Well Done! – Encouraging Grace

tss-well-done.jpgOh, how I need to hear this continually! From Mark Lauterbach at the Gospel Driven Life blog:

It takes no advanced degree to find fault with another man — or to show the stupidity of someone else’s thinking. It takes much grace to see God at work in a fellow redeemed sinner whose life is marred by sin and marked by grace. It takes grace to see it and strengthen it. It takes grace to encourage them in a way that glorifies God and strengthens faith…

My children tell me I am very hard to please.  I do not think I am — I think I have very good standards and they need to measure up.  I wake up in the morning and the first thing I see is what has not been done.  I see faults all over.  I am God’s agent to make them excellent.

A few years ago a friend saw my sin and encouraged me to spend a whole summer doing nothing but encouraging my children.  It was one of the hardest things I have ever done.  Every day I would look for grace in them but find faults.  I had to bite my tongue all the time.  But the fruit on their lives and our relationship was amazing.

So — as I lead my family, do they hear my criticism more than my commendation?  Do I see myself as the great and indispensable fault-finder?  As I relate to fellow-Christians, am I more aware of their sin or of their growth in sanctification?

I am learning this most crucial element of fellowship — and seeing it as the first step.  Until I see grace in others I am in no position to help them grow by pointing out their sin.

I say: Well done, Mark. Thank you for this reminder!

On this topic Mark also recommends C.J. Mahaney’s message: Grace and the Adventure of Leadership. How would you respond to the incestuous, sin saturated Corinthians? Be humbled by this message. Another excellent (and now free) audio message from Sovereign Grace Ministries.

The importance of God’s wrath

The importance of God’s wrath

Yesterday I posted some comments about my gratefulness to Christ for escaping the horrifying consequences of my own sinfulness, namely escaping God’s wrath (see Saved from the wrath of God). Today I want to return to the topic and post from arom59big.jpg slightly different angle.

From my perspective – and knowing my own heart — we sinners are apt to forget the gospel. When we become ignorant of the gospel, we make unwise life decisions, bear children ignorant of the gospel, and live in marriages where the Cross is not central (Eph. 5:22-33). It’s to our benefit, humility, and joy to be reminded of Scripture’s emphasis upon the wrath of God poured out towards sinners. This is what Christians have been saved from. The wrath of God is absorbed in the substitutionary work of Jesus Christ as our judicious and forensic Savior, and we are never beyond need of reminding.

So why is the doctrine of God’s wrath so important? For starters, the gospel – that the wrath of God resting upon the heads of all sinners, is, in Christ, absorbed when He drank the cup of our condemnation and substitutes Himself for the redeemed – is always in a process of erosion. This is especially true today.

One of the most noted dangers of the New Perspective(s) of Paul is the de-emphasis on Christ as the substitute who absorbs the wrath of God. After citing direct quotations from prominent NPP writer N.T. Wright, T. David Gordon writes, “The enemies and powers defeated by Christ do not (for Wright) include God’s own wrath or judgment … when he explains Paul’s narrative theology, and the cross and resurrection as the center of that narrative, he is entirely right, but when he explains precisely what Christ therein triumphed over, the wrath of God is not among the panoply” [in Gary L.W. Johnson and Guy P. Waters, editors. By Faith Alone: Answering the Challenges to the Doctrine of Justification (Crossway: 2006), p. 63].

The point is we are always in danger of forgetting God’s wrath. By sheer volume of Bible references, the wrath of God towards every sinner is the central consequence of our sinfulness. It is central to the work of Christ, central to the gospel, and central to living the Cross centered life.

So in hopes of stirring you up by way of reminder, here is a (short) list of some reasons why the theme of God’s wrath is important:

1. God’s wrath is biblical. The Scriptures are saturated with the wrath of God. Look for yourself. Talking about God’s wrath is nothing but letting the priorities of Scripture become our own priorities. We should be humbled and sobered by God’s wrath, but never silent. God has promised that sinners – all who are sexually impure, covetous, idolatrous, or otherwise impure and unrighteous – will face the wrath of God (Jam. 2:10; Eph. 5:3-6). Those who say otherwise are speaking empty and deceptive words.

