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Over the past week, my posts have addressed doubt, assurance and grace:
Grace in a Pauline context (refuting the ‘divine spark’ error)
The doctrine of grace is essential for the true Christian. John MacArthur defines grace as follows (emphases mine below):
the free and benevolent influence of a holy God operating sovereignly in the lives of undeserving sinners.
The doctrine of grace is monergistic. That means that we can do nothing to effect our salvation; only divine grace can bring us to faith and salvation.
However, a number of Protestant denominations — as well as the Catholic and Orthodox Churches — teach synergism, which says that sinful man must work with God’s grace in order to be saved.
Synergism is the opposite of monergism and is unbiblical.
An article from Got Questions Ministries, ‘Monergism vs Synergism’, gives a good explanation of synergism in Protestant denominations. It concludes:
… the weight of the logical evidence and the weight of the biblical evidence supports the monergistic view of salvation—God is the author and perfector of our salvation (Hebrews 12:2). He who began a good work in us will perfect it on the day of Christ Jesus (Philippians 1:6). Monergism not only has a profound impact on how one views salvation, but on evangelism as well. If salvation is solely based on God’s saving grace, then there is no room for us to boast, and all the glory goes to Him (Ephesians 2:8-9) … Monergism equals greater glory to God!
Monergism also gives the believer assurance of salvation. Although we will spend the rest of our lives battling sin, God’s grace will regenerate us and lead us along the path to sanctification, during which — as a matter of course, not coercion — we will produce the fruits of our faith, evidenced in adoration of Him and goodness towards others.
Simply put, the main inner characteristic of faith and sanctification coming to us through divine grace is desiring God. (Incidentally, ‘Desiring God’ is the name of Baptist minister and author John Piper’s website.)
It’s a powerful combination of words. We have assurance when, above all else, we desire God via a belief in Christ Jesus.
The monergist asks for — and receives — God’s grace to work through him for His greater glory.
On the other hand, the synergist thinks, erroneously, that he has a tick-list of works to do — as if God’s grace does only half the job. Synergism is works-based salvation, which goes against Holy Scripture. It is semi-Pelagian, theologically erroneous. Pelagianism is a heresy.
The Revd Bob DeWaay — one of the pastors at Gospel of Grace Fellowship in Edina, Minnesota, and founder of Critical Issues Commentary, an online discernment ministry — has made that journey from synergism to monergism.
I excerpted his experiences in one of my posts on pietism: ‘Pietism in America today: the Emergents and the Purpose Driven Church’.
One of the reasons that people are confused or turned off by Christianity is the error which so many denominations and independent churches display. This goes back centuries — from the pre-Reformation Church, to the first European pietists and then to the rest of the world. My post explains the journey. Unfortunately, synergism is alive and well today.
What follows are but a small taster of DeWaay’s own experience as detailed therein:
My journey into the “deeper life” oftentimes involved embracing contradictory teachings. For example, two of my favorite teachers in the early 1970’s were Watchman Nee and Kenneth Hagin. One taught a deeper Christian life through suffering) and the other taught a higher order Christianity that could cause one to be free from bodily ailments and poverty.The hook was that both claimed to have the secret to becoming an extraordinary Christian. I found out that they didn’t ...
By God’s grace I went back to the Bible and determined to merely teach verse by verse from that point on. It took another five or six years to rid myself of the various errors I had embraced and then I taught Romans in 1986. Through that study I came to appreciate the doctrines of grace. That understanding opened my thinking and was the turning point for my ministry. I also came to realize that the wrong-thinking that attracted me to pietism was that I held to a theology based on human ability rather than grace alone. Once I grasped that, I never looked back …
Pietism can be practiced many ways including enforced solitude, asceticism of various forms, man made religious practices, legalism, submission to human authorities who claim special status, and many other practices and teachings …
Such teachings lead to elitism and comparing ourselves to others. The Bible tells us not to do that. Paul stated that these practices “are of no value against fleshly indulgence.”
DeWaay is describing his former pietistic Christian life in synergism. Once he began reading the Bible, he embraced monergism.
I had a similar experience, although in a less legalistic and non-pietistic denomination. Until I became an Anglican, I had continual nagging doubt that I was never doing enough to help effect my salvation. I felt I had to show willing and do something.
It was only a few years ago, shortly before starting this blog, that I began reading about the doctrine of grace on monergistic sites. The doctrine of grace opened my eyes. Like DeWaay, I never looked back.
It is spiritually liberating to know that, in spite of my many sins, God gives me the grace to desire a closer relationship with our Lord and embrace the lifelong journey of sanctification. I know He will be with me every moment of that journey. I can accomplish nothing without His grace.
