Agonizomai: December 2009

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Back on Jan 2nd, 2010

For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given,
And the government shall be upon His shoulder,
And His name shall be called Wonderful, Counselor, The Mighty God,
The Everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace.

(Isaiah 9:6)

(from "The Messiah" by G.F. Handel)

Friday, December 25, 2009

Joy to the World
No more Hebrews until Jan 2nd, 2010
Merry Christmas to all my readers and listeners

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Oh Come, Oh Come Emmanuel

No more Hebrews until Jan 2nd, 2010
A merry Christmas to all my readers and listeners

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Heb 6:9-12 - Christ - The Preserver Through Our Perseverance

Heb 6:9-12 - Christ - The Preserver Through Our Perseverance

Heb 6:9-12 Though we speak in this way, yet in your case, beloved, we feel sure of better things—things that belong to salvation. 10 For God is not so unjust as to overlook your work and the love that you showed for his sake in serving the saints, as you still do. 11 And we desire each one of you to show the same earnestness to have the full assurance of hope until the end, 12 so that you may not be sluggish, but imitators of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises.

The stick and the carrot. After the stern words of warning comes the word of encouragement and hope. Preferring to believe the best of these professors of Christ, the writer tells them just that. They are not yet done for. There are evidences of fruit in their lives and, therefore, evidences of true salvation. And if they are truly the real thing then the writer can be confident that God is at work and will not ignore the fruit that is evidence of His own great power at work in them; so neither should they ignore it.

They not only participated in serving the body of believers in the past, but they continue to do so to one degree or another. Some are still earnest about it. Some need to stir themselves from their torpor. The writer is preaching to them the doctrines of the preservation of the saints through that perseverance on their part which comes from genuine faith in the God Who is at work in them.

All Christians both must and will endure to the end. But they will do so not by gritting their teeth and applying the energy of the flesh to hold onto a salvation that is a gift to begin with. They will do so by holding fast to the belief that God is at work in what they are doing because He is sanctifying them. It is God who is faithful and not us. What He commands to His true children He also grants to them by grace. They will seek it and walk in it, but ultimately only due to God, and only through faith in Him.

The writer once more turns to the history of the Jews and to their own scriptures to illustrate his point, as we shall see.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Tradition vs Traditionalism
"Tradition is the living faith of the dead. Traditionalism is the dead faith of the living."

Jaroslav Pelikan

Monday, December 21, 2009

Heb 6:7-8 - Christ - The Fruit Giver and Judge

Heb 6:7-8 - Christ - The Fruit Giver and Judge

Heb 6:7-8 For land that has drunk the rain that often falls on it, and produces a crop useful to those for whose sake it is cultivated, receives a blessing from God. 8 But if it bears thorns and thistles, it is worthless and near to being cursed, and its end is to be burned.

And here is the anecdotal representation of this apparent difficulty (in Hebrews 6:4-6). Is there fruit? That is the question. And more than that, since fruit itself can, in the short term seem to be at the very least imminently promising, even though it ultimately never appears. So the question needs to be refined..."Is there abiding or lasting fruit?"

And this fruit is not inevitably nor even necessarily always works, when those works are activity performed in the self-righteous strength of the flesh. Good deeds are performed every day by countless pagans and by myriads of apostates or false believers. Jesus says, "Let them alone, for whoever is not against us is on our part." God will still get the glory and He is still to be thanked for them. But those who do them in the hope of justifying themselves to God will themselves be cast into the outer darkness, unless they repent.

But fruit of abiding in the Vine - that draws its all from the Vine alone and owes its all to the Vine - such fruit is pleasing to God, for Christ’s sake; and it is pleasing to Christ’s own, for God’s sake.

But there remains, in the final analysis, the prospect that some people upon whom God has rained down His graces of enlightenment and knowledge and experience will prove to be utterly fruitless. Outwardly, at least, and from the strictly human perspective, there will be a seemingly indistinguishable mass of people who come under the gospel - all receiving the same graces externally. But only some will experience those graces internally, metabolizing them and bringing forth fruit. All those who hear are responsible for obeying, but only those who are specially graced with repentance and faith will actually exhibit the genuine obedience of faith that results in fruit. This is the difference between what is known as the general call that goes out to all who fall under the proclamation of the gospel - and the special or effectual call by which God Himself works according to His own elective will and grace to bring His chosen people to salvation.

However, we do not take a passive view. The secret operation of God’s Spirit upon the hearts of men through the gospel is not open to us to know with absolute certainty - not even after a person professes faith. We accept their profession, if credible, absent the infallible knowledge that God Himself has, both as to His omniscience and His irresistible secret decree. We judge the fruit because we are commanded to be at least that discerning - but we never pronounce that sort of judgement of final disposition that is open only to the Judge of all the earth.

Because God has reserved to Himself the absolute knowledge of the detailed outcome of His decrees it would be foolish for human beings to sit like bumps on a log and wait for God to do whatever God has ordained to do. Certainly, what he has ordained will inevitably come to pass but, since we don’t know what that is, the universe is designed in such a way that we are obligated to live out our lives and to work out our own salvation (with fear and trembling), understanding that, if we are being saved at all, God is at work in us both to will and to do of His good pleasure.

In other words, regardless of what end God has ordained, we ourselves are always responsible to God for if, and how well, we seek to cooperate in His revealed will. There is much about God’s will that has been revealed. That revealed will is contained both in the written word from of old, and in the Living Word. The secret things belong to the Lord, but what has been revealed is for us and for our children. So today, when we hear His voice, we must repent, knowing that when we do, it is entirely by His grace alone, and on account of Jesus Christ Alone.

Nevertheless, the awful fact remains that some (Jesus says "many") will prove to be fruitless thorn bearers, even under the dispensation of the gospel and, on account of their own intransigence, will ultimately be bound up with the tares and cast into the fire. But note even here the tender patience of God is at work, for He says that, though the crop is worthless it is only near to being cursed. As long as there is life there is hope. As long as God forbears there is the possibility of grace leading to repentance and faith. Thus He is to be sought while He may be found. We cannot oblige Him by our seeking - but we can hear His Own promise that, if we do seek Him, we shall find Him because He will never cast away those who come to Him. When we are found, we will have time enough to understand that it was God who sought and drew us - and not the other way around.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Sermon of the Week
How God's Word Produces Our Work

Here is John Piper preaching in 2006 around the time of his prostate cancer diagnosis. He uses an eschatological passage and the example of personal experience to show how God's Word works in and through us to produce God honoring lives through faith.

