Category Archives: Faith

A Divine Promise For the Stuck

Pastors get stuck in the mud. Churches and denominations get stuck. Every Christian gets stuck in the affairs and demands of life. Or so it seems. As John Piper’s church began to feel mud creep around their ankles, he preached on the topic and concluded the sermon with this word of personal application:

Know this for your own personal life. Right now there’s not a person who is not stuck in something. You are stuck financially, or stuck in your health, or stuck in your marriage, or stuck in your vocation, or stuck in your spiritual growth. There’s not a person in this room who doesn’t feel in some sense: this is a moment when I’m not making any progress and everything seems futile that I try. That is never the case with the Christian! God is always doing more than you know — a thousand times more than you know. One of the great blessings of getting old is that you start to see the patterns and you can recognize them and not get so panicky as you were in your earlier years. [11/20/11 sermon video, 25:40­–26:40]

Where in life are you tempted to feel stuck?

Romans 15:13

Paul’s prayer wish for the believers in Rome:

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.

A collection of thoughts from my morning reflections:

  • God is the source and object of all hope.
  • Personal joy, peace, and hope are gifts from our gracious heavenly father–and he desires to give us more!
  • God fills us with joy, peace, and hope via our abiding trust in him. Personal faith and trust in God is the conduit God has chosen to communicate his joy, peace, and hope to us [causal: ἐν τῷ πιστεύειν].
  • Hope does not operate apart from our trust, the forward-looking aspect of our faith.
  • If I do not trust God for the future, I cannot experience his joy today.
  • In faith, the Holy Spirit fills us with hope.
  • Joy, peace, and hope are all external to us, they are gifts.
  • Piper: “Confidence in the promises of God overcomes anxiety.”
  • Faith’s object is the gospel (Rom. 1:16–17). To have faith in the gospel is to receive peace, joy, and hope.
  • Schreiner: “Faith and hope are functioning here as virtual synonyms, for the God who gives hope does so by increasing faith, which results in joy and peace.”
  • As we grow in our faith and in the content of the gospel promises we experience greater peace, joy, and hope. These are gifts from God.
  • Paul’s pastoral concern in this prayer for the Roman believers is simple: he wants to see them grow in faith in order to experience more of God’s abounding and abundant joy, peace, and hope.
  • Mounce: “Our role is to maintain a relationship of continuing trust in God.”

Justification and the Supreme Victory of Faith

“Among all the realities of the invisible world, mediated to us by the disclosures and promises of God, and to which our faith responds, there is none that more strongly calls into action this faculty for grasping the unseen than the divine pronouncement through the Gospel, that, though sinners, we are righteous in the judgment of God. That is not only the invisible, it seems the impossible; it is the paradox of all paradoxes; it requires a unique energy of believing; it is the supreme victory of faith over the apparent reality of things; it credits God with calling the things that are not as though they were; it penetrates more deeply into the deity of God than any other act of faith.”

Geerhardus Vos, Grace and Glory: Sermons Preached in the Chapel of Princeton Theological Seminary (Solid Ground, 2007), p. 135.

Preaching Christ

“Faith is not built by preaching introspectively (constantly challenging people to question whether they have faith); faith is not built by preaching moralistically (which has exactly the opposite effect of focusing attention on the self rather than on Christ, in whom our faith is placed); faith is not built by joining the culture wars and taking potshots at what is wrong with our culture. Faith is built by careful, thorough exposition of the person, character, and work of Christ….

We feed on Christ himself, and we do so not by some physical eating of his body, but through faith in the Christ proclaimed in Word and sacrament. These four alternatives [moralism, how-to, introspection, and social gospel] have left much of the evangelical and Reformed church malnourished. People know what they ought to do, but they are dispirited and lethargic, without the vision, drive, or impetus to live with and for Christ. And the reason for this dispirited condition is that the pulpit is largely silent about Christ. He is mentioned only as an afterthought or appendage to a sermon; in many churches, he is never proclaimed as the central point of a sermon, and surely not on a regular, weekly basis.”

—T. David Gordon, Why Johnny Can’t Preach: The Media Have Shaped the Messengers (P&R 2009) pp. 75—76, 88—89.

