Feb 112014

You crown the year with your bounty; your wagon tracks overflow with abundance.

Psalm 65:11 (ESV)

Our God is sovereign, gracious and kind. He abounds in steadfast love. He tenderly forgives and graciously provides. He alone is worthy to be praised, and believers ought to live with a heart of thanksgiving to Him.

I love the stories of the Pilgrims and the Sovereign God who led them to Plymouth. They began as Separatists in England, fled to Holland during persecution, were sent back to England, then found a ship available called the Mayflower that would carry 102 of them to the New World. This was half of the congregation, pastored by William Bradford, which got on board with the desire to build a God-centered community.

Let me share with you quickly a few of God’s gracious dealings and His abundant provisions for the Pilgrims. First of all, ten of the men got on board a sailing shallop to explore the coast of Cape Cod. They were greeted not so warmly by Nauset Indians that began to fill their camp with arrows. Two men fired their muskets and scared the Indians away. They went their way up the coast and landed in Plymouth. The Mayflower could land there and this was where they would build their community. They built a common house where they all would live until they could build houses for each family.

That first winter was very hard. It was very cold. Fifty-one of the 102 died that first winter, mostly women and children. The men were very weak and could barely provide for those living. One day an Algonquin Indian named Samoset came to the house. The Pilgrims were at first suspicious, but found him to be a gracious man. He knew English! He had gone on fishing expeditions with the British in Maine. Samoset told them that if they would have arrived 3 years earlier, they probably would have all been killed by a vicious tribe called the Patuxets. They had hated the white man. But in 1617, a strange disease killed every one of them that lived there. But God spared one Patuxet Indian who would later greatly help the Pilgrims. In 1605, a Patuxet by the name of Squanto was captured by a Captain Hunt and taken to England. Squanto was later sold to Spanish monks who told him about Jesus. In 1619, Squanto was able to return to London, and then a Captain Dermer took him back to Plymouth! Squanto went to Chief Massasoit of the Algonquin tribe. The chief and sixty painted warriors, along with Squanto, came to the Pilgrim settlement. The Pilgrims were warmly greeted and as you probably know, Squanto stayed with them and taught them how to grow crops. The Pilgrims and Squanto were united in Christ!

Well, God provided in amazing ways. In the autumn of 1621, Bradford called for a day of Thanksgiving. It ended up being a three-day celebration. The Indians brought deer, turkey and fish. The Pilgrim women cooked vegetables and pies.

But during the Winter of 1621, more settlers came into Plymouth and supplies ran short quickly. In order to survive they each received a ration of five kernels of corn every day. They would trust in God to provide for them and He did. The captain of a ship headed back for England traded corn for their beaver skins! They then had food until the Spring!

In the summer of 1623, there was a drought. Their corn was wilting. The pilgrims called for prayer and fasting and God gave fourteen consecutive days of gentle rain! God had given them a bountiful harvest. But at Thanksgiving, at each plate there were five kernels of corn, so that each one would remember God’s gracious provisions!

RBC, look back at this year. God has once again crowned your year with bounty and His wagon tracks have overflowed with abundance. God is sovereign and good. See how He has fed you and clothed you and met your every need. Be thankful church! Let us all be thankful!

With a heart of thanksgiving to God for each of you,

Pastor Bill

Feb 112014

Thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you.

Genesis 3:18 (ESV)

When Adam listened to his wife and ate of the tree of which God commanded him not eat, God said to Adam, “Cursed is the ground because of you; in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you… By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground.” (Genesis 3:17-19) As I was working at the tree farm last week, these verses came to my mind. Why? Because there are several fields that have not been tended over the last two years, hence large thorns and brier bushes have grown in between the trees. I have had the pleasure (NOT!) of working in these fields to remove the thorns and briers so that these trees can be ready to be trimmed in March. Let me tell you, fighting thorns and briers is hard work. This task has reminded me again of the curse of Adam’s sin and my union with him by nature.

By grace, I am now united to Christ, and He is my new Lord and Master. Yet, I still fight sin in my heart, and let me tell you, it is a hard fight, especially if I do not tend or give care to my spiritual condition. To leave the trees unattended means thorns and thistles. By leaving my heart unattended means the same.