This seems an appropriate sermon to publish after my recent meditations on the "rest of God" and on entering into it. I already mentioned how this is not such a rest as to RESULT in inactivity - nor even such a rest as COMES from inactivity; it is, rather a rest arrived at through striving to remove all the obstacles to knowing God and abiding in Him and His promises. It is through the gifted faith that we have that produces the fruit which is evidence both to us and to others of the reality of our belonging to God. Listen to this and I don't think you'll find Piper and I are too far apart.

How God's Word Produces Our Work - John Piper

His text:

1Cor 15:51-58 Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, 52 in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. 53 For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality. 54 When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written:

“Death is swallowed up in victory.”
55 “O death, where is your victory?
O death, where is your sting?”

56 The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. 57 But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. 58 Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Crown Him With Many Crowns
Here's a great old hymn, originally by Matthew Bridges in 1852. The thing I prefer about so many (not all) of the older worship songs is their adherence to sound doctrine so that we are either taught or reminded in the singing of them.

But beyond that is the focus that is found, not on the singer or his feelings or needs, but on the Christ Who redeems us and the glories of His grace. I believe that true spiritual worship is found in singing about Christ and what He has done, and that feelings arise from these truths, rightly apprehended by the heart. I don't want to sing about me - I want to sing about my God and Savior. Enjoy this one, as many of our brothers and sisters now in glory have done before you.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Heb 6:4-6 - Christ - Not to be Denied

Heb 6:4-6 - Christ - Not to be Denied

Heb 6:4-6 For it is impossible to restore again to repentance those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, and have shared in the Holy Spirit, 5 and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come, 6 if they then fall away, since they are crucifying once again the Son of God to their own harm and holding him up to contempt.

What is the "for" for? It precedes an expansion and an explanation of what has been stated immediately prior. That is, grow up as Christians and get on with the job of being instead of doing - in the sense of justification. Abide in the justification God has provided and grow in grace by believing it, and turn from the self-justification of works and ceremonialism, which things you are supposed to have done when you first believed. Don’t even think about going back to that shadowy realm of symbols when the reality that they represent has come in Christ...

...And now...

...for it is impossible to restore (you) again to repentance if you fall away by returning to what never helped you and rejecting the only one who can. A lost soul not knowing about Christ will receive a bad enough condemnation, but a mind that has been enlightened with the gospel and has been drawn by the Holy Spirit - if such a mind should turn back it is tantamount to crucifying Christ a second time and putting him to an open shame.

Now, if I had a dollar for every sensitive soul, or for every repenting sinner or backslider that had been seriously troubled by this passage I would be a wealthy man. Add to that a dime for every Arminian that had seen this as proof positive that salvation, once received, can be lost and I would give even Bill Gates and Warren Buffet taken together a run for their money.

The primary context is apostatizing Jewish professors of the faith. Remember that this letter was written not to condemn but to warn, and that the warning was rendered necessary by many factors which we visited in chapter 1. This is how God works in both believers and reprobates. It is how God makes His rain to fall on the just and the unjust alike, how He leaves the tares to grow up with the wheat until the harvest time. He gives forth His admonishments and his promises by means of which the true children of faith apprehend and walk in his truth. In other words, sooner or later, the warning works for the true believer and not for the reprobate. One it changes and preserves, and the other is hardened.

So this is given to believers so that they will not apostatise. It is love speaking. Don’t go near the hot stove, child, or you will be burned! What is the objective? To terrorize the child? To ensure that the child is burned? Far from it! The objective is that the child will never have to experience the pain that burns bring. It is medicine for the sick soul. It is an inoculation against deadly disease.

It is not meant to snatch away hope from the saint who has committed a great sin, or to deny the backslider any prospect of recovery. It is meant to keep the professors from that sort of apostasy which, having been enlightened by the gospel, nevertheless denies the Christ upon which it is founded. This is speaking of a conscious, informed and deliberate public turning away from Christ. It is announcing to the world, "I believed once, but now I don’t believe that Christ is the eternal Son of God who died and rose again so that all who believe on him will not perish, but have eternal life." And/or it is saying, "I once thought that I needed a righteousness which came from God, but now I believe that I can provide a righteousness of my own."

So apostasy is not necessarily a rejection of all belief, but a rejection of the right belief on essential matters, as laid down by Christ and his apostles. In other words, doctrine matters. Which is why the writer here has been exhorting the Hebrews to grow and mature in Christ. If they had been so doing, they could not possibly come to the place where they were ready to reject the foundation upon which they had built so much.

Now scholars of differing convictions on this passage have variously interpreted it to be a warning to false believers or a warning to true believers (by which they are preserved through faith), a theoretical possibility or a possible situation for true believers. People look at phrases such as "tasted the heavenly gift," "shared in the Holy Spirit," "tasted the goodness of the word of God" and "(tasted) the powers of the age to come" and fall into a couple of broad categories...
1) These graces, experiences, benefits - whatever they are - could not be experienced by an unbeliever and this must, therefore be addressing the very real possibility that saved people can lose their salvation. I have never understood such a conclusion. If there was nothing we could do to get saved (while we were still sinners, Christ died for the ungodly) then what makes us think that there is something we can do to keep ourselves saved or, conversely, to lose what God has appointed us to? It ascribes to man a power he never had. Man always has the responsibility to obey God, saved or not, but he never has the ability in and of himself. Since Adam, Christ is the only man who ever had that.

2) It is possible to go a very long way along the road to salvation without ever actually belonging to Christ. Perhaps this is why Jesus speaks of some claiming to do many wonderful works in his Name and yet disowning them by saying "I never knew you." {Mt 7:21-23}
What this cannot mean to those of us who are enjoying the clarity of the Reformation is what official Roman doctrine asserts in general - that we are saved by grace and kept by works which, if not performed, will ultimately result in our damnation, or at least, our purgation. But the reality of it is this - that if there is never any fruit it is because we are damned. If there is fruit, it is because God has saved us, and appointed us unto good works that we should walk in them.

What it might be, rather than a statement of the possible, is a horror of the unthinkable. It might be hyperbole enlisted to sternly warn any wavering Hebrews. Those who take this line think of all those graces as being exactly the same as the graces enjoyed by all true believers. Thus, to them, the "sharing in the Holy Spirit" is precisely the same as being born again and indwelt by the Spirit. "Enlightening" is exactly the same thing as having the veil lifted and apprehending the truth about the Person of Christ - or seeing Him, if you like.

