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Archive for the ‘Theology’ Category

How does one know he or she is a Christian?

Many who believe that the gospel is true, and would say Jesus died and rose again for the sins of the world, often still have a most difficult time believing this gospel is true for them personally. So they labor under a painful conscience and eventually give up hope of every finding a remedy. What can one do? Is there any hope for one like this?

The answer is most certainly, Yes!

Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones writes out the only prescription:

To make it quite practical let me say that there is a very simple way of testing yourself to know whether you believe that. We betray ourselves by what we say. The Lord Himself said we should be justified by our words, and how true it is. I have often had to deal with this point with people, and I have explained the way of justification by faith and told them how it is all in Christ, and that God puts His righteousness upon us. I have explained it all to them, and then I have said: ‘Well, now are you quite happy about it, do you believe that?’ And they say, ‘Yes’. Then I say: ‘Well, then, you are now ready to say that you are a Christian’. And they hesitate. And I know they have not understood. Then I say: ‘What is the matter, why are you hesitating?’ And they say: ‘I do not feel that I am good enough’…. They are still thinking in terms of themselves; their idea still is that they have to make themselves good enough to be a Christian, good enough to be accepted with Chirst. They have to do it! ‘I am not good enough.’ It sounds very modest, but it is the lie of the devil, it is a denial of the faith. You think that you are being humble. But you will never be good enough; nobody has ever been good eough. The essence of the Christian salvation is to say that He is good enough and that I am in Him! – Spiritual Depression: Its Causes and its Cure (1965), 33-4.

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How do we read the Gospels? If we expect to be bored by reading the gospels then it is likely we have never learned how to read them aright. The following is a short explanation as to why the Gospels should be approached with the expectation that they can, and will, excite our imaginations and move us in the deepest ways possible, no matter how many times we have read them before. Kind of like your favorite “classic” that you keep returning to. (How many times have you read it now?)

David Tracy defined a classic as a text which so discloses a compelling truth about our lives that we cannot deny it some kind of normative status. These texts produce a disclosure of reality which ‘surprises, provokes, challenges, shocks and eventually transforms us’ (1981: 108). Religious classics like the fourth gospel also produce these kinds of reactions. Such texts have a disclosive power. They shock us into recognizing our finitude, our mortality, our sinfulness, our rage for order. They awaken wonder, trust, loyalty justice, love or faith (1981: 164). However, such responses are only elicited in readers who approach such classics as literature. To use Martin Buber’s terminology, there must be an I-Thou relationship with the gospel, not an I-It divorce. – Mark W.G. Stibbe, John’s Gospel, (Routledge, 1994), 70.

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Don Carson, in the introduction to his commentary on the Gospel of John, offers this helpful assessment of preaching and gospel narratives:

The challenge of preaching from the Gospels is, in part, the challenge of preaching from narrative. The best of Western seminaries and theological colleges reinforce the cultural bent toward the abstract, and fill students’ heads with the importance of grammatical, lexicographical exegesis. Such exegesis is, of course, of enormous importance. But in students who do not have a feel for literature, it can have the unwitting effect of so focusing on the tree, indeed on the third knot of the fourth branch from the bottom of the sixth tree from the left, that the entire forest remains unseen, except perhaps as a vague and ominous challenge.
The Gospel According to John, (Eerdmans, Grand Rapids: 1991), 100-101.

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Priestly Prayer

Why are we to pray in the name of Jesus? Edward Fisher offers a helpful explanation well worth your time to read:

It is true indeed, Christ, as a public person, representing all believers, appears before God his Father; and willeth according to both his natures, and desires as he is a man, that God would, for his satisfaction’s sake, grant unto them whatsoever ‘they ask according to his will.’ But yet you must go immediately to God in prayer for all that.

You must not pitch your prayers upon Christ, and terminate them there, as if he were to take them, and present them to his Father; but the very presenting place of your prayers must be God himself in Christ. Neither must you conceive, as though Christ the Son were more willing to grant your request than God the Father, for whatsoever Christ willeth, the same also the Father, being well pleased with him, willeth. In Christ, therefore, I say, and no where else, must you expect to have your petitions granted; and as in Christ and no place else, so for Christ’s sake, and nothing else. And therefore I beseech you to beware you forget not Christ when you go unto the Father to beg anything you desire, either for yourself or others; especially when you desire to have any pardon for sin, you are not to think, that when you join with your prayers, fasting, weeping, and afflicting of yourself, that for so doing you shall prevail with God to hear you, and grant your petitions; no, no, you must meet God in Christ, and present him with his sufferings; your eye, your mind, and all your confidence, must be therein; and in that be as confident as possible you can; yea, expostulate the matter, as it were, with God the Father, and say, ‘Lo; here is the person that has well deserved it; here is the person that wills and desires it; in whom thou hast said thou art will pleased; yea, here is the person that has paid the debt, and discharged the bond for all my sins; and, therefore, O Lord! now it stands with thy justice to forgive me.’ And thus, if you do, why, then you may be assured that Christ executes his priestly office in you.
The Marrow of Modern Divinity, 249-50.

