Tag Archives: sanctification

God’s Ordinary Means of Grace

The outward and ordinary means whereby Christ communicates to his church the benefits of his mediation, are all his ordinances; especially the Word, sacraments, and prayer; all which are made effectual to the elect for their salvation. (Westminster Larger Catechism #154)

The quote above is well worth considering. It seeks to address how the grace of God is conveyed to his people. In other words, how does God usually make his gifts in Christ stick for his people. In the first place, notice the emphasis on two things: outward and ordinary. The former indicates that, whatever is about to be described, the discussion is focused on the external workings. Faith and repentance are worked in the heart of a man, but those cannot be observed. These outward means are the tools God’s Spirit uses externally to effect the inward change only he can. The latter qualifies our observations to the vast majority of cases. God can, and at times has, used unusual ways to show his people the benefits of being in Christ, but the discussion in WLC #154 centers around the most common outward methods, or means.

In the second place, these external ways that God uses in the majority of cases to convey the benefits of Christ’s mediation to his people are his ordinances. The word “ordinances” is not commonly used in conversation today, but it simply means religious rites, ceremonies, or practices. So all the religious practices assigned by God are used by him to accomplish his purposes of making plain the benefits of our salvation. However, there are three particular ones that are singled out for emphasis. The reason this is done is based on Acts 2:42 which describes the religious practice of the apostolic church in its earliest formation: the apostolic teaching, the fellowship, the breaking of bread, and prayers. In other words, the apostles focussed on the Word, sacraments, and prayer.

In the third place, that early practice should not lead anyone to suppose there is some superstitious benefit given by simply listening to sermons, participating in the sacraments, and saying rote prayers. These are only the outward means God uses to impart the benefits of Christ’s work. The emphasis must be on God and his internal work. He is the One who makes these external practices effectual, or causes them to have an effect in the heart of man. God regenerates his elect, chosen people giving them a new heart. He converts them giving faith in Christ and repentance over sin. And these changes and gifts make the proper receipt of these ordinances possible. God uses Word, sacrament and prayer with real effect…for those in whom he works faith.

To think preaching, the discipline of prayer, or the administration of the sacraments will effect change on their own is superstitious. However, to fail to recognize God’s work through these external means is to minimize the significance Scripture assigns to them.

Questions to consider:

  1. In your own words define the following terms: outward means, ordinary means, and ordinances.
  2. How is God’s internal work necessary for the effectualness of the outward means?
  3. Do you hold the ordinary means of grace (the Word, sacraments and prayer) in high esteem?

The Worship of God’s People

bell tower

Having considered worship through our work and family worship, I want to conclude with some brief thoughts about corporate worship. In our worship at work we, as individual members of Christ’s body, live out our faith before a watching world. In our worship at home we, as parents, are responsible to lead our families in worshiping God. Yet when we worship corporately, in church, we are called to gather by God as his body to express our joyful praise and be fed spiritually.

Now some may expect a presbyterian pastor to begin a discussion about the Regulative Principle of Worship at this time. This doctrine teaches that God’s specific commands regarding worship forms our understanding of what should be included in corporate worship. I certainly agree with that theological statement, but I should prefer to take another angle in discussing corporate worship today. I want to consider several reasons corporate worship is significant.

  1. God commands it. In a day where individualistic worship on a deer stand is seen as a viable alternative to church, it is important to reiterate that God’s people gather for worship. Hebrews 10:25 commands us not to neglect “to meet together, as is the habit of some”. The book of Acts is replete with examples of believers coming together for worship (Cf. Acts 2:42; 20:7). This pattern serves as a stark contrast to today’s view where church attendance is one of the optional activities of our week, rather than that around which we build our week.
  2. It is the delight of God’s people. The believer’s relationship with God flows from God’s pre-existing relationship with them. The Christian knows of God’s love for him and is therefore glad to come together with his new family, filled with adopted sons and daughters of the Lord, in order to praise and thank him for his precious gift to them. That is why David sings, “I was glad when they said to me, ‘Let us go to the house of the Lord!’” (Ps. 122:1). But what do our children see in us? Is corporate worship a joyful event for you, or is it something we simply do, or even worse, endure? The gathered worship of God’s people should be a joyful time when we come to delight ourselves in drawing near to God with the rest of the body of Christ.
  3. It is for our good. In corporate worship the ways that God shares his gracious gifts with his people are all present. Romans 10:14 stresses the importance of preaching, the central element of the worship service of any church worth its salt. Hebrews 10:24 describes links corporate assembly as one of the ways we stir each other up “to love and good works”.