But there are so many verses elsewhere that support the idea that a person, once born again can never be lost again, that it simply cannot be the case here that the writer is teaching loss of salvation. If we let scripture interpret scripture, He must be teaching the truly reborn believers never turn back and deny Christ. And by "deny Christ" I mean a denial of what the Christ, in the Person of Jesus, achieved by His incarnation, life, death and resurrection. And this is the complete and sufficient propitiation of God’s anger against all of the sins of his elect, and of His atonement for them on their behalf. The turning back to, the reintroduction and re-embracing in the soul of, works self-justification in any measure, no matter how small, is the evidence that there was no true salvation to start with, rather than the loss of it.

Once more, then, this warning of irreversible apostasy is not for those who stumble, but for those who deny the faith; it is for those who, despite having been exposed to the light of the power of God at work in and through the church, and having at one time professed to believe in the Person of Christ (and all that entails), now reverse course and outright deny what he stands for. This is a diatribe against the corruption of the doctrine of salvation by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

The Boiling Frog

"Satan's purpose is not to make good people bad or bad people worse. Satan's purpose is ultimately to make people good without Jesus Christ. If the devil owned any one town in the United States, it would immediately become the loveliest town in America -- crime free, prosperous, and everyone would go to church, where Jesus Christ is not preached."

Donald Grey Barnhouse

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Heb 6:1-3 - Christ - The Only Way

Heb 6:1-3 - Christ - The Only Way

Heb 6:1-3 Therefore let us leave the elementary doctrine of Christ and go on to maturity, not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, 2 and of instruction about washings, {Or baptisms (that is, cleansing rites)} the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment. 3 And this we will do if God permits.

Because greater learning/understanding/practice/maturity are the duty of all believers, we ought to earnestly study what God has said. We can’t keep on going back to the beliefs and practices from which the gospel of Jesus Christ has made us free. But if we fail to grow and to abound in grace - if we neglect the graces of study and prayer then, amazing as it may first seem, we are capable of sliding back into old beliefs and the old practices, and lifestyles in which they resulted. Fruit springs only from abiding in the vine. {John 15:1-5} Abiding in the vine is a lot more than having the mindset that once you are "saved" you are "in," and can consequently neglect your salvation. You may, by this, discover that you never really had it to begin with.

The Apostle Peter is careful to make this clear when he speaks of Christian growth - by which he means through abiding in Christ {2Pe 1:1-10}, and where he says that if we have the virtues that grace can supply, and they are increasing, they will keep us from being unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. (By knowledge is meant not just head knowledge, but that sort of intimate knowledge that springs from a growing relationship). Note the need for movement. Movement is a sign of life; growth is a sign of life; progress in maturing is a sign of life. These things are not accomplished merely by knowing facts - but neither are they accomplished absent the knowledge of the facts. To know Christ requires a continual effort to understand what he has revealed about himself. This is contained in the Bible. The Bible is the A to Z of God’s purposes in redemption for the glory of his Name in Jesus Christ.

It is true that the Bible is not the Living Word to us apart from the illuminating grace that the Holy Spirit of God provides to every believer. But it is also true that the Holy Spirit works to reveal Christ not by mystical visions and impressions, but through the inerrant and sufficient Word.

Crude epithets like "use it or lose it" do have some bearing on the question of the need for every believer to be growing in grace and in the knowledge of his Lord and Saviour. However, such sayings can, by themselves, be symptomatic of a mindset that just wants to sum everything up in a word, without bothering to delve seriously into the matter. The scripture is a much better speaker on the subject, and Paul (by the Spirit) laid out to the Corinthians long ago the need for every believer to look at his own heart’s condition, from time to time. {2Co 13:5}

It is a paradox that Christians have entered into God’s rest, and that they rest in the finished work of Christ - and yet unless they strive to be entering in a the narrow gate and to be found in the narrow way all the days of their lives, they may run in vain. But it is never an attempt to make ourselves acceptable to God. We are accepted in the Beloved. It is a struggle to believe that we are accepted unconditionally, despite our own failures, and despite the trials of living in a fallen world, or coming under the chastening hand of God. It is through believing to the very end that all things are working together for our good, because we belong not to ourselves, but to our Redeemer, who bought us with his blood and delivered us from the wrath of God. Our citizenship (commonwealth) is in heaven and from it we look for a Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ. {Php 3:20} God for us? Who against?" is the heartfelt underlying, moving, motivating, energizing reality of the faith God works in us.

The writer to the Hebrews considers that, if the hearers were doing it right, they would be looking heavenward at, and for, Christ who is the ne plus ultra of existence. They ought to have learned and held onto this. They ought to have thoroughly assimilated the doctrine of "repentance from dead works" - by which is meant the absolute bankruptcy and ineffectualness of human self-justification before God through religious ritual and observances. When and if they accepted Christ, then they repented of this sort of religion.

In repenting of dead works as a means of justification, they ought to have accepted that faith towards God was the true way. Similarly, cleanliness was a matter of the new heart given by God, and not of the outside of the mortal body, which would pass away and be replaced one day. Dead works and external ritual cleansing were both a part of the old Judaism (and every other religion) which, while figures of the spiritual nature of redemption and life in Christ, were of no avail of themselves. They were not to be relied upon, but the Person Whom they prefigured.

Also, in Judaism there existed a number of sects - the errors of both of which Jesus confronted and admonished during his incarnation. The Pharisaical aspects of ritual religion we have dealt with here - but there were also the Sadducees. That particular flavour of Judaism was the humanist branch. To them, there was no resurrection and, therefore no judgement of the dead.

But all these errors are, in principle, immediately settled once the work and the authority of Jesus Christ are established in the heart and mind of the believer. Conversion is conversion - it means there is a sea change in outlook originating from regeneration. The holy seed is planted and it springs forth to everlasting life in Christ. The sheep hear his voice and he calls them by name. We know that the whole reason for the advent was so that we could have everlasting life in Him {John 3:16} and avoid the universal condemnation of all who do not receive Christ, at the certain and coming judgement, when unbelievers will be cast eternally into the lake of fire, and thenceforth suffer everlasting torment.

Every spiritual babe knows John 3:16 and the simple truth contained in it. All should know the truth regarding condemnation which is found in the same context (John 3:17-18). These truths are the milk of the gospel. If they are truly the foundation of our understanding and belief then we not only must, but will be able to press onward and upward into Christ. But if there are uncertainties, doubts, reservations, second thoughts - about these things, then all future building may be on perilous and unstable sand.

