Against Federal Vision Grace and Law

Machen on differences between Christianity and Judaizers

As a matter of fact, however, Paul did nothing of the kind; and only because he (and others) did nothing of the kind does the Christian Church exist today. Paul saw very clearly that the differences between the Judaizers and himself was the differences between two entirely distinct types of religion; it was the differences between a religion of merit and a religion of grace. If Christ provides only a part of our salvation, leaving us to provide the rest, then we are still hopeless under the load of sin. For no matter how small the gap which must be bridged before salvation can be attained, the awakened conscience sees clearly that our wretched attempt at goodness is insufficient even to bridge that gap. The guilty soul enters again into the hopeless reckoning with God, to determine whether we have really done our part. And thus we groan again under the old bondage of the law. Such an attempt to piece out the work of Christ by our own merit, Paul saw clearly, is the very essence of unbelief; Christ will do everything or nothing, and the only hope is to throw ourselves unreservedly on His mercy and trust Him for all.

J. Gresham Machen, Christianity and Liberalism

Christian Character Grace and Law Holiness

My Fight For Holiness

mountainA number of years ago, there was a time when I foolishly waited on the Lord, not in the biblical sense, but in the sense of frustration and impatience, secretly whispering to myself that if the Lord wanted me to live for Him, then He would have to do the work Himself. Ultimately, this is true. By grace through faith we are saved (Ephesians 2:8-9), and by that same provision of grace we continue to be molded and used by Him. (Philippians 2:13) Yet God chose to give us a will, and after our will is redeemed from bondage to sin, that will is free to choose and pursue God of its own volition. A redeemed will is no longer a slave of sin, but a slave of righteousness, not by force or coercion, but by passion that delights and longs to know God more fully and walk in His ways. (Galatians 4:8-11)

During my struggle I was plagued with all sorts of bitterness and pride, discontent about the state of my life, refusing to humble myself. Instead I clung to my pride and deceived myself into believing that I had done my spiritual duty and now it was God’s turn to work in me. So I waited on God to change me, I waited on my wife to change me, I waited on my friends to change me. As David said, “I was like a beast,” and as I childishly refused to pursue God, I felt myself slipping further and further into darkness.

But God is faithful. It is often within those moments when our faith is so weak and we see so dimly, that God is working most mightily on our behalf to redeem us from our foolishness and bring His sheep back into the fold. (John 9:1ff) When we wander off, the Great Shepherd has not lost sight of us, though we may have lost sight of Him. Though we can be completely and utterly stupid beyond comprehension, the Great Shepherd knows where we are at all times, and He is always working to guide us back to Himself. He can never lose a single one of His sheep, and we cannot be taken from Him. Though we may be lost for a season, we are never truly lost. (John 10:1-18)

During that period of great struggle God began to soften my heart, and by His grace He drew me closer to Himself by showing me my error. Through His Word he helped me see that I was to fight for Him at all costs — that the mark of a healthy Christian is an attitude of spiritual aggression and a zeal for holiness — not of complacency. But rather it is a fight — a fight of faith. (Ephesians 6:10-18) I had somehow forgotten this.

In more recent months I believe the Lord has helped me understand a little bit more about why I experienced these earlier struggles. I believe they are connected to a fierce war of holiness — a bloodless and invisible, yet violent war. Many times as a child and an adult I have sung the line “Onward Christian soldiers marching as to war…”, not fully realizing the depth of its meaning, but as God in His grace has helped me more seriously reflect on holiness, I now have a better understanding that we are called to a truly glorious war — one in which we fight for that deep-rooted holy joy that surpasses any temporary happiness on this earth… A joy that is built upon an unshakable confidence and surety about the things to come and an experiential knowledge of the mighty visible and invisible works of the Lord in our own lives and the lives of others.

But because the forces we fight against are unseen, the battle is very difficult to fight. When a fighter cannot see his opponent, he is almost completely unable to defend himself; and certainly unable to launch an offensive attack. Paul uses the same analogy in his first letter to the Corinthians when he writes, “So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.” (1 Corinthians 9:26-27) Paul was single-minded in his focus on Christ and service to Him, and he understood the prize at stake and sought to attain it. He also understood his opponent, the many forms of sin within and without that assaulted him daily, and the steps of discipline necessary to defeat it.

