Friday, January 31, 2020

Are the Good Works of Christians Filthy Rags?

The following quote is from The Practice of Piety (1612) by Lewis Bayly. In this part of the book, he notes hinderances to the practice of piety which arise from misunderstanding passages in Bible. In this paragraph, he addresses a common misunderstanding of Isaiah 64:6 and explains a doctrine which would a few decades later be included in our Presbyterian confession of faith (WCF 16.6, see here). This doctrine is that when we are forgiven and accepted through faith in Christ, on that basis our imperfect but sincere obedience which is produced in us by God’s grace is pleasing to God. God delights in the good works of His children and graciously accepts their services through the intercession of Jesus Christ (1 Peter 2:5). Here is what Bayly says:
"Isa. 64:6, 'All our righteousnesses are as a filthy rags.' Hence the carnal Christian gathers, that, seeing the best works of the best saints are no better, then his are good enough; and therefore he needs not much grieve that his devotions are so imperfect. But Isaiah means not in this place the righteous works of the regenerate, as fervent prayers in the name of God; charitable alms from the bowels of mercy; suffering in the gospel's defense, the spoil of goods, and spilling of blood, and such works which Paul calls the fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22;) but the prophet, making an humble confession in the name of the Jewish church, when she had fallen from God to idolatry, acknowledges, that whilst they were by their filthy sins separated from God, as lepers are from men by their infecting sores and polluted clothes, their chief righteousness could not be but abominable in his sight. And though our best works, compared with Christ's righteousness, are not better than unclean rags; yet, in God's acceptation for Christ's sake, they are called white raiment (Rev. 3:18), yea, pure fine linen and shining (Rev. 19:8)..." 

Wednesday, January 29, 2020

Praying to "Our Father in Heaven"

In Matthew 6:9-13, Jesus taught his disciples to pray using a prayer commonly known as "The Lord's Prayer." This prayer begins by addressing God, “Our Father in heaven…” (6:9). These opening words remind us of several truths:
  • God is our Father only through Jesus Christ. Jesus is the one who gives you the right to be called children of God (John 1:12). Jesus makes God your Father through your regeneration and through your adoption. To pray in the name of Jesus is to pray through his mediation, having been reconciled to God through faith in him. In this way, you may know God as your Father and not as a hostile judge. 
  • God is our Father, therefore we should give him reverence. We are commanded to honor our earthly fathers and mothers in the Ten Commandments (Ex. 20:12). Honor and revere, then, your Father in heaven (Mal. 1:6). 
  • God is our Father, therefore we should come with confidence. He cares for his children. "Or which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? ... If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!" (Matt. 7:9–11)
  • God is our Father in heaven, therefore we should distinguish him from the faults of earthly fathers and remember that God is all-powerful, and therefore able to do what we ask. “Our God is in the heavens; he does all that he pleases” (Ps. 115:3).  
  • God is our Father, therefore we pray with brothers and sisters, children of the same Father. I do not just mean the people that you connect with - I mean the people that God has brought into his family, the church. If you love God, you will love his children (1 John 4:20-5:1). You should pray with God’s children, since Jesus envisions the disciples praying this together. You should pray for God’s children, since you make these requests for "us." You should remember God’s children even when you "go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret" (Matt. 6:6).  
And so to summarize in the words of the Westminster Shorter Catechism:
"The preface of the Lord's prayer, which is, Our Father which art in heaven, teacheth us to draw near to God with all holy reverence and confidence, as children to a father able and ready to help us; and that we should pray with and for others."

This is adapted from a portion of my recent sermon on the Lord's Prayer. It is available online at this link

Tuesday, January 21, 2020

Ten Theses on Genesis 2:24

“Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother 
and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.” 
Genesis 2:24

This verse is a key text regarding humanity, marriage, and family. It comes at the conclusion to the account of creation and is quoted at least four times in the New Testament. It continues to play a role in many discussions today, and so I propose the following ten theses, along with ten sub-theses, regarding some of its meaning and implications.

1. This verse teaches God’s intention for marriage to be a lifelong union of one man and one woman, bound exclusively to each other.

2. This verse asserts the priority of the marriage bond over all other human relationships, even over the relationship between parent and child.

3. This verse asserts that a child’s relation to his or her parents will change, and that parents should raise their children towards the responsibility and freedom of maturity.
  a. Other passages expect men to assume adult responsibilities when they reach the age of majority. In biblical Israel, men reached the age of majority at age twenty and were then responsible for military service, voting, and the head tax (Num. 1:2-3, 1 Chron. 12:38, Ex. 30:13-14).