This quote from John Owen that I mentioned a few months ago, “Kill a sin or part of a sin every day… Be killing sin or sin will be killing you,” has been going through my mind as I chop through these fierce opponents to lovely Christmas trees. Justification, or the declaration of my right standing with the Father, occurs in a moment of time. Sanctification, however, is a process, beginning at regeneration and continuing on until I return “to the ground”. I am not passive in my sanctification, but I am actively called to mortify the flesh, to work out my salvation, to make my calling and election sure. Of course I know that God the Spirit is working, but true faith is evidenced by works, by a growing in holiness and Christ-likeness. For my heart to flourish, like the trees, I must be pulling weeds, or rooting out those things that hinder growth and productivity. Like the thorns in the fields, they are not hard to spot. Sometimes the sin in our hearts might be hard to spot, but I think we all know many of the things that cause us to struggle.

As I have been chopping down these thorns and briers, very often those long twigs stick to my clothes and I just can’t seem to shake them off. It takes great effort. But I have noticed, in the five hours I have dedicated so far to this task at the farm, I actually have made great progress. I have already finished two fields! This gives me hope in my fight against indwelling sin.

It causes me to look to Christ. When you read through the Scriptures, thorns and briers and thistles are always associated with God’s judgment. Nowhere is a thorn and thistle a good thing. What is the Christ connection? When our Savior was crucified, the soldiers weaved together a crown of thorns and placed it on His head and mocked His kingship. It was a symbol of God’s judgment upon sin and the great humiliation which our Savior endured for the sake of His people. On the ground of Christ’s death, resurrection and ascension, and by virtue of His intercessory ministry to His people, the power of sin is crushed and the grace to fight and remove the thorns is granted.

One last thought: I have learned that January is a great month to be removing the brier bushes. The weather is cool and the branches are brittle. They can get chopped up much quicker this time of year. You know, right now, as we are still in the first part of the year, it’s a great time to give careful attention to our hearts. Let us pray for each other and encourage one another as we press on in this fight. Our fight with sin will soon be over, but let us fight until we return to the dust or Jesus returns.

Blessings in Jesus,

Pastor Bill

Feb 112014

But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart.

Sovereign Grace Music produced a project called, Savior: Celebrating the Mystery of God Become Man. It is in our church library and I would encourage you to listen to it as we enter the season in which we celebrate the mystery and wonder of the incarnation, that is, God the eternal Son taking upon Himself a nature like ours. The prophet Isaiah wrote, “For unto us a child is born, unto us a Son is given.” Notice that it is only a child that is born, namely Jesus Christ in Bethlehem, but the Son is given (not born). God the Son is co-equal and co-eternal with the Father and the Spirit. The Son has never been born. He is fully God. But the eternal Son entered the world He made and was born as a man. He is fully God and fully man. This is a great mystery and something to treasure up and ponder in our hearts. We will never fully comprehend it, but it should cause us to bow before the Divine Majesty.

Luke 2 tells us the account of the shepherds keeping watch over their flocks at night. Then an angel of the Lord appeared to them and told them the good news that in Bethlehem, a Savior had been born, Christ the Lord. The angel told them that they would find the father, mother and the child, who was wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger. Then suddenly, with the angel, a multitude of angels sang, “Glory to God in the Highest, and on earth peace among those with whom He is pleased.”

The shepherds went quickly to Bethlehem, saw and worshiped the newborn king and told Mary and Joseph all that happened. More details for Mary to treasure and ponder. The word “treasure” literally means “to keep together.” I think from the very start of all this Mary was trying to keep all the details of the events together, trying to make them fit in her mind. So many details, from the salutation to the Spirit coming upon her, meeting Elizabeth and little John leaping in Elizabeth’s womb, Mary’s song of praise, Joseph’s commitment to take her as a wife and keep her pure until after the baby was born, the taxation of the Romans sending them to Bethlehem, and now the report of the shepherds.

And… she delivered the One who would deliver her. That brings me back to the Sovereign Grace project on the incarnation. They wrote a song called “Sleep Jesus Sleep.” It is written from Mary’s perspective of the events. I will let you ponder the words and all that the incarnation means for God’s people.

