Sunday, January 30, 2011

The Biblical Paradigm for Individual and Corporate Sanctification – Part III
Church Discipline in Context – Repentance and Forgiveness
Matthew 18:1-35

You have embarked on biblical correction. You went to your sinning brother or sister as the case may be and you confronted them with their sin. Somewhere in the process, either after step one or perhaps even after being excommunicated, the individual repents. How do we respond to their repentance? In the last post we talked about the conditions necessary to engage in the process of biblical correction. They were humility and value which are both borne out of love for God and love for our brother. We talked about how we tend not to be so humble, having a higher opinion of ourselves than we should. Moreover, we talked about how we sinfully devalue someone who has sinned and is in need of correction. Jesus corrected both of these sinful tendencies as a necessary precondition to rightly execute loving, biblical discipline. But we are not finished. We now have to deal with our sinful attitudes after the fact. You see, not only do we tend to judge, criticize and condemn those who need correction unjustly and in an unloving manner, we also tend to withhold forgiveness in a number of different ways. And the remainder of Matthew 18 deals with this fact. Our question is how do we know someone has really repented of their sin? This was the basis of Peter’s question: “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me and I forgive him?” This is a question borne directly from the sinful nature. We are a self-righteous lot and it shows in more ways than one. This is the subject of today’s post.

Peter’s question is one that we still ask today when dealing with church discipline. Somehow, we think we are in charge of forgiveness when it comes to biblical correction. The reason for this may be the power that is invested in the church in v. 18: “Whatsoever you bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven; and whatsoever you loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven.” Indeed the church has been granted to eyes of forgiveness, but not the power. She can see and declare. But she is not free to determine who is forgiven and who is not. She has been given strict guidelines for whom she is to declare forgiven and who has not been. At bottom, the church is to declare those whom Christ says is forgiven, as forgiven, and those whom Christ says are to be treated as Gentiles, to be treated as Gentiles. But what the church is tempted to do, as she is filled with sinning Christians, is to set up some system of requirements that are designed to “prove” repentance before forgiveness is extended. This is unfortunate and regrettable. Our model of forgiveness must follow God’s model. This is where much abuse takes place. Hence, this whole thinking process is exactly what inspired Peter to ask his question about forgiveness.

“Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me and I forgive him?” Jesus’ answer was not designed to quantify this for Peter so that Peter could come up with a formula. Isn’t that how we think? Once you cross the line, that’s it. You are done! Jesus’ answer was that, like God’s forgiveness of you, your forgiveness of others must be unlimited. Luke records it this way, “And if he sins against you seven times a day, and returns to you seven times saying, I repent, forgive him.” (Luke 17:4) But we certainly do not like this system. We demand some form of payment as proof that the individual has genuinely repented! Such proof is not ours to demand. Payment for sin was made by God to God for us. It was not made to us. This is exactly where the concept of penance comes from. We want proof! And here is the rub: what is it in us that really wants proof? Search your heart O sinner and understand why you want this proof! Is it really out of love for this sinning brother? Is it really out of a genuine desire for the purity of the church? Or, could it be that you demand proof for your own satisfaction. Is there a desire, even a slight desire, for retribution and punishment. Bring forth fruit that demonstrates repentance is important. But it takes time. What then should be your attitude? Calvin comments on this struggle,
“And this is what I have formerly remarked, that in this passage Christ does not only speak of injuries which have been done to us, but of every kind of offences; for he desires that, by our compassion, we shall raise up those who have fallen. This doctrine is very necessary, because naturally almost all of us are peevish beyond measure; and Satan, under the pretence of severity, drives us to cruel rigour, so that wretched men, to whom pardon is refused, are swallowed up by grief and despair.” [Calvin, John. Matthew, 365]

That is simple. You forgive and pray for your brother and treat him with the same love and respect you do every other believer. Notice Calvin's use of the word compassion. Biblical correction must be an act of heartfelt compassion. Otherwise, we end up engaging in the cruel rigour, and driving people to grief and despair. Heart examintion should be sober and deliberate prior to engaging in such practices. If all you want to do is indict and finger point and prove that someone sinned, your motives are laced with the wickedness of Satan and of the sinful flesh. Such approach to discipline is antithetical to Christ's mandate and not at all indicative of Christian charity. Here is the thing; sin is a heart issue. If this person is an unbeliever, time will bear that out. They will go out from you in all likelihood. There is a chance they may remain with you and live in secret sin for the rest of their lives. God will deal with that. It is not your place to walk around worrying about ferreting out every hypocrite you can find. There is will always be hypocrites in the church. Follow Christ’s instructions here and you will be fine. It is when you want to cut corners or add complexities that you run into problems. And that is our sin nature doing what the sin nature does best.

Jesus said on two occasions about forgiveness that if we do not extend forgiveness to others, our heavenly Father will not extend forgiveness to us. Someone once said we are never more like God than when are forgiving each other and we are never more unlike God than when we are not. Jesus follows Peter’s question with a second parable. The parable of the unjust slaved is an excellent illustration on the seriousness of unforgiveness. This is the third component of biblical correction. The first two were humility and value, and now we come to forgiveness. Those who have to engage in biblical correction, (and that will likely be everyone who is a Christian in time) must also possess an attitude of humility, value others, and a forgiving heart. These are the true marks of a Christian.

Jesus finishes this chapter with a parable that illustrates what Christian forgiveness really looks like. He wants there to be no ambiguity around Christian forgiveness. He tells us the story of a slave who could not meet his debt. The master of this slave ordered that the slave, his wife and children, and all his possessions be sold in order to settle the debt. Sound familiar? Did you have a debt with God that you could not pay? The slave fell prostrate and begged for patience and mercy from the master. The lord of that slave felt compassion for him and released him of his debt. His debt was so high that all he had was to be sold in order to settle it. That slave in turn, went out and found a fellow slave who owed him 100 days wages and refused to do the same. He threw the man in jail for three months salary. The unjust slave was unwilling to extend the same patience with his fellow slave as his lord (a non-slave) extended to him. Do we not do this to one another? God has forgiven us of so much, but we cannot forgive each other of the smallest things. The point here is that this slave was not free not to forgive in the first place. Second, if he was a recipient of mercy himself, who was he to not be the dispenser of mercy when the chance presented itself? Such unjust and hypocritical behavior is entirely out of step with Christianity.

The lord of this unjust slave heard of this mistreatment and had the slave handed over to the torturers until he repaid all that he owed. This slave was described as wicked because of his unforgiveness. His lord said to him, “Should you not also have had mercy on your fellow slave, in the same way that I had mercy on you?” And so we should. Remember that the process of discipline is given in the context of humility, value, the lost sheep, and forgiveness. Out of 35 verses in Matthew 18, Jesus spends 4 on the process of church discipline and the rest on the attitudes for church discipline. Jesus sums this parable up by saying, “My heavenly Father will also do the same to you, if each of you does not forgive his brother from your heart.”

Forgiveness is extended, conditioned on the person’s repentance. It is sometimes in this condition that we get ourselves in trouble. Repentance is something that is immediately only known by God because only God knows the heart. But repentance is followed by steady improvement in the person’s behavior. We do not withhold forgiveness until we see this steady improvement ourselves. We take the individual at his or her word (Lu. 17:4) and provide gentle care over the course of time in an attempt to raise the person who has fallen up. Calvin comments, It must be observed that, when any man, through his light and unsteady behaviour, has exposed himself to suspicion, we may grant pardon when he asked it; and yet may do so in such a manner as to watch over his conduct for the future, that our forbearance and meekness, which proceed from the Spirit of Christ, may not become the subject of his ridicule. For we must observe the design of the our Lord himself, that we ought, by our gentleness, to assist those who have fallen to rise again.” [Calvin, John. Matthew. 366]

Repentance is a change of heart that can be viewed in a change of action. This action could be immediate or it could take some time to demonstrate. One example would be a couple who are living together outside of marriage. Repentance for this couple could be seen immediately in the couple’s decision to either get marriage or move into separate dwellings. That is repentance. It would not be possible for this couple to repent and still live together. That is precisely what repentance is not! Such an expectation is biblical and reasonable. Perhaps you have a married couple who are separated or have even divorced without biblical justification. What does repentance look like for them? Repentance means an end to the separation and the restoration of the couple living together under one roof. In the case of unbiblical divorce, repentance means remarriage so long as both of them are still living and have not remarried. (1 Cor. 7:11) Anything short of this is not biblical repentance. It reflects a rebellious heart that seeks to live apart from the law of Christ. Care must be taken not to cross the line from biblical repentance to man-centered penance. We cannot require community service, or have someone go back to everyone they have ever offended over the course of their lives in order to demonstrate true repentance. Let’s say you have someone who has cheated people repeatedly in business. This person’s behavior carries over into their Christian walk in the beginning. It is pointed out by a fellow believer and the businessman desire to repent. He should make restitution where possible within reason. Is he required to go back over all the years he has cheated others and bankrupt himself in order to demonstrate repentance? Of course he is not required to do such non-sense. Even if he did, this does not ensure true repentance. This is an outward activity that anyone could do. The best indication of repentance is that his current sinful lifestyle changes going forward and his cheating ways come to an abrupt end. All his future dealings are above board. This may take some time, but you extend forgiveness initially and then watch his behavior to see if his behavior matches his profession of repentance. You expect that it will and respond appropriately when it doesn’t. There will be relapses into sin because we all have a sin nature. Great care and patience must always be coupled with gentle accountability.

