Overcoming Legalism – Sean M. Lucas

TT-June-2016You will recall that legalism is the theme of the June Tabletalk (the subtitle says it all: “the delusion of man-made religion”). In the last full-featured article on the subject, Dr. Sean M. Lucas addresses how to overcome legalism, with the revealing subtitle – “Let No One Disqualify You.”

His answer to the sin of legalism is really simple: the gospel of Jesus Christ – the good news of who Christ is for us, what He has done for us, and what we are in Him.

Here is a part of what he has to say (worth your time reading the rest of his article too):

Pilgrim’s Progress

This gospel formation means that Christianity really isn’t about rule-keeping. To be sure, a Christian obeys God’s Word, but the way to obedience is not by focusing on keeping the rules, flying right, and doing better. At the heart of what Jesus does in the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5 is to explode the notion that righteousness is about external obedience to the law. When He says, “Unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 5:20), He tells us that the way to righteousness is not through mere external obedience. Instead, the way to a righteous life is the Spirit’s inside-out transformation as we progress in living into the gospel. As we use the means of grace—including corporate worship that centers on the Word, sacraments, prayer, and fellowship, as well as private worship—God meets us, drives the gospel into our hearts, confronts our patterns of sinful thoughts, words, and deeds, and makes us new.

But this sort of gospel transformation takes time. We progress in it as we are formed and shaped and molded by the Spirit’s work. As we go further up and farther in, we see more sin, confront more deception, believe more gospel, receive more divine comfort. We learn by experience and gain wisdom and insight as we turn from folly to reverence and love the Lord.

And here’s the thing: as we live in step with the Spirit, we actually live in ways that “keep the rules.” Those who bear the Spirit-fruit of love will be those who keep the two tables of the Ten Commandments. Those who bear joy will know the strength to say no to sin and yes to righteousness. Those who bear peace will be whole and wholesome, not restless or anxious. And so forth. We keep the rules, not by focusing on them as merely deeds that must be done, but by focusing our hearts on Jesus, who He is, what He has done, and what He is doing by the Spirit in us to make us fulfill the law.

Source: Overcoming Legalism by Sean Michael Lucas

Note to Self: Forgive

Begin by reading and meditating on Colossians 3:12-13.

Dear Self,

You need to forgive. You need to. …You need to forgive others because God in Jesus Christ has forgiven you. Your infinitely holy and just Maker has not held your sins against you, but instead has held them against his Son on the cross. Your faith rests squarely on this act of substitution.

Your refusal to forgive one who has sinned against you is a manifestation of hypocrisy – a telltale sign that either you have not experienced God’s forgiving grace, or that you take such grace for granted. Why do you withhold what has been given so freely to you? Have your offenders done worse than you? Are their crimes against you more severe than your crimes against God and others? When you refuse to forgive, it can only mean that you have not yet come to understand forgiveness, or you have been taking it for granted and have not sufficiently learned from it.

You need to forgive to make much of Jesus and his gospel. This is the real reason to extend forgiveness to the undeserving. …Forgiveness points us all back to our greatest need – reconciliation to God by way of his own work.

…While forgiveness is never easy, it is also never impossible – not for those who have been saved by the grace of God. For the grace of salvation not only secures your forgiveness and models it for you, but it also empowers forgiveness by giving you a new heart and spirit.

You can forgive because you learned it in the gospel. …The gospel compels you to forgive, and it enables you to do so.

Give yourself to meditation on the cross; learn forgiveness, and walk in it.

Note-to-self-ThornTaken from Chap.20 “Forgive” (found in Part Two, “The Gospel and Others”) in Note to Self: The Discipline of Preaching to Yourself by Joe Thorn (Crossway, 2011), pp.77-78.

Lunch with C.S. Lewis: Thoughts on Friendship

Lunch-with-Lewis-McGrathSo what might we conclude? Perhaps the most important point to take away from our lunch with Lewis is that friendship is of vital importance because friendship is transformational – both for ourselves and for our friends. This is key because any form of ministry or service or endeavor worth pursuing requires support and fellowship. It cannot be undertaken in isolation. Friendship is essential to fit us for the task.

That’s why the questions of friendship should be ones we ask ourselves on a regular basis: How are my friends influencing me? What task lies ahead of me that demands a community of support? How can I support my friends? Am I spending enough time and energy cultivating real friendships? And is friendship an end or a means – something good in itself or a good to be consumed? It is no wonder that so many successful churches encourage small groups to meet and discuss things that concern them. Lewis himself gave and received this kind of support. We must expect to do the same.

Taken from If I Had Lunch With C.S. Lewis: Exploring the Ideas of C.S. Lewis by Alistair McGrath (Tyndale, 2014), a new Kindle book I am reading this summer.

