Tuesday, February 23, 2021

Sensuality

ἀσέλγεια is a Greek word that occurs 10 times in the Bible and the ESV consistently translates it with “sensuality” or “sensual.” This is fairly accurate if you use Noah Webster’s 1828 definition of sensuality, “Devotedness to the gratification of the bodily appetites; free indulgence in carnal or sensual pleasures.” But if you look up the word online, you will see sensuality is commonly used today to simply refer to the enjoyment of physical pleasure. Thus, someone could get the mistaken idea that the Bible teaches that it is wrong to delight in physical pleasures. On the contrary, he gave us our senses and things like food and drink and sexual relations that we might enjoy them and be happy and grateful (Acts 14:17, Ps. 104:15, 1 Tim. 4:3, 6:17). The problem is when we desire or use these things unlawfully and inappropriately. We ought not to idolize them, covet them, abuse them (see here and here), or pursue them in an unrestrained manner or in a way where we loose control.

The word ἀσέλγεια properly refers to a “lack of self-restraint which involves one in conduct that violates all bounds of what is socially acceptable … esp. of sexual excesses” (BDAG Greek-English Lexicon). The KJV usually translates it with “lasciviousness,” which more accurately translates the word, although it might sound old-fashioned. Other words that can be used to translate it would be licentiousness, wantonness, self-abandonment, or shamelessness.

It is an important concept to note today, as our culture tends to put very few restraints on indulging sensual desires. In fact, some people deem it immoral to hinder or discourage people from indulging any of these desires or to deem any particular indulgence as shameful (at least, as long as they are not harming another person without their consent). But Scripture notes that this lasciviousness is ungodly and something that Christians leave behind. Instead, they are to live in a manner that is self-controlled, dignified, and righteous, gratefully using their God-given senses as God intended, delighting appropriately in what is good and lovely.
“Since therefore Christ suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves with the same way of thinking, for whoever has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin, so as to live for the rest of the time in the flesh no longer for human passions but for the will of God. For the time that is past suffices for doing what the Gentiles want to do, living in [ἀσελγείαις], passions, drunkenness, orgies, drinking parties, and lawless idolatry. With respect to this they are surprised when you do not join them in the same flood of debauchery, and they malign you; but they will give account to him who is ready to judge the living and the dead.” (1 Peter 4:1–5)
“Let us walk properly as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and [ἀσελγείαις], not in quarreling and jealousy.” (Romans 13:13)

The Doctrine of the Trinity

Q 6: How many persons are there in the Godhead?
Answer: There are three persons in the Godhead; the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost; and these three are one God, the same in substance, equal in power and glory.
Since God is at the center of our faith and religion, it is vital that we believe the right things about him. If we are to have fellowship with God, we need to know who he is, even if the truth seems rather mysterious. We find in Scripture that God is a personal God and that in fact he is three persons, though he is only one God, one divine being. 

The word “substance,” used in the catechism, is traditionally used interchangeably with the word “essence” to refer the undivided divine nature (think of question 4, “what is God?”). All three persons share the full divine being, all that God is, so that they are equal in power and glory. Each person of the Trinity has all the attributes of God. 

These persons are distinct, not interchangeable. They are distinguished by their personal properties. As our larger catechism explains in its tenth question, these personal properties are that only the Father begets the Son, only the Son is begotten of the Father, and only the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son, and this has always been the case from eternity. Jesus is the only-begotten of the Father (John 1:14), and the Spirit is the Spirit of the Father (John 15:26) and of the Son (Gal. 4:6). From eternity, they have been with each other and loved each other (John 1:1, 17:5, 24). Furthermore, in history they play united but distinct roles in the work of salvation, as 1 Peter 1:1-2 describes, “To those who are elect exiles … 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.”

Our Westminster standards take up and affirm the truths affirmed in the ancient creeds of the church, such as the Nicene and Athanasian Creeds. We recite the Nicene Creed every week in worship, and the Athanasian Creed is worth reading as well. But here is a simple summery of the doctrine of the Trinity from J. Gresham Machen:
“The New Testament is just as much opposed as the Old Testament is to the thought that there are more Gods than one. Yet the New Testament with equal clearness teaches that the Father is God and the Son is God and the Holy Spirit is God, and that these three are not three aspects of the same person but three persons standing in a truly personal relationship to one another” (The Person of Jesus, 13-14).
It is into the name of this Triune God that we are baptized. We are called to serve and entrust ourselves to this Triune God. We are called to have fellowship with the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, with each one particularly and being drawn by each one to the other two and to their unity as one God. 

