Sunday, April 30, 2017

Why Pray if God Has Already Decided Everything?

Article by: Paul Rezkalla

Why should we pray if God has fixed the future? If God has predetermined every event, how do we reconcile that fact with the power of prayer to actually change things (James 5:16)?

The answer is found in a right understanding of God’s providential determination. 

Determinism ≠ Fatalism

It’s important to distinguish between determinism and fatalism. Most Calvinists believe in a form of determinism—that is, God has determined every single event. At each moment there is only one possible future: the future God has determined. This is not to be confused with fatalism. Fatalism is the view that our choices don’t affect the future. Some Christians, both Calvinists and non-Calvinists, think of God’s providence in this incorrect way: “If God has determined every future event, then my choices don’t affect the future.”

Fatalism is both philosophically and theologically impoverished. It holds that God fixes some, but not all, future events in place.

Suppose God has determined to heal Sally of cancer three months from now; it will happen and cannot fail to happen. The event is fixed. But so is every other event leading up to that moment—including the prayers offered on Sally’s behalf.

God not only ordains ends, he also ordains means. He plans the destination and the entire journey to get there. When God determined that Christ would die on the cross, he also determined the means by which he was killed, the means by which he was delivered to the authorities, and the means by which he was betrayed. God governs all events in his universe—including the “small” ones leading up to the “big” ones.

What happens in the future, then, does depend on what we do and pray in the present. 

Prayer Changes the Future

Some things have happened only because they were prayed for; they would not have happened if they were not prayed for.

‘We must never presume God will grant us apart from prayer what he has ordained to grant us only by means of prayer.’

In both Scripture and our experience, God responds to prayer. Moses prayed for food and water for the Israelites (Exod. 15 and Num. 11), Hannah prayed for a child (1 Sam. 1), and Elijah prayed for drought and then rain (1 Kgs. 18–19). The events God had already determined came to pass. But God also determined that Moses, Hannah, and Elijah would pray for those events, such that the events would not have taken place if they did not pray for them. Sam Storms puts it well: “We must never presume God will grant us apart from prayer what he has ordained to grant us only by means of prayer.”

To say we don’t need to pray because God has determined all outcomes is as ridiculous as saying we don’t need to take medicine, work for a living, or look for a spouse because God has determined all outcomes. It is true God has determined all outcomes, but God has also determined the means by which those outcomes will take place.

To say we don’t need to pray because God has determined all outcomes is as ridiculous as saying we don’t need to take medicine, work for a living, or look for a spouse because God has determined all outcomes.

If God has determined a woman will be healed of cancer, then he has also determined the prayers on her behalf, not to mention the birth of the oncologists who would operate on her and the opening of a medical school in the region. Prayers are one of the many means God determines.

God Ordains Our Prayers

Similarly, if God has determined that Sally will decide to follow Christ in 2017, then he has also determined the births of the people who will share the gospel with her and the prayers offered on her behalf. As C. S. Lewis explains:

The event [in question] has already been decided—in a sense it was decided “before all worlds.” But one of the things taken into account in deciding it, and therefore one of the things that really cause it to happen, may be this very prayer that we are now offering. . . . My free act [of prayer] contributes to the cosmic shape. That contribution is made in eternity or “before all worlds”; but my consciousness of contributing reaches me at a particular point in the time-series. 

Again, God determines both the ends and the means, including the prayers we offer. And he’s ordained his interventions to be in response to faith-fueled petitions.

Put simply, God gives us the privilege of including us in his work.

If your understanding of God’s providence leads you to pray less, then you need to rethink your understanding of God’s providence. 

If your understanding of God’s providence leads you to pray less, then you need to rethink your understanding of God’s providence. There are events that will not happen, souls that will not be saved, and relationships that will not be restored unless we pray for them. Our prayers make things happen.

That insight alone should bring us to our knees. 

Paul Rezkalla is pursuing a PhD in philosophy at Florida State University and attends Four Oaks Community Church in Tallahassee. He completed an MA in philosophy and ethics at the University of Birmingham in England and an MA in theology at St. John's University in New York City. 



John Piper Wants You to Encounter Glory in Your Bible

Article by: Derek J. Brown

It seems fitting that John Piper, president of Desiring God and chancellor of Bethlehem College and Seminary, would publish Reading the Bible Supernaturally: Seeing and Savoring the Glory of God in Scripture at this point in his writing ministry. Nearly every thread of his ministry distinctives is woven into this book that exalts the divine source of these now well-known emphases. Christian hedonism, worship, missions, the necessity of rigorous thinking for the sake of the affections, prayerful dependence on God, and even a few of his more popular acronyms are brought together in a book on reading Scripture well. You can see this in the way Piper frames and unfolds the purpose of Bible reading:

Our ultimate goal in reading the Bible is that God’s infinite worth and beauty would be exalted in the everlasting, white-hot worship of the blood-bought bride of Christ from every people, language, tribe, and nation. 

Piper unpacks this definition over the book’s first 10 chapters, emphasizing the need to see God’s glory in Scripture through careful, reflective reading and to savor this glory for the sake of personal transformation. To Piper, beholding God’s worth and beauty in Scripture is the non-negotiable aim in all Bible reading. “There may be a hundred practical reasons—good ones—that we turn to God’s Word,” he writes. “This aim [of seeing God’s glory] should be in and under and over all of them—always” (66).  

