Category Archives: Belief about God

The Sabbath. Now What?

bell tower

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

Sun Breaking Through Clouds

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

Bible Open

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?

the Bible

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

Idolatry-of-Solomon-cropped

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

father-son-1

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.

Don’t Worry. I Picked Your New Year’s Resolution.

Bible Open

Within the family context, God’s word provides us with the stability we need live for his glory. Therefore it is important that we are students of the Bible. Our personal worship is of most significance. From our private practice of Bible study we will build our leadership in family worship. Our teaching to our children will only be as meaningful as our personal worship is strong. So a couple of thoughts about these activities:

Personal Worship. Our personal study of God’s promises and commandments prepares us for our public practice of them. Now I know we should not read the Bible to pull up our Bible reading app and fool our phones into thinking we are good Christians. If we read for the praise of man or our smart phone app, we have received our reward. Instead, our reading should flow from a deep love for our Savior and a desire to know how we should express our love for him. Psalm 119 is a perfect example of how we should feel about the study of God’s word. The psalmist uses words such as “praise”, “delight”, and “wondrous”, to describe his study of God’s commands. As we give our attention to our Savior’s words, we can ask him to open our eyes to see wondrous things out of his law (Ps. 119:18).

Family Worship. We fathers must make sure to lead our families in Bible study each day. In doing so, we model how to study God’s word to our children. This task can be intimidating which tempts us toward dangerous and harmful extremes. On the one hand we may do too much. If we find ourselves coming to family worship with a 20 page, single spaced, heavily foot-noted treatise on the meaning of the wheel covered in eyes in Ezekiel 1, we are trying too hard. If that is our practice, we are teaching our children God’s word is too complicated and boring. On the other hand we can do way too little. If we find ourselves not doing family worship because we have to be at the next extra-curricular commitment for our children we are doing too little. The failure to practice anything teaches our children that hobbies are more important than God’s word.

So how do we make personal and family worship healthy, balanced and meaningful? Of course, we must practice it in the first place. But then, the Westminster Shorter Catechism #3 gives two simple questions we can ask of any biblical passage we read: 1. What does this passage teach us about what we should believe about God? and 2. What does this passage teach us about our duty toward God? Every passage will address either one, or both of these questions. Then take the time to explain what you are learning to your children. Teach them God’s word and pray that he would use your feeble efforts to open their eyes and see the truth of God’s promises in all their beauty.

Can Your Children Glorify God?

honor father and mother

How do you teach your child to live joyfully for God? There seem to be so few opportunities to express love toward God for our children, especially when they are young. And yet parents have the responsibility to form a shape of something abstract like loving God for them. How? There is a very simple way: the fifth commandment.

When the Bible says, “Honor your father and your mother…” it is part of God’s holiness code for children. No matter what age our children might be, they can express their love for God by obeying this commandment. Let me be clear: honoring parents is not the end game for the Christian child. The goal is to glorify God and enjoy him forever. God’s call for them to honor mom and dad gives them an opportunity to do so, and “practice makes perfect” as they say (but not in the “perfectionism” sense). As Christian parents you have been given the privilege of leading them through this process. So how should Christian parents teach their children to glorify God in honoring the fifth commandment? Below are some suggestions:

  1. Expect obedience from your children. Colossians 3:20 commands children to obey their parents in everything. To obey is to honor their parents. To honor their parents is to glorify God. Do not teach your children to despise God’s commandment by allowing them to disobey you. Parents, when you call your little darling to come to you and they run the other way, that’s not cute. It’s sin. Instead lead them in honoring God even at an early age by requiring obedience.
  2. Give your children the chance to honor you in service. Parents are not exclusively in the law enforcement business, although you may sometimes feel that way. Try to find ways your children can honor you positively. Dads, give your child the joy of bringing mom her toast in the morning. Help your teens organize that special surprise for her. Certainly your children are to honor through obedience, but they can also honor in service.
  3. Teach your children to honor the adults in their lives. This lesson is easy to teach in the context of church. For your children, all the adults at church are old. Have them carry things, open doors, or give a friendly greeting to some of the senior saints at church. Have them speak respectfully to adults and use titles of respect for them. Grown-ups and children are not peers, or buddies. By teaching your children to act this way you are giving them opportunities to put God’s commandments into practice.