Tuesday, February 16, 2021

There Is Only One God

Q 5: Are there more Gods than one?
Answer: There is but one only, the living and true God.
There is only one God. The God revealed in Scripture is one God and he is God alone. This fundamental truth is asserted by the law (Deut. 6:4), the prophets (Is. 45:5-7), Christ (Mark 12:29), and the apostles (1 Cor. 8:4-6). "I am the LORD, and there is no other, besides me there is no God..." (Isaiah 45:5). Both Jeremiah 10:10 and 1 Thessalonians 1:9 describe God as the living and true God, as opposed to idols which are dead and false. Unlike false gods, the one true God speaks, hears, and acts sovereignly, having created all things, doing whatever he pleases, working all things according to his purpose.

Deuteronomy 6:4 states that “The LORD our God, the LORD is one.” It goes on to remark on several consequences of this oneness in verses 5-9. 
"[5] You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. [6] And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. [7] You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. [8] You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. [9] You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates." 
First, as verse 5 teaches, God deserves wholehearted love, with nothing held back. Your devotion is not to be divided among several gods. You and I are to be singleminded, serving one God with everything we have.

Second, as verse 6 teaches, God’s word ought to be on your heart. One God means one law - one consistent and unchanging moral standard - and one gospel - one way of salvation. His word is supreme. 

Third, as verse 7 teaches, you should teach God's word to your children and speak of it and consider it throughout the whole day. It should be the foundation for your worldview, shaping your view of all of life. 

Fourth, as verses 8-9 teach, God has a sovereign claim over your personal life (hand and eyes), your family life (house), and your social and political life (the city gates). All of life is to be lived to the glory of God in accordance with his word.

Wednesday, February 10, 2021

What Kind of Being Is God?

Q 4: What is God?
Answer: God is a Spirit, infinite, eternal, and unchangeable in his being, wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness, and truth.
As the story goes, the Westminster Assembly came to this question as it was producing the Shorter Catechism and asked George Gillespie, a minister from Scotland, to draft an answer. Sensing his inadequacy to answer “what is God?” he suggested that they pray. In his prayer he said, “O God, thou art a spirit, infinite, eternal and unchangeable in thy being, wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness, and truth.” This part of the prayer was quickly recorded by another member of the assembly and proposed as the answer to the question! While the story may or might not be true, we should approach the study of God with a similar attitude of reverence and worship. 

God has revealed himself to man, so that we are not in the dark about his existence or nature. Our knowledge of him, when based upon his revelation of himself, is limited but true. He has revealed himself in his creation (Rom. 1:19-20) and in his word, which we have in the 66 books of the Old and New Testaments. He reveals that he is a Spirit (John 4:24), which means he does not have a body. Indeed, he is infinite, eternal, and unchangeable, and these attributes apply to his being, wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness, and truth. That is, his being is infinite, eternal, and unchangeable. His wisdom is infinite, eternal, and unchangeable. His power is infinite, eternal, and unchangeable. And so forth. Consider passages like Psalms 90:1-4, 135:5-6, 136, and 139:7-12.

God is not limited by time or space. Neither is God foolish, weak, common, unjust, miserly, or fickle. Now our experience can at times provoke us to feel that God is weak, unjust, miserly, etc. But we must hold fast to his word and believe that God is who he says he is in the midst of trials. One way that our faith is strengthened is when we recount the past deeds of the Lord and give thanks. Consider what he has done for you. Consider what you have received from him. Consider what he has done for his people in the past. Consider what he has done in your life - particularly in taking pity on you when you were under the condemnation of sin.
“It is he who remembered us in our low estate,
    for his steadfast love endures forever;
and rescued us from our foes,
    for his steadfast love endures forever;
he who gives food to all flesh,
    for his steadfast love endures forever.
Give thanks to the God of heaven,
    for his steadfast love endures forever.”
(Psalm 136:23–26)

