A Pastor’s Confession

ConfessionPastor_194227947O God, I know that I often do Thy work without Thy power,
And sin by my dead, heartless, blind service,
My lack of inward light, love, delight,
My mind, heart, tongue moving without Thy help.

I see sin in my heart in seeking the approbation of others;

This is my vileness, to make men’s opinion my rule,
Whereas I should see what good I have done,
And give Thee glory,
Consider what sin I have committed
And more for that.
It is my deceit to preach, and pray,
And to stir up others’ spiritual affections 
In order to beget commendations,
Whereas my rule should be daily to consider myself
More vile than any man in my own eyes.  

Continue reading “A Pastor’s Confession”

When God Calls A Man or A Woman

“When God calls a man or woman His calling never leave that person where they found him.  If the calling God speaks to you and calls you and you try and stand still, you will not be standing still, you will be going backwards.  You will fall on you will either believe and obey or you will be making a forlorn attempt to stand still – you will discover that you are going in the opposite direction.” – Alistair Begg.

Listen to Alistair Begg speaking about this in his message entitled, Grace and Forgiveness.

I found this message from Alistair Begg very encouraging and true to God’s Word.  How wonderful it is to know that the LORD calls even those who are outcasts, despised and rejected and transforms them into holy vessels for the Master’s use.  Praise be to His holy Name!

What Constitutes Saving Faith? Part 2

Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen…And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him” (Hebrews 11:1 & 6).

Faith by its very nature has to do with unseen realities.  Realities that are outside of us and beyond us.  Nowhere else is this more true than in the matter of our salvation through the gospel.  The gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ calls us to receive and rest in a salvation that has been worked out outside of us, apart from us and in spite of us.  I find the F.A.I.T.H. acronym below is helpful in this regard:

Forsaking

All

I

Take

Him

This is essentially what happens or what needs to happen for the sinner to receive eternal life and forgiveness of sins through Jesus Christ, our Savior.  Everything must be forsaken!  The sinner must turn away from his sins and his supposed righteousness and embrace Christ alone for salvation.  He must rest in Christ’s perfect righteousness and atoning sacrifice for sin on the cross.  That is what is meant by saving faith!  Remember our definition from Q & A 86 in the Westminster Shorter Catechism:  “Faith in Jesus Christ is a saving grace, whereby we receive and rest upon Him alone for salvation, as He is offered to us in the gospel.”  But we must also note that this faith is given to us as a gift from our gracious God and Savior.  What saves us is not our faith (our act of believing), but God who gives us that faith and offers us eternal life in Jesus’ Name.  Thus faith is only but the hand (or channel) by which we receive God’s salvation.  I like what Alistair Begg once said in his sermon on Titus 3:3-7.  He said:

This is one of the reasons that people hate the gospel.  The average person if you tell them that they can go to heaven based on philanthropy or based on their endeavors in some way, they might actually step up for that.  But if you tell them that the message of the Bible is that we are entirely dependent upon God’s grace and upon His goodness and that we contribute nothing to our salvation save the sin from which we need to be forgiven, they say, ‘Uuh, I don’t really like the sound of that.’

Our salvation is not based upon our act of believing, but rather on God’s mercy and grace through Jesus Christ.  We look away from ourselves to the perfect righteousness of Christ and His atoning death as the only sure basis for our salvation.  As Begg further says, it’s “all of grace, all in Christ, all of faith, all of God.”

The 16th Century Reformers employed the following three Latin words to define and describe saving faith:  Notitia, Assensus, Fiducia.  I am not a Latin scholar and I am not trying to be one.  So I will try to explain these terms in a layman’s language.

Notitia (Knowledge):  This refers to the intellectual aspect of saving faith.  Faith is not the antithesis of fact.  Faith is based on historical, accurate and reliable information.  Saving faith is not a blind leap into the dark as the Danish philosopher/theologian, Søren Kierkegaard said.  One does not have to lose his mind to win God as Kierkegaard suggested.  True, saving faith is founded on facts.  True, saving faith is rational.  B. B. Warfield, the old Princeton theologian was right when he said, “We do not believe even though it is irrational, we believe in the Lord Jesus Christ because it is the most rational thing that we can do.”  God, through His Word, has provided everything that we need to know in order to make a credible profession of faith in Him.  Some of these facts include:  the virgin birth of Christ; His sinless perfection; His duo nature (God & Man at the same time); His death; His resurrection; His ascent into heaven; His Second Coming, etc.  For those of you who would like to explore this further, I recommend Tim Keller’s book, A Reason for God.  In that book, Keller writes about the intellectual credibility of the Christian faith.  Among other things, he gives examples of former atheists who are now Christians because they examined the facts about the Christian Faith and found that it is credible and rational.  C.S. Lewis’ book, Mere Christianity is also helpful in this regard.  But one could have the right knowledge about Christ or the Christian faith and still not be saved.  The second element (assensus) is necessary and it builds on the first (notitia):

