Is Sin Really All That Bad?

One would expect any Christian to answer the question posed in the title with an affirmative and immediate, “Yes!” However, the daily decisions we make often tell another story.

We’re quick to recoil when we hear of horrific acts committed against children, marital infidelity, cold-blooded murder, or, you know, other really bad sins–especially, the sins of others. Yet, it’s our own day-to-day living, in both the major and the mundane, that we are often slow to consider. At times, we fail to measure the words we speak, the attitudes we choose, or the media we consume against the standard of God’s Word. It’s often in the name of cultural engagement that we capitulate to content that has no place in the life of a follower of Christ. After all, it’s much easier to row with the current of our culture than paddle upstream.

While preparing to teach at our church’s young adult community, I was reading through Ralph Venning’s The Sinfulness of Sin. Venning, a Puritan and English non-conformist, had a steadfast desire that Christ be exalted and that any measure of sin be–as it should–abhorred. Here are a few of his remarks that struck me as I read:

“One may suffer and not sin, but it is impossible to sin and not to suffer.”

“Sin can do, without the Devil, that which the Devil cannot do without sin, and that is, undo men [and women].”

“Sin is an evil beyond the skill and power of all creation to cure and to cleanse.”

It is clearly evident that Venning has considered carefully what divine Scripture reveals in no casual terms–that sin, in any measure, is utterly and totally evil.

Contemplate the words of Christ in Matthew 5:29-30

If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell.”

Jesus makes it clear that sin is not be tolerated (see esp., Eph. 5:3, 11). Sin must be dealt with swiftly and severely. Think of it…if I were to deal with sin as seriously as Christ commands above, others would surely take notice and likely consider me both foolish and fanatical. The question is, are we willing to be obedient, or is our greater concern what others will think?

Friend, every decision you make either serves to edify or erode your heart, and must be made with the utmost care (see Prov. 4:23-27). There is no such thing as the “neutral” Christian life. You’re either, by grace, pursuing “the holiness without which no one will see the Lord” (Heb. 12:14). Or, because any measure of sin is being tolerated, grievously, you’re moving backward.

Believer, in all of this, remember that you stand securely before the throne of grace solely on the merits of Christ by faith. Indeed, it’s in recognizing the putrid nature of our sin that allows us to view Christ in all his glorious sweetness. Therefore, in view of God’s rich grace toward us in Christ Jesus, let us make it our daily practice to make choices that will stir our affection for Christ, making no room for sin. Or, as John Owen has said, “Be killing sin or it will be killing you.”

Venning’s The Sinfulness of Sin is available for free, in PDF format, here.

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REVIEW | “Prepared by Grace, For Grace” by Beeke and Smalley

9781601782342__69274.1369337565.1280.1280I appreciate books that seek to clarify misunderstanding and misconception. So often, in the biblical-theological world and otherwise, the proverbial pendulum is swung to the far right or left and a valuable topic and/or perspective is terribly misconstrued, or even lost, in the process. The matter of “preparatory grace” is no stranger to the aforementioned. In their new volume, Prepared by Grace, for Grace: The Puritans on God’s Ordinary Way of Leading Sinners to Christ (Reformation Heritage Books, 2013), Joel R. Beeke and Paul M. Smalley offer a thorough look at this important subject among an array of Reformed and Puritan theologians.

Table of Contents:

Introduction: The Question of Preparationism

  1. Preparation and Modern Scholarship
  2. Precedents to Puritan Preparation: Augustine to Calvin
  3. Preparation and Early English Puritans: Perkins, Sibbes, and Preston
  4. Preparation for Conversion: William Ames
  5. Preparation in Early New England (I): Thomas Hooker
  6. Preparation in Early New England (II): Shepard and Pemble
  7. Preparation and the Antinomian Controversy: John Cotton
  8. Preparation at the Pinnacle of Puritanism: Westminster, Burroughs, and Guthrie
  9. Preparation under a Scholastic Lens: Norton
  10. Preparation and Later Puritan Critiques: Goodwin and Firmin
  11. Later Puritan Preparation: Flavel and Bunyan
  12. Jonathan Edwards and Seeking God
  13. Continental Reformed Perspectives: Zwingli to Witsius
  14. The Grace of Preparation for Faith

Appendix: William Ames’s Theological Disputation on Preparation

I must say at the outset that which is duly noted by Sinclair Ferguson in the foreword, that the authors examining the topic at hand may be characterized as both meticulous scholar and gifted pastor.  Thus their writing is not only academically thorough, but also readable and edifying.

