Richard Sibbes on the Holy Spirit

“The wind … bears down all before it, beats down houses, and trees, like the cedars of Lebanon, turns them up by the roots, and lays all flat. So the Spirit is mighty in operation. There is no standing before it. It brings down mountains, and every high thing that exalts itself, and lays them level; nay, the Roman and those other mighty empires could not stand before it.”

From Sibbes’ Bowels Opened.

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From a Recent Paper Discussing Trinitarian Thinking (Lack of) in Evangelical Churches

In evangelical churches where limited Trinitarian thinking prevails, the Trinity is often a concept that people are keen to affirm (indeed many will recognize that not to do so would be to slip into heresy), and yet the riches that have been given to the Church in God’s Trinitarian self-revelation (for her own edification and for the salvation of the nations) are so often absent. A little Trinitarian language here and there passes for Trinitarian thinking and the result is a kind of theological caricature, which suggests the continued presence of one of Christianity’s foundational doctrines, while effectively ensuring its functional absence, and this has the potential to be every bit as dangerous as full-fledged heresy.

The church’s claim to union with God is an audacious claim, but, precisely because we have a Trinitarian God, it is a legitimate claim. Evangelical churches are settling for less whenever they substitute robust Trinitarian thinking and practice for various brands of limited Trinitarian thinking, which can only offer a limited and a less attractive gospel. That God sanctifies and saves is good news. That in Christ and by the Spirit we are invited to enter into the eternal fellowship that the Father, Son and Holy Spirit have enjoyed for eternity is very good news.

Sin and humanity

A good quote from my systematic theology class, on humanity and sin:

“In the light of Christ’s righteousness we learn that sin is a deformation of human nature, the spoiling of humanity, not part of its definition; through sin, we become less human, not more. This knowledge is hard and shaming, but also hopeful. If sin were intrinsic to human nature, then we could not cease being sinful without ceasing to be human; redemption from sin would be our destruction. The righteousness of Christ therefore not only discloses the corruption of sin, but offers the hope of salvation, since we are invited to feed on his body and blood and be transformed into his image.”

— Dr. David Yeago

A quote from Charles Spurgeon

Do you think that you must be lost because you are a sinner? This is the reason why you can be saved. Because you own yourself to be a sinner I would encourage you to believe that grace is ordained for such as you are. One of our hymn-writers even dared to say:
 
A sinner is a sacred thing;
The Holy Ghost hath made him so.
 
It is truly so, that Jesus seeks and saves that which is lost. He died and made a real atonement for real sinners. When men are not playing with words, or calling themselves “miserable sinners,” out of mere compliment, I feel overjoyed to meet with them. I would be glad to talk all night to bona fide sinners. The inn of mercy never closes its doors upon such, neither weekdays nor Sunday. Our Lord Jesus did not die for imaginary sins, but His heart’s blood was spilt to wash out deep crimson stains, which nothing else can remove.

Must grace be balanced with law?

Awhile back I was pointed towards the following blog post by Tullian Tchividjian.

http://thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/tullian/2013/02/08/inexhaustible-grace-for-an-exhausted-world/

I was asked for my opinion on the piece. Below are some (slightly edited) thoughts that occurred to me at the time. I thought I’d share these in case they are helpful to others who are thinking about the relationship between grace and law …

I’m sure there will be some who won’t like Tullian Tchividjian’s delivery — some of his wording is quite aggressive — maybe even Luther-esque! “Glory-hoarding, self-centered control freaks” would be a bit strong for some, especially Christians who believe that their motives are good and should at least be recognized as such, even if they do sometimes get things wrong. There are probably gentler ways to suggest that the motives behind rules-oriented Christian living need to be questioned. (I say that knowing that I’ve tended to choose words and phrases that some of the Christians I spend time with have found particularly offensive. I hope I’m learning how to do things better though!)

I think the point TT (I’m avoiding typing his surname) is making about grace being free is really important. I love much of what he says, especially this Jerry Bridges quote:

My observation of Christendom is that most of us tend to base our relationship with God on our performance instead of on His grace. If we’ve performed well—whatever ‘well’ is in our opinion—then we expect God to bless us. If we haven’t done so well, our expectations are reduced accordingly. In this sense, we live by works, rather than by grace. We are saved by grace, but we are living by the ‘sweat’ of our own performance. Moreover, we are always challenging ourselves and one another to ‘try harder’. We seem to believe success in the Christian life is basically up to us; our commitment, our discipline, and our zeal, with some help from God along the way. The realization that my daily relationship with God is based on the infinite merit of Christ instead of on my own performance is very freeing and joyous experience. But it is not meant to be a one-time experience; the truth needs to be reaffirmed daily.

