Tuesday, November 24, 2009
Monday, November 23, 2009
God’s Honor in our Lives
You know what I love about being a dad? My son adores me, wants to be just like me, and rightly fears my displeasure. He rejoices in being my son and me being his dad and it impacts his life in what he thinks about, loves, and how he behaves. He has taken this as far as setting up his own little office complete with a binder, commentaries, and my business cards.
We as Christians have been adopted as sons of our Father in Heaven, and sometimes I question whether we really want to think about what he says is true, really love what he loves, and really behave in a manner consistent with his character. I wonder if we really adore him, want to be like him, and fear his displeasure. I see lots of people claiming to be Christians, yet few who live any differently than they did as unbelievers. Even those of us who live differently than we did as unbelievers hold to a standard of holiness based more on the progress of those around us than the model of our Father in heaven. Deep down we think things like:
- “I seem to be doing as well or better than these people, so I must be okay.”
- “I don’t watch a lot of garbage other people do, so a few movies or TV shows that glory in what is clearly sin are okay for me to enjoy.”
- “I am not committing adultery or looking at porn, so a little hint of sexual immorality isn’t too much to get worked up about.”
- “I don’t have a dirty mouth so laughing at some crude humor is not so bad.”
- “I am not rich and buying stuff all the time, so some discontent and lack of thankfulness for what I have now is reasonable.”
- “Sure, I overeat at times but I am not overweight, so let’s not get extreme about this whole gluttony thing.”
- “I am kind to most people so bitterness toward this one person is within the bounds.”
- “I read the Bible and pray more than most people I know so not regularly meditating on the Word and sometimes ceasing in prayer is not such a big deal.”
We are never really humbled and challenged to pursue true holiness because we are not looking at, and considering, and loving our Father who is holy, holy, holy! Sovereign Grace believes we should develop in love for God’s honor in our lives by understanding the privilege we have as adopted sons and by trusting, imitating, and fearing our Father. With this understanding, the Apostle Peter has given three commands we must obey if we are going to develop in love for God’s honor in our lives!
Trusting our Father’s Grace
The first command Peter gave was to hope fully in our Father’s grace. In 1 Peter 1:13, the apostle said, “Therefore, preparing your minds for action, and being sober-minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” When you are reading verse 13, you may think you are reading three commands. It appears as if “preparing your minds for action” and “being sober-minded” are both commands. Technically they are participles that are subordinate to the main command “set your hope fully.” What Peter was saying is that you are to “set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ” by “preparing your minds for action” and “being sober-minded.”
Peter’s first command in light of the gospel he presented in the first twelve verses of his letter is not an ethical command. In other words, it is not a command to serve the poor, or to avoid lying and gossip, or to abstain from sexual immorality, or to transform the culture, or to establish just government, or to forgive others. No, it is a command to set your hope fully on the grace that is to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ! Pastor and author John Piper said the following about this, “In other words God's command…is not first what you can perform for him with your strength; his command…is first that you hope in what he can perform for you with his strength.”
Christianity is the story of God seeking and saving those who are lost. It is the story of God’s sovereign and loving initiative in pursuing us who forsook him and in his giving his Son sacrificially for us; the story of God sending his Spirit to breathe life into us so we are born again and trust in him alone; the story of God hearing the constant prayers of his Son to keep us enduring in faith; the story of God giving us a written Word through which we can know him; the story of God establishing a church to gather us together to encourage one another in our growth in holiness; the story of God giving us pastors and teachers to equip us to help one another grow in holiness; the story of God promising to send his Son again to finally and fully perfect us in holiness! Christianity is the story of God’s work for us. Therefore, Christianity is not first something we do---it is first something we hope in!
Christianity is, above all, good news we receive and not good advice we follow. By way of example, look at what Peter said God did for us in the first part of 1 Peter 1:
- God elected you. v. 1-2
- God gave you new birth to a living hope. v. 3
- God is keeping an inheritance for you. v. 4
- God is giving you endurance through faith for salvation. v. 5
- God gave a prophecy of the coming Christ. v. 10-12
- God sent the Holy Spirit to preach the good news through his evangelists. v. 12
The good news is so good that Peter told us even angels long to look into it! They have been gazing on God’s holiness, majesty, glory, and beauty since the beginning of creation and yet, the Gospel is so glorious, it is such a marvelous display of the love, grace, and mercy of God, that even they long to look into it. This glorious good news leads Peter to give us the command to “set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” Grace is coming and we are to set our hope fully on it.
