Had the opportunity of a lifetime to catch a practice round on Monday. Being able to share it with my son made it even better.
Had the opportunity of a lifetime to catch a practice round on Monday. Being able to share it with my son made it even better.
On October 31, 1517, Martin Luther tacked up 95 theses on the church door at Wittenberg. With this act, he hoped to provoke a discussion among the scholars about the abuses of the indulgences by the Roman Catholic Church. He was not trying to create a public furor by any means, but within a fortnight, these theses had spread through the country like wildfire. The last thing Luther had in mind was to start some kind of major controversy, but nevertheless major controversy did begin.
From the discussions at Wittenberg, the disputations began to accelerate and escalate. Copies of the theses reached Rome and critical meetings were scheduled with the young monk. In these debates, Luther was maneuvered into proclaiming publicly that he had questions about the infallibility of church councils and also that he thought that it was possible that the pope could err. In 1520 a papal encyclical was issued which condemned Martin Luther as a heretic. Luther burned the document in a public bonfire and his defiance before the church was now a matter of record.
In response, Martin Luther picked up his pen to challenge the entire penitential system of the Roman Catholic Church, which undermined in principle the free remission of sins that is ours in the gospel. By doing so, he was unswervingly advocating his commitment to sola fide, the doctrine of justification by faith alone.
In 1521, Luther was summoned to the Imperial Diet, an authoritative meeting that involved the princes of the church, called by the Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire to be held in the city of Worms in Germany. Luther was an outlaw. For him to appear at the Diet was to risk his very life; therefore, he was given safe conduct by the Emperor to attend. With a few friends, Luther traveled from Wittenberg to Worms. The eyewitnesses of that episode tell us that when Luther’s little covered wagon appeared around the corner of the bend, there were lookouts posted in the church tower at Worms. All the people were agog waiting for the arrival of this notorious person. When Luther’s caravan was sighted, people were throwing their hats in the air, blowing trumpets, and creating all the fanfare of the arrival of the hero. It was the 16th century answer to a ticker-tape parade.
Things, however, became very solemn in a hurry because the next day he appeared before the Diet. His books were stacked on a table in the room, and he was asked and ordered to recant of his writings. This surprised Luther because he thought he was going to have an opportunity to defend his writings; but the only question really of any importance that was asked of him was this: “Are these your writings?” And when he said yes, they said, “Are you ready to recant of them?”
Hollywood has their version of Luther standing there boldly with his fist in the air saying, “Here I stand!” and so on. But instead he dropped his chin on his chest and muttered something that nobody could understand, so they asked him to speak up. “What did you say?” He said, “May I have 24 hours to think about it.” And so Luther was granted a reprieve of 24 hours to return to his room to contemplate the seriousness of this occasion.
The prayer that Luther wrote in that ensuing 24-hour period was one of the most moving prayers I have ever read in my life. In that prayer, Luther cried out for God in his sense of total loneliness fearing that God had abandoned him, and proclaimed, “O Lord, I am Thine, and the cause is Thine, give me the courage to stand.”
And on the morrow, Luther was called once again back to the court and was told to reply to the question. He said to the Diet, “Unless I am convinced by sacred scripture or by evident reason, I cannot recant, for my conscience is held captive by the Word of God, and to act against conscience is neither right nor safe. Here I stand. I can do no other. God help me.” And with that there was an instant uproar.
The Emperor himself later indicated his regret that he even gave Luther a safe conduct, and immediately put a new price on his head. As Luther was leaving the city, his friends staged a kidnapping to protect him and took him away in a fast horse through the forest. They hid him for a year in Wartburg at the castle disguised as a knight. During that year, Luther undertook the task of translating the Bible from the biblical languages into German. And that perhaps was his most important legacy of that time – that he made the Bible available to the common people. And with that the Reformation was born.
From the book “Night of Weeping and Morning of Joy” (Found at monergism.com)
They live by faith. Thus they began and thus they are to end. “We walk by faith and not by sight.” Their whole life is a life of faith. Their daily actions are all of faith. This forms one of the main elements of their character. It marks them out as a peculiar people. None live as they do.