It is my prayer that every enquirer and believer embraces monergism. Reading the Bible, as DeWaay discovered many years ago, points the way to a belief in the five Solas: Sola Scriptura (Scripture Alone), Sola Gratia (Grace Alone), Sola Fide (Faith Alone), Solus Christus (Christ Alone) and Soli Deo Gloria (To the Glory to God Alone).
By the way, Bob DeWaay is now recovering from a serious illness which temporarily interrupted his ministry for a few years. His daughter Jessica’s blog has more here and here. His recovery has been remarkable. It is indeed a great blessing that he has been able to return to the pulpit and his website.
The Revd Walter Bright has an excellent post on the short New Testament book of Philemon.
Philemon might not be well known to some Christians, but, as ‘Refreshing Times of Reconciliation’ explains, it is nonetheless an important letter which St Paul wrote to one of his converts Philemon concerning the man’s slave Onesimus, who also converted.
Philemon is loath to forgive Onesimus for stealing from him then fleeing to Rome. Paul counsels Philemon, encouraging him to receive Onesimus as a brother in Christ.
Bright’s post gives us a concise exegesis with concordance of the letter to Philemon in a seven-step route to reconciliation. Here is a brief sampler:
3. There is always a time of refreshing when we humble ourselves in the process of reconciliation… See verse 10 ( I appeal)
4. There is always a time of refreshing when we validate one another… when we recognize the worth of others… See verse 11
6. There is always a time of refreshing when we see each other clearly… See verse 16; 2 Cor. 5:16, 17 (no longer a slave but a brother)
Then comes this superb observation:
After reading the book of Philemon, we come across the names of God and Christ, but not once is the Holy Spirit mentioned. But, I can tell you, by the time you get through these [']7 refresh my heart challenge[s'] Paul gives to Philemon, you are in for a mighty moving of the Spirit of God. The Spirit will release his presence in ways you’ve never experienced.
If you haven’t read Philemon before, now is the time. Then, read Bright’s post with its encouraging words.
One of the more popular maxims of today’s Church is ‘let go and let God’.
This is a relatively recent saying. Its origin is unclear; regardless, John MacArthur says this equivalent of ‘Don’t worry, be happy’ is unbiblical.
In ‘The Person and Power of God in Your Spiritual Growth’ he explains why. A few excerpts follow, emphases mine below:
The first key to God’s work in our sanctification is His personhood …
Most pagan deities are described as impersonal, remote, and indifferent. That is not surprising, because false gods are fabricated by men out of fear and superstition. Even those that have personal characteristics are not portrayed as desiring fellowship with their worshipers. And understandably, their worshipers have no desire to fellowship with them.
The God of Scripture has unimaginable love for fallen, sinful mankind, which has rebelled against Him, blasphemed Him, and vilified Him. He has such great love for them “that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life. For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him” (John 3:16-17). It is not the Lord’s will “for any to perish but for all to come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9).
For those who belong to Him, the God of Scripture has even greater love and the closest of personal relationships. Throughout Scripture, God is referred to as His people’s Father—on a national level in the Old Testament (cf. Isaiah 63:16, 64:8), and individually in the New (cf. Matthew 5:16, 45, 48; 6:1, 9; 23:9). Adam and Eve, Moses, and many other Old Testament saints spoke with God directly. “The Lord used to speak to Moses face to face, just as a man speaks to his friend” (Exodus 33:11).
The second essential truth emphasized in Philippians 2:13 concerning God’s part in believers’ sanctification is His divine power. Above all else, it is God “who is at work” (Philippians 2:13) in the lives of His children. He calls them to obey, and then, through His sovereign power, energizes their obedience. He calls them to His service, and then empowers their service. He calls them to holiness, and then empowers them to pursue holiness.
God Himself is the believer’s supreme and indispensable resource and power. The wonder of all wonders is that “it is God who is at work” (Philippians 2:13) in them. Paul summed it up in Colossians 1:29 when he said, “I labor, striving according to His power, which mightily works within me.”
Note that our relationship with God is intensely personal. No other world faith can offer this one-on-one rapport.
Furthermore, the idea that God expects us to be passive or inactive individuals — the way ‘Let go and let God’ is often interpreted — has no foundation in Scripture.
Many unbelievers and some lukewarm believers think that fearing God is unhealthy.
They also think that God is somehow ‘bad’ for encouraging this fear.
Yet, the fear of which the Bible speaks is an awe that we mere mortals, prone to sin, cannot comprehend.
To believers, ‘fear’ and ‘dread’ differ in meaning from the way we understand these familiar words in a secular context.
John MacArthur has a useful blog post on the subject called ‘The Gravity of Sin’, well worth reading in full.
The section called ‘The Fear of the Lord’ stood out for me and it might help us explain this holy fear to others (emphases mine):
Although God is loving, merciful, and forgiving, He nevertheless holds believers accountable for disobedience. Like John, Paul understood well that “if we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:8–9).
