Piper: God is Just to Forgive

“Even though we have sinned and desecrate the glory of God, Jesus has been bruised to repair the injury we have done to God’s glory. The iniquity of us all has been laid on him. This means that when we take refuge in him, we appeal for salvation not on the basis of our track record, which has fallen so short of God’s glory, but on the basis of Jesus’ vindication of the Father’s glory. In this way, even though we are sinners who have dishonored God’s glory, the glory of God becomes the foundation of our appeal—for we are hiding in the one who lived and died and rose again to glorify the passion of God for his name and the mercy of God to save.

This is what the little word just means in 1 John 1:9: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just, and will forgive our sins, and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” This text says God would be unjust (not merely unmerciful) not to forgive us if we confess our sins.

Why is that? Why is forgiveness now a matter of justice and not merely a matter of mercy?

The answer is that Jesus has shed his blood (1 John 1:7) to make a just recompense for all who confess their sins and take refuge in him. Thus God would be unjust not to forgive them, not because they have honored him by their sinless lives, but because they take refuge in the name of Jesus.

The death of Jesus so honored the Father and so vindicated the glory of his name that God is bound by his justice, not just his mercy, to forgive all who stake their lives on the worth of Jesus. “Your sins are forgiven for the sake of his name,” (1 John 2:12).

Christ’s name, and therefore God’s name and God’s honor, is at stake whenever we fly to Jesus for refuge and bank on his worth instead of our own. This is why there is no contradiction in saying that God loves his name above all things, and yet is committed with all his heart to the good of his people—the people who hope in Jesus. He will not turn away from doing good to them. He rejoices in doing this good for them. And—for all who can believe it—he exalts over us with loud singing.”

-John Piper, The Pleasures of God: Meditations on God’s Delight in Being God, 182-183.

Barrett: Propitiation or Expiation in Romans 3:25-26?

“‘Propitiation’ is not [entirely] adequate, for this means that the offender does something to appease the person he has offended, whereas Paul says that God himself put forward Christ. Propitiation is truly there, however, for, through the sacrifice of Christ, God’s wrath is turned away; but behind the propitiation lies the fact that God actually wiped out (expiated) our sin, and made us right with himself.”

-C.K. Barrett, Reading through Romans, 16.

Happy Yom Kippur!

“YHWH said to Moses: ‘Now the tenth day of this seventh month is the Day of Atonement. You will have a declared holy day. You shall humble yourselves and offer an oblation to YHWH.’”
(Leviticus 23:26-27)

“But the Messiah has appeared… In the greater and more perfect tabernacle not made with hands, He entered the most holy place once for all, not by the blood of goats and calves, but by His own blood, having obtained eternal redemption…” (Hebrew 9)

“Lord, I believe Thy precious blood,
Which at the mercy-seat of God
Forever doth for sinners plead,
For me–e’en for my soul–was shed.”
-Ludwig von Zinzendorf
(Jesus, Thy Blood And Righteousness)

(Yom Kippur starts at sundown tonight.)

Satan’s Devices to Keep Saints Doubting and Questioning –Part 4

Satan’s Devices to keep saints in a sad, doubting, questioning, and uncomfortable condition. –Part 4

7. By reminding the saint of his frequent relapses into sin formerly repented of and prayed against:

For remedies, consider that

A. Many scriptures show that such relapses have troubled saints
B. God nowhere promises that such relapses will not happen
C. The most renowned of glorified saints have, on earth, experienced such relapses
D. Relapses into enormities must be distinguished from relapses into infirmities
E. Involuntary and voluntary relapses must be distinguished
F. No experience of the soul, however deep or high, can in itself secure the soul against relapses

8. By persuading saints that their state is not good nor their graces sound :

For remedies, consider that

A. The best of Christians have been most tempted by Satan
B. All the saints temptations are sanctified to them by a hand of love
C. Temptations cannot harm the saints as long as they are resisted by them

-Thomas Brooks, Precious Remedies Against Satan’s Devices, 1652.

