18 Thoughts on Psalm 116.15

Psa 116.15, “Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of all his saints,” from which I infer:

(1) many things are said to be wicked in the eyes of the Lord, but the death of all His saints is not one of them;

(2) rather this moment is said to be precious in His eyes, which is a very blessed thing that it should be, as what is precious in God’s sight is really precious;

(3) that this preciousness is not confined to select saints, but all of them, from the least of them to the greatest, all our deaths are precious in the sight of the Lord;

(4) saints are not just the canonized of the Catholic religion, but every repentant person that has believed upon the Lord Jesus Christ is properly called a saint, one set apart by God in Christ and indwelt by the Spirit of holiness unto holiness;

(5) that this preciousness which is a preciousness in the eyes of the Lord is a preciousness inherited by the saints, not being precious in ourselves but as we appear to Him and come to Him in Christ;

(6) that the death of the saints is precious in the sight of the Lord because He knows that death is a conquered foe with regards to them all, and this is a sweet-smelling aroma of Christ to Him;

(7) that the death of the saints is precious in the sight of the Lord because it evinces His great redemption, the forgiveness of our sins, the removal of which means that we cannot be held by death, and so His effectual grace towards us is a precious thing for Him to observe as we come to conclude our sojourning;

(8) that this preciousness is so precious in His eyes precisely because He welcomes us.  That we should see Him is precious in His sight;

(9) that it is all of God’s full and free grace that any should be called a saint by God and so have their death considered a precious thing in His sight;

(10) that no matter the manner of the saint’s passing, it is precious in the sight of the Lord; no matter how terrible, how laborious, how young or old, how defiling or degrading, cut down in the prime of life or laid low by the effect of many days; no matter how we perceive it, if they be a saint, their passing is precious in the sight of the Lord;

(11) that God often sees differently than we do.  We see in part, and so we find it hard to call the death of a saint precious; but God sees, not in part, but perfectly, and so is pleased to call it a thing precious to Him;

(12) what manner of glory the saints do come into that God should call that entrance into it by death “precious”;

(13) how uninviting death must be, then, for anyone not a saint, how terrible a thing for anyone to die in unbelief;

(14) that all Christians ought to mourn when a saint passes, but that we ought not mourn without hope and eventual happiness because the saint that passes does so into the glorious presence of God (cf. Ps 16), and this is to make us satisfied in the goodness and will of God;

(15) that doubtless many who hear such things take them lightly, will pat me on the back and tell me how good these things written do seem to them.  These no doubt think these things fantasy, imaginary, unreal, because unseen, but nothing could be further from the truth.  Even now every person stands on the precipice of eternity, hanging by a thread, as it were, the mercy of God alone upholding them, though He has made no promise to unbelievers to hold them up any one second longer.  Such people do not know the danger they are truly faced with, and how they have most certainly lived all their lives on borrowed mercy and known it not one second.  If any person be like this, I do not want pats on the back, but repentance; not niceties but faith in Christ.  For

(16) as long as any person lives God may grant them to become one of His saints whose death will be likewise precious in His sight.

(17) Because of what God has done for us in Christ, the fear of death is removed, and it stands only in service of the saints.

(18) How this ought to free us for gospel ministry and for following Jesus even unto death.  Sin, Satan, the gates of hell and the world may do their worst, may take our lives because of the gospel, but it will only bring us to what God delights to call “precious.”  What a flame for the cause of Christ!

Fighting Sin With Worship, by Tim Keller

Originally part of a sermon, and recently posted at the Desiring God blog.

If you are a Christian and you are dealing with enslaving habits, it’s not enough to say, “Bad Christian, stop it.” And it is not enough to beat yourself up or merely try harder and harder and harder.

The real reason that you’re having a problem with an enslaving habit is because you are nottasting God. I’m not talking about believing God or even obeying God, I’m saying tasting —tasting God.

