Belgic Confession 24: On Sanctification

In this series we had previously looked at Articles 21,22 and 23 of the Belgic Confession. These 3 articles surveyed the Atonement, the Rigtheousness of Faith and the Justification of Sinners respectively. It may well be worth having another look at those articles to reaffirm in your head what they state. All 3 have come under attack by members of the emergent community such as Brian McLaren and Steve Chalke. The great thing about these articles is that the authors fully submitted themselves to the authority and teaching of the Bible. Cultural pressure and the desire to be accepted can lead us into many errors so it is extremely important that we continue to look to the Bible to see what it says about particular doctrines. Today we look at sanctification. Louis Berkhof states that,

“Throughout his life, from the moment of his regeneration and conversion to the moment of his final elevation to heavenly glory, the Christian, by virtue of his union with Christ’s death and resurrection and through the power of God’s word and Spirit dwelling within him, will necessarily experience progressive sanctification, this process to be understood negatively in terms of putting to death the deeds of the flesh which still remain in him and positively in terms of growth in all saving graces” (Berkhof, Sytematic Theology, 533)

 

So God’s sanctifying work is seen in the growing Christlike character, increasing love for God and people, and the fruit of the Spirit (John 14:2; 15:1-16:33; Gal 5:22-25; James 2:18). “The best evidence of true salvation is not having raised a hand or prayed a prayer, or having been baptised or christened. Instead, the true test of an authentic work of God in one’s life is sanctification as God continues the moral transformation he began in regeneration.” (Grudem et al, Bible Doctrine: An Overview, ESV, 2533) Sometimes this progress is slow….very slow. Other times it is fast…instant. God works differently in each person. His work is DEFINITIVE yet PROGRESSIVE. Where sanctification is entirely absent in a person’s life it must be asked whether that person has truly been born again. I’ll hand you over the Belgic Confession now to see what it says!

Belgic Confession: Article 24

We believe that this true faith, produced in man by the hearing of God’s Word and by the work of the Holy Spirit, regenerates him and makes him a “new man,”^57 causing him to live the “new life”^58 and freeing him from the slavery of sin.

Therefore, far from making people cold toward living in a pious and holy way, this justifying faith, quite to the contrary, so works within them that apart from it they will never do a thing out of love for God but only out of love for themselves and fear of being condemned.

So then, it is impossible for this holy faith to be unfruitful in a human being, seeing that we do not speak of an empty faith but of what Scripture calls “faith working through love,”^59 which leads a man to do by himself the works that God has commanded in his Word.

These works, proceeding from the good root of faith, are good and acceptable to God, since they are all sanctified by his grace. Yet they do not count toward our justification– for by faith in Christ we are justified, even before we do good works. Otherwise they could not be good, any more than the fruit of a tree could be good if the tree is not good in the first place.

So then, we do good works, but nor for merit– for what would we merit? Rather, we are indebted to God for the good works we do, and not he to us, since it is he who “works in us both to will and do according to his good pleasure” ^60– thus keeping in mind what is written: “When you have done all that is commanded you, then you shall say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have done what it was our duty to do.’ “^61

Yet we do not wish to deny that God rewards good works– but it is by his grace that he crowns his gifts.

Moreover, although we do good works we do not base our salvation on them; for we cannot do any work that is not defiled by our flesh and also worthy of punishment. And even if we could point to one, memory of a single sin is enough for God to reject that work.

So we would always be in doubt, tossed back and forth without any certainty, and our poor consciences would be tormented constantly if they did not rest on the merit of the suffering and death of our Savior.

^57 2 Cor. 5:17 ^58 Rom. 6:4 ^59 Gal. 5:6 ^60 Phil. 2:13 ^61 Luke 17:10

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Counterfeit Gospels

In his book How People Change (co-authored with Tim Lane), Paul Tripp identifies seven counterfeit gospels– ways we try and “justify” or “save” ourselves apart from the gospel of grace. I found these unbelievably helpful. Which one (or two, or three) of these do you tend to gravitate towards?

Formalism. “I participate in the regular meetings and ministries of the church, so I feel like my life is under control. I’m always in church, but it really has little impact on my heart or on how I live. I may become judgmental and impatient with those who do not have the same commitment as I do.”