This is the biblical paradigm for sanctification. It rests on the foundation of love for God and love for our neighbor. The three components mentioned are humility, value, and forgiveness. Our motivation is to glorify God with our lives in all that we do. That goal begins with loving God and loving our brother enough to go to them, humbly, valuing them, and confront them with the single goal of restoration at the center of our action. We are sworn to help one another walk the sanctified life. That is what biblical confrontation is all about. And if the individual proves themselves to be an unbeliever, we are sworn to preserve the purity of the church above friendships with those who prove to be pseudo Christians. It is never easy to watch someone we care about refuse to respond to loving correction. It is extremely difficult to set there and listen to their name read in public as one who refuses to submit to God’s word. The emotions rage within and we are tempted to run from such unpleasant circumstances. On the flip side, some of us take a disliking to a person and do all we can to run them out of the church. Our goals for discipline are to see them vanquished from our midst for whatever reason. We gravel in the thought of getting rid of them. The refusal to engage in biblical correction and the eagerness to engage in it incorrectly or for all the wrong reasons represent unacceptable perversions of Christ’s mandate on the subject. Like everything other mandate in Scripture, it is not our place to decide if we will obey it or ignore it. Like any good disciple would do, we must decide to engage in biblical discipline, adhering to the spirit and the steps outlined Christ in Matthew 18. By doing so, we love our Lord and Master, and we love one another. By rejecting this teaching, we love neither our Lord, nor our brother.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Abortion, Christianity, and Moral Schizophrenia

By now, most of you are aware of the infamous Philadelphia Women’s Clinic presided over by Dr. Kermit Gosnell. Prosecutors blamed "a complete regulatory collapse" for allowing Gosnell's routine late-term abortions for poor women, mostly minorities. They described a "house of horrors," with discarded fetuses, bloody floors and furniture, dismembered baby parts stored in jars and staff with little or no training acting as doctors and nurses. [Mark Scolforo, AP] The article cites that two women died and seven murdered babies serve as the basis of Gosnell’s indictment. At his arraignment, Gosnell said that he did not understand why he was being charged with murder. I suppose most people who read his remarks probably shutter in total confusion at how an educated man could fail to understand why he is being charged with murder. But I completely understand his confusion. The truth is that there have been a lot more than just seven babies murdered here. Who knows how many have been murdered. The fact is that re-locating a baby from one place to another does not make killing it any less an act of murder. And that is where the confusion rests. Moving that baby from inside the mother to outside the mother does not make the taking of an infant’s life any less vile. And we fall into a trap when we respond with greater outrage in cases like this. It betrays a double standard that lies just beneath the surface of our convictions. You see, when we are more repulsed at this killing than we are at Gosnell’s daily killing via abortion, it reveals that perhaps we don’t see abortion as the same kind of murder as killing a child outside the womb. And that, my friends, is quite disturbing.

According to the grand jury report, Gosnell severed the spinal cords of living, breathing babies born outside their mother’s womb on multiple occasions. I will not go into the gruesome acts that Gosnell and his cohort of murders committed. If you want to see the raw truth simply follow the link to the grand jury report. What I find disturbing about the reaction of the media is the double standard. It is amazing that those of us in the reformed camp still have to debate with Arminians and Catholics about the noetic effects of sin on the human mind. Just read how people think and the evidence speaks for itself. Americans claim to be enlightened, sophisticated, and cultured. Yet, they can argue that it isn’t butchery when only a baby’s head is out of the vagina and scissors are jabbed into the back of the skull so it’s brains can be sucked out, but it is butchery if the entire baby is out of the womb. Only the doctrine of total depravity can account for such irrationality. No other theory I know of even comes close to having explanatory power in this situation. Abortion is murder. Doctors who practice abortion are murders. People who defend such practices and who support this philosophy of death are culpable. They are no different than people who aid any other kind of murderer. Until Christians really start to reveal the deep dark secrets of these practices and the real philosophies behind them, we will lose this battle. It isn’t unlike the homosexuality debate. There are multitudes of people who think that the homosexual debate isn’t about sex. They recoil at the accusation that promiscuity among homosexual men is off the charts. These people bury their heads in the sand when it comes to the facts. They don’t look at the data because they don’t care or they don’t really want to know truth. We have to find the courage to stand up for truth and expose the filthiness of sexual perversion and the vileness of murder.

People want morality without absolutes. They want to be able to step in at any given time and make exceptions to the standards. Send Gosnell to prison for killing babies outside the mothers womb, but defend the abortion doctor down the street who kills them only 25% out of the mothers womb. How convenient! We promote homosexuality at every turn, yet contend that sexual promiscuity is repulsive in the next breath. We want to contend that homosexuality is genetic and therefore should be normalized, but adultery somehow is not genetic. Go figure! If homosexuality is genetic, why isn’t pedophilia? Is homosexuality is normal, why do we send pedophiles to prison? They can’t help themselves. We convince ourselves that the man who engages with sex with another man is not a perverted individual but the one who raped our daughter is. We lecture in our universities and make “profound” statements at political town halls about the irrelevance of morals and character in our culture, but when facing the consequences of the deviant behavior that such abstract ideas produce, we do a proverbial about face. We like to have our cake and eat it too.

Ideas have consequences. We have passed the fifty million mark in babies murdered in this country since Roe v. Wade. In an article appearing in The Oklahoma Daily, Sarah Garrett refers to abortion as “reproductive freedom.” She says, “Reproductive freedom should include all factual information and access to resources that allow women and men to plan their families, rather than have the realities of parenthood thrust upon them for lack of education, access to contraception and impartial medical care.” What is “all the factual information” that people who engage in sex need in order to understand the risks of engaging in sex? Sexual behavior, as does any other adult behavior, carries with it certain elements of risk. Every time I get in my car, I run the risk of having someone kills me with their car. It is a risk I accept and am willing to take in order to enjoy the freedom of moving from A to B efficiently. When human beings engage in sex, they understand that a child could result from that behavior. If you are not willing to accept that responsibility and risk, then don’t engage in the behavior.

As I read through this article by Ms. Garrett, I was simply amazed at the incongruence in her argument. On the one hand she argues that “reproductive freedom should include all factual information and access to resources.” Okay, read that last sentence again really slowly before I tell you what she said in her very next paragraph. Are you ready for this? Ms. Garrett then wrote, “Oklahoma’s new Legislature also is continuing efforts to undermine federal security of this right for women by bringing up laws that try to limit access to legal abortion. These limits include the April 2010 law, which requires any woman seeking termination to undergo an unnecessary ultrasound procedure, in hopes that she will change her mind under psychological duress.” Is Ms. Garrett so naïve and biased that she could not see what she was doing here? So access to information and resources only includes information and resources that support the decision to kill the baby. Ms. Garrett argues out of one side of her mouth for information and resources to help parents make informed decisions regarding their reproductive freedom, and out of the other side of her mouth, she seemingly does not want any information included that may really help a parent see they are killing a human life. I wonder how many women would go through with murdering their babies if they had full disclosure of the event via video. If they could see what they are really doing before they do it, would they go through with it? The same is true for the homosexual community. If the world community could see first hand the real behavior that drives the homosexual lifestyle, up close and personal, would they still accept it as freely as they do? The late Jerry Falwell produced just such a video a few years back, and the homosexual community was outraged. All Dr. Falwell did was put the truth on display. Abortionists and homosexuals do not want you to know the real truth about what really goes on behind the scenes. And we allow them to bury it. And as we do, the practices become more and more accepted by a society who is willingly ignorant of the truth. That is, willingly ignorant until an abortion doctor murders babies outside of the mother’s womb.

All of the sudden, the waters get a little murky and what was at one time, conveniently out of sight, is now flashing its bright lights at us and the whistle is blowing. Yep, that is the train of absolute morality bearing down on a society that has dispensed with such morality, is suffering terribly from moral schizophrenia, and is beginning to feel the hangover brought on by too many shots of moral relativism. We have lost our footing because we have exchanged the solid footing of transcendent moral absolutes given to us through divine revelation in nature and in Scripture, and have exchanged it for relativistic, pragmatic morality anchored in the individual person who has become the measure of all things. The problem is that we still can’t decide which person is the right person, nor can we reach a consensus among us regarding a standard or a compelling reason for why we should bother. Well, that is until we are faced with a doctor who is murdering babies outside the mother’s womb and who can’t understand why he is being charged with murder himself. Then we struggle. Or least we struggle until the media stops talking about it and it fades back into the background, out of sight and out of mind once again.