The secret to freedom from enslaving patterns of sin is worship. You need worship. You need great worship. You need weeping worship. You need glorious worship. You need to sense God’s greatness and to be moved it — moved to tears and moved to laughter — moved by who God is and what he has done for you. And this needs to be happening all the time.

Go here for the whole, really, really, really good excerpt on the enslaving nature of sin and the power of worship to set us free.

Jesus’ Doctrine of Scripture, by Kevin DeYoung

After working through four main texts (John 10:35Matthew 5:17-1912:38-4219:4-5) I provided a summary of Jesus’ doctrine of Scripture.

Jesus held Scripture in the highest possible esteem. He knew his Bible intimately and loved it deeply. He often spoke with language of Scripture. He easily alluded to Scripture. And in his moments of greatest trial and weakness—like being tempted by the devil or being killed on a cross—he quoted Scripture.

His mission was to fulfill Scripture, and his teaching always upheld Scripture.

He never disrespected, never disregarded, never disagreed with a single text of Scripture.

He affirmed every bit of law, prophecy, narrative, and poetry. He shuddered to think of anyone anywhere violating, ignoring, or rejecting Scripture.

Jesus believed in the inspiration of Scripture, down  to the sentences, to the phrases, to the words, to the smallest letter, to the tiniest mark.

He accepted the chronology, the miracles, and the authorial ascriptions as giving the straightforward facts of history.

He believed in keeping the spirit of the law without ever minimizing the letter of the law. He affirmed the human authorship of Scripture while at the same time bearing witness to the ultimate divine authorship of the Scriptures.

He treated the Bible as a necessary word, a sufficient word, a clear word, and the final word.

It was never acceptable in his mind to contradict Scripture or stand above Scripture.

He believed the Bible was all true, all edifying, all important, and all about him. He believed absolutely that the Bible was from God and was absolutely free from error. What Scripture says God says, and what God said was recorded infallibly in Scripture.

Jesus submitted his will to the Scriptures, committed his brain to study the Scriptures, and humbled his heart to obey the Scriptures.

In summary, it is impossible to revere the Scriptures more deeply or affirm them more completely than Jesus did. The Lord Jesus, God’s Son and our Savior, believed his Bible was the word of God down to the tiniest speck and that nothing in all those specks and in all those books in his Bible could ever be broken.

Go here for his exegetical, theological, and logical work that leads to these conclusions, and for all eight sermons recently preached on the doctrine of Scripture.

How the Gospel Changes Our Apologetics, Part 1, by Tim Keller

Apologetics is an answer to the “why” question after you’ve already given people an answer to the “what” question. The what question, of course, is “What is the gospel?” But when you call people to believe in the gospel and they ask, “Why should I believe that?” —then you need apologetics.

I’ve heard plenty of Christians try to answer the why question by going back to the what. “You have to believe because Jesus is the Son of God.” But that’s answering the why with more what. Increasingly we live in a time in which you can’t avoid the why question. Just giving the what (for example, a vivid gospel presentation) worked in the days when the cultural institutions created an environment in which Christianity just felt true or at least honorable. But in a post-Christendom society, in the marketplace of ideas, you have to explain why this is true, or people will just dismiss it.

Go here for the first part of this blog series by Keller at City to City.

Where And How Do We Draw The Line, by Kevin DeYoung

1. Establish the essentials of the faith.
2. Listen to the communion of the saints.
3. Distinguish between landing theology and launching theology.
4. Distinguish between the explicit teaching of Scripture and the application of scriptural principles.
5. Distinguish between church existence and church health.
6. Avoid foolish controversies.
7. Allow for areas of disagreement, especially regarding “conversion baggage.”

Go here for his explanations of each.

