Saturday, September 27, 2014

Part 3: In a letter, to my daughter, after a sermon.

Audio: 1 min. 2 sec.

But Jesus said to him, "No one, after putting his hand to the plough and looking back is fit for the kingdom of heaven." So what is Jesus saying? What is he trying to do? He's trying to drive home a key component of true faith, and it's this... You can't follow Christ without giving up your life.

And right in the middle of it is a cost-benefit analysis. Do you see it? He's really saying don't go down this path if you're not really willing to pay the cost. Calculate the cost. Make sure you're really willing to pay the price that is necessary in order to be my follower. This isn't a time to be flippant, or glib, or impulsive. This is a time to be very thoughtful. And make sure that you're really willing to do this. You see, you can't follow Christ ... there's no reward of resurrection ... without giving up your own life. That's true faith.

Dear E.,

It is true that many of the words of Jesus are hard sayings indeed. And yet, perhaps He is describing less how we are to rise to the occasion, and desires more for us to understand just how unfit we really are. And that's a good thing. It drives us, with nothing to offer and nowhere else to go, ... to Him.

You've probably heard the saying, "don't put the cart before the horse". When we hear words that describe a "key component of true faith", it is important not to think of these components of faith as something we are supposed to generate or procure beforehand to make us fit to come to God. Faith is a gift from God, it is not the result of a cost-benefit analysis.

Instead of fumbling with more words of my own, I leave you once more with better words from Charles Spurgeon:

"I would like to make this very plain. ... It does at first seem most amazing to an awakened man that salvation should really be for him as a lost and guilty one. He thinks that it must be for him as a penitent man, forgetting that his penitence is a part of his salvation.

'Oh,' says he, 'but I must be this and that,' -- all of which is true, for he shall be as the result of salvation; but salvation comes to him before he has any of the results of salvation. It comes to him, in fact, while he deserves only this bare, beggarly description ... "ungodly". That is all he is when God's gospel comes to justify him.

May I, therefore, urge upon any who have no good thing about them -- who fear that they have not even a good feeling, or anything whatsoever that can recommend them to God -- that they will firmly believe that our gracious God is able and willing to take them without anything to recommend them, and to forgive them spontaneously, not because they are good, but because He is good.

Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners: forgiveness is for the guilty. Do not attempt to touch yourself up and make yourself something other than you really are; but come as you are to Him who justifies the ungodly."

All is grace,

Thursday, September 25, 2014

In a letter, to my daughter, after a sermon. (Part 2)

Audio: 41 sec.

"So here's the question ... What's the going price for a happy resurrection? Now the bible consistently answers that question with one word, Faith. But what is faith? How do I recognize if I have true faith? True faith is not cheap. No, true faith is very costly.

So what's the key word here in Peter's call? ... Repent. Right away we see something of faith's nature in that word, don't we. For the apostles often use repentance as a synonym for faith."

Dear E.,

It is certainly true that faith and repentance go hand in hand. To quote Charles Spurgeon once more, he says:
"Repentance goes well, side by side with believing. If I were asked whether a man repented first, or believed first, I should reply, 'Which spoke in a wheel moves first when the wheel starts?' When Divine life is given to a man, these two things are sure to come — repentance and faith."

And yet, we must be very careful not to think of repentance as a kind of sacrifice, or payment that we offer in order to secure God's mercy.

As I have shared in the past, John Piper makes this important distinction between faith and repentance.  Repentance must never be viewed as something we bring to the table as a qualification for God's blessing:

Audio: 30 sec.

"Faith is the peculiarly receiving grace, which none other is.  Were we said to be justified by repentance, by love, [or] by any other grace, it would convey to us the idea that something good in us is the consideration on which the blessing was bestowed."