How do we follow this command to hope fully in grace? Peter gave 2 subordinate commands that help us obey our Father is his command to trust in his grace alone. First, we are told to prepare our minds for action. This literally means to “gird up the loins of your mind.” In the first century men would wear robes that they would need to pull up between their legs and tuck into their belts if they were going to run. They did not have undergarments and running shorts as we do. So, they would need to “gird up their loins” in order to protect themselves and prevent exposure when they ran. Peter was saying that the running of this Christian race requires us to gird up the loins of our mind.
What exactly does it look like to gird up the loins of our minds? In the context of instruction on spiritual warfare in Ephesians 6:14, Paul said, "Stand therefore, having girded your loins with truth." In other words, in order for us to hope fully in the grace of God we must continually be girded up with the truth. We must continually meditate on God’s word and specifically the promise of God’s Gospel.
Second, Peter said to be “sober-minded.” To be sober-minded means to not be drunk. He was not talking about becoming drunk with alcohol (although I am sure that would be included). He was talking about not being intoxicated with the idols of this world. He was talking about not allowing our minds to become dumbed-down and overcome by the ignorance and lies of this world. When we allow our minds to constantly be infiltrated by the value system of this world we will become intoxicated and our hope will not be fully on God’s grace.
Are you often intoxicated by entertainment, or sexual lust, or material goods, or financial success, or accolades from others, or the hope you will get married, or that your children will be well-behaved? I believe we are a people who are guilty of setting our hope partially on God’s grace and partially on what the world offers. In fact, when someone calls for a complete abandonment of intoxication with the world’s idols some Christians think they are being extreme. Let us be clear, Peter was not calling for a kind of moderation where you hope in God’s grace sometimes and other times your hope is in other areas. He called for radical and extreme obedience to the Father when he said, “set your hope fully.” We will not see real dynamic growth in holiness and the fleeing of sinful desires until we hope fully in God’s grace.
What did the apostle Paul say was his goal in this race of the Christian life? Why was Paul able to so effectively flee sinful desires and grow in holy characteristics like love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control? Paul was able to because when he was running the Christian race his eye was on the prize. His eye was on the crown of righteousness that was going to be his on that day when the Lord appeared. Paul knew that to run the race well he had to have his hope fully in God’s grace and he had to flee everything that distracted him. This is why he says in 1 Cor. 6:12, “All things are permissible for me, not all things are beneficial, although all things are permissible for me, I will not be enslaved by any.”
Whatever enslaved Paul or whatever was a distraction for him, even if those things were morally good for some people to participate in, he would forsake them. His friends might be able to read blogs on the internet, be on facebook, watch television, listen to music, read books and magazines, go shopping for clothes or items to decorate with, build up a savings account and retirement, eat ice cream, drink alcohol responsibly, pursue higher education, date for the purpose of marriage, play and watch sports, or even pastor a church, but, if those good things became ultimate things and enslaved him, if those permissible things became distractions from his ability to worship regularly, read his Bible, pray, and do everything necessary to take in the Word of God so that his hope is fully on the grace of God, then for Paul those things were sin and he would forsake them so he could run the Christian race without hindrance. Paul would even forsake them if he thought they were causing his brother in Christ to be tripped up in the race.
Imitate our Father’s Holiness
The second command Peter gave was to imitate our Father. In 1 Peter 1:14, Peter started by reminding us we are God’s children by using the phrase, “As obedient children.” He is our Father. As His children we are not to be conformed to the passions of our former ignorance, but we are to imitate our Father. Peter went on to say, “as he who called you is holy, so also be holy in all your conduct.” We are to be holy in all our thinking, attitudes, and behavior just as our Father is holy. This is what Paul says in Ephesians 5:1, when he tells us to “be imitators of God, as beloved children.” We are to separate ourselves from sin in thought, affection, and behavior. We are to be morally pure as our Father is. He is our standard. We aren’t supposed to be mostly holy but completely holy!