And if you think it is any better in the church, you better put whatever it is your smoking in that pipe down. Now please, when I say church, I am speaking of the visible community of professing Christians. Yes, we sin and we fail, and make tons of mistakes. But the truth is that that is not all we do. We deliberately make conscious decisions to ignore the commands of Christ in those areas where we find those commands to be inconvenient. But we are never at a shortage of words for the injustice we see in the world. We are repulsed by abortion because it is murder. But we have people in the church that can rail against abortion with the best of them, and then turn around and head off to court and get our divorce without any biblical justification whatsoever and convince ourselves that God understands because we are unhappy with our situation. The way we are repulsed by abortion, God is repulsed by divorce. Just because we are not repulsed by an act, that does not mean God is not repulsed by it. Just because we feel a certain way, that does not mean God feels that way nor does it mean that God is less harsh about it for you as he is when someone else is doing it. We work up tears and have this feeling in our heart about God and we think that equals devotion and commitment and desire to please God. We convince ourselves that if we have that emotion going on, that God somehow excuses us or looks at us in some special way. That is Western psychology run wild in our thinking. Scripture nowhere condones this kind of worldly, selfish thinking.

What will it take for us to regain our footing? Simple: it will take God. If we do not recover that transcendent standard that is over us all, that shines to us in creation, conscience, and Christ, we will never regain our footing. God’s ways are higher than our ways. His thoughts are higher than our thoughts. We must find a way to collect the courage to say the right thing and do the right thing. The church is powerless to affect influence on society when she herself is engaging in the very things she claims to condemn. If you appeal to a standard outside of yourself to condemn a worldly practice, but at the same time you violate that very same standard with your pattern of living, how is it that you expect anyone to take you seriously? So the Bible condemns homosexuality and abortion. So what! It also condemns divorce! In fact, God never says I hate homosexuality, but He does say he hates divorce. The point is that you cannot appeal to a standard that you yourself are breaking to bring others to conviction because they are breaking the same standard you are. They will laugh at you as they should and you deserve it. We all deserve it when we adopt a pattern of living that deliberately ignores God’s instructions for how we are to live. Abortion and homosexuality are wrong and wicked because God says they are. They reflect behavior that runs contrary to the very nature of His being. People who do these things are condemned because they practice something God condemns. When people divorce against God’s command, they are also doing something God condemns. They are doing it consciously, deliberately, and in premeditated fashion. It is a lifestyle. God condemns it no less than he does abortion and homosexuality. God makes no distinction between them. And nor should we.

The only solution to this problem is for believers in the Christian community to stand up and do the right thing in their lives. Preach the gospel with your life, with your behavior, with what you do. When you sin, repent! When you fail, get back up. We someone needs forgiven, forgive! When they need love and understanding, give them love and empathy. Shine the light with our lives. Then when we speak, our words will mean something. The world does not expect us to be perfect, but it should expect us to have a different standard by which we conduct our lives. Obtaining a divorce and falling into a sin is not quite the same thing. The world knows this and so should we. Falling into a sexual sin and shacking up are not the same. We know this. If we fall, we get back up. That is what Christians do! But we do not shack up and fornicate day in and day out and contend that we are different from the world. Paul tells those who cannot restrain from sex to get married. He does not say they are lost. He says if you cannot refrain from sex, then get a wife or a husband. "But if they do not have self-control, let them marry; for it is better to marry than to burn." (1 Cor. 7:9) This way, you can have all the sex you want. That is the command. And that is what Christians do. They obey Christ’s word. They do not dismiss it as some outdated, antiquated system of standards from a bunch of Jewish men who were simply a product of their culture, writing from prejudices that should have been abandoned long ago. We suffer from moral schizophrenia when we abandon God’s moral standards. It does not matter which culture you find yourselves in. The irrationality that exists in the moral standards of this world is glaring because the grounding for such morality is not anchored in God’s law. It shifts along with the tastes, preferences, and demands of the culture. But it is the duty and the privilege of the believing community to shine the light of the gospel that will itself provide the necessary foundation upon which every culture can build an existence that is meaningful, where all life is valued, and the love of God is experienced and enjoyed by all.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

The Biblical Paradigm for Individual and Corporate Sanctification – Part II
Church Discipline in Context
Matthew 18:1-35

Now that we have dealt with the issues of ignoring and abusing discipline, it is time to discuss the spirit and process of discipline as laid out by our Lord. Most discussions regarding discipline start at Matt.18:15 and end at Matt. 18:18. While that pericope focuses on the actual steps or process of discipline, I believe it leaves out some of the most important elements of the practice. Namely, it does not address the spirit in which we are to exercise discipline nor does it express the manner in which forgiveness is to be extended in cases of the repentant believer. In order to provide a much better context and framework for how discipline should be conducted, and what our attitude should be leading up to, during and after discipline, I believe it is necessary to look at the 18th chapter of Matthew in its entirety.

This is the fourth of five discourses recorded by Matthew. This one focuses on the childlike humility that should define every believer. This section begins with the disciples asking Jesus who will be the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. Jesus’ answer is sobering. He says that unless we are converted and become like little children, we will not enter the kingdom of heaven. Jesus spends considerable time talking about little children and offenses. Woe to the one who causes any one of these little ones to stumble! Jesus then talks about the desperation of a shepherd who has lost one of this sheep and how that shepherd leaves his other 99 sheep and goes after the one that is lost. It is significant that Jesus opens the parable of the lost sheep with the question, “what do you think?” He closes the discussion around little children with the instructions: “See that you do not despise one of these little ones, for I say that their angels in heaven continually see the face of My Father who is in heaven.” This is an ominous warning to each and every one of us. How we treat one another as fellow-believers is high on Christ’s priorities. Whoever causes a person who believes in Christ to stumble, it would be better that a heavy millstone were hung around his neck and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea. This is the value Christ places on his “little ones” who believe in Him.

As He concludes his frank discussion around the treatment of his little ones and the humility that should be present in these little ones, Jesus moves to a parable. So in the context of humility and placing the proper value on one another Christ inserts the parable of the lost sheep. Jesus continues to teach how valuable His little ones are to Him. They are like a defenseless, helpless sheep that wanders away. And when they do, the shepherd values the sheep so much that he leaves the other 99 and goes in pursuit of that one sheep. If the shepherd finds that one lost sheep, his joy is greater over the one lost sheep than over the 99 that did not stray. The shepherd loves and values his sheep. It is in this context of humility that Jesus provides for the steps of church discipline or what I like to call the paradigm for individual and corporate sanctification. It is no accidence that Jesus would emphasize humility and value before He provides the necessary steps for biblical correction. The question you should ask is “why does Jesus spend so much time talking about humility and the value of His little ones before instructing us on the steps of biblical correction?”

As we approach Matthew 18:15-18, we do so understanding two very fundamental truths just gleaned from Jesus’ own teaching. First, we recognize we are all little ones who believe in Christ. As such, we are to demonstrate love toward one another by placing high value on one another. Second, we understand that the shepherd of the sheep places high value on us and that we are to avoid at all cost, engaging in any behavior that would cause one of our fellow believers to stumble in any way. My behavior has to be such that it seeks to help my brother avoid offense. There is a variety of way s that correction may be carried out. But there is only one right way. And it is in the attempt to correct one another that the potential for offense is most likely at its highest. If you will recall some of the abuses around church discipline mentioned earlier, you understand what I am getting at. Some people correct in a way that is judgmental, hypocritical, unloving, hurtful, and without even a hint of desire to actually help someone overcome sin. The sad truth is that there is no humility, no love, and no true value placed on the person needing help. If anything, they are devalued because they are caught up in some fault. And now the temptation of the other believer is to view them as less valuable. The shepherd goes after that lost sheep in a spirit of desperation to find it. That sheep represents someone who has sinned. The parable does not indicate that this lost sheep is any less valuable to the shepherd than any of the other sheep. This kind of thinking reflects sinful arrogance and pride. It places one back in the category at the beginning of this chapter where the disciples were concerned with who would be the greatest in the kingdom. There is no greatest in the kingdom.

Humility and value are the two core principles that must guide the process of biblical correction. These are borne out of a love for God and a love for one another. It is utterly absurd to think that we are better than those whom we correct. To think that we are “different” in some way is probably a worse sin than the one we are correcting in the straying individual. It reflects such a fundamental flaw in a person’s theology that is very disturbing. And if that thinking exists in leadership, we are in deep trouble. I actually heard someone say that their sin is different from someone else’s sin and that they are a sinner but not like this other person. That statement was made by a pastor. I was speechless. It dawned on me at that time this pastor either had some real personal problems with this person or that his theology was in dire need to correction itself. It is because we are all sinners facing a holy God that humility and value must be the guiding principles for biblical correction. If they are not, abuse or abandonment will inevitably result.