With the Bible’s emphasis on corporate worship grounded in God’s command and the joy and upbuilding of his people, I would like to humbly suggest a change in our view of church. First, recognize corporate worship as the gift it is. God has given you a time to express your thanks to him and will feed your soul in the process. Second, if your church has morning and evening worship services, attend both. Do not satisfy yourself with worshiping God in his church 50% of the time. If you knew there was an ATM that dispensed $10,000 two times per day I am guessing you would make sure you were there on time each time.

To neglect the attendance of corporate worship makes a statement about how much you value it. So as God’s people, let us join with David’s joyful procession to the Lord’s house and take our families with us.

The Creator and His Creatures

the Creator seen in creation

“The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof, the world and those who dwell therein, for he has founded it upon the seas and established it upon the rivers.” Psalm 24:1-2 (ESV).

There is a reason the Bible begins with creation. Genesis 1:1 tells us that “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” God is the creator of our world. Everything we see in nature has been created by God. More than that, from Colossians 1:16 we know God’s creative work extends beyond the visible into the realms of the invisible too. In short, God made all things and continues to hold them together. Because God is the creator and sustainer of all things, all things belong to him and are obligated to him. Understanding this to be true about God, there are several observations we can make about how we should then relate to our Creator with our time, treasure and talents:

  1. Time. So often we treat time as a commodity to be distributed as we please. However, in our work environments we do not behave this way. We do not check into work and decide to have some “me-time” in the middle of the board meeting or construction project. Our bosses ensure we accomplish our tasks for the good of the company. However, the doctrine of vocation stemming from the protestant reformation teaches that all our work should be done with God in view. Our time should not be spent with a horizontal orientation, thinking primarily about men. Rather, our time should be spent with a vertical orientation, thinking primarily about God. He made us and our work. So we ought to honor God with our time.
  2. Treasure. Since God made all things he is the owner of all things. Whatever we have we received from God’s hand. We live in a materialistic culture and our tendency can be to treat the blessings of this life as ours and to enjoy them exclusively for our own benefits. Yet Proverbs 3:9 charges us to honor God with our wealth. The question is not what we would want to do with our treasure, but what God would have us do with his treasure. In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus charges us to seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness. That should be our orientation in the use of our money as well.
  3. Talent. Talents do not only describe the people who are gifted singers and musicians. Talents of all stripes are needed to strengthen the church. All church members have a talent which can be used to strengthen her. Some will be talented in ways completely conspicuous to others. Some have been given gifts to be used in very public ways. The talent given is less significant than the way it is used. We should use our talents wisely, to the glory of the One who gave them: our Creator.

God as creator is a significant theological truth. Our Creator is not our peer, but he is Lord of the universe. Since we also are part of his creation, we must recognize our obligation to him. He has given us time, treasure and talents to be used joyfully as we serve him. Yet our joy is not the primary objective in our living. Our chief end is to glorify God and enjoy him forever. That statement, my dear friends, is not a suggestion. As his creatures, it is our obligation.

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

Conflict

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.

Daddy, Does It Matter if I Sin?

father-son-1

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.

Leading Like a Man

Wedding Rings

Writing an article on the role of husbands should always make the writer feel a twinge of hypocrisy. I know you know this, but there is no such thing as a perfect husband. An article like this one make the writer painfully aware of his own short-comings as a husband. I think we, as husbands, often think of ourselves as better than we really are. A quick look at our standard should be enough to bring us back down to earth. Christ is the standard of the proper treatment of our wives. Even the most proud-hearted husband would have to admit he has not loved his wife as Christ loved the church. That does not mean we should give up. Instead we should repent, and to make a start below are two of the most basic sins we husbands commit and some humble suggestions of solutions:

  1. Selfish Love. So often we love our wives so as to bring maximum comfort to ourselves. How many of us, when getting a snack on our romantic evening together, do a quick size calculation before giving our wives their “half?” Even our best attempts at love have twinges of selfishness. The solution is not a greater affection for our wives, but rather a greater affection for the Lord. It is in our proper understanding of the work of Christ and the greatness of his forgiveness for us that our expression will change. Only when we love our Savior more will we, as husbands, show honor to the woman as the weaker vessel (1 Pet. 3:7). The solution to selfish love is selfless love, the kind of love that shows you love your wife as Christ loved the church.
  2. Spiritual Abdication. Most of us understand the need to provide materially for our wives. Scripture gives a very different emphasis. Instead of material provisions the Bible speaks of spiritual provision. We are to be used by the Holy Spirit as sanctifying agents in our marriage. We are to cleanse our wives with “the washing of water with the word,” (Eph. 5:26) in order that they would grow spiritually. To perform this task something greater than our words is needed. We need to set God’s word before our wives. We may fail to read Scripture to our wives because they ask difficult questions, or because we would rather watch the latest episode of our favorite TV show. The Bible calls us back again: Husbands, wash your wives with the word of God. Make that commitment to read just a little more of God’s word. It does not need to be profound. You just need to read. If she asks a question you cannot answer, beg for time and find the answer.

