Soldier: Get Your Belt On!

Ephesians 6:14: Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth

In visual terms, of all the armory supplied to the Roman soldier, the loin-belt was the least impressive. Yet this belt was perhaps the most vital piece of all as it held much of the others in place. This message explains in very practical terms how the Christian is to put on the belt of truth.

What If I Don’t Feel Forgiven?

This excerpt is adapted from What Can I Do with My Guilt?
by R.C. Sproul

There is an important difference between guilt and guilt feelings. The distinction is between that which is objective and that which is subjective. Guilt is objective; it is determined by a real analysis of what a person has done with respect to law. When a person transgresses a law, that person incurs guilt. This is true in the ultimate sense with regard to the law of God. Whenever we break the law of God, we incur objective guilt. We may deny that the guilt is there. We may seek to excuse it or deal with it in other ways. Still, the reality is that we have the guilt.

However, guilt feelings may or may not correspond proportionately to one’s objective guilt. In fact, in most cases, if not all cases, they do not correspond proportionately. As painful as guilt feelings can be—and we’ve all experienced the rigors of unsettling guilt feelings—I don’t think any of us have ever experienced feelings of guilt in direct proportion to the actual guilt that we bear before God. I believe it is one of the mercies of God that He protects us from having to feel the full weight of the guilt that we actually have incurred in His sight.

Just as there are objective and subjective aspects of guilt, so there are objective and subjective aspects of forgiveness. First of all, forgiveness itself is objective. The only cure for real guilt is real forgiveness based on real repentance and real faith. However, we may have real and true forgiveness before God and yet not feel forgiven. Likewise, we may feel forgiven when we are not forgiven. That makes the issue of forgiveness very sticky.

We tend to trust our feelings to tell us what state we are in before God. Someone recently told me about a friend of hers who lives her Christian life on the basis of experience. I think that’s a very dangerous thing, because it’s like saying, “I determine truth by my subjective responses and feelings to it.” I would much prefer that her friend tried to live the Christian life on the basis of Scripture, because Scripture is objective truth that transcends the immediacy of a person’s experience.

Ultimately, the only source of real forgiveness is God. Thankfully, God is quick to forgive. In fact, one of the few absolute promises that God makes to us is that, if we confess our sins to Him, He will most seriously and surely forgive those sins (1 John 1:9).

Many years ago, I went to see my pastor to tell him about a struggle I was having with guilt. After I told him my problem, he opened the Bible to 1 John 1:8 and asked me to read this verse out loud. It says, “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.” In this verse, the apostle John is addressing the scenario we discussed earlier, in which a person who has real guilt attempts to deny or excuse it. John is saying that if we deny our guilt, we are simply fooling ourselves. We all sin. Therefore, we all contract guilt. If we refuse to accept that, we are engaged in perhaps the worst kind of deception, namely, self-deception.

But when I read that passage, my pastor said to me: “That’s not your problem, because you’ve just told me why you came here. You came to tell me that you had a problem with sin.” Continue reading

Zeitgeist Debunked

Article: Zeitgeist Debunked: Jesus Is Not A Copy Of Pagan Gods by Steven Bancarz – original article here.

It’s often claimed that the story of Jesus was plagiarized or adopted from pagan deities. That the ideas of his virgin birth, his baptism, his gathering of disciples, his miracle working, his title as the son of god, his death and his resurrection are ideas that were taken from pre-Christ pagan myths and mishmashed together to give us the unoriginal and recycled story of another dying and rising saviour-figure: Jesus Christ.

Zeitgeist, Religulous, and other such films and books have popularized this idea, which has since then become a favourite talking point of skeptics in the blogosphere. I personally have seen this point brought up so many times it is hard to keep track, with the same sensationalist memes being recycled around the internet:

We are told Jesus is just one of many dying and rising gods present in history, and that every culture has their own saviour figure with stories that are exactly the same as the story of Jesus in every way. Since we apparently have stories of gods that predate Jesus who have the exact same outline and ministry as he did, it’s suggested that the story of Jesus is a knock-off of pagan stories that come before him.

This idea could not be farther from the truth. As Bart Ehrman, atheist professor of Religious Studies at UNC, has said:

“The alleged parallels between Jesus and the “pagan” savior-gods in most instances reside in the modern imagination: We do not have accounts of others who were born to virgin mothers and who died as an atonement for sin and then were raised from the dead (despite what the sensationalists claim ad nauseum in their propagandized versions).”