In terms of the book’s content and structure, Beeke and Smalley begin with a chapter entitled “The Question of Preparation.” This chapter lays the groundwork of defining terms and paving the way for the remainder of the book. In their foundational chapter, the authors note that their study will be conducted from the perspective of those that believe firmly that “a righteous and holy God saves sinners “by grace through faith” (Eph. 2:8)” (p. 1). Thus, the book is designed to address the question of “how God ordinarily brings sinners to the point of trusting in Christ alone for salvation” (p. 1).  Being a work that examines God’s work in saving sinners, the authors are careful to avoid the terms of “preparationism” or “preparationist” so as to not confuse their subject with those that would argue for the notion that the human being prepares himself for God’s saving activity.

The book then moves through Puritan history making mention of a handful of Puritans who both advocated and critiqued certain aspects of “preparatory grace”.  Notably, the authors deal with Augustine and Calvin who held a high view of God’s sovereignty in salvation and how they understood preparatory grace. Additionally, in terms of the Puritan figures who posited a sort of separation from sin via human effort, prior to salvation, the authors expose their errors.

For me, while this book is thoroughly readable, for many, much of the content may be quite tedious to work through. The highlights would be the chapters on Calvin/Augustine and particularly “Jonathan Edwards and Seeking God”.  The final chapter that summarizes the book’s findings is immensely helpful as well.  The authors note 8 ways in which the doctrine of Puritan preparation is helpful for the believer to consider:

1.) Puritan preparation assists the free offer of the gospel.

2.) Puritan preparation is thoroughly Reformed, not Roman Catholic or Arminian.

3.) Puritan preparation highlights the common work of the Holy Spirit.

4.) Puritan preparation engages sinners with the law but not legalism.

5.) Puritan preparation respects the mystery of regeneration in its timing.

6.) Puritan preparation honors God as Creator and Savior.

7.) Puritan preparation reveals the sufficiency of Christ.

8.) Puritan preparation is biblical.

In sum, the Puritans were those who sought to know the Lord with great fervor. Their desire to understand the way in which a holy God saves sinners was far from casual. Studying the way the Puritans understood God’s saving activity ought to lead the believer to a greater sense of God’s rich grace, a great humility, and a response of praise and worship for God’s immense kindness in revealing His Son to underserving sinners. Whenever I read a book by Joel Beeke, I come away with a greater desire to know God in Christ Jesus with the same depth, ardor and sincerity as the Puritans did. Encountering this book was no exception. I recommend it!

*A copy of the book was provided by the publisher, at no charge, for the purpose of review.  I was under no obligation to offer a positive review.

Obedience…Not “Victory”

Jerry Bridges, in his classic The Pursuit of Holiness, offers some convicting and clarifying words relating to the process of Christian growth:

“It is time for us Christians to face up to our responsibility for holiness. Too often we say we are “defeated” by this or that sin. No, we are not defeated; we are simply disobedient! It might be well if we stopped using the terms “victory” and “defeat” to describe our progress in holiness. Rather we should use the terms “obedience” and “disobedience.” When I say I am defeated by some sin, I am unconsciously slipping out from under my responsibility. I am saying something outside of me has defeated me. But when I say I am disobedient, that places the responsibility for my sin squarely on me. We may, in fact, be defeated, but the reason we are defeated is because we have chosen to disobey. We have chosen to entertain lustful thoughts, or to harbor resentment, or to shade the truth a little. We need to brace ourselves up, and to realize that we are responsible for our thoughts, attitudes, and actions. We need to reckon on the fact that we died to sin’s reign, that it no longer has any dominion over us, that God has united us with the risen Christ in all His power, and has given us the Holy Spirit to work in us. Only as we accept our responsibility and appropriate God’s provisions will we make any progress in our pursuit of holiness.”

(From The Pursuit of Holiness – Chapter 8)

REVIEW: Heart of the Matter: Daily Reflections for Changing Hearts and Lives (CCEF)

I can say, without a doubt, that some of the most potent, Christ-exalting, gospel-centered biblical counsel I have encountered has come through the speaking and writing of the faculty at the Christian Counseling & Education Foundation (CCEF).  These men and women are not interested in quick-fix, self-help, moralistic nonsense.  They are unswervingly committed to the gospel of Jesus Christ.  They are of the conviction that real, Spirit-wrought power for the changing of the human heart occurs as we dive more deeply into the gospel, applying it to the myriad of circumstances and situations of our daily lives.

The writings and resources of the CCEF are incredibly extensive.  Effectively working through all of them, though undoubtedly worthwhile, would take years to accomplish.  That’s why I was immensely excited when I was introduced to Heart of the Matter: Daily Reflections for Changing Hearts and Lives (New Growth Press, 2012),ed. by Nancy B. Winter.  This daily devotional is a collection of some of the most powerful excerpts from the writings of those on staff at CCEF.  The authors include, but are not limited to, Paul David Tripp, Edward T. Welch, David Powlison, and Timothy S. Lane. Organized by the calendar year and paired with a daily reading from the Scriptures, these vignettes are sincere, to the point, and clearly hopeful in the power of God to change hearts through the gospel of Christ.  While deeply steeped in the grace believers have received from God in Christ, each devotion then includes questions for personal reflection and application.  As I mentioned, these devotions are not designed to give the reader 5-steps to personal change/fulfillment, but rather are written to make the reader aware of the sovereignty of God, the grace presently available in the gospel, and hope that real Sprit-wrought change is possible.

