism has affected me. And when it’s to the point where the Spirit nudges me and says, “Hello! Wake up!” That’s when I need the gospel, I need Christ.
When you wander away and are lured by the temptations of the world, first, do you recognize that you’ve already been washed by Christ? Second, do you turn to Him, seeking the realignment, the foot-washing that only He can provide?
Things to consider…
PS: This was written in 11/27/2008. My wife and I caved and got the pug a month after writing this. But I waited until Christmas of 2010 before I finally got that iphone.