The writer is exhorting the Hebrews to remember and to grow in the truth. If indeed they have truly been born again, then they ought to move past the milk and on towards the maturity of knowing and abiding in Christ in any and all circumstances.

But note the deference shown by the writer to the purposes of God. Nothing - not even Christian growth - can occur unless God Himself permits it. Is this just a figure of speech? Is it a ritual tip of the hat - a superstitious crossing of the heart - a touching of wood? Or are the writer, the Holy Spirit and the Bible serious when they lay all events at God’s feet and acknowledge His sovereignty?

In the final analysis, salvation is a work of God from start to finish. This is the truth that the Hebrews ought to have moved into, instead of being tempted to go back to the self-justification of dead works. There is no salvation with which any measure of human contribution, however small, can be acceptably mixed. In Christ God once for all emphatically provides salvation, and the faith to believe it, to those who come to believe and who, through trust in Him, endure on account of that belief, to the end.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

We Cannot Trust in Our Own Impressions
Roy Hargrave
In this short clip, Pastor Hargrave warns about the unreliability and deceptiveness of trusting in our impressions. We can get a "feeling" that God is going to do something and be entirely wrong. And the fact that we are sometimes right, rather than helping us, can lead us into error.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Heb 5:11-14 - Christ - The Food That Matures Us

Heb 5:11-14 Christ - The Food That Matures Us

Heb 5:11-14 (10... being designated by God a high priest after the order of Melchizedek.) 11-14 About this we have much to say, and it is hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing. 12 For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food, 13 for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child. 14 But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil.

Who needs doctrine!? Just give me Jesus! But which Jesus are we to receive? And how much of Him?

Christ is indeed to be received as if we were little children, for we are reborn and must learn all things new. But we are no more correct to remain spiritual babes than children are to lie in their cribs crying to be fed milk when they are of an age to walk and cook and make their way in the world. Yes, the gospel is simple enough that the very least of humanity can receive and believe it. No, it is not good enough to refuse to go on from there and to call those who do "doctrinaire" or "complicators" or “worshipers of a paper Pope”, or even "bibliolaters".

The difficulty of the deeper things, the intricacies of the truth, the detailed complexion of what God has revealed of Himself in Christ - these things are only made hard by the attitude of the believer. "Ask," God says to the believer, "And it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you." {Mt 7:7} And what does the following verse say? "For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened."

So the professor must ask, must seek, must knock - and if he turns from that frame of mind and ceases to inquire then he ceases to grow in grace and the knowledge of Christ. He will remain a mere spiritual baby. Babies are wonderfully provided for by God, but they are not meant to be the permanent condition of humanity.

Now the Hebrew believers of the first century had made profession, had grown, had lived and made a show of faith, but they were in danger of turning back. They had somehow and somewhere allowed their faith to be compromised, and they were wavering. This seems to have been evidenced - maybe even originated - in a dullness of hearing. The same facts were available to them. More information was available that they might be deepened in their understanding of the Person of Christ and his High Priestly (and Kingly) office(s).

The first flush of "Messiah has come and he is Jesus" - the excitement of original conversion, the first love, the stars-in-the-eyes phase had passed. Life went on. He hadn’t come back, yet times were getting harder and persecutions more widespread. A gentle loving Jesus Who came from heaven to save them was delaying His return, and what they were holding onto was not meat enough to deal with the tougher issues. The foundations needed shoring up. They had a foundation based on a Jesus about whom they had not grasped (or had, perhaps, relinquished) the significance.

He was the fulfillment of all their peculiar history as a nation. He was the High Priest that prior high priests only foreshadowed. He was the King of Whom all prior kings (including David) were mere prefigures. If they studied and sought and asked, they would know this, and knowing it they would not be tempted to go back to the mere advertisement when the real product was before them.

Had they misunderstood? Was their faith in vain? The perfect had come and, by now, they ought to have come to a fuller understanding of this teaching, so that they would no longer, like Lot’s wife, be found looking back to things that had been superseded. The fact that they were wavering indicated that they either had indeed misunderstood, or that they were in process of apostatizing.

Notice also that the truth is not simply a matter of knowledge alone. It begins in knowledge and not in mysticism. It engages the hearing and the rational mind. Yes, it also goes beyond what our fallen rationality is able to grasp. Nevertheless, the mind is the place where the knowledge of the truth enters and is apprehended. Facts are learned. But then those facts must bear fruit in behaviour. The information must be put into practice in order for the process to be fruitful. Faith must be manifested through obedience.

Learning Christ builds faith when that knowledge is put into practice. Deeper learning requires more practice. {Mt 7:24,26} It brings greater tests because it illuminates finer distinctions between good and evil, which we must then either walk in, or offend our consciences. Greater knowledge brings greater responsibility. Greater obedience brings greater understanding. Greater understanding brings greater maturity.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Sermon of the Week
Jesus' Birth Prophesied

So here is Mark Driscoll of Mars Hill Church in Seattle, WA. Driscoll is a sometimes controversial figure whose actions and attitudes have been questioned by people that I respect, like John MacArthur and Phil Johnson - but who is also accepted and embraced, without public reservation, by men like John Piper and D.A. Carson, whom I also respect.

So what is a person to do? Well - a person is to do what we are all called to do all the time. We are to test what teachers say and assess what they do using the Bible as the basis and authority of our judgment. I don't follow MacArthur or Johnson, neither do I follow Piper or Carson - and I do not follow Driscoll, though all of them may be helpful from time to time. Like all Christians I strive to follow Christ and I hear from Him, by the indwelling Spirit, through the Word. They testify to each other.

Taking this sermon as I find it I can say that I immediately perceive that Driscoll is doing a very fine balancing act between recognizing the intelligence of his audience and their cultural ignorance of things Biblical. Amazingly, there is a whole generation out there to whom the name of Jesus is a novelty, and who have no idea what the Christian faith is really all about. Its not that they have a wrong idea, but that they have NO idea.

So Driscoll is found explaining more graphically some things that people in my generation or in traditional Christian surroundings at least THINK they understand. I note that and I applaud it. Many of the people in his church are coming from a culture of absolute apathy and ignorance concerning matters Christian.

