The Marks of a Christian

maresius-belgic-confession-commentary

With all the discussion on Christian blogs these days as to what the Christian life of sanctification looks like, I have always appreciated this balanced statement in the Belgic Confession of Faith, Article 29:

“With respect to those who are members of the Church, they may be known by the marks of Christians; namely, by faith, and when, having received Jesus Christ the only Savior, they avoid sin, follow after righteousness, love the true God and their neighbor, neither turn aside to the right or left, and crucify the flesh with the works thereof. But this is not to be understood as if there did not remain in them great infirmities; but they fight against them through the Spirit all the days of their life, continually taking their refuge in the blood, death, passion, and obedience of our Lord Jesus Christ, in whom they have remission of sins, through faith in Him.”

My Rant for the Month: Preach Christ!

Yesterday I listened to a sermon on the topic of morality by a local pastor of a large church and it was all law and no gospel. Christ wasn’t even mentioned, not even in the prayer of application. It was really sad to me to think that all those people went to Church and didn’t hear Christ proclaimed or even mentioned by name in the preaching and prayer of application. It reminds me of something that Presbyterian minister Donald Grey Barnhouse once said. Over a half century ago Barnhouse asked what a city might look like where Satan had really taken control? And he offered his own scenario. Barnhouse speculated that “if Satan took over a city, all of the bars would be closed, pornography banished, and pristine streets would be filled with tidy pedestrians who smiled at each other. There would be no swearing. The children would say, “Yes, sir” and “No, ma’am,” and the churches would be full every Sunday . . . where Christ is not preached.”

We NEED Christ proclaimed EVERY week from the pulpit. We NEED to hear the gospel in EVERY sermon or it causes us to become either self-righteous proud Pharisees or to despair and burn out. But when we hear Christ proclaimed, his life, death, resurrection, ascension, session and return, it frees us up to truly love God and others out of gratitude and not fear. It humbles us and strengthens us. And when we are called to depend on the Spirit’s strength through Word, sacrament, and prayer, we give God all the glory from beginning to end! Pastors, myself included, preach Christ and Him crucified (1 Cor. 1:20-24; 2:2; Col. 1:28; John 5:39; Luke 24:25-27, 44; John 8:56; Col. 2:1-3)! If your pastor doesn’t preach Christ and Gospel-driven, Spirit-wrought sanctification, be warned, you might be a Pharisee or on the brink of despair. Who cares about church programs if Christ isn’t being preached?! The gospel is the power of God for salvation, from beginning to end, for everyone who believes (Rom. 1:16)!

In light of Reformation weekend coming up, that’s my rant for the month. Here I stand!

(Click on the above image to check out the best book out there on preaching Christ from all the Scriptures)

Be Encouraged: Your Sanctification is the Purpose of God the Trinity

I recently preached on the doctrine of sanctification and listened to a few lectures by Sinclair Ferguson on this topic. In his first lecture he expounds upon the opening of Peter’s first letter, which he says has six massive foundation stones for our sanctification. Each of his six points from this passage were very good but I found his first point particularly encouraging. So I thought I would share it with you here. He is commenting on the first two verses of 1 Peter: “Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, To those who are elect exiles of the dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, in the sanctification of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ and for sprinkling with his blood: May grace and peace be multiplied to you.” Here are his comments on these verses:

“He begins his letter by stressing to us that our sanctification is the purpose of God the Trinity. And this is how he opens his letter in the first two verses when he addresses these strangers in the world who have been chosen by God. He repeats the principle, you have been chosen, v. 2, according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through the sanctifying work of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ and sprinkling with his blood. And those last phrases are simply alternative ways of Peter saying, God has chosen you because he means to sanctify you. And of course in keeping with the rest of the New Testament teaching he emphasizes here by the repetition of the language he uses in v. 2, chosen, according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, as God’s elect, he emphasizes that God’s choice of us is the foundation of our sanctification. It’s not our sanctification that is the reason for God’s choice of us. Everything he says for sinful men and women like himself depends upon God taking the initiative. But the point that’s worth noting and the way in which he expounds this, is that what he says in emphasizing that it’s God who takes the initiative is that it’s God as Trinity who takes the initiative.

And when you grasp that point and then weave your way through the whole of the NT teaching with one eye open for looking for the Trinity, you will, I think, be astonished how constant a feature that is especially in the New Testament letters that the work of God in changing the lives of Christian believers and making them like Christ is always a work in which the God, who has chosen us in his infinite mercy, operates always in harmony as the divine Trinity, the Father working, the Son working, the Spirit working. And there are almost countless passages of the New Testament. Indeed, every passage in the New Testament, virtually, which describes the way in which God changes our lives to make us like Christ, is a passage in which is enshrined, the working of God, the Triune Lord.