Their faith is to them “the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” It is a sort of substitute for sight and possession. It so brings them into contact with the unseen world that they feel as if they were already conversant with, and living among, the things unseen. It makes the future, the distant, the impalpable, appear as the present, the near, the real. It removes all intervening time; it annihilates all interposing space; it transplants the soul at once into the world above. That which we know is to be hereafter is felt as if already in being. Hence, the coming of the Lord is always spoken of as at hand. Nay, more than this, the saints are represented as “having their conversation in heaven,” as being already “seated with Christ in heavenly places,”(Eph 2:16 ) as having “come to Mount Zion , and unto the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem , and to an innumerable company of angels, to the general assembly and church of the first-born. which are written in heaven, and to God the judge of all, and to the spirits of just men made perfect” (Heb 12:22 ). The things amid which they are to move hereafter are so realized by faith as to appear the things amid which they are at present moving. They sit in “heavenly places” and look down upon the earth, with all its clouds and storms, as lying immeasurably far beneath their feet. And what is a “present evil world” to those who are already above all its vicissitudes and breathing a purer atmosphere?
Such is the power of faith. It throws back into the far distance the things of earth, the things that men call near and real; and it brings forward into vital contact with the soul the things which men call invisible and distant. It discloses to us the heavenly mansions, their passing splendor, their glorious purity, their blessed peace. It shows us the happy courts, the harmonious company, the adoring multitudes. It opens our ears also, so that when beholding these great sights we seem to hear the heavenly melody and to catch the very words of the new song they sing, “Thou art worthy . . . for thou wast slain, and hast redeemed us to God by thy blood out of every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation; and hast made us unto our God kings and priests: and we shall reign on the earth” (Rev 5:9).
It, moreover, points our eye forward to what is yet to come: the coming of the Lord, the judgment of the great day, the restitution of all things, the kingdom that cannot be moved, the city which hath foundations whose builder and maker is God. While thus it gives to things invisible a body and a form which before they possessed not in our eyes, on the other hand, it divests things visible of that semblance of excellence and reality with which they were formerly clothed. It strips the world of its false but bewildering glow, and enables us to penetrate the thin disguise that hides its poverty and mean-ness. It not only sweeps away the cloud which hung above us, obstructing our view of heavenly excellence, but it places that cloud beneath us to counteract the fallacious brightness and unreal beauty which the world has thrown over itself to mask its inward deformity.
Thus it is that faith enables us to realize our true position of pilgrims and strangers upon earth, looking for the city which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God. It is into this that we are introduced by faith at our conversion. For what is our conversion but a turning of our back upon the world and bidding farewell to all that the heart had hitherto been entwined around? It is then that like Abraham we forsake all and go out not knowing whither. Old ties are broken, although sometimes hard to sever. New ones are formed, although not of earth. We begin to look around us and find all things new. We feel that we are strangers—strangers in that very spot where we have been so long at home. But this is our joy. We have left our father’s house, but we are hastening on to a more enduring home. We have taken leave of the world—but we have become heirs of the eternal kingdom, sons and daughters of the Lord Almighty. We have left Egypt , but Canaan is in view. We are in the wilderness, but we are free. Ours is a pathless waste, but we move forward under the shadow of the guardian cloud. Sorrowful, we yet rejoice; poor, we make many rich; having nothing, yet we possess all things. We have a rich inheritance in reversion and a long eternity in which to enjoy it without fear of loss, or change, or end.
Walking thus by faith and not by sight, what should mar our joy? Does it not come from that which is within the veils? And what storm of the desert can find entrance there? Our rejoicing is in the Lord, and He is without variableness or shadow of turning. We know that this is not our rest; neither do we wish it were so, for it is polluted; but our joy is this, that Jehovah is our God, and His promised glory is our inheritance forever. Our morning and our evening song is this “The Lord is the portion of mine inheritance and of my cup: thou maintainest my lot. The lines have fallen unto me in pleasant places; yea, I have a goodly heritage” (Psa 16:5).
Why should we, then, into whose hands the cup of gladness shall ere long be put, shrink from the vinegar and the gall? Why should we, who have dearer friends above better bonds that cannot be dissolved, be disconsolate at the severance of an earthly tie? Our homes may be empty, our firesides may be thinned, and our hearts may bleed: but these are not enduring things; and why should we feel desolate as if all gladness had departed? Why should we, who shall wear a crown and inherit all things, sigh or fret because of a few years’ poverty and shame? Earth’s dream will soon be done; and then comes the day of “songs and everlasting joy”—the long reality of bliss! Jesus will soon be here; and “when he who is our life shall appear, then shall we also appear with him in glory.”
