Saturday, January 23, 2016

Is Christ's death an "offer" of forgiveness? ... if conditions are met?

I've heard it said that Jesus came to die, but only those who deny themselves, and identify with Him in cross-bearing, are the ones who receive his salvation.

The gospel:  How unconditional should it be?

Audio: 2 min. 47 sec.  (If audio does not show, click on the individual post title.)

Audio link for smartphones: Audio Link

Who is this God with whom we have to do? And what manner of God is He? Is He a God who comes to sinners lost and broken, and brings to them conditions by which they may be saved? Or is He a God who deals with men on the basis of free, unmerited, unearned grace?

You see the Pharisees preached that men could be saved if they met conditions. And Jesus preached that He would save those who could meet no conditions. Jesus' message was, "oh every one who thirsts come to the waters". And he who has no money, come buy and eat, come buy wine and milk without money and without price. Unconditional grace from an unconditional God.

You see, what had happened amongst these men, in the early decades of the 18th century, was this ... They had mastered the pattern by which grace works. They knew their confession of faith forwards and backwards and upside-down. And yet while they were familiar with the pattern by which grace works, and had mastered it, they had never really been mastered by the grace of God in the gospel, in their hearts.

Why is that so significant for us in the pastoral ministry? ... For this reason ... Because men who have only a conditional offer of the gospel will have only a conditional gospel. The man who has only a conditional gospel knows only conditional grace. And the man who knows only conditional grace knows only a conditional God. And the man who has only a conditional God will have a conditional ministry to his fellow man. And at the end of the day he will only be able to give his heart, and his life, and his time, and his devotion to his people on condition.

And he will love and master the truths of the great doctrines of grace, but until grace in God himself masters him, the grace that has mastered him will never flow from him to his people.

-- Sinclair Ferguson

Friday, January 15, 2016

The gospel is unconditional

Audio: 1 min. 15 sec.  (If audio does not show, click on the individual post title.)

Audio link for smartphones:  Audio Link

It has always been a danger in reformed thinking and preaching that we express the gospel in such a way that men have to merit grace by a degree of conviction experience. At the end of the day that is to make the offer of Christ conditional. When Christ bids all men to come and believe in Him freely and fully.

In His gracious providence God mightily uses conviction of sin in various ways and to various degrees to bring men and women to His Son. But He never bids us to go to preach conviction of sin as the warrant of faith.  He bids us go and freely offer Jesus Christ and all His sufficiency as the warranty of faith to any man to come and bow before Him as a suppliant penitent, and believe in the Lord Jesus Christ. Conviction of sin is never a condition for the free offer of the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.

--Sinclair Ferguson

As [Paul] describes our dead condition before conversion, he realizes that dead people can’t meet conditions. If they are to live, there must be a totally unconditional and utterly free act of God to save them. This freedom is the very heart of grace.

What act could be more one-sidedly free and non-negotiated than one person raising another from the dead! This is the meaning of grace.

-- John Piper

Saturday, January 9, 2016

What was it that fueled our first love?

"But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first."
(Rev. 2:4)

What was it that fueled our first love?

If we lose the first love we will find ourselves in serious spiritual peril. 
Sometimes we make the mistake of substituting other things for it. We become active in the service of God ecclesiastically; we become active evangelistically and in the process measure spiritual strength in terms of increasing influence.  But no position, influence, or involvement can expel love for the world from our hearts. Indeed, they may be expressions of that very love. 
Others of us make the mistake of substituting the rules of piety for loving affection for God. Such disciplines have an air of sanctity about them, but in fact they have no power to restrain the love of the world. The root of the matter is in my heart
It is all too possible, in these different ways, to have the form of genuine godliness without its power. Only love for Christ, with all that it implies, can squeeze out the love of this world. 
How can we recover a new affection for Christ and his kingdom? What was it that created that first love in any case? Do you remember? It was our discovery of Christ’s grace in the realization of our own sin.  
Forgiven much, we loved much. We rejoiced in the hope of glory, in suffering, even in God himself. Christ, grace, Scripture, prayer, fellowship, service, living for the glory of God ... all filled our vision and seemed so large, so desirable that other things by comparison seemed to shrink in size and become bland to the taste. 
The way in which we maintain “the expulsive power of a new affection” is the same as the way we first discovered it. Only when grace is still “amazing” to us does it retain its power in us. Only as we retain a sense of our own profound sinfulness can we retain a sense of the graciousness of grace. 
And there is no right living that lasts without it.

-- Sinclair Ferguson
link to full essay

This preacher dovetails Ferguson's words so well on how the gospel fuels our ability to love:

Audio: 3 min. 45 sec.  (If audio does not show, click on the individual post title.)

Audio link for smartphones:  Audio Link

The law comes with the power of coercion, it comes with the power of fear, and of punishment. And it says essentiall this:

Do these things and you will live. So in other words, if you will: Love God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength, and you will live.

But never in a million years can mere external force, mere commandment, produce that. The gospel comes along different (gospel means good news), and it says not, do these things and live, but it comes along totally free, totally unilateral and says:

Done! ... Now you will be able to live.

[But] we are very uncomfortable with the freeness of that gospel of grace. But unless you get that freeness, you'll never be able to understand the power the gospel.  You'll never be able to understand the power of love.
I'm just reading [Chalmer's] here: The freer the gospel, the more sanctifying is the gospel. And the more that it is received as a doctrine of grace, the more that it will be felt as a doctrine according to godliness. This is one of the secrets of the christian life.

What he means by secret is that this is absolutely, utterly counter-intuitive. You would think that the more the gospel came at you and said:

You better do these things. You better be a godly person. You better start obeying the law.

The more you would be motivated to do it. [For] Chalmers, [he's] right on. He's right in line with Paul. He says, "No". It's the exact opposite of that. The freer the gospel, the more sanctifying its force. The more gracious the gospel, the more a power for godliness it is in our life. In the gospel (he goes on), we so behold God, as we may love God. It is there, and there only, where God stands revealed as an object of confidence to sinners. And where our desire after Him is not chilled into apathy by the barrier of human guilt. For this purpose the freer it is the better it is.

That very peculiararity, which so many dread as the germ of antinomianism, that is, lawlessness ... You know, that idea where we can preach grace, we can preach the grace of the gospel, but you still need to tell people [that] they've got to be good people, or ... you won't be as good a christian as other christians if you're not (you know) living up to all these standards and keeping up with all these things. 
... and Chalmer's says, "No, Absolutely not". We know of no other way by which to keep the love of the world out of our hearts than to keep in our hearts the love of God. And there's no other way by which to keep our hearts in the love of God than by building ourselves on the gospel of grace.

You can't even begin to really obey the law until you have no fear of punishment from the law. Listen to John, in 1st John 4: By this love is perfected in us, so that we may confidence in the day of judgement.  Confidence in the day of judgement!?  What could be more terrifying than standing before all mighty God as the judge of the universe who knows, not only the things that you've done externally, but your thoughts?

[John] says: There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves punishment, and the one who fears has not been perfected in love. (And then he says). We love BECAUSE He first loved us. You see? There's the power of love.