John Owen’s Four Characteristics of a Christian Man – JI Packer

John Owen has written some of the most significant and weighty works on the nature of man and sin.  They should be tackled by every Christian who wants to know God’s grace and forgiveness more deeply.  As a sample of his thinking, JI Packer does a great job of distilling Owen’s thoughts about man into four characteristics – man himself, fallen man, redeemed man and regenerate man.

  • The Christian is a man with three faculties:
    • Understanding: The mind guides, directs, chooses and leads.  It is the power to apprehend.  Through the mind, we know good (God, His truth and His law).  God addresses through our mind with His Word, so to serve God correctly, we must understand the guide He has provided for us
    • Affection: The drives (positive and negative) which lead to choices based on whether one is drawn or repelled from an object.  The drives have the emotional content of love, hope, hate etc.  Through our affections, we desire good
    • Will: The will provides the power of action and to do what is good
  • The Christian is a fallen man:
    • Sin has alienated us from God and ourselves by pervasively polluting us
    • The fruit of sin is disorder in the soul and dis-integration of character
    • We are ‘without strength’ to obey God (Romans 5:6) because our sin, at its root, makes us dodge, defy and disobey Him
    • The only healthy Christian is a humble, broken-hearted one where living must be founded on self-abhorrence and self-distrust because of indwelling sin’s presence and power.  Self-confidence and self-satisfaction argue self-ignorance
  • The Christian is a redeemed man
    • Redemption by Christ is the heart of doctrine, and faith and love to Christ must be the heart of Christian devotion
    • Jesus paid our debts, earned life for us, and to free us from sin’s guilt, now lives to deliver us from sin’s power
  • The Christian is a regenerate man
    • We are a new creature in Christ with a circumcised heart
    • Our heart becomes a lifelong battlefield between ‘the flesh’ and ‘the spirit’ (Galatians 5:17, Romans 7:23)

Source: A Quest for Godliness (The Spirituality of John Owen)

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Puritan Gospel Emphases

JI Packer’s summary of Puritan Gospel emphases helps correct some subtle ways the modern church has gone astray in its presentation of the message of salvation.  Packer makes five points:

  1. Correct diagnosis of the plight of man: Our situation is not one of only guilt for sin, but of pollution from it and bondage to it.  We are not merely weak, but in a corrupt state of enmity to God.  A minister’s job is to make this state clear such that “the index of the soundness of a man’s faith in Christ is the genuineness of the self-despair from which it springs.”.
  2. Clear analysis of the issue of sin: God is presently hostile to the sinner and they are condemned in the future without His grace.  A minister must make a broken relationship with God intolerable and drive sinners to repentance
  3. Correct understanding of the goal of grace: The goal is God’s glory for His’ name sake, not our own sake.  Our salvation is a means to a greater end
  4. Reliance on the sufficiency of Christ: We trust in Jesus and his work that is adequate to save us
  5. Gratefulness for the condescension of Christ: The greatness of what Jesus left shows the depth of His love and His patience shows His kindness

In contrast, the Gospel is frequently presented as man-centric in purpose, downplays the threat of God’s wrath and under emphasizes the degree to which sin corrupts us.  See True and False Gospels Contrasted , Complete Gospel or Calvin’s Gospel for more details.

Source: A Quest for Godliness (Chapter 10)

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Precious Remedies – Tim Challies Reading Classics Together

Tim Challies worked through the classic puritan book Precious Remedies Against Satan’s Devices by Thomas Brooks with his blog readers.  The book more or less exhaustively captures the ways that we’re drawn into sin and provides ways to protect ourselves.  You should definitely read the book, but Challies does a nice job of summarizing the key themes in his posts:

  • Satan loves to sail with the wind: Introduction to the series with the summary being a quote from Brooks, “Satan has snares for the wise and snares for the simple; snares for hypocrites, and snares for the upright; snares for generous souls, and snares for timorous souls; snares for the rich, and snares for the poor; snares for the aged, and snares for youth.”
  • Satan wants to help you: Themes include minimizing sin, rationalizing it because others have fallen as well, hiding the consequences and making repentance cheap
  • Satan wants to help you even more: More ways of being tempted to sin such as comparison with others, association with the wrong group of friends and the challenge of maintaining holiness
  • Eight ways Satan want to keep you from worship: The ideas here are making the world look attractive, showing that Christians are the minority, distracting thoughts filling the mind and reliance on past devotion to God rather than persistence and commitment in the present
  • Eight ways Satan convinces you to question your salvation: These topics cover focusing on sin rather than on our Savior, a misunderstanding of grace, relapses of sin and that only unbelievers face strong temptations
  • Twelve ways to preserve Christian unity: This summary shifts from temptations to benefits of sticking together as a church body, loving one another, forgiving wrongs and reconciling among other things
  • Ten ways to resist the devil: The series is wrapped up with this post.  It touches on points such as working for wisdom, resisting temptation, staying humble and communing with God
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Questions to Ask Before Joining a Church