After establishing the parameters for the two critical components necessary to carry out biblical correction, Jesus then provides us with very specific steps for executing on the correction of a sinning brother or sister. Now, it should be said at the beginning that this process applies to every single believer. This means the person who simply is in the fellowship of believers, to the Sunday school teacher, to the musician, to the deacon, to the elder, to the sr. pastor. No one has the right to circumvent this process for any reason other than those very few exceptions mentioned later in Scripture. Step one is go and show. This is to be done in private. If privacy were not a big deal, Jesus would not have mentioned it. But Jesus did mention it. Therefore, it behooves us to give privacy its due attention and proper place when carrying out correction. Secondly, in this first step, Jesus said that we are to go and show our brother his sin. It may be necessary to demonstrate from Scripture how our brother has erred. It is suggested that you have your case ready before going to your brother in the first place. You are to be absolutely certain that the person actually did what you think they did. You should be witness to the sin in question. If this is hearsay or an accusation coming from someplace else, that person should be the one coming to this brother, not you. If for some reason you do have to chat with someone regarding some rumor, you do so delicately with the presumption of innocence. If the person denies that allegation, you are obligated to accept their word at face value. Love believes all things. But if you have witnessed your brother sin, you must show him his sin. The Greek word for show is elegcho and it means to bring to light, expose, to examine or scrutinize something carefully. It cannot be overemphasized that any accusation against your brother must be factual. So make sure the behavior is actual behavior, not interpreted behavior. For instance, you may have witnessed someone having lunch with another person even though they are married. Do not jump to the conclusion that this person is engaged in inappropriate behavior simply because you saw them having lunch with someone. Such a conclusion reflects your sinful interpretation of their behavior and not their actual behavior. Do not accuse someone of sin because you think they had an ungodly motive. You cannot prove motive because you cannot see their heart. Judge the behavior itself, not what you think their motive might have been. In judging someone’s motive, you may end up in sin yourself. In fact, such behavior is highly likely to lead to sin. To false accuse someone of sin when they have not sinned is slander and is itself malicious sin on your part. This is why Christ spent a great deal of time on humility and value. He wanted to keep us from hurting others, but he also wanted to keep us from hurting ourselves. Step one then is to go and show the Christian brother or sister their sin. If they listen to you, you have won them. Rejoice like the good shepherd rejoiced! Do not mention this incident to anyone, not even your spouse. No one needs to know about this. We have all kinds of reasons for why we want to tell other people’s sins and failures to others. But none of them are good. Love your brother by keeping it private. Love your Lord by obeying His word in this regard. You are bound by your Lord and Master not to mention this to anyone.

Step two is required when the sinning person refuses to hear you. Jesus said to take one or two witnesses with you. Now there is disagreement over these witnesses. Some contend that they are not actually witnesses to the sin, but simply two other believers who can help you confront the sin of this person. However, Jesus applied Deut. 19:15 to this situation when he said, “so that by the mouth of two or three witnesses every fact may be confirmed.” This principle is not insignificant. Deut. 19:15 says, “A single witness shall not rise up against a man on account of any iniquity or any sin which he has committed; on the evidence of two or three witnesses a matter shall be confirmed.” Jay Adams (whom I love and respect immensely) contends that these need not be witnesses to the sin otherwise the issue of privacy is moot. I respectfully disagree. In many, many cases, more than one person knows about the sin. That does not negate the privacy principle at all. One person is still to go to that person in private. And if he refuses to hear, then you can take one or two witnesses with you and confront the sinning person. It would seem to me that Jesus intends these witnesses to be people who are privy to the sin by quoting Deut. 19:15. Otherwise, this quote seems to make little sense. John MacArthur also agrees that these are people who witnessed the transgression. If your brother listens, there is no need to go further. You have won your brother. Again, rejoice and tell it to no one.

Step three is a much more difficult step. You have gone to your brother and he has not listened to you. You have taken one or two witnesses and he has not listened to them either. Now it is time to tell this to the church publicly. This is perhaps the most difficult part of biblical correction. And it is not made easier if you happen to live in a culture that is radically individualistic in its thinking. This individualism seeps into the church and people feel that they have the right to carry on their lives as individuals and that their relationship is between them and God and it is the business of no one else. This is why it is essential to create a culture of correction in your church prior to engaging in this practice. There is no formal ecclesiastical process laid out by Christ. An individual Christian has gone to another in sin. The person has refused to listen. Two or three others have approached the sinning person and still, the person has refused to heed the warnings. These witnesses now have an obligation to stand up in front of the church and disclose this to the church. It would be wise to inform the obstinate person that this is the next step and when that next step will take place. Of course, the leadership should be consulted so that they understand what is taking place and that time can be devoted to this task. In step three the entire church is informed that one of their members is in sin and has refused to repent of their sin. They are then instructed to go to that person and plead with them to repent. It would be wise to document who went to this person and when over the course of the next few weeks so that leadership can observe obedience to Christ’s command and also understand the nature of the sinning person’s contumacy.

Step four is the final step. I call this the stag of lamentation. The sinning person has refused to listen to the individual, the witnesses, and even the entire church to include visits from deacons, elders, and pastors. The church has humbly demonstrated extreme care and value for the sinning person. And yet the individual has remained contumacious in their actions and attitude. They simply won’t repent. In effect, they seem to have gone out from the Christian community, at least metaphorically. The church excommunicates the individual and treats them as a tax collector and a Gentile. In other words, they are to be treated as an unbeliever or object of evangelism. This does not mean that you cut them off and stop loving them. On the contrary, you continue to love them and befriend them and do all you can to bring them to repentance. You simply do not allow them to think that you actually think of them as a believer now. They have to understand that you now view them as someone who has rejected Christ’s word and as a result, they have rejected God. You treat them like you would any other unbeliever that you hope to win to Christ. But make no mistake about it, the entire church must undertake this attitude toward this person. If there are elements in the church where this person may be drawing moral and emotional support that serves to undermine the process and undercut the words of our Lord, this is a serious matter and must be addressed. Such elements must be dealt with seriously. In fact, individuals who refuse to honor the church in this regard are themselves subject to discipline and should be addressed in the same manner as the sinning person. Such behavior would fall into the category of factious behavior. The unity of the church must be persevered above friendships and whatever else might threaten to tear it apart.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Cruel Logic

The Biblical Paradigm for Individual and Corporate Sanctification – Part I
Introduction to Church Discipline

Matthew 18:1-35

The practice of church discipline has fallen on hard times as of late. Given the history of the practice, some would say that this is not such a bad thing. “In the first five centuries it was invoked against those Christians who became flagrant sinners or in ecclesiastical disputes over doctrine or jurisdiction.” [Katourette, Kenneth. A History of Christianity: Beginnings to 1500, 531] Today however, it is a much different story. We rarely witness church discipline being carried out in the church. And when we do engage in the process, it is rarely carried out according to Scripture.

It can be said with a degree of truth that church discipline came on hard times because of the rise of the individual, and the history of abuse of the practice itself. As is often the case, the pendulum swings were so radical that balance was lost in both directions. For example, during the middle ages, the church could inflict an interdict on an entire community during which there could be no rites of religion, no services, no marriage ceremonies, no flesh eaten, and no religious burial granted. [Sheldon, Henry. History of the Christian Church, Vol. 2, 129] In addition, according to English law, the excommunicated person could enter into no legal contracts, and could have no place in court. No one was authorized to eat with him, or even speak to him. [Sheldon, 130] One does not have to have a seminary degree to see the power-grabbing abuse that we sinful humans tend to have when granted a little authority.

In a letter from Gregory of Neo-Caesarea to another pastor in Pontus (northern Asia Minor), dated around 260 A.D., describes the conditions around discipline at this time. He talks about four grades of penitents who by five stages attained restoration and admission to the communion. The first group is “the weepers.” They stand outside the door of the church, beseeching the faithful to intercede for them. Next, the “hearers” are placed in the narthex [vestibule]. The third group is the “kneelers.” They kneel within the nave amid the standing congregation. And finally, you had the “costanders.” They join with the others in the congregation except that they cannot take communion. After many years in this graded process the penitent is fully restored and can take communion. [Culver, Robert. Systematic Theology: Biblical and Historical, 960] As is the case with everything we touch, we sinners have the tendency to pervert God’s order in one way or another. Clearly, church discipline is not intended to intimidate people or keep people away from the church that we simply don’t want there for whatever reason.

 The believers are not to cut such people off from communication – complete social ostracism – for Paul goes on to say, ‘Do not regard him as an enemy, but warm him as a brother.’ (2 Thess. 3:15) With delinquent but not totally alienated folk such treatment effected in a loving way is a powerful instrument for good. [Culver, 960]
 It is a most egregious abuse of power for pastors or elders or churches to use this process in order to displace a person from the Christian community. While this happened commonly in the middle ages it is rare today. In fact, today, the problem is just the opposite. Most churches have not executing church discipline biblically in their entire existence. The sad truth is that most churches ignore the process altogether. And those who do claim to adhere to church discipline do not actually carry it out according to Scripture.

Most churches I have been a part of simply have ignored this practice completely. Others have simply either refused to use it for fear of law suits or have tweaked it to their own liking. For instance, I was once in a church where a deacon and Sunday school teacher said that when Jesus was on the cross, as He said “my God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” He ceased to be God at that moment. I took this to the senior pastor at the time and asked for help. The pastor was close friends with this man. I followed up with the pastor and he informed me that the man refused to repent of his view. He believed that Jesus ceased to be God on the cross. I asked the pastor what he was going to do. And the answer was, “what do you mean?” To make long story short, nothing was done. The man continues to teach to this day and I am unaware if he ever repented of his heresy. What should have been done? Church discipline should have been carried out according to Matthew 18. This is how we would have loved this man back into obedient thinking about the person and nature of Christ. I had to leave the church over this heresy because the pastor and the deacons would not do the right thing to help this man. I was unable to change his mind. His pastor was unable to change his mind. And that is where it ended.

