Yesterday, I heard of a pastor who was fired from his church because he confessed to believing in the doctrines of grace. The “doctrines of grace” is another way of saying “Calvinism” as opposed to Arminianism.
You have probably heard of the five points of Calvinism, or TULIP: total depravity, unconditional election, limited atonement, irresistible grace, and perseverance of the saints. John Calvin himself did not create the TULIP acronym or even coin the terms it represents. The Canons of Dort are actually where the points come from.
The Canons of Dort were themselves a reaction to the growing influence of Arminianism upon the church in the Netherlands. Arminians had produced a document called the Remonstrance where they set forth five points of their theology concerning salvation and the interplay of nature and grace. In response to the Remonstrance, the churches who held to the doctrines of grace produced the Canons of Dort. Each point of the Canons was a response to a point of the Remonstrance.
The 1689 London Baptist Confession is firmly in line with the Canons of Dort, the doctrines of grace, and Calvinism. These doctrines have a direct lineage to the early church. The points of the Remonstrance also have a direct lineage, but it is to semi-Pelagianism, a heresy condemned in A.D. 529 at the Council of Orange. If you have been taught about God’s “prevenient” grace, such as at the Emmaus Walk, then you have been taught semi-Pelagianism.
The Confession begins,
“The grace of faith, whereby the elect are enabled to believe to the saving of their souls, is the work of the Spirit of Christ in their hearts, and is ordinarily wrought by the ministry of the Word; by which also, and by the administration of baptism and the Lord's supper, prayer, and other means appointed of God, it is increased and strengthened.”
Here we see the definitions of both unconditional election and irresistible grace, the “U” and “I” of TULIP. It is election that enables saving faith. Before the intervention of the Spirit, we are God’s enemies. The apostle Paul says quite clearly, “For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled shall we be saved by his life” (Romans 5:10).
Faith is a grace; it is a gift. We do not cooperate with grace to reach salvation. Grace is not God “wooing” us to salvation. Grace is a work of the Spirit. If we make it anything else, we become participants in our salvation.That simply flies in the face of the Scriptural witness.
Paul writes that we “were dead in the trespasses and sins” (Ephesians 2:1). Bringing the dead to life is a work of God, not a cooperative effort. Men and women in their fallen state do not seek to acknowledge God (Romans 1:28). To say that God extends grace as an invitation is simply foreign to Scripture. When God calls dead bones to life, they come to life.
That is not to say that there is no response from the one who has been newly made alive. That, of course, is belief. But the bone of contention is whether or not the call of God to be made alive takes effect with or without the accepting of that grace by the person.
How does this call of God appear? Does it just fly through the air? Does God send a lightning bolt to your heart and make you saved? No; God has always used means to bring about salvation.
Those means are remarkable in that their effect is the saving of souls. They are unremarkable is the sense that they are things like preaching and communion. Paul writes again, “How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching?” (Romans 10:14).
God works through his word. By hearing, we believe. The call of God goes out and takes effect in the hearts of men and women through the proclamation of the gospel through the words of Scripture. Preaching is simply explaining the meaning of the text at hand. It may not always be that Christ is the immediate application of any certain passage (such as a particular Proverb), but the preacher must show how this passage finds its ultimate fulfillment in Christ.
Once faith takes root in the believer, faith is sustained by the work of the Spirit, as well. The means the Spirit uses to sustain faith are initially baptism and then communion. Baptism is the initiation rite into the faith. It publicly confesses that Jesus is Lord, that you have died to your sin, and that you will be raised to new life in the age to come. Communion is the ongoing reminder that Christ’s once-for-all sacrifice, made with his body and blood, continue to be all that is necessary for salvation.
The men who reacted against the Remonstrance were brave men who were ready to speak against an ancient system of belief that had been condemned as soon as it sprouted up again. They did not try to reconcile such bile with the Bible. Arminianism, or semi-Pelagianism, is only a hair’s breadth difference from Roman Catholicism, which teaches that grace simply perfects nature, not that we need a new nature. We must be vigilant and discerning when it comes to first-order matters such as these.