If our call to holiness is like a battle, then we are to be soldiers who are diligent to never get shot. Yet, we tend to approach holiness like some kind of half-witted soldiers who say, “I only want to get shot occasionally! Striving after never getting shot is just to high a standard! Not getting shot at all takes a lot of discipline! If I am going to do that, I have to always obey orders and I can’t wander off into enemy territory even though those guys can be a lot of fun!” We know this seems ridiculous but this is how we often fight the spiritual battle we are in. We want to be holy but we also want to hold on to the sin of the world we love.
If we hope to be holy as our Father is holy Peter said in v. 14 that we must not be “conformed” to our “former ignorance.” The apostle Paul said the same thing this way in Romans 12:2, “Do not to be conformed to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds.” Our minds are to rejoice in the truth. Our ignorance is a “former ignorance.” We have been enlightened. We know the truth.
However, we can be tempted to return to that former ignorance and let our minds return to that stupidity. This happens through what we take in to our minds. When we are constantly taking in error and sin our minds will be impacted and we will be desensitized to it. We will begin to not even notice our sin in some areas. The Apostle Paul provided us with a standard for what we should take into our minds and meditate on. He gave us a standard for what we are watching, or reading, or listening to, or joking about, or discussing:
Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. ---Philippians 4:8
Peter also said in v. 14 that if we are to imitate our God and Father in holiness, then we must not “be conformed” to our “former passions.” Prior to being saved we were controlled by the passions of our former ignorance. Our affections, our desires, our love, our devotion, was given over to sin. According to Ephesians 2:3, we were “dead in our trespasses and sins” and we were “children of disobedience.” But now, we are obedient children who are led by the Spirit of God and no longer enslaved to sin.
If we are to grow in holiness, we need to meditate on His Word and pray for continued help in desiring godliness and not sin. If we think that we don’t need to take action to change what we habituate into our lives, what we meditate on and love, then we are seriously mistaken.
We must remember we are dead to sin and alive to God and we must not allow sin to reign in us by returning to our old slave master. The fact is that if we fail to nurture the new desires God has given us by constantly meditating on the Word, praying, confessing and repenting of sin, seeking the encouragement of other believers, regularly worshipping, and removing competing gods from our lives, we will begin to return to that old slave master of sin! We will start to fall back into our old lusts and passions. This is why the author of Hebrews tells us not to “forsake the gathering of ourselves together” because it is when we gather for worship that we can “stir one another up to love and good deeds.”
Finally, if we are to imitate our Father in holiness we are not to be conformed to our former behaviors. Peter tells us in v. 15 that we are to be “holy” in all our “conduct.” Our behavior used to be unholy when we were living according to the passions of our former ignorance. However, as children of the Father we are to put off behaviors that are sinful and put on behaviors that are godly. We are called to obey, which includes thoughts, attitudes, and actions. We are to obey the Father’s commandments just like Jesus, the True Son, did. Some people will say that this sounds legalistic. However, Peter did not say we should obey God’s commandments as some kind of torturous drudgery that is going to earn us God’s love. Peter said we should obey them as a delight because God already loves us. In fact, Jesus said in John 15:10-11, “If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.”
Fearing our Father’s Displeasure and Discipline.
The third command Peter gave is that we need to fear our Father’s displeasure and discipline. In v. 17, Peter said, “And if you call on him as Father who judges impartially according to each one’s deeds, conduct yourselves with fear.” When Peter wrote about the Father judging us he was talking about the judgment of discipline for believers. He was addressing the fear of God that believers experience. It isn’t the terrifying fear of God’s wrath. It is the fear of grieving the Father who loved us so much. It is the fear of knowing our Father will discipline us to make us more holy and that discipline will be painful, but in the end it will be for our holiness.