In most cases, when people are threatened with discipline, they are allowed to resign and move to another church where they feel more comfortable and that is the end of the process. The leaders shrug their shoulders and take the attitude that it isn’t their problem any longer. This is not how we love one another and help one another grow in Christ. So how should we conduct church discipline in a way that honors and obeys God? For that we consult Matthew 18. This entire chapter serves as the paradigm for our attitudes before, during, and after discipline. Moreover, it lays out a crystal clear path for the process itself. If we follow this path in process and in spirit, we will glorify God and win believers back into loving obedience to their Lord and Master.

Church discipline is impossible without a sound discipleship program in place. Jesus said in Matthew 28:19, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations.” The Greek word for disciple is mathetes. Some people think it simply means a student. But it means much more than that. When we think of a student, we simply think of a learner. Our frame of reference for a student is not at all as rich as the context which this word mathetes demands. In Koine Greek, a disciple was one who was a student, or an apprentice; one who is rather constantly associated with someone who has a pedagogical reputation or a particular set of views. Mathetes always implies the existence of a personal attachment which shapes the whole life of the one described as mathetes, and which in its particularity leaves no doubt as to who is deploying the formative power. [Kittel] A man is called a mathetes when he binds himself to someone else in order to acquire his practical and theoretical knowledge. [ W. Bauder in NIDNTT] Jesus said if you continue in my word, then you are truly disciples of mine. (John 8:31)

Church discipline is impossible without an environment of close-knit relationships. This is where the foundation of biblical sanctification is located. Loving your brother as you love yourself means caring enough to know them. How would you feel about someone you were courting if they were not really investing any time in getting to know you? In the Christian community, we love one another enough to take the time to get to know one another. This intimate relationship lays the foundation necessary for mutual respect. It places us in the unique situation of being able to hold one another accountable for our behavior in a way that is very loving. Without this relational aspect, it is very difficult to talk to someone about sin in their life. Churches need to take deliberate steps to create and foster an environment that brings people together. And this is not accomplished in a Wednesday evening meal before bible study. It takes much more than that. If takes small group formation, discipleship and mentoring, retreats, etc. Some churches engage in “check the box” routines that accomplish nothing more than making the elders feel like they are doing something to create such an environment when the sad truth is they are accomplishing next to nothing. Believers need close relationships with other believers if church discipline has a chance of being effective.

Church discipline is impossible unless it becomes part of the Christian culture. I can’t remember ever being part of a church that incorporated church discipline into its new member class. I have recommended it, to no avail. The biblical teachings on church discipline should consume a full session of the new membership classes so that people understand their responsibilities to each other. This also helps to keep people from being caught off guard when it is time to move to the final step of church discipline should that ever happen. There should be regular Sunday school classes on church discipline. And finally, church discipline should be publicly proclaimed from the pulpit regularly. It should be something the Christian community is intimately familiar with. Moreover, every discipleship program should contain something on the subject of church discipline. Taking such a deliberate approach to Church discipline will ensure that it achieves its goal of progressive sanctification and church purity.

There are abuses in both directions around church discipline. In many cases, it is ignored entirely. The radical individualism of the enlightenment has vanquished it to the ash heap along with anything that requires any reference to authoritative tradition. And the American ‘self’ has been all too eager to reinforce this godless philosophy. In other cases, it is engaged in for all the wrong reasons. Unfortunately, an evil abuse of power seduces us into behaving sinfully toward God and toward our brother. And yet in many instances, the steps are distorted or ignored. We don’t keep things private as our Lord commanded us and we end up hurting the reputation of our brother unnecessarily. Love covers a multitude of sin. Jesus was concerned enough about privacy to emphasize it. That should be enough for us to appreciate and respect it. Far too many times church discipline is treated like a lawsuit between the church and the individual in American and other western cultures. In some cases, elders who are supposed to have the primary goal of restoring someone to the fellowship refuse to even communicate with people except by certified postal receipt. That is fine if a person has refused to meet with anyone and has refused to acknowledge their sin and repent of it. Eventually, contumacy leads to excommunication. But if such a tone is set prematurely or too early in the process, just about anyone could predict the outcome of such an approach. Remember, the goal is to restore a broken relationship.

The foundation of church discipline is Christian love. The motive is restoration and reconciliation for the individual and the purity of the Christian community. We have no choice but to purge the leaven that seeps in among us. That purging takes place through winning the repentant brother and excommunicating the contumacious and rebellious one. In all cases we are guided by loving humility, kindness, grace, mercy, and patience. This is not a case of Elijah calling down fire from heaven on the prophets of Baal. Jesus told the disciples that displayed this type of spirit at one point, “you do not know what spirit you are of.” (Luke 9:55) The next blog entry will deal with the details of the entire 18th chapter of Matthew so that we can understand both the spirit and the process that are bound up in the biblical paradigm for sanctification. Discipline is a very delicate issue that must be handled with the due care it demands. It is essential to get both the steps of the process correct and the manner in which those steps are carried out. This goes to action and attitude which will be discussed as we walk through the occasion for this teaching in Matthew 18.

Friday, January 21, 2011

The Biblical Paradigm for Progressive Sanctification

It has been well established that Christians are regenerate sinners with a multifarious sin nature. Some of us struggle with lust, while others have trouble with anger. Some of us are tempted with homosexuality while others are tempted with self-righteous pride and arrogance. We lie, cheat, steal, commit sexual immorality, fight, divide, refuse to submit to one another, and a host of other sins too long to mention. Hopefully you get the point. But is there a real difference in the behavior of Christians who struggle with sin and the behavior of professing Christians, so-called, who revel in it? Can you observe the life of Christians at work, at home, with their family, in social settings, in discussions, etc., and see a set of distinctive behaviors that you really do not see in other people? I will argue in this article that, for the most part, and with some slight exceptions which I will cover, you can. In doing so, I will also lay out what I believe to be God’s design to preserve sanctification within the Christian community. God Himself has given us a paradigm by which we are to execute the sanctified life individually and corporately within the Christian family of faith. This paradigm has been ignored and/or dismissed by many in the church even though as of late there seems to be a resurgence taking place. For that, I think we should all rejoice.

The first mark of genuine faith is Christian love. Without Christian love we have no hope of ever executing on the sanctified life in the way that God has designed. First of all, Christian love is theocentric. Its focus is God. God is the center of all that we do. Every motivation we have for engaging in behaviors that are critical to the Christian ethic is directly connected with our love for God. Simply put, without Christian love, there is no motivation to drive Christian behavior. Our motivation becomes the same old selfish desire to please me. We need a motivator if behavior is going to change. There is no greater motivation than the motivation to please our heavenly Father. If you are not motivated to please God, you are likely unregenerate. Pleasing God matters to Christians. Hypocrites look for excuses for how they can get away with as little as possible. When God threatens the autonomous self, hypocrites come up with more excuses and exceptions than you could ever imagine for not responding to God in simple obedience. Hypocrites always see their sin as different from the sin of others. A hypocrite’s sin is never as bad as everyone else’s sin. Hypocrites are also some of the most loveless, joyless people you ever want to me.

Secondly, Christian love places the interest of others before itself. This is not easy for most of us to do and it is especially difficult to do consistently. Christian love will sacrifice its desires for the sake of others. It will especially sacrifice its desires for the sake of the gospel. This is a critical component within the Christian family and community. Husbands and wives who model Christian love will place the needs of the other spouse before their own. When forgiveness is necessary, it is extended without limit because this is how God loves us. We forgive the way God forgives. We display mercy to one another the way God displays mercy toward us. Because we have received the richness of God’s grace, we unhesitatingly extend grace to others. We extend patience where patience is due. We recognize God’s patience with us and therefore understand we have no basis for not being patient with one another.

The Christian community is no different from the Christian family unit. It is this love that motivates us to take an interest in our brothers and sisters in Christ. This is not a “check-the-box” kind of love. What is “check-the-box” love? It is not love in reality. It is calling someone just because you know you should, but you really aren’t interested in how they are doing. You called them so that you can feel good about yourself essentially. You did the right thing. Pat yourself on the back and go on about your business. Of course it would be an improvement if we could get people to actually pick up a phone once in a while and demonstrate to their brothers and sisters that they really do care about them. What a novel concept that is. The point is that in order for Christians to live a sanctified life, the presence of Christian love is essential. Without Christian love, the sanctified life will always be a legalistic life that really seeks more to uphold an appearance than it does engage in real heartfelt meaningful service to God and others. Christians really love God and do what God commands. Their lives reflect active, deliberate obedience to their heavenly Father. When they fail, they are not pleased with themselves. They get back up and try again. Should they fail again, they keep trying. They will not quit even if it means a million failures.

So the paradigm for Christian sanctification is not a list of rules. It isn’t a list of do’s and don’ts. It is love. It is love for God first, and love for our neighbor second. What is the greatest commandment? What is the second greatest commandment? Jesus said, by this all men will know you are my disciples, by the love you have for one another. (John 13:35) Jesus said, if you love me, you will keep my commandments. (John 14:15) Notice that Jesus did not say that most of my disciples will love most of my disciples. He also did not say if you love me you will keep most of my commandments or the really important ones at least. Jesus equates keeping his commandments with loving him repeated. 1 John 3:10 is one of those in your face kind of verses. John says that anyone who does not love their brother is not of God. Now if this is true, we had better understand what loving our brother looks like and commence to doing it. John says the message we received from the beginning was that we were to love one another. (1 John 3:11) John says he who does not love abides in death. (1 John 3:14) The one who does not love does not know God. (1 John 4:8) If someone says he loves God and hates his brother, he is a liar; for the one who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. (1 John 4:20) Love is the paradigm for biblical sanctification. Love is what sets biblical sanctification apart from legalism. Love motivates from the inside out while legalism, with its concern about appearances and facades, is external only.