Natural Act, Supernatural Event

Piper builds a biblical case for why Scripture must be read supernaturally. In short: without God’s Spirit graciously removing our spiritual blindness and softening our hearts, we can neither grasp the meaning of the biblical text nor see the beauty of what is there. God-dependent prayer and humility, then, become essential for reading Scripture as God intends it to be read. To those who cry out continually for help, God grants wisdom and grace (see Ps. 119:12, 26, 33, 125; Prov. 2:1–8).

But if we approach the holy text with the unclean feet of pride and self-reliance, we will meet divine opposition (Jas. 4:6). We will feel this opposition in our inability to rightly construe the meaning of a text, or in our incapacity see God’s beauty in it, or in both (consider Jesus’s indictment of the Pharisees in John 5:39–44). Of course, even humility is a gift of grace, so our dependence is absolute.  

Yet seeing what is actually there involves more than just humble prayer and the hope God will reveal the riches of his Word through a few cursory glances:

When we pray for God to show us his glory in the Scripture we are not asking him to bypass the meaning of the text, but to open the fullness of the author’s meaning. . . . . [W]hen the Psalmist prayed, “Open my eyes that I may behold wonderous things in your law,” (Ps. 119:18), he did not mean that the sight of wonders could skip the natural process of careful reading. (262–63)

By giving us a divinely inspired book, God has ordained that we grasp the fullness of the Word’s meaning through dependence on Christ and the use of natural means. As we labor to discover a text’s meaning, we’re to give careful attention to words, grammar, sentence structure, logical arguments, and context. We must learn to ask good questions of the text and think carefully over how seemingly incongruent truths from different sections of Scripture fit together in a seamless unity. Piper has called this rigorous, God-reliant reading of the text the “natural act of reading the Bible supernaturally,” and he provides insights that’ll help both new and seasoned saints do this better.  

‘I Prayed About It’ Is Not Enough

But prayer doesn’t make us infallible. While essential for rightly understanding and savoring biblical truth, prayer doesn’t guarantee we’ll get everything right. Yet how often is this implied when, in the moments just before someone discloses how their study of Scripture led them to embrace an aberrant doctrinal position, they report how diligently they “prayed” over the text, as if that settled the issue? Piper argues:

We cannot make a case for our interpretation by claiming illumination in answer to prayer, because the way God illumines the text is by showing what is really there. This means that when we want to make a case for how we understand a text, we must show what is really there. One good, solid grammatical argument for what the text means outweighs every assertion that the Holy Spirit told me the meaning. The reason that statement is not irreverent is that it takes more seriously the glorious work of the Holy Spirit in inspiring the grammar than it does the subjective experiences of an interpreter who ignores it. (264)

Our prayers, then, should be that God not only show us his glory, but that he do so through what is really in the text. When others point out the deficiencies in our interpretation and offer reasonable insights, we should take these corrections as an answer to our prayer for God’s help. Better to be teachable and see more glory than to appear pious (“I prayed about it”) and miss out on all God has for us in Scripture.   

Meaning of Meaning (and Experience)

Piper charts a particular hermeneutical course throughout Reading the Bible Supernaturally. You’ll not find any sympathy for modern linguistic theory in these pages.

The biblical text has an objective meaning grounded in authorial intent that must be discovered—not created—by the interpreter. Our experiences are vital, to be sure. But rather than shifting meaning from the author to the reader, our experiences serve to shed light on what is objectively in the text. That’s why the psalmist could say, “It was good that I was afflicted, that I might learn your statutes” (Ps. 119:71, emphasis added). For the psalmist, and for all diligent Bible readers, experience—and the experience of suffering in particular—will often open vistas in Scripture that would’ve otherwise remained unseen.

[Watch this TGC video as Don Carson, Tim Keller, and Piper discuss how “a thousand sorrows teaches a man to preach.”]

But I Don’t Feel It!

Piper recognizes that this way of framing the practice of Bible reading may be foreign to some, if not many, Christians. Bible reading is often viewed as a duty to check off rather than a feast to enjoy.

Bible reading is often viewed as a duty to be scheduled and fulfilled rather than a feast to be anticipated and enjoyed.

While not removing the need for personal discipline, Piper draws us deeper into the realm of desire. It’s true believers won’t always feel like reading and studying Scripture, but that’s why the psalmist begs God to “[i]ncline my heart to your testimonies and not to selfish gain” (Ps. 119:36). Our battle for obedience is fought, as Piper observes, primarily “at the level of desire, not deeds” (254).

Desire for God’s Word is essential, not optional. So our daily cry must be for God to maintain and increase our inward longing for his Word, which will, in turn, strike a decisive blow against the many things that can choke out the Word and endanger our perseverance (254).

Great for Discipling

About three-quarters of the way through I decided that, along with Scripture, I was going to use Reading the Bible Supernaturally as one of my primary texts to disciple men in our church. I can’t think of a more important task than helping other Christians read their Bibles well.

And to read the Scriptures well, we must see and savor the divine glory revealed on its pages. When this happens, we will be transformed into the image of Christ (1 Cor. 3:18) and be equipped for every good work (2 Tim. 3:16–17).

That sounds pretty comprehensive, and it all comes from learning how to read the Bible supernaturally.

