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(6 posts)

The Fatal Habit of Nominal Christians

This is why promoting morality is never enough, why the gospel must be our priority: morals disconnected from doctrine have no staying power. [Wilberforce] was practical with a difference. He believed with all his heart that new affections for God were the key to morals and lasting political reformation. And these new affections and this reformation did not come from mere ethical systems. They came from what he called the “peculiar doctrines” of Christianity. For Wilberforce, practical deeds were born in “peculiar doctrines.” By that term he simply meant the central distinguishing doctrines of human depravity, divine judgment, the substitutionary work of Christ on the cross, justification by faith alone, regeneration by the Holy Spirit, and the practical necessity of fruit in all life devoted to good deeds. The Fatal Habit of Nominal Christians He wrote his book [A Practical View of Christianity] to show that the “bulk” of Christians in England were merely nominal because they had abandoned these doctrines in favor of a system of ethics and had thus lost the power of ethical life and the political welfare. He wrote: The fatal habit of considering Christian morals as distinct from Christian doctrines insensibly gained strength. Thus the peculiar doctrines of Christianity went more and more out of sight, and as might naturally have been expected, the moral system itself also began to wither and decay, being robbed of that which should have supplied it with life and nutriment. He pled with nominal Christians of England not to turn “their eyes from the grand peculiarities of Christianity, [but] to keep these ever in view, as the pregnant principles whence all the rest must derive their origin, and receive their best support.” Knowing that Wilberforce was a politician all his adult life, who never lost an election from the time he was twenty-one years old, we might be tempted to think that his motives were purely pragmatic—as if he should say, “If Christianity works to produce the political welfare, then use it.” But that is not the spirit of his mind or his life. In fact, he believed that such pragmatism would ruin the very thing it sought, the reformation of culture. —John Piper, The Roots of Endurance (Crossway, 2002), 119–121

What Is Godliness?

Moral living is not Godliness. By itself, morality is nothing but bare legalism. Genuine Godliness goes much deeper. Godliness is a worshipping the true God in heart and life, according to his revealed will. In this description of godliness, I shall observe four facts. . . . First, for the act, godliness is a worship. Worship comprehends all that respect which man oweth and giveth to his Maker. It is that service and honour, that fealty and homage, which the creature oweth and tendereth to the fountain of his being and happiness. It is the tribute which we pay to the King of kings, whereby we acknowledge his sovereignty over us, and our dependence on him. “Give unto the Lord the honour due unto his name; worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness.” To worship God is to give him the glory which is due him. It is a setting the crown of glory on God’s head. To render him due honour is true holiness; to deny this, is atheism and irreligion. All that inward reverence and respect, and all that outward obedience and service to God, which the word enjoined, is included in this one word worship. . . . Secondly, the object, the true God. All religion without the knowledge of the true god is a mere notion, an airy, empty nothing. Divine worship is one of the chiefest jewels of God’s crown, which he will by no means part with. God alone is the object of the godly man’s worship. . . . God alone is to be worshipped, because he alone is worthy of worship. “Thou art worthy, O Lord, to receive glory, and honour, and power: for thou hast created all things.” To hold anything in opinion, or to have anything in affection for God, which is not God is idolatry. . . . Thirdly, the extent, in heart and life. Godliness is the worshipping God in the inward motions of the heart, and the outward actions of the life; where the spring of the affections is clear, and the stream of the conversation runs clear, there is true godliness. . . . Heart-godliness pleaseth God best, but life-godliness honors him most; the conjunction of both make a complete Christian. In a godly man’s heart, though sin may be left, yet no sin is liked; in his life, though sin may remain, yet no sin reigns. His heart is suitable to God’s nature, and his life is answerable to God’s law, and thence he is fitly denominated a godly man. . . . Fourthly, the rule, according to his revealed will. Every part of divine worship must have a divine precept. . . . The institutions of Christ, not the inventions of men, are the rule of worship. Our work is not to make laws for ourselves or others, but to keep the laws which the great prophet of his church hath taught us; that coin of worship which is current amongst us must be stamped by God himself. We are to be governed as the point in the compass, not by the various winds (the practices of former ages, or the fashions of the present generation, which are mutable and uncertain), but by the constant heavens. Our devotion must be regulated exactly according to the standard of the word. It is idolatry to worship a false god, or the true God in a false manner. —George Swinnock, Trading and Thriving in Godliness: The Piety of George Swinnock, ed. J. Stephen Yuille (Reformation Heritage Books, 2008), 91–93.