Our love for God motivates us to make godly decisions. But this love does not eradicate the sin nature. Sin is a real and present threat to every believer every day of their temporal lives. How does Christian love help us with our sanctification? The answer to this question is found in Matthew 18:15-18. Christian love serves as our basis for helping each other overcome the sinful proclivities we have in our lives. If you see a brother or sister caught up in a sin, you are to go to them according to Jesus. You are to go to them in private. This matter of sin is to remain between you and him alone. You mission is to win him out of his sin. You want to restore him. So you lovingly confront him, in humility, and show him that he sinned. If he listens to you, tell it to no one else, you have won your brother. If he does not listen to you, you are to bring two or three witnesses of the sin and confront him again. If he does not hear them, you are to tell it to the church. The church then will go to the sinning brother over time and attempt to win him back. If he remains obstinate in his sin, the church is to treat him as an object of evangelism. This public ostracism is designed to pressure the sinner individual to repent. Its purpose is to restore. This is the biblical paradigm for personal and corporate sanctification. First, this is God’s mechanism for correcting erring believers. He calls us back like a lost sheep. And he forgives our debt like a merciful master when we respond. Second, this is God’s way of keeping the church pure. There is no place in the Christian community for individuals who profess Christ with their mouth, but refuse to obey Him with their lives. The church must be concerned with her purity and testimony. She is the keeper of the gospel. As such, she has to set the standards and maintain that level of integrity and credibility that makes her the light that shines into a dark world. Believers may fall into sinful patterns for short periods of time, but will always be brought back to obedience. Church discipline is a key component that God ordained to this very end. We ignore it to our peril and when we do, we are not loving those we claim to love.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Sanctification: Old-Fashion Legalism or Biblical Mandate?

In contemporary society, the word sanctification has not been en vogue for some time now. In fact, oftentimes the mention of the word is a red flag to some, that the person using it has a certain theological profile. In other words, if you use the term “sanctification,” you run the risk of being stereo-typed as a fighting fundamentalist or a belligerent legalist. In my view, the antinomian mindset that exists within many quarters of the Christian community is no more attractive than the legalism it seeks to eradicate. Now to be sure, legalism certainly needs eradicating, but so too does the antinomianism spurred on by Descartes’ modernity as well. Moreover, what some label legalism is nothing of the sort. The Scripture presents us with a very balanced approach to how we are to behave in this world. But make no mistake about it, there are very clear prohibitions against certain behaviors and certain patterns of living that, when ignored, require attention by the individual and those in the Christian community that profess to love that individual. In addition, those on the opposite end of the spectrum must understand that Scripture is not merely a list of rules, the keeping of which places us in a kind of special position with God. In other words, Sanctified living does not establish various categories of Christians. Christians not only like to categorize themselves based on what they don’t do and what others do, they love to brag about their private lifestyle openly as if to say, “I don’t do this or that.” Apparently they think that not watching television places them in a higher class of Christians. Some Christians will only listen to Christian music as if that makes them holier. If you do these things, please do not think I am taking pot shots at you. I am not. If you do these things to brag and you do them to convince yourself you are less worldly somehow, then I am taking pot shots at you. You are sorely misguided. In fact, your self righteousness is just as ugly as that of the Pharisees. We must take care not to criticize one person for what they don’t do the same as we should take care not to criticize a person for what they do. If you see someone sin there is a process that is clearly outlined by Christ Himself that you must follow. And that process does not include talking about them behind their back to everyone you know. I will cover this process as the means by which we can recognize those who truly desire to please God with their lives as compared to those who may only be interested in the benefits of appearing to be something they really are not.

What does a biblical perspective of sanctification look like, and should we continue to use this term to communicate the meaning of Scripture regarding this all important doctrine? Paul says in Romans 6:1-2, “What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin so that grace may abound? May it never be! How shall we who died to sin live any longer therein? Many Christians so-called are so ignorant of Scripture, they don’t even realize this verse is in the bible. I am not talking about new converts to Christianity. I am talking about young people who have been around Christianity for 5 and 10 years. To them, Bible-reading is not the best way to spend your time. They go to church, listen to shallow sermons that are mostly geared toward social causes, listen to tons of music and never, ever pick up and read their bible except in special circumstances. It is a sad state of affairs indeed. Paul understands the nature of human sin. He knows that this justification by faith alone business may be misunderstood by some to mean that there really are no consequences to this act of God on those who believe in Christ. Therefore, he issues some highly practice, highly logical points around this fact and how it relates to our daily living. First, does the fact of justification by faith alone mean that how we behave on a daily basis is irrelevant? Do we go on living a lifestyle predominantly patterned after the world? And do we do this so that we may receive more and more grace? Paul uses the Greek expression, me genoito! This is the strongest possible way to so no in Koine Greek. In other words, absolutely not, or under no circumstances whatever!

Paul asks the questions, “how shall we who died to sin live any longer therein?” This is an interesting sentence. Paul uses the aorist tense to describe our “death” to sin, but he uses the future tense to describe our “living” in sin. Douglas Moo comments,
“Living in sin” is best taken as describing a “lifestyle” of sin – a habitual practice of sin, such that one’s life could be said to be characterized by that sin rather than by the righteousness God requires. Such habitual sin, “remaining in sin,” (v.1), “living in sin,” (v.2), is not possible, as a constant situation, for the one who has truly experienced the transfer out from under the domain, or tyranny, of sin. Sin’s power is broken for the believer, and this must be evident in practice (see also Jas. 2:14-26; and perhaps 1 John 3:6, 9).
There are two extremes to be avoided here. On the one hand, we must avoid the antinomian extreme of living recklessly before our Lord and before the world. We are set on display by God to serve as His light to the world. We have no right to conduct our lives as we please or as we see fit. Such extreme individualism is entirely incongruent with the Christian worldview. On the other hand, we must resist the urge to label everything a sin, take pride in avoiding it, and classifying those who don’t as “a different kind of Christian than me.” This leads to self-righteousness and hypocritical judging. A.W. Pink says it very well,
“In sanctification something is actually imparted to us, in justification it is only imputed. Justification is based entirely upon the work Christ wrought for us, sanctification is principally a work wrought in us. Justification respects its object in a legal sense and terminates in a relative change—a deliverance from punishment, a right to the reward; sanctification regards its object in a moral sense, and terminates in an experimental change both in character and conduct—imparting a love for God, a capacity to worship Him acceptably, and a meetness for heaven.”
Romans 6:4-7 teaches that at our conversion we have now been positioned to walk in a “newness of life.” This word new means “the sate of being new, and different, with the implication of being superior.” This newness of life reflects the fact that we are no longer slaves to sin. Sin no longer holds us captive. The believer is dead to sin. Now this does not mean that our sin nature has been eradicated. Clearly it has not. While the believer is dead to sin, sin is clearly not dead to the believer. Nevertheless, Paul expects a radical impact to the life of a person who has been justified and consequently sanctified. And this radical impact is visible and presents itself as clear proof that God is active in this person’s life. The idea that a person would convert to Christianity with little to no impact on their life from the inside out is completely foreign to the teachings of Scripture. And this is precisely where the controversy comes in. There is a plethora of professing Christians who simply reject or ignore the teachings of Scripture on this point. Typically these are the so called “Jesus-lovers” who love Jesus so much they don’t bother to read anything about His life and teachings.

I once had a “worship leader” tell me that music was just as important as preaching and teaching. Now I don’t intend to downplay the importance of music in worship. I am a musician myself. But nothing takes precedence over the dissemination of Scripture through teaching and preaching. However, this is the mindset of many young people today in the church. Scripture just isn’t important. Reading it, studying it, hearing it preached and taught all take a back seat to “other” things. I once had a discussion with a minister who was over the entire youth program at a church. He admitted to me that he had not worked out his view on divorce as of yet. This man was responsible for teaching teenagers how to glorify God with their lives. A huge part of his job was to prepare these kids to be adult Christians who will grow up and marry some day. What was he teaching them about marriage and divorce? This is the kind of non-sense that the church must address. Youth programs have become nothing more than religious entertainment centers in the Christian church where “self” continues to be the main emphasis of the program. Is it any wonder why sanctification has faded off the scene? If you don’t think it is so, ask where all these young people go when they leave home and head for college. What are the parents modeling in the home and what is the church doing to prepare them for life in the real world where biblical Christianity is despised?

Paul reaches the culmination of his argument in 6:22, “But now, having been freed from sin and enslaved to God, you derive your benefit, resulting in sanctification, and the outcome, eternal life.” There is an ineluctable relationship between justification and sanctification. Paul expends considerable energy demonstrating this truth throughout chapters 3-6 in Romans. Contrary to popular thinking, Paul does not contradict James in the slightest. There are two assertions Paul makes in his argument: 1) We have been freed from sin, and 2) We have been enslaved to God. In the previous verse, Paul talks about the benefit we were deriving from the things that we are now ashamed of. There is a clear demarcation between the life that was and that life that now is.

