Binding the Christian with Law does not Produce Freedom

From part 4 of my friend Ed Trefzger’s series “Completed by the Spirit“, this is for the Reformed Baptist and Presbyterian brethren out there. Speaking about the use of the Law in the life of the Christian, Trefzger notes

Despite Paul’s warnings that the law arouses sin, many will point to the law as a prime mover in sanctification,  essen­tial to con­vict­ing us about our remain­ing sin and mea­sur­ing our growth in holi­ness. In doing so, they will attempt to draw a dis­tinc­tion between being “under the law” and fol­low­ing the law…

Yet for the Christian,

It is the Spirit that sanc­ti­fies, not the law in a fleshly exer­cise of behav­ior mod­i­fi­ca­tion. Des­per­a­tion and more sin­ful­ness are the results of a focus on law for sanc­ti­fi­ca­tion instead of avail­ing one’s self of the Holy Spirit and behold­ing with awe the per­son and work of Jesus Christ.

And commenting on Joel Beeke’s focus on law-based sanctification, Trefzger (before the Lance Armstrong scandal ruined him), puts it starkly:

Beeke [argues] that bind­ing users under the law actu­ally pro­duces free­dom. Per­haps an anal­ogy would be that keep­ing train­ing wheels on bicy­cles actu­ally pro­duces Lance Armstrong.

Ed Trefzger

Ed Trefzger is an elder at the Evangelical Church of Fairport, NY

Can you tell he has a passionate stance on this issue? I do too. Sanctification is summarized by Paul in 2 Corinthians 3:17-18 when he declares triumphantly

Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.

Christian, you are free to be sanctified in freedom from legalism, for you are not under law, but under grace. Look to, gaze upon, and feast on the glorious Christ for all that is needed in this life…

Thanks for reading,

-Justin

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Perseverance of the Saints from the Mouth of Jesus

Continuing the theme I’ve picked up in the past week, it only seemed right to speak in more detail of the doctrines of grace, and the ever-comforting doctrine of the Preservation of the Saints.

It seems there are a million sources I could quote to deal with this profound truth, yet the actual words of Jesus Himself trump them all. Please look at what He prays here in John 17, just moments before He was arrested, carried off, and by the next day murdered by the Jewish leaders.

High Priest on our Behalf

This chapter is often labeled as the “High Priestly Prayer of Jesus,” and such it is. This is where He goes before the Father on behalf of His people, and prays a prayer of intercession for us. If you cannot see the comfort intended here, that we cannot lose our salvation, then you must begin again in your system of doctrine. This text is a clear seat of doctrine, able to interpret less clear texts.

I will make a few sparse comments here (in blue), but the point is to focus on Jesus’ words. Keep asking questions of the text as you read, especially, “Can His prayers go unanswered?”

17 Jesus spoke these things; and lifting up His eyes to heaven, He said, “Father, the hour has come; glorify Your Son, that the Son may glorify You, even as You gave Him authority over all flesh, that to all whom You have given Him, He may give eternal life.

Jesus assumes that there are people “given” to Him by the Father. It is to these people that Jesus gives eternal life.

This is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent. I glorified You on the earth, having accomplished the work which You have given Me to do.

Click here to compare this to  John 6:37-40.

Now, Father, glorify Me together with Yourself, with the glory which I had with You before the world was.

Jesus is God.

“I have manifested Your name to the men whom You gave Me out of the world; they were Yours and You gave them to Me, and they have kept Your word. Now they have come to know that everything You have given Me is from You; for the words which You gave Me I have given to them; and they received them and truly understood that I came forth from You, and they believed that You sent Me.

I ask on their behalf; I do not ask on behalf of the world, but of those whom You have given Me; for they are Yours;10 and all things that are Mine are Yours, and Yours are Mine; and I have been glorified in them.

This High Priestly prayer is an intercession only for those who will be saved. Jesus is praying for HIS PEOPLE, and no one else.

11 I am no longer in the world; and yet they themselves are in the world, and I come to You. Holy Father, keep them in Your namethe name which You have given Me, that they may be one even as We are.

Will the Father not answer this prayer? Will He not keep His people?

12 While I was with them, I was keeping them in Your name which You have given Me; and I guarded them and not one of them perished but the son of perdition, so that the Scripture would be fulfilled.

Judas was lost because he was not one of the people whom the Father had given Jesus, but everyone else is kept perfectly.

The Disciples in the World

13 But now I come to You; and these things I speak in the world so that they may have My joy made full in themselves. 14 I have given them Your word; and the world has hated them, because they are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. 15 I do not ask You to take them out of the world, but to keep them from the evil one16 They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world.17 Sanctify them in the truth; Your word is truth. 18 As You sent Me into the world, I also have sent them into the world. 19 For their sakes I sanctify Myself, that they themselves also may be sanctified in truth.

20 “I do not ask on behalf of these alone, but for those also who believe in Me through their word; 21 that they may all be one; even as You, Father, are in Me and I in You, that they also may be in Us, so that the world may believe that You sent Me.