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I’ve been reading through The Marrow of Modern Divinity and have found it wonderfully helpful! Let’s face it, covenant theology isn’t exactly the easiest thing to figure out. There are always those nagging questions. E.g.: Was Israel really in some sort of ‘covenant of works’? What is the exact difference between the ‘law’ and the ‘gospel’? Where do works come into the equation of our salvation?

These and many other issues are intuitively addressed and ingenuously explained in this brilliant volume of singularly masterful 17th century English literature. This is both a piece of art and a work of theology. The author (Edward Fisher) has drawn form a broad spectrum of reformed divinity on covenant theology and then translated it (as it were) into very laymen’s terms. This is both church history and biblical exegesis, wrapped into engaging dialogues between four characters: “Evangelista,” “Antinomista,” “Nomista,” and “Neophytus.” The following is an excerpt regarding The Natural Bias Towards the Covenant of Works:

Alas! there are thousands in the world that make a Christ of their works; and here is their undoing, &c. They look for righteousness and acceptation more in the precept than in the promise, in the law than the gospel, in working than in believing; and so miscarry. Many poor ignorant souls amongst us, when we bid them obey and do duties, they can think of nothing but working themselves to life; when they are troubled, they must lick themselves whole, when wounded, they must run to the salve of duties, and stream of performances, and neglect Christ. Nay, it is to be feared that there be divers [many] who in words are able to distinguish between the law and gospel, and in their judgments hold and maintain, that man is justified by faith without the works of the law; and yet in effect and practice, that is to say, in heart and conscience, do otherwise. [1] And there is some touch of this in us all; otherwise we should not be so up and down in our comforts and believing as we are still, and cast down with every weakness as we are. [2]

Thomas Boston’s Notes:
[1] It is indeed the practice of every unregenerate man, whatever be his knowledge or professed principles; for the contrary practice is the practice of the saints, and of them only, “Blessed are the poor in spirit (Matt. 5:3). “We are the circumcision, which worship God in the spirit, and rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh” (Phil. 3:3).
[2] For these follow from our building so much on something in ourselves, which is always very variable; and so little on the “grace that is in Christ Jesus” (2 Tim. 2:1), which is an immovable foundation.
The Marrow of Modern Divinity (Christian Focus, Scotland: 2009), 101, 106.

Sinclair Ferguson says of this book:

Anyone who comes to grips with the issues raised in the Marrow of Modern Divinity will almost certainly grow by leaps and bounds in understanding three things: the grace of God, the Christian life, and the very nature of the gospel itself. I personally owe it a huge debt.

Need I say more? “Pick up and read,” my friend. Pick up and read!

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Over at Water is Thicker than Blood, Tim has posted a must-read section on the importance of clarity with words and in doctrine.

Today, the Zeitgeist is one of unclarity, free love, and theological paradox. Whether it be tri-perspectival views that can incorporate two contradictory statements in a moving dialectic, or it be men who despise those who in any way are critical of theological content. The spirit of the age hates theological distinction and nuance.

Read the rest here.

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If you have ever ready any of Thomas à Kempis’s The Imitation of Christ, perhaps you have wondered how it relates to one’s Reformed piety? I remember the book came highly recommend to me by a fellow Presbyterian as one of the most impacting books I should read to better understand the Christian faith. I was lent the book and began reading.

But after a little while I was astonished at the absence of Christ being set fourth as the foundation of one’s righteousness and assurance before God. It seemed to me little more than Medieval moralism.

Wilhelmus à Brakel (1635–1711), a Dutch Puritan and leader in the Dutch Further Reformation, offers a helpful balance:

Thomas à Kempis….. having written that excellent treatise The Imitation of Christ in three volumes. The fourth volume is not authored by him; it is idolatrous and has been added by someone else. However… à Kempis [has] little to say about the Lord Jesus as being the ransom and righteousness of sinners–about how He, by a truth faith, must be used unto justification and in approaching unto God, beholding in His countenance the glory of God, and practicing true holiness as originating in Him and in union with Him. Readers must note this about [à Kempis], keeping this in mind when they read… They will then be able to benefit from [his] writings.
The Christian’s Reasonable Service, Vol. 2, pp.  640-41.

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