Friday, September 17, 2010

What Love for God Is and Isn't

I was listening to a sermon by John Piper on Romans 8:28 this week (as I've been listening through his Romans series, chapters 6 through 8) called "All Things for Good." And I was just overwhelmed with delight to come to this point in his sermon. He was discussing the "those who love God" part of Romans 8:28, and thus discussing what it means for us to love God. In order to do that, he also spent some time discussing what love for God is not.

I've spent some time (with Piper's help) trying to unfold this doctrine of love for God in my own thinking here and here, along with the posts under the "Love of God" tag that can be found on the sidebar. Yet what Piper said in this sermon is exactly what I want to say, and exactly what my soul resonates with.

This topic -- what it means to love God -- is what the universe is about. And so when I hear these things, everything I experience of reality is that much more real. When I'm contemplating the purpose for which I was created, I am more alive than at any other time. I am made to worship more greatly and more purely, which is to say, I enjoy God more at this time than at any other time. I pray that the same be true for you.

If you'd like, you can listen to the sermon as well here. The stream loads pretty quickly, and the section that the below edited transcript is taken from starts at either "-27:00" or "-22:10." For whatever reason it seems like two different versions might load. So you can just let it load for a minute and then click over to -27:00 or -22:10 and listen along. (I always recommend listening to Piper along with reading him when possible.)

Anyway, he says:

What the Love of God Is Not

So what does it mean to love God? How can you know if you are in this number? The best way I can think to make the answer clear is to say three things that love for God is not. At least the essence of love for God is not these three things.

Loving God is not meeting his needs. The way we love man is different from the way we love God. In Acts 17:25 Paul said, "He [is not] served by human hands, as though He needed anything, since He Himself gives to all people life and breath and all things." God is radically different from us. He is the source of all things and has no needs. He cannot be helped or improved. There are no defects to reverse or deficiencies to supply. We cannot love him by supplying his needs. He has none. Therefore the essence of our love for him must be an experience of receiving. (And I do regard joy as essentially receiving pleasure from the object of our delight.)

That leads to the second thing that love for God is not. Loving God is not, in its essence, love for his gifts – gifts like forgiveness, justification, escape from hell, resurrection to a pain-free life, etc. Indeed if we love God, we will cherish these gifts and be thankful for them, because we would not have God without them. But loving God is treasuring God himself revealed in his gifts and treasuring God himself beyond his gifts. His gifts are precious to the degree that they bring us to God and show us more of God. When you love God, God is central in your affections, not his gifts.

This word "affections" leads us to the third thing that love for God is not. The essence of loving God is not the things that love for God prompts you to do. Love for God may prompt you to leave mother and father and forsake all that to declare his glory among the nations. But leaving mother and father and forsaking all are not the essence of love – they are the fruit of love. Jesus said, "If you love Me, you will keep My commandments." This does not mean keeping his commandments is love. It means love is the kind of heart that prompts you to keep commandments.

In John 21:15-17 Jesus illustrates this connection when he asks Simon Peter three times, "Do you love me?" When Peter says, "Yes," Jesus does not say, "Good, that must mean you are obeying my commandments, because obeying my commandments is love." No, he said, "Feed my sheep." In other words, if you love me, act like it. Love my flock and feed them. Feeding sheep is the fruit of loving Jesus.

In other words, what I am saying is that love for God is a matter of the heart’s esteem for God before it produces anything else. It is something internal and involves spiritual emotions. It is not, in essence, a deliberated choice or a deed. It is more like a reflex of the heart to the perfections of God revealed especially in Christ. If you equate the deeds of love with the essence of love you will produce hypocrites – people who imitate the deeds and claim to love God when their hearts are far from him. If you equate love for God with love for his gifts, you produce hypocrites – people who are very glad to feel forgiven and declared righteous and delivered from hell and heaven-bound, but have no pleasure in God himself. They don’t love God. They just don’t want to have bad guilt feelings or go to hell.