When I think about Paul’s writings in Ephesians 6 on the armor of God, I find every word so incredibly relevant for the Christian life. Every day I find myself assaulted with the “flaming darts of the evil one” — darts from my co-workers, darts from television, darts from the internet, darts from billboards, and even darts from one brother against another. All of these clever ways the devil uses to distract us from running the race  (Hebrews 12:1-2) and fighting the fight of faith. And this is why the fight for holiness is so incredibly difficult — because it requires us to be vigilant and ready at all times. It requires perseverance, alertness, and constant prayer. Otherwise, the darts of the devil will pierce and wound us — the devil will find our weaknesses and attempt to exploit them and hold us hostage by them. But as we fiercely fight against the darkness, we learn and experience a holy joy that is beyond any forms of earthly joy. We learn that happiness in the Lord is more satisfying than any other happiness we have ever experienced.

The world looks on the outside, but God looks in the heart. (1 Samuel 16:7; 2 Corinthians 5:12) The world says “be faster, be stronger, be smarter, be prettier,” but God says…”be holy.” (2 Corinthians 7:1; Matthew 5:8; Hebrews 12:14).

Christian Character Grace and Law Holiness

Geoff Thomas On Grace

I came across this section on grace by Geoff Thomas, a pastor in Wales that many including myself look up to. I was so encouraged by this quote that I wanted to share. You can read the full text here.

i] Grace has a purpose. It has a specific and particular end in view:- “He did predestinate us to be conformed to the image of his Son.” If we begin at that relatively modest goal it takes our breath away. Grace is God’s determination to make favoured sinners Christ-like. Grace is not content with justification, or adoption, or union with Christ. Grace is concerned to make people like God. Grace is not going to rest until all it embraces are a transcript of the Lord Christ himself. God so loves his Son that he will fill heaven with an innumerable company of people each one of whom, morally and spiritually, are in the image of Christ, and all the divine energy and creativity are committed to that end. All his resources are to serve that great enterprise. “When we see him we shall be like him.” “That he might present the church to himself, a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that it should be holy and without blemish.” That is the destination of grace.

Or we can expand the purpose further, that grace will make Christ the first-born among many brethren. There is this constituency of the redeemed which does not exist for itself, but to be a family of brethren in which Christ has the pre-eminence. He will be the first-born, and the centre, and the sun. They will all cohere in him. This will be a community of joy and praise because from eternity God has purposed to fill the heaven of heavens with the sound of the praise of the Lamb, like the sound of many waters. “Worthy is the Lamb that was slain ….” “Unto him that hath loved us and washed us from our sins in his own blood…”

Or beyond that, God’s purpose can be expanded further: he will regenerate the whole heavens and the earth. He will make a new universe which shall be, in all its glory and beauty, the inheritance of the Son of Man and all the children which God has given to him. The whole cosmic environment comprehending the distant stars, or the blades of grace, the solar system or the sands on the seashore, the beasts of the field or the atoms and molecules will be redolent with the righteousness of Christ. God will gather together all things in Christ. There will be a reconciliation of everything in the universe joined to that single hub. Grace has that great end in view.

ii] Grace is invincible. God has made an eternal commitment. He has set his mind upon saving a company of people more than any man can number. He has donated every one of them to his Son to have and to hold for ever. His whole heart is in it. “I shall be their God,” he has said. His omnipotence is committed to save them. He has enlisted every divine attribute, and prerogative, and function to this end. The Father is committed. The Son is committed. The Holy Spirit is committed. The angels, principalities, powers, things present, things to come, height, depth, every other creature has that end in view. That is the goal of the incarnation – that is reason there dwelt in Christ all the fulness of the Godhead bodily.

Grace is invincible because it is the strength of God. It is not sentiment, though songs about it may be. It is not feeling, though it creates the most powerful feelings. Grace is power acting to redeem. The old persecutor from Tarsus became what he became by the grace of God. When his thorn in the flesh almost destroyed him it was Christ’s grace that was sufficient for him and his future life. That mighty grace can change every circumstance, strengthen every weakness, cheer every distress, lift every burden, enable us to climb every mountain, carry every load, handle every responsibility.

Grace is super-abundant. If we make the claim that our lives have been touched by grace we are saying that we are being preserved by the might of the Maker of the heavens and the earth. The grace of the one who raises the dead has a grip on us. So all our hope of keeping on and on and on, going on trusting, and repenting, and believing, and persevering, and entering heaven and receiving a resurrection body depends upon the power of God alone.