Note to Self: Love Your Husband

Note-to-self-ThornAfter our post last week on the calling of husbands to love his wife, it is the wives’ turn to be reminded of her calling in relation to her husband.

When you read Joe Thorn’s brief “note to self”, I believe you will see your calling in a new light and be renewed in your commitment also to model Jesus in your marriage.

Begin by reading Eph.5:22-24.

Dear Self,

It is your calling and privilege to represent Christ to your husband in a way that he will see in no one else. You are called to submit to his godly leadership, support him in his leadership, and help him become what God desires.

Your occasional thoughts of the smallness of this calling demonstrate that you have not yet grasped the beauty of being your husband’s ‘help-mate.’ Thinking of yourself as your husband’s ‘helper’ is not demeaning of small. It is actually a glorious position, and one that Jesus himself knew well.

Before his ascension, Jesus told his followers that he would ‘give you another helper.’ (John 14:16). He spoke of the Holy Spirit, but do not miss the point that the Holy Spirit is ‘another helper’ – one like Jesus. Jesus did not have a problem thinking of himself as a helper, or even a helper to sinful men. This was his calling, the reason he was sent by the Father – to serve, help, and save sinners.

Being considered the help of your husband means that he cannot succeed without you. He needs you to help him become the man God has designed him to be. Your role is reflected beautifully in the gospel, and you get to represent Jesus as ‘helper’ to your husband in a way that no other person will, for no one else is called to this position.

…You are called to love your husband and represent Christ and the gospel to him. This means praising his hard work and expressing thanks for his working to provide for his family. It means doing him good and not evil (Prov.31:12) and speaking honorably of him in public.

Taken from Chap.17 “Love Your Husband” (found in Part Two, “The Gospel and Others”) in Note to Self: The Discipline of Preaching to Yourself by Joe Thorn (Crossway, 2011), pp.71-72.

Prayers of the Reformers (16)

prayersofreformers-manschreckFor this final Lord’s Day in May we post two more prayers from the book Prayers of the Reformers, compiled by Clyde Manschreck and published by Muhlenberg Press (1958).

The first is taken from the section “Prayers for Truth and Purity”, while the second is from the next section, “Prayers for Spiritual Growth, Courage, and Strength” (I have slightly edited them). Both are fitting for our worship today and for our work and walk in the week to come.

‘The night is far gone, the day is at hand. Let us then cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light’ (Rom.13:12).

And Thou, O most merciful Father, we beseech Thee, for Thy mercy’s sake, continue Thy grace and favor towards us; let the sun of Thy gospel never go down out of our hearts; let Thy truth abide and be established among us forever.

Help our unbelief, increase our faith, give us hearts to consider the time of our visitation. In faith clothe us with Christ, that He may live in us, and Thy name may be glorified in us, in the sight of all the world. Amen.

[Attributed to John Jewell, 1522-1571]

For gentleness of mind
(Matt.26:51-56)

O Jesus Christ, the mirror of all gentleness of mind, the example of highest obedience and patience, grant us Thy servants with true devotion to consider how Thou, innocent and undefiled Lamb, wast bound, taken, and haled away unto death for our sins; how well content Thou wast to suffer such things, not opening Thy mouth in impatience, but willingly offering up Thyself unto death.

O gracious God, how vilely wast Thou mishandled for our sakes! O Lord, let this never come out of our hearts. Expel through it coldness and sloth; stir up fervency and love towards Thee; provoke us unto earnest prayer; make us cheerful and diligent in Thy will….

O Lord Jesus Christ, grant unto us that fully and perfectly we may yield ourselves unto Thee, committing us wholly unto Thy Spirit…. And when we stand in danger, O grant us that we do nothing which will not become Thy children. Amen.

[Attributed to Miles Coverdale, 1488-1569]

Book Alert! Christianizing the World – David J. Engelsma

christianizing-world-DJE-2016Time for another book alert, this time relating to a new publication from the Reformed Free Publishing Association. The book is titled Christianizing the World: Reformed Calling or Ecclesiastical Suicide?, and is the substance of a speech given by emeritus professor David J. Engelsma (PRC Seminary) in 2014 in the Grand Rapids, MI area.

The book is occasioned by the recent translation and publication of Abraham Kuyper’s major Dutch work on common grace and  addresses the contemporary theological and ecclesiastical fascination with this doctrine, especially as it relates to Christianity’s calling in regards to culture – summarized by the author as “Christianizing the World.”

This is how he describes it in his preface:

For many years, it has been widely accepted in Reformed circles worldwide that the theory of common grace developed by the Dutch theologian Abraham Kuyper and the project of Christianizing the world by this common grace, which Kuyper exhorted, are Reformed orthodoxy. Of late, this thinking spreads among evangelicals both in North America and across the world.