Some pastors claim the concept of the fear of God is out for believers. If this is true then a whole host of passages make no sense. This passage is obviously addressed to believers as Peter began with, “if you call on him as Father” and went on in v. 18 and said, “knowing that you were ransomed.” These are not phrases used of unbelievers. The privilege of calling on God as Father is given to those who are adopted as sons through faith in Jesus Christ. Only those who believe in Jesus are ransomed. Further, the apostle Paul’s statement to “work out your salvation with fear and trembling” in Phil. 2:12 make no sense if believers are not to fear God.
We should fear our holy Father. We should fear his judgment of our sin and the ensuing discipline. We should fear displeasing such a great and holy Father. We know this kind of fear in our own experience as parents. When we love our children and discipline them for disobedience they fear us. Their fear of us is not a “cowering in the corner of their closet” kind of fear. Their fear is the fear of displeasure from us and of the discipline that follows. If we sinners are able to discipline our children in love for their good, how much more is our holy Father able to discipline us in love for our good?
A Church Developing in Delight
Ultimately, our entire pursuit of holiness and all the will come in the following chapters is what we call Developing in delight. We desire Sovereign Grace to be a church developing in her delight in God. We believe this will occur as our people trust in the Father’s grace, strive to imitate the Father’s holiness, and fear the Father’s displeasure and discipline. He is a glorious and gracious Father, so we desire to be a body that honors him as he deserves.
The Pursuit of Holiness, by Jerry Bridges
Monday, November 16, 2009
Introduction to Develop
Have you ever been called to something that you believe is greater than what you are sufficient for? Have you ever been asked to do something that just seemed overwhelming and beyond you? I remember 4 times in my life when I have realized that I am not really up to something I have been called to:
· When Teresa was walking down the aisle on our wedding day.
· When my first child, Jared, was born and I held him the first time.
· When God called me to be a youth pastor at my former church.
· When God called me to plant Sovereign Grace.
In every case, I had this startling realization of my unworthiness, my insufficiency, and my inability to live up to what I was being called to do. Then, I look at a passage like Ephesians 4:1, and I experience that all over again. Ephesians 4:1 says, “I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called.”
What is the “calling” we are to walk worthy of? In the first three chapters of Ephesians, Paul has stated several truths about the church. We have been chosen before the foundation of the world to demonstrate his glory (1:3-14). We have been blessed to receive God as our glorious inheritance (1:18). We are Christ’s body (1:23). We were made alive with Christ and are shown immeasurable grace (2:4-7). We are being made into a holy temple in which God dwells (2:19-22). We are the demonstration of God’s manifold wisdom to the universe, even the spiritual realms (3:10). So, when Paul says, “therefore, walk in a manner worthy of your calling,” he is commanding us to live consistently with something overwhelmingly glorious. We are to reflect the manifold wisdom of God and the glory of God as the body of him who fills all in all.
How do we “walk worthy” of this glorious calling? At Sovereign Grace we use the term “develop” to encapsulate what we believe Paul is calling the church to when he says to “walk worthy.” We believe there are 4 primary commitments to develop in if we are going to “walk worthy.” We plan to cover each of these commitments in the following chapters:
Chapter 6: A Commitment to develop in love for God’s honor in our lives.
Chapter 7: A Commitment to develop in love for God’s voice in his Word.
Chapter 8: A Commitment to develop in love for God’s promises in prayer.
Chapter 9: A Commitment to develop in love for God’s calling for his church.
The Holy Bible : English Standard Version. (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2001), Eph 4:1.
Wednesday, November 11, 2009
Our Responsibility to Delight
The chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy him forever.
--Westminster Shorter Catechism
During my second year as a youth pastor I was confronted with one of the most stunning biblical truths I had ever heard. It was a truth I should have known from the beginning of my Christian life. It was certainly a truth I should have known prior to becoming a pastor. This truth radically altered the way I see my walk with Jesus and my ministry as a pastor.
For many years I believed God’s glory and my happiness were competing purposes in my life. I believed my life was supposed to be lived for God’s glory and not my happiness. I believed my desire to be happy was a sin which stood in the way of my pursuit of God’s glory.
I still remember when I first discovered my misunderstanding. I was challenged by a friend to read a book by John Piper. I remember reading the first several pages in which Piper challenged his readers to rethink their view of happiness and God’s glory. He claimed that God commands our happiness to be in him and that we can’t really glorify God if we are not happy in him. He made this statement: “God is most glorified in us when we are most delighted in him.” He pointed out that enjoying God and glorifying God were not two competing goals, but one complimentary goal.