Walking by Faith

A number of years ago, Thomas Manton taught me a very helpful little triad on the topic of faith. He wrote, “we are justified by faith, we live by faith, we walk by faith” (13:15). This simple statement was very helpful to a man with such a narrow view of faith that I thought of “faith” primarily in reference to initial saving faith or in reference to the weighty doctrinal content of “the faith.” Both are true. But like lungs forcing air into a deflated pool toy, Manton stretched my brain and heart to see the awesome reality now reinforced through my life in Sovereign Grace Ministries—faith has everything to do with daily life. The life I now live, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me (Galatians 2:20). And it led me to realize that even those with genuine saving faith often struggle with unbelief (Mark 9:24, 16:14).

Manton convinced me of the importance of walking by faith by revealing the fruit that grows from a life of faith. He taught me that it is a life of faith that produces sincerity in the soul, vigor in the affections, watchfulness over the heart, self-denial of sinful compulsions, comfort in affliction, and confidence through our pilgrimage in this life. And I realized this life of faith impacts and influences my entire day, from the moment I awake until I fall asleep at night.

This is what I learned from Manton’s sermon on 2 Cor. 5:7: “for we walk by faith, not by sight” …

“Those who have faith must walk by it; for faith is here considered as working and putting forth itself. We walk, that is, we live, for in the dialect of the Hebrews this life is a walk; vitam nostram componimus, we must govern and direct our lives by the power and influence of faith. It is not enough to have faith, but we must walk by it; our whole conversation is carried on and influenced by faith, and by the Spirit of God on Christ’s part: Gal. 2:20, ‘I live by the faith of the Son of God ;’ a lively faith. There living by faith is spoken of as it respecteth the principle of the spiritual life; here walking by faith as the scope and end of it: there, as we derive virtue from Christ; here, as we press on to heaven, in the practice of holiness. In short, walking noteth a progress, and passing on from one place to another, through a straight and beaten way which lieth between both. So we pass on from the earthly state to the heavenly by the power and influence of our way; our way is through all conditions we are appointed unto, and through all duties required of us. …

Reasons—

1. Walking by faith maketh a man sincere, because he expecteth his reward from God only, though no man observe him, no man commend him: Mat. 6:6, ‘Thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly.’ Yea, though all men hate him and condemn him: Mat 5:11-12, ‘Blessed are you when men shall revile and persecute you, and say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my name’s sake; rejoice, and be exceeding glad, for great is your reward in heaven.’ Now this is true sincerity, when we make God alone our paymaster, and count his rewards enough to repair our losses and repay our cost.

2. It maketh a man vigorous and lively. When we consider at the end of our work there is a life of endless joys to be possessed in heaven with God, that we shall never repent of the labour and pain that we have taken in the spiritual life: 1 Cor. 15:58, ‘Always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labour shall not be in vain in the Lord;’ Phil. 3:14, ‘I press towards the mark, because of the high prize of the calling of God in Jesus Christ.’ The thoughts of the prize and worth of the reward do add spirits to the runner.

3. It maketh a man watchful, that he be not corrupted with the delights of sense, which are apt to call back our thoughts, to interrupt our affections, to divert us from our work, and quench our zeal. Now one that walks by faith can compare his eternal happiness with these transitory pleasures which will soon have an end, and everlastingly forsake those miserable souls who were deluded by them. As Moses: Heb. 11:24-25, ‘By faith Moses, when he was come to years, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, choosing rather to suffer affliction with the people of God, than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season.’

4. Walking by faith will make a man self-denying
; for, having heaven in his eye, he knoweth that he cannot be a loser by God: Mark 10:21, ‘ Forsake all that thou hast, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven;’ so verses 29, 30, ‘Verily I say unto you, There is no man that hath left house, or brethren, or sister, or father, or mother, or children, or lands, for my name’s sake, but he shall receive an hundred-fold.’

5. Walking by faith maketh a man comfortable and confident
; a believer is encouraged in all his duty, emboldened in his conflicts, comforted in all his sufferings. The quieting or emboldening of the soul is the great work of faith, or trust in God’s fidelity. A promise to him is more than all the visible things on earth, or sensible objects in the world; it can do more with him to make him forsake all earthly pleasures, possessions, and hopes : Ps. 56:4, ‘In God I will praise his word, in God I have put my trust; I will not fear what flesh can do unto me;’ so Paul: Acts 20:24, ‘But none of those things move me, neither count I my life dear unto me, so I may fulfill my course with joy. Save the Holy Ghost witnesseth in every city, saying that bonds and afflictions abide me’—did wait for him everywhere. I make no reckoning of these things. It maketh us constant. Have ye fixed upon these hopes with so great deliberation, and will you drawback, and slack in the prosecution of them? Have you gone so far in the way to heaven, and do you begin to look behind you, as if you were about to change your mind, Heb. 10:39. The apostle saith, Phil. 3:13, ‘I forget the things which are behind, reaching forth unto the things which are before.’ The world and the flesh are things behind us; we turned our backs upon them when we first looked after heavenly things.

