A Farewell Thought to June of 2008

In God’s providence, He has allowed me to spend this month largely in Philippians 2:5-11 and Philippians 3:1-11. These texts have truly been a blessing to my soul, as God has granted to me from them a greater treasuring of Jesus Christ above all things. Christ’s self-humiliation has astounded me, while His recommendation to follow His mindset has, in itself, served to bring me low quite often in the past 30 days as I continue to battle with sin, selfishness, and evangelical apathy. His super-exaltation has become my battle cry – my Jesus is the Great “I AM”! He is Sovereign Savior and Lord (cf. Isaiah 45). It has also served to give me an earnest anticipation of His future exaltation when every knee will bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord – to the glory of God the Father. But I am also exceedingly thankful that in His majestic grace and mercy, He has bent my knee and clothed my tongue with His praises, and not left me to myself like many who will do the same with much bitterness and horror at the revelation of His mighty wrath – though this has also tenderized my heart and mind towards the lost who currently stand in such a position.

Philippians 3:1-11 has simply forced me, wonderfully forced me, to gaze longingly and musingly at the supremacy of Christ – how treasuring Jesus helps us to endure the toughest of trials, for in Him exists a triumphant joy that serves to strengthen us in the midst of our deepest loss and greatest sufferings for His sake. His Gospel stands supreme against all contemporary “Judaizers” – Jesus is completely sufficient to save. Paul has defined for me a wonderful caricature of the Christian as one who (1) worships by the Spirit of God, (2a) glories in Christ Jesus, (2b) puts no confidence in the flesh, (3) counts all things loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus, (4) whose great passion is to “gain Christ and be found in Him,” – which means to forfeit the righteousness of works that we so earnestly contend for as the basis of salvation before Christ, and instead, to trust in the righteousness from God that depends on faith in Christ, a.k.a., a perfect imputed (alien) righteousness given on the basis of faith alone! (5) But also one who in contemplation of the supremacy of Christ – Savior, Lord, Righteousness, Treasure – and the faith that binds one to Him, yearns – yearns! – to know and be transformed by the sanctifying power of Christ’s resurrection – an earnest knowing, sharing, conforming, and attaining! – to know Him, to know Jesus Christ – with increasing intimacy! This will help us suffer the loss of all things for His sake – and we must!

Lastly, my wife and I have been given over to the consideration of “counting all things loss” – not just confidence in the flesh for salvation, but quite literally, the adding up and counting of all things as LOSS for the sake of Christ. It is as John Piper is well-known to have said in that wonderful dialogue on the prosperity gospel – that when one suffers the loss of all things, even and especially those things most dear to them, and he or she can still say that Christ is enough, Jesus is all-satisfying, God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever – this makes Jesus look beautiful! I don’t know about you, but I want to make Jesus look beautiful, because He is supremely beautiful. I have thought – what is most dear to me in this life – my wife – the prospect of children with her – family – friends – my own life – these we must hate, these we must consider rubbish in so far as they hinder us from gaining Christ (Luke 14:26 cf. Philippians 3:8-9), for in themselves they are of the sweetest blessings of God. To write LOSS over everything in this life, so that when and if we are to suffer the loss of it, it will not sideline us for Christ, but though we grieve, it will strengthen our dependency upon and delight in and propagation of Him – Jesus, the Lord, to the glory of God.

I will, therefore, leave you and this month now passed in history with a parable and a thought to sum up God’s work in me:

Parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls, who, on finding one pearl of great value, went and sold all that he had and bought it,” Matthew 13:45-46.

Thought: If God were to require your life from you this very hour, what would you want Him to find you supremely treasuring? And thus, what are you supremely treasuring? Kingdoms that an hour in hell will cause you to quickly forget? Or Jesus Christ, the Pearl of Glory? And, ah, that we would endeavor at all costs to set this Pearl before all men!

For us all, may it be the latter in Jesus’ beautiful name. Amen.

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Concerning Moral Free Will and Irresistable Grace/ Effectual Calling: A Definition for Any Inquirers

Here are some definitions/ discussions that I find in keeping with the Scriptures and, thus, the doctrine of Christ concerning the will of human beings. This I provide in light of the blog I posted on Daniel Akin’s article concerning Divine Sovereignty and human responsibility, where it was made clear that I love what Akin addresses and clarifies. These links I offer, however, to make plain a better definition or discussion of the ideas of human moral agency and omnipotent grace:

The Westminster Confession of Faith, Chapter IX.
From Desiring God

And a definition from the Canons of Dort:

Article 12: Regeneration a Supernatural Work
And this is the regeneration, the new creation, the raising from the dead, and the making alive so clearly proclaimed in the Scriptures, which God works in us without our help. But this certainly does not happen only by outward teaching, by moral persuasion, or by such a way of working that, after God has done his work, it remains in man’s power whether or not to be reborn or converted. Rather, it is an entirely supernatural work, one that is at the same time most powerful and most pleasing, a marvelous, hidden, and inexpressible work, which is not lesser than or inferior in power to that of creation or of raising the dead, as Scripture (inspired by the author of this work) teaches. As a result, all those in whose hearts God works in this marvelous way are certainly, unfailingly, and effectively reborn and do actually believe. And then the will, now renewed, is not only activated and motivated by God but in being activated by God is also itself active. For this reason, man himself, by that grace which he has received, is also rightly said to believe and to repent.