John Piper. Reading the Bible Supernaturally. Wheaton: Crossway, 2017. 432 pp. $32.99.

Derek J. Brown (PhD, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary) is associate pastor of college and young adults at Grace Bible Fellowship of Silicon Valley. You can visit his blog at DerekJamesBrown.com.



New Books You Should Know (May 2017)

Article by: Fred Zaspel

Editors’ note: On average, we publish around 150 book reviews a year at The Gospel Coalition. Ecclesiastes 12:12 rings true: “Of making many books there is no end.” It’s impossible to read, let alone review, each one. But in addition to our steady line of reviews, we want to highlight other books you should know about. Today we begin a new monthly installment of book summaries from Fred Zaspel. You can check out more book notices, reviews, author interviews, and book summaries at Books At a Glance.

The Essential Trinity: New Testament Foundations and Practical Relevance

Brandon D. Crowe and Carl R. Trueman, eds.

P&R, 2017

320 pages

If you were hoping this book would enter the fray of the 2016 Trinitarian debates, you’ll be disappointed. But if you’re hoping for solid exegetical grounding for this great Christian distinctive, you’ll be gratified. The contributors present the many and varied strands of thought that form the basis of Trinitarian theology—this doctrine is grounded in a wider range of concepts than you might have thought. Part Two (about half the length of Part One) presents a systematic summary of the doctrine and explores its relevance to such areas of Christian life as worship, prayer, and preaching. An excellent resource and most helpful contribution to Trinitarian discussion.

Knowing the Trinity: Practical Thoughts for Daily Life

Ryan M. McGraw

The Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals, 2017

142 pages

All Christians acknowledge that the doctrine of the Trinity is essential to Christianity itself, but what bearing it has—or should have—on Christian living and piety is not always recognized. John Owen’s Communion with God stands out as the classic exploration of the devotional dimensions of the doctrine, and Ryan McGraw seeks to do the same more briefly and on a more popular level. McGraw begins by pointing us to Ephesians 2:18—“Through him we both have access to the Father, by one Spirit”—and then spends the rest of his time unpacking the related implications. A worthy introduction to a theme often overlooked.

1, 2, and 3 John (The Story of God Bible Commentary)

Constantine R. Campbell

Zondervan, 2017

272 pages

Perhaps it’s because the structure of John’s letter is notoriously difficult to identify, but I have often found commentaries on 1 John less rewarding than hoped. Constantine Campbell’s new commentary is a delightful exception: He tracks, explains, and applies the apostle’s thought clearly, simply, and effectively. Exegesis, exposition, theology, and application are brought together with eminent precision and clarity (even though I wish he’d taken a different turn on the famously disputed question of the extent of the atonement in 1 John 2:2!). This commentary makes for enjoyable reading for any Christian and will doubtless prove to be an immense help to busy preachers in their sermon preparation.

Dictionary of Christianity and Science: The Definitive Reference for the Intersection of Christian Faith and Contemporary Science

Paul Copan, Tremper Longman III, Christopher L. Reese, and Michael G. Strauss, eds.

Zondervan, 2017

704 pages

It would be difficult to find a more controversial topic among Christians than the Bible and contemporary science, so this volume is designed both to please and frustrate you many times over! The contributors address important terms and issues belonging to this broad category, the most controversial of which are treated from multiple viewpoints. All the perspectives represented here fall somewhere within the “evangelical” camp (although some push the limits, in my view), and yet all the issues are represented clearly and concisely. The subtitle may seem boastful (“the definitive reference”), but it’s likely accurate: This is a reference work students of the subject will want to have close at hand to find your own and opposing viewpoints laid out in a helpful way. You may want to go elsewhere for more depth, but this will be a starting point for most of your Bible-science inquiries.

Fred G. Zaspel (PhD, Free University of Amsterdam) serves as the pastor at Reformed Baptist Church in Franconia, Pennsylvania, an adjunct professor of systematic theology at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, and the executive director of Books At a Glance. He is the coauthor of The Theology of B. B. Warfield (2010) and Warfield on the Christian Life (Crossway, 2014) and has published numerous booklets, articles, and book reviews.



The Too-Small Story of Home

Article by: Jen Pollock Michel

Jerry Mathers. His was the name I used to stump my dad in a game of 20 Questions on a highway somewhere between Ohio and Tennessee. Mathers had played Beaver on the popular 1950s sitcom Leave It to Beaver, whose reruns I loved watching as a child.

Ours was not a Leave It to Beaver family. When my brother and I were young, my mother worked nights at the hospital to put my father through graduate school. After my father got his first professorship, she worked at the campus infirmary, where the school bus dropped us each afternoon. Until dinner, which we ate in the cramped infirmary kitchen, my brother and I roamed the campus like wild cats.

As a little girl, I loved the illustrations from a 1967 Little Golden Book, My Little Mommy. “This is my house and I am the mommy. My children are Annabelle, Betsy, and Bonny.” The narrator, in her smocked brown dress, waves goodbye to Billy “who works in the city. He has a new car. Isn’t it pretty?” She happily does the dishes and sweeps the floor, wiping “the fingerprints off the door.” Those housekeeping jingles put me to sleep for years of nights.

I wanted that home. And in many ways, I have it today. The husband. The children. The house and the two-car garage. (Dishes and dirty clothes, too). And while I am grateful for this life, I realize now that my childhood hope for home wasn’t really about a certain kind of house or family, nor even the certain kind of wife and mother I’d be. As Goldilocks might say, My Little Mommy was a story too small.