While this idea may stop is in our tracks at first glance, when we dig deeper we find that these “parallels” are made up to such an extent as to be simply embarrassing. Jesus is not a knock-off of pagan god stories, and this is a basic fact of history. Let’s take a quick look at Mithra, Dionysus, and Horus, all of whom are claimed to have born of a virgin, killed, buried, and resurrected from the dead.

Mithra

Virgin birth?

Mithra had absolutely no virgin birth. In fact, Mithra was not born in a literal sense, he emerged out of a rock.(1)(2) Mirtha was only born metaphorically, not literally. Mithra even emerged out of this rock as an adult, not as a baby. Mithra has no real mother, no virgin birth, no manger.

Crucified? Resurrected?

Mithra was never killed, let alone crucified. As Mithraic scholar Gordon Richard says there “Is no death of Mithras” (3). If he didn’t die, that means there was no “last supper” he wasn’t crucified, buried, or raised on the third day. If he didn’t die, he wasn’t resurrected. Continue reading

What if I am not Elect?

by Dr. David Murray

Some opponents of Reformed theology argue that the doctrine of election produces unfeeling and fatalistic preachers: “If God has already chosen who will believe, what’s the point in preaching passionate and persuasive evangelistic sermons?” However, although that’s (usually) an unfair caricature of Reformed truth, there’s no question that Reformed pastors sometimes have to counsel people who will say something like, “But if I’m not in the elect, there’s no point in believing in Christ. If my name’s not written in the Book of Life, then all my believing is in vain.” Some of those will be simply using election to excuse their inaction. However, others are genuinely concerned and confused.

Ralph Erskine deals with this pastoral challenge in his sermon on Isaiah 53:6: “I will give you for a covenant to the people” [Works, Vol 1, 128]. After some words on the covenant in general, Erskine shows how Christ is the covenant of the people, and then asks: “For whose benefit is He a covenant?”

Erskine is at pains to emphasize that “whosoever of all the people will subscribe to this covenant, and go into it by faith, shall have the everlasting benefit of it.” Then, as was commonly done in his day, he imagines a hearer asking, “But if I am not among the elect whose names are in that covenant, then surely my subscribing of it will be in vain.”

It’s here that Erskine provides wise and helpful guidelines for pastors to follow in counseling such anxious souls. In summary:

There are two copies of this covenant, two writs of this charter: the original and an extract.

The original is in heaven and contains all the names of all the elect that ever were, are, or shall be (Eph. 1:4). This original is locked up in the cabinet of God’s secret purpose and is marked “For God’s eyes only” (Deut. 29:29).

The extract is in the Bible, which God has revealed and put in your hands. “This copy of the covenant is sent open to you all to sign and subscribe, by giving faith’s assent and consent to the covenant of the people, Christ, as he is offered in the Gospel.”

In order to gather in the elect and to leave all others inexcusable, this faithful extract is “directed to all, and every one of you, giving you full and sufficient warrant to sign and subscribe for yourselves.” Christ is “a covenant of the people” as it is put in the verse.

You cannot possibly “see” your name in the original, till you have signed your consent to the copy which has been let down to earth.
If you sign the extract, then you may lay claim to the original, and “see” your name there (by “seeing” Erskine is referring to assurance of faith).

Although some who, by faith, subscribe the extract copy, are kept in the dark about their names being in the original, yet none shall “see” their names there (the original), but those who subscribe their names here (the extract).

Erskine does a great job here of balancing God’s sovereignty with human responsibility, and also of illustrating a difficult concept with a memorable image. I especially like the way that he leaves hearers without excuse, yet also inspires and motivates faith in Christ. May his counsel make us better counselors.

The Works of Ralph Erskine, Vol. 1, (Glasgow: Free Presbyterian Publications, 1991), 128-197. See especially pages 142-143.

Testimony: Costi Hinn

I can relate to so much in this interview as I was once a pastor in the word of faith movement and a local TBN (Trinity Broadcasting Network) host. I praise the Lord for drawing me out and leading me into truth, just as He has for Costi here. The fact that we both are now Reformed pastors committed to expositional preaching is a sweet joy!

Benny Hinn’s Nephew, Costi Hinn, Refutes The False Teaching of His Uncle In His First Television Interview:

21 Misunderstandings of Reformed Thinking

by Dr. Sam Storms (original source here)

There are a few things beside the native darkness and pride of the human heart that are a greater danger to the doctrines of grace than the widespread misunderstandings of those doctrines and their implications. The best solution to these misunderstandings is a study of the Reformed tradition itself and its clear statements about what the Bible does, and does not, teach regarding the doctrines of grace.