2. God’s wrath reveals God. The wrath of God reveals His holiness, envy, perfections, an intense hatred of rebellion, His righteousness, His justice, His power. “I will make myself known among them, when I judge you” (Ezek. 35:11). Soberly, God reveals Himself in the damnation of the wicked. “What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory” (Rom. 9:22-23). The beauty of the Cross and the redeemed shines with greater luster when compared to the coming condemnation coming upon the wicked. Until we understand God’s holiness and wrath, we will only have wrong conceptions of Him.

3. God’s wrath reveals who we are.
We are sinners. We exchange the glory of God for created things. We happily replace the joy of God for collecting Hallmark figurines, antiques and Beanie Babies (Rom. 1:18-23). We would rather treasure the fleeting things of the world and forfeit our souls (Mark 8:36). We are His subjects, but we do everything in our power to reject Him. We will abandon the natural biological creation to invent our own unnatural means of rebellion (Rom. 1:27). Every act of rebellion stokes the wrath of God (Rom. 1:18). If we have become honest with ourselves, we know that we are wrath-deserving, glory-exchanging, sin-pursuing sinners that (apart from Christ) can only expect the eternal wrath of God’s holiness. This is who we are. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, one of the great preachers of the 20th century, writes: “The way to appreciate your own sinfulness is not to look at your actions, nor your life, but to come into the presence of God” (Great Doctrines, 1:72). Step close enough to feel the heat of God’s holiness.

4. Importance of God’s wrath in the daily life of the Christian. To the question, “How are you today?”, C.J. Mahaney has popularized the response: “Better than I deserve.” Try it sometime. The barista behind the counter at Starbucks will give you a very puzzled look. But this will also be a great opportunity to share that an understanding of God’s wrath has made a permanent impact in your heart. So what do you deserve? Do you deserve perfect health? A venti Americano? Comfortable finances? An early retirement? Comforts? Vacations? The Christian knows better. Sinners (of which Christians will be until we see Christ face-to-face and have our sin burned away) deserve the wrath of God. It’s only because of God’s graciousness in the death of His Son that some sinners will be spared. Most sinners will get exactly what they deserve — the undiluted, eternal torment of God’s burning wrath. So why do we get angry when our comforts are disrupted by our spouse or children? Take a look into your own heart and ask: What upsets me? These disruptions are typically rooted in a misunderstanding that we are entitled to something other than wrath.

5. God’s wrath kills self-righteousness. If ever there was a truth that would break a self-righteous sinner like me, it’s the truth that God’s wrath rests upon me eternally if I am uncovered by the righteousness of Christ. My church attendance and good works and kindness and charity are a flick of water into a raging furnace. What can I do to cool the wrath of God? In light of His blazing holiness, what efforts, what works, will extinguish His wrath towards each of my sins? The popular wax gospel of human invention — that God will be pleased with me because I am not as bad as others – melts near the furnace of God’s wrath. Even a great and righteous prophet must pronounce condemnation upon himself in the presence of a holy God (Isa. 6:1-7).

6. God’s wrath exalts the work of Christ. How easily we forget that the searing pain and scorching suffering of Christ can never be pictured by His lacerated back and the holes in His hands, feet and side. These physical pains are only a surface-level visual to the horrors of the Son drinking down the cup of God’s wrath (Mark 14:32-36 with Jer. 25:15-38). “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor. 5:21). Or to put it another way, “But he was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed” (Isa. 53:5). The Gospel is centered around God’s wrath. For in His anger towards sinners He transferred the wrath from His children onto His only Son and then crushed that only Son. Until we catch a glimpse of the horrors of God’s wrath, we will never begin to see the horror and the beauty of the Cross.