Assensus (Assent):  This refers to the emotional aspect of saving faith.  At this stage, one is caught up in the facts of Christianity and personally acknowledges them to be true concerning himself.  It’s like walking into a room and you see a box sitting in the corner of the room.  The box contains a gift for you, but you don’t know that yet.  You notice the box, you analyze it, but you have no personal attachment to it.  It’s just another box.  But when the owner of the house takes that box and gives it to you and says, “This is for you,” everything changes!  You are now all of a sudden personally involved with the box.  The gift remains impersonal until it has been given to you.  You are not personally involved with it until it has been declared yours.  So you take the facts about Christ and make them personal.  You come to a point of saying:  Christ’s virgin birth was for me; He lived a sinless life for me; He is God and became Man for me; He died for me, He rose again from the dead for me; He ascended into heaven for me; He is coming again for me; etc.  It’s like the Psalmist saying in Psalm 56:9, “…This I know, that God is for me;” or Thomas saying to Christ in John 20:28, “My Lord and My God.”  The Apostle Paul expresses this very clearly in Galatians 2:20 where he writes, “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”  Archibald Alexander (first principal and professor at the Princeton Theological Seminary) said of his conversion, that as he read more and more, his heart was hardened.  Then he says, “I had a vision of the Crucified One as has never been paralleled in my experience.  The grace of God came to me as clear as day and I understood, God accepted me.”  He had personally come to believe that these things were true for him.  But, a personal belief in all the right facts about Christ or Christianity is not enough to save anyone.  The third aspect (fiducia) is also necessary and builds on the first two (notitia and assensus).

Fiducia (Trust):  This refers to the volitional aspect of saving faith.  Trust is a required, personal response to the truth claims of Christ and of Christianity.  It’s an act of the will.  Without it, everything that you believe remains outside of you.  Until you trust in Christ, you are not born again, you are not going to heaven and you are not saved.  Trust says, “I accept Jesus Christ; I give myself to Christ; I look to Him alone for my salvation; I accept God’s forgiveness and invite Him into my life.”  If Christ is not living in you today, you are not a Christian.  I have a friend who is so afraid to fly.  The funny thing about him is that he works for Boeing.  He actually has worked in the department that manufactures and services the parts of a plane.  He knows how all the parts of a plane fit together so that it can go up in the air and be safe.  But the problem is that he can’t trust any of the planes to fly him!  Saving faith in Christ requires us to put our whole weight on Christ and trust that He will carry us through this life into a joyful eternity with God our Creator.  It is faith, faith and faith from beginning to end!  Without this third aspect of faith (trust), salvation is absolutely impossible.  The rich young ruler (in Mark 10:17-22), knew the facts about Jesus Christ and the Christian Faith.  He was even personally involved at some superficial level.  But he stumbled and failed at this third and very important step.  He could not get himself to “trust” the Lord Jesus Christ and forsake all that he had.  His wealth was too precious to him.  Christ was right there before Him.  In Christ, was his only hope for salvation!  Yet he missed it!  At Christ’s words, his face fell and “he went away sad because he had great wealth.”  May the Lord grant us the grace to trust Him alone for our salvation that we might truly “receive and rest in Christ alone as He is offered to us in the gospel.”

Forsaking       All          I       Take             Him

For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another. But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life. Titus 3:3-7

Only One Gospel

“I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel—not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed (Galatians 1:6-9 ESV).”

In the verses quoted above, the Apostle Paul lays down a very important doctrine regarding the Christian faith and gospel.  He does this to press upon the Galatians a proper sense of guilt in rejecting the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ.  More specifically, he sharply rebukes them for not embracing the doctrine of justification by faith in Jesus Christ alone (see Galatians 2:15-16, 21; 3:10-14).  The Galatians had fallen prey to the Judaizers who were going around teaching that a false gospel based on good works which totally discounted the grace of God through Jesus Christ.  But as a good pastor, Paul does this with great care and tenderness.  He had only one goal in mind as expressed by himself in Galatians 4:19 where he passionately writes, “my little children, for whom I am in anguish of childbirth until Christ is formed in you!”  That was Paul’s goal!  And he teaches us a very important lesson.  As Matthew Henry puts it, “In reproving others, we should be faithful, and yet endeavour to restore them in the spirit of meekness.”  We all need to pay attention to that, especially pastors like me.  We need to make sure that in rebuking and correcting people, we are not stepping over their heads and leaving so many casualties behind us unnecessarily.  We must proclaim Christ and Him alone, “admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone mature in Christ” (Colossians 1:28).  We must therefore speak the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15).  But reproving we must especially on matters that have to do with the faithful teaching and communication of the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ.

In my Open Letter to the North American Churches, published in the Modern Reformation magazine I wrote, “The pure and unadulterated gospel of God’s grace is a nonnegotiable priority for the church of the Lord Jesus Christ” (March/April 2011, Vol. 20, No. 2, Pages 31-35, emphasis added).  The Apostle Paul sought to drive this truth home to the believers in Galatia without any equivocation, fear or compromise.  He was overwhelmingly fearless and sharply confrontational when it came to gospel matters demonstrated by the fact that he “opposed Peter to his face” for his compromise and hypocrisy with respect to this gospel (Galatians 2:11-14).  He suffered no one (even Peter, a fellow apostle) to tamper with the life saving truth of God’s free and justifying grace based on the merits of Jesus Christ alone.  In all of his life and ministry, Paul consistently maintained and taught the doctrine of justification by faith in Jesus Christ alone (see Romans 1:17; 3:21-22; 9:30-33; 10:3; 2 Corinthians 5:21; Philippians 3:9).

