Monday, September 25, 2017

Preciously Illuminating

John Piper:  Does God Really Save Us by Faith Alone?

The first great Reformers like Martin Luther, John Calvin and Ulrich Zwingli never summed up their teaching with the tidy set of five phrases we now know as the five solas. The solas developed over time as a way of capturing the essence of what the Reformation was mainly about in its dispute with the Roman Catholic Church.
Sola is Latin for “alone” or “only.” The five solas are sola gratia (by grace alone), solo Christo (on the basis of Christ alone), sola fide (through the means of faith alone), soli Deo gloria (to the ultimate glory of God alone), sola Scriptura (as taught with the final and decisive authority of Scripture alone).

Justification Alone

I think these five solas can be preciously illuminating, both for the crux of the Reformation and for the essence of the Christian gospel itself, which of course was central to the dispute. I say they can be helpful because five prepositional phrases hanging in the air with no clause to modify are not helpful in making clear what the great controversy of the Reformation was about, nor do they clarify the essence of the true Christian gospel.
The clause that allows these modifying prepositional phrases to do their wonderfully clarifying work for the sake of the essence of the gospel and the heart of the Reformation is the clause: We are justified before God . . . or Justification before God is . . .
Only after justification can the five prepositional phrases follow and do their magnificent work to define and protect the gospel from all unbiblical dilution. We are justified by God by grace alone; on the basis of Christ’s blood and righteousness alone; through the means, or instrument, of faith alone; for the ultimate glory of God alone; as taught with final and decisive authority in Scripture alone.” All five phrases serve to modify God’s work of justification — how sinners gain a right standing with God so that he is one hundred percent for us and not against us.

Don’t Substitute with the Solas

If you substitute other clauses besides “We are justified . . .” such as “We are sanctified . . .” or “We will be finally saved at the last judgment . . .” then the meaning of some of these prepositional phrases must be changed in order to be faithful to Scripture. For example,
  • In justification, faith receives a finished work of Christ performed outside of us and counted as ours — imputed to us.
  • In sanctification, faith receives an ongoing power of Christ that works inside us for practical holiness.
  • In final salvation at the last judgment, faith is confirmed by the sanctifying fruit it has borne, and we are saved through that fruit and that faith. As Paul says in 2 Thessalonians 2:13, “God chose you as the firstfruits to be saved, through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth.”

How Are We Ultimately Saved?

Especially as it pertains to final salvation, so many of us live in a fog of confusion. James saw in his day those who were treating “faith alone” as a doctrine that claimed you could be justified by faith which produced no good works. And he vehemently said No to such faith.
So, he says, “I will show you my faith by my works” (2:18). The works will come from faith.
Paul would affirm all of this because he said in Galatians 5:6, “In Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love.” The only kind of faith that counts for justification is the kind that produces love — the kind that bears the fruit of love. The faith which alone justifies is never alone, but always bearing transforming fruit. So, when James says these controversial words, “A person is justified by works and not by faith alone (James 2:24), I take him to mean not by faith which isalone, but which shows itself by works.
Paul calls this effect or fruit or evidence of faith the “work of faith” (1 Thessalonians 1:32 Thessalonians 1:11) and the “obedience of faith” (Romans 1:516:26). These works of faith, and this obedience of faith, these fruits of the Spirit that come by faith, are necessary for our final salvation. No holiness, no heaven (Hebrews 12:14). So, we should not speak of getting to heaven by faith alone in the same way we are justified by faith alone.
Essential to the Christian life and necessary for final salvation is the killing of sin (Romans 8:13) and the pursuit of holiness (Hebrews 12:14). Mortification of sin, sanctification in holiness. But what makes that possible and pleasing to God? We put sin to death and we pursue holiness from a justified position where God is one hundred percent for us — already — by faith alone.

First Biblical, Then Reformed

So faith alone doesn’t mean the same thing when applied to justification, sanctification, and final salvation. You can see what extraordinary care and precision is called for in order to be faithful to the Scripture when using the five solas. And since “Scripture alone” is our final and decisive authority, being faithful to Scripture is the goal. We aim to be biblical first — and Reformed only if it follows from Scripture.
The five solas provide wonderful clarity about the crux of the Reformation and the heart of the gospel, if the clause that the five prepositional phrases modify is “Justification before God is. . .” Justification before God is by grace alone, with no merited favor whatever; on the basis of Christ alone, with no other sacrifice or righteousness as the foundation; through the means of faith alone, not including any human works whatsoever; to the end that all things lead ultimately to the glory of God alone; as taught with final and decisive authority in the Scriptures alone.