If, by the grace of the Holy Spirit, we might grow in our spiritual earnestness how much better our marriages might be. We may even be convinced of the selfishness of our love.

My Mouth Says Yes, My Body Says No

burden

If I were to ask you what my favorite snack is, would you know? Of course not. But there is a way to find out. The solution is to get me in a room full snacks and see which bowl I head toward first. If I claim to love banana cream pie but instead spend all my time at the Doritos bowl you will disregard my previous claim. My actions confirm the trustworthiness of my words. What we do clarifies, and sometimes re-defines, what we say.

Family. Much of our instruction as parents is validated, or invalidated, by the decisions we make around our children. For example, most Christian parents have good intentions to teach their children to love God. But what value are we communicating to our children’s hearts when we neglect corporate worship to attend an event of our own choosing like a music recital, sports event or hunting trip. Our instruction may be, “Love God, no matter what,” but our actions say, “Love God if you don’t have a better offer.”

Marriage. No matter how often we tell our wives we love them, our actions can undo all those words. If you do not believe me, test the hypothesis: try making your wedding anniversary the same as every other day. Do not mention the special nature of the day, no flowers or chocolates, no special date. Instead encourage her to wash your car and fold that special shirt you wear when you go golfing with the guys. Your wife’s response would be both predictable and justified. You may be saying “I love you,” with your words, but by your actions you are saying, “I do not care anything about you whatsoever.”

Church. In the Presbyterian Church in America, membership vows include a promise to support the church in its worship and work. As a pastor, I’ve never met anyone who would take umbrage with this part of their vows. Yet why are churches’ evening services so poorly attended? Our words may say, “I’m committed,” but our actions say, “I’ll come 50% of the time.”

God. Perhaps the primary relationship that sits over all the previously mentioned ones is our relationship with God. As Christians, we profess faith in Christ’s work alone as the securing action of our redemption. Flowing from this redemption is God’s charge to “be holy, for I am holy.” (Cf. 1 Pet. 1:16). God in his word defines what it means to be set apart, dedicated in love to the Lord. The problem, of course, is our sin. Sin says, “I love myself more than I love God.” No matter the transgression, our action confirms love for self. Our only solution is to cry out to the Lord for deliverance. And having been delivered we must begin again learning to match our actions to our words through the power of the God at work it us (Phil. 2:12-13).

Healthy Family Worship Habits

prayer

Family worship is typically a source of much guilt for us. Not so much because of the content of what may be discussed, but rather in our neglect of it. We may read books about family worship, we may know what we are supposed to do in family worship, but we may still neglect the practice. Below are some ways family worship can become a habit in your family.

  1. Meditate often on the promises of Scripture. Family worship will be a painful chore if it does not flow from a deep love for God. A deep love for God flows from his deep love for us, summarized in his promises. So meditate on them so you would have joy in the Christian discipline of family worship.
  2. Have a plan. Without some kind of direction and purpose to your family worship, you will lack a clear message. This, in turn, will distract your children and cause you to be discouraged. And when you are discouraged…you will quit.
  3. Keep it simple. Sometimes we fathers are paralyzed by our desire to be profound. We want our family worship lesson to sound like our favorite celebrity pastor. There is a reason these men are well-known: they are uniquely gifted communicators. More significant than your infrequent profundity is your faithful daily reading of Scripture to your family. Stay within your range of gifts, and lead your family in the study of God’s pure words.
  4. Make it a routine. We live in a time when “routine” is a bad word. However, routine is very helpful in establishing habits. Choose a time when you will gather as a family to worship. In our family it has typically been around one of the family meals. Depending on our schedule for the semester, we will come together for family worship either around the breakfast or supper table. By choosing a regular time, you and your children will learn to expect the event, and miss it when it does not happen.
  5. Keep your material close at hand. If you have to rummage around your house to find your Bibles you have introduced a potential excuse. Keep all those things in a cupboard or drawer nearby. Do not tempt your own laziness by having your family worship materials in the next county.
  6. Be faithful in private worship. The strength of your family worship will only be as strong as your own commitment to the pursuit of God’s word. Deuteronomy 6:5-7 is the passage that is most often cited when it comes to our duty of family worship. That passage lays out a specific order. First the parent is to love God and his word. Then he is to pass it on to his children.