Wednesday, February 3, 2021

Faith and Life

Q 3: What do the Scriptures principally teach?
Answer: The Scriptures principally teach what man is to believe concerning God, and what duty God requires of man. 
This answer is like the table of contents for the rest of the Westminster Shorter Catechism. Questions 4-38 will describe what man is to believe concerning God and questions 39-107 will describe what duty God requires of man. These two parts can be describes as faith and life, doctrine and duty, indicative and imperative. As Paul said to Timothy, the Bible is given both for teaching and for training in righteousness (2 Timothy 3:16). Both are essential to a proper understanding of Christianity and to the purposes of God in giving us the Bible. And central to both doctrine and duty is God - through God’s word we learn to know God and God’s will for us.

The Bible is God’s revelation of his nature, purposes, works, and will. He reveals who he is, what he has done, what he will do, and what he would have us do. Why? So that we can know him and be his people. As we saw in last week’s question, the Bible is given to direct us how we may glorify and enjoy God forever. The Bible is the “book of the covenant” (Exodus 24:7), according to which God reveals and commits himself to his people as their God and Savior and we entrust and commit ourselves to him as his people.

Wednesday, January 27, 2021

What is the Bible?

Continuing in our study of the Westminster Shorter Catechism, we come to doctrine of Scripture. 

Q 2: What rule hath God given to direct us how we may glorify and enjoy him? 
Answer: The Word of God, which is contained in the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments, is the only rule to direct us how we may glorify and enjoy him. 
Not only has God purposefully created and designed us for the end of glorifying and enjoying him, but he has also told us how to do so. God has not left us to guess what glorifies him. He has not left us to stumble around in the dark. Rather, he has revealed his will for us, a rule to direct us unto his glory and our delight. 

This rule is the word of God. This word came to his people in various ways, both written and spoken. But since revelation culminated with Christ and his apostles (Heb. 1:1-2), God’s word is now is found only and wholly in the written word of God, the 66 books of the Old and New Testaments. This is why the answer says the word of God is “contained in the Scriptures.” This does not mean that only some of Scripture is God’s word.  It is contained in Scripture, not in the way that an egg contains a yoke, but in the way that the weekly update I send out to my church is contained in an email (the email is my weekly update, and all my weekly update is in that email). The Larger Catechism makes this clear by saying, “The holy scriptures of the Old and New Testaments are the word of God, the only rule of faith and obedience.”

We find this truth clearly taught in 2 Timothy 3:15-17. Holy Scripture is God’s word, and because of this it has supreme authority. Because it is now the only form of special revelation given to us, it is necessary for knowledge of salvation. Because the whole counsel of God concerning doctrine and duty is given in Scripture, it is a sufficient rule of faith and life. Because God gave it to direct us, those things in it which are necessary for salvation are clear enough that even “the simple” may understand them (Ps. 119:130).

Thursday, January 21, 2021

What Were You Designed to Do?

Today I am beginning a series of posts based on the Westminster Shorter Catechism. This catechism is one of the doctrinal standards of our church and has been used for centuries by Presbyterians, Puritans, and others to give instruction in the Christian faith. I will still post other things as well, but you can count on a regular post from me on the Shorter Catechism for a while (there are 107 questions). Here is the first, and most famous, question of the Shorter Catechism: 
Q 1: What is the chief end of man?
Answer: Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him for ever.
First we need to appreciate that man has an end (that is, a purpose or goal). In a consistent evolutionary worldview, man has no intended end and has no design except that he is accidentally fitted for mere survival. We have no purpose in this worldview so we are left to determine our own identity and purpose out of nothing by mere choice.

But through a good reading of nature and especially through the word of God, we find that we were made by God with purpose and design. We were designed to glorify God and to enjoy him forever. Everything else we were designed to do serves this chief end. 

First, "to glorify God," as his image, filling the earth with his glory as we reflect and represent him. We glorify him in worship (Mal. 1:6-8, 11) and by serving him in all of life. “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” (1 Cor. 10:31). 

