Category Archives: Belief about God

Cultivating My Child’s Covetous Heart

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“A man is given to covetousness when he overloads himself with worldly business…(H)e has scarce time to eat his meat, but no time to pray.” (Thomas Watson, The Ten Commandments, 176)

Last article we saw how a covetous spirit is evidenced in us when we begin to neglect the spiritual aspect of living in pursuit of the common, or worldly. When we begin neglecting our private or corporate worship these are clear signs that we are longing more for the things of this world than for fellowship with God. But we are not only responsible for our own covetous desires. We also bear some responsibility to those who live around us. In no relationship is that responsibility more obvious than between parents and children. And yet, however well-intentioned we may be, there are ways we, as parents, contribute to a spirit of covetousness in our children.

  1. Failure to teach contentment. It is difficult to teach contentment in our western culture. Our children are constantly being bombarded with commercials and catalogues which encourage them to want just a little bit more than they already have. From our children’s perspective, every commercial and catalogue will present them with something they “need” rather than just “want.” 1 Tim. 6:6-10 clearly teaches a love for the riches of this world is destructive. The apostle’s list of needs is quite small: food and clothing. We have to teach this truth to our children and show them how grateful we are for what God has already provided. We can do so by speaking about how the Lord has blessed us beyond measure. This action may seem insignificant, but it will make a big impact.
  2. Failure to teach our children to love the heavenly things. So much of what we model to our children is caught rather than taught. We can constantly tell our children they need to set their eyes on the things above, but unless our actions corroborate this teaching, our children will learn to ignore our words and look simply to our actions. We have to model being heavenly minded in our work and play. We have to lead our children in faithfully study and practice of God’s word. We have to lead our children to value the Lord more than anything else including the fleeting riches of this world.
  3. Failure to restrain the lusts of their flesh. When we give our children unbridled access to their heart’s desire, we are training them to direct all their energy to the pursuit of those things. It could be sports, arts, play time, book learning, or anything else. As parents it is our God-given responsibility to set limits for our children. If our children are always allowed to pursue their own desires, this pattern of behavior will follow them into adulthood. If we insist our children participate in the work of running the family, cheer for their siblings’ successes, do special things for their mother on Mothers’ Day and a host of other options, they will understand they are not the center of the universe, a helpful disposition to encourage contentment rather than covetousness.

Covetousness is one of the great sins of our time. And it will show up in our hearts and our children’s hearts. However we do not have to encourage them in this regard. Instead let us set them a healthy example which they can follow as their little hearts are shaped and molded by the Holy Spirit.

Dealing with Sin Is More Than Saying “I’m Sorry.”

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Our relationships are marred by our sins. This truth should not surprise us because of the corruption of our natures. Yet Christ, in his word, calls us to be discontent about and turn away from our sin (Cf. Luke 13:1-5). As part of the gift of our salvation, Christ provides us with the grace to respond to our sin. This process is summarized in the doctrine of repentance and it is a gift from God.

When God converts us he causes us to deal with our sin. In our families, our children sin against each other and under duress they may mutter and grumble, “I’m sorry,” as unintelligibly as possible to get dad off his back. We may try to handle our transgression against our wife this way. Let me suggest that this process is not a manifestation of repentance. At best it is an expression of regret, but it is not repentance. So what does repentance look like? To help us we will look at Westminster Confession of Faith, chapter 15.2. There the Biblical doctrine of repentance is summarized as:

  1. Recognizing sin for what it is. When God saves us, the scales over our spiritual eyes are removed. We see our sin for what it truly is: rotten fruit that is born by our rotten souls (Cf. Luke 6:43-45). This recognition will rightly cause us to cry to God for forgiveness. However, repentance not only makes us sorry for sin, but also causes us to hate it. This hatred is not simply regret, guilt, or dislike. We know we sinned. And we know our sin is intentional, filthy and odious before the Lord. Repentance leads us to acknowledge these things. Muttering a half-hearted “Sorry.” communicates neither regret nor hatred of sin. Do we ask God to help us hate our sin? Do we humble ourselves by acknowledging our guilt by asking for forgiveness? Let us not minimize our sin by simply saying we are sorry. Let us acknowledge our sin what it is: intentional and filthy.
  2. Fleeing to Christ for mercy. In repentance we learn to recognize that, though our sin may have consequences in our relationships, it is primarily sin against God. Our sin makes us guilty in his sight, deserving his just punishment. When God shows us this truth he, though his Spirit, enables us to flee to Christ for forgiveness. More significant than reconciliation with the people we have offended is reconciliation with the God. Let us not skip over confession of sin in our private prayers with a generic acknowledgment that we have sinned. Let us name our sins and confess them (Cf. Psalm 32:3-5). Let us ask the Lord to remember steadfast love, that he would shower his mercy on us.
  3. Committing to new obedience. Repentance is not a daily revisiting of the same sins so we can get off the hook. We may struggle mightily with sin, even besetting sin, but part of repentance is learning to love sin’s opposite. Sin is lawlessness (Cf. 1 John 3:4), and its opposite is obedience to God’s law. If we struggle with pride, repentance teaches us humility. If we struggle with lust, repentance teaches us purity. If we struggle with greed, repentance teaches us generosity.

We should never trivialize our response to sin in repentance. Expressing passing regret is not repentance. We must learn to see the filth of our sin, to hate it with all our hearts, to flee to Christ for his mercy, and to turn then to a new obedience.

Our Problem with Princes

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The purpose of this post is not to define the biblical doctrine of marriage. My assumption is that the biblical view of marriage between one man and woman is correct, pure, righteous and not to be changed. Instead, I want to make some observations about how we, as Christians, can respond to the June 26, 2015 decision from the Supreme Court of the United States changing the definition of marriage.

First, we can revisit our understanding of the doctrine of God’s providence and sovereignty. The civil magistrate is an appointed agent from God for the purpose of protecting good and punishing evil (Rom. 13:1-4). This agent has rejected God’s word in favor of the clamoring of culture. That, however, does not mean that God is caught flat-footed. Proverbs 21:1 tells us: “The king’s heart is a stream of water in the hand of the LORD; he turns it wherever he will.” The Supreme Court’s decision is not outside of God’s providential governing of the world. The Westminster Confession of Faith tells us God governs even over the sins of men, ordering and governing them to his own holy end (See WCF 5.4). God is not in heaven wringing his hands over these disorderly justices. He turns their hearts whichever way he wills. We do not know the final destination of this chapter of history, but we know God is in control of it.

Second, we should be humble, not self-righteous. Biblically, it is sinful to pervert the God-ordained institution of marriage. But the church has to guard herself against the self-righteousness of the Pharisee: “I thank you that I am not like other men” (Luke 18:9-14). The only difference between the Christian and the non-Christian is the presence of the Holy Spirit. Unless a person is changed by the Holy Spirit he cannot enter the kingdom of heaven. All people, by nature, are deserving of God’s wrath and judgment. The most loving and humble expression toward our fellow man is to tell them of the salvation offered in Christ. They, like you at one time, are in need to hear that sin leads to death, but that death has been swallowed up in victory for those who have placed their faith in Christ and his perfect work of atonement.

Third, we should be convicted of our prayerlessness. In prayer we express our complete dependence on God. Whether Arminian or Calvinistic, in prayer we recognize that our help is in the name of the Lord who made heaven and earth (Psalm 124:8). The church has not been fervent in seeking God’s face in protecting the institution of marriage. We have not wrestled as Jacob did. We have not said, “I will not let you go until you bless me.” (Genesis 32:26). Let today be the day we start fervently to pray to the Lord again.

In these days, turn to the Lord for security and do not look with confidence to the princes of our land. The solution to our nation’s sin problem is not found in the right politician. As the hymn “Hallelujah, Praise Jehovah, O My Soul” reminds us, they will die, to dust returning, and their purposes shall end. Instead, the cry of Scripture is: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and his will make straight your paths.” (Proverbs 3:5-6).

Daddy, Does It Matter if I Sin?