Knowing that he serves a holy and just God, the faithful believer will always live with “fear and trembling.”
An important Old Testament truth is “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” (Psalm 111:10; cf. Proverbs 1:7, 9:10). It’s not the fear of being doomed to eternal torment, nor a hopeless dread of judgment that leads to despair. Instead, it’s a reverential fear, a holy concern to give God the honor He deserves and avoid the chastening of His displeasure. It protects against temptation and sin and gives motivation for obedient, righteous living.
Such fear involves self-distrust, a sensitive conscience, and being on guard against temptation. It necessitates opposing pride, and being constantly aware of the deceitfulness of one’s heart, as well as the subtlety and strength of one’s inner corruption. It is a dread that seeks to avoid anything that would offend and dishonor God.
John MacArthur’s blog post of June 30, 2014, ‘Sin and the Work of the Spirit’, warns Christians against easy conversions and describes what conversion really means.
MacArthur takes the epistle 1 John for his primary text and supports it with passages from Paul’s letters and other books of the New Testament.
John’s portrait of true faith highlights the conflict between sin and saving faith. Over and over, he makes clear that true believers cannot and will not continue to live in open, unrepentant sin after salvation.
The new birth—what John calls being “born of God”—epitomizes the work of the Holy Spirit (cf. John 3:3-8). The Spirit implants in those He regenerates the essence of His divine life, which John pictures as a “seed.” Just as a human birth results from an implanted seed that grows into new physical life, so also spiritual life begins when, at the moment of regeneration, the divine seed is implanted by the Spirit within the one who believes.
Also (italics in the original):
The new birth is also a monergistic operation, which means God’s Spirit alone accomplishes it (as opposed to synergistic, which means that human effort participates in the process).
MacArthur’s post is a good one for Christians to read and understand, especially if they are new or returning to the faith.
With regard to St John’s epistles — letters — I did a series on them two years ago. It is a pity that the Lectionary editors could not include more in their readings for public worship.
They can be found on my Essential Bible Verses page and are as follows for 1 John. Many of them contain excerpts from John MacArthur’s sermons and reveal John the Divine’s blueprint for Christian living:
1 John 2:3-11 – Commandments, obedience, light, darkness, love of neighbour
1 John 2:12-17 – speaking to converts as they are in sanctification, countering worldliness
1 John 2:18-29 – antichrists, false teachers, belief in Christ
1 John 3:9-13 – sin, love one another, unbelievers, Cain, first murder, hate
1 John 3:14-18 – love one another, hate akin to murder
1 John 3:19-24 – assurance, conscience
1 John 4:1-6 – discernment, antichrist, the world, faith, belief
1 John 4:7-13 – Christian love, Christ as propitiation
1 John 4:14-21 – perfect love, God loved us first
1 John 5:7-13 – Holy Trinity, unbelief, Christ’s blood and water
1 John 5:14-21 – truth of and confidence in Jesus Christ, faith, prayer, sin, Satan and the world, beware of idols
John MacArthur’s most recent post on the Grace To You blog is called ‘Who Is Responsible For Your Spiritual Growth?’
Many readers will find it useful, especially as he cites a number of passages from Paul’s epistles.
This paragraph, in particular, stood out:
God is responsible for supplying everything you need for life and godliness, and you are responsible for actively using that power to grow in sanctification for His glory. The paradox is found in the believer being both fully responsible, and yet fully dependent on God’s supply. We may not fully comprehend the paradox, but we can exercise faith that it is resolved in the infinite wisdom of God and respond in obedience to His commands.
Please take a few minutes to read his article in full.
One of the drawbacks of being a church member is putting up with busybodies.
We all sin and churchgoers are no exception. Few things are as irritating or dispiriting as the church member who enjoys butting in to others’ business and pointing out their weaknesses.
Yes, they cite Scripture. Yes, they’re probably right.
But what if the person they are criticising is already aware of their own particular shortcomings?
We can become impatient with others’ sins, mainly because we sin differently.
I often wonder, however, if church busybodies criticise others they see as less gifted in the faith in order to make themselves look better.
The Revd Matt Kennedy is an Anglican priest and rector of Good Shepherd Church in Binghamton, New York. He is a regular columnist at Stand Firm.
His recent article ‘Speaking into Someone’s Life’ has seven excellent questions we should consider before interfering in someone else’s affairs.
His article has something for all of us, even if we do not fall into the category of busybody or troublemaker.