Shall trial shake us? Nay, in all this we are more than conquerors through Him that loved us. Shall sorrow move us? Faith tells us of a land where sorrow is unknown. Shall the death of saints move us? Faith tells us not to sorrow as those who have no hope, for if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, them also that sleep in Jesus will God bring with Him. Shall the pains and weariness of this frail body move us? Faith tells us of a time at hand when this corruptible shall put on incorruption, and death shall be swallowed up in victory. Shall privation move us? Faith tells us of a day when the poverty of our exile shall be forgotten in the abundance of our peaceful, plenteous home, where we shall hunger no more, neither thirst any more.
Shall the disquieting bustle of this restless life annoy us? Faith tells us of the rest that remaineth for the people of God—the sea of glass like unto crystal on which the ransomed saints shall stand—no tempest, no tumult, no shipwreck there. Shall the lack of this world’s honors move us? Faith tells us of the exceeding and eternal weight of glory in reserve. Have we no place to lay our head? Faith tells us that we have a home, though not in Caesar’s house, a dwelling, though not in any city of earth. Are we fearful as we look around upon the disorder and wretchedness of this misgoverned earth? Faith tells us that the coming of the Lord draweth nigh. Do thoughts of death alarm us? Faith tells us that “to die is gain,” and whispers to us, “What, are you afraid of becoming immortal, afraid of passing from this state of death, which men call life, to that which alone truly deserves the name!”
Such is the family life—a life of faith. We live upon things unseen. Our life is hid with Christ in God that when He who is our life shall appear, we may appear with Him in glory. This mode of life is not that of the world at all but the very opposite. Nevertheless, it has been that of the saints from the beginning. This is the way in which they have walked, going up through the wilderness leaning on their Beloved. And such is to be the walk of the saints till the Lord comes. Oh, how much is there in these thoughts concerning it, not only to reconcile us to it, but to make us rejoice in it, and to say, I reckon that the sufferings of this present life, are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us! For all things are ours, whether life or death, things present or things to come, all are ours; for we are Christ’s, and Christ is God’s. Yea, we are heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Jesus Christ. “This is the heritage of the servants of the Lord, and their righteousness is of me, saith the Lord” (Isa 54:17).
We know not a better type or specimen of the family life than Abraham or Israel in their desert wanderings. Look at Abraham. He quits all at the command of the God of glory. This begins his life of faith. Then he journeys onward not knowing whither. Then he sojourns as a stranger in the land which God had given him. Then he offers up Isaac. Then he buys for himself a tomb where he may lay his dust till the day of resurrection. All is faith. He lives and acts as a stranger. He has no home. He has his altar and his tent, but that is all—the one he builds wherever he goes, in the peaceful consciousness of sin forgiven and acceptance found; the other he pitches from day to day in token of his being a pilgrim and a stranger upon earth. And what more does any member of the family need below, but his altar and his tent—a Saviour for a sinful soul, and a shelter for a frail body until journeying days are done?
Or look at Israel . They quit Egypt . There the life of faith begins. Then they cross the Red Sea . Then they take up their abode in the desert. They have no city to dwell in now. They have no fleshpots now—nothing but the daily manna for food. They have no river of Egypt now— nothing but a rock to yield them water. All is waste around. All is to be of faith, not of sight. They are alone with God, and the whole world is afar off. They rear their altar, they pitch their tents, as did Abraham, with this only difference: above their heads there floats a wondrous cloud, which, like a heavenly canopy, stretches itself out over their dwellings when they rest, or like an angel-guide, it takes wing before them when God summons them to strike their tents that it may lead them in the way. Nay, and as if to mark more vividly the pilgrim condition of the family, God Himself, when coming down into the midst of them, chooses a tent to dwell in. It is called “the tabernacle of the Lord,” or more literally “Jehovah’s tent.” Jehovah pitches His tent side by side with Israel ’s tents, as if He were a stranger too, a wanderer like themselves!
This is our life. We are to be strangers with God as all our fathers were. It is the life of the desert, not of the city. But what of that? All is well. Jehovah is our God, and we shall soon be in His “many mansions.” Meanwhile, we have the tent, the altar, and the cloud. We need no more below. The rest is secured for us in Heaven, “ready to be revealed in the last time.”