A Debtor to Mercy Alone

A debtor to mercy alone,
Of covenant mercy I sing;
Nor fear, with thy righteousness on,
My person and off’ring to bring.
The terrors of law and of God
With me can have nothing to do;
My Saviour’s obedience and blood
Hide all my transgressions from view.

The work which his goodness began,
The arm of his strength will complete;
His promise is Yea and Amen,
And never was forfeited yet.
Things future, nor things that are now,
Nor all things below or above,
Can make him his purpose forgo,
Or sever my soul from his love.

My name from the palms of his hands
Eternity will not erase;
Impressed on his heart it remains,
In marks of indelible grace.
Yes, I to the end shall endure,
As sure as the earnest is giv’n;
More happy, but not more secure,
The glorified spirits in heav’n.

-Augustus Toplady

Fountain of Never Ceasing Grace

Fountain of never ceasing grace,
Thy saints’ exhaustless theme,
Great object of immortal praise,
Essentially supreme;
We bless Thee for the glorious fruits
Thine incarnation gives;
The righteousness which grace imputes,
And faith alone receives.

Whom heaven’s angelic host adores,
Was slaughtered for our sin;
The guilt, O Lord was wholly ours,
The punishment was Thine:
Our God in the flesh, to set us free,
Was manifested here;
And meekly bare our sins, that we
His righteousness might wear.

Imputatively guilty then
Our substitute was made,
That we the blessings might obtain
For which His blood was shed:
Himself He offered on the cross,
Our sorrows to remove;
And all He suffered was for us,
And all He did was love.

In Him we have a righteousness,
By God Himself approved;
Our rock, our sure foundation this,
Which never can be moved.
Our ransom by His death He paid,
For all His people giv’n,
The law He perfectly obeyed,
That they might enter Heav’n.

As all, when Adam sinned alone,
In his transgression died,
So by the righteousness of One,
Are sinners justified,
We to Thy merit, gracious Lord,
With humblest joy submit,
Again to Paradise restored,
In Thee alone complete.

Our souls His watchful love retrieves,
Nor lets them go astray,
His righteousness to us He gives,
And takes our sins away:
We claim salvation in His right,
Adopted and forgiv’n,
His merit is our robe of light,
His death the gate of Heav’n.

-Augustus Toplady, 1774

1 Timothy 2:4 and Free Will

 by John Piper

“…Some people read into 1 Timothy 2:4 (God “desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth”) the necessity of free will as an explanation for why all are not saved.

…This is not owing to anything in the text, but to a philosophical presupposition brought to the text. The presupposition is that, if God will in one sense for all to be saved, then he cannot will in another sense that only some will be saved.

In fact, the wider context of the Pastoral Epistles points away from free will as a solution.

Paul uses the very language of 1 Timothy 2:4 again in 2 Timothy 2:24-26: “And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will.”

“…Paul here is explaining why some do not “come to the knowledge of the truth.” The ultimate or decisive answer is that God himself may or may not “grant … repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth.”

-John Piper, Does God Desire All to Be Saved? (Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway, 2013), 40-41.

What Keeps God from Saving All People?

If God desires all to be saved, what keeps Him from saving whom He desires to save? If God genuinely desires for all to be saved (1 Timothy 2:4), why doesn’t God save all people?

John Piper gives an answer:

“[The answer] can be illustrated … by reflecting … on 1 Timothy 2:4, where Paul says that God “desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” What are we to say of the fact that God desires something that in fact does not happen?

There are two possibilities, as far as I can see.

1. One possibility is that there is a power in the universe greater that God’s, which is frustrating him by overruling what he desires.

Neither the Reformed nor the Arminians affirms this.

2. The other possibility is that God wills not to save all, even though he “desires” that all be saved, because there is something else that he wills or desires more, which would be lost if he exerted his sovereign power to save all.

This is the solution that I, as Reformed, affirm along with Arminians. In other words, both the Reformed and the Arminians affirm two wills in God when they ponder deeply over 1 Timothy 2:4…. Both can say that God wills for all to be saved. And when queried why all are not saved, both the Reformed and the Arminians answer the same: because God is committed to something even more valuable than saving all.