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Sin. It is the odious cause of our sin and misery. Since the fall, creation groans as it waits for redemption. But we learn early on as children that our sins are forgiven. Jesus died for our sins, so we are not guilty any more. Too often we want to stop right there, wrap it up in a neat package and call it the gospel. However, if we want to maintain a biblical view of God’s redemption of man we have to understand both justification and sanctification.

Justification. In the life of every single believer there is a moment in time where something happens to them. They do not participate in this event, but receive it passively. There is a singular moment in time where God declares them to be righteous in his sight. Every single sin is forgiven and their filthy garments are replaced with robes of the purest white. The passivity of the Christian in this part of the work of redemption is of first importance. Never can we come to the point where we think anything belonging to us contributes to this declaration. Not our tradition, family background, church attendance, or parenting philosophy. Nothing. We simply stand in God’s courtroom and hear him declare, “Not guilty!” He makes this declaration because he is just. His justice has been satisfied in Christ who paid the penalty that belonged to us. We are free from the guilt of sin, but not free to continue to live in sin.

Sanctification. As with justification, the lives of all believers are also marked with subsequent transformation, called sanctification. This change is gradual, many times painful and incomplete in this life, but it is certain. In contrast to our justification, sanctification is not a legal pronouncement. Sanctification is a process of learning to shake off the slavery to sin from which we have been rescued. Scripture repeatedly tells us to put off our old ways and live in righteousness (Cf. Col. 3; Rom. 6:1-2; Eph. 5:1-5). In addition, we are told that this change within us is so essential to the gospel that we can expect no true expression of faith without accompanying works (Cf. Jam. 1:22-25). This work requires effort on our part, by the power of the Holy Spirit who is at work in us. He enables, but we must strive to do this work.

So does it matter if we sin? From a salvation perspective, the works of Christians do not contribute to our eternal condition. Therefore our sins do not effect our standing before God. They are forgiven and cannot be unforgiven. Yet, our sins are grievous in God’s sight. Each time we sin, we demean the sacrifice of Christ. Sin is a clinging to our pre-redemption condition and a denial of what we are called to do as God’s people. We are to be working out our salvation in fear and trembling, because of love for God, thankfulness for salvation and eternal joy flowing from our understanding of the free gift of justification. So the gospel requires a careful consideration both of justification and sanctification. If we fail our gospel understanding will be truncated.

The Sabbath. Now What?

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My experience has been that there is a tendency within the church not to take the fourth commandment as seriously as the other nine. There are a variety of reasons for this, some with better intentions than others, but as we conclude our examination on the Sabbath we should make sure we take a proper biblical view of the significance of the Sabbath.

The Westminster Shorter Catechism, a 17th century summary of many of the doctrines taught in Scripture, summarizes our obligations on the Sabbath as follows in #60:

“The Sabbath is to be sanctified by a holy resting all that day, even from such worldly employments and recreations as are lawful on other days; and spending the whole time in the public and private exercises of worship, except so much as is to be taken up in the works of necessity and mercy.”

This definition is often too narrow even for the most conservative Christian. They will throw up their hands and say, “Who can live to such a standard!” and contend Westminster is returning to legalism, or the burden of the Old Testament administration of the law. However, we have seen before that the obligations of God’s law do not change in transition from the Covenant of Works to the Covenant of Grace. Only the one who will obey them to grant life to God’s people changes. Since the 4th commandment is part of the moral law, its standard does not change. In addition, it is absolutely true that you cannot live to such a standard. That is the entire point. Neither can you live to the standard of the other nine commandments. However, our failures in part do not justify our neglect of the whole. The Lord cares about the Sabbath as much as the other commandments which we can see in the penalties he assigns to its breech.

God gives the outline of what should and should not be done on the Sabbath in Ex. 20:8-11 and Deut. 5:12-15. However, the penalties for breaking the law are given a little later. When God gives the penalty associated with breaking the Sabbath, he assigns it the highest possible value. To break the 4th commandment is a capital crime for Israel. It is on the same plane as murder, kidnapping, adultery, blasphemy and other such heinous sins. This penalty is not merely theory for the Lord, but he commands a man who collected sticks on the Sabbath to be put to death for it (Cf. Num. 15:32-36). Later on the neglect of the Sabbath would be one of the sins of the nation of Israel that led to its death in exile (Cf. Ezek. 20:12-13).