Grace is invincible because Christ has ultimate authority in the whole universe. The Lamb sits in the midst of the throne, not as a spectator. He exercises real power. His session there is not only eloquent to us of his centrality in the cosmos and the blessedness of the position he now occupies but it is eloquent of his unchallengeable supremacy. That Lamb who loved the church and gave himself for it today wears a crown. He is head over all things to the church. He has supreme power over every force in the cosmos – physical, intellectual, spiritual – all must obey his command. If you can conceive it, it is under his command. If you can think it then Christ is in control of it. Grace is invincible because Christ is unchallengeable. Should all the hosts of hell gang against him they must miserably fail because he has already triumphed over them at his weakest. Now that he has a name above every name how can he fail? What is utterly beyond human comprehension is ruled over in its every movement by the supremacy of the enthroned Lamb. Christ has taken the church in the grip of grace and is leading it through the darkness and the valleys to its blessed rest. The message of grace is that the divine pity is invincible and is enfleshed in the Man in glory.

iii] Grace is sovereign. God’s determination to save sinners is entirely a matter of his own initiative. It is reduced by the apostle Paul to one marvellous statement as he reminisces about his own conversion – “When God was pleased” he says (Gals. 1:15), then Paul was saved. Grace is utterly discretionary – consider the title of Shedd’s sermon on the text, “I will have mercy upon whom I will have mercy”. Shedd calls it, “The Exercise of Mercy Optional with God” (W.G.T.Shedd, “Sermons to the Natural Man,” Banner of Truth, p.358ff). No saviour was commissioned to the angels that rebelled: God simply dealt with them in utter fairness. God has no obligation to save a single sinner. You would think today, hearing some men, that the most obvious and predictable characteristic of God was his mercy, that he should love the world and spare not his Son. In the New Testament the forgiveness of God is a mystery. It is a supreme paradox. In vain the first-born seraph tries to sound the depth of love divine. That is because grace is optional. It is rooted into God’s sovereign good pleasure.

It is utterly unconditional, that is, it is not evoked by any qualities in us at all. It is not because of perceived beauty, or righteousness, or attractiveness that constrained the pity of God. He did not look and see a decent life and so focused his salvation on that one. Salvation comes forth utterly and entirely out of God’s own unconditional love. So the message of God’s grace declares that always it is objective, and invincible and sovereign.

iv] Grace redeems. Think of John Murray’s classic, “Redemption Accomplished and Applied” (Banner of Truth). Whether by Christ or by the Holy Spirit, for us or in us, past accomplishment in the finished work or present reality in the ongoing work – it is all of grace, from beginning to end, from the alpha to the omega.

In the accomplishment of redemption it was God who conceived the possibility. He thought of it. It dawned on him, we would say. He then took the initiative. He had not created the quarrel, nor forged the enmity, nor set up the estrangement, but in effecting reconciliation he acts. He draws the blue-print in its every detail. It was not that his intervention is constrained by the pleading of man. No counsel of the most holy men in the world gathering together laid out this plan before him and urged him to act upon it. Prior to any human initiative or sense of need God alone set up this tremendous machinery of redemption.

God provided the instrumentality. He found a Lamb in his own flock, even from his own bosom, bearing his own image. He even became that Lamb: the providing God is not a different being from the provided Lamb. The God who said that without the shedding of blood there could be no remission himself provided the blood that should be shed: “Feed the church of God which he purchased with his own blood.”

That same grace made him who knew no sin to become sin for us. That same grace paid him the wages of sin. It was all of God. We did not make Christ our substitute – that was God. We did not offer him upon Calvary – that was God. We did not give our son to the death of the cross – that was God. He aroused the sword of rectitude and commanded it to find its sheath in Christ’s breast. We did not go through our sins one after another trying to think of them all placing them carefully upon him – the Lord laid on him the iniquity of us all. The accomplishment of redemption was all of God. The great theme in the letter to the Hebrews is that Christ was all by himself when he purged us of our sins.

But also in the application of redemption it is the same divine grace which saves us. God embarks upon a ministry of reconciliation. God becomes the preacher of his own gospel. Men are “ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech you by us” (2 Cors. 5). Paul was conscious that behind all his speaking there was the authority of God. Behind Paul’s imploring there was a yearning God, longing and pleading with men – the one who in the days of his flesh saw the city and wept over it.

We might think that that would be the conclusion of God’s application but the audience hearing of the finished work of Christ are deaf and blind and hostile. The hearts of the hearers are closed to the message. What happens? Grace acts again, and the one who preaches to the heart opens the heart. On the road to Emmaus the one who opened the Scriptures also opened the understanding. Lydia heeds the message of Paul for this reason – the Lord Jesus opened her heart to receive it. He gave her a birth from above. He resurrected her. He made everything new. He gave her the conviction that this message was true. He revealed to her the beauty of Jesus. He created in her heart a desire for him. He made sin loathsome. To what does Paul ascribe the success of the gospel in Thessalonica? That “our gospel came not to you in word only, but in power and in the Holy Ghost and with much assurance.”