Sleep, Jesus, sleep
We’ve come to see
You who never closed Your eyes
Watching over earth and skies
Now in frail humanity
Must sleep

Sleep, newborn King
We’ll gently sing
You who reigns forevermore
Ruling as the Lord of lords
You who never had a need
Must sleep

Sovereign One
Born as Mary’s son
Prince of Peace
One day You’ll deliver me
Deliver me

But now sleep, Son of God
We’ll watch in awe
You’ll fulfill the Father’s plan
Reconciling God and man
Now Your promises to keep
Must sleep

Let us all take some time this Christmas to treasure and ponder God’s great love for His people. “O what a mystery, meekness and majesty, bow down and worship, for this is your God” (Graham Kendrick, from “Meekness and Majesty”).

Merry Christmas,

Pastor Bill

Feb 112014

And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.

Ephesians 4:30

God has once again shown Himself faithful to us. He has graciously given us another year and we look forward with hope for what lies ahead. The New Year often brings thoughts of personal change in the coming year. Have certain resolutions entered your mind, whether you intend to try them or not?

As we begin the New Year, I would ask that we consider the verse above: “And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.” Notice first that Paul is writing this admonition to Christians. Yes, Christians can grieve God’s Holy Spirit. We do this in many ways. In the immediate context, when believers speak in ungodly ways, it grieves the Spirit. When we speak insults and slander, and use our tongues to tear down rather than build up, we grieve the Spirit. When we harbor bitterness and anger and resentment, we grieve the Spirit. The closeness and intimacy of the Spirit begins to wane when our hearts are hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. This is why Paul tells us in verse 32 to “be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.”

Another way we grieve the Spirit is a lack of love and dependence upon Him. The things of this world grip our heart and we seek so little of the Spirit’s influence. We care not that we do not call upon Him or desire His power. Things of a heavenly nature do not consume our thoughts and longings. We are too comfortable and self-reliant. The Spirit is grieved by our lack-luster love.

God’s Spirit is also grieved by our unbelief. Unbelief shows itself in hearts that are not thankful. Complaining is another fruit of unbelief. Unbelief manifests itself in a lack of contentment. We grieve the Spirit when we do not grab a hold of God’s promises and when we do not fight the good fight of faith. Unbelief drives us to seek our joy in things that can never satisfy, and this grieves the Spirit.

The Holy Spirit is a Divine Person. He thinks, feels, loves, and in this text, grieves. God has made man His dwelling place by the Holy Spirit. Grief and love go together. You grieve over things you love or things that hurt. When a loved one passes away, we grieve. Why do we sorrow? We loved that person. When someone close to us is hurting, we hurt. Why? Because we love them and it grieves us that someone so close to us is hurting.

The sin of believers grieves the Spirit. You see, He loves God’s children. It is by Him that His children were sealed for the day of redemption. It’s no wonder that He grieves when our hearts are not right with him. He has sealed us forever, yet so often we want so little of his influence.

Individuals can grieve the Spirit, and churches can grieve the Spirit. I do not want this to be true of RBC. My prayer for 2014 is that RBC will seek the Spirit and desire His influence and power. We need the Spirit’s power and anointing. We need the Spirit’s blessing. I do not want our hearts to be hardened to his voice as God speaks through the Spirit-inspired Word. Let us pray for a great working of the Spirit in the coming year.

Praying for the Spirit’s peace and power,

Pastor Bill

Aug 202013

But as for you, teach what accords with sound doctrine.

Titus 2:1 (ESV)

Titus was a faithful companion and co-laborer of the apostle Paul. God used Titus much to encourage the saints in Corinth. At one point, Titus went Dalmatia (2 Timothy 4:10), but here, in Paul’s letter to Titus, Paul tells us that he left Titus on the Island of Crete. The only time we see Paul on the Island of Crete is when he’s on his way to Rome (Acts 27:7). Apparently, Titus was with Paul on this trip and, before Paul entered a terrible storm and was ship-wrecked, he left Titus in a storm of a different kind. The believers in Crete had not appointed the proper leadership in the churches, there were false teachers upsetting whole families, and there seemed to be confusion among the believers in Crete as to proper gender relationships in the church and in the home. The believers in Crete did not understand how the Gospel applied to all areas of their lives (Titus 2:11-14).