Before I addressed this important subject, I gave the conference four points of introduction. The first of those is the subject of this first post on those 21 misconceptions of Calvinism.

The Sources of These Misunderstandings

I distinguished three sources of misconceptions about Calvinism

The first was Arminian Misrepresentation. It is unquestionable that both today and in the past history of the church, Arminians have constantly repeated misrepresentations of the doctrines of grace. While these misrepresentations may have seemed to them the necessary implications of the views of their Calvinist opponents, they were made in many cases in spite of the clearest denials by the Reformed. It is unfair for anyone to charge their opponents with holding views that they deny even though they seem to be the logical implications of their positions. It is fair to point out that their views do lead to such implications. It is not fair to affirm that they hold or believe such implications when they explicitly deny them.

The second was Immature Reaction. Another source of various misunderstandings of the doctrines of grace comes from the over-reaction of immature Calvinists. In their new found vision of the absolute sovereignty of God and newly acquired revulsion to the widespread ignorance and denial of God’s sovereignty by professing Christians, it is easy for neophyte Calvinists to make all sorts of extremist statements and adopt all sorts of imbalanced views that time and calm consideration will show are filled with ill-considered assertions and careless implications. These statements are not the deliberate misrepresentations of Arminians or the calculated presumption of Hyper-Calvinists, but the enthusiastic overstatements of “Young Turks” or “Cage-stage” Calvinists.

The third was Hyper-Calvinist Presumption. But another and dangerous source of misunderstandings about Calvinism is the historical stream of real Hyper-Calvinism which developed in the centuries following the Reformation. Yes, there really is such a thing as Hyper-Calvinism! Of course, Hyper-Calvinism is not five point Calvinism. That is just Calvinism. Granted such Hyper-Calvinism scarcely exists anywhere any more. But its writings and its representatives do exist and pose a constant and, I fear, growing temptation to young, imbalanced Calvinists ready to embrace anything that appears to exalt a sovereign God. I warn you, then, that everything is not gold that glitters. Be careful of those who will tell you that the free and well-meant offer of the gospel, the doctrine of common grace, and duty-faith are Arminianism.

The Solution to These Misunderstandings

The root of each of these sources of misunderstanding is, I think, the same. It is rationalism. By that I mean the exaltation of human reason over the teaching of the Word of God. It is, of course, true that human reason is created by God and is a necessary tool in the interpretation of the Bible. This is undeniable. I concur with the Westminster Confession when it says:

The whole counsel of God concerning all things necessary for his own glory, man’s salvation, faith and life, is either expressly set down in Scripture, or by good and necessary consequence may be deduced from Scripture …

But we must never forget that our reason is limited in two respects. It is both finite and fallen. We must be, therefore, modest and careful in the deductions which we draw from Scripture, guarding always against allowing our human reason to purge from Scripture things which seem contradictory to our reason. We must be prepared, to put this in other words, to allow the divine wisdom of Scripture to correct our human wisdom and reason. We must not jump quickly to unnatural and forced interpretations to remove from Scripture things which are offensive to our reason.

My third point of introduction was …

The Substantiation of These Misunderstandings

The title of 21 Misunderstandings of Calvinism assumes that we have some authority for what historical Calvinism or Reformed thinking is. Only on the basis of some authoritative statement of Calvinism can I show or substantiate that certain views are misunderstandings of its teaching. In my message at RP 15 I used two such authoritative statements of Calvinism.

First, I will use the historic Calvinistic Baptist Confession of Faith, the 1689 Baptist Confession of Faith. It is the confession that can claim more than any other to have shaped Reformed and Particular Baptist thought. It has the further advantage of being a revision of the Westminster Confession, the classic Reformation confession, and echoing most of its language and doctrinal sentiments.

Second, I will use the Canons of Dort. The Canons of Dort were the first, creedal, and systematic exposition of the doctrines of grace in the history of the church and were affirmed by an international synod of Reformed churches and theologians in 1618-19. I think these two documents are indisputably authoritative, historical affirmations of Calvinism. Continue reading

Regeneration Is Monergistic

This excerpt is adapted from Foundations of Grace by Steven Lawson (original source here).

There may be no truth in the Bible more deeply loved and greatly cherished than the subject of the new birth. Here is the grace-centered message of a new beginning for those whose lives have been ruined by sin. Here is the life-changing truth that sinful men can be made new. When the new birth is caused by God, old things pass away—old practices, old cravings, old habits, old addictions, and old associations. Behold, new things come—new desires, new pursuits, and new passions. An entirely new life begins. Nothing could be more positive than this. It is no wonder that the truth of the new birth is so beloved.