God cares deeply about his Sabbath and so we should be wary of discarding it. For some Sabbath observance may be a new idea, for some it may be a neglected idea, for some it may be a traditional idea. As we look at Scripture it should become for us a delightful idea. The Sabbath preserves for God’s people the centrality of worship in the governing of our time. Is it any surprise that the world should want to eliminate its practice? In the Westminster Larger Catechism the pastors of the 17th century sought to impress the significance of the Sabbath by saying that, “Satan with his instruments much labor to blot out the glory, and even the memory of it (the Sabbath – GG), to bring in all irreligion and impiety.” (WLC #121).

Now, church, let me ask. Since we have turned our back on the Sabbath in the last 50 years, do we have more or less commitment to Christ’s church? Are there more or less time dedicated to the corporate worship of God? Do people have a higher or lower regard for God as a result? I think the answers are clear, and it makes me wonder whether Satan and his instruments are temporarily being given their way to show us the results of the neglect of the worship of God.

The Sabbath in ALL of History

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Last post we looked at the Sabbath as one of the three creation ordinances God established to give structure to our relationships with him, his world, and our fellow man. These ordinances are simply ways in which man is to imitate God. Work, marriage and rest are all done by God and as his image-bearers, we should do them as well.

These ordinances were established prior to the fall into sin, and form a perpetual order for mankind. They make up part of the core of man’s obligations to God. There are other obligations God places on his creation as well as part of his relationship with the world. These relationships between God and man in their different forms are called God’s covenants in Scripture. Prior to sin, God’s covenant with man was defined along the lines of his obedience. Man was to live before the Lord in perfect obedience, and in response God would graciously give life (Cf. Gen. 2:17). The initial relationship between God and man is typically called the Covenant of Works, or Life. However, after the fall in Gen. 3:8 man dies both physically and spiritually. His thoughts, motivations and desires are all corrupted by sin.

Man can no longer meet the righteous requirements of the obligations that go along with God’s covenant. However, God in his grace inaugurates another covenant: the Covenant of Grace. In this covenant, though man is unable to fulfill and obey, God sends the seed of the woman to be the mediator between God and man. This mediator is the Christ who lives in perfect obedience to God on our behalf. He came not to abolish the law and the prophets, but to fulfill them (Mt. 5:17). His perfect righteousness is imputed to us that we would have life. If Christ had disobeyed he would not have been able to mediate between God and man. So Christ’s obedience does matter. God’s obligations for man never change, because they reflect his unchangeable character. These obligations make up God’s moral law.

God’s moral law is distinct from his other laws. When God summarizes the obligations of the covenant he gives to Israel, he summarizes them in the Ten Commandments (Cf. Deut. 4:13). We have already seen that God’s obligations do not change between covenants administrations. That means in all ages, the Ten Commandments are binding. We can easily see this distinction if we try and apply the Decalogue to pre-fall Eden.

If Adam, in Eden, would have decided to make an idol, he would have sinned. If Adam, in Eden, would have murdered or would have stolen, he would have sinned. However, if Adam failed to set up cities of refuge in Eden, he would not have sinned. The moral law, summarized in the Ten Commandments, was binding for him. The other laws are specific applications of this moral law to the people of Israel, or to the world as a whole now stained with sin.

Now here comes the point of this whole exercise. Since the Sabbath Day is part of the Ten Commandments it is part of God’s perpetual obligations for man and therefore is applicable for us as well. Exactly how that plays itself out in today’s world I leave for the next article.

Take Time to Find Yourself…It’s Not What You Think

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At the beginning of his famous Institutes of the Christian Religion, Calvin begins by identifying true wisdom as consisting primarily of our knowledge of God and man. Specifically he states that “Here, again, the infinitude of good which resides in God becomes more apparent from our poverty.” (John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, chapter 1.1). We could spend a long time investigating that statement, but let us briefly consider its significance.