The transition to a new church is difficult, so you’ll want to make a good decision rather than having to start over a year later.  Going beyond attending a worship service and reading the web site will help you avoid making a mistake.  Take the process slowly and give careful consideration to your motives for switching congregations before leaving your current church.  To ensure you’re in alignment with the new congregation, it’s important to ask some penetrating questions to a pastor or elder.  You should not ‘grill them’, but rather have an ongoing conversation over several interactions as you work towards making a commitment to the congregation.  The list of questions that follows provides a starting for topics to cover.  Some of the information (e.g., doctrinal statement) may be available online, but it’s still a good idea to get more color on each area.

  1. Please explain the Gospel (this sounds like an elementary question, but you can learn a lot based on the depth or shallowness of the explanation).  What is essential for salvation (e.g., some churches teach that baptism is required for the forgiveness of sins)?  Is Jesus the only way to be made right with God?
  2. What is the church’s doctrinal statement?  You should follow-up for clarification as appropriate regarding the nature of God, salvation etc.
  3. Which of the doctrinal positions do you see as church/denomination distinctives vs essentials of the Christian faith? Do I have to affirm all of the points to become a member or are some considered less significant (e.g., position on end times)?
  4. Does Scripture contain errors?  If so, in what areas?
  5. What role do creeds and catechisms play?  Does the church subscribe to any?  How does tradition affect interpretation of Scripture?
  6. What is the role of elders?  What are the requirements for them?  How are they selected?
  7. What is the role of the pastors?
  8. What is the process to become a member?  What are the expectations of members?
  9. What are the priorities of the church (e.g., missions, evangelism)?  What other like minded churches and organizations (locally and globally) do you work with to fulfill these priorities?
  10. What model for missions do you support?  How much of your budget is allocated to missions?  How are support decisions made?
  11. How does the church engage and serve the community?
  12. What do you see as strengths and weaknesses?
  13. What have been the highlights of the church during the past couple of years?
  14. (If you have children) What is the goal of your children’s ministry?  What do you expect a child to know and do by the time they graduate?
  15. What spiritual disciples do you practice?  What people or books have been most influential to you on during your spiritual journey?
  16. What do you see as the most difficult issues facing Christians today?  How are you preparing your congregation to handle these?
  17. What is the purpose of life?  How would you describe a mature Christian?  How does the church help Christians to mature in the faith (e.g., small groups, accountability partners, mentors etc)?  What is the role of pastors in this vs other members?
  18. What is the role of prayer within the church?  When does this take place?
  19. How is the church’s financial situation?  What is its policy on debt?  Does it have expansion plans?  Does it run special campaigns to raise funds?
  20. Has there ever been a church split (or mass exodus) over theology or another issue?  If so, what was the circumstance?
  21. What is the church’s position on [your issue of concern]?
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Calvin’s Summary of the Gospel

Here is a succinct quote from John Calvin about what he believed we should tell people about the Gospel.

That man was alienated from God by sin, an heir of wrath, liable to the punishment of eternal death, excluded from all hope of salvation, a total stranger to the blessing of God, a slave to Satan, a captive under the yoke of sin, and, in a word, condemned to and already involved in, a horrible destruction; that, in this situation, Christ interposed as an intercessor; that He has taken upon Himself and suffered the punishment which by the righteous judgment of God impended over all sinners; that by His blood He has expiated those crimes which make them odious to God; that by this expiation God the Father has been duly satisfied and atoned; that by this intercessor His wrath has been appeased; that this is the foundation of peace between God and men; and that this is the bone of His benevolence towards them.