As you look on the church landscape, youth are leaving the faith in droves. The modern church, overall, is struggling to reach the next generation with the gospel. What has happened? Whether for good or bad, men, for many years, have been inventing solutions or brainstorming ideas without fully relying upon the foundation of God’s Word. God, however, is greater than man, and as the heavens are above the earth, so are His ways higher than ours and His thoughts than our thoughts (Is. 55:8-9). We have substituted the greater for the lesser – God’s wisdom for man’s ideas. Jesus said that he who hears His Word and does it, is like a man that built his house upon a rock, and when the storm came, it stood firm. On the other hand, he who rejects His Word, is like a man who built on the sand and when the storm came, the house fell (Matt. 7:24-25). Shouldn’t the church, as a whole, abandon the sandy ideas of man and shamelessly return to the firm rock of the Word of God? God’s Word sufficiently identifies how youth are to be reached. For more information on this issue, please see the film Divided, which is a documentary on age-segregated youth ministry in America. Watch it for free (for a limited time) at http://www.dividedthemovie.com. For an in-depth study, the book A Weed in the Church delves into the topic and more thoroughly handles the Scripture passages that address ministry to young people. For other details or to help spread the message, visit http://alt.dividedthemovie.com/
Some of these answers are just sad. I encourage you to go and listen to the audio of this episode to get the true vibe of what’s being said. At the end of each question the brothers at White Horse Inn explain (with scripture) what the correct answer is and why.
Approximately seventy people were interviewed for this survey at the 2010 International Christian
Retail and Sales convention in St. Louis, Missouri. The majority of the results were obtained by
questionnaire, and a limited number of individuals agreed to an “on air” recording of their
responses to these survey questions (broadcast date: Dec 19, 2010).
The most important task of the church today is the transformation of our culture.
Christians are not called to transform the culture, but rather to preach, baptize, and make disciples (Matt 28:19-20, 1Cor 1:20-25,
Gal 3:27, Acts 6:7; 14:21; 18:11, Col 3:16, 1Thes 4:11-12.
The most important way of converting non-Christians is preaching, along with the sacraments
of baptism and the Lord’s Supper.
Jesus taught that we are to “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of
the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you” (Matt 28:19-20). And Paul wrote that “it pleased god
through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe” (1Cor 1:21; see also Rom 10:14-15, 2Tim 4:2, 1Cor 9:16).
It’s more important to “be the gospel” to to others, rather than to preach to them.
We cannot be the gospel. The gospel is the good news about the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus (1Cor 15:1-5). Though we
may do good works to win the respect of outsiders (Col. 4:5, 1Thes 4:12, 1Tim 3:7), these good works are not “the gospel.” The
Christian gospel, because it is a completed act in history, is something that must be proclaimed: Acts 5:42; 6:2; 8:12; 8:35;
13:48-49; 14:21, Rom 10:14-15, 1Pet 1:12, 1Tim 4:13, 2Tim 2:8, Col 1:23.
The most important thing we need to communicate to our kids is that God is always there
when we need him.
This is one of the principle tenants of what Christian Smith calls “moralistic therapeutic deism.” The most important thing Christians
should communicate to their children is the Christian gospel: Rom 1:16-17, 1Cor 1:18-25, 1Cor 15:1-5, Phil 3:8-16.
Christians should see the church as a resource provider, and themselves as self-feeders
who make use of those resources.
Pastors and elders are called to shepherd the people of God, to feed the sheep, etc. Christians themselves are called to take
personal responsibility for their own growth and maturity, but this should not be done without pastoral oversight: John 21:15-17,
Eph 4:11, Heb 13:17, 1Pet 5:1-3, 1Tim 4:16.
Getting saved has nothing to do with joining a church.
We are saved by grace alone through faith alone on account of Christ alone. However, in the New Testament believers express
their faith in the context of a local church where the word is preached, the sacraments are administered, and where elders disciple
those entrusted to their care, and exercise discipline when necessary: Acts 2:40-47, Heb 10:25; 13:17, 1Pet 5:1-3, 1Tim 4:16.
Spiritual disciplines and regular church attendance are essential ingredients to becoming right
We are made right with God solely by the work of Christ. Christ lived the life we should have lived and died the death we should
have died, and this right standing before God is credited to us by faith alone. Attending church or living consistently with one’s
profession of faith is not an essential ingredient to justification, but rather a fruit of it: Rom 4:4-5, 1Cor 1:30, Rom 12:1-2.