The good news is that, if they listen to sermons like this they will not remain ignorant for long. They will, if not grow, at least lose their excuse for their lack of a good foundation. And that is all that any good preaching is able to afford to those who sit under it. Some will grow in grace, being fed on the Truth and others will add to their condemnation by resisting it. And the preacher's job isn't to prejudge which will be which.

I have deplored some of Driscoll's material in the past for its utterly inappropriate and inexcusable inclusion of ribald and carnal language in some sermons. This is not just hearsay. I was asked to listen to sermons from Driscoll in the past because the person I was corresponding with was sure that I would find nothing objectionable. I picked a sermon at random and found four things in it that ought never to be found on the lips of any servant of God, let alone one preaching the Word from a pulpit. This left a lasting and negative impression on me.

But I must always speak as I find. And I find this sermon to be informative and to contain a proper balance between law and gospel. The hope of Christ is front and center and the admonishments about sin are not glossed over. And I found no major areas of doctrinal error or any use inappropriate words or themes. In fact, I was informed, enlightened and grown by what I heard. So, for what it's worth and out of respect for my friend Nick, I offer the above comments in conjunction with the following from Mark Driscoll. Give it a fair hearing....

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Have Yourself a Parody at Christmas
Here's a new song from my friend and sister in Christ, Roxylee. Her first YouTube video, it's a parody of a large part of our society's attitude towards Christmas. Hope it goes viral. Roxylee's other works can be found on her MacJams site here. The words are below the video for those who need them.

Have Yourself a Parody at Christmas
by Roxylee

Have yourself a godless little Xmas
Let your words be right
From now on, the Savior will be out of sight
That’s right

Have yourself a godless little Xmas
Let your life be gay
From now on, the Bible will be miles away

Here we are, as in olden days
Stepped in our iniquity
Faithful men of God arose
Spoke His truth to us, to set us free

Through the years, I hope we’ll be together
If God’s grace allows
Think of Him, while hanging lights upon the boughs
And have yourself a Christmas about Jesus now

Here we are, as in olden days
Stepped in our iniquity
The risen Lord bore the wrath of God
That was meant for you, and meant for me

Through the years I pray we’ll be together
If God’s grace allows
Turn to Him, He’s calling to you even now
And have yourself a Christmas about Jesus now

Friday, December 11, 2009

Heb 5:7-10 Christ - The Perfect Human Mediator

Heb 5:7-10 Christ - The Perfect Human Mediator

Heb5:7-10 In the days of his flesh, Jesus {Greek “he”} offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to him who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverence. 8 Although he was a son, he learned obedience through what he suffered. 9 And being made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him, 10 being designated by God a high priest after the order of Melchizedek.

While Jesus is the eternal Son, he was also fully human. The life he lived he lived completely as a man, and by faith in the Father. We must not deny either his deity or his humanity - nor should we dwell upon the one at the expense of the other in an unbalanced way.

But it is entirely because he was fully human and living by faith that he entreated the Father in a completely human way. He prayed and supplicated; he entreated and asked with great yearning and passion. He was laying down for us the pattern we are to recognize and embrace for ourselves. Though we know who we are and we are assured of our relationship with God, we are not exempt from that sort of walking in our faith that seeks and receives all from God’s hand. Though Christ knew who He was and believed it utterly, though He knew why He had come and He knew that He would (inevitably) fulfill all righteousness as had been decreed from eternity - yet He walked in the means by which all this was to be realized. And those means involved supplication, tears, fear and suffering.

This is why the writer is able to say that Jesus learned obedience through the things that he suffered. It wasn’t that he was formerly disobedient and now had learned to submit - it was that he walked in experiential obedience in exactly the same way that we are commanded to do, but without ever slipping. True, Christ never had the disadvantage of having a sinful, Adamic nature; he was not "totally depraved" so as to be unable to please God. In his humanity, he was as Adam had been prior to the fall - which is partly the reason he is called "the second Adam". But the distinction must be drawn that he was God the Son having taken on human form and nature, yet without sin. He had no original sin because He was God incarnate. His human temptations and tribulations were all experienced exactly as we experience them as to his human nature, but as to his Personhood, he abode in the perfect will of God and could not deny himself.

Scholars have long debated whether Christ could have sinned. Some believe that if it was not possible then the incarnation was a sham. Some say that, as to his human nature he could sin, but as to his divine nature it was impossible. That is a logical contradiction to which I cannot subscribe because it separates the two natures of Christ, which we are not to do. We cannot begin to imagine the state of the mind of the incarnate God. But we can know this - that while he experienced the same things that we do, he did it without sin - and that this was ordained from before the world began. What God ordains inevitably comes to pass.

The answer to this conundrum is wrapped up in the mystery of faith. For there must be a sense in which Christ the omnipotent and omniscient God, in choosing to live by faith as a man, in a sense covered his own eyes from the secret decrees made in eternity so as to receive them by faith in exactly the same way that we do.

As to his "being made perfect" we must again be careful with the meaning that English language and custom convey to us. It is not that the eternal Son was ever imperfect but that, as the incarnate Son, He went through the process of maturing and so, fulfilled all that was necessary for Him to perfectly execute his office. In the milieu of time He became, by the work He performed in the flesh, the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him. In eternity he was decreed immutably to be so; in time He walked in it, becoming the de facto eternal High Priest of his people through the completion of His work.

By His people is meant "all those who obey Him." And the obedience here contemplated is that obedience that is born of, and borne by, faith. And by "faith" we do not contemplate "faith" to be an object of itself, but to be that reliance upon the one who has both been shown to be and designated Son of God in power, according to the Spirit of Holiness, and who - by his finished work - is now the sole ground of our acceptance with God. Therefore, the obedience of faith is the means by which the fruit of Christ’s work is manifested in his people. "I am the vine and you are the branches. He who abides in me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without me you can do nothing." {John 15:5}; the fruit borne is not our own, but His.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Missional Exposure
While we are busy being all "missional" the demons are busy being all "infiltrational". So, to use a modern analogy, there has to be a Homeland Security Team on the job while the troops are taking it to the enemy in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Gleanings 16.117

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Heb 5:5-6 Christ - The Eternal High Priest

Heb 5:5-6 Christ - The Eternal High Priest

Heb 5:5-6 So also Christ did not exalt himself to be made a high priest, but was appointed by him who said to him, “You are my Son, today I have begotten you”; 6 as he says also in another place, “You are a priest forever, after the order of Melchizedek.”