What the Love of God Is

Therefore I think it is absolutely crucial that we clarify what the essence of love for God is. Let me grasp for the kinds of words that I think will help us know if we love God. Loving God is desiring God himself beyond his gifts. Loving God is treasuring God himself beyond his gifts. Love for God is delighting in God himself beyond his gifts. Love for God is being satisfied in God himself beyond his gifts. Love for God is cherishing God himself beyond his gifts. Love for God is savoring God himself beyond his gifts. Love for God is valuing God and prizing God and revering God and admiring God beyond his gifts. All these words are grasping for that essential response of the heart to the revelation of the glory of God, especially in Christ through the gospel. It is a glad reflex of the heart to all that God is for us in Christ.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Our Wills Not Violated, But Transformed

In chapter three of The Mortification of Sin in Believers, John Owen writes,
[1.] It is no otherwise the work of the Spirit but as all graces and good works which are in us are His. He “works in us to will and to do of his own good pleasure” (Phil 2:13); He works “all our works in us” (Is 26:12), — “the work of faith with power” (2Thess 1:11; Col 2:12); He causes us to pray, and is a “Spirit of supplication” (Rom 8:26; Zech 12:10); and yet we are exhorted, and are to be exhorted, to all these.

See the contrast Owen is driving at here, even if it's veiled in 17th century English. Every bit of progress in grace that we make -- every single good work which we perform -- are most properly said to be the works of the Spirit. They "are His," as Owen says, and then supports his point by quoting passages that assign very active and causative terms to the Spirit's work in the believers' lives.

Yet having said all that, we, the believers, are rightly exhorted to do all the things that the Scriptures say the Spirit does. We are to want things and do things (i.e., to will and to do) according as it pleases God. We are to perform good works. We are to pray. But it's His work. How does this work?
[2.] The Spirit doth not so work our mortification in us as not to keep it still an act of our obedience.

Read that again. The sovereignty of the Holy Spirit in our lives, even in our progressive, step-by-step, process of sanctification, is not such a sovereignty that it absolves us of responsibility. He is sovereign. He works in us. Yet if we fail to will and to work to God's good pleasure, we have disobeyed. He continues:
The Holy Ghost works in us and upon us, as we are fit to be wrought in and upon; that is, so as to preserve our own liberty and free obedience. He works upon our understandings, wills, consciences, and affections, agreeably to their own natures; he works in us and with us, not against us or without us; so that his assistance is an encouragement as to the facilitating of the work, and no occasion of neglect as to the work itself.

In other words, someone who sits passively by, never lifting a finger -- let alone a sword -- in the faithful fight for holiness in the war against indwelling sin, all in the name of God's grace and sovereignty, is sorely mistaken. The Christian who sits and waits to be zapped with holiness, but never engages in the work of mortification (Rom 8:13), of putting off and putting on (Eph 4:17ff; Col 3:5ff), of making no provision for the flesh in regards to its lusts (Rom 13:14), has prostituted the glorious doctrine of God's absolute sovereignty in the service of his fleshly desires.

But at the same time, see in Owen's words the absolutely gracious ministry of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit, in all the beautiful luster of His sovereignty, doesn't turn us into unfeeling, mindless robots as He works in us to will and to work according to the good pleasure of the Father (no matter how much mileage that caricature has gotten). He doesn't simply force us against our will to obey God. Rather, in unspeakably miraculous sovereignty, He changes our hearts, our affections, our desires, bit by bit, so that when we obey we obey because we want to, because we delight to, because we love to!

Do you see why that's so awesome? It would be easy for God, entirely unfettered by anything in the universe (least of all the will of a mere man), to simply show up and force us to do whatever He wanted. Our hearts and minds would still be corrupt, but we would be "obeying." But that's not how He works. Instead, Christ pours out the Holy Spirit in our hearts, who then opens the eyes of our hearts to see the light of the knowledge of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God (2Cor 4:4). And when our hearts behold that beauty, it is won over, wooed out of its corruption, such that it freely and eagerly follows after that beauty, seeking to get more and more and more it, knowing that more of it comes in the path of obedience. The Spirit is so sovereign, and Christ is so glorious, that our hearts are changed agreeably. Our wills are not violated; they are transformed!