The difference between the Reformed and the Arminians lies not in whether there are two wills in God, but in what they say this higher commitment is.

What does God will more than saving all?

1. The answer the Arminians give is that human self-determination and the possible resulting love relationship with God are more valuable than saving all people by sovereign, efficacious grace.

2. The answer the Reformed give is that the greater value is the manifestation of the full range of god’s glory in wrath and mercy (Rom. 9:22-23) and the humbling of man so that he enjoys giving all credit to God for his salvation (1 Cor. 1:29).”

-John Piper, Does God Desire All to Be Saved? (Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway, 2013), 38-39.

What is the Greatest of All Protestant “Heresies”?

By Sinclair Ferguson

“Let us begin with a church history exam question. Cardinal Robert Bellarmine (1542–1621) was a figure not to be taken lightly. He was Pope Clement VIII’s personal theologian and one of the most able figures in the Counter-Reformation movement within sixteenth-century Roman Catholicism. On one occasion, he wrote: “The greatest of all Protestant heresies is _______ .” Complete, explain, and discuss Bellarmine’s statement.

How would you answer? What is the greatest of all Protestant heresies? Perhaps justification by faith? Perhaps Scripture alone, or one of the other Reformation watchwords?

Those answers make logical sense. But none of them completes Bellarmine’s sentence. What he wrote was: “The greatest of all Protestant heresies is assurance.”

A moment’s reflection explains why. If justification is not by faith alone, in Christ alone, by grace alone — if faith needs to be completed by works; if Christ’s work is somehow repeated; if grace is not free and sovereign, then something always needs to be done, to be “added” for final justification to be ours. That is exactly the problem. If final justification is dependent on something we have to complete it is not possible to enjoy assurance of salvation. For then, theologically, final justification is contingent and uncertain, and it is impossible for anyone (apart from special revelation, Rome conceded) to be sure of salvation. But if Christ has done everything, if justification is by grace, without contributory works; it is received by faith’s empty hands — then assurance, even “full assurance” is possible for every believer.

No wonder Bellarmine thought full, free, unfettered grace was dangerous! No wonder the Reformers loved the letter to the Hebrews!

This is why, as the author of Hebrews pauses for breath at the climax of his exposition of Christ’s work (Heb. 10:18), he continues his argument with a Paul-like “therefore” (Heb. 10:19). He then urges us to “draw near … in full assurance of faith” (Heb. 10:22). We do not need to re-read the whole letter to see the logical power of his “therefore.” Christ is our High Priest; our hearts have been sprinkled clean from an evil conscience just as our bodies have been washed with pure water (v.22).

Christ has once-for-all become the sacrifice for our sins, and has been raised and vindicated in the power of an indestructible life as our representative priest. By faith in Him, we are as righteous before the throne of God as He is righteous. For we are justified in His righteousness, His justification alone is ours! And we can no more lose this justification than He can fall from heaven. Thus our justification does not need to be completed any more than does Christ’s!

With this in view, the author says, “by one offering He has perfected for all time those who come to God by him” (Heb. 10:14). The reason we can stand before God in full assurance is because we now experience our “hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and … bodies washed with pure water” (Heb. 10:22).

“Ah,” retorted Cardinal Bellarmine’s Rome, “teach this and those who believe it will live in license and antinomianism.” But listen instead to the logic of Hebrews. Enjoying this assurance leads to four things: First, an unwavering faithfulness to our confession of faith in Jesus Christ alone as our hope (v.23); second, a careful consideration of how we can encourage each other to “love and good works” (v.24); third, an ongoing communion with other Christians in worship and every aspect of our fellowship (v.25a); fourth, a life in which we exhort one another to keep looking to Christ and to be faithful to him, as the time of his return draws ever nearer (25b).