7. God’s wrath motivates evangelism. How can we be quiet? “Therefore, knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade others” (2 Cor. 5:11). The thought that sinners would rest content in self-righteousness was appalling to the Apostle Paul. All self-righteous sinners, and especially the religious, need to hear the gospel to be saved from the wrath of God. This gospel travels on the wings of preachers sent out with the self-righteous killing Gospel (Rom. 10:1-21). What loosens the mouth to speak the Gospel is a heart that has seen a glimpse of the eternal wrath awaiting sinners (Acts 17:30-31).

8. God’s wrath drives me deep into doctrine. I can only escape God’s wrath if I am justified. So what is justification? Justification is the transfer of Christ’s righteousness to me, whereby God declares me “righteous” and takes my sin and wrath and transfers these upon the account of Christ, whereby He is declared “guilty” and endures the wrath I deserve. By faith, I entrust my salvation alone to Jesus Christ, my sin is atoned, I am declared righteous, I have the hope of eternal life and enjoy peace with God (Rom. 3:9-5:21; Gal. 3:1-14; Phil. 3:1-11; 2 Cor. 5:21). If I am not justified, I am not safe from the wrath of God. “Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God” (Rom. 5:9). The wrath of God gives significance to doctrines like justification.

9. God’s wrath reveals the beauty of our adoption. We are all by nature sinners and this makes us naturally “children of wrath” (Eph. 2:3). But now the enemies of God can be reconciled to God (Rom. 5:10). We are more than justified and declared righteous, we are taken into the family of God! Through Christ, our relationship to God radically changes! By faith alone, we come back to our Father in all our filthy sinfulness and He runs to us, grabs us, kisses us, celebrates over us, and calls us His children (Luke 15:11-32). If you are justified, God has taken His judgments away from you and now sings over you with loud singing (Zeph. 3:14-17)! The wrath of God was paid in Christ and through this beautiful Gospel I am now accepted. It’s not because I am good enough or ever will be obedient enough, rather because of His graciousness alone. Every day I can wake up knowing I am a child of God and that will never depend upon my own appeasement of God. Jesus, Thank you!

Jesus, Thank You (song by Pat Sczebel, Sovereign Grace Ministries)

The mystery of the cross I cannot comprehend
The agonies of Calvary
You the perfect Holy One, crushed Your Son
Who drank the bitter cup reserved for me

Your blood has washed away my sin
Jesus, thank You
The Father’s wrath completely satisfied
Jesus, thank You
Once Your enemy, now seated at Your table
Jesus, thank You

By Your perfect sacrifice I’ve been brought near
Your enemy You’ve made Your friend
Pouring out the riches of Your glorious grace
Your mercy and Your kindness know no end

—————-

Related: Propitiation is the theological term for the appeasement of God’s wrath in Christ’s substitutionary work for sinners. Theologian John Murray writes, “Sin is the contradiction of God and he must react against it with holy wrath. Wherever sin is, the wrath of God rests upon it (cf. Rom. 1:18). Otherwise God would be denying Himself, particularly His holiness, justice, and truth. But wrath must be removed if we are to enjoy the favor of God which salvation implies. And the only provision for the removal of wrath is propitiation. This is surely the import of Romans 3:25, 26, that God set forth Christ a propitiation to declare His righteousness, that He might be just and the justifier of the ungodly.”

Humble Calvinism > Part 17 > Viewing God’s Theater (1.14)

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Part 17: Viewing God’s Theater (1.14)

After 24-inches of snow last week and 50-degree weather this week, I grabbed a book and headed to a favorite reading spot along a creek near my house. As I 01spurgeoncalvin1.jpgexpected, the water was higher and swifter than I’ve seen. The loud creek provided the perfect silence for a good book.

The edge of the swift creek was a front-row seat to view the stage of God’s majesty, a special transcendent gaze into God’s glory and power. Calvin writes, “let us not be ashamed to take pious delight in the works of God open and manifest in this most beautiful theater” (179). Yesterday was “pious delight” in God’s “theater.”