Two things that make this resource particularly helpful are the Source Index and Scripture Index included at the conclusion of the volume.  This will be of great assistance to readers who, when particularly impacted by a given devotional, desire to know the resource from which the excerpt came.  Additionally, the Scripture Index allows the reader to use the devotional as a companion when studying a specific book of the Bible.

In a day and age where so many “Christian” devotionals are filled with mere fluff, Heart of the Matter is a distinctly different resource that will assuredly encourage believers to reflect more seriously upon the gospel and be used by God to powerfully change hearts and lives to the praise of his glorious grace.  I wholeheartedly commend it to you!

*A copy of the book was provided by the publisher, at no charge, for the purpose of review.  I was under no obligation to offer a positive review.

BOOK DETAILS

Publisher: New Growth Press
Author: CCEF Faculty
ISBN-13: 9781936768653
Cover Type: Hardcover
List Price: $19.99
Pre-Order at Westminster Bookstore$17.99 – 10% Off

You may also pre-order the volume for $17.59 from the New Growth Press webstore: Available Here.

Piper on Calvin: After Darkness, Light

Yesterday was Reformation Day, and Desiring God made available a video of John Piper discussing the impact of John Calvin’s ministry on the city of Geneva.  Check out the video below…

_____________________________________

(Introduction from desiringGod.org, posted 10/31/12)

Today is Reformation Day. Martin Luther posted his explosive 95 theses October 31, 1517. In the wake of Luther’s life, an army of Reformers soon emerged. Foremost among them was John Calvin. Together they recovered for the church the supreme authority and clarity of the Scriptures. Grace-erasing tradition had buried the glory of the gospel. But now light was breaking out. So the Reformers took up a Latin phrase to describe the wonder: “Post Tenebras Lux”—“After Darkness… Light.”

In honor of Calvin’s ministry and, even more, in celebration of the God who restored the gospel to his church, we are making this video available today. My prayer is that it would stir in your heart a fresh passion for the majesty of the word of God.  (Continue reading…)

GOOD NEWS: Having nothing. Possessing everything.

“Known—yet regarded as unknown; dying—and yet we live on; beaten—and yet not killed; sorrowful—yet always rejoicing; poor—yet making many rich; having nothing—and yet possessing everything.” 

2 Corinthians 6:9-10 
 


The Christian is a paradox. Because he has Christ, he
has the unsearchable riches of Christ. Believers . . .

have full and free forgiveness of all their sins;

are fully accepted in the Beloved;

are clothed in Christ’s spotless righteousness;

are adopted into the family of God;

have a perfect title to heaven through Christ;

have God for their Father,

have Christ for their Savior,

have the Holy Spirit for their Comforter,

have heaven for their home;

shall be like Christ and with Christ forever;

shall inherit all things;

are sure of ultimate victory over . . .

sins,

the world,

the flesh,

the devil,

all sorrow,

death,

hell.

-William S. Plumer (1802-1880)

 

*For more gospel-soaked goodness from Plumer, consider The Grace of Christ: Sinners Saved by Unmerited Kindness (eBook).  ON SALE at MonergismBooks.com for only $1.75!

(HT: Grace Gems)

Dangerous Calling: Tripp on Pastoral Ministry

Every time I read or listen to Paul Tripp, one liberating message consistently resounds in my head and heart:

As desperate sinners we can be ruthlessly honest about our need for grace, because the very grace we so desperately need is available to us–right now–in the person and work of Jesus Christ.

I was recently encouraged, as I opened my email inbox, to find some exciting news from Crossway in the form of an advanced-copy PDF.   In his forthcoming book, Dangerous Calling: Confronting the Unique Challenges of Pastoral Ministry, Tripp recounts some of the most trying experiences within his own life and ministry in order to provide a “diagnostic” that will help pastors honestly face and wisely navigate the challenges, temptations, and potential pitfalls frequently facing those in pastoral ministry.  I’ve only begun to flip through the pages, but it is clear that Tripp powerfully demonstrates how the liberating message of grace is needed as much by the pastor as it is by the parishioner.

Divided into 3 parts, Tripp begins by “Examining Pastoral Culture”.  In this section, Tripp uncovers the common dangers that pastors face when they lack community and personal accountability, refuse to listen to those around them, face relational difficulties within their own marriage and family, allow their identity to be defined by their ministry, only approach the Scriptures with an academic bent (or as only applying to the lives of others), form misconceptions about ministry “success”, and fail to consistently preach the truth of the gospel to themselves.