In the first pages of Scripture God’s greatness is established. “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” However creative we may think ourselves, none of us can speak and bring worlds into existence. But not only does God create, but throughout Genesis the patriarchs are led, protected, corrected, and preserved by the Lord. He made the world, brought the flood, called Abraham out of Ur of the Chaldees, promising to bless all the families of the earth through him. It is only God’s greatness and goodness that establish these things.

Scripture, on the other hand, does not present man in the same light. Eight verses after God finishes expelling man from the Garden of Eden the Bible records its first murder. A few verses later, we are introduced to Lamech, the first polygamist and boastful murderer. The patriarchs don’t fare much better. Noah is a drunk, Abraham is twice willing to give his wife to another to save his own skin; Isaac copies his father’s survival technique. Jacob does his best to live up to his name, which means deceiver. Ten of his  sons dabble in a host of wicked behaviors, all in the first book of the Bible. So how does all this help us?

To understand both God’s holiness and man’s depravity means we understand the greatness of our salvation. It is good for us to meditate on both those truths. Especially for those of us who have had the blessing of learning our faith on our parents’ laps, we can begin to grow numb to the message of Scripture. It is in seeing the discrepancy between God’s holiness and man’s depravity that we realize the greatness of our love. Let me illustrate in a limited way by looking at human relationships. We can think of the times when we have been most deserving of our spouse’s, siblings’ or friends’ anger. Yet it is when they return our unkindness with kindness that we realize how much they love us. If Scripture only taught us of our wickedness we would despair. If the Bible only taught us about God’s goodness, we would lose our awe of him. It is in knowing both God’s goodness and our depravity that we see the greatness of God’s gift of redemption. And understanding the greatness of this gift will lead to a daily rejoicing in our salvation, expressed in a commitment to taking every thought, word and deed captive in the service in Christ’s kingdom.

Why Does the Bible Matter?

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Even those who do not believe in what the Bible says recognize it as tremendously influential. However Scripture, contained in the 66 books of the Old and New Testaments, is not just influential. It is the center-point for the thought and practice of the Christian. During the protestant reformation of the 16th century, the Bible was given an important place. In fact, it is included among the distinct principles, or the “solas” of the reformation. Sola Scriptura, means Scripture alone is our authority for doctrine and practice. This elevated status flows from a proper understanding of what the Bible is.

The Bible makes claims about itself. One of the best-known is found in 2 Timothy 3:16-17: “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work.” Within these verses we find the proper perspective toward our approach to the Bible.

In 2 Timothy, Paul speaks of the Bible’s inspiration. That means that when we read the pages of Scripture we read God’s words. In other words, when we read our Bibles we read the very thoughts of the only omniscient, or all-knowing, being. Since God is all-knowing, he is only one who can reveal with certainty the proper order of things. Man’s appeals for certainty outside of God fall on shifting foundations. Without total knowledge you can always discover you were wrong. Inspiration makes the Bible’s words certainly true. In the Bible, therefore, we have the only immovable foundation: the thoughts of the omniscient God.

Many implications for our approach to the Bible flow from the doctrine of the inspiration of Scripture. For example, the Bible is authoritative, along the lines of Sola Scriptura. Or the Bible is sufficient, meaning that it contains in its pages all that we need for faith and practice. Bart Ehrman notwithstanding, we must also believe that what God inspired he is also able to preserve. The church today can confidently state it is reading God’s word when it opens the Bible.

We are confident not only of the implications that flow from the Bible’s inspiration, but also in its clarity, or perspecuity. To be sure, there are parts of God’s word that are difficult to understand. For example, volumes have be written to reconcile the genealogies of Jesus found in Matthew 1 and Luke 3. We may never get a definitive answer on those passages. However, the Bible makes clear how we are to glorify God, be reconciled to him through Christ, and express our love to him for that salvation in good works.

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says that hearing and doing his words makes for a foundation built on the rock. To turn away from the Bible is to turn away from certainty, which means your foundation will be shifting. No doubt about it.