But in chapter 14 of the Institutes, Calvin reminds us that God’s “theater” is much larger than what our eyes and ears can absorb from a metal bench along a swiftly running creek. Scripture opens us to a theater of God’s works that reveal an even larger and deeper glimpse into the power and might of God. God’s creative powers fashioned the visible, and He formed the elements of this universe that are largely invisible to the natural eye.

Angels

As Calvin transitions us from God’s general revelation (what can be seen with our eyes, usually encapsulated in the study of natural sciences) into God’s special revelation (what can only be seen through Scripture by faith, usually focused on salvation) the angels often fall forgotten in the middle. They are part of creation but only ‘visible’ through special revelation. So “if we desire to recognize God from his works, we ought by no means to overlook such an illustrious and noble example” (162).

First a warning. Human speculation corrupts our understanding of angelic beings. Every generation has attempted to explain angels apart from Scripture. Paul, having been taken to the third heavens, would not even trust his own observations but pointed people to the Word of God to understand the spiritual beauties (2 Cor. 12:1-4). “Therefore, bidding farewell to that foolish wisdom, let us examine in the simple teaching of Scripture what the Lord would have us know of his angels” (165).

We know angels are real beings only because Scripture reveals them to us. They are part of God’s creation we need Scripture to help us “see.” Calvin relates this to an old man with dim eyes trying to read without his glasses (160-161). We need Scripture to make God’s creation clear. We need to pray that God would open our eyes to see these angelic beings. Calvin uses this story in 2 Kings as an example:

When the servant of the man of God rose early in the morning and went out, behold, an army with horses and chariots was all around the city. And the servant said, “Alas, my master! What shall we do?” He said, “Do not be afraid, for those who are with us are more than those who are with them.” Then Elisha prayed and said, “O Lord, please open his eyes that he may see.” So the Lord opened the eyes of the young man, and he saw, and behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha. (2 Kings 6:15-17)

We need Scripture to see God’s protection around us. Revelation of the angels is not to satisfy our vain curiosity but to provide peace and comfort that God is protecting His children. May God grant us eyes to see.

Work of angels

The majesty of God’s creation in the angels is revealed in the work and power of the angels because they “in some respect exhibit his divinity to us” (165). The angels reveal this divinity in their works as God’s messengers and as “dispensers and administrators of God’s beneficence towards us” (166). Amazingly, the angels played a central role in the transmission of the Law (Acts 7:53; Gal. 3:19; Heb. 2:2). Beyond this angels protect, defend and direct the believers just as the angels ministered to Christ (Matt. 4:11; Luke 22:43). And “to fulfill the task of protecting us, the angels fight against the devil and all our enemies, and carry out God’s vengeance against those who harm us” (166-167).

So do we have guardian angels? Maybe. Some passages, like Acts 12:15, make it sound as though each believer has one primary angel. But this conclusion is uncertain and to Calvin unnecessary. “For if the fact that all the heavenly host are keeping watch for his safety will not satisfy a man, I do not see what benefit he could derive from knowing that one angel has been given to him as his especial guardian” (167). Good point.

Don’t worship angels

The warning is this: Don’t look so highly upon angels that you begin to worship them. We’ve already seen in our study of Humble Calvinism that John Calvin forcefully turns us away from everything that dilutes our worship of God. The angels are no different.

Paul’s Epistle to the Colossians displays this caution well. Christ created all things, even the angels (Col. 1:16). Paul does this so “that we may not depart from Christ and go over to those who are not self-sufficient but draw from the same well as we” (170). The angels are just as dependent upon God for their lives as we are for ours. “How preposterous, then, it is for us to be led away from God by the angels, who have been established to testify that his help is all the closer to us! But they do lead us away unless they lead us by the hand straight to him, that we may look upon him, call upon him, and proclaim him as our soul helper” (172).

But there are angels seeking to turn us away from God.