“Good preachin’, Pastor!”

One of my favorite messages from Reformation Montana 2014 was Voddie Baucham’s first message in which he demonstrates that Genesis 41 is not the zenith, but the nadir, of Joseph’s life. Consequently, I purchased his book, Joseph and the Gospel of Many Colors. The story of Joseph, like most biblical narratives, is typically interpreted as a moral tale, like one of Æsop’s fables or a Veggietales episode. And that is how we tend to see most biblical passages: do this, don’t do that. Baucham explains why we do that: We all want black-and-white rules. We want someone to tell us, ‘This is right . . . that is wrong.” It’s clean. It’s simple. It requires little or no self-examination. Consequently, the legalist that resides in every last one of us wants law! Thus, those of us who teach the Bible (and we have the same tendency) get a unique kind of response from people when we give them moralism. ‘That’s good preachin’, Pastor!” In my experience, this kind of response almost always follows a law/rule/morality-based statement. It’s a sort of, ‘Attaboy. You sure told them” response. And frankly, it feels good! We all have to guard against this tendency. We look at the world through a lens that is calibrated for legalism. We see something sinful or unjust, and we know immediately (1) that it is wrong, and (2) what ought to be done instead. This is not wrong, per se; it’s just not enough. Sure, Joseph’s brothers were wrong to be filled with such hatred for him. That’s a no-brainer. However, did we need the story of Joseph to show us that? Certainly there’s another point to be made. Ultimately, we lean toward moralism because it’s easy. Moralism is, as noted earlier, the low-hanging fruit. It’s the way we’re all wired, and it takes very little effort or creativity to pull off. And it feels good to boot. We all feel better when we’re taking the speck out of someone else’s eye. Especially when it looks nothing like our plank. In other words, it’s easy for me to preach hard against plotting to murder your brother and then throwing him in a pit to be sold into slavery when I’ve never done anything of the sort. Several years ago, the Southern Baptist Convention passed a resolution against alcohol consumption. The resolution read: RESOLVED, That we urge that no one be elected to serve as a trustee or member of any entity or committee of the Southern Baptist Convention that is a user of alcoholic beverages. Aside from the terrible wording of the resolution (i.e., this statement technically excludes anyone who eats chicken marsala), it has zero scriptural support. However, it is incredibly easy to adopt such a resolution. The SBC has never had a problem with drunkenness among its clergy or denominational leaders. The SBC is by and large a teetotaling bunch. Hence, it took absolutely no courage to pass this statement. On the other hand, the SBC considered another resolution the same year calling for integrity in church membership. That resolution did not pass. What would it have required? Simply that churches be honest about how many members they have and clean up their roles of inactive, nonexistent members that inflate their numbers. The drinking which nobody does (the speck) was much easier to deal with than the bearing false witness (the log) that characterizes the overwhelming majority of the churches in the Convention. The SBC is not alone in this hypocrisy. You and I do the exact same thing every time we read the Bible! More importantly, we act out our hypocrisy in practical ways every day of our lives. We look for specks in our children, our coworkers, our teammates, and our friends. And our hypocrisy infects the way we read the Bible in general, and Old Testament narrative in particular. —Voddie Baucham, Joseph and the Gospel of Many Colors (Crossway, 2013), 19–20.

When do you “Amen”?

Some people love to shout “Amen!” if you’re in the “right” kind of church with the “right” kind of preaching, you’ll hear it a lot, along with expressions like “Preach it, Brother!” and “That’s right, Preacher!” I am descended mostly from Scandinavian immigrants, and was raised Lutheran, so there is just no hollering “Amen!” gene in my DNA. I, as far as I can remember, have never done it, and likely never will. Thinking it while quietly nodding my head is as expressive as I get, and if you share my heritage, you know what I mean. If you share my heritage, you also know that very strong feelings are often hidden behind very subtle expressions. Without opening my mouth or shifting the least bit in my seat, I can holler “Amen!” with the best Indy-Fundy Baptist at a KJVO conference. Sadly, like the IFB, my “Amen!” moments have most often come in response to some grand moral declaration applying to someone else. Moral indignation always feels good. By the grace of God, my “Amen!” moments have a new motivation. I’ve learned the gospel. The gospel kills the kind of pride that loves to denounce the sins of others. The gospel lays us low. It reduces our righteousness to “filthy rags.” I can no longer shout “Amen!” at denouncements of “worldliness” or “backsliders.” It’s tough to shout anything with head hanging, and when every sin named whispers “Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death?” I am simul iustus et peccator, the man Paul described in Romans 7. I now cry “Amen!” (silently, of course) when the preacher tells me I need to be clothed in the righteousness of Christ, and assures me that “there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus,” who promised, “This is the will of Him who sent Me, that of all that He has given Me I lose nothing . . . and I will raise him up on the last day.” I holler “Amen!” when reminded that “I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me.” “Amen!” because I know I am guilty, and “Amen!” because I’ve been pardoned. When do you holler “Amen”?