Remember that a comparison is being made between the way the high priests under the Mosaic and ceremonial laws were chosen by God, and the elect nature of Christ. The Mormons have God looking for heavenly volunteers to come to earth and save mankind. That is not what the true gospel says.

As to Christ’s human nature it was unassuming and humble. He was the meekest man that ever lived - taking the title away from Moses himself. He did not come to do his own will, but the will of the Father who sent him. But neither did Jesus come unwillingly, as if the Father bid him to do something with which he reluctantly complied. The Son and the Father are one in purpose, will and substance. They are in perfect union yet have distinction as to Personality and role. And these differences are not things that suddenly arose out of some necessity as God "scrambled to deal with the fall." The differences and the distinction of Persons within the Godhead are from eternity. Father, Son and Holy Spirit are all equally God and they always were and will be. They are one God.

It is important to get this doctrine right to begin with, or passages like this one will be impenetrable or worse, they will be wrested and twisted to say something that God never said. The cults take passages such as this one and, based on the English concept of begetting children, assume that the Son came into existence only at the incarnation. In other words, he was only a man, like other men. This necessitates a theology that denies the gospel in many ways, but I will mention two:
1) If Jesus was only a fallen man he was justly under the wrath of God on account of his own inherited fallen (Adamic) nature - just like all of us - and his life and death could not be meritorious. As a consequence there could be no substitution and no effective federal representation of the elect children.

2) It makes Christ a fallen man who must earn salvation for us all from a position of lostness, which no man can do - even for himself, let alone a whole class of people. It therefore posits a gospel by which all subsequent (and antecedent) men must also pull themselves up by their own bootstraps, and denies the doctrine of total depravity. A Pelagian gospel inevitably results.
But there is obviously a sense in which Christ was begotten. The writer takes the Hebrews back once more to their own sacred writings in Psalm 2 where a saying commonly believed to be about David, the earthly king, is now claimed to be about Christ, the heavenly King. "You are my son, today I have begotten you." This is God talking to God. When he says "today" he cannot literally be speaking to the one born "today," because newborns don’t understand language. But there is some application to David as the "type" of Christ. David was victorious over the nations - only in a partial and temporary way; in an earthly way. Christ is victorious over the nations in every way - and perfectly, to boot.

Christ was begotten as a man in a unique way, through the "overshadowing" of the Holy Spirit upon Mary. His humanity was begotten; he was born a helpless baby and grew up in grace and favour with God and men. But this birth was not a coming into existence - it was a coming into human existence, which is quite a different thing. Christ was God the Son taking humanity upon himself.

But a much more expansive concept of the Father begetting the Son is in the moment of the Son’s ascension into glory, having finished the work that the Father gave to him by becoming the perfect atoning sacrifice by which many sons would come to glory. Now he was begotten the head of an innumerable host of redeemed people from every kindred and tongue and tribe. His begetting begot us. So identified with Him are His people that the begetting of Christ in this moment of his victory is the begetting of His people into life eternal and into the everlasting presence of the Father. I speak not of the moment of salvation (whenever that might be) but of the moment salvation was wrought and sealed for all who would believe; salvation achieved, but not yet fully revealed.

And see the contrast between Christ and the other high priests made in terms of eternity. Again using the Hebrew Scriptures and applying them to Christ, the writer begins to set forth the infinite and eternal nature of Christ’s work and his Priesthood. "You are a priest forever, after the order of Melchizedek." Psalm 110, from which this is taken is another prophetic Psalm. It is the one where the Lord himself challenged the learned leaders of his Own day in their interpretation of scripture. "The Lord said to my lord..." and "How is it, then he calls him ‘Lord’ if it is David’s son...?" {Mt 22:44-46} And this reference to Melchizedek is found in the same context - one speaking of Christ Himself and recognized as such by the Lord during His incarnation.

Much more will be spoken of concerning this mysterious figure who blessed Abraham and to whom Abraham gave tithes. Suffice it to say here, that this was a priest of the Living God who preceded even the father of the nation of the Jews and, in him, Moses and David. He was a priest unconnected by earthly blood to the Jewish line. The point is that it was not by heredity that Melchizedek was honoured by Abraham when he tithed to him. The priest came, as it were, out of the mists of time and disappeared into them again; he was timeless - eternal - not a part of any system of ceremony or law.

Allusions are being drawn to Christ as the eternal and infinite High Priest and a contrast is made with the merely mortal men who had, until this time, operated under the Mosaic administration. The writer strives to remind them of what they must have confessed at one time - that Jesus Christ is unique; He is so far different from those who went before as to origin, while being nevertheless the same with regard to His humanity. He represented the people like all the High Priests did, but He was of a completely different order of Being at one and the same time - spotless, blameless, holy, perfect and utterly pleasing to the Father; from eternity and, having finished His work, gone back to eternity; having come bringing the nature of God in human form, He returned taking with Him human beings who would now have the nature of God.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Glory and Joy
I don't understand it when some people feel uncomfortable that God glorifies Himself first in all He does. Surely it is the glorification of God that is the chiefest joy of the saints. These two things are inseparable.

Gleanings 16.119

Monday, December 07, 2009

Hebrews 5:1-4 - Christ, the Chosen High Priest

Hebrews 5:1-4 - Christ, the Chosen High Priest

Heb 5:1-4 For every high priest chosen from among men is appointed to act on behalf of men in relation to God, to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins. 2 He can deal gently with the ignorant and wayward, since he himself is beset with weakness. 3 Because of this he is obligated to offer sacrifice for his own sins just as he does for those of the people. 4 And no one takes this honor for himself, but only when called by God, just as Aaron was.

On the theme being presented to the Hebrew Christians of Jesus the great and eternal and perfect High Priest in contrast with the temporary system of ceremonial law, we come first to the figure familiar to the Jews; that is the high priest chosen from among universally fallen and sinful men. He will be compared (not that there is any comparison) to the ultimate High Priest of whom the earthly was merely the foreshadowing.

But there are similarities which must not be minimized. They were both fully human. They were both chosen, select, elect. They both made sacrifices for sins on behalf of others and acted as intermediary between men and God.

Returning to the merely fallen human high priest, even he - both despite and because of having his own sin in common with those for whom he mediates - can deal gently with the ignorant and the wayward. Not indulgently, but gently. In the same way that God cannot look upon sin and hates the sinner in his sin and yet takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked and thus will not quench a burning flax nor break a bruised reed, so the earthly representative, despite his mortal limitations, also shows love towards the lost and the straying while turning them into the right path.