Rather than disagree with James, as those with a low view of Scripture contend, Paul reinforces James’ eloquent point that faith without works is dead. If your Christian conversion had little to no impact on your life, then there is a strong likelihood that it was no conversion after all. The Bible describes this conversion as a person “becoming again.” You are “becoming” all over again. We call it being born again. It is radical! It can be seen in every aspect of our lives. No difference in your life means that Christ is not in your life. The idea that Christian conversion is as simple as a prayer, joining the role, and settling into a small group is false. This is not how the Bible describes Christian conversion. Yet in numerous churches throughout the world, this is precisely what is practiced. Christianity becomes indistinguishable from joining a club or organization if you will.

The fact that God has declared Christians righteous by faith in the person of Jesus Christ means something significant. It means that God not only acts on behalf of those he has declared righteous, but that he works in and through them as well. God sanctifies all whom he has declared righteous. This is Paul’s point. And this sanctification changes the Christian’s life from the inside out. Sanctification is both positional and progressive. God sets us apart for service and works in our hearts and minds causing us to adopt the attitude of Christ more and more until eventually, some day, we experience the pinnacle of this work in the glorification of our entire person as we enter into eternity. Does this sanctification mean that Christians never fail? Does it mean we don’t make mistakes and that sometimes those mistakes are tragic? Does this work of God in our heart mean that we have no responsibility to avoid sin? Of course not! But that will be the subject of the next article. How do we achieve balance in our Christian walk, as we receive and celebrate God’s grace, mercy, and kindness while at the same time attempting to be the example God has called us to be in a very dark world? Christians are not perfect, just forgiven as the saying goes. But that is easier to say than it is to accept.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Justified Once and for All

“Being justified as a gift by grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.” The Greek participle di-kai-ou-men-oi is a present tense participle. This participle is describing the aspect of being justified as a continuous state. Once justification is declared, it is finished. We say, “I am innocent of those charges.” That innocence describes the present state. This is true for all believers alike. How do we know this is true for all believers? The participle modifies “all” of v. 23. All of us are presently justified. We have all (those who have faith in Christ) once for all been declared innocent of the charge of breaking God’s law. Legally, we are not guilty. The absence of guilt however cannot be ascribed to works we have or have not done. This state of justification is a result of a gift by grace. That is to say that this grace we receive is entirely a gift from God. Moreover, this gift of grace is made visible through the completed work of Christ in redemption. The Greek word redeem is apolutroseos and it means to purchase out of the market place. It carries the idea of purchasing a slave out of the market for the purpose of releasing him/her from painful interrogation. It means to release from a captive condition. We are all on equal footing here. We were all slaves. Not one of us was good, not even one. (Rom. 3:10) As far as God is concerned, we are all cut from the same filthy cloth. The CEO of the bank is the same as the custodian who cleans the toilets. The unregenerate boy-scout is no different from the unregenerate prostitute. We are the same. The powerful, wealthy politician is no different than the powerless, poor widow living in the one room apartment. The preacher who rips widows off on TV is no worse off than the little old unregenerate lady at church who spends all her time stirring up discord, strife, and engaging in continuous malicious gossip. The act whereby we have been made righteous or innocent of the charges against us is entirely the act of God from beginning to end. Now that is mercy. Now that is kindness. Now that is love. You cannot soften the sinful condition without the unintended consequence of diminishing grace. If I am not a wretch, then grace isn’t amazing.

But there was a cost involved. God is holy. God is eternally righteous. He is a just God. Sin cannot go unpunished. God, because He is holy, cannot simply dismiss sin. Sin must be punished. This is where so many in contemporary cultures around the world run aground. Christ’s atonement was not simply God in His wisdom, providing us with an example of what Christian service looks like. Jesus’ death on the cross was far more than the ultimate example of service. Paul says that God displayed Jesus (as a propitiation) publicly in His blood (through faith) to demonstrate His righteousness. What is Paul getting at? Paul is continuing to assert that there is nothing in us or in our works that merits God’s grace or deserves His legal declaration of our innocence. The Greek word hilosterion means both expiation and propitiation. In one act, God’s anger and wrath is averted while his favor is directed toward us. And this act is based on the work of Christ in the atonement. Even though we are all from the same lump of vile clay, God, in His kindness and mercy, has called us out of darkness and made provision for our justification through faith in Jesus Christ. There is no distinction. Just as we are all vile sinners before God, taken from the same sinful lump, now we are all declared righteous through faith in one and the same person, Jesus Christ. This will come back to our sinful desire to categorize one another, and judge each other before this is over. So please be patient with me. It cannot be overemphasized that we all come from the same sinful lump of clay, and that it is the same work of Christ on the cross that justifies all those who believe. We are the same.

“Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom also we have obtained our introduction by faith into this grace in which we stand.” The Greek word for justify again is in the aorist tense which points to action that has taken place. Justification is a declarative act of God that is applied to our lives by faith in the person and work of Jesus Christ. We all have peace with God because God has declared us righteous. The Greek word “have” is in the present tense which indicates continuous action. In other words, having been declared righteous by God, we are having peace, or we are in a state of peace, with God. Because we have been reconciled to God and declared righteous, we are no longer His enemy and as such, we are in a state of peace with Him. When an adversary conquers, the peace is imposed on the terms of the conqueror, not the one conquered. We will revisit this when we discuss sanctification and how all this works its way out in the unified whole of the Christian scheme of thinking. We were all the enemies of God. The sin nature desires to keep us in a hostile state toward God. Having been justified, we have now been set apart. We have been declared righteous, and now have been adopted by God into His family, and we are no longer enemies, but now we are called friends. Again, this is true of all of us. There is no distinction.

It must also be pointed out clearly that God’s basis for declaring us righteous is the atoning work of Christ. This atoning work did not simply provide for God’s ability to potentially declare us righteous depending on what WE would do. That is not the grammar used here by Paul. This act of declaration is viewed by Paul as in the past with the result continuing in the present. Christ’s work at Calvary did not provide for potential justification, nor did it lay the groundwork for contingent justification. It IS the basis for actual justification. Calvary is the basis for the once for all declaration by the Father that all the believing ones have been justified before God. This declaration is realized in actual justification at the point in time when faith is placed in Christ. The declaration precedes the application. Were this not the case, no one could have been declared just at the cross. And justification could not have been looked at as an event that happened “then,” but rather as an iterative process that is on-going even to this day.

Paul spends Romans 1-3 establishing the fact that there is none righteous, no not one. We are all sinners cut from the same sinful lump of clay. In chapter 4, he introduces us to Abraham, the father of the faithful. Abraham believed God and his faith was credited to him as righteousness, apart from the law. Finally, in chapter 5, Paul begins by informing us that those who believe in Christ Jesus are also justified and now have peace with God. Paul elaborates further on our condition in Adam, pointing out that because sin belongs to us all, we all die. Get it? We ALL die. We are ALL the same. We are all sinners, born into sin, and as a result we all die. Those who believe in Christ do so as a result of the free gift of God’s grace on their lives. They are declared righteous by the work of God from top to bottom.

Now we enter the part of this discussion where controversy is alive and well. If justification is an act once for all declared by God, how is it that not everyone is righteous? How is it that God can declare us righteous because of the work of Christ while most human beings are still unrighteous, and most of them will enter eternity damned? God has declared only those righteous who exercise faith in Christ. So God has declared all those who exercise faith in Christ to be righteous. This justification is applied to the individual at the point that this person places their faith in Christ. But isn’t this personal application based on the actions of the human subject? The answer is yes and no. Yes, they are expressing faith in the person of Jesus Christ. That action certainly belongs to them. But the faith they possess, they do not possess on their own. God grants to them this gift of faith by grace so that they will believe. Unregenerate people do not possess saving faith and remain unregenerate. James pointed this out when he said “even the devils believe in one God and tremble.” That isn’t genuine faith. Genuine faith is the gift of God upon those whom God has called to salvation. So the question then is how do we know who is truly justified and who isn’t. That is the subject of the next portion of this series. On the one hand, there is a way to tell who has been declared justified and who likely has not. There is a very specific mechanism in place to help us recognize when a person has genuine faith in Christ and when they probably do not. On the other hand, this is a very serious and sober area. You want to avoid blindly accepting everyone who says “Jesus, Jesus, Jesus,” as genuine Christians, while at the same time, the last thing on earth you want to engage in is hypocritical judging. Do not call a believer an unbeliever. Moreover, do not call an unbeliever a brother when the evidence is clearly pointing in the other direction. But take care in how you arrive at your conclusions. There are very specific steps in place designed to help us hold one another accountable as well as help us understand the difference between a genuine member of the Christian community and a pseudo member. This will all come out in our discussion on sanctification. Yes, sanctification matters and the balance here, as you will see, while possible is not easy.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Justification and Sanctification – The Assertions of an Apostle

Before I get carried away, as is often the case with me, I think it best to turn to the texts mentioned in the first article and attempt to understand what Paul’s assertions were about the congruency between justification and sanctification. Previously, I mentioned balance as our goal. While that is true, perhaps it is a bit misleading if not understood in the context of which I intended. I do not suggest that we seek balance for the sake of balance alone. Otherwise, we fall into the trap of transforming the biblical text into what we desire. And this is precisely what I do not want to do. The aim of the Christian is to be transformed by the text. Therefore, when I say we seek biblical balance, what I mean is that we simply seek to conform to the teachings of the biblical text. I mean nothing more and nothing less than this.