Use, Is to show the advantage the people of God have above the carnal and unregenerate. The people of God walk by faith, against the present want of sight. How do the world walk? Not by faith, they have it not; nor by the sight of heaven, for they are not there, and so continuing never shall be there. So they have neither faith nor sight; what do they live by, then? They live by sense and by fancy: by sense as to the present world; and they live by fancy and vain conceit as to the world to come. Live in their sins and vain pleasures, and yet hope to be saved. Here they walk by sight, but not such a sight as the apostle meaneth; they must have something in the view of sense—lands, honours, pleasures; and when these are out of sight, they are in darkness, and have nothing to live upon. But now a Christian is never at a loss, let his condition be what it will. Suppose God should bring him so low and bare that he hath no estate to live on, no house to dwell in, yet he hath an inheritance in the promises: Ps. 119:111, ‘Thy testimonies I have taken for an heritage for ever;’ and ‘God is his habitation,’ Ps. 90:1. A full heap in his own keeping is not such a supply to him as God’s all-sufficiency, Gen. 17:11. That is his storehouse. But his great happiness is in the other world; there is all his hope and his desire, and he looketh upon other promises only in order to that.”

-Thomas Manton, Sermons Upon 2 Corinthians V.: Sermon X. (SGCB), Works 13:20-22.

“Show me your faith by your joy”

“Live by faith; again I say, always live by it. Always rejoice through faith in the Lord! It is neglecting this exercise that allows your own low moods and Satan to interrupt your happiness and spiritual cheerfulness and to hold you in the dumps and in gloominess.

What if you have a natural inclination to melancholy? Cannot faith correct nature? Does it not have power to clear the mind of all cares, fears and griefs? Can it not exhilarate the whole man? But what good is this faith if it is not used? It is like a soldier, with a sword at his side, not drawing his weapon when he is attacked. If a discouragement overtakes, cannot your faith say to your soul, ‘Why are you disturbed? Know and consider in whom you believe.’ Would not the master rebuke the winds and the storms and bring calm to your mind again? Do not most men have something they use to counteract their discouragements, like David with his harp? Some seek refreshment in company, or wine, or tobacco. They would not go far without a supply of these! But would not the least taste of faith be far better?

Should not the wise Christian rather take in the sweet air from the precious promises of God? Keep your faith, and it will keep your joy. It will keep it in an even, ever-flowing current, without ebb and flow, clouds or eclipses, turning ever upon the hinges of heavenly and solid joy. How can it be otherwise?

Do not Christians consider how unsuitable it is for them to go about drooping and hanging the head? Is it not becoming for the righteous to rejoice? What is a Christian but one who is joyful? Does not the kingdom of heaven consist in joy? Does not heaviness drive people away while joy draws and wins? Men wonder to see a rich man, who has all his heart’s desire, in a fit of heaviness. But I wonder a thousand times more to see one that has Christ as his friend, and God as his shepherd, and knows that all must work for the best, to be any time out of tune or out of sorts. For a Nabal to be as dead as a stone is no surprise to me, but if Nehemiah’s countenance is changed, there must be some extraordinary cause.

Can you be sad when you have all possible treasures laid up in heavenly places, where moth and rust and thieves may not come? Our treasures are out of the devil’s reach, and not only for a number of years, but for ever and ever!

O vain man! Show me your faith by your joy. If you say you have faith and live a life of sadness, I will not believe you. Use your faith, and have joy; increase your faith and increase your joy.

Faith and a Mature Christian

I must now draw you a little higher. It is a small thing for you to be cheerful at an ordinary level. Your joy should exceed the happiness of those in the world both in quantity and quality. If your joy is not sweeter, and higher, and more pure, more constant than that of a carnal man, you dishonour your faith and show you are young in the kingdom of heaven, which is joy unspeakable and full of glory in the Holy Spirit. Do you not have living water flowing out of your soul? Should you that have tasted of the grapes of Canaan, pine for the onions and garlic of Egypt? Do you need to stoop to the world’s puddle to drink when you have tasted faith’s sweet fruits?