…Few, if any, question this quixotic (ad)venture with regard to its biblical and Reformed bases. Conservative and liberal Reformed theologians, scholars, churches, and seminaries alike enthusiastically endorse and promote the project and its theological foundation and source in a common grace of God.

This book examines the theory of common grace and its cultural ambitions in light of the Reformed creeds and holy scripture, particularly the passages of scripture to which Kuyper and his disciples mainly appeal. The book also calls attention to the deleterious effects of the theory of common grace upon the churches and schools that have adopted it and put it into practice (p.9).

Below is the publisher’s description of the new book:

This book is a critique of Abraham Kuyper’s cultural theory of a common grace of God and of the grandiose mission of this grace, and of those who confess the theory and evidently intend to promote it so that it accomplishes the end Kuyper claimed. The book exposes Kuyper’s biblical basis for his theory and its practical mission.

The first and main part of the book is a much-expanded version of the public lecture given in Grand Rapids, Michigan, in 2014 under the auspices of the evangelism society of Southwest Protestant Reformed Church in Wyoming, Michigan. The second part of the book consists of questions raised by the audience at the conclusion of the lecture and of the answers by the speaker at the lecture.

  • 192 pages
  • hardcover
  • ISBN 978-1-944555-02-3

As you can judge, the book is a significant work in light of the contemporary Reformed-Christian scene. This is a work you will want to read carefully and reference repeatedly if you are interested in the Reformed doctrine of grace and in the calling of the Christian in this world.

Visit the RFPA website for information on ordering this new title.

Note to Self: Stop Pretending

Note-to-self-ThornSome good thoughts for us as we start this week of work and school.

Start by reading Romans 1:12.

Dear Self,

Like everyone else, you are pretty good at pretending. It is not malicious, but you can put on a good face when in reality things are not that good. You want to appear strong even when you are weak, or you at least do not want to appear weak. This superficial persona is the front of pride that only encourages the sin to continue in yourself, and it ultimately robs you of gospel influence – the kind of influence Paul had with the church in Rome, and they had with him.

When you pretend, you lose gospel influence in two ways – inwardly and outwardly. You lose the inward influence of the gospel in that you are not honest with others and deny them the opportunity to speak into your life. When you lack transparency, people are left without the opportunity to encourage you where you need it most. For example, sometimes you become anxious, but you have a good poker face. So you hold it together on the surface, but underneath it all you are in trouble. You need to tell the truth about what you are going through, and you need someone to tell you the truth of God. You need to hear of God’s sovereign and good plan for the lives of those who love him, and how this is rooted in the gospel. You need to see the strong faith of others so that you can persevere through such times of anxiety and fear. You pretend to protect yourself but wind up sabotaging your own spiritual life by not being real.

…Know this – it is the gospel that allows you to be real. It admits us all as sinners and establishes us all as saints. Your local church is the only place where this reality, and not pretending, can be the culture of gathered community. Be real. Admit where you are and what you are. This will allow others to minister to you, and you to minister to others.

Taken from Chap.15 “Stop Pretending” (found in Part Two, “The Gospel and Others”) in Note to Self: The Discipline of Preaching to Yourself by Joe Thorn (Crossway, 2011), pp.67-68.

What It Means to Be Reformed: Christian Life – Prof.B. Gritters

StandardBearerIn the May 1, 2016 issue of the Standard Bearer Prof.B. Gritters concluded his series of editorials on “What It Means to Be Reformed.” The last segments of the series treated the Reformed Christian life.

One of the sub-points in this part of the series was the truth that the Reformed Christian lives a “dual citizenship” in this life – in the church and in the world. This is how he explains the first citizenship:

When the Reformed Christian’s spiritual GPS asks him to assign an address for “Home,” he enters “Church.” Membership in and life in a true church is the starting point and ending point of his existence. The center of his life is the church— the church as institute. Although he has many interests in the world and a multitude of responsibilities, these interests and responsibilities all trace their significance back to his membership in the church.

What demands that he make the church central is his union with Christ. Christ Himself makes the church central. He ascended into heaven “that He might appear as head of His church,” as the Heidelberg Catechism says. God “put all things under his feet, and gave him to be the head over all things to the church,” as Paul teaches in Ephesians 1. “The church He loveth well,” the Psalms teach us to sing. For the Reformed Christian, no minimizing of church is permissible. Hold that thought.

But, then, he also goes on to show that the Reformed Christian lives a full life in this world – though he is not “of it.”