Of course, external obedience or service without love for God is not glorifying him. If only parenting were that easy. Add to that your children’s natural propensity to disguise their rebellion through deception and you have a recipe for much prayer. But while you pray, you also teach, showing your children what it means to honor their parents in the hopes of teaching them how they might glorify God.

How Do I Worship God in My Family?

prayer

A big challenge Christians have is making God the primary object of their affections and the only God they worship. This struggle has transcended time. Adam and Eve surrendered to this temptation when they fell and mankind has doing the same ever since every time they sin. Therefore, it seems to me teaching children to honor the 1st commandment should be one of those “first order” issues.

Two things must be true for us to be able to truly worship God: 1. we must know and acknowledge God as the only true God; 2. we must worship him accordingly (Westminster Shorter Catechism, #46). In other words, we must believe the right thing about God and do the right thing as a result. I’m assuming the reader believes God to be the only true God. The question I’m trying to answer is, “How do I teach my kids about that?” Three thoughts about that:

  1. Private Study. To be able to show your children your love of God, you must actually love God. Seems trite, I suppose, but it is foundationally true. When you know God as the true God, you know about his holiness and your sinfulness, his Lordship and your rebellion. You also know he takes these kinds of people and makes them his own. A proper understanding of his gift makes one unable to be satisfied with a mumbled prayer and lifeless reading of Psalm 117. When you truly know God, you will love God with all your heart, soul, strength and mind. You will pray. You will read. You will know and acknowledge him as the only true God.
  2. Family Study. Your love for God will inevitably spill over into relationships. You will want to teach your children from God’s word. To maximize effectiveness, make family devotions a routine. Pick the same time every day and practice family worship then. Help your children understand the Bible in two broad categories: 1. what they need to know about God; 2. what they need to do to worship him. Then you can tell them, “Love God and do not steal,” or “Love God and be kind to your sister.” Worship of God is expressed in action. Give your children the joy of being able to worship God from an early age.
  3. Corporate Worship. It is easy to neglect corporate worship. However there is no better way to teach your children that God is the one true God to be worshiped. Tell your kids: “We’re going to worship the Lord now.” Tell them how you love to worship the Lord. Don’t allow them to speak negatively about the worship of the God who bought you at the cost of the life of his Beloved Son.

Worship of the true God forms the foundation of all that we will do in our homes and with our own lives. Is the Lord your God? Then worship him by yourself, in your family and in your church.

Why Should Christians Be Joyful?

Gift

One time my wife and I gave our oldest daughter a doll house. She had waited for what must have seemed like an eternity. Finally on her third birthday we gave her the doll house as a gift. When she took off her blindfold and saw the gift set up on the table for her all she could do is jump for joy, shout “thank yous”, and hug and kiss her mom and me. We could tell it was a precious gift for her.

Transitioning now to the spiritual realm, our response is not often the same when it comes to the gift of eternal life. We know from the Bible the God is the maker of all things. He made all things visible, invisible, spiritual, or material. Everything we see around us is obligated to him. The bad news is that we also know from the Bible that we sin against God every day. Our thoughts, words, and deeds are not faithful to him, neither can they be because of our sinful nature. This condition places us in a position of great guilt before him. Only when we realize the truth both of who God is and who we are will we realize the greatness of his gift to us. If we do not think much of the greatness of God, we will not realize his gracious condescension. If we are not aware of the depth of our sin, we will not grasp our desperate need of salvation. Without this understanding the Bible will be just another fantastical fairy-tale, or some opium for the masses.

However, the Bible is good news for those who receive God’s promises by faith. In fact, the news is so good, our response should be 10,000 times that of my daughter when she received her doll-house. If someone gave you one million dollars, you would do more than buy a canned Hallmark card and no one would have to tell you to do so. Yet we Christians often respond with apathy and indifference toward the things of God. It seems we have missed the preciousness of God’s gift to us.

Spend some time in Genesis 1-3, meditate on the significance of what is recorded there and go out and live with joyful enthusiasm for the God who made you, redeemed you and sustains you.