What If I Had Stayed In The Workforce?, by Luma Simms

Ok, so I have posted many things recently on the value and goodness of motherhood.  Simms, in one sense, cuts against me in that she goes the next step, a balancing one, and refocuses our attention on ultimate value.  There is value in biblical motherhood, but biblical motherhood is not the place that the mother ought to be finding her value.  I get it!  So on the one hand, I do not rescind the articles that I have posted that have been written by others concerned with the devaluing of motherhood.  I think what they have said is good to read and apply.  But almost everything nowadays is written as a counter-response or balance or improvement upon what has been previously written or, in some cases, disregarded.  This is where I think Simms’ article is important.  She does not by any stretch of the imagination devalue what has been written, what has been a hot-topic in our evangelical culture, namely, the value of women, the role of mother, and the various beauties of that role in the Bible.  What she does is give balance, and help us to understand that if one’s value is located in the degree to which one mothers biblically, value is still located in the self and will rise and fall with the self.  She helpfully reminds us, and particularly women, that their value is not ultimately in how good they mother, but in the union with Jesus Christ.

Go here for her helpful article.

On the Nature of Divine Election

Patrick Schreiner has a put together a good synopsis of the arguments put forward by Brian Abasciano (corporate emphasis/conditional election) and Tom Schreiner (individual emphasis/unconditional election) here.

He includes the two opposing articles (Abasciano’s article is a response to Schreiner’s work some ten years before, and Schreiner’s article is a response to Abasciano’s response).  I want to highly suggest you reading them both.  They will stretch your mind, and that is good.  And depending upon what side of the debate you are on at present, I would encourage you to a cool frame and tempered, teachable disposition in reading the article that exegetes and argues contrary to your position.  As Piper has said, “it is more important to learn what they are saying than to hear what you want to hear” (paraphrase).

I will tell you, also, that after reading them both, I still land somewhat predictably and unhesitatingly with Schreiner’s position.  I won’t bother you with my own thoughts beyond that.  Just read the articles and we can talk later.  And, p.s., I don’t think this is a peripheral issue!

The Message of the Bible in 221 Words, by D. A. Carson

Originally posted at Desiring God:

God is the sovereign, transcendent and personal God who has made the universe, including us, his image-bearers. Our misery lies in our rebellion, our alienation from God, which, despite his forbearance, attracts his implacable wrath.

But God, precisely because love is of the very essence of his character, takes the initiative and prepared for the coming of his own Son by raising up a people who, by covenantal stipulations, temple worship, systems of sacrifice and of priesthood, by kings and by prophets, are taught something of what God is planning and what he expects.

In the fullness of time his Son comes and takes on human nature. He comes not, in the first instance, to judge but to save: he dies the death of his people, rises from the grave and, in returning to his heavenly Father, bequeaths the Holy Spirit as the down payment and guarantee of the ultimate gift he has secured for them—an eternity of bliss in the presence of God himself, in a new heaven and a new earth, the home of righteousness.

The only alternative is to be shut out from the presence of this God forever, in the torments of hell. What men and women must do, before it is too late, is repent and trust Christ; the alternative is to disobey the gospel (Romans 10:16;2 Thessalonians 1:81 Peter 4:17).

For Such a Time as This: Perspectives on Evangelicalism, Past, Present and Future, ed. Steve Brady and Harold Rowdon (London, UK: Evangelical Alliance, 1986), 80.

When He Lies, He Speaks Out of His Own Character

I happened to be watching ESPN’s First Take this morning, while wearing out my daughter before putting her down for a nap.  The particular topic being discussed was whether or not the debaters were buying Tim Tebow’s comments pertaining to the success of fellow New York Jets quarterback, Mark Sanchez.  One of the debaters, Stephen A. Smith, essentially said he didn’t buy it, which was followed by Skip Bayless with the charge that he had called Tebow a liar.  Smith then posed the million dollar question to defend what he had said: if someone lies one time, is he a liar?  Does that speak to his essential character?  For the record, Smith said “no,” while Bayless said “yes,” although Bayless, a lover of all things Tim Tebow, did not accuse the Jets quarterback of lying.  And both of these men are professing Christians.

Whether or not Bayless could defend his position theologically, I do not know.  But Jesus can.