In making disciples, spiritual disciplines and/or personal devotions are more important than
weekly church attendance.
New Testament spirituality is primarily centered around the regular gathering of believers under teachers and pastors and elders for
the discipleship new converts, the preaching of the word for general edification, and the administration of the sacraments: Eph 4:11,
Heb 13:17, 1Pet 5:1-3, 1Tim 4:16; 5:17, Tit 1:6-9, Acts 2:28, 1Cor 11:23-32.
We live in an entertainment oriented culture, and so in order to make God relevant, we should
make churches more upbeat, amusing and entertaining.
According to the book of Exodus, the people of Israel were in an upbeat mood and were very entertained during the worship of the
golden calf (Ex 32:17-20). Therefore, we should not worship God in a way that feels good to us, or seems right in our own eyes.
Rather, our worship must be biblically based. Heb 12:28-29 says that Christians must “worship God acceptably with reverence and
awe, for our God is a consuming fire” (see also Gen 4:1-5, Is 1:12-18, John 4:21-24). In particular, we need to be careful about the
temptation of amusement. To “muse” means to think or reflect about something. A-musement literally means to be distracted from
thinking. But our worship must be thoughtful, and reflective as we are to let the “word of Christ dwell in us richly” (Col 3:16).
Kids are easily bored with content oriented lessons, so youth workers need to regularly
attract them with new and exciting things.
There is a great deal of content to the Christian religion that must be passed on to the next generation. Compared with previous
eras, most of today’s Christian youth would likely qualify as biblically illiterate. Wrestling with the meaning of Exodus or Isaiah may
be less exciting than other youth activities, and therefore may be perceived as boring, but to avoid passing on the content of
Scripture on that basis is simply a sign of worldliness and unfaithfulness. Christians are called to make disciples of all nations, and
this includes the discipleship of their own children: Deut 6:4, Prov 1:1-9; 22:6, 1Cor 14:20, Eph 4:14; 6:1-4, 2Tim 3:14-15, Heb
5:11-14, 2John 4.
Editor’s note: A minister, about to write an article criticizing a fellow minister for his lack of orthodoxy, wrote to John Newton of his intention. Newton replied as follows:
As you are likely to be engaged in controversy, and your love of truth is joined with a natural warmth of temper, my friendship makes me solicitous on your behalf. You are of the strongest side; for truth is great, and must prevail; so that a person of abilities inferior to yours might take the field with a confidence of victory. I am not therefore anxious for the event of the battle; but I would have you more than a conqueror, and to triumph, not only over your adversary, but over yourself. If you cannot be vanquished, you may be wounded. To preserve you from such wounds as might give you cause of weeping over your conquests, I would present you with some considerations, which, if duly attended to, will do you the service of a great coat of mail; such armor, that you need not complain, as David did of Saul’s, that it will be more cumbersome than useful; for you will easily perceive it is taken from that great magazine provided for the Christian soldier, the Word of God. I take it for granted that you will not expect any apology for my freedom, and therefore I shall not offer one. For method’s sake, I may reduce my advice to three heads, respecting your opponent, the public, and yourself.
Consider Your Opponent
As to your opponent, I wish that before you set pen to paper against him, and during the whole time you are preparing your answer, you may commend him by earnest prayer to the Lord’s teaching and blessing. This practice will have a direct tendency to conciliate your heart to love and pity him; and such a disposition will have a good influence upon every page you write.
If you account him a believer, though greatly mistaken in the subject of debate between you, the words of David to Joab concerning Absalom, are very applicable: “Deal gently with him for my sake.” The Lord loves him and bears with him; therefore you must not despise him, or treat him harshly. The Lord bears with you likewise, and expects that you should show tenderness to others, from a sense of the much forgiveness you need yourself. In a little while you will meet in heaven; he will then be dearer to you than the nearest friend you have upon earth is to you now. Anticipate that period in your thoughts; and though you may find it necessary to oppose his errors, view him personally as a kindred soul, with whom you are to be happy in Christ forever.
But if you look upon him as an unconverted person, in a state of enmity against God and his grace (a supposition which, without good evidence, you should be very unwilling to admit), he is a more proper object of your compassion than of your anger. Alas! “He knows not what he does.” But you know who has made you to differ. If God, in his sovereign pleasure, had so appointed, you might have been as he is now; and he, instead of you, might have been set for the defense of the gospel. You were both equally blind by nature. If you attend to this, you will not reproach or hate him, because the Lord has been pleased to open your eyes, and not his.