Certainly God gives us ordinary and lawful delights in the world, the wine and oil, music, recreations, etc. These God allows us to enjoy for the sake of bodily health, but not to stuff ourselves with them. We enjoy them, but we can be happy without them. We do not live for them, but live by faith.

It is sad to see a Christian pursuing joy in coarse and earthly pleasures when he has more noble and angelical delights, second only in degree and manner of enjoyment to heaven itself. Our faith takes us to the third heaven. We roll and tumble our souls in beds of roses, that is, our meditations of justification, sanctification, and salvation through Christ. No day should pass without these enjoyments. Should not our soul have her due drinks, breakfasts, meals, snacks, and desserts, as well as our body? Cannot such meditations make pleasant work of our daily tasks? They would make time pass by like a boat with full wind and tide, needing no oars. They would make all of our days like holidays and celebrations.”

—Samuel Ward, Living Faith (Banner of Truth, 2008) pp. 25-30.

The Faith to See Justification

I recently stepped out of the daily routine for a few days of reading. I brought with me a tall stack of books (some old, some new) on the topics of practical theology, biblical theology, and systematic theology. My stack on biblical theology included a little book of sermons delivered by biblical theologian Geerhardus Vos, Grace and Glory: Sermons Preached in the Chapel of Princeton Theological Seminary.

The diverse sermons were captivating, revealing a warm pastoral side of Vos that I had never seen.

I should not have been surprised. I’ve found the sermons of theologians to be great entry points into their writings.

If you’ve never read John Calvin, for example, don’t start with the Institutes or even his commentaries–but first read his sermons (say, on the Beatitudes) and then you’ll see a man moved greatly by the things of God. To see these great men of faith behind the pulpit will help frame their thoughts when you begin listening to them from the lecture hall. Readers who neglect these sermon manuscripts and only go for the complex writings often cast Augustine, Martin Luther, Calvin, Jonathan Edwards, B.B. Warfield, and other theologians as overly intellectual and devotionally dry. Start with the sermons and then move into the deeper theological works. Such is true of Vos.

In a message on Hebrews, Vos takes up the topic of faith and addresses the reality of personal justification—that God has declared us perfectly righteous in his sight through the finished work of Jesus Christ. Vos is aware that we can often lose sight of our justification because we are more aware of our dumb, sinful actions, thoughts, and omissions than we are aware of the grace of God in having cleansed our sins forever. Vos reminds us that to “see” our justification is “the supreme victory of faith over the apparent reality of things.”

Vos writes,

In Romans and Galatians, faith is in the main trust in the grace of God, the instrument of justification, the channel through which the vital influences flowing from Christ are received by the believer. Here in Hebrews the conception is wider; faith is “the proving of things not seen, the assurance of things hoped for.” It is the organ for apprehension of unseen and future realities, giving access to and contact with another world. It is the hand stretched out through the vast distances of space and time, whereby the Christian draws to himself the things far beyond, so that they become actual to him. …

Among all the realities of the invisible world, mediated to us by the disclosures and promises of God, and to which our faith responds, there is none that more strongly calls into action this faculty for grasping the unseen than the divine pronouncement through the Gospel, that, though sinners, we are righteous in the judgment of God. That is not only the invisible, it seems the impossible; it is the paradox of all paradoxes; it requires a unique energy of believing; it is the supreme victory of faith over the apparent reality of things; it credits God with calling the things that are not as though they were; it penetrates more deeply into the deity of God than any other act of faith.

-Geerhardus Vos, Grace and Glory: Sermons Preached in the Chapel of Princeton Theological Seminary (Solid Ground) pp. 133, 135

So do we look at our lives by faith in the cross, or do we look at our lives merely by the sight of what appears on the surface? May we penetrate, by faith, into what God has declared true.

—————

Related post: Luther, God’s Word, and Justification.

A Sense of Christ’s Sufficiency

The glorious sufficiency of Christ’s sacrifice is a golden theme woven by God throughout the New Testament. The list of passages rejoicing in this sufficiency—and warning us not to forget it—is a lengthy list. A small sampling of my favorite passages would include Gal. 1:6-9, 2:16, 21, 5:2-4, 6:14, 1 Cor. 2:1-2, Col. 2:5-19, 3:1-4, Heb. 7:11, 10:1-14, Rev. 5:1-14.

Rather than some optional, ornate fixture hung on Christianity, understanding of the sufficiency of Christ’s work is very central to saving faith. At the most fundamental level “there is salvation in no one else” (Acts 4:12). Not Abraham, not angels, not the Mosaic Law, not the blood of bulls and goats, not the merits of Mary, nowhere but in Christ do we find hope of justification before our holy Father and freedom from the clutches of death.