The word of God feeds our souls. For that reason we should be diligent to set it before our children daily. Make it a priority in your family starting today.

What Should I Do in Family Worship?

Amazing Grace

Last post we talked about personal and family worship as essential to the health of the family. Though we recognize the significance of family worship, sometimes the “how” of implementing this joyful duty is less clear. Below are some thoughts on what to include as we lead our families in worship.

Pray Together. Children learn how to pray from their parents. If they never hear us pray for anything other than the meal, how will they develop in prayer? For our children who are just learning to pray, we can supply some basic guidelines for their prayers. In our home, a staple for our youngest prayers is asking God to forgive their sin and thanking him for taking care of them. As children grow in maturity, they quickly learn to verbalize their own thoughts. Since these thoughts have various degrees of purity and faithfulness to God’s will, we should take time to instruct our children in prayer. Fortunately the Bible supplies the model in the Lord’s Prayer. Not only should we teach them to memorize the prayer, but also instruct them as to what the six petitions mean. Westminster Shorter Catechism numbers 100-107 provide great help to us.

Study Together. As basic as this truth may seem in a post on Family Worship it still must be said. Parents are to set the words and commands of God before our children (Cf. Deut. 6:6-7). We cannot fulfill this parental responsibility when the book in which the words are found is never opened. The next question in your mind might be: “But what should I study from God’s word?” I have some thoughts on that question, but it will wait until the next post. For now let us recognize that we must study the Bible with our children if we expect them to know it.

Sing Together. Even though there is a healthy range in musical ability across families, psalms and hymns should be sung in our homes. For some this task is easy due of the musical gifts the Lord has given. For others, this part of family worship is more difficult. In extreme cases, mp3s and CDs can provide the necessary scaffolding to be able to sing together. However, for the most part, we should pick up our favorite psalter and hymnal and worship God in song together, even if it is only a joyful noise. Even 3 year-olds can easily learn psalms and hymns. Once known, they will have the opportunity to participate in the church’s worship when those songs are selected by the pastor. As our children mature we can teach them to sing parts and have them accompany our singing with different instruments, all to the praise and glory of God.

Family worship can be a tremendous spiritual catalyst. As the Holy Spirit gives fruit, our children will learn how to pray, participate in congregational worship, and hear the very promises and commands of God. Do not deprive your children of that opportunity.

Love Your Spouse by Loving God

Heart Tree

Christian marriage, like all of life, is shaped by self-denial. There is, of course, an understanding among most adults that we cannot always get our way in human relationships. However, I’m talking about something a little different: the denial of self in pursuit of our daily worship of God. Romans 12:1 teaches we are, by God’s mercy, to present our bodies “as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God.” The motive is not inward, but an act of worship toward God. As John Calvin has said, that “we are consecrated and dedicated to God, and, therefore, should not henceforth think, speak, design, or act, without a view to his glory.” (On the Christian Life, Chapter 2, Section 1). Glorifying God should happen in all of life, so what shape does that take in our marriage relationships?

  1. Think Sympathetically. The apostle Paul tells the Philippian Christians to think about that which is true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, commendable, excellent, and worthy of praise (Phil. 4:8). Our Heavenly Father is all those things and, as his adopted children, we are to imitate him (Eph. 5:1). All people are a little irritating at times, but think on that which is excellent: the work of the Holy Spirit in the life of your spouse. Think of the ways your spouse has been used by God to bless and sanctify you. In doing so, you give glory to God for the goodness he has worked in your spouse.
  2. Communicate Graciously. So often we communicate our love for each other according to our own preferences. We should instead take account of the likes and needs of our spouse in a kind and tenderhearted way (Eph. 4:32). If your wife needs help managing the children we are not expressing concern about them when we buy them our favorite cordless drill. That purchase was made for you, not her. God calls us to love our fellow man as ourselves. Since our spouses are included within that category, we should honor the Lord in our expressions of affection by being tender-hearted as he commands.
  3. Serve Selflessly. The first years marriage, Lisa and I would argue about who worked harder. We were both convinced we were shouldering the bulk of the family’s load. Obviously we were thinking of our own glory instead of God’s. Yet he commands us to “through love, serve one another.” (Gal. 5:13). The most important question is not whether you are working harder than your spouse, but whether you are effectively and selflessly performing your God-ordained role. In doing so you give glory to God.

The Bible tells us we are to love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength. The reflection of the content of your heart can only be seen by what you do. It is not most clearly seen in what we do when we know everyone is watching, but around the one person most likely accept us despite all our warts and sins.