To be human is to long for home. And in Christ, everyone gets that—the married and unmarried, the childless and child-full.

God as Homemaker

When the curtain opens on the created world, we find God busy at work. He labors, not simply to make a beautiful world, but a habitable one. In God’s estimation, the world was not only good because it was his handiwork, but also because it could be home.

Though the Genesis accounts share commonalities with other ancient creation myths, they also stand in stark contrast, especially in the relationship God intends to share with humanity. In The Dictionary of Creation Myths, David and Margaret Leeming note some of these similarities and differences. “As in the Enuma Elish, humans in Genesis are created from clay, and man works for God. He tends the garden, and names the plants and animals, but unlike in the Enuma Elish, God creates a paradise specifically for man, and has a relationship with him.” In other words, the Lord made a home for his people and intended to share it with them.

God was the world’s first homemaker.

Modern Confusion

We don’t usually think of God as homemaker. That title seems most fitting for the June Cleavers of the world, who greet their little Beavers after school with freshly baked cookies. But a careful reading of history bears out how much homemaking has changed in the last 350 years since the industrial revolution. Home has not always been the exclusive province of women.

As Judith Flanders illustrates in The Making of Home, housework in pre-industrial America, as symbolized by the one-pot stewed over the fire, was a shared responsibility. The men trapped, shot, and butchered the animals; the women plucked the birds and cleaned the fish. Men grew the wheat; women grew the vegetables. Men cut and stacked the wood; women tended the fire. Men and boys carved the wooden trenchers and spoons; women and girls wiped them clean after the meal. Everyone took part in getting dinner on the table.

With industrialization, however, came dramatic shifts in the nature of work. Factories began to replace farms; home was less and less a shared space for women and men. New technologies, like the cookstove and the loom, allowed for domestic chores to be more than purely utilitarian tasks—and a new source of female pride. Even the nature of child-rearing responsibilities changed. While 17th- and 18th-century sermons in America had been primarily addressed to men, mothers (and the home) became revered in 19th-century sermons. As Henry Ward Beecher wrote at the time, the home becomes “the church of childhood, the table and hearth a holy rite.”

In what historians have referred to as “The Golden Age of Domesticity,” the home became the female sphere—and homemaking, “women’s work.” With these changes, our story of home shrinks.

When the Story Doesn’t Fit

What are some of the implications of the too-small story of home?

First, to make home “women’s work” eclipses the important responsibilities husbands and fathers have at home—for housework, for child-rearing, for hospitality, to name a few. According to Scripture, managing his household, or “homemaking,” is a critical quality of every church elder (cf. 1 Tim. 3:5). Women and men alike are charged with the care and keeping of home. Moreover, to narrowly define God’s ideal of “home” as marriage and children leaves the unmarried and childless to feel as if they have been excluded from the good life. We need a bigger story that reflects our call to image a homemaking God in the world—whatever our marital and parenting status.

My church in Toronto is populated largely with young professionals, many unmarried. My 30-something friends haven’t intentionally delayed marriage for career, though many of them now find themselves in the anxious creep toward 35. Toward 40. They’re struggling with questions like: Should I move closer to my family? Buy a house and stay here in the city? They’re struggling with fears like: Is loneliness my unmarried fate?

I fear they have no vision for home apart from wedding rings and baby strollers and soccer games on rainy Saturday mornings. But I don’t blame them for that. They’ve been given a too-small story, a story almost unrecognizable from the story Jesus himself told when he relativized blood lines and loyalties. “Who is my mother, and who are my brothers? . . . Whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mothers” (Matt. 12:48). They’ve been sold Naomi’s bill of goods when she told Ruth to return to Moab: “The LORD grant that you may find rest . . . in the house of [your] husband.” Naomi having conveniently forgotten her failed happily-ever-after (cf. Ruth 1:1–9).

A better-fitting story of home is this: God promises home to all of his people—married and unmarried, childless and child-full. Home, in God’s kingdom, doesn’t begin at the altar. In part, home is restored to all of God’s children because Christ has promised that “if anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him” (John 14:23). We all have home because God, through the indwelling of his Spirit, makes it with us. In us. Moreover, home, as human community, is given to each of us through the belonging we’re meant to find in the church—“the household of God” (cf. 1 Tim. 3:15). In the church, we have new brothers and sisters, new mothers and fathers.

Best of all, home will be redeemed most fully for all of us when the New Jerusalem descends from heaven like a bride dressed on her wedding day. “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man” (Rev. 21:3). That’s a far bigger, better promise than marriage and minivans.

That’s a home worth setting our hopes on—even if ours is a Leave It to Beaver life.

Editor’s Note: For more of Jen Pollock Michel’s thoughts on home, pick up her new book, Keeping Place: Reflections on the Meaning of Home (IVP, 2017).

​Jen Pollock Michel lives in Toronto with her family. She’s the author of Keeping Place: Reflections on the Meaning of Home (IVP, 2017) and Teach Us to Want: Longing, Ambition and the Life of Faith (IVP, 2014). She also regularly contributes to Christianity Today’s Her.meneutics blog and Today in the Word, a devotional publication of Moody Bible Institute. You can follow her on Twitter.