And yet I'd like to suggest that even Piper might be missing an important quality of repentance here. He seems to characterize repentance as a positive virtue that represents "something good in us". I would suggest that repentance is not defined by what it offers, but rather it is better defined as being born out of the essence of our emptiness. It is only best understood in the context of what we lack, not what we bring. It is the receiving of Christ into our emptiness that germinates repentance in our being. Let's consider Spurgeon's words again to help us better understand repentance:

There are some who think that repentance is a preparation for Grace. They hope they shall receive the Grace of God if they repent. There are others who think that repentance is a qualification for faith in Christ.

“Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.” The only qualification a physician seeks in his patient is that he is sick. The qualification for imparting His fullness is your emptiness — that is all!

The ground of a man’s belief that he is saved is not that he repents, but that he has trusted Jesus Christ, who is able to save him, and that God has declared that whoever trusts Christ is saved!

Nothing is to be trusted but the finished work of Jesus Christ upon Calvary’s bloody tree! No feelings, no emotion, no believing, no conversion, even, must ever be put into the place of that one eternal Rock of refuge. Cast your guilty self on Christ and rest there, for there alone can you find salvation!

Learn this lesson — not to trust Christ because you repent, but trust Christ to make you repent — not to come to Christ because you have a broken heart, but to come to Him that He may give you a broken heart — not to come to Him because you are fit to come, but to come to Him because you are unfit to come! You are to be nothing, in fact, and to come to Christ as nothing — and when you so come, then will repentance come!

We do not repent in order to be saved, but we repent because we are saved. We do not loathe sin and, therefore, hope to be saved, but, because we are saved, we therefore loathe sin and turn altogether from it.

Now, dear seeking Soul, do you see the tack to go upon? Your business is to believe in Christ Jesus just as you are and to trust Him to save you — and then to believe what the Word of God says concerning those who trust in Jesus, namely, that they are saved, forgiven, loved of God and at peace with Him. Do you believe that? As you believe it, you will feel, “My heart melts under a sense of this superlative love. Now I can and do repent of sin — the very thing which seemed impossible to me before.”

Finally, Pastor Fisk concurs:

All is grace,

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

In a letter. To my daughter. After a sermon. (Part I)

Audio: 34 sec.

Most of us understand the cost-benefit concept. And it boils down to a simple question ... Is the benefit (the reward) worth the cost? Every decision that you make, every day of your lives, is controlled by that idea.  Now last week we said that the resurrection is the cornerstone of our hope. So here's the question ... What's the going price for a happy resurrection?

Dear E.,

On Sunday, we heard a sermon together that began with the words above. As I've pondered them, I'd like to share with you some of what's been stirring in my heart. Yes, in a very real sense, it is true that every decision you make, every day of your life, will be controlled by weighing the costs and the benefits as they apply to you.

And yet, on a deeper level, I keep coming back to this question: Does this cost-benefit idea really best describe the method by which we "lay hold" of salvation? Perhaps a cost-benefit approach is less a feature of our awakening, and more a feature of our brokenness. Perhaps it best describes our lot in life as fallen creatures who are in bondage to our own selfish desires. Since the time of Adam and Eve, hasn't our sin centered around having our own view of what's best for "ME", and then acting on it as a way of having control?

I do not say that the words we heard are "wrong". The benefits of faith are real, but perhaps in this case discernment has a bigger role to play. A great preacher named Charles Spurgeon once defined discernment this way: "Discernment is not knowing the difference between right and wrong. It is knowing the difference between right and almost right."

One of the problems of a cost-benefit model is that it characterizes every decision as a "means to an end". My choice ends up nothing more than the means by which I get what benefits me in my own eyes. And yet, do you remember what Paul says in 1st Corinthians, chapter 13?  "Love does not insist on its own way"(RSV). Love "seeketh not her own"(KJV). There you have it. Love, as described here, does not operate as a means to obtain a beneficial end for the self. It seeks something "other".

We catch a glimpe of this even in the ordinary blessings of life.  There will hopefully come a time in your own life when your love for your husband, or your love for your children, will cause you to think and act in ways that have very little regard for yourself. And for a few moments your heart will not entertain even a hint of a cost-benefit analysis. You will see your loved ones in an "other" centered light, not as a means to an end, but as ones who, each in their own right, are ... PRECIOUS.