But the limitation of the earthly high priest is just that he does, in fact, share sin in common with his charges. Even he needed to offer a sacrifice for his own sin. Not that the sacrifice offered under the ceremonial and Mosaic Law ever actually atoned for sin. It was the obedience of faith with which the sacrifice was brought that spoke of forgiveness. Again, it foreshadowed the real Thing of which it was a symbol, though apart from participation through the obedience of faith there was no forgiveness in Israel. God always desired mercy and not sacrifice and the blood of bulls and rams of themselves did nothing.

It was the obedience that came from faith in the God who promised to avert His anger at their sin, that He would do just that when they made the sacrifice. The faith was always in God and not in the sacrifice itself. It trusted God to forgive because had promised to forgive. It was always about trusting God and abiding in the means He had ordained by which that trust was both consummated and realized.

The appointment of the High Priest was never a matter of men’s choice. It was God alone who selected the man who was to be the intermediary. To act as intermediary on behalf of the people is called an honour - but it was a conferred and entirely gracious honour. It was not something to be lobbied for or voted upon by men. Under the Mosaic system the way to God was barred to the common people and open only by special grace to the man appointed by God as their representative and High Priest. Under the later gospel system, all men were priests under the great High Priest, Jesus Christ and, through Him, have direct access to God. All the saints (priests) are still chosen by God - chosen in Christ from the foundation of the world.

So, like all his worldly predecessors, Jesus was chosen by God. He is the elect Son, in Whom all the other children are both seen and received.

Sunday, December 06, 2009

Sermon of the Week
Hebrews 4:1-11 - James White
Since we have just finished going through my feeble scratchings regarding Hebrews Chapter 4, I thought it might be useful to listen to a real exegete preaching on the same material. You will find some differences in both interpretation and application but I am actually comforted by the existence of some similarities. Here now is Dr. James White expounding on Hebrews 4:1-11:

Saturday, December 05, 2009

Humans still evolving as our brains shrink
Decrease has been happening over last 5,000 years, researcher says

The above headline was found above this MSNBC article by Charles Q. Choi. If you read the article you will find many postulations about the so-called "evolution" of the human brain and some conjecture as to why it is shrinking.

Nowhere will you find any suggestion that the human brain is getting smaller because we have been DEvolving for the last 5,000 years (which just happens to be about the date of the global flood of Noah's time). The routine pre-filtering and screening out of Biblical explanations (or evidences) is part of what keeps the myth of evolution alive. Be wise.

Friday, December 04, 2009

Heb 4:14-16 Christ - Our Fully Human Brother

Heb 4:14-16 Christ - Our Fully Human Brother

Heb 4:14-16 Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. 15 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. 16 Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

By inference, then, the old and imperfect system of ceremony and law, which was a type of the perfect which was to come, had now been made obsolete by the perfect Son of God. Merely (fallen) human high priests are no longer needed because the Great High Priest whom they foreshadowed had now come. To go back to such a system would be like rejecting a sizzling steak, of which the aroma was only the promise and, instead, relying on the odor alone for sustenance.

The perfect, eternal consummation of all that went before had now come. Note how the writer is very specific when he says that Jesus, the Son of God, "passed through the heavens". This was bidirectional. He came and He returned. That is the point. He came from heaven where He was already of one essence with God, being the eternal Son - and He returned there, having completed perfectly all that He came to do.

In this is the reminder of the writer to the Hebrews now brought to the fore. Jesus is unique in every way. He is of heaven and all the other high priests were of the earth. This was contained in the original confession of all believers - that Jesus was more than a son of Adam - that He was eternal Son of God; that He gave Himself as the only sacrifice that could appease the wrath of God upon sin, by paying the price on behalf of sinners, and by fashioning a human righteousness on behalf of all those He came to save. No ceremony and no act of fallen humanity could do this.

But the writer goes further. The experience of the Son of God (acting in perfect harmony with the will of the Father) was more than God condescending to save; it was God condescending to identify with humanity. And more than that - it was God condescending to sympathize with human weakness in the face of temptation. It was God living a fully human life and, in the Son, becoming the chief member of humanity forever. It was Him doing on our behalf what we could not and would not do for ourselves, and doing it as a man - living by faith the life of perfect obedience.

God always knew better than we ourselves can ever know the darkness of our sin, and the intensity of the suffering which necessarily resulted from it. But in the incarnation of the eternal Son we see God, for our sake, going beyond perfect understanding to perfect experiential identification with the sufferers. This is God with us - Emmanuel - in a way that wandering Israel could not have imagined. Once more, the historical reality of His presence in the Sinai (and throughout their history) is made a whole new order of reality by the intimacy of His assumption of human form. It is not simply God with us in the physical/temporal sense, but also God in us and we in Him in the eternal sense, starting at conversion. (I hasten to add that was true of all believers, even in ancient Israel, but in a way largely veiled to the understanding. Christ promised has become Christ manifest. God’s salvation looked forward to in faith has now become God’s salvation manifest most clearly in history, and now looked back upon with the same faith.)

The implication of this total identification of God the Son with the redeemed of humanity is that we may have both confidence in God’s unalterable commitment to us, and assurance that He is able to provide to us the grace needed in any temptation or tribulation, because He Himself has experienced it as a man, and has persevered through faith. He knows, therefore, exactly how to supply what the circumstance requires in order that we may endure. We must do this by faith in exactly the same way that He did. He trusted the Father and we trust the Father through the Son, Who has pioneered the Way - indeed, Who is the Way.

Note then, what we receive when we come boldly to the throne of grace. Firstly we receive mercy and then we find grace. Grace is rooted in mercy, but goes above and beyond. We can come with confidence to be absolved of that which we do deserve (and obtain mercy) and to receive that which we do not deserve (and find grace). And we see that both mercy and grace, both the forgiveness and the enabling power, are gifts provided in Jesus Christ to God’s saints.

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Rocket Science and Paleontology

I came across this article the other day - ostensibly about whether or not Neanderthals "interbred" with so-called "modern man".

To the undiscerning eye this is yet one more piece of reportage on an aspect of erudite scientific work. It is trustworthy, factual and reliable.

To the trained eye, this article in nothing more than a collection of conjectures, flights of fantasy, suppositions, unproven assumptions and personal opinions.

We all have presuppositions of course and I am no different. I presuppose that the universe was created by God not much more than 6,000 years ago, and that man was made in His image, quite distinct from all the other creatures on earth. The basis for my presuppositions is the authority of Scripture as the Word of God.