When I caught hold of this truth my view of everything was changed. I suddenly saw I should encourage people to pursue happiness, as long as it is in God. For example, I used to counsel couples that marriage is not for their happiness but for their holiness. However, I could no longer tell them that marriage is not for their happiness, but for their holiness, because they can’t grow in holiness if they are not growing in happiness in God. In fact, marriage is for their happiness if their happiness is in God. The problem is not that people pursue happiness; the problem is that too many people seek happiness, joy, delight, satisfaction, or pleasure in something or someone other than God.
Sovereign Grace believes we should be a people who pursue our delight in God. We are to rejoice or be happy in God. We believe pursuing delight in God in all things is what brings him the most glory. Therefore, we encourage our church to sing, pray, study the bible, receive communion, and give offerings as a joyful response to God. We exhort our people to see their marriages, families, careers, ministries, and free time as a pursuit of delight in God. We remind our people to see their suffering, persecution, and loss as an occasion for rejoicing in God. We delight in God in all these things because his hand has provided all of them for our good and his glory.
Delighting in God is a work he does in us and is a command we are responsible to obey. Delighting in God is mentally, emotionally, and behaviorally ascribing ultimate value and worth to God.
Paul tells us in Romans 12:2 that transformation of our lives happens through renewing our minds. He makes it clear that we will avoid being conformed to the pattern of this world through having our minds renewed. If we do not know the truth, we can’t love the truth, and we can’t behave in accordance with the truth. You can’t love what you don’t know.
Jesus explained to the Samaritan woman at the well that believers must worship God in spirit and in truth (John 4). When Jesus was praying he asked God to sanctify his disciples by the truth (John 17:17). We can only really worship God and become like God if we know the truth of who God is and what he has done. If we are delighting in some unbiblical idea of God or his work, we are not delighting in God and are giving his glory to another.
This is why our church has a doctrinal statement for members and a more exhaustive one for elders / pastors. We do so because we believe we must agree on the God in whom we delight and in the work he has done to bring about that delight! We must agree on the One in whom we delight if we are to have true unity in the church. If I allow you to delight in the wrong understanding of God and his work, I am doing you the disservice of depriving you of the truths which will bring you the most joy and God the most glory. This is why Paul tells us to speak the truth in love to one another in Ephesians 4:15. Paul desires us to keep one another from falling prey to false doctrine because he wants to prevent our growth in holiness from being stunted---which simultaneously robs us of joy, and God of glory.
We believe it is necessary to require our members to affirm a congregational doctrinal statement. We believe holding fast the truths of the faith is essential to a common understanding of God and his work, as well as, to true unity in mind, heart, and mission in Christ’s church. Any teaching that contradicts what is affirmed in this body only serves to promote division and factions. We desire to have a body that is of one mind, maturing in Christ, and pursuing mission together. God’s word is clear that truth is the basis of unity (John 17:17-21; Romans 15:4-6; Ephesians 4:11-6; 1 Timothy 4:6, 16; 2 Timothy 2:1-2, 3:14-4:8) and error is the basis of division in God’s church (Romans 16:17-18; 1 Timothy 1:3-5; 2 Timothy 2:14-19; Titus 1:9-14, 3:8-11). Therefore, Sovereign Grace has a basic doctrinal statement that we ask all members to affirm as a basis for our unity and mission as a church. We believe this doctrinal statement affirms doctrines that are necessary to be considered a Christian church. 
We require an even more expansive doctrinal agreement among our elders and deacons at Sovereign Grace than we do of our members. We do not believe it is healthy or productive for our leaders to hold to a theological position that only includes what is necessary to be a Christian church. We believe it is necessary for the leaders of the church to be in agreement on issues that will effect the teaching, practices, and policies of our church specifically. Therefore, we have an expanded set of doctrinal commitments for the following reasons:
1. For the purpose of maintaining unity in ministry philosophy and direction.
2. For the purpose of keeping our pastors on mission, rather than being bogged down in endless debates about doctrines that effect the operation of the church.