So love is not bound by the laws of the cost-benefit model. And what's many times hard to grasp is ... neither is the gospel and the salvation that it proclaims. If I could be granted one wish with regard to the gospel and my children it would be this ... that they might fully receive the gospel, not as a means to an end, but as a finished promise that is PRECIOUS in their sight.

Faith is trust in someone "other".  It is not a means by which we lay hold of a benefit. We walk by this trust and not by sight. It is the very substance of what is hoped for, not the prerequisite cost for securing what is in reality a free gift.

There are places in the bible where we catch a glimpse or two of how the gift of God, "the cornerstone of our hope", transcends a cost-benefit view of life. I offer you these few:

"In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the expiation for our sins."  (1 John 4:10)

"We love, because he first loved us."  (1 John 4:19)

"And you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free."  (John 8:32)

"We know that in everything God works for good with those who love him, who are called according to his purpose."  (Romans 8:28)

"I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate."  (Romans 7:15)

"For I know that nothing good dwells within me, that is, in my flesh. I can will what is right, but I cannot do it. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do."  (Romans 7:18-19)

In closing, permit me to state one last time that one of the most precious truths of the gospel is that Christ is not a means to an end. George W. Peters says it well I think:

"Salvation is not a detached gift of God in some gracious and miraculous way bestowed upon man. Salvation is Christ, and to experience salvation is to experience Christ. It is not the experience of something, but of someone.

The Bible does not teach that Christ has salvation and dispenses it like a benevolent master giving gifts to his servants who obey him. Christ is our salvation and gives Himself to us as our salvation. He is our life; He is our strength; He is our peace; He is our joy; He is our wisdom, righteousness, sanctification and redemption."

All is grace,

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Free will. It's UP TO ME. Or is it?

I attended a sermon on Sunday which reminded me that words alone on the topic of "free will", while defendable and containing much truth, can be approached with differing emphasis that appear to conflict.  Sometimes the wonders of the Good News involve subtleties.  I begin with words from Sunday's sermon, followed by more words for your discernment.

Audio: 2:06 min.

And God already knew that they weren't going to listen to Him.  He was going to preach to call them to covenant renewal, to faithfulness, to repentance from their sins.  That's what the gospel always calls for.  It says come back to God, which means turn from your sins.  The gospel call, the covenant call, is always a call to repent.  God's way is the way of righteousness.  You always have to turn from your sins to come to God.  To come to Christ.

I'm pleading with you this morning.  Some of you get lost in this idea because you're Calvinist kids like my kids are.  So you've been raised to understand that God's sovereign over everything and then you've become confused to think that God must be to blame for everything.  And you're all mixed up about your own sin.  The bible's just plain.  The bible doesn't neglect the obvious.  God is making an obvious offer of life for all who will believe.

And God is sending out messengers like me, and some better than me, to plead with you to stop it, to listen, to give your life to Jesus Christ, to receive the free gift, to know forgiveness of sins, to know the freedom that comes in Christ.  All you have to do is believe.  Hear, believe.  Faith comes by hearing, hearing by the word of Christ.

Don't blame God, but wake up.  Would you wake up this morning, and put your faith in Christ.  Some of you are still in desperate need and right this moment God is causing me to offer grace to you.  Do you hear that?  Right this moment, God is extending a kind hand to you.  Far from being to blame for you situation, God's trying to lift you out of it, right now.  Right this second, Jesus is opening His arms to you through the gospel, and I'm telling you, as the bible plainly says, it's up to you to believe it, or not.

Just like it was up to the Jews who walked away that day, it's up to you ... to come to Christ, and I call you to Him.


Audio: 1:30 min.

Well God has offered Christ, but we have to accept Him.  God has put Christ forward, but we have to believe in Him. God has put Christ out there, He's put the parts in place but we have to assemble it, and make it our own.  Well that of course is exactly wrong.