4. This verse teaches that marriage is a normal part of reaching adulthood.
   a. Indeed, it is the duty of those of marriageable age to find a spouse and get married, unless they have a gift of continency (1 Cor. 7:2-9, 1 Tim. 5:13-14).
   b. As man and woman came from one flesh, so they naturally are designed to become one flesh, and unless this is consummated in marriage, fallen humanity will normally seek an illegitimate outlet for this natural design.

5. The context of this verse teaches that parents have a duty to help their children find callings and spouses when they reach adulthood.
  a. God provided a calling and bride for Adam, the “son of God” (Luke 3:38), just as he later provided a calling and bride (the church) for his only-begotten Son (John 6:38-39, Rev. 21:2). This pattern is reflected in the duties of human parents (Jer. 29:6, Ruth 3:1, Gen. 24:2-4, Eph. 6:4).
  b. Therefore, parents should prepare their children with the skills and character necessary for these responsibilities. 
  c. Parents should make these decisions in communication with their children. The initial suggestion of a spouse can come from parent or child. Both the couple and their parents should consent to the marriage; parents should not force marriage without the son or daughter’s consent, nor withhold consent without just cause.
  d. While the Bible certainly recognizes occasions when parents cannot afford it, it is expected that parents will help provide a financial basis for their children as they are able (Prov. 19:14, 2 Cor. 12:14). 

6. This verse and its context (Gen. 2:15-24, 3:12) teach that the man leaves his parents and receives his wife, in distinction from the woman who is given to the man.

7. This verse does not require the man to stay at his father’s house until marriage.
  a. A man might leave home to prepare for marriage and find a spouse. Isaac sent Jacob away to Laban to find and win a wife (Gen. 28:1-5). The heavenly Father sent the Son to earth to win his bride, the church (John 6:38-39, Rev. 21:2).
  b. As children mature and transition into adulthood, parents may delegate some of their authority to others for a temporary period of further training, such as in apprenticeship (one type of “slavery” in Ex. 21:3 and Deut. 15:12-18) and discipleship (1 Kings 19:19-21, Matt. 4:21-22, Acts 16:3).

8. This verse does not require a man to physically leave his father’s house when he gets married.
  a. This can be seen from numerous biblical examples, it being common, though not required, for three or four generations to live in one household under the authority of the patriarch (Josh. 7:14-18, 24). “Secession” from this arrangement was possible and sometimes for the best (Gen. 31), but it was often to everyone’s advantage to stay together. This is an uncommon arrangement today in America, but it is not an arrangement forbidden by Scripture. 

9. The context of this verse (Gen. 2:15-20) teaches that a man should be proven as a responsible worker and have a sense for his mission and his need for a helper before he gets married.

10. This verse does not teach that a man’s responsibility to honor and support his parents ends when he gets married (e.g. Prov. 23:22, 1 Kings 2:19, Matt. 15:1-9).

Friday, January 17, 2020

2020 Men’s Advance: Keep the Faith!

Check out the new video below, in which I talk about the upcoming Men's Advance, which our church will host on May 2nd, 2020. In the video below I explain this year's theme, which is "Keep the Faith." The speakers this year will be myself and Christian McShaffrey, pastor at Five Solas Church (OPC). For more information about the event and to register, follow this link.

Thursday, January 9, 2020

Egalitarianism vs. Christian Hierarchy

It may seem like the victory of egalitarianism is now complete. As one article has declared, “Turning back this half century of feminist advance is impossible (leaving aside the fact that is deeply undesirable).”[1] While conservatives may try to make a stand for traditional values, they seem inevitably just one step behind the progressives. Yet, those who would declare the victory of egalitarianism do not account for one thing: that God may yet arise and scatter His enemies. “As smoke is driven away, so you shall drive them away; as wax melts before fire, so the wicked shall perish before God!” (Psalm 68:2) There is a God in the heavens and He laughs at the rebellion of the nations.

This may seem like harsh words for egalitarians. Perhaps it would be good to explain what I mean by egalitarianism. Nearly all Christians agree that individuals are of equal value and importance. They agree that every individual is made in the image of God. The point at which egalitarians differ from Christian orthodoxy is that they claim for every individual the same rights, privileges, duties, and authority.