Can Anyone Really Be “Blameless”?

Can Anyone Really Be “Blameless”?

When you read the Psalms, do you identify with the psalmist when he claims blamelessness and uprightness and integrity and righteousness?

Blamelessness

  • Blessed are those whose way is blameless! (Psalm 119:1)
  • I was blameless before him, and I kept myself from my guilt. (Psalm 18:23)
  • I shall be blameless, and innocent of great transgression. (Psalm 19:13)

Uprightness

  • My shield is with God, who saves the upright in heart. (Psalm 7:10)
  • The upright shall behold his face. (Psalm 11:7)
  • Let all the upright in heart exult! (Psalm 64:10)

Integrity

  • Judge me, O Lord, according to the integrity that is in me. (Psalm 7:8)
  • Vindicate me, O Lord, for I have walked in my integrity. (Psalm 26:1)
  • You have upheld me because of my integrity. (Psalm 41:12)

Righteousness

  • The Lord upholds the righteous. (Psalm 37:17)
  • He will never permit the righteous to be moved. (Psalm 55:22)
  • The Lord loves the righteous. (Psalm 146:8)

Are you among the righteous, the upright, the blameless, and those who walk in integrity?

If you are a Christian, you should answer Yes.

Imputed Righteousness: Foundation, Not Summation

I do not say this simply because in Christ we are counted righteous. The psalmist is not talking only about imputed righteousness. The justification of the ungodly on the basis of Christ alone by faith alone is a precious and magnificent truth. And, to be sure, it was already true for the psalmists in the Old Testament, because Christ’s death counted for them in the mind of God before it happened in history. That’s the point of Romans 3:25.

When Paul wanted to support his teaching about the “justification of the ungodly,” he quoted Psalm 32.

God justifies the ungodly . . . just as David also speaks of the blessing of the one to whom God counts righteousness apart from works: “Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven, and whose sins are covered; blessed is the man against whom the Lord will not count his sin.” (Romans 4:5–8)

But this imputed righteousness, based on Christ alone, is not the sum of what the psalmists refer to when they speak of their blamelessness and uprightness and integrity and righteousness. Forgiveness and imputation are the foundation, but not the summation of Christian righteousness.

Justifying Faith Leads to Integrity and Uprightness

That is true in the New Testament and the Old. The faith that unites us to Christ and his perfect uprightness is real only if it also produces new attitudes and behaviors in us. Here’s the way Paul put it: “In Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love” (Galatians 5:6). The faith that links us to Christ for justification also leads to sanctification.

That was true in the Old Testament as well.

The psalmists were justified by faith alone. But their faith “worked through love.” It produced blamelessness and uprightness and integrity and righteousness. This was a work of the sanctifying Spirit of God. They knew it was God’s work not their own:

       Create in me a clean heart, O God,
          and renew a right spirit within me.
       Cast me not away from your presence,
          and take not your Holy Spirit from me.
       Restore to me the joy of your salvation,
          and uphold me with a willing spirit.
       (Psalm 51:10–12)
    

The same dynamics of justification and sanctification at work in the godly psalmists are at work in Christians today, even though we have the privilege of knowing so much more about how the Lord purchased all this by his blood, and how it is working out in the power of the risen Christ.

Psalmists Are Not Legalists

Therefore, it is a mistake to read the Psalms and somehow think that these writers were legalists or egomaniacs or naïve when they referred to their blamelessness and uprightness and integrity and righteousness.

Along with the psalmists, Christians must be blameless, upright, righteous persons of integrity.

Example of Psalm 25

Consider Psalm 25 as an example of what this looks like. It is a beautiful psalm of deep humility and longing for God. Four times in these 22 verses David acknowledges his sin. His confession and his sense of need for grace is not just mentioned at the beginning of the psalm and then left behind as he moves on in triumph.

  • Remember not the sins of my youth or my transgressions. (Psalm 25:7)
  • Good and upright is the Lord; therefore he instructs sinners in the way. (Psalm 25:8)
  • For your name’s sake, O Lord, pardon my guilt, for it is great. (Psalm 25:11)
  • Consider my affliction and my trouble, and forgive all my sins. (Psalm 25:18)

Since his sins are a constant reality to him, so is the mercy and love and grace and goodness of God.

  • Remember your mercy, O Lord, and your steadfast love. (Psalm 25:6)
  • According to your steadfast love remember me, for the sake of your goodness, O Lord! (Psalm 25:7)
  • All the paths of the Lord are steadfast love. (Psalm 25:10)
  • Turn to me and be gracious to me. (Psalm 25:16)

David knew that if his guilt was to be pardoned, it would not be on the basis of his own virtue, but on the basis of God’s allegiance to his own name: “For your name’s sake, O Lord, pardon my guilt, for it is great” (Psalm 25:11).

Sinner’s Response to God

How then does David describe his response to God? Answer: trusting, waiting, humility, covenant keeping, fearing the Lord, and taking refuge in him.

  • My God, in you I trust. (Psalm 25:2)
  • For you I wait all the day long. (Psalm 25:5, 21)
  • He leads the humble in what is right, and teaches the humble his way. (Psalm 25:9)
  • All the paths of the Lord are steadfast love and faithfulness, for those who keep his covenant. (Psalm 25:10)
  • Who is the man who fears the Lord? Him will he instruct in the way that he should choose. (Psalm 25:12, 14)
  • Let me not be put to shame, for I take refuge in you. (Psalm 25:20)

Most of us are thrilled with this kind of Psalm. It acknowledges sin. It ascribes mercy and grace to God. The psalmist trusts in that mercy and holds fast to the forgiving God.