So firstly our message is a message of grace, and whenever it is preached the Lord is delighted and our experience will be that of the apostles: “So Paul and Barnabas spent considerable time there, speaking boldly for the Lord, who confirmed the message of his grace” (Acts 14:3). Thus it has ever been in the history of the church – think of Geneva, and Edwards, and Whitefield, and Princeton, and Spurgeon, and Lloyd-Jones.

Grace and Law Holiness

How To Tie A Knot Without Breaking The Sabbath

The Jewish Talmud is a treasure trove of legalism. There are rules for everything, especially about keeping the Sabbath. There’s even a section on what kinds of knots one can tie on the Sabbath. Here’s a section discussing if it’s okay for a woman to tie the bands of her hood,

…The case is, that the bands of the hood are always tied, and the woman slips on the hood without untying or tying the bands, and we might assume that for this reason the knot is considered permanent; he therefore informs us, that if a hair become entangled in the hood, the woman may tie and untie the bands.

So in other words, the woman should try to keep her bands permanently tied on the Sabbath to avoid any opportunity to slip, and she can only tie or untie her hood if her hair becomes entangled. If she ties her hood bands in any other scenario, she could be in danger of working on the Sabbath, thus breaking it. And there are plenty more rules for other knots too–for example when one should tie bands on leather flasks, or a pot of meat, or a girdle, or the straps of one’s sandals. The Jews believed that following all these rules helped them avoid breaking the Sabbath. And there are many many many other Sabbath rules about hunting, weaving, handling utensils, and even clearing crumbs off the table (yes, there are rules on that). The Jews were serious about these rules, but Jesus demolished them with the teachings of the purpose and full meaning of the law, and how the law addressed the desires of the heart. That’s one reason why His ministry was so radical at the time and still is today to modern-day Jews. These extra rules were not the law of God. They missed the point.

Grace and Law

More On The Burden Of Spiritual Disciplines

When our zeal for Christ is glowing hot, spiritual disciplines are never a duty. Why? Because increasing our zeal is the equivalent to increasing our appetite for food. When we focus on dying to ourselves, putting away our sin, thirsting for righteousness, our appetite for spiritual food increases. By pursuing holiness, we are inevitably drawn toward talking with God and meditating on His Word. We naturally want to feed more on the food that our appetites are suited for. I firmly believe that this is why the New Testament does not focus on rigorous spiritual duty. In fact Paul warns against actions without love (1 Corinthians 13). Christ talks about meaningless prayers with false motives (Matthew 6).

What the Scriptures emphasize is holiness, which in the Greek means sanctification of heart and life. God wants us to set ourselves apart within our hearts and minds and dedicate our entire will to Him. When we do this, our desire for spiritual communion with God happens naturally (Galatians 5:16). Our natural desires for the world become supernatural desires for God. This is why the author of Hebrews said,

Strive for […] the holiness without which no one will see the Lord (Hebrews 12:14 ESV).

If we find ourselves struggling to desire prayer and His Word, it is less likely a matter of discipline and more likely a lack of pursuing holiness and consecration of our hearts for the LORD.

Grace and Law

The Burden Of Daily Devotions

These are my thoughts on why I gave up the traditional “daily devotion.” If you have a busy unpredictable schedule and struggle with devotion time, I think you will be encouraged, while at the same time challenged.

The Alternate View

Several years ago I asked a pastor who I greatly admired what his daily devotions were like. I’ll never forget what he said, “I don’t really have daily devotions.” My mind reeled with confusion. How could a man so caught up in the Spirit NOT have a daily devotion? Seriously, the man was a spiritual and theological giant. He went on to explain. “I don’t have a scheduled time where I sit down to read and pray. Any devotional time occurs as I’m going about my day to day life,” he said. I didn’t argue, but I disagreed. “This cannot be right,” I thought to myself.

“How can one be spiritual and not start the day with Bible reading and prayer?”

Despite the pastor’s confession, I did not change my routine. That night I set my alarm for 7 AM. My Bible, journal, and pen waited by my bedside, as always.

The Dilemma

A few years later, my devotional schedule was severely disrupted — it was besieged with an onslaught of strange people living with me and new responsibilities. How did this happen?

First, I got married. “Someone is in the house right now? All the time? But she is making noises. Doesn’t she know it’s called ‘quiet time’ for a reason?” With all the unfamiliar distractions of married life, my mental state declined to a robotic brain from a 1950’s movie: “Cannot compute. Cannot compute. Must.Have.Quiet.Time.” (Queue the exploding robot head). KABOOM!