 

Legalism. “I live by the rules—rules I create for myself and rules I create for others. I feel good if I can keep my own rules, and I become arrogant and full of contempt when others don’t meet the standards I set for them. There is no joy in my life because there is no grace to be celebrated.”

 

Mysticism. “I am engaged in the incessant pursuit of an emotional experience with God. I live for the moments when I feel close to him, and I often struggle with discouragement when I don’t feel that way. I may change churches often, too, looking for one that will give me what I’m looking for.”

 

Activism. “I recognize the missional nature of Christianity and am passionately involved in fixing this broken world. But at the end of the day, my life is more of a defense of what’s right than a joyful pursuit of Christ.”

 

Biblicism. “I know my Bible inside and out, but I do not let it master me. I have reduced the gospel to a mastery of biblical content and theology, so I am intolerant and critical of those with lesser knowledge.”

 

Therapism. “I talk a lot about the hurting people in our congregation, and how Christ is the only answer for their hurt. Yet even without realizing it, I have made Christ more Therapist than Savior. I view hurt as a greater problem than sin—and I subtly shift my greatest need from my moral failure to my unmet needs.”

 

Social-ism. “The deep fellowship and friendships I find at church have become their own idol. The body of Christ has replaced Christ himself, and the gospel is reduced to a network of fulfilling Christian relationships.”

As I said a few months ago in one of my sermons, there are outside-the-church idols and there are inside-the-church idols. It’s the idols inside the church that ought to concern Christians most. It’s easier for Christians to identify worldly idols such as money, power, selfish ambition, sex, and so on. It’s the idols inside the church that we have a harder time identifying.

 

For instance, we know it’s wrong to bow to the god of power—but it’s also wrong to bow to the god of preferences. We know it’s wrong to worship immorality—but it’s also wrong to worship morality. We know it’s wrong to seek freedom by breaking the rules—but it’s also wrong to seek freedom by keeping them. We know God hates unrighteousness—but he also hates self-righteousness. We know crime is a sin—but so is control. If people outside the church try to save themselves by being bad; people inside the church try to save themselves by being good.

The good news of the gospel is that both inside and outside the church, there is only One Savior and Lord, namely Jesus. And he came, not to angrily strip away our freedom, but to affectionately strip away our slavery to lesser things so that we might become truly free!

 

(Tullian Tchividjian- author of Unfashionable and Surprised by Grace)

God Does Not Believe in Atheists

The current virulent strain of evangelical atheism does a disservice to many of the arguments of traditional atheism. I am thinking here of the latest efforts by the new Apostles of Atheism, Richard Dawkins (The God Delusion), Sam Harris (Letter to a Christian Nation), and Christopher Hitchens (God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything). It certainly does not advance the atheist position to have a proponent like Dawkins rambling around the world arguing that if one raises a child to be “religious,” then one is basically raising them to be an axe murderer and/or a terrorist. Dawkins’ extremism alone has led renowned atheist Michael Ruse to confess that “The God Delusion makes me embarrassed to be an atheist.” (1)

This article summarizes the arguments of traditional or “classical” atheism-i.e., atheism as it has been presented since the eighteenth-century Enlightenment. The articulation of these arguments also serves to cover the essential arguments of the new Apostles of Atheism, without the need for dealing with their hysteria from which even other atheists such as Ruse are beginning to distance themselves. Next, each argument is separately analyzed and found to be wanting in evidence and in logic. Finally, since one has hardly proved enough by ending at the existence of God if God has chosen to be silent, the importance of the case for God’s specific entrance into the human situation is put forth.

My vocation is one of a trial lawyer. The assertions of atheism-as well as the assertions that God is there and has not been silent-will, therefore, be implicitly tested by legal canons of evidence employed in law courts for almost a millennia as a means for arbitrating competing factual claims.

We only note in passing that God does not believe in atheists because, as pointed out by trial lawyer John Warwick Montgomery, in the end there really are no atheists and never have been in the history of the world. In fact, everybody has what Paul Tillich called an “ultimate concern,” something that gets first place in one’s life when the chips are down. That “ultimate concern” is that person’s religion, regardless of whether they formally consider themselves to be an atheist. More importantly, that ultimate concern is their god-whether it be their intellect and ability to reason logically, a girlfriend, a Ph.D., buffed abs, an Academy Award, a toy poodle, or season tickets to Green Bay Packers games.