You sometimes hear that we need to keep an equal balance between grace and law in order to avoid falling into legalism or licentiousness. (Satan doesn’t mind which side of the horse we fall off on.) But I wonder if keeping a balance between grace and law is, in fact, just another way to fall off the horse! (If legalism and licentiousness are left and right then perhaps grace-law balance is being bucked over the horse’s head! Am I taking the analogy too far?)

Maybe grace understood rightly is the answer – not grace understood wrongly, balanced with law.

It seems to me that we are bound/married either to the law or to Christ (Romans 7:1-6). If it’s one or the other then the Christian life cannot rightly be understood as 50% devotion to one husband and 50% devotion to the other. We would be trying to please Christ by returning to the old husband and giving him a significant place in our lives. I’m not sure that’s what Jesus, or any husband, would want! Actually I don’t think that’s what the old husband would want either since he always intended to point us to the Messiah! (Am I taking this analogy too far, as well?)

Maybe the 50/50 approach means well (wants to avoid harmful extremes) but it fails to take into account the law’s actual purpose, and its limitations.

The law rightly condemns and brings death (and it is entirely good and right as it condemns) but it can’t make us righteous. It was never intended to (Rom 3:20). Law can never change hearts. That’s why God has provided us with a life-giving, fruit-bearing husband.

If law was never intended to make us righteous then we mustn’t try to use it as a tool to affect heart change. We mustn’t treat the law as if it can bear fruit. The law condemns and brings death to sinners, and so Christ was condemned on the cross, but now, in our union with him, we have suffered death and have been raised to new life. That changes things. Christ fulfilled every jot and tittle of the beautiful and good law, and in him, we have done the same. Maybe there’s a fear in some circles that we’ll develop disdain for the law if grace is free but I think that’s impossible when we understand what it means to be in Christ. We understand that there is no conflict between the law and Christ. One was always meant to point to the other. So it’s not as though we’re looking back blowing raspberries at the old husband. The law is good and Christ has fulfilled it. So there’s no conflict between those who are in Christ and the law. We love all that the law is. But we understand that the law is not over us as it once was, and that Christ alone (not the law) is the one who bears fruit in our lives.

That doesn’t leave us like naughty school children who have got away with something and just can’t wait to do it again. We are now married to a worthy and lovely spouse. Our hearts are won. Whenever we see Jesus afresh our hearts are won again and again and sin becomes more and more foreign and futile.

There’s no need to add 50% law because it wouldn’t actually advance the cause. I think that’s important to point out (lovingly — as you know, that’s where I struggle) to people who long to be holy and want to have more victory over sin but keep trying to get there by looking over Christ’s shoulder to the law. So many people really do want to grow in godliness and they want their churches to grow in godliness but they don’t seem to be clear on what will actually make that happen. There’s a lot of that about, I think, and there’s a great need for gospel refreshment in churches.

Thomas Chalmers is strong on grace being free. He’s very clear that, though it’s counter-intuitive, free grace is actually the most effective “tool” to deliver us from ungodliness. Here’s a snippet from his “Expulsive Power” sermon:

Thus it is, that the freer the Gospel, the more sanctifying is the Gospel; and the more it is received as a doctrine of grace, the more will it be felt as a doctrine according to godliness. This is one of the secrets of the Christian life, that the more a man holds of God as a pensioner, the greater is the payment of service that he renders back again. On the tenure of “Do this and live,” a spirit of fearfulness is sure to enter; and the jealousies of a legal bargain chase away all confidence from the intercourse between God and man; and the creature striving to be square and even with his Creator, is, in fact, pursuing all the while his own selfishness, instead of God’s glory; and with all the conformities which he labours to accomplish, the soul of obedience is not there, the mind is not subject to the law of God, nor indeed under such an economy ever can be. It is only when, as in the Gospel, acceptance is bestowed as a present, without money and without price, that the security which man feels in God is placed beyond the reach of disturbance – or, that he can repose in Him, as one friend reposes in another – or, that any liberal and generous understanding can be established betwixt them – the one party rejoicing over the other to do him good – the other finding that the truest gladness of his heart lies in the impulse of a gratitude, by which it is awakened to the charms of a new moral existence. Salvation by grace – salvation by free grace – salvation not of works, but according to the mercy of God – salvation on such a footing is not more indispensable to the deliverance of our persons from the hand of justice, than it is to the deliverance of our hearts from the chill and the weight of ungodliness. Retain a single shred or fragment of legality with the Gospel, and we raise a topic of distrust between man and God. We take away from the power of the Gospel to melt and to conciliate. For this purpose, the freer it is, the better it is. That very peculiarity which so many dread as the germ of antinomianism, is, in fact, the germ of a new spirit, and a new inclination against it. Along with the light of a free Gospel, does there enter the love of the Gospel, which, in proportion as we impair the freeness, we are sure to chase away. And never does the sinner find within himself so mighty a moral transformation, as when under the belief that he is saved by grace, he feels constrained thereby to offer his heart a devoted thing, and to deny ungodliness. To do any work in the best manner, we should make use of the fittest tools for it.