Second, "to enjoy him," gratefully receiving his gifts and favor, communing with him, delighting in him, his blessings, and his image in one another. Adam and Eve were placed in the Garden not only to serve God, but also to enjoy his fellowship and favor. Psalm 16 meditates on this reality and culminates by saying to God, “in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore” (Ps. 16:11).

And this verse also mentions the third point in our catechism answer: "for ever." We were not created as cheaply made toys, to be discarded after a time. We were designed to fulfill this end forever. And through Jesus Christ, God has restored us to our original end and given us an eternal life of fellowship with God unto the praise of his glorious grace.

Wednesday, January 13, 2021

The Call of Jeremiah and the Mission of the Church

"And the LORD said to me,
'Behold, I have put my words in your mouth.
See, I have set you this day over nations and over kingdoms,
to pluck up and to break down,
to destroy and to overthrow,
to build and to plant.'" 
(Jeremiah 1:9–10)

Two Sundays ago I began preaching through the book of Jeremiah. My first sermon in the series was on Jeremiah 1. You can read the chapter here. It tells of how God called Jeremiah to prophetic ministry. You and I are not Jeremiah, so how should we apply what God says in this chapter? Here are two applications. 

1. God sent the prophets to speak and write his word, so we should receive Jeremiah's words as God's.

The first point of this passage is that Jeremiah’s message did not come from Jeremiah. God put his words in Jeremiah’s mouth (1:9). What he wrote was the word of the Lord (1:4). This is why Hebrews 10, in quoting Jeremiah, says that the Holy Spirit said these words. Therefore it did not matter that Jeremiah was youthful and inexperienced (1:6). He would not be speaking from mere experience. His words, like the rest of Scripture, would be God’s message to his people. 

This is relevant because Jeremiah’s ministry continues today. We still have his words. And the authority behind these words remains divine authority. The church is built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets (Eph. 2). It continues to be taught by them through their written words. Just as God set Jeremiah over the nations to pluck up and break down, to build and to plant, so the words Jeremiah wrote continue to have this authority and effectiveness. Scripture remains powerful and profitable for tearing down and building up. 

God’s word shall not fail. God watches over his word and his enemies shall not prevail against it. God's word is like "a fortified city, an iron pillar, and bronze walls" (1:18). God’s word is powerful to tear down strongholds and to build up his kingdom. He shall fulfill his promises and threats. 

We learn from the call of Jeremiah that God is long-suffering with his people, giving them many opportunities to repent and be saved, giving them access to his word. Though they had walked in wickedness under Manasseh and Amon, yet God gave them a good reforming king (Josiah), a good high priest who found the law (Hilkiah), and good prophets like Jeremiah who would urge them to repentance and faithfulness. Yet many of the Jews of that day did not make use of these privileges and gifts. May we not neglect God’s provisions! Like infants who long for milk, thirst for the word of God. 

As God's word, we should receive the word of the prophets with reverence and faith. As the vision of the almond tree showed Jeremiah, God is watching over his threats and promises to perform them (the almond tree was named in Hebrew for being “watchful” since it bloomed earlier than the other trees). Therefore act upon them, turning at the threats and embracing the promises of salvation with confidence. God’s threats are not idle threats. As the vision of the boiling pot communicates, if his people forsake him, he will let loose disaster upon them.

Be willing to be corrected and reformed by Scripture. God's word is designed to destroy and build. It will correct your sins and build you up in comfort and holiness. This is God’s guidance for your good, to be believed and obeyed. Submit to his chastisement, and you will grow and be established. Resist his correction, and you will be broken.

2. God sends his church to stand upon and proclaim this word, so we should do so with confidence. 

Jeremiah 1 has much in common in the Great Commission in Matthew 28:18-20. What is said about Jeremiah is true of the church to the extent that the church faithfully proclaims the message of Scripture. God gives the church a mission to pluck up and to plant, and to do this he gives it his word and presence.

1. The Lord equips the church with his word. 

He calls ministers of the word to preach and teach it (Eph. 4). Though preachers are not infallible like the prophets, yet to the extent that they faithfully proclaim Scripture, they should preach with equal confidence and power and authority. Likewise, God desires that his word would dwell in the hearts and mouths of his people, that they might teach one another and witness to the world (Col. 3:16, 4:6). God does not make all of us prophets, but to the extent that we study and communicate the message of scripture, to that extent we have God’s words in our mouths. 