So I am conflicted and amused at the same time when I read this quote which is included in the article:
"Homo sapiens is completely different from any other hominid that ever existed — we process information about the world in a different way." -Ian Tattersall (a paleoanthropologist at the American Museum of Natural History in New York)
The first part of the statement I obviously agree with. I concur that man is different from all other creatures and only add that it is because he was made in the image of God.

What exactly the speaker of the quote means when he references "all other hominids" is unclear. The meaning most likely is intended to convey a catch-all category including humans, so-called "extinct human forms" and the great apes. The context here makes this likely because it is comparing the Neanderthals with modern man. For the record, there is no proof that there ARE "extinct human forms" - only variants of ape-like creatures of various kinds and dead humans of various shapes and sizes. The rest is conjecture - including all the interpretation of bits of bone and skull and the idiotic pictures and mock-ups of the progression of human evolution by arranging the skeletons of primates in an order convenient to scientism's own presuppositions.

But the rocket scientists that promulgate this amorphous changeling called evolution are now apparently able to tell from the bones of dead creatures the differences in the thinking patterns of those creatures, absent any first-hand observation or experimentation. They just skip that part and go on over to the bald assertion of that which has yet to be demonstrated.

It's amazing how fossilized bone yields information about the complex electrical patterns of long disintegrated brains isn't it? We can barely hazard a guess most of the time as to how and what people think in this present age when they are right there next to us. Yet scienctism purports to be able to ascertain how men (or "hominids") thought in the distant past. Give me a break!

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Heb 4:11-13 Christ - The Discerner of Hearts

Heb 4:11-13 Christ - The Discerner of Hearts

Heb 4:11-13 Let us therefore strive to enter that rest, so that no one may fall by the same sort of disobedience. 12 For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. 13 And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account.

After having established that no one can enter God’s rest apart from being found obedient through faith, the writer immediately exhorts the Hebrews to strive to enter that rest! What can striving and resting have to do with each other? And this is the wonder of the gospel. To the fallen mind it is full of apparent contradiction. To the regenerate person it is full of truth and light. We may not be able, as saints, to reconcile in our minds all of God’s antinomies (a J.I. Packer term) - but we are willing to believe that they can be reconciled and that, on that Day, they shall be.

So the person of faith does not know everything. On the contrary, he knows that he knows nothing - and it is this humility of mind that enables him to receive what he previously would not, and to strive to be found under the authority and guidance of God.

Since God’s true (spiritual) rest - the kingdom - is both now and future it may be entered both now and in the future. It may be entered imperfectly by us now and fully by us at the resurrection. Now we see in part, but then face to face. Now we strive to enter in at the narrow gate and walk in the narrow way; then we shall be made perfect. This is God’s plan and God’s purpose for us. He could glorify us instantly at the moment of regeneration, but He chooses to keep us in the body of death, living by faith, that we might come to know experientially, the wisdom and power of His salvation in a hostile and deadly environment.

But, to an imperfect degree in practice, through a faith that believes in the vicarious perfections of Christ on our behalf, we can and do indeed enter into God’s rest here and now. This entry is something that involves the obedience of our faith, and is, indeed, something that cannot be known apart from that obedience. God will neither believe nor obey for us. It is something we must do. But we must not make the error of thinking that because we do it we are, of ourselves, ensuring our salvation. If that were the case then salvation would be, to some degree, received or maintained by our works, and the idea would make nonsense out of so much of the gospel. Luther summed all this up neatly in verse 2 of his hymn “A Mighty Fortress is Our God”...

Did we in our own strength confide,
Our striving would be losing,
Were not the right man on our side,
The man of God’s own choosing.
Dost ask who that may be?
Christ Jesus, it is he;
Lord Sabaoth, his name,
From age to age the same,
And he must win the battle.

Faith (that comes as the free gift of God) appropriates this. And so we have exhortations and admonishment given as the means by which the hearing children will be steered and kept in the Way. Those that harden themselves into the same sort of disobedience that is typified by Israel in Sinai are displaying fruit of unregenerate hearts. They are tares among the wheat - sometimes indistinguishable from the wheat by external appearances, but ultimately destined for the fire. A regenerate heart is found desiring to obey. It is not always found obedient, but it now hates what it once was and it strives against the residue of the old carnal desires. The saints hate sin, even when they do it - but the tares secretly love sin and make only a show of piety.

"For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart." (v12)

Taken in its context, this statement, which starts with "for" is related to the many citations of scripture (the word of God) that the writer has been using to make his point(s). By way of review, what have been his points? His points are that the Hebrews should not turn back from the gospel truth personified in Christ, the Word, to the sort of Judaism that sought to justify itself by deeds of the law; that the very books of Moses and the prophets that they looked to, actually promised and foreshadowed something that went way beyond law; that the system of law and ceremony was always incomplete and insufficient in and of itself - and that it was always the obedience of faith, and not external law-keeping that justified God’s people; that, while obedience was crucial - it had to be that obedience which was founded upon faith - that faith which trusted that God had a "rest" into which believers would enter.

In light of these underlying and foregoing arguments, the writer points out that it is the intentions of the heart with which God is concerned, and that these intentions are, and will be, laid bare by the Word of God. Indeed, it is the Word by which we ourselves are to be judged. Yet if this was all there was, we should be of all men most miserable because the hearts of all men are corrupt to the point that no one, unaided or unmoved by God, seeks after Him. But the Word, both written and incarnate, lays bare to us (if we will see) the nature of our hearts, and the motivations by which they are governed, precisely in order that we should be stripped of all hope in works of the law, and of any expectation that we could reconcile ourselves to God.

We must strive to enter God’s rest not by self-justifying deeds, but through the obedience of faith. We do not strive to justify ourselves, but to lay hold of that for which we were laid hold by God, namely the rest from labour that He both enjoys and provides in Christ. The saint’s rest is freedom from all attempts to justify himself and merely to abide in what God has done - to abide in His love, His work, His justification, His salvation. Those who wish to be adjudged worthy on account of their performance are, in the final analysis, not truly Christians at all, because they have missed the sufficiency of Christ.

God is, after all, omniscient, and He knows all that we think and do. We cannot hide our motivations from Him. And He will require of us what it was that moved us to act - whether a reliance upon our own power and wisdom, or a faith in the power and wisdom of God Himself. And the revealed word preached and taught is that means by which the power and wisdom of God are generated in our hearts by the Spirit of God.