Their Future Glory

22 The glory which You have given Me I have given to them, that they may be one, just as We are one; 23 I in them and You in Me, that they may be perfected in unity, so that the world may know that You sent Me, and loved them, even as You have loved Me. 24 Father, I desire that they also, whom You have given Me, be with Me where I am, so that they may see My glory which You have given Me, for You loved Me before the foundation of the world.

Will this prayer fail? God forbid.

25 “O righteous Father, although the world has not known You, yet I have known You; and these have known that You sent Me;26 and I have made Your name known to them, and will make it known, so that the love with which You loved Me may be in them, and I in them” (John 17 NASB).

Jesus’ prayers will not fail. He ever lives to make intercession for His people. Perhaps among the very clearest teachings in the Bible, the Calvinistic doctrine of the Perseverance of the Saints is the greatest comfort I have ever known.

It drives me homeward in joy.

Thanks for reading,

-Justin

Resting on God: Valley of Vision Prayer

Sometimes I have trouble praying as I ought – but often I turn to the Valley of Vision for help in getting my engine started. One of Christianity’s greatest books from the past 2,000 years, VoV would be my second book choice if stranded on a desert island, right after the Bible, and right before The Existence and Attributes of God by Stephen Charnock. Oh, those Puritans.

Valley

I provide these prayers most Sundays for those of us who are weak in prayer, and who need help in devotion. This prayer is a focus on growing in dependence on God, trusting in Him in all things, and recognizing His greatness over us as King and as Father. Enjoy.

O God, most high, most glorious, the thought of Thine infinite serenity cheers me, for I am toiling and moiling, troubled and distressed, but Thou art for ever at perfect peace.

Thy designs cause thee no fear or care of unfulfilment, they stand fast as the eternal hills.

Thy power knows no bond, Thy goodness no stint.

Thou bringest order out of confusion, and my defeats are Thy victories: The Lord God omnipotent reigneth.

I come to Thee as a sinner with cares and sorrows, to leave every concern entirely to Thee, every sin calling for Christ’s precious blood; revive deep spirituality in my heart; let me live near to the great Shepherd, hear His voice, know its tones, follow its calls.

Keep me from deception by causing me to abide in the truth, from harm by helping me to walk in the power of the Spirit.

Give me intenser faith in the eternal verities, burning into me by experience the things I know; Let me never be ashamed of the truth of the gospel, that I may bear its reproach, vindicate it, see Jesus as its essence, know in it the power of the Spirit.

Lord, help me, for I am often lukewarm and chill; unbelief mars my confidence, sin makes me forget Thee. Let the weeds that grow in my soul be cut at their roots; grant me to know that I truly live only when I live to Thee, that all else is trifling.

Thy presence alone can make me holy, devout, strong and happy. Abide in me, gracious God.

Amen.

Thanks for praying with me,

-Justin

The Deeps: Valley of Vision Prayer

Sometimes I have trouble praying as I ought – but often I turn to the Valley of Vision for help in getting my engine started. One of Christianity’s greatest books from the past 2,000 years, VoV would be my second book choice if stranded on a desert island, right after the Bible, and right before The Existence and Attributes of God by Stephen Charnock. Oh, those Puritans.

Down In The Valley

This might be a good prayer for you if you find yourself weak in zeal for Christ, weak in prayer, weak in devotion. It might be a good idea to buy Valley of Vision and keep it close to you for the times you don’t know how to pray. Yes, the Psalms are better, but right after them comes VoV. Just beautiful help for the Christian, here.

Lord Jesus, give me a deeper repentance, a horror of sin, a dread of its approach. Help me chastely to flee it and jealously to resolve that my heart shall be Thine alone.

Give me a deeper trust, that I may lose myself to find myself in Thee, the ground of my rest, the spring of my being. Give me a deeper knowledge of Thyself as Saviour, Master, Lord, and King. Give me deeper power in private prayer, more sweetness in Thy Word, more steadfast grip on its truth. Give me deeper holiness in speech, thought, action, and let me not seek moral virtue apart from Thee.

Plough deep in me, great Lord, heavenly husbandman, that my being may be a tilled field, the roots of grace spreading far and wide, until Thou alone art seen in me, Thy beauty golden like summer harvest, Thy fruitfulness as autumn plenty.

I have no master but Thee, no law but Thy will, no delight but Thyself, no wealth but that Thou givest, no good but that Thou blessest, no peace but that Thou bestowest. I am nothing but that Thou makest me. I have nothing but that I receive from Thee. I can be nothing but that grace adorns me. Quarry me deep, dear Lord, and then fill me to overflowing with living water.

Valley of Vision

Thanks for praying with me,

-Justin

Moral Improvement IS Why God Saved You!

In my last post, I argued that moral improvement is not why God saved you, as if somehow God’s goal in creating humans was to get us to behave correctly.