Reformed Christians also live in, and have a citizenship in, the world. They are citizens in a particular country and reside in an earthly community where not all are Christians. They have responsibilities there. They do not flee the world, Anabaptist-fashion, but live as productive citizens in it, engaging freely but cautiously in all its dimensions. They seek an occupation that fits their gifts, study to advance understanding in science and the liberal arts, and delight in good music and arts. In other words, they live broadly as productive citizens with a view to the welfare of the community. Part of that life is submitting to the magistrate. Reformed Christians usually cast votes for their leaders and, if necessary, write letters of concern to the powers that be. Some will sign petitions to keep a business closed on Sunday, or to
bar from the neighborhood a so-called Gentlemen’s Club, an abortion clinic, or a casino. Others will join with fellow citizens—of course, in a manner that does not compromise their Christian principles—to oppose evils like abortion, or do good for the community or nation in which they live. They are citizens of an earthly country.

In that connection, he also points out the real danger of neglecting this part of the Christian life:

There is a real danger that we Reformed Christians belittle or even shun these components of the Christian’s existence, huddle in a little corner, and avoid contact with the world. There is a history of Christians making this mistake, and we must not repeat it by an unbiblical understanding of antithetical living. Living antithetically does not mean physical separation from the world. Healthy Reformed Christians grasp the teaching of the Belgic Confession’s Article 36, and appreciate its reference to I Timothy 2’s call to pray for rulers. And even if they do reject the new, but common and foolish, interpretation of Jeremiah 29:7—that Babylon must somehow be transformed by our efforts and even become the friend of the church—they also properly understand Jeremiah’s call to seek the peace of today’s “Babylon.”

How then shall we live? In this way, by God’s sovereign grace.

Note to Self: Keep Seeking God

Start by reading Psalm 119:9-10.

Dear Self,

You tend to forget that seeking God is not only a quest for the lost, but is also to characterize the life of the found. The whole of your life should be seen as a seeking for God. This is not, of course, seeking for that which you do not know or have. God has found you, bought you, and owns you. You have been adopted, and nothing can separate you from the love of God in Jesus. Yet your need to seek God never ends.

Seeking God means that you are continually aiming and working at knowing him more deeply, depending on him more thoroughly, and experiencing his grace more richly.

….It is unfortunate that you forget your need to seek God, for though you are right that God is enough, you forget that he is only found to be enough by those who seek him. Seeking God means that in all you do, you keep his honor in your mind, his Word in your heart, and his glory as your goal – so you are seeking to actually know him and make him known.

Note-to-self-ThornTaken from Chap.12 “Seek God” in Note to Self: The Discipline of Preaching to Yourself by Joe Thorn (Crossway, 2011), pp.58-59.

Top Ten Reasons to Attend Evening Worship – D.Hyde

Psalm122The Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals has a new aspect to its Internet witness and that is “Meet the Puritans,” a brief daily article highlighting Puritan teaching and practice. In a recent post, pastor Danny Hyde (a URC minister whose name many of you may be familiar with) wrote about the importance of having and attending BOTH services on the Lord’s Day.

After a quote from John Owen, one of the great Puritan preachers and writers, Hyde points to a recent note he gave his congregation about being faithful in attendance at the evening service. While not everything he communicates matches our own (PRC) experience, we can certainly appreciate his ten practical reasons for maintaining our own attendance at the second service on Sunday.

A while back in my weekly email to my congregation, I gave my people my “Top Ten Reasons to Attend Evening Worship” in an ongoing effort to educate, encourage, and exhort. They are not exhaustive and they apply to my context, in particular, but the principles should be applicable to any who reads this. May God move his people in our time to sanctify the Christian Sabbath, leading to a renewal of evening worship.

  1. God promises to be present in our midst unlike anywhere else in public worship.
  2. This is a practical help for us to sanctify the Lord’s Day with morning and evening bookends.
  3. This lays a foundation for our children to be evening attenders as well when they grow up (and not what the Dutch call a “oncer”).
  4. Since the Word of God is the food for our souls, we get “breakfast” and “dinner” every Lord’s Day with two sermons.
  5. We also read through the Old and New Testaments in evening worship with a chapter from each.
  6. We sing through the biblical Psalms together with two Psalms a week [we’ve done this 10+ times in 15 years].
  7. Our evening service is based on the historic form of evening prayer from the Protestant Reformation, thus giving us a sense of the communion of the saints through the ages.
  8. We pray biblically-saturated, ancient prayers together at evening worship, thus giving us a sense of transcendence.
  9. We get to bear each other’s burdens as we lift up prayer requests in each other’s midst.
  10. Since there is no Sunday school after, we have more time to fellowship and enjoy each other’s presence after the evening service.

Source: Top Ten Reasons to Attend Evening Worship – Meet the Puritans

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