So Paul tells Titus to “teach what accords with sound doctrine.” He makes a sharp contrast between what the false teachers were teaching and what Titus is to teach. Paul links sound doctrine with gender roles, and this is very important.

Some want to say that the gender issues addressed are merely cultural and are not in effect today. Many today claim that these ideas are archaic and old fashioned. But this view is easily debunked because, as you will notice, the gender roles spoken of here are rooted, not in culture, but in sound doctrine. They are rooted in God’s truth. We see other places in Scripture that make it clear that gender roles are traced back to the created order (see 1 Timothy 2:12-15).

The men of RBC have been reading and studying Mark Dever’s Book, 9 Marks of a Healthy Church. It is not an exhaustive treatment of everything that the New Testament teaches about a healthy church, but it’s a great start. We see in Paul’s letter to Titus that one of the evidences of a healthy believing community is how that community handles gender roles in the church and at home.

Titus is to address the older men of the congregation. They are to be sober-minded, dignified, self-controlled, sound in faith, in love, and in steadfastness. The men are to lead their homes and their church in this way. As men grow older, a certain responsibility rests upon them. They should not be living in the foolishness of their youth. By this time in life, older believing men should be Christ-like examples to their families and church. As we learned in Richard Phillips’ book, The Masculine Mandate, men are to be builders and keepers, workers and protectors, nurturers and tenders of those around them.

Paul tells Titus to address the older women. They are to be reverent in behavior, not slanderers or slaves to much wine. They are to teach what is good, and so train the young women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled, pure, working at home, kind, and submissive to their own husbands. Older women have an extremely vital role in the church. They are to teach the younger women how to care for their respective domestic responsibilities in the home. Lots can be said about this: notice that young women need to be trained to love their husbands and children. For starters, let me say that when I was a young husband and father, I was not easy to love. I was very immature and I did not love and care for my children as I ought. I could be hard to live with! I don’t think that testimony only applies to me! I think many young husbands and fathers are foolish, and impulsive, and selfish, and inconsiderate. Young wives are often shocked to learn that their “Prince Charming” is not so charming once they are joined together in matrimony. Very often, young wives need to learn a special patience and grace for their husbands. An older and more experienced husband should become easier to live with! The older women are then better equipped to help younger women flourish during that season of their life.

And children…young women not only have to deal with (perhaps) an immature husband, but also immature children. Young mothers have a very difficult task of living what is sometimes a very isolated life in the home with the demands of child-rearing. Older women are to train the younger women how to serve their husbands and children and tend to the home. This does not mean that a woman cannot work outside the home (See Proverbs 31), but it is clear that the woman’s main role is to maintain the home. If work outside the home hinders work inside the home, the work outside should cease. Remember, this is sound doctrine. When the structure of marriage and church is properly in line with Scriptural gender roles, so the marriage and the church will be healthy.

Titus is also to address the young men. They are to be self-controlled. Enough said!

In all of this we should see that the believing community is a beautiful harmonizing of the generations! I take this text to mean that Titus was to teach this in public from the pulpit and privately as the need arose. When they were in church, all age groups would hear the same instruction together. As for Titus, he was to show himself to be a model of good works, teaching with integrity, dignity, sound speech, putting the evil world to shame (verse 7). The young were not primarily to be taught about life from their peers (although they will learn things from peers, either good or bad). Rather, older, more experienced believers in life and in the faith were to train the young.

I love our small groups at RBC. I am so thankful that my children can glean wisdom from older, godly men and women. Older believers that neglect to teach and train younger believers in the church are in great disobedience. And the young should seize every opportunity to learn from and listen to and emulate the more experienced. So, let us not forsake the assembling of ourselves together – old and young! And let us spur one another on to love and good deeds. This is how we grow to full maturity in Christ!

May 302013

Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, To those who are elect exiles of the dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, in the sanctification of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ and for sprinkling with his blood: May grace and peace be multiplied to you.

