Saturday, August 13, 2022

The Power of God's Word

Question 89: How is the word made effectual to salvation?
Answer: The Spirit of God maketh the reading, but especially the preaching of the word, an effectual means of convincing and converting sinners, and of building them up in holiness and comfort, through faith, unto salvation. (WSC)
The Holy Scriptures are the word of God, and they “are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus” (2 Tim. 3:15). God has appointed that his word be read (both publicly and privately) and preached. The apostle told Timothy to devote himself to “the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching” (1 Tim. 4:13) because if he kept a close watch on himself and on the teaching, he would save both himself and his hearers (1 Tim. 4:16).

The Spirit of God is the one who delivered the word of God to us, producing Scripture by working through its authors (2 Tim. 3:16, 1 Peter 1:10-12, 2 Peter 1:20-21, 1 Cor. 2:13). The Spirit of God is also the one who makes the word effectual to salvation. The natural person is not able to understand the word of God, but the spiritual person - the one who has received the Spirit of God - is able to understand it (1 Cor. 2:11-14). While men may “plant” and “water” by preaching, yet it is God who gives the increase (1 Cor. 3:6-7).

The Spirit uses the reading and preaching of the word to convince and convert sinners. It is the instrument he uses to bring sinners from darkness to light, from death to life. The word of God, when the Spirit makes it effective, is like the voice by which Jesus called Lazarus to life, or the word by which God created light on the first day. It is through the word that the Spirit convicts the sinner of his sin, convinces him of his misery and danger, enlightens him in the knowledge of Christ, and persuades and enables him to embrace Christ. It is the ordinary means by which the Spirit produces faith and repentance in sinners (Rom. 10:17, Acts 26:18, 1 Peter 1:23-25).

The Spirit also uses the reading and preaching of the word to build up in holiness and comfort those who have been converted. Those who have been born again by the word ought to long for the word, as infants long for milk, that by it they may grow up into salvation (1 Peter 2:2). Christ gave the apostles, prophets, evangelists, and pastor-teachers not only for the gathering of the elect, but also for the perfecting of the saints (Eph. 4:12, Col. 1:28, 2 Tim. 3:16). The word of God shows us the way of holiness and motivates us to walk in it. The word of God is also the means by which the Spirit - the Comforter - comforts and strengthens us, giving us hope and confidence (Rom. 15:4, John 14:26).

Tuesday, August 9, 2022

The Ordinances of the Lord

Question 88: What are the outward and ordinary means whereby Christ communicateth to us the benefits of redemption?
Answer: The outward and ordinary means whereby Christ communicateth to us the benefits of redemption are, his ordinances, especially the Word, sacraments, and prayer; all which are made effectual to the elect for salvation. (WSC)
We saw in questions 29-31 that we are made partakers of the redemption purchased by Christ by the internal work of the Spirit, who applies it to us by working faith in us and thereby uniting us to Christ in our effectual calling. Question 88 points out that Christ ordinarily uses outward means to give us the benefits of redemption (Rom. 10:14-17, 1 Tim. 4:15-16). He uses these outward means to convert us and to continually supply us with the benefits of redemption. Sometimes we refer to these outward and ordinary means as “the means of grace.”

To use the word “ordinary” is to note that there may be exceptions, such as with elect infants who die in infancy and are nevertheless regenerated and saved by Christ through the Spirit, who works when, and where, and how he pleases (John 3:8). The catechism also notes that these means do not work automatically, but that God makes them effectual to the elect for salvation. But with respect to our responsibility, we should seek Christ and his benefits by a right use of the ordinary means appointed by him.

The outward and ordinary means are “his ordinances.” As Thomas Vincent (1634-1678) explains,
“By the ordinances of the Lord are meant those means of grace and salvation which are of the Lord’s institution, which he hath appointed and commanded in his Word, and no other … We ought not to make use of any ordinances which are of men’s appointment only, in order unto salvation, because this is will-worship, which is both vain and offensive; and we cannot groundedly expect the blessing of the Lord upon, or to receive any true benefit of any ordinances, but by those alone which are of his own appointment only.”
The chief ordinances of Christ are the word of God, the sacraments, and prayer (Matt. 6:5-13, 26:26-29, 28:18-20). Acts 2:41-42, 47 describes how these ordinances were diligently observed by the apostolic church, and how God made them effectual to the elect for salvation. “And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved” (Acts 2:47).

Monday, August 1, 2022

Repentance unto Life

Question 87: What is repentance unto life?
Answer: Repentance unto life is a saving grace, whereby a sinner, out of a true sense of his sin, and apprehension of the mercy of God in Christ, doth, with grief and hatred of his sin, turn from it unto God, with full purpose of, and endeavour after, new obedience. (WSC)
Repentance ought to be preached as part of the gospel proclamation (Luke 24:47). “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.” (Mark 1:15). Along with faith, repentance ought to be our response to the gospel of Christ. While our repentance does not earn salvation or pardon, yet the promise of the gospel is often conditioned on repentance (Luke 13:3, 5, Acts 2:38). “Repent therefore, and turn back, that your sins may be blotted out…” (Acts 3:19). The Westminster Confession of Faith puts it well when it says, “Although repentance be not to be rested in as any satisfaction for sin, or any cause of the pardon thereof, which is the act of God’s free grace in Christ; yet is it of such necessity to all sinners that none may expect pardon without it” (WCF 15.3).

Repentance begins with a true sense of your sin and an apprehension of the mercy of God in Christ. Hinderances to repentance include the deceptiveness of sin, the willful blindness of a sinful heart, an ignorance of the gospel, as well as doubt and despair. If you do not think you are a sinner, there is little reason to repent. Likewise, if there is no mercy for repentant sinners, then there is little reason to repent. And so Scripture exhorts people to repent by revealing the truth about their sin and God’s mercy in Christ (Acts 2:36-38).

With this knowledge, a repentant person grieves for his sin and hates his sin, and therefore turns from it unto God (2 Cor. 7:10-11, Ezek. 36:31, Joel 2:12-13). This involves confessing our sins, praying for God’s mercy and pardon. It involves repudiating the ways of sin which we formerly practiced and devoting ourselves to the Lord. It involves seeking to give restitution and to repair the damage caused by our sins when possible, with full purpose of new obedience to God. Those who truly repent will sincerely endeavor to obey the commandments of God, being exhorted to live in a manner consistent with their repentance. “Bear fruits in keeping with repentance” (Luke 3:8, see also 3:10-14). “... that they should repent and turn to God, performing deeds in keeping with their repentance” (Acts 26:20).