Reformation without Repentance

Unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. —Luke 13:3 Repentance is more than simply turning from sin. David Clarkson lists several examples of moral reformation that do not constitute genuine repentance. Here are three of them. In appearance only: He that leaves sin only outwardly, excludes it out of his conversation, not out of his heart. Repentance is a turning with all the heart, Joel ii. 12; it is not only a turning from all sin, but a turning of all the man, the whole man, inward and outward, from all sin. He that abstains from all sin outwardly and visibly may pass for a penitent with men, but it is not so in God’s account, unless sin be turned out of the heart as well as out of the life. Man judgeth according to outward appearance, but the Lord judgeth of repentance by the heart. There is no true repentance where the life is not reformed; but there may be an unblameable conversation, a life outwardly reformed, where there is no true repent ance. Paul professes that he had lived in all good conscience, &c., until that day, Acts xxiii. 1; and therefore, since he lived so all his life till that day, he lived so before he repented, unblameably, in good conscience outwardly before God, in the account of others, and in his own account; he lived so before he had truly repented, as neither others nor his own conscience could accuse him for outward sinful acts, Philip.  iii. Therefore abstinence from sin outwardly is not sufficient. If sin be regarded in the heart, there is no true repentance though the life be freed from it. Men judge of the heart by the life, but God judges of the life by the heart. He hears every prayer of a penitent soul, Isa. lvii. 15; yet David says, Ps. lxvi. 18, ‘If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear me.’ Whatever his life was, God would not respect, regard him as a penitent, if he did regard it in his heart. If ye do not break out into gross acts of sin, yet if your hearts entertain them, if you act uncleanness, revenge, covetousness in your thoughts, you are in a state of impenitency. —David Clarkson, Of Repentance, Works (Banner of Truth, 1988), 1:43. Out of selfish motives: He that leaves sin only out of sinister respects, by-ends, because it would deprive him of some advantage, or expose him to some loss, if committed, of friends, credit, profit, in respect of God or men; gives not himself to intemperance, because it is expensive; to uncleanness, because it is a sin shameful in the account of the world; avoids oppression, revenge, because civil laws lay penalties; wholly omits not ordinances, lest he should be accounted an atheist; he that leaves sin only thus does not repent; for true repentance is ‘repentance toward God,’ Acts xx. 21. It makes a man forsake sin out of respect to God, because it offends, dishonours him, as Joseph, Gen. xxxix. 9; but this is to abstain from sin out of respect to himself. —Ibid., 44. Turning from without turning to: He that so turns from sin as he does not turn to God. This motion cannot be perfect without its [end point]. If it be not essential to, it is inseparable from repentance, Isa. lv. 7. So forsake sin, as embrace Christ; so hate sin, as love holiness; so grieve for it as delight in God’s ways; steer the conversation to a quite contrary point. Not only cease to do evil, but learn to do good, Isa. i. 16, 17. It is not sufficient not to profane God’s name; he that repents will glorify it; not only not omit holy duties, but perform them in a holy manner; not only not pollute the Sabbath, but sanctify it; not only not dishonour profession, but adorn it; not only abstain from sin, but exercise grace. There are fruits of repentance which John requires, Mat. iii. 8, and Luke iii. 8. That repentance which brings not forth fruit is not sound, no plant of God’s planting; the doom of it you may see, ver. 9. Would you think it a sufficient evidence of a good vine, that it brings forth no wild grapes ? No; if it be an empty vine, though it have no bad, if it bring not forth good grapes, it is good for nothing. Negative righteousness will never evidence true repentance. It is not enoughJto say with the Pharisee, Luke xviii. 11, ‘I am not as other men,’ &c. The apostle joins these, repent, turn to God, do works, &c., Acts xxvi. 20. Those that would approve themselves clear in this matter, who would give clear evidences to the world and their own consciences that their repentance is to salvation, and that they sorrow after a godly sort, must produce all the effects of repentance which he inquires after, 2 Cor. vii. 11; not only indignation against sin, clearing themselves from vice, but carefulness to express the contrary virtues; not only fear of offending God, but vehement desire to please and honour him; not only revenge for dishonouring God by wicked courses, but zeal for his glory in all the ways of holiness. A fruitless repentance is rejected. —Ibid., 45–46.