1 Peter 1:1-2 (ESV)

Recently, I was watching a documentary on Georgia Public Television called The Appalachians. The subject of the section I watched was about the religious practices of Appalachia. The writers stated that the settlers that first came to the South were Calvinistic and that they believed in a harsh and stern God, who had His chosen people. Then, the documentary stated (and I’m paraphrasing), John Wesley came and preached a God of love, a God that accepted everyone, and this message was accepted by the people of Appalachia, and Calvinism was rejected. (The truth is John Wesley did not have a good reputation when He came to America in 1736 in Savannah, GA. He testifies that he had come to convert the Indians and realized that he himself was not converted. Wesley was not converted until 1738 back in England at a Moravian mission. George Whitefield the Calvinist had a far greater impact and reputation in his preaching in America, and Whitefield was called a Methodist first! That’s right: the first Methodists were Calvinists!)

The documentary got one thing right: Over a period of time, Calvinism was primarily rejected (and we are paying the price the fruit of Arminianism has caused). But it got one thing very wrong: The God of Calvinism is not like an old grumpy grandpa who really doesn’t love anybody. The biblical truth is that it is amazing that He would set His affection on any of us, rebels such as we are.

“In love He predestined us.” Eph. 1:5

“But God, being rich in mercy (rebels deserved condemnation but needed 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.” Eph. 2:4-5

Calvinists most certainly believe the truth of God’s perfections and that He is to be feared. But Calvinists do not believe that He is a joyless God and saves a joyless people. It is actually the other way around. He is the happy God, the blessed God of 1 Timothy 1:11. He is in no way stingy with His love and grace. As a matter of fact, “Heaven will not be thinly populated. The living seed of Abraham will be as numerous as the sand on the seashores and the stars in the heavens (Gen. 15:5). Election declares the expansive generosity of God, not his stinginess.”[1] The Father’s house of John 14 is actually a large house, and millions of believers, from every tribe and tongue and people and nation will be there. What a diverse family God’s elect become! The fact that the elect come from all over the world and from different periods of time, shows them the amazing bond they will have with those so different; and yet they have one thing in common: The Father who chose them before the foundation of the world, the Son who achieved their righteousness and died for them, and the Spirit who made the Gospel effectual in their hearts – elected by sovereign grace!

Believers should be the happiest people on earth! Peter says in verse 8 that we love the God we do not see and that this God has filled us with joy unspeakable and full of glory. It does not mean that we love to go through trials, but that even through trials there is an enduring hope and peace, a rest in God’s promises, a joy that gives strength. Believers are joyful because of God’s love and work in their lives (James 1:2-3). The elect exiles rejoice that this life is temporary and that God is producing in them a great weight of glory in their home to come.

So don’t believe the lie of those who misrepresent the God of Calvinism as a joyless, dull, loveless, graceless and gloomy God. The elect will one day enter into the joy of their Master! Believers experience God’s joy now and will in the future. May grace and peace be multiplied to you!

In Christ’s Joy,

Pastor Bill

– * –

[1] Beeke, Joel. Living for God’s Glory: An Introduction to Calvinism. Lake Mary, FL: Reformation Trust, 2008, Pg. 67.

May 142013

To those who are the elect exiles … according to the foreknowledge of God, in the sanctification of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ and for sprinkling with His blood: may grace and peace be multiplied to you.

1 Peter 1:1-2 (ESV)

Last week, we saw that believers are not elected so that they can live however they please. Believers are elected to be conformed to the image of Christ. Believers are elected for holiness, in the sanctification of the Spirit. Election is also unto obedience to Jesus Christ and for sprinkling with His blood. Believers were chosen to have the work and benefits of Christ applied to them so that they can live in obedience to God.