Romans 3:21-26 deals very directly with the subject of how Christians are to understand their righteous standing before a holy God. After all, Christians are sinners. We have a sin nature. Our flesh desires to engage in activities that defy the divine Lordship of God. How is it then that we can move from being unholy, profane sinners to such a prestigious position in the sight of God? Paul begins the passage by driving home his point that succinctly, saying, “But now, apart from the Law, the righteousness of God has been manifested, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, even the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all those who believe; for there is no distinction.” As John MacArthur puts it, Paul has just finished talking about the impossibility of gaining righteous through human works. He has also debunked the view that humans are good people in general back in 3:9-18. He says that all are under sin. The Greek word pas is in the accusative, plural, masculine. When this word is in the plural it means “all.” No one escapes. Again here in v. 22 Paul says there is no distinction. It does not matter what culture we are from or live in. It does not matter what our social standing is. Our earthly heritage carries no weight with God. We are all the same before the Creator. What holds true for sin, now also holds true for righteousness. It does not depend on works, or genes, or cultures, or social standing. Righteousness comes from God to us through faith in Jesus Christ, apart from the Law. Leon Morris writes,
“In the first instance this means quite apart from the Jewish law, the law of Moses. It has been part of Paul’s method to demonstrate in the section leading up to this point of the argument that that law cannot bring salvation. It can show up the problem; it can and does make clear that all are sinners. But it can do no more.” [Morris, PNTC, Romans, 174]
If righteousness does not come by the Law of Moses, which itself is good and holy, then righteousness certainly cannot come by human means any of kind.

Paul uses the Greek particle de which continues his thought and brings additional specificity to this righteousness of God. “That is” is probably the best rendering. So we read, “That is, the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all those who believe, for there is no distinction.” It is observed then that the righteousness of God comes through faith for all those who believe. The fact that pisteos Iesou Christou is in the genitive could mean that the phrase is subjective. This means that this verse could be understood to read as follows, That is, the righteousness of God that comes through the faithfulness of Jesus Christ for all those who believe. Given the grammatical evidence however, it is best to take the genitive here as an objective genitive and therefore, the expression as “faith in Jesus Christ,” to be the best rendering of the phrase. We are made righteous by God through faith in Jesus Christ. To be sure, this faith is also a free gift from God. (Eph. 2:8-10) So the righteousness we receive from God is a free gift as much as the means by which we receive it, not to mention the person by whom it comes. And finally, says Paul, “for there is no distinction.”

The Greek word diastole is rendered, “distinction.” It appears three times in the N.T. In Romans 10:12, Paul uses it to say that there is no distinction between Jew and Greek. And then again, in 1 Cor. 14:7, the apostle uses it to talk about the distinct sounds that different musical instruments give. The word means a clear or marked distinction – difference, distinction. But we love to make distinctions among ourselves and set up classes both inside and outside Christianity. Within Christianity, in some cases we set up classes of Christians. They don’t come to Sunday school as often as me, so they are in a different class of Christian than I am in. Or they don’t attend Sunday nights like I do. I am more spiritual or I care more about the things of God than they do. There are a million different examples. They go to movies and I don’t is another one. Or, they watch too much television. They listen to less refined music than I and therefore they are a different class of Christian that I. Or even worse, they are not as travelled or as cultured as I am and therefore they are a less enlightened Christian than me. We love our classes. Or how about this one: they have been married twice or three times, and therefore they are clearly defective in some way and I have been married to the same spouse for 40 years now. I am so holy. I must be one of God’s favorites. Yes, we love our classes. But the righteousness of God comes through faith in the person of Jesus Christ, for there is no distinction.

It is significant that Paul ties in the very next phrase with the universality of sin once again in v.23 with his statement in v.22. Literally, v.23 reads, “For all have sinned and are falling short of the glory of God.” The question that an exegete wrestles with is the Greek gar which is a conjunction and in this case functions as an epexegetical. That is to say, the word “for” in v.23 is expounding on v.22. Does the conjunction “for” look back at the entire sentence in v.21-22 or just at the phrase “for there is no distinction.” It is probably best to take the whole phrase “for there is no distinction, for all have sinned and are falling short of the glory of God as parenthetical. Note that Paul places the Greek adjective pas at the beginning of the second phrase. He does this for emphasis. He is emphatic about this ou diastole (no distinction) point. In order to keep with this theme, he places “all” at the beginning of this phrase. Then he uses the aorist tense to describe the action of the all. All have sinned. No one exists, outside of Christ, who has not sinned. We are all sinners. There are regenerate sinners and unregenerate sinners. But make no mistake about it; the sin nature that is in the unregenerate is the same one that resides in us. To my knowledge, I know of only two states: regenerate and unregenerate. And I know only of one sin nature, not two or three or four. Like it not, we are all the same. Now I realize how upsetting this is to the old-fashioned legalist who considers themselves as somehow better than all those Christians who engage in practices that they abhor. Thanks be to God that only He can legitimately classify us. No man can legitimately classify us as better or worse Christians. Those who have expressed genuine faith in Christ are just as righteous the day of their conversion as they will ever be. There is no such thing as progressive righteousness. There is progressive sanctification but progressive righteousness, no.

The tense of hemarton is aorist. All this tells us is that the action happened. The action happened sometime in the past. That is all one may gather from the aorist. Context must determine the rest. So Paul points that everyone, all of us have sinned.

We are falling short of God’s glory. This Greek verb, husterountai is in the present tense, passive voice, and indicative mood. The present tense indicates continuous action. In other words, we are continuously falling short of God’s glory. Now what is also interesting is that the voice is passive which means the action of continuously falling short of God’s glory is action that is happening to us, not action we are doing. In other words, the continuously falling short of God’s glory is not action we are engaging in. The fact that we have sinned has created the continuous action of falling short of God’s glory.
Now all this defines the essence of sin. Sin must be understood out of the relationship in which God has placed man to himself as his creature and in which he has given and held out the prospect of life to him. [Ridderbos, Paul: An Outline of His Theology, 105]
 The fact that we have all sinned and that we are all continuously falling short of God’s glory is profound, but missed by most Christians because of our sinful tendency to classify people.

What is the point of all this? The point is simply that we are all cut from the very same cloth. Later in Romans Paul uses the analogy of a lump of clay to describe each of us. Paul uses the Greek phrase tou autou phuramatos to describe all of us as he points out God’s sovereign right to choose whomever He pleases to be a vessel of mercy. Both, the vessels of mercy and the vessels of wrath are carved from the very same sinful lump of clay. So there is nothing in the clay itself that would account for any difference in class between Christian sinners and unregenerate sinners. It is entirely the work of God from beginning to end. We are all the same. Any difference in the unbeliever and the believer can only be accounted for by the presence of God in the life of the regenerate heart. But the owner of that heart cannot brag of himself, but only in Christ. Brothers and sisters, regeneration is the work of God. Justification, the judicial act of God’s proclamation that we are made righteous by faith in Jesus Christ is entirely the act of God. We cannot take any credit for that work. There is none good, no, not one. As one scholar put it, you may be located upon the mountain, while others are down in the mine. But your can no more grasp the stars as the person in the mine. Neither can any of us, in and of ourselves, attain the glory of God that was before the fall. We are the same. Out tendency to classify sin and one another, and then set up categories is borne from pride. We want to publish standards, aim at them, and then have a sense of accomplishment that we have reached them. Moreover, we eagerly seek the recognition that we think should come with that sense of accomplishment. And not only this, in our pride we want to be set apart from others and elevated to a status of achievement. We are different. I am here, you are there. You sit here while I sit up there. It is our sin that entices and seduces us into behaving in such a sinful manner.

It would be a mistake to take these comments as assent to the contemporary view of easy-believism. I find the doctrine of “once-saved-always-saved” to be lacking on all fronts when examined in the light of Scripture. My views in this area will be evident when I move to the discussion of sanctification. Keep in mind, we are made righteous by a declaration of God through what we call forensic justification. We have legally be declared innocent. That declaration has consequences which shall be investigated more fully as we move to the question “How shall we then live?”
The Heidelberg Catechism asks in Q. 60: How are thou righteous before God?

Only by a true faith in Jesus Christ; so that, though my conscience accuse me, that I have grossly transgressed all the commandments of God, and kept none of them, and am still inclined to all evil; notwithstanding, God, without any merit of mine, but only of mere grace, grants and imputes to me, the perfect satisfaction, righteousness and holiness of Christ; even so, as if I never had had, nor committed any sin: yea, as if I had fully accomplished all that obedience which Christ has accomplished for me; inasmuch as I embrace such benefit with a believing heart.

Does Ephesians Five Really Tell Wives to Submit to their Husbands? Responding to DTS Professor, Darrell Bock and Sandra Gahn

With all the rage over feminist issues going on as a result of the #MeToo movement, it isn’t shocking that pastors and professors holdi...