Demons

This would be the best place to insert a discussion of our angelic enemies. Satan is a powerful deceiver of souls. He deceives in order to lead sinners away from God, away from the Gospel, and blindly into eternal judgment (Matt. 13:25). “For he opposes the truth of God with falsehoods, he obscures the light with darkness, he entangles men’s minds in errors, he stirs up hatred, he kindles contentions and combats, everything to the end that he may overturn God’s Kingdom and plunge men with himself into eternal death” (174).

“We have been forewarned that an enemy relentlessly threatens us, an enemy who is the very embodiment of rash boldness, of military prowess, of crafty wiles, of untiring zeal and haste, of every conceivable weapon and of skill in the science of warfare. We must, then, bend our every effort to this goal: that we should not let ourselves be overwhelmed by carelessness or faintheartedness, but on the contrary, with courage rekindled stand our ground in combat” (173). While Satan roams and deceives, he is allowed only to do what God sovereignly allows (Job 1:6,12; 2:1,6; 2 Thes. 2:9-11).

Conclusion

Now back to the good angels. In all of this Calvin does not want us to forget about the full theater of God’s creative power. Look to His angels and be amazed at God’s power and glory. Be amazed at His thoughtfulness, love and protective power of us through them. The angels that we see with our eyes of faith are just as real and God-glorifying as the rushing stream that exalts God through the physical eye. Don’t wait until you are on top of the Rocky Mountains to worship God in His creation. Open Scripture!

Not only do we seek to know that God is the Creator of all things but in watching the theater of His creating power we feel His goodness which affects our hearts to service and comforts us in trials. But even more important to Calvin, it’s in Scripture’s revelation of this incredible God that we find assurance that the One we worship is in fact the One True and Living God, Maker of the universe. We worship no dead idol.

Preach boldly, compassionately

From a sermon preached on Sept. 22, 1661 (Preaching of Christ) …

“Shall any man be so bold as to do what God forbids? And shall a minister be so timorous [timid] as not to speak what God commands? Shall I be afraid to offend him by doing my duty, who is not afraid to offend God by neglecting his? Shall I be afraid to save him who is not afraid to destroy himself? Or shall I be dismayed at the face and frown of a man, and neglect the wrath of God who can tear me in pieces? ‘Be not dismayed at their face,’ saith the Lord, ‘lest I confound thee before them’ (Jer. 1:17). Yet this boldness must be in a way of conviction and persuasion, without indiscretion and exasperation; that when we show our zeal against men’s sins, we may withal manifest our love to their persons, and that honor and reverend esteem which we owe to their dignities and conditions.”

Edward Reynolds (Soli Deo Gloria, 1826/2000), Works 5:349

John Owen: The excellency of genuine Christian faith

“Herein consists the excellency of faith above all other powers and acts of the soul – that it receives, assents unto, and rests in things in their own nature absolutely incomprehensible [Trinity, incarnation, Cross, etc.] … The more sublime and glorious – the more inaccessible unto sense and reason – the things are which we believe; the more are we changed into the image of God, in the exercise of faith upon them … faith which is truly divine, is never more in its proper exercise – doth never more elevate the soul into conformity unto God – than when it acts in the contemplation and admiration of the most incomprehensible mysteries which are proposed unto it by divine revelation.”

– John Owen, The Glory of Christ, Works 1:50

The silenced M’Cheyne learns humility

“July 8 [1836 diary] – Since Tuesday have been laid up with illness. Set by once more for a season to feel my unprofitableness and cure my pride. When shall this self-choosing temper be healed? ‘Lord, I will preach, run, visit, wrestle,’ said I. ‘No, thou shalt lie in thy bed and suffer,’ said the Lord. Today missed some fine opportunities of speaking a word for Christ. The Lord saw I would have spoken as much for my own honor as His, and therefore shut my mouth. I see a man cannot be a faithful minister, until he preaches Christ for Christ’s sake – until he gives up striving to attract people to himself, and seeks only to attract them to Christ. Lord, give me this!”

– Robert Murray M’Cheyne in Andrew Bonar, Memoir & Remains of Robert Murray M’Cheyne (Banner of Truth: 1844/2004), p. 45