Monday, September 11, 2017


Posted: 10 Sep 2017 10:00 PM PDT
Written by: Don Carson


(4) Michal turns out to be her father's daughter: she is more interested in pomp, form, royal robes, and personal dignity than in exuberant worship (2 Sam.6:16). She despises David precisely because he is so God-centered he cares very little about his persona. People constantly fretting about what others think of them cannot be absorbed by the sheer God-awareness and God-centeredness that characterize all true worship.

Asking for Mercy

John Piper's Prayer

A Prayer in the Path of Hurricanes

O Lord God, mighty and merciful, we are asking for mercy — mercy amid the manifestations of your great might. We are asking, for Jesus’s sake. Not because we deserve anything better than calamity. We know that we have sinned. We have exchanged the high treasure of your glory for trinkets. We have not loved you with all our heart and soul and mind and strength. We have sown the wind, and reaped the whirlwind. We are pleading for mercy.
We make no demands. You are God, and we are not. We are bent low in submission to your just and sovereign power. Indeed, we are prostrate before the unstoppable wind of your justice and wisdom.
We know that you, O Lord, are great. Whatever you please, you do, in heaven and on earth, in the seas and all deeps. You make clouds rise at the end of the earth. You bring forth the wind from its storehouses.
You have commanded and raised the mighty wind, and it has lifted up the waves of the sea. The floods have lifted up, O Lord. You have tilted the waterskins of the heavens.
You sweep us away as with a flood. You kill and you make alive; you wound and you heal; and there is none that can deliver out of your hand. You sit enthroned over the flood — enthroned as King forever.
We are like a dream, like dust swept off the street in a torrent.
But you, O God, are mightier than the thunders of many waters, mightier than the waves of the sea. It is our peril and our hope that you can do all things, and no purpose of yours can be thwarted.
O Lord, do not sleep through this storm. O Lord, let not the flood sweep over us, or the deep swallow us up. Rise up! And do what only you can do amid these winds and waves. Rebuke them, as you once did. When they have done your wise and needed work, let them not have one minute more of strength. Command them, O Christ, to cease, we pray. And make a holy calm. For you are God, all things are your servants.
And give us ears, O God. Your voice, O Lord, is over the waters; the God of glory thunders, the Lord, over many waters. The voice of the Lord is powerful; the voice of the Lord is full of majesty. O God, forbid that we would not give heed.
Open our ears, you who once brought Job to humble silence, announcing from the whirlwind who you are, and that, when all is lost, the story then unfolds that in it all your purpose was compassionate and kind.
Whether we sit waste deep in the water of our Texas homes, or wait, uncertain, with blankets on a church pew, or nail the plywood to our Florida shop, or sit secure and dry a thousand miles from any sea, teach us, in mercy, what we need to learn, and cannot any other way.
And woe to us who, far away from floods, would point our finger at the sufferer and wonder at his greater sin, forgetting how the voice of Jesus rings in every tragedy: “Do you think that they were worse offenders? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.” The very word of God to all Americans.
And now, O Lord, unleash the common grace of kindness from a million hearts and bank accounts, and grant as great a mercy in rebuilding as you once gave verdict to destroy. Restrain, O God, the evil hearts of those who would bring sorrow upon sorrow by looting what is left behind, or exploiting loss for private gain.
And in your church awaken this: the truth that you once gave yourself for us that we might be redeemed, not first from floods, but sin and lawlessness. That you once died, not first to put us out of peril, but to make us pure. Not first to spare us misery, but to make us zealous for good deeds. And so, O mighty Christ, unleash from us another flood: the blood-bought passion of your people not for ruin, but for rebuilding lives and homes.
O Father, awaken every soul to see where we have built our lives on sand. Show us from every storm the way to build our lives on rock. Oh, are you not our rock? Our fortress, our deliverer, our God in whom we take refuge, our shield, and the horn of our salvation, our stronghold. How great the fall of every life built on the sand of human skill!
And yet, how great the sure and solid gift held out to everyone in Christ! For you have said more wonderfully than we can ever tell:
Who then shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword — or wind, or waves? As it is written, “For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.” No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through your great love for us.
For you have made us say with deep assurance: Neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor hurricanes nor floods, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
And all in Jesus’s name,

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

It Is Well

Intense Desire

Jon Bloom:  My Soul Thirsts for You

How much do you think about water when you’re not thirsty? If you’re like the average person, not very much. If you’re health conscious, perhaps you think of water regularly as part of your overall wellness regimen — a disciplined hydration.
But how much do you think of water when you’re thirsty? A lot. You can’t help it. It’s near the forefront of your mind. The thirstier you feel, the more water dominates your thoughts. You begin to notice everything that has water connotations: cups, fountains, rain, pictures of water. The greater the thirst, the more earnest the search.
And the thirstier you are, the less you desire other liquids. Soda, for example, is most appealing as a form of liquid entertainment or distraction, and you might crave it if you feel a low-grade thirst. But when you feel parched, you don’t want soda — in fact, you don’t want any other liquid. You want the one thing that will most quench your thirst: water.
Water is really only experienced as satisfying when our real need for it makes us really want it. Likewise, God is only experienced as satisfying when our real need for him makes us really want him.