The word of God is the sword of the spirit (Eph. 6), a spiritual weapon (2 Cor. 10:4-6), by which we wage war against the domain of darkness. Like Jeremiah, the church is called to use Scripture to break down and build up the church and the nations. It does not do so by carnal weapons - not by rioting and revolutions - but by the ministry of the word. Scripture is effective to restrain and destroy the dominion of sin and to plant and build up the kingdom of God. It deconstructs and reconstructs. 

John Calvin said of the task of preachers of God’s word: 

“That is, by the word of God, whose stewards they have become, let them boldly dare to do all and to compel all this world’s glory, grandeur and power to obey and submit to the divine majesty. Through this same word let them have command over everyone. Let them build up Christ’s house and subvert Satan’s kingdom. Let them feed the sheep and kill the wolves, guide by their instruction and exhortation those who are teachable, and constrain and punish the rebellious and the obdurate. Let them bind and loose, thunder and cast their bolts - but all by the word of God.” (Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, 727)

2. The Lord equips the church with his presence. 

The church becomes "a fortified city, an iron pillar, and bronze walls" (1:18) when it is faithful to Scripture. It looses its strength and power when it ceases to faithfully proclaim Scripture. God told Jeremiah, "Do not be dismayed by them, lest I dismay you before them" (1:17). If Jeremiah was dismayed and shrunk back from his duty, God would give him reason to be dismayed. Likewise, if the church shrinks back from professing and proclaiming God's word, God will give it reason to fear. Do not back away from maintaining God’s truth. God’s word is the church’s glory and weapon. Like Jeremiah, the church is not impressive on its own. But with the words of God in its mouth, it can be confident. 

The church, like Jeremiah, will suffer persecution. “They will fight against you” (1:19). Jesus reminded his disciples that they would be persecuted just like the prophets who were before them (Matt. 5:11-12). Jesus calls people to repentance, and this message, even when lovingly and affectionately communicated (as Jeremiah and Jesus communicated it), is still taken as a dangerous threat by unbelievers. 

Yet, as he was with Jeremiah, God will be with his people. He will deliver you as you stand by his word. “They will fight against you, but they shall not prevail against you, for I am with you, declares the LORD, to deliver you” (1:19). This is just as Jesus said at the end of Matthew, that he will be with us to the end of the age, enabling us to fulfill the mission he gave us. 

Therefore, do not be dismayed by those who show hostility. Do not back away from the message Scripture has given us. Do not add to or take away from God’s word. What he has given us is solid, so do not dilute it. The church is commissioned to proclaim and teach God's word, not its own ideas. You can personally give advice that goes beyond what Scripture says, but don’t say “God says” or “the Bible says” unless God has taught it in Scripture, explicitly or implicitly. 

Encourage and pray for preachers and evangelists to boldly and publicly proclaim God's word. And do your part in promoting this message of Scripture in the world. Let the word of God dwell among you richly, talking about it, encouraging one another with it, singing hymns and psalms. Build up the church as a faithful witness to the word by filling the church with the word. Do not merely retreat to a faithful hold out, but be an active participant in maintaining the faithfulness of the visible church of Christ.

Even as you apply Scripture to yourself to destroy and build up, so apply Scripture to the nations as well. The people of God teach, model, and apply God's word to the nations, each person doing so according to their calling and place in life. Together, we are engaged in a work of reconstruction, with the word of God as our tool.

Conclusion 

You may find reason to be discouraged as you behold dangers confronting our country and the church in our country. Judgment is well deserved. God’s word is not idle. It may be that his hand of chastisement and judgment will even more evident in 2021 than in 2020. But what should we do? Should we hide? Should we lay around idle or paralyzed? No, we should remember Jeremiah 1:17. After God proclaims coming judgement he says to Jeremiah, “But you, dress yourself for work; arise, and say to them everything that I command you. Do not be dismayed by them, lest I dismay you before them.” Let us not be afraid but let us get to work, faithfully communicating God’s word and faithfully receiving and practicing it ourselves.