If God has saved us, why do we continue in our sin? If he can save us instantly, why does he not also perfect us instantly? If sinless perfection then comes later, can we expect it before we die?
There are those denominations which do believe in perfectionism, meaning a person can be sinless before death. While those of the Baptist persuasion generally disagree with this doctrine, most who do hold to the doctrine of sinless perfection still hold it up to be the grace of God. There are others, such as Todd White, who are complete and total clowns and believe that they have achieved sinless perfection themselves. The two should not be equated.
The question still remains, however, of what to do with the sin that remains. How does the lifelong process of sanctification deal with sin? On the issue of sanctification, the Confession continues,
“This sanctification is throughout the whole man, yet imperfect in this life; there abideth still some remnants of corruption in every part, whence ariseth a continual and irreconcilable war; the flesh lusting against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh.”
We must insist that we will one day be made perfect. Paul writes in 1 Thessalonians 5:23, “Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
Paul makes two requests in this verse, that God would do the work of sanctification, and that God would keep you blameless at Christ’s return. Paul makes both of those requests of God, not of the Thessalonians. This tells us that sanctification continues throughout this life, and it culminates in the second coming of the Lord. To this humble reader, Paul’s statement seems to exclude sinless perfection in this life. If I need to kept blameless until the second coming, then that implies I will be perfected at the second coming.
The meaning of Romans 7 is often debated, because the question arises about to whom Paul is speaking. I’m of the mind that Paul is speaking as himself. Beginning in chapter 7, Paul is clearly addressing Jewish Christians. So at the very least, the inner monologue of the end of Romans 7 is from the perspective of a faithful Jew, one who delighted in the law of God as opposed to a Gentile who did not, who has now been brought to faith in Christ.
As Paul speaks about his struggle to see Christ as the culmination of the law, he writes, “For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out” (v.18). When faced with the obligations of the law, he is unable to meet those expectations. But in this internal dialogue with himself, as a Jewish Christian, Paul can say that nothing good dwells in him. Anything good is from Christ, not the law. Even with a new desire, or a new heart, he still lacks the ability to be completely sinless.
Elsewhere Paul writes about how his flesh and the Spirit of God fight each other. “For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do” (Galatians 5:17). There is great opposition between the desires of the old man and the desires of a renewed heart. This opposition is the constant struggle of the believer. When sin gets the upper hand, the believer mourns his offense to God. He seeks forgiveness through repentance, trusting that God has forgiven him and subsequently sets his heart upon not repeating that same offense.
The Confession continues,
“In which war, although the remaining corruption for a time may much prevail, yet through the continual supply of strength from the sanctifying Spirit of Christ, the regenerate part doth overcome; and so the saints grow in grace, perfecting holiness in the fear of God, pressing after an heavenly life, in evangelical obedience to all the commands which Christ as Head and King, in His Word hath prescribed them.”
Even though perfection and sinlessness is a foregone conclusion while on the grassy side of the grave, that is not the end-state. Paul writes, “For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace” (Romans 6:14). The believer’s hope is that upon the second coming, the Lord will grant that perfection we desire in the present moment, though even our desire is imperfect.
That perfection will include a complete removal of the desire for sin and being given a body without the effect of the curse. When Moses descended Mt. Sinai from being with God, he had to veil his face to keep from blinding the people with the glow of God’s presence lingering on him. But God’s people look upon Christ as the “Head and King” for our sanctification. “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” (2 Corinthians 3:18). The whole life of the believer is one of glory, even if we are not as glorious today as we will be then. We let the heavenly glow shine on us.
And instead of being deflated by our current sins, we press on toward the promise of God. There is no room for self-mutilation, just sin-mortification. "Since we have these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from every defilement of body and spirit, bringing holiness to completion in the fear of God” (2 Corinthians 7:1). It is the promise of perfection that causes the believer to persevere. Will we sin less as we mature? Most certainly! But we still carry the old man around on our backs until he is completely removed by the power of word of God.