Source: Portrait of Calvin by T.H.L. Parker

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Order of God’s Decrees – BB Warfield Chart

BB Warfield created a helpful chart that outlines the order of God’s decrees (aka order of redemption).  Views of the nature and order of the degrees vary significantly by denomination.  If you’ve ever heard infralapsarian or supralapsarian referenced, they are different positions on this topic.  A relatively brief explanation of each can be found at Theopedia.

If you’d like to study the topic in more detail, see Warfield’s Plan of Salvation.

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The Three Components of Faith

One of the most common criticisms of Christianity is its reliance on faith.  The implication normally is that faith is a blind hope that something is true and the opposite of the fact based, repeatable experimentation that science supposedly produces.  Yet, faith actually consists of three components that Christians need to be familiar with and be able to explain in response to the blind faith view.  The three include knowledge, assent and trust.

  1. Knowledge: This is the object, idea or person that is actually believed in based the study of information such as historical documentation, eye witnesses accounts and/or experimentation.  The knowledge is the doctrinal component of the faith including that Jesus is the Son of God, was born of a virgin, rose from the dead etc.  John 20:31 explains that “these [things] are written so that you may believe…”, that is they provide a fact base for believing.  Jesus also provided evidence of His nature authority through His miracles.
  2. Assent: It is not adequate to just know something, so asset captures the conviction that the knowledge is true.  You could know about Area 51 and the lore that surrounds it, but not agree to the idea that an alien spaceship is housed there
  3. Trust: Trust takes the knowledge assented to and moves to the point of relying or depending on it completely.  It encapsulates the idea expressed in John 3:16 of believing in Jesus (John 3:16)

Let’s try to clarify the three components with a couple of examples.  James 2:19 tells us that the demons believe that God is one.  The demons are enemies of God, but they know and assent to the fact that He exists and is one being.  They have the first two areas of faith, but are missing the third because they don’t rely on Him.

The second example is a frequent sermon illustration.  In 1850s, Charles Blondin walked across Niagara Falls on a wire.  He did this many times using various props to prove his skill.  One day he asked the crowd if they believed he could carry someone on his back across the falls.  Based on his previous success (knowledge) the crowd responded that they believed that he could (assent).  However, when Blondin asked for a volunteer, no one was willing to step forward.  While they thought he could do it, they did not trust him enough to put his or her life in Blondin’s hands.

Of the three components, trust is the key.  We must allow Jesus to carry us across the chasm between us and God based on the merit of His life and sacrifice in His death, rather than depending on our own flawed works.  We must have faith in Jesus for salvation.  This faith isn’t blind or uninformed.  We receive the information about Jesus, agree that it’s true and then depend on God completely to provide the forgiveness that we don’t deserve.

Based on What Faith Is and Is Not

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Life Around the World in Pictures

A few photojournalist articles have been published in the past few months that show many eye opening (and often shocking) contrasts between cultures and standards of living across the world.  The three sets of images are focused on children’s toys (Toy Stories), children’s homes (Where Children Sleep) and families’ weekly diets (What the World Eats), but they also reveal much about differences in wealth, consumption, materialism and families.  The approach is similar to that used in a book published nearly 20 years ago called Material World, where the photographer convinced families all across the world to move all of their possessions into their front yard for a picture.

As you review the images, thank God for what He’s given you, seek contentment what with you have and strive to help those who are less fortunate that they may know the love of God through your help.

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The Three Tests of a True Christian

Have you ever debated whether someone you know is a true Christian or not?  You might argue that s/he has a strange belief or does a potentially immoral practice.  In the end, only God knows, but that doesn’t mean that the He doesn’t provide guidance on what defines a Christian.  2 Corinthians 13 tells us to “examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves”, so test your own life before considering your neighbors’.

In Matthew 7, Jesus tells His audience that not everyone who calls Him “Lord, Lord” will enter the kingdom of heaven.  He goes on to say that those who hear and what He says are wise and build their life on a rock.  The book of first John gives us more specific guidance on what makes a true Christian and includes three tests – the theological test, the moral test and the test of the Spirit.

The theological test is a test of belief or correct doctrine.  1 John requires us to believe that Jesus is the Christ (2:22), that He is God (or more specifically the Son of God) (4:15, 5:5, 10), that He came in the flesh as a man (4:2) and that the Father sent His only Son to make propitiation for our sins (9-10).