The Traditional Arguments of Classical Atheism

The main objections of classical atheism are as follows:

Belief in God is psychologically explainable as part of a regressive and infantile cultural stage.
Belief in God has disastrous social implications.
Belief in God has harmed the advancement of science and the findings of modern science contradict any such belief.
Belief in God is illogical.

These four categories of argument have been carefully analyzed, and repeatedly and thoroughly refuted by serious Christian apologists for the past two millennia. One would think (as far as one can surmise from the cloistered world of contemporary evangelical atheism of the Dawkins-Adams-Hitchens variety), however, that new evidence has been discovered that refutes theism and, more specifically, that refutes the central claims of historical Christianity. This is simply not so.

Let me also preface my comments to each of these four arguments by confessing that I would rather deal any day of the week with a serious atheist than with a religious liberal of the Christian species-type. Those who technically and officially stand within the House of Salvation, and yet then gladly (and utterly irrationally) stand in judgment and criticism of the Word inscripturated and the Word Incarnate, are infinitely more dangerous to the future of the Christian faith than all the Dawkins-Adams-Hitchens the outside world will ever produce.

Also note that none of the traditional arguments of atheism deal head on with the actual primary source evidence for the central claims of Christianity-namely that God was in Christ reconciling the world unto himself. Why is this? The answer is simple: The sheer factual strength of the historical case for the trustworthiness of the biblical authors and the claims of its central figure Jesus Christ (both of which are subjects that have been analyzed by trial lawyers for over 400 years) are so impressive and deep that an informed atheist is wise not to trod there.

The four arguments and refutations that follow are only introductory in nature. The endnotes will lead one to greater depth and further study.

ARGUMENTS AND REFUTATIONSBelief in God is psychologically explainable

While Dawkins argues this point loud and clear in The God Delusion, this contention has been presented repeatedly since the psychoanalytic revolution began in the nineteenth century and was also echoed in the reigning philosophical circles of that time. Freud and Nietzsche certainly articulated the position that belief in God the Father is nothing more, and nothing less, than wish projection. It is the infantile groping of a repressed psyche to turn into reality that which it desperately wants to be true-namely, that one has an all-loving, all-wise, all-benevolent Father way up there. It is akin to belief in Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy, and it is a belief that only intellectual and cultural maturity can show to be mere fiction.

This psychological pull toward the need for a father figure and for some type of order that is imposed on a random universe is-per classical atheism-eminently understandable, but also eminently explainable. In short, the argument says that the “God Wish” goes back to the domain of primitive man. As man progresses psychologically and socially, belief in God has been shown to be largely irrelevant and only of persuasive interest to the uneducated classes who then indoctrinate their children in order to prevent intellectual and social progress from occurring.

Refutation

This argument is invalid on several grounds.

First, belief in Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy is a natural condition in the early years where the lines between fantasy and reality are necessarily blurred. Many people, in fact, mature to a belief in God (witness the recent controversial conversion to theism of renowned British atheist Anthony Flew). This argument simply fails to explain why so many come to a belief in God, and specifically a belief in the God of Christianity, late in life and after obtaining a robust university education. Clearly not all these people have simply retreated to infantile regressive behavior by becoming theists or Christians. Many, for example, would see the conversion of an adult C. S. Lewis-as he himself did-as a progression into maturity rather than a regression into an infantile world of denial. (2)

This argument also ignores some basic facts derived from the biblical data in support of Christian theism. The Bible is hardly a book full of teachings that are equivalent to the vocational teachings of a wet nurse. From “turn the other cheek” to “give your enemy your coat,” from “feed the poor” to the doctrine of hell as a place for those not perfectly holy and for those failing to perfectly follow the Law, this is decidedly not the religious pablum that naïve primitive man would conjure up over a hot fire, a juicy femur head, and a pot of gruel. An infantile position would be one that, for example, failed to deal with the reality of evil and instead focused only on man’s glory and greatness, or one that ignored man’s essential inability to follow even his own moral standards. In Christian intellectual history, one finds serious reflection on issues of man’s nature and the nature of God, the reality of sin and the possibility of salvation, the nature of history, and the existence of real ethics. Profound insights on these topics have hardly come from what might be called the “infantile or regressive” impulses of such men as Augustine of Hippo, Thomas Aquinas, Blaise Pascal, John Henry Newman, G. K. Chesterton, and Alvin Plantinga, to name but a few. Finally, R. C. Sproul is perfectly correct when he contends that this argument by atheists might just as easily be turned on its head. (3)

In short, perhaps atheists wish so badly for an all-knowing Last Judge not to exist that they have projected their highly regressive and infantile fantasies onto the issue of the existence of God. The argument, therefore, ends up being utterly self-defeating on logical grounds alone.