Of all people who engage in controversy, we, who are called Calvinists, are most expressly bound by our own principles to the exercise of gentleness and moderation. If, indeed, they who differ from us have a power of changing themselves, if they can open their own eyes, and soften their own hearts, then we might with less inconsistency be offended at their obstinacy: but if we believe the very contrary to this, our part is, not to strive, but in meekness to instruct those who oppose. “If peradventure God will give them repentance to the acknowledgment of the truth.” If you write with a desire of being an instrument of correcting mistakes, you will of course be cautious of laying stumbling blocks in the way of the blind or of using any expressions that may exasperate their passions, confirm them in their principles, and thereby make their conviction, humanly speaking, more impracticable.
Consider the Public
By printing, you will appeal to the public; where your readers may be ranged under three divisions: First, such as differ from you in principle. Concerning these I may refer you to what I have already said. Though you have your eye upon one person chiefly, there are many like-minded with him; and the same reasoning will hold, whether as to one or to a million.
There will be likewise many who pay too little regard to religion, to have any settled system of their own, and yet are preengaged in favor of those sentiments which are at least repugnant to the good opinion men naturally have of themselves. These are very incompetent judges of doctrine; but they can form a tolerable judgment of a writer’s spirit. They know that meekness, humility, and love are the characteristics of a Christian temper; and though they affect to treat the doctrines of grace as mere notions and speculations, which, supposing they adopted them, would have no salutary influence upon their conduct; yet from us, who profess these principles, they always expect such dispositions as correspond with the precepts of the gospel. They are quick-sighted to discern when we deviate from such a spirit, and avail themselves of it to justify their contempt of our arguments. The scriptural maxim, that “the wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God,” is verified by daily observation. If our zeal is embittered by expressions of anger, invective, or scorn, we may think we are doing service of the cause of truth, when in reality we shall only bring it into discredit. The weapons of our warfare, and which alone are powerful to break down the strongholds of error, are not carnal, but spiritual; arguments fairly drawn from Scripture and experience, and enforced by such a mild address, as may persuade our readers, that, whether we can convince them or not, we wish well to their souls, and contend only for the truth’s sake; if we can satisfy them that we act upon these motives, our point is half gained; they will be more disposed to consider calmly what we offer; and if they should still dissent from our opinions, they will be constrained to approve our intentions.
You will have a third class of readers, who, being of your own sentiments, will readily approve of what you advance, and may be further established and confirmed in their views of the Scripture doctrines, by a clear and masterly elucidation of your subject. You may be instrumental to their edification if the law of kindness as well as of truth regulates your pen, otherwise you may do them harm. There is a principle of self, which disposes us to despise those who differ from us; and we are often under its influence, when we think we are only showing a becoming zeal in the cause of God.
I readily believe that the leading points of Arminianism spring from and are nourished by the pride of the human heart; but I should be glad if the reverse were always true; and that to embrace what are called the Calvinistic doctrines was an infallible token of a humble mind. I think I have known some Arminians, that is, persons who for want of a clearer light, have been afraid of receiving the doctrines of free grace, who yet have given evidence that their hearts were in a degree humbled before the Lord.
And I am afraid there are Calvinists, who, while they account it a proof of their humility, that they are willing in words to debase the creature and to give all the glory of salvation to the Lord, yet know not what manner of spirit they are of. Whatever it be that makes us trust in ourselves that we are comparatively wise or good, so as to treat those with contempt who do not subscribe to our doctrines, or follow our party, is a proof and fruit of a self-righteous spirit.
Self-righteousness can feed upon doctrines as well as upon works; and a man may have the heart of a Pharisee, while his head is stored with orthodox notions of the unworthiness of the creature and the riches of free grace. Yea, I would add, the best of men are not wholly free from this leaven; and therefore are too apt to be pleased with such representations as hold up our adversaries to ridicule, and by consequence flatter our own superior judgments. Controversies, for the most part, are so managed as to indulge rather than to repress his wrong disposition; and therefore, generally speaking, they are productive of little good. They provoke those whom they should convince, and puff up those whom they should edify. I hope your performance will savor of a spirit of true humility, and be a means of promoting it in others.