Integrity and Uprightness Preserve Me

But then comes verse 21: “May integrity and uprightness preserve me, for I wait for you” (Psalm 25:21). What I am arguing is that his appeal to his own integrity and uprightness is not a lapse in humble, faith-filled godliness. I am arguing that this is a proper claim of the godly in every age.

This is not pride. This is not self-reliance. This is not legalism. This is not salvation-by-works. This is a godly man, trusting the mercy of God, knowing his sins are forgiven, walking in the power of God’s sanctifying Spirit. He is a man of integrity and uprightness.

He is not perfect. He is not without sin. He is not proud. He is the beneficiary of mighty mercy — transforming mercy. It was “for God’s name’s sake” that his great guilt was pardoned (Psalm 25:11). And it is “for God’s name’s sake” that he walks in integrity and uprightness. As Psalm 23:3 says, “He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.”

Don’t Stumble over Integrity

We do not need to stumble over these protests of integrity in the Psalms. In both Old and New Testament times, God justifies the ungodly, sanctifies the faithful, and rewards their new Spirit-wrought righteousness. It is not legalism or works-righteousness to say with the psalmist, “You have upheld me because of my integrity” (Psalm 41:12). It is not pride or self-sufficiency to say, “The Lord has rewarded me according to my righteousness, according to the cleanness of my hands in his sight” (Psalm 18:23–24).

The New Testament is just as strong that “doing good” in the power of God’s Spirit, from a heart of faith, will be rewarded with eternal life and all the varied benefits that belong to our varied faithfulness.

  • The one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life. And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. (Galatians 6:8–9)

  • Whatever good anyone does, this he will receive back from the Lord. (Ephesians 6:8)

  • The one who receives a righteous person because he is a righteous person will receive a righteous person’s reward. (Matthew 10:41)

  • Love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great. (Luke 6:35)

  • We must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil. (2 Corinthians 5:10)

  • Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. (Colossians 3:23–24)

Trust in the Lord, and Do Good

Therefore, when you read in the Psalms that the psalmists offer up their blamelessness and uprightness and integrity and righteousness to God, don’t over-spiritualize it. Don’t treat it as perfectionism. Don’t think of it as legalism. Don’t demean it as a defective part of the “old covenant.” Take it for what it is: a godly man, who knows he is a sinner, pardoned for God’s name’s sake, justified by grace, trusting God’s mercy, depending on God’s Spirit, taking refuge in God’s protection, delighting in God’s beauty, keeping God’s covenant, and therefore walking in integrity and honesty and uprightness.

When viewed in this way, the Psalms become precious beyond measure as they help us “trust in the Lord, and do good” (Psalm 37:3).



How Will God Judge What I Do Today?

How Will God Judge What I Do Today?

Teachers need to be vigilant over what they teach, and all Christians need to be vigilant over what they do with what they are taught.

Listen Now



Social Media Highlights (4/30/17)

"Behold the Glory of the Lord"



The Praise of Heaven



Crossway Weekly E-Book Deals: Loving Your Neighbor

Crossway E-Book Deals

In this grab bag we have 4 e-books on loving your neighbor from Crossway Publishing. The prices and sale dates that the publisher has provided are under each book cover.


$2.99
Apr 30-May 6


$2.99
Apr 30-May 6


$2.99
Apr 30-May 6


$2.99
Apr 30-May 6


Click the following post title to view these deals with the purchase links: Crossway Weekly E-Book Deals: Loving Your Neighbor

Ask Me Anything (Visiting Bad Churches, Radical vs Ordinary, Bad Dreams, etc)

I continue to receive a lot of interesting and challenging questions as part of my regular Ask Me Anything feature, and today I’m going to do my best to answer a few of them. These ones concern the purpose of worship services, ordinary versus radical, visiting bad churches, repenting for depraved dreams, and children who die in infancy.

Are weekly church services primarily for believers or for non-believers?

It is difficult to overstate the importance of this question. The modern history of evangelicalism would seem to indicate that the primary purpose of church services is evangelistic—they are for unbelievers and ought to be structured accordingly. But I would contend that the foremost purpose of church services is to equip and encourage Christians—they are for believers and ought to be structured accordingly.

As I have said often in the past, we live at a time when the church is dominated by pragmatism. Pragmatism insists we are to set goals, then do whatever it takes to meet those goals. For many years the church growth movement has insisted that the foremost goal of a church service should be for people to come to faith. Therefore, they tend to endorse whatever means will make that happen. We can look back to the early days of the church growth movement to find people endorsing the idea of polling unbelievers to learn what they want from church, creating it for them, then inviting them to experience it. Over the years, elements of church services that are deemed offensive or otherwise objectionable to unbelievers have been slowly pared away. I once went to one of the most mega of America’s mega-churches and sat through a service that was devoid of Scripture, prayer, and sacraments. In short, it had almost no identifiable characteristics of Christian worship. That is the fruit of pragmatism.