The Spirit works in our hearts and affections, not to present us as unwilling slaves to His wonderful Word, but to begin to see the Word as wonderful, Christ as beautiful, God as glorious, and obedience as satisfying. The Spirit illuminates our lives to have us see things as they are. Sin is devalued and Christ is exalted, and so we follow Him with all our hearts!

And so let us fall on our faces before the Lord God and pray that He would daily pour out His Spirit on us so generously that our affections would be changed, that our eyes would be opened, and that we would love the glory of the preeminent Christ more than the temporal gratification of our own sinful flesh.

Friday, September 10, 2010

The Three Most Important Realities of Life

I have the outstanding privilege every Tuesday and Thursday morning to gather with my brothers in seminary, read the Word together, worship together, pray together, and sit under wonderful exposition of the Scriptures together.

This Thursday morning was no different. We had the privilege of listening to the preaching of Rick Holland, which is always a pleasure. He is fast becoming a favorite of mine to listen to. He is a man who worships over the Word of God as he presents it, thereby helping those in the pews to worship over the Word of God as its presented. (I'm still praying God brings him back to the M. Div. program to teach preaching.)

Anyway, his message, entitled, "Ministry and the Reality of Death," treating Hebrews 9:27-28, was an absolute treat. It was the kind of sweet sting (or, stinging sweetness) that we all need to experience as often as we can, especially as it regards the universality and inevitability of death, the certainty of judgment, and the accomplishment of salvation in Christ. I talk a little bit more about that in this post, on why we need to talk about ultimate things in general and about hell in specific.

I really commend Rick's message to you. You can stream it by clicking here, and you can download it by clicking here. Please do yourself the favor, the benefit, of listening to his message.

He outlined the three most important realities of life from Hebrews 9:27-28, and they are as follows:
  1. Death is Unavoidable
  2. Judgment is Certain
  3. Salvation is Possible
These realities compel us to "preach the Gospel not some time, but every time."

And inasmuch as it is appointed for men to die once
and after this comes judgment,

so Christ also, having been offered once to bear the sins of many,
will appear a second time for salvation without reference to sin,
to those who eagerly await Him.

- Hebrews 9:27-28 -

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

That We Might Share in His Holiness, and Thus Be Fit to See Him

I've spent the last two posts opening up what the Bible says about the believer's responsibility to give and receive rebuke in their relationships with fellow Christians. I mentioned that if we believe that we have fellowship with each other, but fail to serve each other by lovingly and gently confronting each other when we see sin in our lives, we do little more than "play church" under the banner of the name of Jesus Christ, which is blasphemous.

We took a look at how important this ministry of confrontation, of rebuke, was to the Apostle Paul in his own ministry. He was no stranger to this, because he knew of the benefit it would be to his brothers and sisters. We also spent some time last time looking at three aspects of the ministry of rebuke among Christians: we saw
(1) the need to responsibly and lovingly give rebuke when it will benefit our brothers and sisters; (2) the need to humbly and wisely receive rebuke ourselves; and (3) the need to even pursue correction and rebuke from our brothers and sisters, as they may see sin in our lives that we don’t clearly see.

Then I asked, "Why?" What's the point for all of this rebuke? What's the purpose, the end goal, the result, the motivation to admonish each other?

The answer is: We get to see God.

That We Might Share in His Holiness

In Hebrews 12, the author is picking up on some Old Testament Proverbs in order to show the Jewish Christians, who were under the chastening of God at the time, that the Lord's discipline is a mark of grace, because He disciplines those whom He loves. Sons get discipline. The author of Hebrews writes: "But [God] disciplines us for our good, so that we may share His holiness" (Heb 12:10b).

Does that hit you? God disciplines His children for our benefit, for our good. And what is our good according to this verse? It is that we might share in God's holiness. The discipline that comes from God, which admittedly is not always pleasant at the time (Heb 12:11), comes to refine us, to purify us, so that we might become increasingly holy, increasingly like Him, conformed more to the image of His Son (Rom 8:29; 2Cor 3:18). Our good is to share His holiness, and so He disciplines us to make us holy.