Earnestly I Seek You

Trudging through arid Judean wilderness, fleeing yet another assassination scheme, David pours out his craving before God,
O God, you are my God; earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you; my flesh faints for you, as in a dry and weary land where there is no water. (Psalm 63:1)
“The barren places teach us both to want most and to seek most what we need most.”
Note carefully: what made David so earnest in his search for God? His thirst for God. And what made him so thirsty? No water — his experienced lack of God.
This is crucial to our understanding God’s ways and why he allows us to experience dry, barren, dark, oppressive seasons: our experienced lack of what we really need makes us really desire what we really need. This is the blessedness of the barren places: they teach us both to want most and to seek most what we need most. This is a painful gift of priceless worth, because it drives us like nothing else to the only fountain that will quench our soul-thirst, which is why David went on to say,
So I have looked upon you in the sanctuary, beholding your power and glory. (Psalm 63:2)
David’s soul-thirst drove him to seek his satisfaction in God. And that’s the purpose of your soul-thirst.

The Ill of All Ills

But David didn’t always feel this way. When he was at the height of his success, when he was wealthy, sated, and secure in his reign, his soul lost its desperate thirst for God. And what happened? Bathsheba became an enticing and intoxicating soul-beverage. He did something in his prosperity he never would have done while wandering the weary, waterless wilderness: he drank from the broken cistern of sexual immorality.
It is a great and sad irony of the fallen human heart: the very thing that makes the barren places blessed — the rousing of a desperate thirst for God — is too often and too easily doused by the very things we consider the blessings of abundance. When we don’t thirst for God, we suffer from a soul-sickness, and it is a serious disease. The hymnist, Frederick William Faber, described it like this:
For the lack of desire is the ill of all ills;
Many thousands through it the dark pathways have trod,
The balsam, the wine of predestinate wills
Is a jubilant pining and longing for God. (“The Desire of God”)
Is Faber overstating the case? I do not think so, for I believe with all my heart that God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him. And we only seek our satisfaction most in God when God is what we desire most.

Better Than Life

“We wander into sin when we are prospering in ways we never would when we are suffering.”
A great desire can be — and in most cases should be — pursued through some regimen of discipline. And a regimen of discipline can stoke the fire of a waning desire. But discipline is no substitute for desire.
No act of great faith, no possessing of a great spiritual gift, no great sacrifice of goods, kindred, or this mortal life can take the place of love (1 Corinthians 13:1–3). No outward act of the worship of God can ever replace the inward wanting of God.
When David, pining with a thirst for God, earnestly sought him and looked on his power and glory, he said and wrote the equivalent of a thirsty man’s satisfied ahhh after a long draught of cool water,
Because your steadfast love is better than life, my lips will praise you. So I will bless you as long as I live; in your name I will lift up my hands. (Psalm 63:3–4)
There is no greater earthly experience than to drink of God and taste something that is better than staying alive on earth. Have you tasted that? Too few Christians have, I fear. At least in America it seems we are too easily content to talk about the truth that to live is Christ and to die is gain, without really tasting the truth for ourselves (Philippians 1:21). But once we taste it, we’ll never be content with mere talk.

Let Such Life Be Thine

Do not be content till you taste. Do not be content with a mere theological conviction that it is good to desire God. Do not be content with merely desiring to desire God. And for God’s sake (and yours), do not be content with merely having a reputation with others as someone who desires God. Do not be content till you taste and see that the Lord is good — so good that you realize he not only is the best thing in this life, he is better than this life (Psalm 34:8).
“No outward act of the worship of God can ever replace the inward wanting of God.”
We will only taste of his goodness when we really thirst for him. We will not think much of God if we aren’t thirsty for him. But if our souls are parched for God, and we feel like we’ll faint unless we drink of him, we will seek him earnestly. Intense desire cuts through a thousand distractions and focuses us like nothing else.
So plead with God to receive the blessings of the barren places:
Yes, pine for thy God, fainting soul! ever pine;
Oh, languish mid all that life brings thee of mirth;
Famished, thirsty, and restless — let such life be thine —
For what sight is to heaven, desire is to earth. (Faber, “The Desire of God”)