What follows are his seven questions someone should answer before interfering. Notional ‘love’ may come across as spite or one-upmanship, both of which hurt:
1. Is what I am planning to say true in an objective sense or just reflective of my own feelings? (expressing your feelings and speaking the truth are not synonymous. Scripture is the guide here, not your heart)
2. Is the person caught up in a sin or is he/she merely getting on my nerves? (a personality clash is not a reason to “confront” someone)
3. Do I have a past history of strife, jealousy, enmity or anger with this person? (If so, you probably aren’t the person to “restore gently”)
4. Do I genuinely want to help the person…am I willing to invest the time to meet, discuss, share my own struggles, and help this person escape from the sin I’ve observed? (if not, you’re not qualified to speak)
5. Is it something that the person knows about already and is trying to work on? If so, how would it be helpful for you to point out again what he/she already knows?
6. Do I have the ability to speak with gentleness and kindness or am I a battle axe? (if you don’t know, ask your wife, husband or closest friends. If you’re not kind, leave it for someone else)
7. Have I been praying for this person in private regularly? (If not, chances are that your heart is not in the right place)
How many church busybodies have examined their consciences in this area before opening their mouths?
That said, St Paul counsels the Galatians (Galatians 6:1):
But watch yourselves, or you also may be tempted.
No doubt, the time will come when most of us will feel the need to criticise or interfere unprofitably. This is why Mr Kennedy’s questions — and our answers — are so important.
The closest I get to praying for those who have seriously wronged me in the past is to send a blanket prayer of asking God’s blessing on everyone in the world.
I mean it. It is sincere and I do hope God blesses them. That includes my enemies.
However, for those of us who are our own worst critics, finding out that someone else is piling on the dirt needlessly is, well, nearly unforgiveable. Yet, Scripture tells us we must forgive those who offend us. And those words are in the Lord’s Prayer.
In it, he says that the best way to reach them is not by lecturing them but by showing them a godly and Christian example.
What follows is an excerpt, so please be sure to read his entire post (emphases mine):
The hardest thing to do is to pray for people who don’t like you, could care less about you and are mean-spirited toward you. It’s even more difficult to preach or teach to these same people without being bitter toward them in your sermons. Our calling is to pray for the people of God and not punish them for their sins toward us. We easily fall into sin when we fail to do the first thing – commit to prayer. You will never fulfill the second part of this calling if you fail to obey the first. A lot of pastors use their preaching as pay back to mean-spirited church folk. I have done that before and it is wrong
º Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you
º Be angry and sin not
º Don’t let the sun go down on your wrath
º Give no opportunity to the devil
º Let the peace of Christ rule your heart
º Cast all your anxieties and care upon Jesus – He cares
His post contains a very useful compilation of ways we can commit to praying for our enemies — and, possibly, encourage them to mend their differences with us.
If you, like me, find praying for a specific nemesis — past or present — difficult, this is a post well worth consulting.
I spent an afternoon looking at all the paintings and reading the explanations underneath. Nearly all the paintings of families included a small memento mori of children or parents who predeceased them.
Although this Dutch family portrait was not among the exhibits, it is typical of what I viewed that afternoon. The two small reclining figures to the left of the mother’s head are her children who died in infancy.
The exhibition also emphasised that people at that time believed a ‘good’ death was essential. This meant that one mustn’t die in violent circumstances — brawl, stabbing — because it could mean that the deceased might have been engaging in sin (e.g. drunkenness, anger, revenge) which caused his demise.
A prominent Scottish Presbyterian minister of the day was Samuel Rutherford, made Professor of Divinity at St Andrews University in 1638.
He wrote (emphases mine):
What you do amiss in your life today, you may amend tomorrow; for as many suns as God maketh to arise upon you, you have as many new lives; but you can die but once; and if you mar that business, you cannot come back to mend that piece of work again; no man sinneth twice in dying ill; as we die but once, so we die but ill or well once.
Rutherford, incidentally, was diligent in serving his congregation prior to his appointment at St Andrews. He was known for his Bible study, scholarly preaching and visiting the sick.
Those of us who have Christian blogs will be heartened to read this of Rutherford during the time he lived in Aberdeen:
‘his writing desk’, was said to be, ‘perhaps the most effective and widely resounding pulpit then in Christendom’.
May we pray and strive for the same result.
Pastor Ashcraft of Mustard Seed Budget has a thought-provoking post on a few famous men of letters.
In it, he says (italics in the original):
It amazes me that people can read Hemingway and not turn to God. They embrace his hopelessness and rail against God. His message led him to commit suicide at 61. The Bible says: You will know the tree by its fruit. In other words: Before you buy into someone’s message, see if it worked for that person, at least.
Fellow Christians cannot help but agree. Some would say not to read the writings of such men, yet, Ashcraft enjoys Hemingway as a storyteller, not as someone whose outlook on life should be followed.
Please read his post to find out more of what about happened to Hemingway and other faithless men of letters such as Jean-Paul Sartre and Friedrich Nietzsche.