A Description of Self-Righteousness

I count all things to be loss . . . so that I may gain Christ, and may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith —Philippians 3:8–9 Self-righteousness comes in a several varieties. It may be nice, good, moral, religious, not-bad, or (presumptively) earned. None is of any value. Some rely much upon a natural righteousness, that which we call good nature; if others persuade them, or they can persuade themselves that they are of good dispositions, mild, candid, gentle, ingenuous, kind and peaceable temper, they rest here, and are apt to conclude, the Lord will not be so severe as to cast so good nature (though there be nothing more than nature in them) into hell. Some rely upon a positive righteousness, and observance of some rites and circumstances in religion. They are baptized, and accounted members of the church, and partake of ordinances, and come under church order, submit to this or that form of ecclesiastical government, and adhere strictly to some outward observances prescribed by God, or perhaps received by tradition from their superiors or forefathers. Here they ground their hopes of heaven. This was part of the Pharisees righteousness, and that in which their false teachers grounded their confidence, which the apostle here opposes, and overthrows elsewhere, when he tells us, ‘The kingdom of God comes not by observation,’ &c., Luke xvii. 29; Rom. xiv. 17. And Christ raises it: ‘Except your righteousness,’ &c., Mat. v. 20. Others rely upon a moral righteousness, because they have some care to observe the duties of the second table, because they are just, sober, temperate, liberal, love their neighbours, do no man wrong, give every one his own; hence conclude they are sure of heaven. Whereas if this were a sufficient ground of confidence, we might conclude many heathens in heaven, such as never knew Christ, nor heard of the gospel. If such righteousness be sufficient, then Christ died in vain, as the apostle concludes to like purpose, Gal. ii. 21. Others rely upon a religious righteousness, their outward performances of some religious duties. Because they pray, and hear the word, and read the Scriptures, receive the sacraments, converse with those that are religious, and in some sort observe the Sabbath, upon this are confident that they shall die the death of the righteous, and it shall be well with them in the latter end. But even this support the apostle rejected as rotten; though he was one of the most religious sort among the Jews, and blameless as to his outward performance of religious duties, yet he durst not be found with this righteousness alone; he disclaims all confidence in it. Others rely upon a negative righteousness. Because they are not so unrighteous, not such idolaters, atheists, not such apostates or heretics, not such swearers or Sabbath-breakers; because they are not drunkards nor adulterers, not murderers or oppressors, not covetous, proud, or ambitious, therefore it shall go well with them. This was the Pharisees’, as in the parable; but it was far from justifying them, Luke xviii. 11, 14. Others rely upon a comparative righteousness, their being or thinking themselves to be more righteous than others, because they do more in a way of religion, of justice, of charity, than others who have like engagements; whatever their principles be from which, or the ends for which they do it, conclude for this they shall be saved. This is like that of the labourers sent into the vineyard early in the morning. They expostulate about their wages, as though they had deserved some extraordinary reward in having borne the burthen and heat of the day, Mat. xx. 12. There is a sad intimation, that though these were called, yet they were not chosen, ver. 16, Mat. vii. 22. Others rely upon a passive righteousness. Because they have suffered for the truth, being jeered, reproached, persecuted for some way of religion, therefore they are confident that for these sufferings they shall be saved and pardoned. But the apostle here sheweth the vanity of this confidence, for who had suffered more than he, who had suffered the loss of all things for Christ? He makes not his sufferings, but Christ, the ground of his confidence; he durst not be found, not in his sufferings for Christ, except he might withal be found in Christ: that he desired above all. Nor would he rest in anything but in Christ: ‘Not having his own righteousness;’ he counts it loss so far as it was unuseful and insufficient, he counts it dung so far as it invades Christ’s prerogative, so far as it would usurp the place and office of his righteousness; it was no better than dung when it would supplant and dishonour the righteousness of God. —David Clarkson, Justification by the Righteousness of Christ, Works (Banner of Truth, 1988), 1:281–282.


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