This must be the motive of Christians' rebuke of each other. We also must be motivated by the desire to benefit our brothers and sisters by causing them to share in God's holiness. And how do we do that? Well, when we see sin in each other's lives, which causes us to be cut off from God's holiness, we should point it out to each other. That is the admonishing that Paul talks about throughout his ministry. That is why the Sage and the Psalmist are so intent on receiving rebuke. They want to be rid of sin! They want to share in God's holiness!

That We Might Be Fit to See the Lord

But it's important to recognize that holiness is not an end in itself. We don't want to be holy just for the sake of being holy. If that's all that this ministry of admonition got us, it wouldn't be a worthy task. Holiness for the sake of holiness is Pharisaism. The writer of Hebrews tells us why we should be concerned about sharing in God's holiness when he tells us to "pursue
…the sanctification without which no one will see the Lord (Heb 12:14).

Does that land on you?

We are commanded to pursue sanctification -- to pursue holiness -- precisely because if we don't have it, we won't see God! That is what all this striving after holiness is about: seeing God! Beholding the most beautiful and satisfying thing there is to see: the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.

Paul says this himself in Colossians 1:28-2:3: "We proclaim Him, admonishing every man and teaching every man with all wisdom, so that we may present every man complete in Christ. ... attaining to all the wealth that comes from the full assurance of understanding, resulting in a true knowledge of God’s mystery, that is, Christ Himself, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge."

The tireless discipline of admonishing every man is for the result of a true knowledge of all the treasures laid up in Christ Himself! Discipline, rebuke, reproof, correction, admonition… as they are founded upon the Word of God, they participate in our sanctification, without which we will not see God!

And so if it is eternity that’s at stake – if it’s seeing Christ that’s at stake here, Paul is going to celebrate the Romans' competence to admonish each other (cf. Rom 15:14, here), and he’s not going to hesitate to boldly admonish believers to remind them of these things.


And neither should we. If we learn that one of our brothers and sisters is involved in something that is spiritually harmful – whether that be engaging in sinful actions, harboring sinful thoughts, or even believing false things about Scripture, false doctrine – we need to let them know. And we need to do so because we know that seeing Christ rightly – and therefore worshiping Christ rightly – is what is at stake.

But as I say that, let me quickly return to Romans 15:14 to show you that there are qualifications, of sort, for this kind of ministry to one another. Paul says, "And concerning you, my brethren, I myself also am convinced that you yourselves are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge and able also to admonish one another."

"Full of goodness," means that you are going to admonish that person for their benefit, and not for your own sinful, prideful desire to look superior or super-spiritual. This means that before you go to them you have thought about it, you have prayed about it, you have reminded yourself of the objective reality of fellowship that you have with this person, that they are a child of God. And you go to them out of a desire to see them benefited by Christ. And you believe what you have to say will serve that end.

And "filled with all knowledge," means that the correction you will be giving will be Biblical, both content and form. By content I mean, obviously, that before you go and tell somebody they're doing something wrong, you better be sure it's actually wrong according to the Scriptures. Be prepared to share passages from Scripture that shed light on the issue. After all, you're not the authority. God’s Word is. And you wouldn't want to give any other impression.

And by form I mean that you’re following the principles laid out for us in Matthew 18:15-17. Matthew 18:15: "If your brother sins, go and show him his fault in private."

  1. First, if your brother sins, go. Don’t talk. Don’t gossip about it with other people. Go.
  2. Second, if your brother sins, go and show him his fault. This hits on the previous point: show him from Scripture where he’s wrong. Don’t simply assert that he’s wrong; show him he’s wrong from the Bible, which is our sole authority.
  3. And finally, if your brother sins, go and show him his fault in private. At this stage, this is a one-on-one encounter. It's not a public matter. If the sin is public, go to him in private, and if he agrees that he was wrong, urge him to repent of the sin publicly. But go to him in private first. Remember, love covers sin (1Cor 13:7; 1Pet 4:8), it does not flaunt sin. You are to do everything you can to honor your brothers and sisters, not shame them.
So: when you admonish one another, be (1) full of goodness, and be (2) filled with all knowledge.


So the take-away from all these posts is: don't shy away from admonishing your brothers and sisters according to the Truth. Don't hate them by hiding instruction from them. Don't sabotage the health of the Church by letting sin go unchecked.