Be good or else

In other words, Christian salvation according to the Bible is not initiated by God in order to simply clean the mud off our trousers. He saves His people primarily to glorify Himself, and to give us gifts of infinite joy and eternal life with Him. That’s the goal, a la Ephesians 1:3-14 (noting my bold emphases):

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ, just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love, having predestined us to adoption as sons by Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will, 6 to the praise of the glory of His grace, by which He made us accepted in the Beloved. In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace which He made to abound toward us in all wisdom and prudence, having made known to us the mystery of His will, according to His good pleasure which He purposed in Himself10 that in the dispensation of the fullness of the times He might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven and which are on earth—in Him. 11 In Him also we have obtained an inheritance, being predestined according to the purpose of Him who works all things according to the counsel of His will12 that we who first trusted in Christ should be to the praise of His glory. 13 In Him you also trusted, after you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation; in whom also, having believed, you were sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise, 14 who is the guarantee of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession, to the praise of His glory. (NKJV)

His purpose is to glorify Himself. And shouldn’t He? He is the greatest being and Person in all existence, and nothing compares to Him. It’s great news that our salvation is aimed at lifting our eyes to Him; the best gift that grants ultimate joy!

And Yet He Saves Us to Improve Our Moral Standing

God’s love for us (in Christ) is unconditional. Let’s get that straight – He loves us because He loves us because He is love because He is God (cf. Deut. 7:7-8). There’s no way out of that circle of divine, mysterious graciousness. Yet in this unconditional love, He loves in such a way that He will change our inner man. We were, after all, “predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren” (Rom. 8:29).

Saved to be changed, conformed into an image that was previously marred in us – malformed in sin as we are conceived in Adam the sinner. The image of God in which we were originally created has been overshadowed and defaced by sin – and yet in love God predestines His people to be conformed to the image of Jesus Christ, who is the image of God. To say it simply, He loves us too much to see us remain in sin and defacement, because He loves His glory too much for us to take His name in vain through unrepentant, sin-filled living (Ezk. 36:16-32ff.; Heb. 12:5-11).

Once we grasp the balance here – that we are loved perfectly in Christ no matter our sins, and that we are loved in order to be changed morally – then we can live the Christian life with joy and confidence! We can now live knowing

I am a terrible, wicked sinner who is completely forgiven and loved on the basis of the perfections of Christ. My sin was placed on Him and He owned it in His death on the cross – and His perfect standing before the Father was reckoned to my account when He saved me and justified me. God sees me and counts me as perfect as Jesus Himself!

Well, then we can live however we want! What’s the point of moral improvement? Paul knew you’d think that, and answers

“How shall we who died to sin live any longer in it? Or do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life” (Rom. 6:2-4).

Full circle. God created us and in sovereign grace saves us from eternal wrath and justice in order to (re)shape us into His glorious, holy image… BECAUSE He loves His Name, and therefore extends His love to His people unconditionally, because He loves us!

Expect to be brutally loved by God when He has given you new birth by grace through faith in His Son Jesus Christ. He’s a good Father – He will discipline us if we wander from Him and indulge in sin. Rejoice, Christian! The pleasures of sin are passing and shallow compared to the glory intended for you in eternal life with Christ Jesus our Lord. Resist the deeds of the flesh, renew your mind in Christ Jesus and His Word, and live in light of a dawning eternity of joy and sinless fellowship with an infinitely wonderful God. You are blessed.

Thanks for reading,

-Justin

Moral Improvement is Not Why God Saved You

If you’ve been around American evangelicalism at all, you might have picked up the idea that God saved you in order to put you to work for Him. Justification is that glorious moment of favor that God gives to those who are for the first time believing in Christ, but it quickly fades into a life of hard work, moral improvement, and careful discipline in spiritual matters. Sound like the Christianity you know?

If so, I’m so happy to tell you this: you don’t know Christianity. Here’s the secret to seeking the joy that God intends for His kids… well, let me give the mic to a maestro of grace:

From Michael Horton’s The Christian Faith,

As John Murray helpfully explains, progressive sanctification depends not only on justification but on God’s once-and-for-all act of claiming us as saints. For many Christians, the change in subject from justification to sanctification roughly corresponds to God’s work for us and our work for God, respectively. The result of this assumption, however, is that for a brief moment at the beginning of the Christian life the focus was on Christ and his blessing of justification that was received through faith alone—itself, in fact, a gift of God. But then the rest of our life is a matter of striving for moral improvement. “Having begun by the Spirit,” Paul asked the Galatians, “are you now being perfected by the flesh?” Sanctification, like justification, has its source not in the “works of the law” but in “hearing with faith” (Gal 3:3 – 5). [1]

Were you saved by grace through faith? You are. Striving for moral improvement as a matter of willpower and personal commitment will either land you in the hospital, or you’ll quit Christianity (though you’ll have never actually internalized the real grace of God), or if you can pull it off and become a moral person, you’ll have something to boast in, and you’ve become a nasty little canker on the tongue of the church.

No. No, no, no. Our only strength and hope in the Christian life is to look to Jesus – learn Him, be filled with Him, seek Him in all things. And friends, for heaven’s sake, don’t run from God when you’ve sinned… run to Him.

This blog will re-visit this subject frequently. There is much need in the Christian community for these reminders of grace, for the constant removal of the chains of moralism. Be free[d] in Christ!

Thanks for reading,

Justin

[1] Michael Horton, The Christian Life (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2011), 650-1.