Peter alludes back to Exodus 24:3-8, when Moses confirmed the covenant between God and Israel. Moses sprinkled the blood of the sacrifice on the people, pointing us ultimately to the sacrificial blood of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins. In Exodus 24:7, Moses read the book of the covenant in the hearing of all the people and they said, “All that the Lord has spoken we will do, and we will be obedient.” So, when Peter says that we are elect for obedience to Jesus Christ and for the sprinkling of His blood, he refers to the blood of the new covenant, which cleanses us from sin and grants us a heart of obedience. The blood of forgiveness that is applied to the believer’s soul is the fruit of God’s election in Christ. So, John Calvin called election the “parent of faith”. If we are believers, we are elected to faith and salvation, elected unto a union with Christ, elected unto adoption, and elected to participate in all the redemptive provisions of our great God and Father. We have been chosen by God to be Abraham’s offspring, heirs of the promise, receiving the Spirit through faith (Gal. 3:14). We are born again of the Spirit, adopted into God’s family, our sins cast as far as the east is from the west, united with Christ and placed in His Church, and we are preserved forever for an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for us (1 Peter 1:4). The inheritance and rest of Joshua would point to this! The inheritance Israel received through Joshua was one that would not last; the land was still defiled, and it would fade away. “For if Joshua had given them rest, God would not have spoken of another day later on” (Hebrews 4:8).

As you look at verse 2, you can’t help but see that God’s election is personal. “May grace and peace be multiplied to you (plural).” The plural “you” refers back to the elect. Election is clearly definite, personal and irreversible. Romans 9:10-13 – “And not only so, but also when Rebekah had conceived children by one man, our forefather Isaac, though they were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad – in order that God’s purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of him who calls – she was told, ‘The older will serve the younger.’ As it is written, ‘Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.'” The election of certain individuals for salvation was God’s purpose in redemption. God loves one graciously and calls him to Himself, like Jacob, and God passes over others, like the reprobate Esau. This was the essence of Calvin’s view of election and reprobation: “God’s election is always sovereign and gracious. None of the elect deserves to be elect and enter into heaven. At the same time, God’s reprobation is always sovereign and just: none of the reprobate will be unjustly damned to hell.”

The personal nature of God’s election of sinners brings warmth and comfort to the believer. It is evidence that no one cares for you and loves you like your heavenly Father. “The Son of God has loved you and has given his life for you” (Gal. 2:20). The great hymn, “Before the Throne of God Above,” says it so well: “My name is graven on his hands. My name is written on his heart. I know that while in heaven he stands, no tongue can bid me thence depart.” God has displayed the richness of His mercy to you (Eph. 2). When God sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins, it was a display of His goodness and kindness (Titus 3). The Son of God met all the Law’s demands on your behalf. His perfect life secured your righteousness and in His sacrificial death He became your substitute. He rose again and He sits at His Father’s right hand where He continually intercedes for you. His sinless blood, shed for you, speaks on your behalf, and it protects you from all the accusations of our enemy. Divine election is a most glorious truth for the Christian. Marvel at His love today and give Him thanks that He has called you and granted faith and repentance. It’s all His work!

Praising Him,

Pastor Bill

May 072013

To those who are elect exiles of the dispersion…according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, in the sanctification of the Spirit.

1 Peter 1:1 (ESV)

We have already seen the fallacy of conditional election. Last week, we saw that God’s foreknowledge means that His love is voluntary, discriminatory (He chooses whomever He wills) and gracious. He has always known His Bride intimately. So, to say that God has always foreknown us is to say that God has always loved us.

This week we will look at how Peter refutes the Arminian objection that if election is true, then that means believers can live however they choose. Arminians claim that unconditional election takes away from a believer’s motivation to holiness, since he is already elect. But Peter makes clear that the elect are not only so according to the foreknowledge of God, but they are elect for a purpose: in the sanctification of the Spirit. The elect are called to holiness through the sanctifying work of the Spirit. Sanctification is a process that begins at regeneration. Sanctification is distinct from justification, but there will not be one without the other. God sanctifies those whom He justifies. “Without holiness,” says the writer to the Hebrews, “no will see the Lord.” Peter also affirms this truth: sinful, depraved people cannot enter into God’s presence nor live a holy life unless they have been sanctified by the Spirit. Peter says in verses 14-16, “As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your ignorance, but as He who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, ‘You shall be holy, for I am holy.’”