And if someone has the courage to admonish you, receive it graciously and gratefully. Don't hate discipline and instruction and earn the name of a Fool. Instead, seek it out. Desire it. Invite rebuke and reproof and correction, for they are oil upon the head that refreshes and sweetens (Ps 141:5).

Hate sin enough – and love Christ enough – to expose sin (Eph

And hate sin enough – and love Christ enough –to seek out ways of having it exposed in your own life.

Don't hate discipline. Pursue holiness. The holiness without which no one will see the Lord. Because that's what all of the Christian life is about: seeing the Lord Jesus clearly and rightly.

But He disciplines us for our good,
so that we may share His holiness. ...
Pursue...the sanctification without which
no one will see the Lord.

- Hebrews 12:10, 14 -

Friday, September 3, 2010

The Ministry of Rebuke: Giving, Receiving, and Inviting

In Tuesday's post, I introduced a second necessary component of true Christian fellowship by taking a glimpse at the ministry of the Apostle Paul (here's the first). We looked fairly closely at Romans 15:14-16 and a bit more cursorily at Acts 20:17-38, and discovered that Paul considered the ministry of admonition, or confrontation of sin, to be a vital one in the lives of believers and in the health of the church. I want to consider this matter again today, and build on the thought from Tuesday's post. (I originally thought I'd wrap up the thought today, but I decided to take one more post.)

Having seen the value and worth with which the Apostle esteems the ministry of rebuke, I want to both underscore that lesson from other Scriptures and then apply it to our lives. As an outline, we'll look at (1) the necessity of giving rebuke, (2) the necessity of receiving rebuke, and (3) the benefit of even desiring and inviting rebuke. On Tuesday, we'll look finally at (4) the reason - or motivation - for rebuke.

Giving Rebuke

When it comes to lovingly coming along side our brothers and making them aware of some sin that we've perceived in them, many Christians are timid and hesitant. Some of us just don't want to come off arrogantly, like we've got everything together when there really is a plank in our own eye. Some fear that it won't come off to the person as loving, and we think they'll take it the wrong way. So we rationalize not saying anything and call it love "covering" a multitude of sins. Others are simply afraid of the person's response, fearing that they will be hostile, and that the confrontation of sin might result in damage to the friendship. But the Scriptures tell us that we must be faithful in our ministry to our brothers and sisters by giving rebuke.
  • Proverbs 27:5-6 – Better is open rebuke than love that is concealed. Faithful are the wounds of a friend, but deceitful are the kisses of the enemy.
  • Proverbs 28:23 – He who rebukes a man will afterward find more favor than he who flatters with the tongue.
So open rebuke is better than concealed love. The wise man says that friends afflict with faithful wounds, and enemies deceive with flattery and kisses. You are an enemy to your brother if you fail to wound him faithfully. And the sage also says that when all is said and done you will find more favor than if you only sweep things under the rug, and give your brother a false assurance in their sin.

Paul tells us in 2 Timothy
3:16 that we are given Scripture for this very purpose: "All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness." And he follows that up with the charge to Timothy to "preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction" (2Tim 4:2).

To the Ephesians, Paul commands them not to participate in the unfruitful deeds of darkness, but rather to expose them (Eph 5:11). Similarly, in 1 Timothy 5:20, he commands Timothy concerning those who continue in sin, "
rebuke in the presence of all, so that the rest also will be fearful of sinning." The exposing of sin not only seeks to restore the sinner, but also serves as a help to others who are tempted to sin.

As we've seen even above and especially last time, Paul was no stranger to this ministry of rebuke, but considered it profitable for the sake of his brothers and for the sake of the Gospel. Neither was he a stranger to public rebuke, as he reported in Galatians 2:11-14: "
But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. For prior to the coming of certain men from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles; but when they came, he began to withdraw and hold himself aloof, fearing the party of the circumcision. The rest of the Jews joined him in hypocrisy, with the result that even Barnabas was carried away by their hypocrisy. But when I saw that they were not straightforward about the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas in the presence of all, 'If you, being a Jew, live like the Gentiles and not like the Jews, how is it that you compel the Gentiles to live like Jews?'"

