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Jesu, Juva

Posts Tagged ‘grace

Sweeter than honey

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My pastors are preaching through Jesus’s sermon on the mount. It’s refreshing to be reminded of the rightful place of God’s law in the Christian life. Sometimes it is easy for us to dismiss the place of law for the Christian; after all, we are not under law, but under grace. And since the law cannot save us, is there any use for it other than to condemn us and drive our miserable souls to Jesus?

If we were to stop there, the godly sentiments of Psalm 119 are left sounding completely foreign to us. How then are we to understand the law as a source of blessing and delight?

Protestants have historically recognized three uses of the law: to restrain our wickedness, to reveal sin, and to direct and guide the lives of Christians. We might say that this third use, often called the “rule of life,” is to be led in the pleasant “paths of righteousness.” It is in this way that the law brings us life and joy rather than condemnation. And in fact God always intended for his people to relate to his law this way. We can see this in the very giving of the law: he introduces it by emphasizing that “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery” (Exodus 20). Israel was to obey God as those who were already saved, whom God had already chosen to dwell among — not as those who were trying to earn God’s favor and salvation in the first place. It is true that God is holy, that none of us is without sin, and we cannot approach him without suffering the curse of the law. But God knows our frame; he understood that we would sin. He made temporary provision for sins in the sacrificial system, and made permanent provision for our sins in Jesus, who became a curse for us.

Judicially the law does accuse us, and we must deal judicially with the law through Jesus or else suffer condemnation and wrath. But as Trinitarians we know that there are always complementary facets. Relationally God’s people deal with the law as those who are adopted sons. God is the father who puts a dollar in our grubby little hands to buy him a birthday present, and then delights in our present! Calvin puts it this way:

When God is reconciled to us, there is no reason to fear that he will reject us, because we are not perfect; for though our works be sprinkled with many spots, they will be acceptable to him, and though we labour under many defects, we shall yet be approved by him. How so? Because he will spare us; for a father is indulgent to his children, and though he may see a blemish in the body of his son, he will not yet cast him out of his house; nay, though he may have a son lame, or squint-eyed, or singular for any other defect, he will yet pity him, and will not cease to love him: so also is the case with respect to God, who, when he adopts us as his children, will forgive our sins. And as a father is pleased with every small attention when he sees his son submissive, and does not require from him what he requires from a servant; so God acts; he repudiates not our obedience, however defective it may be.

Because the law comes to us from a wise and loving father, a wise and good king and shepherd, and a life-giving helper, we ought to count it as a delight — and we can be confident that patient trust and persistent obedience will bring us true blessing. And because we are sons, we ought also to be growing in the law, seeking to imitate our father by meditating on his law and obeying it.

The fact that law is instruction from our father means that it helps to make us wise and mature. That should come as no surprise: Solomon, who excelled all the kings of the earth in wisdom, gave us the book of Proverbs, which is itself an extended meditation on the ten commandments. Consider: it comes to us in the context of the fifth commandment (“my son”), and teaches us about the fourth commandment (work), the sixth commandment (anger), the seventh commandment (the forbidden woman), and others. Jesus, the one greater than Solomon, does exactly the same in the sermon on the mount, drawing wisdom from God’s law (“you have heard”) to teach us how we ought to tend the soil of our hearts and to warn us of the ensnaring and hardening effects of sin.

Paul speaks similarly of maturity in Galatians 4. The law is a guardian or tutor, under which we are indistinguishable from slaves. But in Jesus the Son we receive adoption as sons; we are no longer under the tutor but are heirs come into our inheritance. And yet clearly this does not mean we should put our tutor and lessons out of mind. True, there are some parts of our discipline and training (e.g., dietary laws) from which we are now set free, just as a child no longer drinks from a bottle, a runner in a marathon is no longer running sprints, and a pianist on stage is no longer playing scales and etudes. But God intends that even in the freedom of sonship we live out of all of our training; and there is a great deal of the law that we must still obey and build upon with patience and persistence. In fact, God now imprints his law on our minds and hearts (Hebrews 8-10).

Since we now deal with the law relationally, our obedience is not a matter of earning and keeping God’s favor but is a matter of loyalty and allegiance to God. And so the law may sober us but it cannot terrify us. In fact, we must follow the pattern of David, Solomon and Jesus: we should train ourselves to think of God’s expectations for his sons as a delight, as the path of blessing and protection; and we should labor to grow in wisdom and maturity through studying God’s law, meditating on it and disciplining ourselves to obey it.

Written by Scott Moonen

March 23, 2011 at 11:17 am

The Binding of God

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. . . the essence of Calvin’s conception of the covenant is the notion of the binding of God. This binding is God’s own act of joining Himself with His creatures. . . . The gracious self-binding of the infinite God whereby He condescends to enter into a mutual covenant with His fallen and unworthy yet sovereignly chosen people is eloquently portrayed by Calvin in his sermon on Deuternonomy 4:44-5:3.

For if God only demanded his due, we should still be required to cling to him and to confine ourselves to his commandments. Moreover, when it pleases him by his infinite goodness to enter into a common treaty, and when he mutually binds himself to us without having to do so, when he enumerates that treaty article by article, when he chooses to be our father and Savior, when he receives us as his flock and his inheritance, let us abide under his protection, filled with its eternal life for us. When all of these things are done, is it proper that our hearts become mollified even if they were at one time stone? When creatures see that the living God humbles himself to that extent, that he wills to enter into covenant that he might say: “Let us consider our situation. It is true that there is an infinite distance between you and me and that I should be able to command of you whatever seems good to me without having anything in common with you, for you are not worthy to approach me and have any dealings with whoever can command of you what he wills, with no further declarations to you except: ‘That is what I will and conceive.’ But behold, I set aside my right. I come here to present myself to you as your guide and savior. I want to govern you. You are like my little family. And if you are satisfied with my Word, I will be your King. Furthermore, do not think that the covenant which I made with your fathers was intended to take anything from you. For I have no need, nor am I indigent in anything. And what could you do for me anyway? But I procure your well-being and your salvation. Therefore on my part, I am prepared to enter into covenant, article by article, and to pledge myself to you.”