Calvinists must be careful to guard against either legalism (works righteousness) or antinomianism (no law). We cannot add to what Christ has done for us, but at the same time, the Law has not been abolished. The Law has been written on our hearts, so it is the Spirit that works in us, making God’s law a delight to us. The Law is powerless to save, but it points us to Christ, who is our righteousness and sanctification (1 Cor. 1:30). Unconditional election is a call to holiness. “For those whom He foreknew He also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son.” (Romans 8:29)

So, the very purpose of election is to make God’s people holy. God’s election does not destroy moral effort; rather, as Spurgeon notes, “God’s choice makes chosen men choice men.” And Thomas Watson said, “Sanctification is the earmark of Christ’s elect sheep.” No believer can say, “Because I am elect, I do not need to be Christ-like.” Rather, a believer should say, “Because I am elect, I cannot avoid being Christ-like.” As surely as God has committed to save a people for the glory of his name, He also is committed to their purity in life and heart. No true Christian should be comfortable in a lifestyle of sin. This is the work of the Spirit bringing conviction and causing us to confess and look to Christ.

Apr 252013

Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, to those who are elect exiles of the dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, in the sanctification of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ and for sprinkling with his blood: May grace and peace be multiplied to you.

1 Peter 1:1-2 (ESV)

In our study of unconditional election, we should not neglect Peter’s plain teaching regarding those that belong to God. Peter is writing specifically, not to all exiles, but to elect exiles. The word “elect” is in the plural, so it is true of all God’s people that God has specially chosen them, has given preference to them, and has shown divine favor to them, and makes them resident aliens in this world. God has predestinated His elect (Eph 1); that is, before the world began, God destined His elect (unconditional chosen ones) to be in glory with Him. Believers are temporal residents here, who have been born again to a living hope, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for them. (1 Peter 1:3-4)

Last week we saw that God does not choose persons for salvation based on faith they might exercise in the future, but rather He elects them unconditionally, “before they were born or had done anything good or bad” (Romans 9:11).

God elects sinners according to His foreknowledge, Peter says. Peter is not speaking of God’s intellect, which of course is perfect and infinite, but rather of His decretal foreknowledge, of God’s determination of whom he would graciously rescue from just condemnation. In His foreknowledge, He intimately knows His own and saves them according to his sovereign purposes.

So, you can see from ‘foreknowledge’ that election is very personal and intimate. Foreknowledge is more affectionate than cerebral. For God, to truly know is to truly love. Amos 3:2, speaking of God’s people Israel says, “You only have I known of all the families of the earth.” Does this mean that God does not intellectually know what is happening around His world, but only knows what is happening to Israel? No. God knows everything at every time. But God has a special love and affection for His people that He does not have for others. Matthew 7:23 proves this: “Depart from me you that work iniquity. I never knew you.” Does this mean that God did not intellectually know the wicked? No. It means His saving affection was never upon them.

God’s election of a people is the seal of His love for them. Because He elects them, and saves them with His blood, and regenerates them by the Spirit, He will cherish them. He calls them His Bride. God has always loved them (‘In love he predestined us!’ Eph. 1:5). This is what makes unconditional election so amazing – there was nothing in me to be desired. All I had to offer was rebellion, iniquity, self-reliance and sufficiency, and a long list of more of the same, but God in love conquered every barrier. That’s what foreknowledge does. In love He gave me life. He gave me hope in a world that is full of sin and is rapidly passing away.

Thankful for electing grace,

Pastor Bill

Apr 172013

Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.

Matthew 28:19-20 (ESV)

“And not only so, but also when Rebekah had conceived children by one man, our forefather Isaac, though they were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad – in order that God’s purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of him who calls – she was told, ‘The older will serve the younger.’ As it is written, ‘Jacob have I loved, but Esau I hated.’” (Romans 9:10-13)

It has been such a joy to preach through Matthew’s Gospel for the last three-plus years. The congregation of RBC has endured well. This Lord’s Day, Lord willing, I will preach my final message from Matthew. It is a text we commonly call “The Great Commission”, though the text does not call itself that. The text calls us to our obligation as the Church to make disciples of all nations. But I am reminded in the Bible, over and again, that the Great Commission is successful only because God elects sinners to salvation, and that He does so unconditionally.