This really is a striking passage of Scripture. I mean, Paul's not going after small potatoes here. This is the Apostle Peter we're talking about. And not just overzealous, quick-to-speak, foot-in-mouth Peter that we got used to during Jesus' earthly ministry. This is post-Pentecost Peter (indeed, over 15 years later!), after the amazing sermons recorded in Acts, the miracles of healing, the boldness before the Sanhedrin, and the abundant fruitfulness of his ministry.

And neither is Paul going after an enemy. This is his dear friend and brother in the Lord! This is someone he has deep affection for and loves as a brother. And yet he feels no hesitation about rebuking him sharply (I opposed him to his face) and publicly (in the presence of all), accusing him of perverting the Gospel. That is no small charge!

But this is not Paul being overly sensitive to sin and overly harsh with his fellow believers. This is love stretching to very uncomfortable and unpleasant actions to serve the one in concern. If anything, this interaction should teach us that as Christians, we have a responsibility -- even a stewardship -- to confront and correct our brother when we see him sinning, and thus cutting himself off from the blessings of God that flow from obedience.

Receiving Rebuke

And yet we are also commanded to receive rebuke well. As I mentioned above, one of the reasons it is so difficult to be faithful in giving needed rebuke is that those on the receiving end receive it so poorly. This should not be us. We should not by our attitudes put stumbling blocks in the way of our own correction. We want to be corrected when we are wrong, and so we must seek to remove any bad attitudes that would hinder a brother confronting us with our sin in love. Consider what the Scriptures say about those who receive rebuke well.
  • Proverbs 9:8b – Reprove a wise man and he will love you.
  • Proverbs 10:17 He is on the path of life who heeds instruction, but he who ignores reproof goes astray.
  • Proverbs 12:1 – Whoever loves discipline loves knowledge, but he who hates reproof is stupid.
  • Proverbs 13:10 Through insolence comes nothing but strife, but wisdom is with those who receive counsel.
  • Proverbs 15:31-32 – He whose ear listens to the life-giving reproof will dwell among the wise. He who neglects discipline despises himself, but he who listens to reproof acquires understanding.
  • Proverbs 17:10 A rebuke goes deeper into one who has understanding than a hundred blows into a fool.
If you love discipline, listen to reproof, and receive counsel and rebuke, you are wise, love knowledge, are on the path of life, have wisdom, and acquire understanding.

If you refuse to receive rebuke, you will go astray, know nothing but strife, effectively despise your own self, and are a stupid fool. Strong language from Solomon, and from God. And yet, there it is: clear, inescapable, and gracious revelation from our God.

Desiring and Inviting Rebuke

In fact, Scripture takes it further than receiving rebuke well. We see godly men going out of their way to invite rebuke and correction if they should go astray.
  • Psalm 141:5 – Let the righteous smite me in kindness and reprove me; It is oil upon the head; Do not let my head refuse it. Commenting on this verse, Spurgeon wrote: "As oil refreshes and perfumes, so does reproof when fitly taken sweeten and renew the heart."
  • Psalm 94:12-14 – Blessed is the man whom You chasten, O Yahweh, And whom You teach out of Your law; That You may grant him relief from the days of adversity, Until a pit is dug for the wicked. For Yahweh will not abandon His people, Nor will He forsake His inheritance.
The smite of the righteous reproof is kind, says David. It is an anointing of oil. It refreshes and perfumes. It sweetens and renews. "Let the righteous do so to me," he says. He invites the reproof of wise men. And again the psalmist pronounces blessing upon the one whom the Lord chastens, or disciplines. These men desired and even invited godly discipline upon their lives.

And so we’ve seen (1) the need to responsibly and lovingly give rebuke when it will benefit our brothers and sisters; (2) the need to humbly and wisely receive rebuke ourselves; and (3) the need to even pursue correction and rebuke from our brothers and sisters, as they may see sin in our lives that we don’t clearly see.

But what is the end of this all this rebuke? All this admonishing that Scripture is calling the body of Christ to do… what’s the purpose? What’s the end goal here?

I'll answer that question next Tuesday.