What You Think Shapes What You Do

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What is the chief end of man?
Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.
(Westminster Shorter Catechism Q/A #1)

I have great appreciation for the Westminster Standards. Westminster’s Confessions of Faith, Larger, and Shorter Catechisms have been useful in shaping my own and my children’s understanding of the Bible’s teachings. In fact, I think the first question and answer of the WSC sets the proper tone for all proper Christian understanding and practice.

I know peripherally of the controversy surrounding this question and answer stemming from an article written by Mark Jones over at reformation21. This article is not a response to what he has written. Be gone with you, all you polemicists! Instead, I want us to benefit from what is written rather than argue about what we think should be written, as valid as that discussion may be. So what is the chief end of man? The catechism gives us two main objectives for living. First, glorify God. Second, enjoy him.

To glorify God means to recognize his rightful, exalted position. It means we are to understand his greatness. To be able to recognize the disparity between God and ourselves, we need a reference point. We describe an ant as small compared to ourselves. In the same sense we understand the greatness of God by comparing him to ourselves. In his word we see his greatness in creation, the flood, the exodus, in establishing David’s kingdom, his judgment in the exile, the substitutionary atonement of Christ, and in his promised return, among other things. At the same time, we see and experience our own weakness in sin, limited knowledge, and inability to control anything, just to name a few of our inadequacies. When these two pieces of knowledge come together, it causes us to glorify God. The Lord of heaven and earth stoops down to save wretched men. To live in that recognition leads us to glorify God, to worship him as the One True God. We do not re-invent him in our own image as Israel did when they made the golden calf (Cf. Ex 32:4-5). Instead, we live according to his commandments, recognizing he is worthy of our obedience.

The catechism’s charge to enjoy God keeps us from thinking we can glorify God without also delighting in the process, as if some external consent would be enough. The one who rightly understands the greatness of God and his own sin, sees the greatness of the gift of salvation God purchased for him in Christ. A begrudging obedience will not do. Rather, the Christian sees the burden of his master as easy and his yoke as being light.

What is the chief end of man? It is to recognize God’s greatness and our sin. It is to see wonderful gift of salvation. It is to have our hearts filled with joy and thanksgiving for that work. It is to express our understanding of the glory that already belongs to the Lord in thought, word and deed.

Family Worship Suggestions

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And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. (Deut. 6:6-7, ESV)

The obligation of Christian parents to pass on the truth of God’s word is clear in God’s word. The problem is, we do not have an exact “game plan” of what that may look like. Beyond bringing our children up in the “discipline and instruction of the Lord” (Eph. 6:4, ESV), how do we find the passage that gives us the checklist? Of course, no such list exists. Our task as parents is simply to set God’s promises and commands before our children so they might know who to love and how to love him (see Westminster Shorter Catechism #3). Below are some different ways we can teach our children diligently and raise them up in the instruction of the Lord:

  1. Catechisms. Catechisms, of course, do not replace the Bible, but summarize the teachings of the Bible. The Heidelberg Catechism or the Westminster Shorter Catechism help your children understand the basic categories of theology, keeping them from error in what they believe and how they live. G. I. Williamson has written very beneficial study guides for each which can help you lead your families through a study of the catechisms.
  2. Bible reading. You may choose to read one chapter per day from the Bible with our children. Read a chapter a day until you finish a book and then start another one. Make sure you choose both New Testament and Old Testament books. If you do this daily, you will have 365 chances each year to teach your children what you are learning as you study God’s word for yourself.
  3. Sermon review. Each day you can talk with your children about part of what you have learned together during corporate worship. This method gives you a handy outline to start with and will help reinforce what was taught from the pulpit. All you need is a little note taking during Sunday worship and choosing several main themes on which to concentrate (see an example here).
  4. Topical study. The catechism is topical, but here I mean something else. Sometimes we may come across a certain theological concept we want to teach our children. Other times there is a certain behavior that crops up in our home. This kind of family worship takes time to address these issues over a span of a week or two.

I’m sure you can come up with more ways to lead your family in worship, but these four can help you get started with family worship. Don’t neglect your responsibility. Adjust what you are saying to the age of your children. Without your leadership in family worship, your children will only think of God’s word on Sunday, and that is simply not enough.