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Liberal Democrat Porn Plans and The Ongoing Disappearance of British Morality

The Liberal Democrats, Britain’s new power-sharing party, recently confirmed plans passed at their annual conference in 2004 to introduce a policy that would allow 16 year old children to watch and star in pornographic movies. The controversial policy has faced intense criticism from users of the popular parenting website Mumsnet.com. One mother warned “Many young people aged 12 appear 16 or 17 and could easily end up in explicit pornography” One Mumsnet user took it upon herself to contact the Lib Dems directly to complain about the policy, the response being “Look, I have explained the policy and if you do not like it you do not have to vote for us” Hmmmm how intolerant of a party that talks so much about tolerance !

Surely this is yet another indication of the ever increasing immorality found not only within British Politics but within British Society as a whole. Indeed, it would not be entirely untrue for one to suggest that it is perhaps a step toward an amoral Britain rather than a simply immoral one. Lord Macauley (1800-1859) once wrote that the world’s greatest democratic nations had a life expectancy of about 200 years. He said they go through the following cycle “From bondage to spiritual faith; from faith to great courage; from courage to liberty; from liberty to abundance; from abundance to selfishness; from selfishness to apathy; from apathy to dependency; from dependency back into bondage.” If we see any truth in his assessment of the rise and fall of nations it isn’t very difficult to see where our country is at. In the last century we have set aside God and faith, gone over the hill and are now on the downward slope. Just recently plans were announced to show a TV commercial for abortions, the destruction of innocent human life aired for millions to see almost degrading the sanctity of human life to the same level as the advertisements shown for childrens toys; disposable if not wanted.

There has been a change in my own parents lifetime from Britain being a ‘moral’ society, with individuals concerned about being ‘decent people’, to a culture of emotion in which pleasure takes priority. Religion and morality have been forced from the public square to become purely private matters. ‘Good’ has been redefined as ‘enjoyment of that which brings pleasure’. The great Protestant work ethic established by the Reformation has disappeared into the abyss with todays young Britons seeking to gain as much wealth and pleasure as they possibly can with the least amount of effort. In Biblical terms, when people lose sensitivity towards God they give themselves over to sensuality, in other words ‘feel good’ things (Ephesians 4:19). Surely the current trend of marital break downs due, more often than not, to adultery, the drunken yob scene and the pornographic and sex obsessed culture are all indicators that Britons by in large have given themselves over to sensuality in the place of God?

The only solution to the problem is an increase in the proclamation of the unwatered down Gospel from the pulpit and the lips of Christians themselves. Only God can save a nation from its slippery decline. Only the Gospel has the power to make our hard hearts soft. Many Christians are paralyzed by the fear of being branded judgemental or intolerant, however Christians must come to the realisation that the truth has always been, is, and always will be snarled at. Consider John 3:20 , “For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed” (ESV), or Amos 5:10, when God says to the Israelites “How you hate honest judges! How you despise people who tell the truth! (NLT). The sooner Christians realise that it is the truth (God’s truth, design and standards) that people hate, the sooner they might get over themselves and their desire to people please (people pleasing, or pride, is the root of all sin) and begin to stand for the truth.

Instead we have seen the opposite in recent years. We have witnessed a host load of Christians begin to compromise on such issues as abortion, sexuality and relationships. The change in the rules call for “perpetually friendly conversation, ideological largesse, non-judgemental transparency and ecumenical tranquility” (John Macarthur).Yes they may be genuine, yes they may be attempting to show the “love of Jesus”, but you can rest assured it is not pleasing to God and it is a distorted view of what the “love of Jesus” really is. Isaiah 5:20 reads,”Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter!” (ESV) Christians are to call evil for what it is and good for what it is, not give in to the twistings of truth so prevalent amongst society. Is that not what Jesus did?