Yet despite its great appeal, the new birth may be the most misunderstood doctrine in Scripture. Most people naively imagine that there is something they can do to cause themselves to be born again. They hear a well-meaning person say, “Believe and be born again,” and suppose that they can. So they try to effect their own regeneration. But this they cannot do. In attempting it, they are like someone who imagines he caused himself to be born physically. Did he meet with his parents and ask to be born? Did he initiate his own birth? Of course not. The truth is, the initiative in birth lies outside of the one being born. He is merely part of a process that started long before he came into being. His parents acted, then God acted. And as a result, that individual was brought into the world. He did not cause his own birth to happen.

The same is true regarding spiritual birth. If you have experienced the new birth, it is not because you initiated it. Rather, it was an event that God brought about in you. More specifically, you were not born again because you exercised faith. In truth, the new birth preceded your faith and produced it. Saving faith is the fruit of regeneration, not the root of it. The biblically correct order of salvation—known in theological language as the ordo salutis—is not “Believe and be born again,” but the very opposite: “Be born again and believe.” The living God must act upon the spiritually dead soul and cause it to be born again. The new birth is by divine choice and sovereign initiative. God’s will affects the human will, not vice versa. Scripture intentionally uses the imagery of birth to underscore this essential truth of the sovereignty of God in regeneration.

John Murray, one of the foremost theologians of the twentieth century, affirmed the divine initiative in the new birth when he wrote:

“For entrance into the kingdom of God we are wholly dependent upon the action of the Holy Spirit, an action … which is compared to that on the part of our parents by which we were born into the world. We are as dependent upon the Holy Spirit as we are upon the action of our parents in connection with our natural birth. We were not begotten by our father because we decided to be. And we were not born of our mother because we decided to be. We were simply begotten and we were born. We did not decide to be born…. If this privilege is ours it is because the Holy Spirit willed it and here all rests upon the Holy Spirit’s decision and action. He begets or bears when and where He pleases.”

Murray goes on to write, “Regeneration is the act of God and of God alone.” In other words, regeneration is monergistic, meaning that “the grace of God is the only efficient cause in beginning and effecting conversion.” The key word here is only. God is the only cause behind the new birth. The opposite of monergism is synergism.

This latter word is derived from the Greek word synergos, meaning “working together.” According to the theory of synergistic regeneration, both the divine and human wills are active, and each must cooperate with the other. But what does the Scripture teach?

According to James 1:18, “Of his own will he brought us forth”—an unmistakably monergistic statement. John 1:12–13 reads, “All who did receive him, who believed in his name … were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.” This view of the new birth could not be more monergistic. John 3:8 says, “‘The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.’” Man does not effect the movement of the Spirit—God does. First Peter 1:3 says, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.” Clearly, regeneration is monergistic, the activity of only one will—namely, the divine will.

In the latter epistles of the New Testament, this truth of regeneration appears with intentional regularity (James 1:18; 1 John 2:29; 3:9; 4:7; 5:1, 4, 18). This is a fundamental teaching within the doctrines of grace. It reveals that God must implant new life within your soul. God must effect a spiritual conception within you. God must impregnate your heart. In short, God must cause you to be born again.

Expository Preaching

What took me a couple of hours to teach on last week’s Dividing Line broadcasts, Shai Linne sums up in just a few minutes:

Preacher: Preach the Word (Part 1)

Preacher: Preach the Word (Part 2)

God Raised You From the Dead

Dr. John Piper: You came into this world dead. Not sort of “hard of hearing” towards the gospel, not simply crippled in good works, not struggling to keep your head above the waters of sin. You were dead: spiritually lifeless and unmoving. Everything that a dead corpse can contribute to becoming alive, you could do, spiritually, to believe in Christ. Nothing. Dead means dead (Ephesians 2:1–3).

But God, because of the wealth of mercy in his being, loving dead corpses such as we are, said to us, “Live.” And as surely as the voice of God raised the Son of God from the tomb outside Jerusalem, he raised us up from death, and set us about the works of Christ, by the same power that breathed in our souls from the beginning of our first cries of faith (Ephesians 2:4–7).

This is the good news of Jesus. No boasting, no claim of contribution to our own resurrection — we boast, but say nothing but “useless” of ourselves. Our boasting is in the Lord who raises the dead, for his glory (Ephesians 2:8–9).

Scripture: Ephesians 2:1–10

LAB_PDX_10 from Desiring God on Vimeo.