Why do I continue to do what I know I shouldn’t? Why don’t I do what I know I should? Does there ever come a point when what I do or haven’t done undoes my salvation?
A better question would be, “Is there a point when what I’ve done or left undone undo what Christ has done?”
The doctrine of sanctification is not only a statement that God expects us to live holy lives, but it also confirms that as of today, you are not glorified. If you are alive, if you are on the grassy side of the grave, the work God began in you is yet unfinished. That both gives us hope and explains why we still fall short.
Sanctification is the life-long process of becoming worthy of your calling. You are not as Christ-like today as you will be at the end of your life, or even tomorrow.
Of sanctification, the Confession begins, “They who are united to Christ, effectually called, and regenerated, having a new heart and a new spirit created in them through the virtue of Christ's death and resurrection, are also farther sanctified, really and personally, through the same virtue, by his Word and Spirit dwelling in them; the dominion of the whole body of sin is destroyed, and the several lusts of it are more and more weakened and mortified, and they more and more quickened and strengthened in all saving graces, to the practice of all true holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord.”
We must affirm that regeneration precedes sanctification. If you are being sanctified, if you are hating your sin and loving the Lord more over time, then your being sanctified is evidence of your regeneration, or your second birth, your being “united to Christ”. We do not only sanctify ourselves, but it is the Word and Spirit in us.
In Acts 20, Paul is saying his tearful goodbyes to the elders/pastors in the church at Ephesus. As he’s leaving, he tells them, “And now I commend you to God and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified” (v.32). Christ saved us, full stop; the mechanism God used to save us was by us hearing and believing the word. From that moment on, the word is God’s mechanism of sanctification. We must stay in the word with regularity if we are to be sanctified. In his high priestly prayer, Jesus prayed, “Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth” (John 17:17).
That means we are in the word in different ways. We hear the word preached and expounded during Lord’s Day worship. That’s when the church is gathered to see how a particular passage or topic points the sinner to Christ. We also gather for group Bible study, to be lectured by a teacher and participate in discussion. We mediate on a Psalm or a Proverb or any part of Scripture to do the hard work of thinking and applying it. There’s also something to be said about the daily reading of the word, even if on a particular Tuesday morning we didn’t feel like our lives changed because of it. We are still coming in contact with the revealed word of God. It’s like a rain gauge; it may not seem like it holds much, but it only gets filled with regular rain.
Through regular contact and interaction with Scripture, sin loses its power. Sometimes, God does the miraculous and simply destroys a temptation, and you never face it again. Personally, I don’t know a single person to whom that has happened. Why else would the only prayer that Jesus told us to pray verbatim and regularly (or what’s the point of praying for “daily” bread?) teach us to pray to be delivered from evil? Take heart. Most of the time, killing sin is like weight loss. You only notice a difference after a long fight. The fight is good; it means you have recognized the enemy.
And since it is God’s word that does the work, we can say that it is God who sanctifies us. We must avoid evil, but we must also seek the holiness that God provides. Paul says, “Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it” (1 Thessalonians 5:23-34). Paul does not expect the Thessalonian Christians to do the hard work themselves. They couldn’t save themselves; how can they be expected to become perfect themselves?
But this passage also confirms the purpose of sanctification. Without perfect holiness, we will not see the Lord. That’s why we need Christ’s perfect holiness. At his return, we will be found blameless. “For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace” (Romans 6:14).
So does this mean that we will be perfect before we die? Check back next week to see what the Confession has to say about that.
Families grow through one of two ways: birth or adoption. Of course there are foster situations, but the foster care system is intended to be a short-term solution or lead to adoption. Both are reasons for great joy for a mother and a father.
Scripture uses both metaphors of birth and adoption for how God brings you into his family. Jesus tells Nicodemus that he must be born again (John 3:3). But throughout Paul’s epistles, he primarily focuses on the image of adoption. But throughout Scripture, God’s people are often described as his children. Like today, adoption in the Hellenistic world of the first century had several components that made it a perfect image of what God has done for us in Christ.