Consider His words on adultery to the Pharisees, “You have heard that it was said, ‘Do not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that whoever looks at a woman to desire her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” (Matt 5:27-38). Many think that Jesus was actually giving a new command here. The truth however is that he was dealing with the beliefs on adultery held by the Pharisees and the Jewish people. They had always defined adultery in terms of the outward act. “It’s fine to look but not to touch!” By defining adultery as being merely an external act, they had left the people’s hearts totally unguarded. They felt free to arouse and indulge in sinful appetites in the privacy of their own imaginations-as if their hearts were somehow exempt from the law’s standards. Jesus didn’t compromise. He didn’t agree and say “Yea it’s fine for you to fantasise about Wilma from the Office, or your friend Dave or that supermodel so long looking is all you do!” No, instead he was disagreeing with them and saying that the 7th commandment actually means if you so much as look at another man or woman and lust after them then that is adultery too. He was presenting God’s truth in it’s entirety! This was shocking to the Pharisees because it revealed just how mistaken they were! Christians who take a stand for the sanctity of life and God’s standards for sexuality should learn from Jesus. When the unbeliever says “You’re such a traditionalist! It’s time you let go of those archaic beliefs and got with the times! Porn is fiiiinnnneee, abortion is fiiinnnneee, promiscuous sex, homosexuality, sex outside of marriage they are all fiiinnnneee!!”, Christians need to take a stand and say that actually, in God’s eyes they aren’t fine. In God’s eyes they are sin because God has spoken clearly in His word about these issues and when God speaks clearly we aren’t to question; we’re to listen and obey.

The only solution to sin is the gospel. The gospel is not about morals, yes, however it is predicated upon a moral view of life. The gospel does not do away with the standards God has set forth in his law. Mankind’s greatest problem is sin before a holy God, but we must be told what sin is rather than rely on what we ourselves define sin as being, because in our fallen sinful state we only twist and distort what should and shouldn’t be defined as sin. That’s why God gave us the law; to see our sin and know what it is. The Heidelberg Catechism asks us a question relating to this enquiring “How do you come to know your misery?” The answer? “The Law of God tells me”. (Q&A 3- Lord’s Day 2)

So salvation must take place first and foremost in moral terms; atonement must be made, sinners must be justly forgiven, made righteous and given a new heart and new desires. Then and only then will we see true change in people’s lives.

Seek the Truth. Find it in God’s word the Bible and take a stand for it. I’m not saying I’ve never shyed away from taking a stand for the truth. I’ve shamed the name of Jesus with my past conduct. I’ve denied Christ just like Peter. However, to quote John Piper, I live with a “gutsy guilt” in knowing that I’ve been forgiven, that Christ died for me on that cross, has called me, is equipping me and is strengthening me to take a stand for the truth of God, because by taking that stand it is God who gets the glory and that’s what it’s all about is it not?

Soli Deo Gloria

Abortion, the British Media and the Culture of Death

The Daily Telegraph reports on the first showing of an advertisement for abortion on British television. The advert for the non-profit making Marie Stopes International will be screened during the commercial break of a game show.

Ed West, in the Telegraph, makes the following comments about the culture of death that lies like a shroud across the Western world
How appropriate that Britain’s first televised abortion advert…will be broadcast during a game show hosted by Davina McCall which carries the strapline: “Do you want to be given a MILLION pounds on TV?” How wonderfully dystopian, like something from a 1980s satire on jungle capitalism, such as Robocop or The Running Man. Win a fortune! Have an abortion!

And how odd someone awaking from a 30-year coma might find the values of our country, as reflected in television. You can’t advertise cigarettes at any time or fatty foods during children’s shows, because it might harm the health of children, but you can advertise the killing of unborn children in the middle of a game show. (Likewise you can’t smack your kids, according to the European Court, but you can kill them up to birth if they have a hairlip).

Prospective Dangers for the Young and Reformed

Without doubt God’s Spirit has been moving in the past few years to awaken thousands of young Christian men and women all over the world to the truths of historic, biblical Christianity.  This is a great thing, however, becoming “reformed” does not mean you’ve made it. It doesn’t give you any right to be puffed up with pride or to slack off the fight against sin and the temptations of the world. In this video Paul Washer briefly outlines a few of the pitfalls the young and reformed need to be watchful for. Watch, be encouraged and take heed.