Tripp moves forward to examine the ramifications of forgetting who God is.  In a section entitled “The Danger of Losing Your Awe (Forgetting Who God Is)”, Tripp examines how, as Warfield stated, “constant contact with divine things” can result in complacent theological familiarity and a loss of awe for the power, presence, and person of God.  Forgetting who God is results in sinful fear, secrecy, complacency and frustration.

Part 3, “The Danger of Arrival: Forgetting Who You Are”, takes aim at the dangers of forming a magnified view of ourselves that is selfish, sinful, and altogether unbiblical.  Tripp notes that when we choose to become the objects of our worship we prideful, defensive, disconnected, overtly self-confident, and always desiring to make ourselves known in an unhealthy way.  Tripp notes how choosing to worship God personally and privately, will allow us to encounter the glory of God in such a way that it will then allow us to see ourselves for who we truly are, stripping us of our self-focus, self-righteousness, self-sufficiency, and more…in turn allowing us to truly experience life.

In each section, Tripp never leaves you guessing as to how God’s grace reaches into each situation with its healing power.  The strength of Tripp’s writing lies in his ability to surgically, and thus often uncomfortably, address the infections and wounds of sin within the life of the believer, and in this particular case, the pastor.  He then wisely notes how our sinful hearts often try to cover over these wounds, or out rightly ignore them, which leads to increased damage to our hearts and destruction in the lives of those around us.  Again, he never leaves the person with a sense of despair, no matter how deeply the sin has permeated one’s own heart and life.  God has given Paul Tripp the ability to speak the Good News of the gospel of God’s grace toward us in Christ with such clarity and effective soul application that even the most desperate person, who chooses to believe, will rejoice in the light of the availability and liberating power of God’s grace.

As a young minister who has served in various pastoral capacities over the last 5 years, even in my quick reading of this book, Tripp has already uncovered many of the sinful tendencies I see and struggle with in my own life.  Thus, I can confidently say, for the young pastor or the seasoned one, this book is a must read!  Pick up a copy, be personally and ministerially honest, and glorify God by applying and reveling in the now-available grace of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Dangerous Calling is expected for publication on October 31, 2012.  Until then, you can pre-order a hardback copy at Amazon for $11.86 (48% off the cover price of $22.99).  You can also check out the info page at Crossway for endorsements and additional details.

NOTE: I was provided with a complimentary advanced-copy PDF of this title from the publisher for the purpose of review, and was under no obligation to offer a positive review.

All That He Is Becomes Mine…

It is astonishing that I should so be one
with Christ, that all that He is becomes
mine; and all that I am becomes His!

His glory mine; my humiliation His!

His righteousness mine; my guilt His!

His joy mine; my sorrow His!

His riches mine; my poverty His!

His life mine; my death His!

His heaven mine; my hell His!

The daily walk of faith is a continuous
development of the wonders of this
wondrous truth. That in traveling to Him
empty; I should return from Him full.
That in going to Him weak; I should come
away from Him strong. That in bending
my steps to Him in all darkness, perplexity,
and grief; I should retrace them all light,
and joy, and gladness.

Octavius Winslow (emphasis mine)

If you’re interested in reading more of Winslow’s work, consider Soul Depths and Soul Heights: Sermons on Psalm 130 and No Condemnation in Christ Jesus.

(HT: Grace Gems)

GOOD NEWS: Calvin on Justification

“Justified by faith is he who, excluded from the righteousness of works, grasps the righteousness of Christ through faith, and clothed in it, appears in God’s sight not as a sinner but as a righteous man. Therefore, we explain justification simply as the acceptance with which God receives us into his favor as righteous men. And we say that it consists in the remission of sins and the imputation of Christ’s righteousness.”

-John Calvin, John T. McNeil, ed., Institutes of the Christian Religion (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1960) III.xi.2, p. 726-7.

(HT: Brian Hedges)

GOOD NEWS: Warfield on the Full Satisfaction of Christ’s Atoning Work

“God as a truthful, righteous judge cannot look upon a sinner as anything but a sinner. He cannot pretend that the sinner is not guilty. Nor can he accept a sinner into his fellowship. Nor can he forego punishment. Nor can the punishment be less than what is demanded by the offense. Thus to save sinners, God offered his Son as their substitute, imputing their sins to him and making expiation by his death. Christ did not pay fifty cents on the dollar but, suffering in our place, made full payment for our sins. God forgives, therefore, not out of hand but on the ground of justice, in keeping with a law whose demand has been fully satisfied by Christ the substitute, who out of infinite love provided himself as the substitute.”

Zaspel, Fred G. (2010-09-02). The Theology of B. B. Warfield: A Systematic Summary (p. 297). Good News Publishers/Crossway Books. Kindle Edition.