The Confession says, “All those that are justified, God vouchsafed, in and for the sake of his only Son Jesus Christ, to make partakers of the grace of adoption, by which they are taken into the number, and enjoy the liberties and privileges of the children of God, have his name put upon them, receive the spirit of adoption, have access to the throne of grace with boldness, are enabled to cry Abba, Father, are pitied, protected, provided for, and chastened by him as by a Father, yet never cast off, but sealed to the day of redemption, and inherit the promises as heirs of everlasting salvation.”
Paul says in Ephesians 1:5-6 that God “predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved.” An adopted son has all the same rights and privileges as a son by birth.
Why does Scripture always speak of adoption as sons? Because that was the means of passing on the familial estate. Daughters married men from other families and thereby joined themselves to that family. Sons were considered to have stayed in the same family. It is not at all inappropriate to say that female Christians are sons in this sense; in fact, it is a great blessing. Women share equally in the inheritance laid up for us all. Having said that, Paul does say that we “shall be sons and daughters to [God]” in 2 Corinthians 6:18.
How, then, were we adopted? It is “in the Beloved.” Through the work of Jesus Christ, the first Son, we are now free and clear to become sons, as well. His perfect obedience, as God’s one and only begotten Son from all eternity, we are counted worthy to be adopted. In Paul’s day, the most common type of person to be adopted was a former slave. If the time came for a slave to be free, he could do so. If he wanted to stay with his master because of the station in life it afforded him, the patriarch of the family could (though not always) offer to adopt this man at whatever age he was.
After all the pomp and ceremony, this man was now a son who would become an equal heir with any other sons in the family (though usually adoption was reserved for families without any natural-born sons; it ensured the family estate passed on without falling into chaos). The same is true of God’s family. Paul says, “The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him” (Romans 8:16-17).
When we are adopted into God’s family as a full son, we become heirs with the only begotten Son. What is it we inherit? We inherit all that Christ already has—a kingdom defined by righteousness. We will conquer the nations with him, and we will receive his own name (Revelation 3:12). We will have the full blessings of being sinless, which is perfect communion with the Father.
Adoption comes with many benefits, of which the primary benefit is a loving father. For all the malodorous feculence on the internet, I have seen a few videos of children being told that they’ve been officially adopted. I’m not crying, you’re crying. The child may have lost a family through some great tragedy, or the child may be being fostered. Regardless, when you’re adopted into a loving family, you have achieved a level of joy that children born into a good family do not usually feel or recognize.
Our “liberties and privileges” of adoption into the heavenly family far surpass the joy of an earthly family. What can an earthly father, with all our faults, offer a child that God the Father cannot offer in spades? The Psalmist tells us, “As a father shows compassion to his children, so the Lord shows compassion to those who fear him” (Psalm 103:13). And the proverb says, “In the fear of the Lord one has strong confidence, and his children will have a refuge” (Proverbs 14:26).
Fear is not unhealthy if it is reverent. Having a healthy fear of a good and loving father does not come from the terror of abuse; it comes from the knowledge that my father will never harm me, but any displeasure I have from his discipline is a natural outpouring of his great love for me. You only have to see the statistics of fatherless homes to desire the good that comes from a reverent fear of an earthly father. How much more should we fear our heavenly Father! And no matter the relationship you have with your earthly father, you are welcomed with loving arms by the heavenly Father.
His children also reap the benefits of the providence of God. He is not only sovereign over this world, but he guides and directs the affairs of this world for his own glory and for our own benefit. We can rest in the truth that whatever comes our way, God has not left us or abandoned us. Whatever tragedy he gives us, it is better if we endure it. Whatever good thing he takes from us, it is better if we suffer its loss. Our finite minds are yet incapable of understanding the secret things of God.
But regardless of what the day brings, a real source of joy and peace is that our adoption, ordained by the Father and purchased by the Son, is sealed by the Spirit. Paul warns us of grieving the Holy Spirit, because it is the Spirit who “sealed [us] for the day of redemption” (Ephesians 4:30). Our adoption is foundational. It is unchanging. The adoption papers are stamped with the divine seal.