It is the good tree that produces good fruit, not the other way round. We are not saved by works; we are saved for works. In fact we are God’s workmanship at work (Eph. 2:9–10)! Thus, rather than lead to a life of moral and spiritual indifference, the once-for-all work of Jesus Christ and the full-assurance faith it produces, provides believers with the most powerful impetus to live for God’s glory and pleasure. Furthermore, this full assurance is rooted in the fact that God Himself has done all this for us. He has revealed His heart to us in Christ. The Father does not require the death of Christ to persuade Him to love us. Christ died because the Father loves us (John 3:16). He does not lurk behind His Son with sinister intent wishing He could do us ill — were it not for the sacrifice his Son had made! No, a thousand times no! — the Father Himself loves us in the love of the Son and the love of the Spirit.

Those who enjoy such assurance do not go to the saints or to Mary. Those who look only to Jesus need look nowhere else. In Him we enjoy full assurance of salvation. The greatest of all heresies? If heresy, let me enjoy this most blessed of “heresies”! For it is God’s own truth and grace!

This post was originally published in Tabletalk magazine.”

-Sinclair Ferguson, http://www.ligonier.org/blog/what-greatest-all-protestant-heresies/

Why Zombies Matter

By Russell Moore

“Zombies are everywhere. Ever since the classic “Night of the Living Dead,” the undead have shown up in movies. Zombies now are featured in top-rated cable TV shows, and in apocalyptic novels and survival guides. An entire genre has ignited around the concept of adding zombies to classic literature (”Pride and Prejudice with Zombies,” etc.). But why are we drawn to these gruesome figures?

In the New York Times, columnist Amy Wilentz reminds us why zombies scare us, and why we can’t help but watch through our clenched hands covering our eyes.  The zombie myth is rooted in something quite real, and quite terrifying. The zombie stories emerged in a Caribbean context of brutal slavery. The zombie’s horror is that he is, she writes, a slave forever. After all, if even death cannot free you, you can never be free.

That’s exactly the point, and here’s why it should matter to Christians.

Zombies are horrifying not simply because they’re mean and aggressive. They are horrifying because they represent what ought to repulse us: the rotting decay of death. But they still walk. And, beyond that, they still crave. In their search for human brains, they are driven along by their appetites, though always under the sway of a slavemaster’s will.

That’s our story.

The biblical story of the Fall of humanity is one of a humanity that comes under the sway of death by obeying the appetite. God places a fiery sword around the Garden of Eden, Genesis tells us, so that the primeval humans wouldn’t eat of the Tree of Life and live forever. Why? It’s because God didn’t want to consign humanity to a never-ending existence of this kind of walking death. He sentences us to the curse of death so that, ultimately, we can be redeemed.

The gospel tells us that, apart from Christ, we were walking in the flesh, that is slavishly obeying our biological impulses and appetites without the direction of the Spirit. As such, we were “dead in trespasses and sins” (Eph. 2:1). But we weren’t inert. We instead, though dead, “walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air” (Eph. 2:2). We were walking dead slaves.

And, in our death, our appetites weren’t silenced but instead drove us along. This walking death, the Apostle Paul writes, was driven along as we “carried out the desires of the body and the mind” (Eph. 2:3).

Caribbean people could resonate with the horror of zombies because they knew what it was like to be enslaved by evil people, with no hope of escape. And maybe our culture pays attention to zombies because we know what it is like to be dead inside, but unable to find peace, unable to stop walking.

The gospel doesn’t just extend our lives forever into eternity. That’s what we, left to ourselves, think we want. The rich young ruler asks Jesus how he can inherit eternal life, but Jesus points out that he wants to eternalize his present state rather than to be hidden in the life of Jesus himself. That’s a zombie walk, and Jesus loves us too much for that.

Jesus offers instead life, and that abundantly, as we eat of his flesh, drink of his blood, share in his triumph over the accusing slavemaster.

So let’s have some sympathy for the zombies. And next time you see the trailer for a zombie film, or see the picture of a walking corpse on the cover of a novel, remember that that was your story once too.”

-Russell Moore, http://www.russellmoore.com/2012/10/31/why-zombies-matter/