Second, I had kids. “So just a minute. There’s now yet another person in the house at all times? She demands constant attention? I can’t rebuke her for it? (Telling a baby to stop being selfish doesn’t seem to be very effective) And she wakes up throughout the night, robbing me of sleep night after night and before my 7 AM daily devotional deadline?”

Oh no. This is not happening!

Third, I got a job. No, not a job continuing as the highly experienced full-time student that I was, but a real job in the cruel fallen world with evil troll bosses and their performance objectives. As a full-time seminary student I hadn’t realized all the associated privileges, like catching naps between classes, reading Scripture and theology books whenever I wanted, catching more naps, and so on.

In a short period of time, my life changed dramatically. It went from self-paced structure to fast-paced randomness. Scheduling anything at this point became an exercise of epic proportions. Even remembering to eat sometimes proved comedic. And along the way, my scheduled morning devotions were lost – completely.

For years, I struggled with guilt and confusion over the lack of devotions. I prayed to God continuously. Over and over I asked Him to help me understand what I was supposed to do. I also sought the advice of numerous friends.

Nothing seemed to work.

I was caught in an unending cycle. When I had time, I was too tired; when I wasn’t too tired, I had no time. Sleeping and working took 16 hours of my day before I could schedule ANYTHING. The mornings, though my most productive time, were filled with the needs of my early rising children and getting ready for work. I couldn’t get up any earlier because I needed all the sleep I could get. The evenings had potential, but my mind decomposed into soggy bran flakes after a day of pleasing the troll boss and performing the nightly “ceremony-of-kids-who-don’t-want-to-go-to-bed-ever.” What was I to do?

The Acceptance

Then I started thinking more about what the pastor had told me. Maybe he was trying to drop a hint. “Any devotional time occurs as I’m about my day to day life,” he said. So I started looking for opportunities where biblical study, meditation, and prayer could intersect in stride with the randomness of my life.  Then I realized: That time I spend teaching my kids catechism? Yeah, that’s a type of devotion. That time I spend talking with them about Scripture and the things of God? Yeah, that’s a type of devotion too. Those little prayers and Scripture memory on the way to work? Yep, devotion. And so I started seeing more of these little devotions in my life. Then, almost effortlessly, I just let go. I stopped fighting.

Don’t be mistaken. I held fast to my passion for God’s Word and communion with Him, but I stopped battling for “devotion time.” I felt free, and ironically found myself studying and meditating on God’s Word more than I had in a long long time.

The Take Away

Practically speaking, there are a few points of encouragement I would like to share with those who are in a similar situation:

God does not command us to have a “devotion time.” He does command us to love His Word and keep His commandments (e.g., 1 John 2:4). He commands us to pray without ceasing. David commends us to meditate on His Word day and night (e.g., Psalm 1:2). You can do this with or without aids like books, personal journals, or even a physical copy of the Bible. We are not commanded to have devotions at certain times of the day. Instead, we are encouraged to meditate on God’s Word all day, every day.

David remarked in numerous places about meditation in the morning. He also remarked about the evening. He remarked about the entire day as well. Apparently David had “devotions” all the time. Similarly, in God’s commission of Joshua He said, “This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success” (Joshua 1:8 ESV).

The point is, we are to commune with God and His Word throughout the entire day, not necessarily a particular time. In fact, I have found time and time again that following a strict schedule can sometimes lead to an unhealthy ritualism. This isn’t always the case. In certain scenarios, some Christians have highly rewarding devotion times on schedule.  But for those who can’t, they shouldn’t punish themselves.

Whatever our situation, our goal should be to find a routine that leads us into a deeper holiness, a deeper knowledge of His Word, and a deeper fellowship with Christ, and we should follow that routine and never look back. Do you grow by keeping a journal? Do that. Do you grow by reading intellectual theology books? Do that too. Do you grow by having sweet one-minute intervals of prayer? Do it! Still find traditional daily devotions helpful? Then by all means continue them, but let’s be careful not to burden ourselves or others with guilt over non-biblical requirements. Let’s free ourselves from any modern-day Pharisaism.

The Conclusion

In case there is any confusion, let me clarify by saying that no Christian can grow without studying, living, and loving the Word of God on a daily basis. In this post I have sought to address what I feel are unhelpful cultural pressures within (and certainly without) my own sphere of Christianity regarding the topic of Bible study. In no way do I intend on diminishing its necessity. If that is the lesson conveyed, then I have failed. What I have attempted to do is encourage all of us in a way that demands much more of our hearts and minds for God; that we should avoid unhealthy forms of religious ritual and instead be in the Word all day and every day.