It is through the providence of God, it is through enduring and enjoying the trials and blessings of our adoption, that we grow into greater Christ-likeness. Next week, we’ll see in greater detail this lifetime process of sanctification.
The Dobbs decision is a significant legal victory that will protect many unborn people. Of that, there can be no doubt. States will, at least until the next fight, be able to legislate their own protections for children in the womb. But that also means that states will be able to legislate as much wickedness as our deceitful hearts can imagine. It is in one sense a great victory, and in another sense, business as usual. It is a great victory, also, for reason, logic, and definitions of words.
If we believe that Scripture clearly teaches the sanctity of human life, if we don’t define "sanctity of life” as complete bodily autonomy, if we just had a five-day VBS about the sanctity of human life, if we support Clarity Pregnancy Care Center with our offerings and advertising dollars, why did we not say anything about the Dobbs decision at worship this past Sunday?
This is a good opportunity to remind ourselves of what we do when we gather for worship. Worship begins when God calls us, it is filled with our response, and it concludes when God sends us out. Worship is God-centered, not man-focused. Worship addresses our needs by addressing our greatest need—Jesus Christ.
For many of us, we have had months now of nothing but news about the Supreme Court. We’ve heard conservative praise and liberal disdain. We’ve heard about how much votes matter and how elections have consequences. Worship is an opportunity to distance ourselves from the wickedness and madness of a world hell-bent on destroying itself from the inside out. Worship, however, is when we focus on what God has already said, not talking heads with manicured mustaches.
When the Obergefell decision was handed down, the only mention of it in worship was when Pastor Robb said that no minister of Mt. Pisgah would be performing weddings that did not reflect a monogamous, heterosexual, and covenantal marriage as ordained in Genesis 2 and restated throughout Scripture. It’s not as if that was the first or last time that biblical marriage was preached on or taught about at Mt. Pisgah. There wasn’t a lot that needed to be said that we hadn’t been saying already.
We definitely do not hide from the controversial issues of our day. As long as Mt. Pisgah's current leadership is in place, we will hold fast to a biblical, traditional theology of marriage and the family. We will teach on the sanctity of life from womb to tomb, just like we did at VBS. King David was knit in his mother’s womb, and John the Baptist praised God in his mother's womb. It is unequivocally nonsense to believe that what takes place in the womb is anything less than life worthy of equal protection. It is also nonsense to think that the progressive arguments about “choice” and “rights” actually have anything to do with “choice” and “rights”. We must be intellectually rigorous and honest, not emotionally selective and lazy, and we must see through the thinly veiled buzzwords to understand what is really being argued.
All that is to say that I make no apology for holding to the Christian understanding of human life that was assumed in the West until a bunch of hippies changed their minds in 1973. King Jehu turned the temple of Baal into a public bathroom. We should do the same with the paper Roe vs. Wade was printed on.
But that brings me back to worship. The sermon series are planned months in advance. The pulpit is where God speaks, not where the preacher rides his hobby horse. The next sermon series throughout the rest of the summer will be on a smattering of theological topics so that if you’re gone on vacation one weekend (not all the weekends), you don’t miss an integral part of the series.
That isn’t to say that we would not halt a series for a week or two if the need arose. But that would have to be something extraordinary that affected Mt. Pisgah in a peculiar way. For instance, when we paid off all of our building debt, we had a guest speaker and a break in the preaching series. But the next week, we were back on track in God’s Word.
If we preach the headlines every time anything of consequence happens in this world, we would be doing you a great disservice. God does not respond to this world; the world must respond to him. So we preach through books of the Bible, or we preach on individual passages. Who knows, this summer, you may very well get a sermon on the sanctity of human life…
God sets the pace of worship, not the president, judges, or forked-tongued politicians. This is a principled stance that guards against having to return to milk instead of solid food over and over again. A steady diet of Scripture is what the church needs, not pastoral punditry in the pulpit.
We preach Christ and him crucified, not the headlines.
Next week, back to the London Baptist Confession where we belong!