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We confuse growth in knowledge and insight with genuine life change. But insight is not change and knowledge should not be confused with practical, active, biblical wisdom. In fourteen years of seminary teaching, I have met many brilliant, theologically astute students who were incredibly immature in their everyday life. There was often a huge gap between their confessional and functional theology. Students who could articulate the sovereignty of God could be overcome by worry. Students who could expound on the glory of God would dominate classroom discussions for the sake of their own egos. I have counseled students who could explain the biblical doctrine of holiness while nurturing secret worlds of lust and sexual sin. I have seen many men who were months away from ministry who had not yet learned how to love people. Students who could explain the biblical teaching of God’s grace were harsh judgmental legalists.

Paul David Tripp, Instruments In The Redeemer’s Hands: People in Need of Change Helping People in Need of Change (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2002), 242.

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The Spirit’s work in regeneration is thus total in the extent of its transforming power. It is the individual as an individual who is regenerated, the whole man. For regeneration is the fulfillment of God’s promise to give us a new heart (Ezk. 36:26; cf. Je 31:33), indicating that the Spirit’s renewing work is both intensive and extensive: it reaches to the foundation impulses of an individual’s life and leaves no part of his or her being untouched.

Regeneration is, consequently, as all-pervasive as depravity. On the basis of such statements as ‘the heart is…beyond all cure’ (Je. 17:9), theologians have spoken of total depravity, meaning not that man is as bad as he could be, but that no part of his being remains untainted by the influence of sin. Regeneration reverses that depravity, and is universal in the sense that, while the regenerate individual is not yet as holy as he or she might be, there is no part of life which remains uninfluenced by this renewing and cleansing work. Indeed, just as total depravity leads to moral and ultimately even to physical disintegration, so total regeneration leads to moral, but also ultimately physical renewal, in the regeneration of the whole being in the resurrection (Phil. 3:21; 1 Cor. 15:42-44). The new man is put on; he is constantly being renewed by the Spirit (Col. 3:10), and finally will be resurrected and glorified through his power.

-Sinclair B. Ferguson, The Holy Spirit, Contours of Christian Theology, ed. Gerald Bray (Downers Grove, Il: InterVarsity Press, 1996), 122-123.

HT: Glen Scrivener

A minister must be learned, on pain of being utterly incompetent for his work. But before and above being learned, a minister must be godly.

Nothing could be more fatal, however, than to set these two things over against one another. Recruiting officers do not dispute whether it is better for soldiers to have a right leg or a left leg: soldiers should have both legs. Sometimes we hear it said that ten minutes on your knees will give you a truer, deeper, more operative knowledge of God than ten hours over your books. “What!” is the appropriate response, “than ten hours over your books, on your knees?” Why should you turn from God when you turn to your books, or feel that you must turn from your books in order to turn to God?

You are students of theology; and, just because you are students of theology, it is understood that you are religious men—especially religious men,to whom the cultivation of your religious life is a matter of the profoundest concern—of such concern that you will wish above all things to be warned of the dangers that may assail your religious life, and be pointed to the means by which you may strengthen and enlarge it.

In your case there can be no “either—or” here—either a student or a man of God. You must be both.

-Benjamin B. Warfield, The Religious Life of Theological Students, 182-183

One of the most foundation doctrines of the Christian life is the reality of the believer’s union with Christ. By the mysterious power of God the believer is united to Christ so that salvific works and benefits of Christ becomes possession of the believer.

I recently listened to Dr. Sinclair Ferguson message where he talks about this doctrine. I would highly recommend this message to you as either a great introduction or a great reminder about this reality.

You can get the audio here.

The patristic fathers are an important group of people for the church to hear. They stand the closest to the Apostles in time and place when it comes to understanding doctrines and Christian beliefs. The Roman Catholic Church even uses their words to create traditions that Christians must follow and believe.

This raises the question for us about how we are to read and understand them. Should they have an authoritative word for us when we think through doctrines? Should what they say be the decisive factor if there is a debate over a certain issue? Are we to assume that they are closer to the truth because of their relative closeness to the early church?

Mark R. Saucy raises an important point about the teachings of the Church Fathers in his article, Canon as Tradition: The New Covenant and the Hermeneutical Question. He states the logical flow of his thesis,

1. The theology of the new covenant is central to the story of the Old and NT and so comprises the canonical tradition.
2. The patristic church did not pay sufficient attention to the canonical tradition of the new covenant.
3. Therefore, by implication, the claims for the patristic church’s necessity and normativity in the hermeneutical question must be moderated accordingly.

He then explores each one of these points. The hope of the bible is placed in the New Covenant planned by the Father, brought about by the death of Christ and activated by the work of the Spirit in the hearts of believers promised in the Old Testament and inaugurated in the New. This is an essential grid to have when coming to the Bible. Without it we miss the grand story of redemption that is portrayed in the scriptures. Dr. Saucy writes ( διαθήκη means “covenant”),

As is clear from this brief survey of the canonical tradition, Johannes Behm’s assessment accurately reflects the view of the NT writers: “Jesus conceived of His Messianic work fulfilled in His death from the standpoint of the fulfillment of prophecy of the eschatological διαθήκη.”(J. Behm, “διαθήκη,” TDNT 2:133. Themelios) In this fulfillment, Jesus truly continues the Great Covenant Story of restoration of the creation promised to Abraham back to the earliest parts of Israel’s Scriptures. But he also advances that Story by moving it beyond and cancelling earlier transitional elements. The final resolution of the sin-problem accomplished in Christ’s cross made obsolete earlier mediated approaches to God in the temple cult. With the life of God’s own Spirit pulsing within, the believer in Jesus has new knowledge of the Holy One of Israel as Father, giving the new, true power of full acceptance and sonship from within that enables obedience and holy living. As heirs of God’s irrevocable promises, the blessing of all flesh could be expected in the future restoration of Israel itself. Here then is the canon of Scripture’s tradition of the new covenant’s continuity and discontinuity that founded the church by the apostles’ inspired witness.