This leads me, in the last place, to consider your own concern in your present undertaking. It seems a laudable service to defend the faith once delivered to the saints; we are commanded to contend earnestly for it, and to convince gainsayers. If ever such defenses were seasonable and expedient they appear to be so in our own day, when errors abound on all sides and every truth of the gospel is either directly denied or grossly misrepresented.
And yet we find but very few writers of controversy who have not been manifestly hurt by it. Either they grow in a sense of their own importance, or imbibe an angry, contentious spirit, or they insensibly withdraw their attention from those things which are the food and immediate support of the life of faith, and spend their time and strength upon matters which are at most but of a secondary value. This shows, that if the service is honorable, it is dangerous. What will it profit a man if he gains his cause and silences his adversary, if at the same time he loses that humble, tender frame of spirit in which the Lord delights, and to which the promise of his presence is made?
Your aim, I doubt not, is good; but you have need to watch and pray for you will find Satan at your right hand to resist you; he will try to debase your views; and though you set out in defense of the cause of God, if you are not continually looking to the Lord to keep you, it may become your own cause, and awaken in you those tempers which are inconsistent with true peace of mind, and will surely obstruct communion with God.
Be upon your guard against admitting anything personal into the debate. If you think you have been ill treated, you will have an opportunity of showing that you are a disciple of Jesus, who “when he was reviled, reviled not again; when he suffered, he threatened not.” This is our pattern, thus we are to speak and write for God, “not rendering railing for railing, but contrariwise blessing; knowing that hereunto we are called.” The wisdom that is from above is not only pure, but peaceable and gentle; and the want of these qualifications, like the dead fly in the pot of ointment, will spoil the savor and efficacy of our labors.
If we act in a wrong spirit, we shall bring little glory to God, do little good to our fellow creatures, and procure neither honor nor comfort to ourselves. If you can be content with showing your wit, and gaining the laugh on your side, you have an easy task; but I hope you have a far nobler aim, and that, sensible of the solemn importance of gospel truths, and the compassion due to the souls of men, you would rather be a means of removing prejudices in a single instance, than obtain the empty applause of thousands. Go forth, therefore, in the name and strength of the Lord of hosts, speaking the truth in love; and may he give you a witness in many hearts that you are taught of God, and favored with the unction of his Holy Spirit.
Reprinted from The Works of John Newton, Letter XIX “On Controversy.” Reprinted from New Horizons, October 2002.
Because the Bible has so much to say about it, healthy Christian people have always maintained a deep concern for the pursuit of holiness and the practice of godliness. Obedience to God matters to God and it should, therefore, matter to God’s people. In fact, one way to gauge our love for God is obedience to his commands (John 14:15, 1 John 5:3). Where there is a profession of Christ without a practice of Christlikeness, concern is warranted.
So the issue is not whether obedience, the pursuit of holiness, and the practice of godliness is important. Of course it is. The issue is how do we keep God’s commands? What stimulates and sustains a long obedience in the same direction? Where does the power come from to do God’s will and to follow God’s lead?
Our answer to these questions is determined by our understanding of the distinctive role of God’s law and gospel in the life of a Christian. Therefore, it is crucial that we get this right, biblically and theologically.
When John (or Jesus) talks about keeping God’s commands as a way to know whether you love Jesus or not, he’s not using the law as a way to motivate. He’s simply stating a fact. Those who love God will keep on keeping his commands. As every parent and teacher knows, behavioral compliance to rules without heart change will be shallow and short-lived. But shallow and short-lived is not what God wants (that’s not what it means to “keep God’s commands.”). God wants a sustained obedience from the heart. How is that possible? Long-term, sustained obedience can only come from the grace which flows from what Jesus has already done, not guilt or fear of what we must do. To paraphrase Ray Ortlund, any obedience not grounded in or motivated by the gospel is unsustainable. Or, as I like to put it: imperatives minus indicatives equal impossibilities.
As a pastor, one of my responsibilities is to disciple people into a deeper understanding of obedience—teaching them to say “no” to the things God hates and “yes” to the things God loves. But all too often I have wrongly concluded that the only way to keep licentious people in line is to give them more rules–lay down the law. The fact is, however, that the only way licentious people start to obey is when they get a taste of God’s radical, unconditional acceptance of sinners. The irony of gospel-based sanctification is that those who end up obeying more are those who increasingly realize that their standing with God is not based on their obedience, but Christ’s.
