Chosen in Him

Ephesians 1:1-7

Throughout the Bible, God’s initiating role is displayed. Teaching from the first chapter of Ephesians, Alistair Begg explores basic principles of what it means to come to faith in Christ and the role of election in that process. When we recognize that we are who we are because God set His affection on us before the dawn of time, our hearts bow down in wonder at His mercy and grace.

The Abusive Power of the Law

LawR J Grune – original source here:

In 1537, a reformer by the name of Phillip Melancthon wrote a document to confront the religious and political power in Rome during the Middle Ages. Melancthon understood that the power of the pope – claimed as both a divine right and necessary for salvation – was a threat to the Gospel.

In Melancthon’s Treatise on the Power and Primacy of the Pope, he boldly wrote, “The marks of the Antichrist clearly fit the reign of the pope and his minions.”

I’m not interested in dissecting Melancthon’s actual treatise. Instead I’d like to write in the same spirit as Melancthon’s treatise – a call for Christians to not cave to the religious institutions that threaten the message of grace.

The Abusive Power of the Law in the Church

The Law isn’t bad. But the abuse and misuse of the Law in the Church is bad. And it’s not only bad, but it’s prevalent. The Church, through it’s relational and positional authority, has misused the Law and spiritually abused those already burdened by the weight of their sin. Christians are being run out of churches because they’ve become victims of an abusive, graceless system. Under the facade of biblical teaching, preachers have found a way to inflate their egos by beating up those already wounded by their sin.

The Law is a powerful word. The Law has the power to kill. The Law has the power to condemn and break down. The Law has the power to crush. And all of those are necessary – without the power of the Law, we’d never bear witness to the power of the Gospel.

The Law never exists for the sake of itself. The Law only kills so that it might bring life. It only breaks down so that it might build up. It only crushes so that it might raise us up. But instead of being brought life and being built up, people are walking out of churches, bloodied, bruised, and crushed by the weight of an impossible to-do list and the repeated exhortation to “just do it.”

C.F.W Walther, the great Law and Gospel theologian, once wrote, “As soon as the Law has done its crushing work, the Gospel is to be instantly preached or said to such a man or woman.” We need more of these kind of churches. We don’t need more churches that use their power to leave people dead. We need churches that use the power of the Gospel to bring people life.

The Dangerous Primacy of the Law in the Church

The Law not only gets misused in the abuse of power, but it gets misused in its position of primacy. The Law has become the primary message of Christianity. The primacy of the Law in the Church is anti-Christ. We don’t need more Law-centered churches, we need more cross-centered churches.

The Law is not anti-Christ, but a church that focuses on the Law certainly is. When churches make the preaching of the Law the primary message, they rob people of grace freely given. When the message is about what you need to do, you miss what Jesus does for you.

The abuse of the power of the Law is a misuse of the primary function of the Law – showing people their sin. The problem of the primacy of the Law in the church, however, is a misuse of the third use of the Law.

John Zahl recently tweeted (thanks for the inspiration to this post): “I think the problem with Calvin’s understanding of church is the primacy of the 3rd Use of the Law (i.e., as over and against 2nd Use).”

A quick survey of the most popular books, studies, and podcasts within Christianity will reveal a repeated message of “do more” and “try harder.” Preachers will quickly jump to give us the seven steps to better parenting. Writers will encourage us to step out in faith and find our dream job. And it’s not that an emphasis on parenting, vocation, or the Christian life is a bad thing – I love to write and preach about all of these. The problem is much of Christianity focuses on the Christian life instead of on Christ.

And culture multiplies this problem. The world has abandoned the Law and the church by-and-large has responded by trying to correct culture’s wrong-thinking with the teaching of biblical values and the Christian life. When culture redefines right and wrong, the Church rarely continues to preach the same repeated truth. Instead she often becomes hyper-focused on “thou shalt” and “shalt not.”

My friend Chad recently described his concern:

“What frightens me most about the ongoing moral degeneration in our country is not the lawlessness it brings, but the almost inevitable rise in law-centered preaching that slithers into churches in response to it. That is not to say that we should abandon preaching the law. But the church does the culture no good when she neglects, or gives only lip service, to the centrality of Christ crucified and risen for a world that went mad long ago.”

The moment we center our teachings on the Law, we miss the Gospel and we fail to give our people the power to do what is commanded. And the moment the Law is within our own reach, we’ve dumbed down the Law and simultaneously eliminated our need for the crucified and risen Savior.

The Law, no matter how we spin it, always accuses. This is the danger of making the Law primary. Even when the message of the Law is intended to speak to the Christian life, it will burden and crush the conscience. In fact, the more specific the application of the third use of the Law, the more direct the condemnation for the sinner who fails to obey. For example, “Love your wife,” is a very specific call to obedience. As a Christian it exhorts me in how I am to live, but it also calls me to repentance, not just in a general way but in a very specific one. Vocation on one hand is the most freeing of doctrines, yet it also accuses me very directly – it doesn’t just say “love your neighbor,” it tells me which ones.

The Power and the Primacy of the Gospel

The Apostle Paul writes in Romans 1:16, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes.” The Law has power, but it doesn’t have the power to save. The Law has influence, but it doesn’t truly change our hearts. The Law does a work, but it doesn’t do the same work.

It’s time that our churches use the powerful Word given to us in order to “proclaim good news to the poor…[and] to proclaim liberty to the captives.” The death and resurrection of Jesus gives hope to the hopeless and sets the captives free. Sin, death, and devil have no power that can compare to the power of the Gospel. Because of Jesus, we are no longer slaves to sin, we are sons and daughters of our Father. This message is primary. It’s this message that Jesus and the apostles taught. It’s this message that the reformers fought for. And it’s this message that pastors, writers, and teachers will continue to proclaim.