On the flip side of this cross-sufficiency, the Scriptural warnings are also very clear. If we misunderstand the sufficiency of the cross we misunderstand the very heart of saving faith. Paul told the Galatians—a church lured by a ‘gospel’ of Christ + self-righteousness—that to believe Christ’s death was insufficient to secure eternal salvation was comparable to “deserting” God himself, to completely chucking the true gospel, a tragic “falling away from grace” (1:6, 5:4). Had Christ’s death been deemed insufficient—or if there was another means to salvation outside of Christ—then he died in vain (2:21). Given the high priority of Christ’s sufficiency, Paul persuades the Church to pronounce “condemnation” on teachers, angels, and apostles who teach anything to the contrary (1:8-9).

By accumulating the force of these biblical passages we begin to see that the sufficiency of Christ’s atoning work on the cross is no fringe truth but pulls back the soil to reveal the root of saving faith. To believe—to really believe—requires a resignation of the soul to the complete, all-satisfying work of Christ.

As a 24-year old writing in the early months of 1727, Jonathan Edwards penned a few words in a notebook as he contemplated the links between the pleasure of the Father in the sacrifice of the Son, the sufficiency of Christ’s work, and the nature of genuine saving faith. That God would ordain that the redeemed would keep their eyes focused on the sufficient work of Christ is not only biblical (Rev. 5:1-14) but quite rational, too. Edwards explains why:

“If any person that was greatly obliged to me, that was dependent on me and that I loved, should exceedingly abuse me, and should go on in an obstinate course of it from one year to another, notwithstanding all I could say to him, and all new obligations continually repeated; though at length he should leave it off, I should not forgive him (except upon gospel considerations). But if any person that was a much dearer friend to me, and one that had always been true to me and constant to the utmost, and that was a very near friend of him that offended me, should intercede for him, and out of the entire love he had to him should put himself to very hard labors and difficulties, and undergo great pains and miseries to procure him satisfaction; and the person that had offended should with a changed mind fly to this mediator and should seek favor in his name, with a sense in his own mind how much his meditor had done and suffered for him, I should be satisfied, and feel myself inclined without any difficulty to receive him into my entire friendship again. But not without the last mentioned condition, that he should have a sense how much his mediator had done and suffered. For if he was ignorant of most of it, and thought he had done only some small matter, I should not be easy nor satisfied. So a sense of Christ’s sufficiency seems necessary in faith.”

-Jonathan Edwards, The Works of Jonathan Edwards: The “Miscellanies” a-500 (Yale, 1994), pp. 359-360.

Owen on the nature of saving faith

It was a joy to attend my first Ligonier Conference in Orlando this past week. The conference is well organized and very enjoyable and it was great meeting so many TSS readers. Thanks for the encouragement.

I want to pass along several highlights from the conference.

The first note I wanted to pass along was from a message by Dr Sinclair Ferguson. He said John Owen’s book, The Doctrine of Justification By Faith, Through the Imputation of the Righteousness of Christ; Explained, Confirmed, and Vindicated, is one of the best treatments on the topic of justification (vol. 5 of Works).

Ferguson especially centered his attention on chapter 15 (“Of Faith Alone”). Owen here makes the following observations about the nature of saving faith:

1. That faith whereby we are justified is most frequently in the New Testament expressed by receiving.

2. Faith is expressed by looking.

3. It is, in like manner, frequently expressed by coming unto Christ.

4. It is expressed by fleeing for refuge.

5. It is a leaning on God, or casting ourselves and our burden on the Lord.

I would recommend reading the (surprisingly short) chapter here.

What I Learned in a Spiritual Storm

Only a few men have the joy and privilege of being part of Jon Bloom’s care group. I am one of them. The wisdom of this one man has made a deep impact in my life and I am grateful for his humility, wisdom, and counsel.

Jon is also the Executive Director of Desiring God and has written a very helpful article titled, What I Learned in a Spiritual Storm.

After months of darkness, light pierced the clouds. My storm didn’t stop suddenly, but it gradually lost power and dissipated and I flew into clear skies. God’s promises again proved reliable instruments. I didn’t crash. In fact, the storm served me very well. I learned more than ever before how to “walk (or fly) by faith and not by sight” (2 Cor. 5:7). I thank God for every minute of that frightening storm.

I would encourage you to read the entire post.

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