3. For the purpose of giving our body confidence as to what the broader doctrinal convictions of the church are.
4. For the purpose of honoring Christ in consistently teaching what we believe is biblically true and profitable for the body.
You can know the truth about God and not love God. In his classic book, Knowing God, JI Packer started by arguing we can know about God without knowing God. Sovereign Grace believes we need to know God with our affections and not just our minds. What I am referring to here are your desires, motivations, or feelings. Our desires need to be for all God is for us through Christ. We should love nothing more. We should be daily rejoicing in God! This is a biblical command.
When our minds are meditating on the truths of who God is for us through Christ, our affections or feelings for God will follow. This is difficult because many people struggle with the idea that God commands our emotions. We don’t want to believe God commands our emotions because we cannot always control them. It is true! We cannot always control our emotions! Yet, God still commands them. He tells us in Phil. 4:4, “rejoice always.” We are continually commanded to rejoice. This should drive us to thankfulness for grace, and dependence upon the Holy Spirit in our obedience. If I cannot always control the way I feel yet I am commanded to rejoice in God always, I am always radically dependent on the grace of God in Christ. I am continually reminded I need the Holy Spirit to engender this in me. Therefore, Sovereign Grace encourages our church not only to read Scripture, but to meditate on the Word. We encourage our church to sing with exuberance and be constantly telling one another what we are thankful for as God’s children.
Out of our right thinking and right emotions, we behave in a manner that demonstrates our love for all God is for us through Christ. For example, when we know people in sexual sin we often tell them to repent of their sexual immorality without addressing the heart issues behind it. When we do this we fail to deal with the issue of where their delight or worship is. Instead of dealing with the real issue, we are dealing with a symptom of the underlying problem. We are neglecting to deal with the delight or worship problem. Our sin demonstrates what we delight in.
Sovereign Grace believes we need to be a church that does not just help one another overcome sinful behavior but that we need to challenge one another to assess what the worship problem is that is driving our behavior. Our primary vehicle through which we encourage one another in these ways is small groups. Our goal in small groups is to help one another examine ourselves without excessive introspection, to rejoice in the grace and love of God without underestimating our own sin, and to help one another approach our lives with the understanding that God is for us! Therefore, in the context of our small groups we ask each other 3 questions:
1. What are the evidences of grace you see in your life? What is God doing in your life, your family, or in the church that you are thankful for?
2. What sins do you have to confess? What behaviors or attitudes have you been struggling with that are sinful?
3. What counsel do you need in your life? Is there any area of your life in which we can counsel you with the Word?
In the next 2 sections we will focus on developing in holiness and declaring God’s glorious gospel. Develop and Declare really spring from our responsibility to Delight. We are going to explore each in some depth. For now, we want you to understand that develop is the means by which we grow in our delight in God and declare is the end toward which our growth in delight is moving.
Knowing God, by JI Packer
The Christian Life, Sinclair Ferguson
 First I read, “Let the Nations be Glad” which caused me to pick up “Desiring God.”
 We divide doctrines into 3 categories:
Primary: What we believe is necessary to be a Christian church. These doctrines are included in our membership statement of faith.
Secondary: What we believe is necessary to maintain unity in leadership in a local church. We require our leaders to subscribe to the 2nd London Baptist Confession of Faith (with minor annotations and revisions) and the Danvers Statement on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood. We may require additional secondary doctrines for leaders as we encounter new error or doctrinal winds that create disunity in our leadership team.
Tertiary: What we believe can be disagreed upon in the local church and yet mission not be hindered and unity not be threatened.
 Please see our elder doctrinal commitments at www.bakersfieldchurch.org.
Saturday, November 7, 2009
God moves in a mysterious way
His wonders to perform;
He plants His footsteps in the sea
And rides upon the storm.
Deep in unfathomable mines
Of never failing skill
He treasures up His bright designs
And works His sov’reign will.
Ye fearful saints, fresh courage take;
The clouds ye so much dread
Are big with mercy and shall break
In blessings on your head.