And the principle that the New Testament writers are constantly seeking to underline by that is that the entire being of God in the fellowship, in what we might call the planning meetings of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit in the unity of God’s being, have, as it were, cast all of their votes with this great purpose in mind, that God’s people saved by God’s Son will be sanctified by God’s Spirit. This is what God has set his heart on from before the foundation of the world. This is why he created the world. This is why he chose a people for himself. This is why there is such a thing as the sprinkling of the blood of Jesus. This is what the Holy Spirit has been sent into the world to do, says Peter. The whole Triune Godhead devotes himself to sanctifying Christian people. It is priority #2 on the divine agenda, underneath the great priority of bringing glory to himself and his own name. And the obvious implication of that is, that if it is not #1 on my priority under the great priority of my life, in bringing glory to God, then it is hardly surprising that I find something chafing in my life about the way in which God is dealing with me. And there are few things more important therefore for us to settle right at the beginning of our study of this theme than the principle that if God has committed himself to this sanctifying of my life, then I had also better commit myself to the sanctifying of my life, otherwise God’s will and my will are on collision course. And similarly, if by God’s grace, I find myself more and more seeking to commit myself to the work of God in transforming my life, I have this glorious encouragement that the whole of the Godhead cooperates not only with one another but cooperates with his purpose in my heart to change me and make me like Jesus Christ. We may therefore be encouraged as we give ourselves to grow in Christian holiness, that God is behind us. God is, as it were, on our side. Whatever opposition there may be from the world, and the flesh and the devil, God the Trinity has determined to put all his energies into making little poor me like Jesus Christ. And so we may be encouraged to understand that our sanctification is the purpose of God the Trinity.”

What is the Difference Between Justification and Sanctification?

I just started a short series at my church on the doctrine of sanctification as we confess this doctrine based on God’s Word in Belgic Confession of Faith, Article 24. One of the first things I talked about this past Sunday is the importance of never confusing justification and sanctification. Both are distinct yet inseparable benefits of our union with Christ. I find Westminster Larger Catechism Q&A 77 very helpful in how it highlights the difference between the two in a clear and cogent way yet also confesses that they are inseparable:

“What is the difference between justification and sanctification? Although sanctification be inseparably joined with justification, yet they differ, in that God in justification imputeth the righteousness of Christ; in sanctification his Spirit infuseth grace, and enableth to the exercise thereof; in [justification], sin is pardoned; in [sanctification] it is subdued: [justification] doth equally free all believers from the revenging wrath of God, and that perfectly in this life, that they never fall into condemnation; [sanctification] is neither equal in all, nor in this life perfect in any, but growing up to perfection.”

For the sake of our own confidence and assurance in the Christian life, let’s keep these two great benefits of our union with Christ distinct yet inseparable!

Your Real Self


Here are some great quotes from C.S. Lewis that I read in Michael Horton’s book, The Christian Faith:

“What this means is that we who once were curved in on ourselves, seeing the world but not really seeing it rightly, must be called out of ourselves to be judged as ungodly and then dressed in Christ’s righteousness. This is necessary not only for justification but for our sanctification as well. Our identity is no longer something that we fabricate in our bondage that we mistake for freedom. “To become new men means losing what we now call ‘ourselves,'” C.S. Lewis observes. “Out of our selves, into Christ, we must go.” “Your real, new self (which is Christ’s and also yours, and yours just because it is His) will not come as long as you are looking for it,” he adds. “It will come when you are looking for Him.” To be in Christ is to be “very much more themselves than they were before.” “He invented–as an author invents characters in a novel–all the different people that you and I were intended to be. In that sense our real selves are all waiting for us in Him. It is no good trying to ‘be myself’ without Him.” “To enter heaven,” he says, “is to become more human than you ever succeeded in being on earth.” (p. 657; the Lewis quotes are from Mere Christianity, p. 224)

Speaking as Christians in Ways that People, Even Children, Understand

As Christians we can often use theological words that most people don’t understand unless they were raised in the church or study theology in their spare time. These are good words and I am certainly not advocating that we jettison words like justification, sanctification, propitiation, or other words that are in fact found in the Bible (e.g. Rom. 4:25; 1 Cor. 1:30; 1 Jn. 2:2). I even use these words in the pulpit, but I usually try to explain what they mean. But we can help others to understand these words better and what they mean for us today if we talk about them not just with theological accuracy but also with words that connect to our everyday experience as humans. I’m talking about translating them into words that anyone can understand, even a child.

This is one of the biggest challenges for a pastor when he preaches. And this has sort of been on my mind lately ever since I listened to a sermon by Tim Keller entitled “Justification By Faith” in which he described our justification in such a way that anyone listening to him would have walked away knowing how immensely practical this doctrine is for our life. Justification is really a universal longing to be validated, to be approved, to be accepted by others. But we won’t ultimately be satisfied by the approval of men. Only will we truly be satisfied when God, our Creator, approves of us and says “you are forgiven AND I, I ACCEPT YOU in Christ as righteous.”