Counting All Things Loss in View of Our Treasury, Jesus Christ

Something every Christian ought to do – and I would say immediately upon conversion – is count the cost of following Jesus Christ. In Philippians 3 Paul defines the Christian as one who worships by the Spirit of God, glories in Christ Jesus, puts no confidence in the flesh, and as one who considers the cost of knowing Christ, counting all things loss in order to gain Him. Our Lord said as much, and the apostle Paul was certainly convinced. Jesus said,

“If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me…whoever loses his life for my sake will save it,” Luke 9:23.

“If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple. For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid the foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish,'” Luke 14:26-30.

These things our Lord said when great crowds accompanied him. Does this not seem to contrast in a great way the methodology of today designed to bring masses of people in to the church? He does not comfort them with worldly pleasantries – no, to be a disciple of Jesus Christ you had to write LOSS over those things that are most dear to you in this world – your wife, your children, your family and friends, etc. But there is good reason: Jesus is the Treasure; Jesus is to be our dearest delight. He comforts us rather with the prospect of Himself – Jesus is our only GAIN. This is (but by grace) a nearly unbearable word – when a child comes forth from the womb, a climactic moment in this life, we write “loss” over them for the sake of Christ so that if we actually suffered the loss of them (although we will rightly grieve with many tears and sorrows and wailings) we will not be sidelined for the cause of Christ, but rather we will know Christ more intimately, extol Him more passionately, describe Him to the lost more all-satisfyingly – Christ is the Treasure, and He is our portion…forever.

If we treasure Jesus above all else, then “all else” becomes expendable for His sake. If Christ is most dear to us, and we suffer the loss of those things beneath Him, then we maintain that no matter the loss, Christ we still have. What is it to suffer the loss of those things which we have already considered loss…that we may gain Christ and be found in Him? I find this extremely heavy but a necessary meditation. Have I..have you counted the cost of following Christ, and thus, written LOSS over everything because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus our Lord? Not only our pre-Christian confidence in the flesh as the basis of salvation, although this is essential to salvation; but everything that in any circumstance would hinder us from knowing, gaining, and treasuring Christ above all else!

Our Lord told Ananias of Paul, “For I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name,” – a name that Christ chose Paul to carry to the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel, – and why is suffering for carrying this name essentially linked, – because, “there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved,” Acts 4:12. That is, to the exclusion of every other name – Buddha, Muhammad, or Brian. This will cause us to suffer – carrying the name in which lies the Person and Work unto an exclusive salvation. But do we not, like Paul, carry that name as Christians?

What was Paul doing after his encounter with Christ – we find him praying, spending time with the disciples for “some days”, stowing away into Arabia for three years, staying with Peter for 15 days, – why? Why all of this spiritual discipline, all of this musing? In part, I think, Paul was counting the cost of following Jesus Christ, – Christ was “(showing) him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.” And one by one, Paul wrote LOSS over everything – everythingon purpose – that he might gain Christ and be found in Him, that he would know Him and the power of His resurrection.

In view of the supremacy of Christ have I…have you counted the cost and found all things LOST for His sake? What things have you counted LOSS? What things must you reckon still that you have not yet? “If anyone comes to me and does not hate…his own life, he cannot be my disciple.” May we all count the cost in view of the indescribable beauty of our Lord Jesus Christ and the promise that we have in Him, for if we have Him we have all things pertaining to life and godliness and glory.

From "IX Marks: Church Matters"

A help on church leadership and congregationalism. Go here

John Piper on Returning to Doctrinally Focused Local Church Planting

This quote comes from his 2002 book “Counted Righteous in Christ: Should We Abandon the Imputation of Christ’s Righteousness?” Here (pg. 33-34) he considers the centrality of doctrine in local church planting in contrast with the contemporary marketing schemes of many plants. He sets the righteousness that comes through faith in Christ as the doctrinal cornerstone of fervently biblical church planting –

“If I want to see churches planted out from our church and others, why invest so much time and energy in defending and explaining the historic Protestant vision of justification as the imputation of Christ’s righteousness? I have answered this already but will say again, I think we have enough churches being planted by means of music, drama, creative scheduling, sprightly narrative, and marketing savvy. And there are too few that are God-centered, truth-treasuring, Bible-saturated, Christ-exalting, cross-focused, Spirit-dependent, prayer-soaked, soul-winning, justice-pursuing congregations with a wartime mindset ready to lay down their lives for the salvation of the nations and the neighborhoods. There is a blood-earnest joy that sustains a church like this, and it comes only by embracing Christ-crucified as our righteousness.”

Daniel Akin on "Divine Sovereignty and Human Responsibility"

This is an edifying article on Divine Sovereignty and Human Responsibility from the president of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. In it he addresses how should Southern Baptists respond to the issue of Calvinism as the subtitle indicates. Read it here

A few thoughts…

1. As is well known, Calvin did not codify the five points of Calvinism. Akin is absolutely right in pointing this out. They were codified by his closest associates, students, and colleagues who lived in that historical setting – as a response to the disciples of Arminius at the Synod of Dort.