A More Careful Theology of Criticism

Some thoughts on criticism from Kevin Deyoung (posted on the Gospel Coalition blog in the aftermath of the Elephant Room/T.D. Jakes controversy):

We need a more careful theology of criticism. There are several observations all Christians should be able to agree on, even if they sometimes pull us in opposite directions. (1) Let’s not assume the worst about people. (2) Let’s not shame those who aren’t immediately credulous when someone with a history of bad thinking says something that could be construed as maybe okay. (3) Let’s be very cautious in assigning motive. (4) Let’s not take everything personally or make everything personal. (5) Let’s not get our kicks from criticizing others and mucking around in controversy. (6) Let’s avoid facile condemnations of all criticism, realizing that the statement itself is a criticism and the Bible is full of heroes who had a lot of bones to pick. (7) Let’s accept that in this fallen world only the Lord can fully sort some things out and we don’t have go twelve rounds in every conflict.

That’s My King

This video has been around a long time but I don’t think I’ve posted it before. Truly worship-inducing stuff! 🙂

“I wish I could describe Him to you!”

“The heavens of heavens cannot contain Him, let alone a man explain Him.”

“Death couldn’t handle Him, and the grave couldn’t hold Him. That’s my King!”

Paul Blackham on the Religion of Self-Improvement vs Romans 8 and the Freedom of the Spirit

The modern religions of self-improvement will batter us with condemnation from every angle …

We need to lose weight, stop eating dairy, improve your relationships, eat more veg, drink more water, go to the gym more, organize your time better, develop your career, get on top of your savings, de-clutter your garage, make better investments, get promoted, live simply, live complicated, travel more, seize the day, redesign your CV, learn a new language, spend time in meditation each morning, do some yoga, lose more weight, tone your body, redecorate your home, renovate your shed, spend more time with your children, spend more time with your partner, spend more time doing sports, spend more time getting fit, spend more time getting new skills, spend more time reading, spend more time on your home, your body, your finances, your diet, your past, your present, your future … but don’t get stressed!

… It leads to endless condemnation …

Christ is Risen! Life Giving Words!

A song called Christ is Risen, by Matt Maher. Glory.

Let no one caught in sin remain
Inside the lie of inward shame
We fix our eyes upon the cross
And run to him who showed great love
And bled for us
Freely you bled, for us

Christ is risen from the dead
Trampling over death by death
Come awake, come awake!
Come and rise up from the grave!

Christ is risen from the dead
We are one with him again
Come awake, come awake!
Come and rise up from the grave!

Beneath the weight of all our sin
You bow to none but heavens will
No scheme of hell, no scoffer’s crown
No burden great can hold you down
In strength you reign
Forever let your church proclaim

Christ is risen from the dead
Trampling over death by death
Come awake, come awake!
Come and rise up from the grave

Christ is risen from the dead
We are one with him again
Come awake, come awake!
Come and rise up from the grave

Oh death! Where is your sting?
Oh hell! Where is your victory?
Oh Church! Come stand in the light!
The glory of God has defeated the night!

Oh death! Where is your sting?
Oh hell! Where is your victory?
Oh Church! Come stand in the light!
Our God is not dead, he’s alive! he’s alive!

Christ is risen from the dead
Trampling over death by death
Come awake, come awake!
Come and rise up from the grave
Christ is risen from the dead
We are one with him again
Come awake, come awake!
Come and rise up from the grave

Rise up from the grave…