Judge not the Lord by feeble sense,
But trust Him for His grace;
Behind a frowning providence
He hides a smiling face.
His purposes will ripen fast,
Unfolding every hour;
The bud may have a bitter taste,
But sweet will be the flow’r.
Thursday, November 5, 2009
Monday, November 2, 2009
We believe the Spirit of God is the only effectual minister (1 Cor. 2:12-16), and that we are completely dependent upon him to bear any fruit in ministry (2 Cor. 4:3-7).
I still remember the beginning of my 2nd semester of my sophomore year of college like it was yesterday. I remember sitting in the financial aid office in tears because I could no longer afford to pay my tuition and fees. I sat there stunned that my college career seemed to be over. When I went away to college I had plenty of money to cover my tuition and fees. But, in the course of my first year and a half, I managed to blow most of those funds. I wanted to continue in college but I did not have what was required to stay. I lacked the funds.
As the director of financial aid explained to me that I did not have the required money necessary to enroll for the semester, I started to tear up and asked what I could do to come up with the money as classes were starting that day. He responded that I needed far too much money to come up with it at the last minute. Then he told me to wait just a minute while he checked on something. After a few minutes he returned to his desk and told me the college was going to pay the remaining cost so I could continue in school. I was grateful and thankful. I was never more aware of what it means to be dependent on someone else and never more thankful that someone else provided for my need.
In many ways, the Christian life is parallel to this. God commands us to delight in him. He commands us to rejoice, exult, and be satisfied in him above all else. He commands us to trust and to obey. He commands our external works, our attitudes and our emotions! God commands us to be holy as he is holy. He commands us to be joyful always, pray without ceasing, and give thanks in all circumstances.
When we see the overwhelming and impossible nature of God’s commands we are reminded that we should be thankful Jesus was perfect in our place and penalized in our place, so that we can be forgiven and declared righteous (obedient). God has done everything so that there is only one command left to obey. All that is left for us to do is trust in Jesus. All that is left is for us to open our blind eyes and deaf ears and believe the gospel of Jesus Christ. All that is left is for us to wake up from spiritual death and believe the gospel. All that is left is for us to turn our hearts of stone into hearts of flesh and believe the gospel.
However, the one thing left for us to do is also an impossible task for us to accomplish. The one command left for us to obey is an impossible command for us to obey. God has still left us with a requirement that we can’t meet! Thus we are completely dependent on God because we have the fundamental need of God working in us to give us new desires and a new heart. We need God to give us new life from spiritual death. We need him to open our blinded eyes and deaf ears. The good news is that God has provided for this requirement in the person and work of the Holy Spirit.
Sovereign Grace is a Spirit-dependent church because we believe that apart from the work of the Holy Spirit we can’t trust God, repent of our sins, or obey God. We can’t give ourselves new life, or change our hearts, or open our blinded eyes. We can’t even really know the love of God. The Holy Spirit is the One who does this work in us. He gives us new spiritual life (Ephesians 2:1-4). He opens our blind eyes to see the truth of the gospel (2 Corinthians 4:1-6). He changes our hearts (Ezekiel 36:25-27). He pours out the love of God into our hearts (Romans 5:5). He gives us the gift of faith (Philippians 1:29; Ephesians 2:8). He gives us the gift of repentance (2 Timothy 2:24-25).
In other words, God provides what he commands in the person and work of the Holy Spirit. We cannot believe in all God is for us through Jesus apart from the work of the Holy Spirit! We may know God intellectually apart from the Holy Spirit, but we can never trust him and delight in him without the Holy Spirit.
Yet even as believers we are radically dependent upon the Holy Spirit! As those who are believers and who are born again, God has commanded us to delight in him, develop in holiness, and declare him to the nations. God has also provided his Spirit to indwell and empower us to keep these commands. While believers certainly must put forward effort to grow in our delight in God, we will not and cannot do it apart from the empowering work of the Holy Spirit. We should work out our salvation with fear and trembling while remembering that it is God who is at work in us both to will and to do his good pleasure (Philippians 2:12-13).
The Bible lists several ways the Spirit is active in our delight or worship of God:
- The Spirit inspired the Word that tells us of God and his work through Jesus (2 Tim. 3:14-16).