As I have been continuing to think in these ways, the following thought popped into my head as I was studying today: At least three of our deepest longings and needs as humans are met in Christ, for those who have faith in Him. In our justification in Christ, we find acceptance (the best kind possible. . . acceptance before our Creator). In our sanctification in Christ we find fruitfulness produced by the Spirit (the best kind possible, fruitfulness that benefits not just myself but others and fruitfulness that will last). In our glorification in Christ we experience the latter two (acceptance and fruitfulness) perfectly in the presence of our Triune God and each other and thus are eternally happy. In sum, in Christ we find acceptance, fruitfulness and happiness (and much much more!). Now we experience all these things as a foretaste by the Spirit but when Christ returns we shall experience them as a consummate reality, all for the glory of God!

I’m sure you could describe our justification, sanctification and glorification all from slightly different angles (e.g. justification=approval, validation, worth, righteousness, in God’s sight; sanctification=fruitfulness, productivity, good works, progressively becoming a better person (by God’s standards); glorification=the whole enchilada. . .your best life later. . .all that we long for and truly need. This is just me trying to translate the benefits we have in Christ (such as justification, sanctification, glorification) in words that most people understand today. Any thoughts?

You Are Risen! (Part 2)

As I said in my last post, a common Christian greeting on Easter Sunday is, “He is risen!,” to which the other person replies “He is risen indeed!” But not only can we say that about Christ, we can say that about each other. Because, as Christians, we are in union with Christ and thus we share in all of his benefits. When it comes to the resurrection, there are three great benefits of being in union with Christ:

  1. Justification: He was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification (Romans 4:25)
  2. Sanctification: We are a new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17)
  3. Glorification: Christ’s resurrection is the firstfruits of our future bodily resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:20, 23).

In this post I want to elaborate more on what it means to walk in newness of life and fight the good fight of faith.

SANCTIFICATION (continued)

As I said yesterday, as great as glorification and justification are, we also have sanctification as a great benefit of Christ’s resurrection. If you are in Christ, you are no longer dead in your sins and trespasses but are alive to God. The world, the devil, and the flesh are no longer your masters (Eph. 2:1-3). Your master is now Christ. You belong to him and your new inclination is to follow him now.

And that’s because you have received two great gifts from Christ: his righteousness AND His Spirit. Paul says, “In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory” (Eph. 1:13-14). This is why he prays for the Ephesians that they would know, “what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places” (Eph. 1:19-20). What Paul is saying is that the same power that raised Jesus from the dead, namely the person of the Holy Spirit, now dwells inside of every believer, including you (cf. Rom. 8:11). And the goal of our sanctification is to know this power more and more until we know it in glory. In other, words we are to become who we are in Christ. We are to die to sin more and more and live for God, being conformed to the image of Christ.

And what this all means for our ongoing walk with God and our fight against sin is that we are not only motivated by the Gospel to resist sin and obey God in thankfulness, but we are also able to do so. God hasn’t left us to ourselves to fight against sin in our own strength. If He had, we would surely lose! But the good news is that because Christ was raised we know three things:

  1. We fight against sin with a free conscience as those who are forgiven.
  2. We fight against sin in His resurrection power, by the Spirit.
  3. We fight against sin knowing that one day our fight will be over.

Often, when people die after fighting against cancer all their life, we say things like “they fought for 10 years against cancer, and praise God that fight is now over.” But if they are Christians we should also say, “they fought for 10, 20, maybe 50 or 80 years against sin and praise God that fight is now over!”

But in the mean time, how do we fight against sin and not give up before then? It’s knowing these three things, and submitting our subjective experience to God’s objective authoritative Word on the matter. You see, we can often feel like we are powerless against temptation and sin. But we need to resist the thought that we truly are powerless and that we just can’t help but give in to sin. Notice how Paul encourages us in our fight against sin in Romans 6:

Rom. 6:1  What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? 2 By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? 3 Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4 We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. 5  For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.  6 We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin.  7 For one who has died has been set free from sin. 8 Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him.  9 We know that Christ being raised from the dead will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him.  10 For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. 11 So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus. 12  Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal bodies, to make you obey their passions. 13 Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness.  14 For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace.

If there is one message that I want to get across to you in this post it’s this: In Christ you are forgiven of all your sins AND you are dead to the power of sin and alive to God as a new creation!

This is no minor thing in Paul’s writings. He tells us this over and over again. He says it in Romans 6 above. He says it in Ephesians Ephesians 2:4-7. He says it in Colossians 2 and 3.