John 8.31-47 has become one of the most important passages in the Bible for me in understanding why we do what we do, say what we say, think what we think, desire and will what we desire and will.  It is a passage about universal enslavement dependent upon one’s nature.  You see, all human beings are born with not one but two fathers: an earthly father and the devil.  All human beings are born as Paul says it, “dead in trespasses and sins . . . following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience — among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind” (Eph 2.1-3).  Jesus simply says it this way, “You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires” (Jn 8.44).  By contrast, He ends the text with, “Why do you not believe me?  Whoever is of God hears the words of God.  The reason why you do not hear them is that you are not of God” (Jn 8.46-47).  In other words, while all human beings are, at first, stillborn spiritually as children of the devil, being not “of God,” yet God in His grace regenerates the spiritually dead sinner, and in this process makes the person a new creation with a new heart, new desires, a new will, and a new nature out of which the believer now lives, thinks, acts, speaks.  The Christian is “of God.”  We have been “born of God.”  We are the children of God.  God is our Father, and this changes everything.  We are no longer enslaved to the desires of the devil.  We are set free to be a slave to God.

As Jesus explains these things to his audience, He says something fundamental about the relationship between character and action.  In John 8.44 Jesus teaches, “You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires.  He was a murderer from the beginning, and has nothing to do with the truth, because there is no truth in him.  When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies.”  The reason they won’t believe Jesus is because Jesus is telling them the truth, but their father is the father of lies, he is a liar, and therefore he lies.  And because the will of the unrepentant sinner is to do their father’s desires, they embrace his lie, they lie.

Jesus fundamentally disagrees with Stephen A. Smith.  And for a couple of reasons.  First, contrary to Smith, Jesus understands that no person has only lied one time (Smith actually said of Bayless that he knew he didn’t lie).  Insofar as a person is enslaved to the desires of their father, the devil, they lie constantly by their rejection of the truth, namely, Jesus Christ.  Secondly, Jesus attaches lying to character.  When a person sins, it does not so much make them a sinner as it proves that they are one.  When a person sins, it is because they are a sinner.  In other words, life — thoughts, words, actions, motivations — arise out of nature or character.  If a man lies, it is because he is a liar.  Now, before moving on, I just want to go back to John 8.47, because Jesus teaches that a man’s nature or character can be supernaturally resurrected from the spiritually dead.  This is good news!  What we are now is not what we must always be!  We need not always be defined by our initial relationship to the devil.  We do not have to remain enslaved to his desires (enslaved, by the way, does not equal drudgery; unrepentant sinners are very much in love with this enslavement, they love their sin, and indeed find it to be of their own volition with joy).  Jesus proved to be the one and only exception to this rule.  Thus, Jesus died in the place of sinners, and by His death purchased the new birth for everyone who believes in Him.  So Christians really are set free from sin, death, Satan, and all his desires, his nature, his character; and we really are set free from having our characters and lives defined by a serpent’s.  Nevertheless, until this grace is bestowed, a sinner sins because he is a sinner.  A liar lies because he is liar.  When he lies, he speaks out of his own character.  

A common objection to this goes as follows:

What about Christians?  Do Christians sin?  Don’t Christians lie, etc., etc.?  What is the difference between the one who is “of God,” and those who are still of the devil?  This is a key issue.  In fact, it is one that I am confronted with most often in evangelism.  So here goes (disclaimer: this is a difficult subject to navigate):

1.  Yes, Christians sin.  And, yes, Christians sin by lying and in many other ways.  So what is the difference?  If the unbeliever sins, it is because he is a sinner.  He sins out of his own character and nature.  Is this true for the Christian, and if not, how can that be so?

2.  This is not true of the Christian.  There are only two natures that can be experienced in this world.  The old and the new.  That of the devil and that of God.  That which is of the flesh and that which is of the Spirit.  And they are mutually exclusive.  They cannot be held together.  All human beings experience the former in every case.  Some also experience the latter by grace.  How then does the Christian still sin and how is this not indicative of a sinful character?