- The Spirit convicts us of sin, righteousness, and judgment (John 16:8-11)
- The Spirit testifies of Jesus (John 15:26, John 16:13-14).
- The Spirit illumines our minds so we understand the Word (Eph. 1:17-18 cf. 1 Cor. 2:14)
- The Spirit pours out God’s love into our hearts (Romans 5:5).
- The Spirit enables us to believe and delight in God (Romans 2:29. Titus 3:5,1 Cor. 12:13).
- The Spirit testifies to us that we are children of God (Romans 8:16).
- The Spirit causes us to cry out to God as our Father (Galatians 4:4-6).
- The Spirit guarantees our inheritance (Eph. 1:13-14)
- The Spirit empowers us to obey (Gal. 3:3), and grow in sanctification (Phil. 2:13, 2 Cor. 3:18),
- The Spirit empowers us to serve in the body (1 Cor. 12:7).
- The Spirit prays for us (Romans 8:26-27).
- The Spirit empowers our witness (Acts 1:8).
- The Spirit resurrects and glorifies us (1 Cor. 15:42-49).
Means of Grace
It is because of our dependence on the Holy Spirit that we rely on God’s gracious provision for effective ministry. God has provided means for his church to employ for her to delight, develop, and declare. In a world in which evangelical churches are trying every means possible to win people to Christ and disciple them, we are convicted that focusing on the means provided in Scripture is both necessary and sufficient to these ends. What are the means God has given to his church?
We believe the following constitute the means God has provided:
1. Bible-saturated ministry:
We believe God’s Word is our only authority for faith and practice. We also believe it is sufficient for our all our ministry endeavors. This is why we preach the Bible book by book, practice counseling that is biblically defined, regulate our worship service by the dictates of Scripture, train and appoint leaders who can teach sound doctrine and refute those who contradict, exercise church discipline according to the principles of Scripture, and proclaim the gospel to unbelievers by relying on the Spirit to use the Word to change hearts.
2. Promise-dependent Prayer:
If we truly believe we are dependent totally on God, then we must also be a church who prays constantly. We believe God has given us prayer as a gift by which we can approach our Father and ask him to keep his Word. God is never more honored in prayer than when we trust his word and ask him to fulfill it. In prayer, we are not asking him to keep his promises because we distrust him, but because we acknowledge he never lies and never breaks promises. Thus, we ask him to provide for our needs because he says he will. We ask him to work through His Word to change men’s hearts because he says he will. We ask him to help us when we are tempted, sustain us when we are suffering, and keep us from falling away, because he says he will. We ask him to raise up people to take the gospel to the lost and to build his church because he says he will. We ask him to return soon because he says he will.
3. Regular participation in the ordinances:
We believe God has provided two biblical signs of his grace to us in the gospel of Jesus Christ. We believe both of these signs are required practiced in the church because both edify the church. Since they are both commanded we call them ordinances. The first ordinance is baptism. Sovereign Grace believes baptism in water is the initiation ordinance into the church. When someone comes to faith in Christ we baptize them in water as a visible picture of God’s gracious work of giving them new life and including them in the church. The second ordinance is communion. We believe communion is the confirming ordinance of the church. Every Sunday we encourage believers to participate in communion together. This is the time when we eat bread and drink juice as a visible picture of Jesus body having been broken and blood having been poured out on the cross for our sins. We practice this regularly as a constant encouragement to our church of God’s gracious provision of the gospel.
Thus Sovereign Grace…
We are exceedingly thankful for God’s sovereign grace in the gospel. The name of our church is a constant reminder that we were once a people who did not and could not delight in God, but to whom God sovereignly determined to be gracious. We were once a people who delighted in idols of our own making. We were a people who were condemned to suffer the wrath of God for our sin of delighting in someone or something else. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved. Our name reflects the biblical truth that the Father planned to save us and give us the gift of delight in God, the Son accomplished salvation for us so we could delight in God, and the Holy Spirit applied salvation to us so we would delight in God. However, we are responsible to receive this gracious gift of delight in God through Jesus by the Holy Spirit, which is the subject of our next chapter.
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