2. In reading some of Calvin’s commentary on key passages where the systematized version of Calvinism is at stake, I would argue that Calvin was in fact a Calvinist. Regardless, Calvin was not the first Calvinist, nor is he the first to identify in fetal form the “doctrines of grace”. Calvin was fond doctrinally of Augustine.

3. Calvin had no historical reason for codifying or expounding exhaustively the doctrines of grace and, hence, he did not attend to them extensively in his writing. He dealt more with buffeting the Church against the heresies of the papacy, than writing treatises on definite atonement, for example. This, in part, may explain the lack of written evidence concerning Calvin’s Calvinism.

4. But we would also be wise to give attention to the codifying of his thought by those who were closest to him, so long as it is in accord with the doctrine of Christ and, thus, biblically balanced as Akin ably states.

5. Beyond these points, I find Akin’s assessment of the “five points” well and good, and his pastoral and practical considerations concerning “biblical balance” necessary, edifying, and encouraging. In particular, I wholeheartedly agree with and admire his admonition towards a Godwardness (Point 1), Christ-centeredness, Biblicist position (Point 7), and, as somewhat of an overflow of these things, a fiery evangelical heart and prowess for sinners in this world.

6. I also “Amen!” his call to address these issues with discernment in teaching our congregations. I long to implement a Christian learning/ training center in the mainstream ministry of any church that God would providentially lead me towards. He gets a “Hallelujah!” for making mention of it in the context of youth ministry in order to prepare them for the secular bombardment that awaits most of them. My agreement in these areas is most especially an agreement with God’s Word and the injunction to equip the saints for the work of ministry.

7. Lastly, to quote Akin, “Is there a place for differing positions on the issues of election, the extent of the atonement and calling, as well as how we do missions, evangelism, and give the invitation? I am convinced that the answer is yes. Further, I believe we will be the better for it theologically and practically as we engage each other in respectful and serious conversation.” I concure with great expectation of further discussion.

8. And in keeping with my nature, I’ll add something else after I’ve written, “Lastly…”: Read Spurgeon’s quote! In the words of Lloyd off of “Dumb and Dumber” – “It’s a good one!” And may God be glorified in Jesus Christ – the J. C.!

Excerpt From "A Narrative of Surprising Conversions," by Jonathan Edwards

This excerpt comes from Edwards treatise on “A Narrative of Surprising Conversions” in “Jonathan Edwards on Revival,” pages 30-31. As he recounts the outpouring of the mercy and grace of God in the multiplicity of conversions in that day, he admonishes other ministers to preach and counsel with doctrines that in the contemporary methodology of preaching and counseling might seem contrary, self-defeating, and, at best, paradoxical, but to Edwards bore the pastorally enjoyable fruit of authenticity of conversion. I have interposed breaks in this lengthy paragraph and the parenthesis belong to me as a means of explanation, as well as any italics. He writes:

“Whatever minister has a like occasion to deal with souls, in a flock under such circumstances, as this was in the last year, I cannot but think he will soon find himself under a necessity, greatly to insist upon it with them, that God is under no manner of obligation to show mercy to any natural man, whose heart is not turned to God: and that a man can challenge nothing either in absolute justice, or by free promise, from any thing he does before he has believed on Jesus Christ, or has true repentance begun in him. (This being the case) It appears to me, that if I had taught those who came to me under trouble any other doctrine (than the absolute sovereignty of God in life, death, and salvation, etc.), I should have taken a direct course utterly to undo them (from what the Spirit of God was doing in them, that is, extending to them the grace of fear and spiritual examination leading to conversion. In other words, he did not pamper their presumptions that they were saved, and therefore he continues…) I should have directly crossed what was plainly the drift of the Spirit of God in his influences upon them; for if they had believed what I said, it would either have promoted self-flattery and carelessness, and so put an end to their awakenings (see parenthesis above); or cherished and established their contention and stife with God, concerning his dealings with them and others, and blocked up their way to that humiliation before the Sovereign Disposer of life and death, whereby God is wont to prepare them for his consolations.

And yet those who have been under awakenings have oftentimes plainly stood in need of being encouraged, by being told of the infinite and all-sufficient mercy of God in Christ; and (also being told) that it is God’s manner to succeed diligence, and to bless his own means, that so awakenings and encouragements, fear and hope, may be duly mixed and proportioned to preserve their minds in a just medium (middle place) between the two extremes of self-flattery and despondence, both which tend to slackness and negligence, and in the end to (a false sense of)security.

I think I have found that no discourses have been more remarkably blessed, than those in which the doctrine of God’s absolute sovereignty with regard to the salvation of sinners, and his just liberty with regard to answering the prayers, or succeeding the pains, of natural men, continuing such, have been insisted on. I never found so much immediate saving fruit, in any measure, of any discourses I have offered to my congregation, as some from these words, Rom. iii. 19. ‘That every mouth may be stopped’; endeavoring to show from thence (that text), that it would be just with God for ever to reject and cast off mere natural men.”