Christianity, though, recognizes the importance of “preserving the honor, and performing the duties, belonging to everyone in their several places and relations, as superiors, inferiors, or equals” (Westminster Shorter Catechism, Q. 65). This does not refer to superiority and inferiority in worth or importance, but rather in authority, privilege, age, and gifts. The catechism’s footnotes refer to the human relations of husband and wife, parent and child, and master and servant. These relations are the basic types of biblical hierarchical relations (Col. 3:18-4:1) and are foundational for other hierarchical relations in society. As the Westminster Larger Catechism explains in one of its eleven questions on the fifth commandment, "By father and mother, in the fifth commandment, are meant, not only natural parents, but all superiors in age and gifts; and especially such as, by God's ordinance, are over us in place of authority, whether in family, church, or commonwealth" (Q. 124).

Christian hierarchy is not to be confused with other forms of hierarchy. Christian hierarchy is covenantal. The superior and inferior are connected and both have duties and privileges, even if they are different. For the superior to abuse the inferior is to hurt himself. For the inferior to rebel against the superior is to undermine his own authority. The biblical picture of the body and its interrelated parts is vital to this understanding (Eph. 5:22-33, 1 Cor. 12). Also, a certain equality under the sovereignty of God is a moderating factor, as we see in Job 31:13-15 and Ephesians 6:5-9.

Egalitarianism seeks to undermine and flatten these biblical relations. Feminism, youth rebellion, and radical individualism are expressions of this movement. Eventually a leveling of society, as found in communism and revolutionary democracy, is the end. The theory that all individuals are naturally born with the same rights, privileges, duties, and authority led to the social contract theories of Hobbes and Rousseau. This led to the French Revolution and centralized tyranny. As he faced this revolution of egalitarianism, John Randolph of Roanoke (1773-1833) declared that “I love liberty, I hate equality.” Egalitarians sought to destroy the mediating institutions, like the household and church, and left all men equal under the the single will of the people as declared by the state. In a feudal or hierarchical arrangement there were various relations that limited each other and were limited under God. This system of checks and balances leads to liberty. There might be someone under your authority, but you are also under authority (e.g. a man might be head of his family, but he also must submit to his elders at church).

The Bible does not teach egalitarianism. It does teach harmony, unity, and mutual honor and duties, but this is different than sameness. This biblical hierarchy has two reinforcing reasons. When Paul argued against women teaching or exercising authority over men in the church he appealed to creation and the fall: “For Adam was formed first, then Eve; and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor” (1 Timothy 2:12-14). These are universal truths about humanity, not limited to some particular situation. As Genesis 2-3 recounts, man and women were created differently, and then they sinned differently and were cursed differently. This is an true today as it is in Paul’s day. If man had never fell, there would still be “inferiors, superiors, and equals,” yet sin and the curse has made these distinctions even greater. Slavery, for example, is a result of sin and the curse. Some kind of slavery is inevitable in society during this age, though it is not desirable. God’s grace and redemption does not obliterate differences between people, but it does lessen the effects of sin over time. Thus slavery is softened and progressively minimized among Christians (1 Cor. 7:21-24). But our duties towards “inferiors, superiors, and equals” are more established by God’s grace, rather than lessened. Rebellion against God’s appointed order is a sign of rebellion, not grace.

Do not try hammering nails with a screw driver. Submission to God requires that we realize our created nature. We are not whatever we want to be. We are what God has created us to be. We are not inferior in worth just because we cannot do anything we want. The very traits that unfit us for one task may make us especially fit for another. Submission in faith to God’s order is the first step towards harmony and productivity.

A proper response to egalitarianism is not merely reactionary, but biblically principled, holding everyone to account and showing honor to all, especially to those who are weaker or inferior (1 Peter 3:7, 1 Cor. 12:21-25). It requires men and women who are converted by God's grace and equipped by God to fulfill their station in godliness. This revolution is real and must be met by words and deeds.

It is easy to underestimate or compromise with this revolution. Not only is it powerful in our culture, but it also sounds so nice. Yet egalitarianism is deadly. Egalitarianism undermines the authority of the household, the basic unit of society. It strikes at the root of civilization. It leaves the individual at the mercy of the state and the will of the people. Egalitarianism has resulted in bloody revolutions and tyrannical administrations. Egalitarianism in the form of feminism is primarily responsible for the holocaust of abortion. May God arise and scatter this revolt! And may we look at the destruction around us and seek to rebuild by taking responsibility for those around us, “preserving the honor, and performing the duties, belonging to everyone in their several places and relations, as superiors, inferiors, or equals.”