At RBC, we love the Doctrines of Grace, commonly called the “Five Points of Calvinism”. Of course, Calvin did not develop the “five points”, but they were codified 54 years after he died. Calvin so desired to be faithful to Biblical revelation. The “five points” come from the Synod of Dort (1618-19), and were a response to the “five points” of Arminianism. (The Arminians were called “The Remonstrants” at the time.) We understand that Scripture clearly develops these points in regards to salvation. It all comes as a package deal and each point flows from one to another. Total depravity, Unconditional election, Limited or Particular atonement, Irresistible grace, and the Perseverance of the saints formed this body of teaching.

I talked to a young man on the phone a while ago and he asked if we could meet and if I could explain to him the point of unconditional election. This point is a huge hang-up for him, as it is for many. Sam Storms, who wrote a marvelous book called Chosen for Life, said in an article, “To those who minimize the Scriptural record of man’s total depravity, election is the primary reason people are in hell. To Calvinists, who accept the Bible’s teaching of total depravity, election is the primary reason people are in heaven.” If one has a skewed view of total depravity, or original sin, unconditional election will seem to be a horrific doctrine. But when you understand the Bible’s teaching that we are dead in our trespasses and sins, that we have no spiritual life at all in ourselves, then election is a most glorious, comforting truth. Spurgeon said it best: “I believe the doctrine of election, because I am quite sure that if God had not chosen me I would never have chosen him; and I am sure he chose me before I was born, or else he never would have chosen me afterward.”

Arminianism teaches conditional election, that is, that God elects those who are depraved but who He foresees will believe in Christ for salvation in the future. Though people are sinful, they can meet God’s condition of believing in Jesus by exercising their own free will. There is still some glimmer of ability that a sinner has to embrace Christ of his own free will.

From the text in Romans above, and everywhere you look in the Bible, we can see that unconditional election is taught. God elects those who are totally depraved and are not able to exercise their free wills to embrace him. This is not to deny there is a freedom of will, but to say that our free wills will lead us straight to hell. Our wills are in bondage and cannot embrace Christ unless they have been born-again of the Spirit. God elects believers on the basis of His sovereign good pleasure, conquering their wills so that they are made willing to exercise faith, (which is a gift of God), in Christ for salvation. So it is based on God’s free and sovereign grace, not conditioned on some foreseen faith that we might exercise at some point.

Sam Storms says this: “Does God elect people because they believe in the Lord Jesus Christ (Arminianism), or does God elect people in order that they shall believe upon the Lord Jesus Christ?” (Calvinism)

Conditional election fails in three ways:

(1.) It puts the primacy on man’s choice and not God’s choice in salvation. Believers were chosen by God before the foundation of the world (Eph.1, Rev. 7:9-17). As in Romans 9 above, God chose Jacob unconditionally, before the boys were born or had done anything either good or bad.

(2.) It fails to recognize the extent of our depravity. It makes us better than what we really are. By doing this, it robs God of His sovereignty and glory. If we are as depraved as the Bible says we are, then salvation cannot originate with us. Without election, no one would be saved. That is why I put this doctrine alongside Matthew 28. Depraved humanity could never choose God on their own. “Men loved darkness rather than light.” (John 3:19) Believers go into the world to proclaim the Gospel knowing that the Sovereign Lord of all will grant it success, for His elect will come to Him by the means of the Gospel.

(3.) It fails to save anyone! It makes salvation dependent upon man. The wonder is not that God justly rejects some sinners but that He graciously saves any sinners at all. Augustus Strong said, “We may better praise God that he saves any than charge him with injustice because he saves so few.” Or J.C. Ryle: “The believer who knows his own heart will ever bless God for election.”

This will be a good place to end for now, but much more still needs to be said. The mystery of election is this: “Once your enemy, now seated at your table, Jesus, thank you!” (Sovereign Grace Music)

As we prepare even now for the upcoming Lord’s Day, let us pray for the city of Boston and the families affected. Let us also pray for the many needs in our own congregation and that God would graciously call sinners to Himself in our community and around the world.

Praising our great God,

Pastor Bill