So Luther drives it home.  When it comes to the work of God, the very power of God to create faith, I believe that I can't believe it.  By my own reason or effort I cannot believe in my Lord Jesus Christ or come to Him.

If we believe at all in Christ as our savior, if we have any hope in Him, if we have any faith ... It is not because we've sized Him up and decided He's worth the effort.  It's not because we've taken the bits and pieces of the story of salvation that God has laid on the table and managed to assemble them in such a way that now they fit for us.  It's because the Holy Spirit has reached into our hearts and minds somewhere along the life that we've been living, and has called out of us trust and faith even against ourselves.

And so, with great freedom and courage and honesty, Luther gives us the language to say I believe that I can't believe.  I know this is true.  I see it evidenced in my life every single day.  As I take up the business of god-hood and deity into my own hands and take charge of my own affairs, often at the expense of my neighbor.


Audio: 4:16 min.

So again, election is the loving choice by God the Father to give to His son a bride, the church.  But now our question is this.  What is the basis of that choice?  Is it conditioned on something man is or does?  Or is it unconditional, dependent on God alone?

Election is not based on what man does.  God's choice had nothing to do with what they did.  The twins were not even born.  They hadn't done anything good or bad.  That means they didn't enter into the equation at all.  That's what it's saying.  You see, it's based on God's pleasure, on God's prerogative.  Look again at verse 16, chapter 9, "So then, it does not depend on the man who wills or the man who runs, but on God, who has mercy."  This is dependent on God.  Salvation is dependent on God, not man.

A sinner cannot believe in Christ.  Because he's enslaved.  He's imprisoned. You see, when Adam sinned, he lost his free will.  He lost his ability to choose Christ.  He and his posterity became slaves to sin, that's why it says there's none who does good.  And he can't even believe the gospel.  This moral impotence extends all the way to his ability to receive Christ.  And thus man's fallen nature in Adam requires God's initiative.  Lest no one be saved.  And that initiative is the election of grace.

God is omni-everything. And therefore He's omni, or all sovereign, even in the matter of salvation.  No one resists His will.  He decides, unilaterally, on whom to have mercy, and whom to reject.  He is the sovereign potter, who does with the clay as He wishes, and we must be content and submissive to that.

God gave His son to redeem sinners, out of His great love, and it all boils down (so it seems and so it is) to one's willingness to believe in Him.  Now here's the UN-biblical assumption:  Man must therefore have the freedom to believe.  If the gift is predicated on his believing, doesn't it seem to follow that man must have the freedom to take that gift.  It would seem that way, but the bible says 'NO'.  God does promise eternal life to all who will believe, but none are able to believe.  And it's not because of election, it's because of sin.  God's electing love is actually the key that unlocks the cell of moral impotence, and marks sinners as recipients of that quickening ray from heaven, and always in the context of the hearing of the gospel.

So if you're here this morning, and you don't know Christ, and you've been tempted to hide behind the doctrine of election.  Oh let's get rid of that excuse right now. And let's not view election as a foe.  Election is a friend. Do you realize, dear sinner, if you're outside of Christ, there's not a chance in the world that you can believe of your own.  You are lost.  You are impotent.  You are morally bankrupt.  I might as well go try and dunk the ball in today's basketball session.  I can't do it, and you can't believe the gospel.


Audio: 1:15 min.

Whereas faith, biblically understood, connotes an empty receiving, an empty-handed receiving.  Out there is the virtue I need, not in here.  I'm the problem, that's the solution.  Faith welcomes the solution.  That's all it is.

God intends to make it crystal clear the He does the decisive saving outside of us.  That the work and person of Christ are the sole ground of our acceptance with God.  In other words, don't replace faith with any other virtue, because faith is tailor made to say, all I need as the ground of my salvation is out there.

Faith is the peculiarly receiving grace, which none other is.  Were we said to be justified by repentance, by love, [or] by any other grace, it would convey to us the idea that something good in us is the consideration on which the blessing was bestowed.