Some of you will object, “but that’s not my experience. I don’t feel dead to sin, I struggle greatly to resist it and I so often fail!” Yes, but God’s Word trumps your experience. God tells you: you must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus. If you believe your experience above what God’s Word tells you, then you will lose hope. But God’s Word is final on this matter. You must consider yourself dead to sin.

And is there not a desire within you now to hate sin and love God? That’s the Spirit within you (Rom. 7:7-25; Gal. 5:16-17). There is a battle going on inside of you now. The Spirit and the flesh are at enmity with each other. But God’s Spirit must win the battle because He is sovereign. And He is transforming you from one degree of glory to the next. And that’s not an overnight change. It’s a slow and steady process that we can’t just fast forward with a remote control, as much as we would like.

But what we CAN do is actively attend to the means that the Spirit ordinarily uses to change us. What means does He use? Well the Spirit often works in us in a mysterious way. But God’s Word promises us that the Spirit always works with the Word of God. And so, if you long to be more and more free from your sin and more and more like Christ you have to seek out opportunities of being in God’s Word, whether in private devotion or family worship, but especially in public worship on the Lord’s Day. Public worship is the place where the Spirit works through the preaching of God’s Word and the administration of the sacraments, which are the Word made visible (signs and seals of his promises).

And so, live out of your union with Christ. Become who you are in Christ. This is what Paul preaches over and over again to us in God’s Word. We are to fight against sin and obey God’s Word on the basis of the fact that we are in Christ through faith. We are forgiven in Christ. We are righteous in Christ. We are adopted as God’s children in Christ. We have freedom in Christ. We have strength in Christ. We have hope in Christ. And based on all the benefits we have in Christ we are to walk. He is our our ultimate identity in this world. If you are struggling with identity issues, Christ is your identity! As Paul put it so beautifully:  “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 (Gal. 2:20).

CONCLUSION: 

Once again, if there is one thing that I want to get across it’s this: In Christ you are forgiven of all your sins AND you are dead to sin and alive to God as a new creation. And so, walk in newness of life. Bask in the benefits of Christ’s resurrection and be bold in those benefits. Christ is risen! Praise God for that truth. But praise God that because Christ is risen, YOU ARE RISEN! Therefore, let us fight the good fight of faith with a free conscience, in the Spirit’s power, and until we die or Christ comes again and our fight is over. May you know the immeasurable greatness of his power towards us who believe! Amen!

(If you’d like you can listen to my post Easter sermon, “You Are Risen!,” here at our church web-site).

You Are Risen! (Part 1)

A common Christian greeting on Easter Sunday is, “He is risen!,” to which the other person replies “He is risen indeed!” But not only can we say that about Christ, we can say that about each other. Because, as Christians, we are in union with Christ and thus we share in all of his benefits. When it comes to the resurrection, there are three great benefits of being in union with Christ:

  1. Justification: He was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification (Romans 4:25)
  2. Sanctification: We are a new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17)
  3. Glorification: Christ’s resurrection is the firstfruits of our future bodily resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:20, 23).

GLORIFICATION:

I think glorification get’s the most attention when we think about how Christ’s resurrection benefits us. And praise God for this great and glorious truth that because he was raised we too will be raised bodily on the last day unto eternal glory (Rom. 8:23; 1 Cor. 15; Phil. 3:20-21; et al.).

JUSTIFICATION:

However, let’s not miss out on the other two great benefits of Christ’s resurrection for us. Because of our union with Christ we also have both justification and sanctification. If you are in Christ through faith, a change has taken place both in your status before God and within you. You are no longer declared guilty in God’s sight. You are forgiven of all of your sins and are declared righteous in Christ by grace alone, through faith alone. And His resurrection assures you of that. If He had remained in the grave it would have proven Him to be a sinner. But because He was raised it demonstrates and assures you and me that God indeed accepted His substitutionary atonement on our behalf. And so, take comfort that you are forgiven and righteous in Christ because He was raised for your justification.

SANCTIFICATION

But as great as glorification and justification are, we also have a third great benefit of Christ’s resurrection, namely sanctification. If you are in Christ, you are no longer dead in your sins and trespasses but are alive to God. The world, the devil, and the flesh are no longer your masters (Eph. 2:1-3). Your master is now Christ. You belong to him and your new inclination is to follow him now. And so, you must consider yourself dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus (Rom. 6:11). And on the basis of your new status and your new life in Christ  you are to walk in newness of life.

In my next post tomorrow I will elaborate more on what this looks like to walk in newness of life and fight the good fight of faith. In short it means this:

  1. We fight against sin with a free conscience as those who are forgiven entirely and declared righteous in Christ through faith.
  2. We fight against sin in the power of Christ’s resurrection, i.e. by the Holy Spirit who dwells within us.
  3. We fight against sin knowing that one day our fight will be over.
To God Alone Be the Glory!

(If you’d like you can listen to my post Easter sermon, “You Are Risen!,” here at our church web-site).