Writing in response to Jason Hood’s recent Christianity Today article where Hood voices concern about the lack of emphasis on personal holiness and radical obedience in this generation of Christians, my friend Dane Ortlund (read Dane’s full, gospel-drenched response here) shows how there are two ways to address this:
One way is to balance gospel grace with exhortations to holiness, as if both need equal air time lest we fall into legalism on one side (neglecting grace) or antinomianism on the other (neglecting holiness).
The other way, which I believe is the right and biblical way, is so to startle this restraint-free culture with the gospel of free justification that the functional justifications of human approval, moral performance, sexual indulgence, or big bank accounts begin to lose their vice-like grip on human hearts and their emptiness is exposed in all its fraudulence. It sounds backward, but the path to holiness is through (not beyond) the grace of the gospel, because only undeserved grace can truly melt and transform the heart. The solution to restraint-free immorality is not morality. The solution to immorality is the free grace of God—grace so free that it will be (mis)heard by some as a license to sin with impunity. The route by which the New Testament exhorts radical obedience is not by tempering grace but by driving it home all the more deeply.
Let’s pursue holiness. (Without it we won’t see God: Matt 5:8; Heb 12:14.) And let’s pursue it centrally through enjoying the gospel, the same gospel that got us in and the same gospel that liberates us afresh each day (1 Cor 15:1–2; Gal 2:14; Col 1:23; 2:6). As G. C. Berkouwer wisely remarked, “The heart of sanctification is the life which feeds on justification.”
To some, this will sound like an antinomian (a lawless, obligation free version of Christianity) cop-out. After all, doesn’t the American church need to be shaken out of their comfort zones? Yes—but you don’t do it by giving them law; you do it, as Dane points out, by giving them gospel. The Apostle Paul never uses the law as a way to motivate obedience; he always uses the gospel. Paul always soaks the obligations of the law in the declarations of the gospel because God is not concerned with just any kind of obedience; he’s concerned with a certain kind of obedience (as Cain and Abel’s sacrifice illustrates). What motivates our obedience determines whether or not it is a sacrifice of praise. The obedience that pleases God is obedience that flows from faith and grace; not fear and guilt.
Now, hear me: The law of God has its rightful place in the life of a Christian. It’s a gift from God. It’s good. It graciously shows Christians what God commands and instructs us in the way of holiness. But nowhere does the Bible say that the law possesses the power to enable us to do what it says. You could put it this way: the law guides but it does not give. The law shows us what a sanctified life looks like and plots our course, but it does not have sanctifying power—the law cannot change a human heart. As John Bunyan memorably put it:
“Run, John, run,” the law demands,
but gives me neither feet nor hands.
Better news the Gospel brings,
It bids me fly and gives me wings.
To say, however, that the law has no power to change us in no way reduces its ongoing role in the life of the Christian. We just have to understand the precise role that it plays for us today: the law serves us by making us thankful for Jesus when we break it and serves us by showing how to love God and others. Only the gospel empowers us to keep the law. And when we fail to keep it, the gospel comforts us by reminding us that God’s infinite approval of us does not depend on our keeping of the law, but Christ’s keeping of the law on our behalf. The gospel serves the Christian every day and in every way by reminding us that God’s love for us does not get bigger when we obey or smaller when we disobey. And guess what? This makes me want to obey him more, not less! As Spurgeon wrote, “When I thought God was hard, I found it easy to sin; but when I found God so kind, so good, so overflowing with compassion, I smote upon my breast to think that I could ever have rebelled against One who loved me so, and sought my good.”
Therefore, it’s the gospel (what Jesus has done) that alone can give God-honoring animation to our obedience. The power to obey comes from being moved and motivated by the completed work of Jesus for us. The fuel to do good flows from what’s already been done. So, while the law directs us, only the gospel can drive us.
A friend of mine recently put it to me this way: the law is like a set of railroad tracks. The tracks provide no power for the train but the train must stay on the tracks in order to function. The law never gives any power to do what it commands. Only the gospel has power, as it were, to move the train.
Recognizing the continual need of the gospel for Christian people as much as the initial need of the gospel for non-Christian people, J. Gresham Machen wrote, “What I need first of all is not exhortation, but a gospel; not directions for saving myself but knowledge of how God has saved me.” The Gospel of amazing grace gets us in, keeps us in, and will eventually get us to the finish line. It’s all of grace!
Now, go and spread this defiant, scandalously liberating, counter-intuitive Word around the world…it’s waiting!