Paul was of course only echoing the teaching of the Old Testament Scriptures taught (see Genesis 15:16; Habakkuk 2:4, etc).  Nowhere else do we see the unity and the apex of redemptive revelation more clearly than in the doctrine of justification by faith!   The Old Testament saints were saved by the same gospel as the saints in the New Testament era.  And that gospel is the gospel of God’s grace through His Son Jesus Christ!  Although Abraham and all the other saints lived before the coming of Christ into this world, they believed in the promise of the Messiah which God had made to them beginning with Genesis 3:15, Exodus and Leviticus, all the way to Isaiah 53 and thereafter.  All of the Old Testament sacrifices and rituals, as well as the Law and the prophets pointed to Christ as He Himself makes plain in Luke 24:25-27, 44-48.

There are two important aspects to this gospel which every Christ must know and seek to understand:  1). Christ’s active obedience, and 2). Christ’s passive obedience.  The former has to do with Christ’s perfect righteousness.  The latter has to do with His sacrificial, substitutionary/atoning death on the cross of Calvary.  Both of these were offered to the LORD God by Christ on behalf of His people.  In other words, this gospel necessitates a divine exchange between God and sinners through Christ.  Christ’s perfect record of righteousness, His faithful law-keeping before God, is imputed (transferred) to sinners and the imperfect record of sinners (their unrighteousness before God) is imputed to Him.  The Apostle Paul distils this for us when he writes in 2 Corinthians 5:21, “For our sake, He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf in order that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.”  This is what the Prophet Isaiah prophesied 500-700 years before Christ came when he wrote, “All we like sheep astray; we have turned everyone to his own way; and the LORD has laid on Him the iniquity of us all” (Isaiah 53:6).

He was despised and rejected by men; a Man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and as One from Whom men hide their faces He was despised, and we esteemed Him not.  Surely He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed Him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted.  But He was pierced for our transgressions;  He was crushed for our iniquities; upon Him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with His wounds we are healed.  Isaiah 53:3-5

Although this Man was righteous and sinless in every way, He “was numbered among with the transgressors; yet He bore the sins of many, and makes intercession for the transgressors” (Isaiah 53:12).  And thereby, Christ fulfilled His office as the Great High Priest for God’s people (Hebrews 4:14-16; 5:1-10).  This is the gospel that Paul was unwilling to give up.  For this gospel he was willing to die and in this gospel lay his boast (Galatians 6:14).  Let us then see to it that we heed Paul’s warning to the Galatians.  He stresses his point by repeating it in these short verses, “But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed” (Galatians 1:8-9).

Any other “gospel” which does not point sinners to the merits of Christ’s righteousness and His atoning death on the cross of Calvary on their behalf must be passionately repudiated and clearly exposed without fear or compromise.  It is of the devil!  It is no gospel at all!  Any “gospel” that tells sinners that they can be saved and reconciled to God by being good or doing good is lethal and must be rejected without question and vehemently opposed.  Furthermore, anyone who preaches that kind of “gospel” must be “accursed” according to the Word of God.

And while we declare that to reject the moral law as a rule of life, tends to dishonour Christ, and destroy true religion, we must also declare, that all dependence for justification on good works, whether real or supposed, is as fatal to those who persist in it.  While we are zealous for good works, let us be careful not to put them in the place of Christ’s righteousness, and not to advance anything which may betray others into so dreadful a delusion (see Matthew Henry’s Concise Commentary)

I can’t say it any better than that.  On the one hand, that leaves me flat on my face confessing my sins especially my self-righteous tendencies.  And I hear myself singing with Augustus M. Toplady:

Rock of ages, cleft for me,
Let me hide myself in thee;
Let the water and the blood
From thy wounded side which flowed,
Be of sin the double cure,
Cleanse me from its guilt and power.

Not the labor of my hands
Can fulfill thy law’s demands;
Could my zeal no respite know,
could my tears forever flow,
All for sin could not atone;
Thou must save, and thou alone.

Nothing in my hand I bring,
Simply to the cross I cling;
Naked, come to thee for dress;
Helpless look to thee for grace;
Foul, I to the fountain fly;
Wash me, Savior, or I die.

On the other hand, that puts a spring in my step and I find myself leaping and shouting with Philip P. Bliss:

Man of Sorrows! What a name
For the Son of God, who came
Ruined sinners to reclaim.
Hallelujah! What a Savior!

Bearing shame and scoffing rude,
In my place condemned He stood;
Sealed my pardon with His blood.
Hallelujah! What a Savior!

Indeed it is right for all who are in Christ to shout and sing:  HALLELUJAH!  WHAT A SAVIOR!