3.  I want to be very clear here.  This is not an easy subject.  So while it is obvious that I still sin, that since having been born of God almost 13 years ago, I have sinned in many ways, it is not indicative of my nature or character.  And this is not some philosophical mumbo-jumbo designed to self-justify.  There is a reality true of the children of God that is not true of an unrepentant sinner: the child of God is free, while the child of the devil is not.  What that means is that the unbeliever can only do what is pleasing to his father, the devil.  Again, Jesus: “You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires” (Jn 8.44).  Volitionally, the unbeliever is gladly enslaved to sin.  This volitional enslavement, or enslavement of the will arises from and evinces their sinful nature or character.

The Christian, on the other hand, has been “set free” by the Son and so we are “free indeed” (Jn 8.36).  Whereas the unbeliever has one option and can see no other but to delight themselves in what is most pleasing to them, namely, sinful desires, the Christian has been set free to be gladly enslaved to delight themselves in what is most pleasing to God.  And the Christian knows the other option too, namely, sinful desires.  The Christian knows both the desires of their heavenly Father and the desires of their former father.  Whereas the unbeliever can do nothing but sin, for they do nothing from faith (Rom 14.23), the believer can do what is pleasing to God and we can sin.  And when we do the latter, we are acting contrary to our new nature.  We are testifying falsely about Christ and our character.

4.  One more crucial reality must be tied to this.  I have confessed that Christians do still sin after being the recipients of divine and resurrecting grace.  To confess to the contrary is simply unbiblical and dangerous (1 Jn 1.8, 10).  But this must be said also: because of our new nature, the Christian is characteristically violent against sin.  In other words, the Christian will not stay there without a fight.  He will abide in the dark without turning on the flash light.  In fact, distinctive of the Christian is a walking in the light where God is, which is a metaphorical way of saying that the Christian does not desire to walk in sin, and if the Christian has committed sin, we do not desire to conceal it, but rather to confess it, to go public with it to our Father, and to our brothers and sisters in the body of Christ.

The Christian knows that Christ has taken away sins by His death on the cross, and that not just in a legal sense, i.e., our sins have been forgiven.  This is wonderfully true, but if this is not packaged with the new birth, it can lead to great misunderstandings about the Christian life and the call to personal and corporate holiness.  In other words, licentiousness (abusing God’s grace to justify our continuance in sin) happens when the truth of justification is severed from the truth of regeneration or the new birth.  But the Christian believes the Word of God, that Christ taking away sins means not only that Christ has brought about the forgiveness of our sins, but also the removal of the present power of sin — and very soon the presence of sin entirely in glory!  The Christian holds these together.  We have been forgiven by God in Christ.  And the very reason we have believed that is because we have been born again by God in Christ, by the working of His Spirit.  As we hold it together, it means that we who know that Christ has taken away our sins also know that we cannot and desire not to live in sins any longer.  We desire, pursue, strive for holiness of life.  Do we sin?  Yes.  But that is not our first love.  And, most importantly, by God’s Spirit, we are fighting against sin — this is all the difference in the world!  Is their a fight?  This distinguishes “of the devil,” from “of God.”  The child of God is a growing person.  We are growing up into Christ.  We are maturing in the ways of our Father.  We are being transformed day by day.  And so, although sin’s presence will not be fully eradicated until heaven, our love for and practice of sin grows less and less, while our love for and practice of holiness increases more and more.  If it doesn’t, we simply are not new.

Honoring God in an Unequally Yoked Marriage, by Sarah Flashing

There is an important question that needs our attention: How does a wife honor God’s intended plan for marriage in a circumstance that doesn’t comport with God’s plan to begin with?

Go here as Flashing unfolds her answer while dealing with the ministry of wives to husbands, the issue of functional egalitarianism in such marriages, and the necessity of the wives own personal spiritual health and its impact upon the health of unequally yoked marriages.