When we look to Scripture, we see church services primarily geared to believers. In Acts we see believers gathering together, sometimes with unbelievers present and sometimes not. Sometimes unbelievers were even afraid to attend! Likewise, when we read the epistles, we find few hints that sermons or services are meant to appeal primarily to unbelievers. Rather, we see public worship as an occasion for believers to gather together as a family to worship God and to minister to one another through the ordinary means of grace—Word, prayer, and fellowship.

This is not to say unbelievers are unwelcome. To the contrary, we should freely invite them to come and to join us. But they join us as our guests, as people who can observe fully but only participate partially. We can and should make them feel welcome and, as much as possible, avoid making them uncomfortable. But we must not allow them to shape our services or diminish the distinct elements and message of Christian worship. We trust that when we do things God’s way, we experience God’s blessing.

***

I recently read The Insanity of God. I have also read Radical and Ordinary. How do you juxtapose all these books against one another? You can read The Insanity of God and Radical and feel guilty that you are not doing more for God. Then you read Ordinary and realize God uses you in the day-to-day. How do we balance these against one another?

Over the past 5 or 10 years, we have seen an interesting back-and-forth between people advocating the goodness of the radical and people endorsing the goodness of the ordinary. Some leaders are calling for Christians to put aside the American dream and to instead live lives of extraordinary fervor, generous giving, and missionary zeal. Meanwhile, other leaders are assuring people that we can live lives that are pleasing to God even in the most mundane circumstances.

To bring balance, I think we have to know ourselves and our particular temptations to sin. The trouble with radical is that it can foster discontentment in people who are already living God-honoring but ordinary lives, perhaps unfairly convicting them that suburban 9-to-5 life cannot be good enough for God. It can also foster the works-righteousness of people who are convinced God will be pleased with them to only the extent that they do grander and harder things. Of course ordinary can foster complacency or the notion that God doesn’t much care what we do, what we give, or how we live. As usual in the Christian life, the way is narrow and there is peril on both sides.

I believe there is value in reading and considering both perspectives—to read them thoroughly, pray about them earnestly, and refuse to react hastily. The best result is that through your reading God assures you of the goodness of the ordinary while also exposing areas of complacency in your life. It is those who are willing to be normal who are best equipped to handle being radical.

My pick for the best of the radical books is David Platt’s Radical while my pick on the ordinary side is Michael Wittmer’s Becoming Ordinary Saints.

***

I’m unsure whether I should attend a family member’s church with them while visiting them out-of-state. The church they go to is part of a liberal denomination and teaches unbiblical doctrine. But I’m not sure how I would go about saying something like “I don’t want to go because it’s not a good church.” (To them, it’s just my opinion or preference). Is it okay to visit a “bad” church?

I suppose this will depend on a number of factors, including how bad the “bad” actually is. There are churches that teach poor theology (or teach good theology poorly) and there are churches that are full-out cults. There are churches that may worship Jesus in trite or inaccurate ways and there are churches that full-out disparage him. So the first consideration may simply be the badness of this bad church. That will tell you whether you even can attend and, if so, how to approach it.

If it is not the kind of church you must avoid, you are into an area in which Christians disagree and, therefore, a matter for which you should first inform and then heed your conscience. For example, while almost all Protestants agree it is wrong to participate in a Roman Catholic mass by taking the host, many are still comfortable attending the service as an observer or a supporter of someone who is there—perhaps a niece being baptized or a friend being married. Some are comfortable going to a “bad” service as long as it does not keep them from attending a “good” service as their primary worship for the week. You will find no clear consensus among all believers. Therefore, I’d urge you to consider the service you’ve been invited to, to pray, and then to monitor how your conscience responds to it. As Luther said, it is neither right nor safe to ignore your conscience.

***

Should we repent of sinful things we do in our dreams?

Dreams are funny things, aren’t they? They can be mysterious, they can be hilarious, they can be downright bizarre. And, as you indicate, they can sometimes even be dark or perverse.

You ask whether we should repent of sinful things we do in our dreams. Should is a word of moral obligation, so I would respond that we are not always morally obligated to repent of our dreams. Dreams occur outside of the conscious mind in a context in which we have no control over our thoughts or imaginations. For this reason, I don’t think we have the same obligation as we do toward our deliberate and conscious thoughts. In the Bible we see that dreams can be influenced by spiritual forces, further showing that we are not responsible for them in the same way we are responsible for our conscious thoughts and even our semi-conscious daydreams.

But while I do not think we are under obligation to repent of things we have dreamed, I do think there is wisdom in pondering whether ugly dreams have their root in external circumstances. I once watched an episode of a television show that involved a child being kidnapped and that night had a horrifying nightmare about my daughter being taken. It was not hard to discern the causal link between what I had seen and what I had dreamed. Perhaps in a case like that it’s a warning system of sorts that can direct us to areas of sin or apathy. Or maybe it’s a form of satanic temptation or onslaught. Or maybe it’s just that extra burrito. We are weak and silly creatures, aren’t we?

***

What is your take on the “Law of Attraction” and its influence on Christianity?

The Law of Attraction is a belief that you attract to yourself whatever becomes the fixation of your mind or faith. Those who focus on negative thoughts, desires, or images naturally attract negative things. Those who focus on what is positive attract positive things. We see this Law described or taught in bestselling books like The Secret, in pop psychology where you may be told to visualize your goals, and in times of joy or sorrow when friends assure you they are sending their happy thoughts or positive vibes.