The covenant, therefore, highlights God’s grace.

— Peter Lillback, The Binding of God, pp. 137-138.

We are as the prodigal son.

Written by Scott Moonen

October 5, 2009 at 5:54 am

Hospitality

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Peter Leithart writes of hospitality:

Feasting and care for the poor have been polarized in contemporary culture. If you’re a “conservative,” you’re in favor of free trade, consumption without guilt, festivity without concern for those who can’t join you, who probably deserve their poverty anyway. If you’re a “liberal,” you renounce festivity because other people are hungry and how dare you eat when someone else isn’t.

The Biblical prophets combine a promise of festivity with severe denunciation of greed, luxury, and oppression. But they combine the two seamlessly by emphasizing hospitality. The promise is a feast like the feasts of the Pentateuch, where the widow, stranger, and Levite are not forgotten but included as welcome guests.

Against both “conservative” indifference and liberal asceticism, the Bible presents the ideal of the hospitable society.

Salvation Army Band

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Truth adorned with more than just words.

Written by Scott Moonen

September 18, 2007 at 7:01 am

Fear the LORD

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Fear the Lord, for:

Blessed is everyone who fears the Lord,
  who walks in his ways!
You shall eat the fruit of the labor of your hands;
  you shall be blessed, and it shall be well with you.

Your wife will be like a fruitful vine
  within your house;
your children will be like olive shoots
  around your table.
Behold, thus shall the man be blessed
  who fears the Lord.

The Lord bless you from Zion!
  May you see the prosperity of Jerusalem
  all the days of your life!
May you see your children's children!
  Peace be upon Israel!

  -- Psalm 128

Living by faith alone

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Man now had to learn to live by faith: our sin and the misery in the world had made it appear that man could expect no favor from God. To be sure, man had also lived by faith in Paradise, but then his belief made perfect sense. After the fall, man had to live by faith alone. God drove man out of Paradise and appointed an angel to guard the way to the tree of life. At that point the trials of life by faith alone began. All the same, man still enjoyed the privilege of faith in God’s continued favor.

— S. G. de Graaf

Sin blinds our eyes to the Lordship and goodness of our Savior. Consequently, faith is not a natural way to think, and while it is a precious gift from God, we must also battle to see with eyes of faith.

HT: wedgewords

Written by Scott Moonen

April 8, 2007 at 8:32 pm

Conviction and the cure

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My pastors have been preaching through Exodus, and just finished ten weeks in the ten commandments. They have done an incredible job of helping us to feel the weight and glory of God’s holiness; but without letting us forget that the law sits on the bedrock foundation of the gospel (“I am the Lord your God, who brought you . . . out of the house of slavery”), and that our reading of the law absolutely must be infused with gospel hope.

Yet it is still so tempting for me to hear such a message and nurse my conviction, without really going any farther. Perhaps I resolve to change some things, but in reality my ears are tuning out the very gospel hope and power that are the only way I can possibly move beyond conviction. Mark Lauterbach critiques his sermons on this point, but we should also critique our listening — are our ears tuned in to savor conviction, or savor the gospel:

Is conviction of sin the measure of a sermon? … I used to notice that people would give me the most response to a sermon that was the most demanding. “Oh Pastor, that was such a wonderful sermon, I was so very convicted.” Should I have found this encouraging?

[But] while conviction is a gift to us, it is always conviction to lead people to the cross. I know the arguments about people needing to be slain by the law — and agree that awareness of need of forgiveness is crucial. But if I leave them there, I have not been faithful to the Savior. Conviction should drive people to the cross — and they should leave with hope toward the Savior.

We want to welcome the Holy Spirit’s conviction, and repent, but we shouldn’t get off the bus there. Our conviction should drive us to look upward to our Savior rather than inward on our sin; the gospel is our only hope and power for forgiveness and for real change.

How do we make that something more than a mantra? How can we practically seize this gospel power to change? Here are some regular practices that can strengthen our faith and empower our obedience; please comment to add more:

  1. Regularly recount the gospel to ourselves, thanking God that our sins are completely forgiven and that we approach him clothed in the righteousness of Christ.
  2. Regularly acknowledge that whatever success we have in obedience is a gift from God.
  3. Regularly pray for the Holy Spirit’s help to change, knowing that this grace and help will surely be given to us because of the cross.
  4. Remind ourselves of the reasons that we should obey. Regularly feed our souls with these truths as a way of provoking joyful, grateful, faith-filled obedience:
    1. God is my creator, and he is good; he knows what is best for me.
    2. True and lasting joy are only found in God and in pleasing him; these idols that I cling to cannot compare to God’s glory and beauty and goodness and joy.
    3. God has saved me from condemnation and wrath, and my gratitude at this precious gift should overflow in obedience.
    4. God is my loving father and I should reflect his character.
    5. Christ has purchased my very life with his blood and I should reflect his character.
    6. The Holy Spirit indwells me and empowers me to reflect Christ’s character.
  5. Read books that fuel our appreciation for the gospel and our love for God, such as Jerry Bridges’ The Gospel For Real Life, C. J. Mahaney’s Living the Cross Centered Life, and John Piper’s When I Don’t Desire God (download, purchase).

Crossposted to Reflections on Upchurch