After reading Jason Meyer’s book, End of the Law, I find myself in more and more agreement with this point as I look at the bible. The New Covenant is not an interesting point that the biblical authors refer to now and then. But the reality of God’s actions through the New Covenant is foundational to the Apostle’s understanding of God’s redemptive workings in this world.

Then Dr. Saucy looks the different patrisitc fathers and how they departed from this central point. He lists four main areas of departure,

  • First, dominance of the Christus Victor model of the atonement in the early patristic tradition means that things other than forgiveness of sins occupy center stage.
  • Second, the second-century church tended to dissipate the power of Christ’s cross to other mediating objects and human moral striving.
  • Third,…, the ecclesiology of the church’s tradition developed along vectors alien to the canonical tradition’s new-covenant ideals.
  • Fourth, the growing institutionalization of the patristic tradition also correlated well to a perception of God quite alien to the new-covenant canonical tradition. 
    • Whereas the new-covenant Story climaxes in the unbroken communion between creature and Creator provided in the forgiveness of sins, God the Father in the patristic tradition waxes again strangely distant and becomes shrouded in the mist of absoluteness, impassibility (ἀπάθεια) and apophatic discourse as the maxims of Neoplatonism are enlisted to talk of him and battle pagans.

Now, I do not have the personal knowledge of the writings of the patrisitic fathers to give authoritative backing to what he says. But Dr. Saucy does work through the actual writings of the fathers to back up his points.

What we have with the apostolic and church fathers are men who were susceptible to error like the rest of us. If Saucy’s findings prove true then we see the fathers departing from a central motif of the Scriptures. This should cause us to not treat the patrisitc church as a final authority over matters of doctrine but as simply other righteous voices that we should listen to as we allow the bible to be the final authority on all things. And where they agree with Scripture we should embrace their teaching but where they depart we should depart from them as well.

You can read the article in full if you want the full explanation of backing of all these point.

This is a very helpful overview of key points with the relationship between justification and sanctification by Rick Phillips. I have been thinking about the relationship a good bit as I have been reading Walter Marshall’s Gospel Mystery of Sanctification and by living daily life. I know for myself that I come from a history of having the faith portrayed as basically imperatives and calls to live passionately for God. when I came across a gospel centered view of sanctification it was illuminating and freeing. Yet, there is the constant development of how I am to understand the gospel as it applies to sanctification. What Rick says is very helpful. He lists seven assertions about the relationship.

  1. Justification and Sanctification are twin benefits that flow from union with Christ through faith. 
  2. Justification and Sanctification are distinct but simultaneous.
  3. Justification and Sanctification are both necessary and intrinsic to salvation. 
  4. Justification is logically prior to progressive Sanctification. 
  5. Justification does not cause Sanctification, but Christ both justifies and sanctifies his people. 
  6. In Justification faith is passive and receptive (Gal. 2:16), whereas in Sanctification faith is active.
  7. The law of God functions differently with respect to Justification and Sanctification. 
Rick goes on to explain each one of these assertions in his post. You would be cutting yourself short if you didn’t read the explanations.

Christ [is] the very essence of all delights and pleasures, the very soul and substance of them. As all the rivers are gathered into the ocean, which is congregation or  meeting-place of all  waters in the world: so Christ is that ocean in which all true delights and pleasures meet. . . .

His excellencies are pure and unmixed; he is a sea of sweetness without one drop of gall.

—John Flavel, The Method of Grace, from Sermon XII.

HT: Justin Taylor

Humility is a beautiful vessel to proclaim and believe in truth. Oh, that that the Spirit would make me more humble!

Ever ponder why Paul (or any other Biblical writer) never wrote an inspired systematic theology? It is interesting; theology is so important. Yet, we never have Paul, for instance, writing down theology as written in our text books. Why?

Now, we can say at the forefront that it is not because true theology is not important. Where as there is no plain systematic theology that is not to say there is no theology. Theology is abundant in scripture. But instead of it being laid out plainly most of the time it is woven through the life situations of Paul, the churches he is writing to, etc. It is like we have to take down the walls to study the frame in our biblical studies of doctrine. For instance, it is through Paul’s disputation with false teachers in Galatia that we can study his theology of the New Covenant in Gal. 4:21-31.

The reason theology is presented in the bible this way is because the bible presents theology as it really is. The reality of theology is that it is woven into the very fabric of our lives whether we realize it or not. You see, every action of our life is a demonstration of our theology—of our true theology. Yes, there is a theology that we verbally state (this is good and should be done: “watch you life and watch your doctrine” 1 Tim. 4:16). But then there is theology that comes out in our day to day actions. We can confess with our mouth that God is sovereign and good. Yet, if we live in anxiety, the truth of the matter is that we really don’t believe that God is sovereign and/or good. Or conversely, to take an example from Paul who had a true theology of the present New Covenant which showed itself in his great confidence in his missionary endeavors (2 Cor. 3:1-18). Even a statement like, “it is not important to know theology” is a theological statement declaring that one believes God does not care what a person believes about God. We cannot escape theology, it is woven into life itself. This is why we see theology woven through the letters and prophecies in Scripture. The bible presents us with the reality that our theology comes out in everything we say or do.

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