“For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.” – 1 Corinthians 2:2

John Calvin’s Four Rules of Prayer

prayer89An excerpt from Joel Beeke’s contribution in John Calvin: A Heart for Devotion, Doctrine, and Doxology.

For John Calvin, prayer cannot be accomplished without discipline. He writes, “Unless we fix certain hours in the day for prayer, it easily slips from our memory.” He goes on to prescribe several rules to guide believers in offering effectual, fervent prayer.

1. The first rule is a heartfelt sense of reverence.

In prayer, we must be “disposed in mind and heart as befits those who enter conversation with God.” Our prayers should arise from “the bottom of our heart.” Calvin calls for a disciplined mind and heart, asserting that “the only persons who duly and properly gird themselves to pray are those who are so moved by God’s majesty that, freed from earthly cares and affections, they come to it.”

2. The second rule is a heartfelt sense of need and repentance.

We must “pray from a sincere sense of want and with penitence,” maintaining “the disposition of a beggar.” Calvin does not mean that believers should pray for every whim that arises in their hearts, but that they must pray penitently in accord with God’s will, keeping His glory in focus, yearning for every request “with sincere affection of heart, and at the same time desiring to obtain it from him.”

3. The third rule is a heartfelt sense of humility and trust in God.

True prayer requires that “we yield all confidence in ourselves and humbly plead for pardon,” trusting in God’s mercy alone for blessings both spiritual and temporal, always remembering that the smallest drop of faith is more powerful than unbelief. Any other approach to God will only promote pride, which will be lethal: “If we claim for ourselves anything, even the least bit,” we will be in grave danger of destroying ourselves in God’s presence.

4. The final rule is to have a heartfelt sense of confident hope.

The confidence that our prayers will be answered does not arise from ourselves, but through the Holy Spirit working in us. In believers’ lives, faith and hope conquer fear so that we are able to “ask in faith, nothing wavering” (James 1:6, KJV). This means that true prayer is confident of success, owing to Christ and the covenant, “for the blood of our Lord Jesus Christ seals the pact which God has concluded with us.” Believers thus approach God boldly and cheerfully because such “confidence is necessary in true invocation… which becomes the key that opens to us the gate of the kingdom of heaven.”

Overwhelming? Unattainable?

These rules may seem overwhelming—even unattainable—in the face of a holy, omniscient God. Calvin acknowledges that our prayers are fraught with weakness and failure. “No one has ever carried this out with the uprightness that was due,” he writes. But God tolerates “even our stammering and pardons our ignorance,” allowing us to gain familiarity with Him in prayer, though it be in “a babbling manner.” In short, we will never feel like worthy petitioners. Our checkered prayer life is often attacked by doubts, but such struggles show us our ongoing need for prayer itself as a “lifting up of the spirit” and continually drive us to Jesus Christ, who alone will “change the throne of dreadful glory into the throne of grace.” Calvin concludes that “Christ is the only way, and the one access, by which it is granted us to come to God.”

What Does True Forgiveness Look Like?

Matthew 18:15 “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. 16 But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. 17 If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. 18 Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. 19 Again I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. 20 For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.”

21 Then Peter came up and said to him, “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?” 22 Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy-seven times.

In this excerpt from his teaching series The Parables of Jesus, R.C. Sproul reminds us what true forgiveness looks like.

Transcript

This begins (Matthew 18:15-22) by saying if your brother sins against you, go to him alone, privately—tell him about it. If the person repents, you’ve won your brother. If he refuses to repent then you go with one or two other witnesses. And if they still refuse to repent, then you go and bring the proceedings of the church. And if they still refuse to repent, then they are to be to you as a heathen. That is, this is the recipe for excommunication.

There is only one sin for which anybody is ever excommunicated in the body of Christ, and that sin is impenitence for the sin that brought you under discipline in the first place.

There are multitudes of sins that could cause the church to become involved seeking your repentance. But only if you persist in impenitence can it lead actually to being cut off from the body of Christ. So I mentioned that this is the context in which Peter raises the question, so that if somebody sins against Peter, and he goes and sees that person, and the person repents and Peter forgives him, then Peter is asking the question, “How many times do I have to do this? Seven times?”

Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you seven, but up to seventy times seven.” As many as it takes! In other words, when I forgive somebody who has sinned against me, what does it mean to forgive them? If I say “I forgive you,” that’s a very weighty pronouncement. When God forgives you, He holds that sin against you no more. And if you sin again against Him and He forgives you again, He doesn’t say, “That’s two…” because the first one has already been wiped away.

And that’s what we don’t do. Somebody sins against us, asks for our forgiveness, we give our forgiveness, they do it again and we say, “That’s two…” which reveals that we didn’t really forgive them the first time. Because if we really grant forgiveness, we are saying, “I remember this against you no more.”

15,000 Views and Counting

Back in September, 2014, as I guest hosted one of Dr. James White’s dividing line programs, I did a one hour teaching on the subject “Confessions of a Former Word of Faith Pastor.” The Lord seems to be using the audio and video recordings to reach people caught up in the ‘word of faith’ movement. More than 15,000 have now viewed the youtube video and I regularly hear from people being impacted. Please continue to pray that many lives will be changed as they encounter God’s word.

CONFESSIONS OF A FORMER WORD OF FAITH PASTOR
For quite some time, I was a pastor in the “word of faith” movement. On this “Dividing Line” show, I shared something of an insider’s guide, as well as the powerful biblical truths God used to alert me to the gross deception. How grateful I am to God for bringing me out!