The moral test is a screen for our behavior.  1 John 3:6-10 requires us to stop sinning and practice righteousness.  He tells us to keep God’s commandments (3:24a) and goes on to repeatedly emphasize loving our neighbor (3:10, 4:7-8, 16, 19-21).

The last of John’s tests is the Spirit’s witness within our heart (3:24, 4:13).  He is the one who allows us to hear and obey the truth (2:20, 4:6).

Where do you stand with the three tests?  Is your doctrine correct?  Are you living out God’s commands?  Do you have the testimony of the Spirit affirming that you’re in the family of God?  If you fail any of these tests, you must seek to know God has He’s revealed Himself in the Scripture, seek His help to obey His commandments though trusting in Jesus to keep them perfectly and call to God for His’ Spirit to confirm that you’ve been born again.

Source: Grounded in the Gospel (Chapter 6) by JI Packer

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Order of Redemption – Part 2

This article is the second part of John Murray’s order of redemption continuing with sanctification and concluding with glorification.  As a refresher, the order follows these eight steps.  The concept of union with Christ is covered as a bonus at the end.

Effectual calling -> regeneration -> faith / repentance -> justification -> adoption -> sanctification -> perseverance -> glorification

5. Sanctification: the work of God’s free grace, whereby we are renewed in the whole man after the image of God, and are enabled more and more to die unto sin, and live unto righteousness.  The process begins with regeneration and is grounded in justification.  Its aim is to eliminate all sin and achieve complete conformity to the image of God’s Son in knowledge, righteousness and holiness.  Sanctification involves the concentration of thought, of interest, of heart, mind, will and purpose upon the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus and the engagement of our whole being with those means which God has instituted for the attainment of that destination.

  • Recognition of sin and conflict with it
    • Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? – Romans 7:24
    • I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes. – Job 42:5-6
  • Sin is not master of us
    • Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions. Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness… But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed,… But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the fruit you get leads to sanctification and its end, eternal life. – Romans 6:12-13, 17, 22
  • Progressive maturation into Christ’s likeness
    • Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure. – Philippians 2:12-13
    • And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God. – Philippians 1:9-11

6. Perseverance: a guarantee that the persons given to Jesus shall continue in Him unto death and cannot be snatched away.

  • and you will be hated by all for my name’s sake. But the one who endures to the end will be saved. – Matthew 10:22
  • All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out. or I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me. And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day. – John 6:37-39
  • I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. I and the Father are one.”- John 10:28-30
  •  In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory. – Ephesians 1:13-14

7. Glorification (immortality): it is the attainment of the goal to which the elect of God were predestined in the eternal purpose of the Father and it the consummation of the redemption secured and procured by the vicarious work of Christ.  It occurs at the resurrection of the body, which produces the complete and final restoration of human nature (body and spirit) in conformity to the image of the risen, exalted and glorified Redeemer’s glorified human nature.  It will be an instantaneous change that will take place to the whole company of the redeemed when Christ comes again the second time and will descend from heaven with a shout of triumph over the last enemy bringing the realization of God’s redemptive plan.

  • But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself. – Philippians 3:20-21
  • When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality – 1 Corinthians 15:54a
  • even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—  and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus – Ephesians 2:5-6
  • and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him. – Romans 8:17

Bonus topic – Union with Christ: it is the application of the efficacy of His death and in the virtue of His resurrection leading to a deliverance from the power of sin.  Union occurs at our calling and binds us to the efficacy and virtue by which we are sanctified with the ultimate fruition as glorification as Sons of God.  We are “in Christ”:

  • Elected:  Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him… In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace – Ephesians 1:3-4, 7
  • Redeemed in death and resurrection:  But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus,- Ephesians 2:4-6
  • Created anew: For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. – Ephesians 2:10
  • Christian life: I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that was given you in Christ Jesus, that in every way you were enriched in him in all speech and all knowledge – 1 Corinthians 1:4-5
  • Dead: For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. – 1 Thessalonians 4:16
  • Glorified: For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. – 1 Corinthians 15:22
  • Analogies that illustrate our relationship to being ‘in Him’: building stones and corners tone (Ephesians 2:19-22; 1 Peter 2:4-5), Adam and humanity (Romans 5:12-19; 1 Corinthians 15:19-49), husband and wife (Ephesians 5:22-33), head and other members of body (Ephesians 4:15-16), vine and branches (John 15) and members of the Trinity (John 14:23; 17:21-23)
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