It is, a word, nonsense and proves that when people stop believing truth, they’ll believe just about anything. Still, the Law of Attraction has just enough truth to it to be deceptive and attractive. After all, people who are relentlessly negative do seem to have woeful lives and those who are always upbeat seem to have joyful lives. To some degree we are the product of our thoughts and desires.

Yet to a much greater degree we are not. Perhaps the biggest and most ridiculous weakness of the Law of Attraction is that it deifies the universe. It gives the universe divine power that has the ability to hear, understand, and respond to us. Where Christians honor and serve a personal being, the Law leaves us beholden to an abstract force. Stuff and nonsense.

Within the church, we may see the Law of Attraction most clearly in the prosperity gospel. This false gospel holds out the promise of power and riches or any other desire to those who have enough faith. This kind of faith is not active reliance on Jesus Christ, but a kind of bargaining power meant to twist the arm and compel the mind of Almighty God. If the Law of Attraction is ugly in any form, it is doubly ugly in its supposedly Christian form.

***

I am a pediatric nurse and sometimes care for children who are dying. It is not uncommon for nurses to say some variation of “it’s time for this one to go home to Jesus” or “get her wings” or “become an angel.” As a believer I struggle with this because I cannot accept that all children go to heaven. But when it comes to an actual child who has a name and is suffering, but whose parents do not believe in Jesus Christ, how can I explain to my co-workers that I believe in a loving and just God who loves his children, but maybe not this child? How do I explain that I do not believe all children go to heaven no matter how much they suffered on earth?

It is one thing to have well-developed theology, and it is another entirely to have to actually rely on that theology in difficult circumstances. And I cannot imagine a more difficult circumstance than yours.

There are essentially three schools of thought on the matter of children who die in infancy. The majority of believers hold that all children who die in infancy immediately go to heaven. They are all, therefore, especially loved and chosen by God. Those who hold this position can comfortably tell any parent, “Your child is in heaven.”

The second position is that elect infants who die in infancy go to heaven. This is the position taken in the Westminster Confession of Faith of the Presbyterian tradition and is usually taken to mean that the children of believers are saved if they die in infancy. The Canons of Dort of the Dutch Reformed tradition takes a similar perspective. Those who hold this position can comfortably tell believers, “Your child is in heaven.”

The third position is the Bible does not make it clear. This being the case, it is unwise to make bold declarations one way or the other. I expect this is your position. It is mine as well. I have examined the evidence for the other positions and, though I want to hold them, find that I cannot. What I can do, though, is rely on the good character and kind sovereignty of God and say with confidence that what happens is not outside of his knowledge or his will.

Where does this leave you? Perhaps you will have an opportune moment to address some of the common errors you hear from your co-workers, like this idea that people become angels when they die. That would be a downgrade, not an upgrade, for we alone bear God’s image! Or perhaps you can address the notion that a child’s suffering somehow makes them either worthy or more worthy of God’s favor. Perhaps best of all you’ll simply be able to tell others about the grace of God which is the only hope of your patients and your colleagues. I would address their poor theology only as a means to tell them the gospel.

(For what it’s worth, I’m not sure that I’d ever address “it’s time for this one to go home to Jesus” since that view is well within the Christian mainstream and the position of many fine Christian theologians.)



HCCP Fiction Collections E-Book Sale – May 2017

Fiction E-Book Deals female

In this grab bag we have 24 e-book collections from HarperCollins Christian Publishing. The prices and sale dates that the publisher has provided are under each book cover.


$2.99
Ends May 31


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Click the following post title to view these deals with the purchase links: HCCP Fiction Collections E-Book Sale – May 2017

Roots and Sky: A Journey Home in Four Seasons

Roots and Sky A Journey Home in Four SeasonsAuthor(s): Christie Purifoy
Publisher: Revell
Price: $1.99 (April 30-May 6)

When Christie Purifoy arrived at Maplehurst that September, she was heavily pregnant with both her fourth child and her dreams of creating a sanctuary that would be a fixed point in her busily spinning world. The sprawling Victorian farmhouse sitting atop a Pennsylvania hill held within its walls the possibility of a place where her family could grow, where friends could gather, and where Christie could finally grasp and hold the thing we all long for–home.

In lyrical, contemplative prose, Christie slowly unveils the small trials and triumphs of that first year at Maplehurst–from summer’s intense heat and autumn’s glorious canopy through winter’s still whispers and spring’s gentle mercies. Through stories of planting and preserving, of opening the gates wide to neighbors, and of learning to speak the language of a place, Christie invites readers into the joy of small beginnings and the knowledge that the kingdom of God is with us here and now.

Anyone who has felt the longing for home, who yearns to reconnect with the beauty of nature, and who values the special blessing of deep relationships with family and friends will love finding themselves in this story of earthly beauty and soaring hope.


Click the following post title to view these deals with the purchase links: Roots and Sky: A Journey Home in Four Seasons

Harvest House Women’s E-Book Sale – April 2017

Harvest House E-Book Deals

In this grab bag we have 3 women’s e-books from Harvest House. The prices and sale dates that the publisher has provided are under each book cover.


$0.99
Ends May 31


$2.99
Ends May 31


$3.99
Ends May 31


Click the following post title to view these deals with the purchase links: Harvest House Women’s E-Book Sale – April 2017