Miscellaneous Question 5: Part 2

Continuing with the answer to Boston’s fifth question to himself, “Why the Lord suffereth sin to remain in the regenerate?”, let me pose the dilemma once again, but in different terms.  Are we not to strive against sin?  Do we frustrate God’s “plan for our life” with our lack of conformity to or transgression of his law?  Yes, we are commanded, “be holy as your Father in heaven is Holy.” However, with contentment in God’s sovereign will, we understand that his plan for our life is secret and most often contrary to our striving. Apart from the example of Christ, there is no other figure in scripture that can be better used as a model for our life than David.  Christ as our archetype, the perfected being, and David is our prototype, the being which contained flaws which are used to refine him and us.

God used David’s sin to refine him first.  When we think of David, the image of his faith and courage when he battled Goliath comes to mind.  However, what is most practical to our faith is David’s battle with sin.  Goliath was a pushover, compared to David’s pride.  Today we would say that David had “a problem with women.”  Self control was not one of his strengths.  To humble David, God would use a most violent means.  You know the story,  David committed adultery, had the woman’s husband murdered, and then took her as his polygamous wife.  David was riding high on his sins. The depth of David’s sin correlated directly with the height of how God glorified himself through that sin.  In Psalm 51, David’s lament over sin, we are taught what God desires from us.  We are told that all of our work and sacrifices for God bring him no joy like a broken and contrite heart and spirit; that heart being broken by the realization of our sinfulness.  God received more Glory from David’s humbling than all of his kingly exploits.  God used a man he titled King of Israel,  a type of and shadow of Jesus,  and an example to us, to show us the power of his healing and restoration.  Temporal punishment was not avoided.  David would suffer the sickness and death of the son born of his sin, but would eventually receive from Bathsheba, a son who would be heir to his throne, Solomon.

David had little reason to pray when he was living in unrepentant sin.  Don’t we find that we pray less when things are going well for us?  Sickness, poverty and oppression drive us to our knees; but when God makes us aware of our sin and his longsuffering with us, are we not brought to the edge of despair.  Some of my most heartfelt seasons of prayer have come as a result of my own transgressions.  In the Presbyterian Order of Worship, the prescribed method of liturgy in our Church, we have two steps that are often breezed right through without much thought for what is intended.  The Confession of Sin and the Assurance of Pardon usually only take a few minutes.  The sermon lasts thirty or forty-five minutes.  We treat our confession of sin and God’s assurance of pardoning them as just something we have to get out of our way before the main event.  Hence the description of most modern Presbyterian worship services as, “three songs and a lecture.”  The regulative principle of worship is designed by God to use each phase of our worship service to Glorify God equally.  Even our sin can be used to accomplish this mission by spending more time recalling them, reflecting upon their heinousness, and then receiving the full assurance of our Father’s pardon.  I suppose we get out what we put in.  If we spend little time thinking about our sin, we have less to be sorry for, and if we spend little time convincing ourselves that God has pardoned our sin, we have more reason to doubt that pardon.

God loves to hear his children pray and make supplication.  If God gave us all that we asked for we would be a disaster.  We do not know what is good for us.  Just as my children asked for many things, I knew, or at least I thought I did, what was good for them.  Children tend to appreciate their parents more when we get them out of things than when we get them things.  When a child is in trouble or hurting, the parents love, concern and safe harbor is irreplaceable to them.  Usually their own bad judgement landed them in their unwanted circumstances.  God comes to our recue when our sin results in unpleasant circumstances. The greater the sin the worse the circumstances and the more heroic the rescue.  The value of God’s forgiveness is increased by the depth of sin.  Many sins pardoned, brings more opportunity to see God’s Glory.  More sins blotted out of justice’s debt book by the blood of Christ increases our indebtedness.  There is an economic principle that can be applied to our sin.  The law of supply and demand proves that the more demand for forgiveness the more valuable it becomes.

We are  certainly to ask God to remove our sins.  Christ even asked the Father to “remove this cup from me,” referring to the coming events of his suffering and the wrath he would withstand, but with the condition that the will of the Father be done.  We, rather than frustrate God’s plan, fulfil his plan even in our sins.  We should pray with confidence that God is removing our sin but he is doing so in HIS good time.  While our sins remain we must use them to draw on God’s mercy and his love of showing it.


Miscellaneous Question 5: Part 1

Do you have a favorite verse of scripture?  Romans 8:28 is what I refer to as my theme verse. “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who are the called according to his purpose.”  I call this my theme verse because it represents my view on my faith and my outlook on life, at least my desired outlook.

Noble as it sounds, I fall far short of having contentment with God’s providence, as this verse intends.  You would think that I would live by this principle, if it is my theme.  But, rather, it stands as a goal, because it reminds me often, that the primary sin in my life is lack of contentment with how God works.

To combat lack of contentment, we must all become philosophers.  Philosophy basically is the love of knowledge.  Philosophy can be sinful.  The primary motivation for the first sin in the garden was lack of contentment with the knowledge God had given Adam and Eve.  Covetous of what had been denied them, the fruit of the tree of knowledge provided a possibility of their having this knowledge.  God desires that we have all the knowledge we need, and he has provided for it in his word.

When we have questions about why God does things, we must be careful that we do not tread upon the secret things.  So when Boston posed his fifth question, he did so with the understanding that there are areas where mere speculation is dangerous and we need to flesh out the knowledge that God has provided us.  With a desire to help you be more content with God’s providence, we will look at the answer to Boston’s question, “Why the Lord suffereth sin to remain in the regenerate?”

This is an age old question.  If God made man innocent, without sin, why did he choose to allow man to mutate and become sinful?  Seeing that God can regenerate man, if he so chooses, why not eliminate sin altogether?  We must ponder these ideas with fear and trembling because we dare not go where we are forbidden.  But the answer is quite obvious from a preponderance of the evidence.

When God says something is good, we must admit, his and our definition most often don’t align.  As a parent, what I deemed as good for my children seldom met their expectation.  What God declares to be good for his children usually meets with stiff resistance.

Church discipline is an example of how God uses the principles of his fatherly correction and our remaining sin to bring about positive results, though often a painful process.  I realize that the concept of Church discipline may be completely foreign to some of you.  Today there is little use of this scripturally prescribed and even commanded method of discipleship. We can throw the word “disciple” around with ease, but to add two letters and say discipline, as a practice of the Church, we are repulsed by the idea.  In its most benign form, Church discipline is the orderly working of the Church.  How the Church will be in Heaven is the pinnacle of Church discipline.  How the Church behaves on earth takes a little more work.

For the topic at hand we will use the example of Church discipline, where punitive measures are required to correct sin.  In Matthew 18:15-19,  we see how God desires unrepentant public sin to be dealt with by the Church.  If the sin is not repented of by the offending party, then Paul, in 1 Cor. 5:4-5, gives the remedy.  He says that the offender is to be “given over to Satan.” What Paul intends is that the offender is to be removed from the church.  This is called excommunication.  Today this would be seen as strict and callous, only because we misunderstand God’s purpose.  God’s design is not to get rid of the person, but rather to drive them back.  The church member who does not respond with repentance to the Church leadership’s rebuke is already gone in reality.  They have already, by their lack of submission and unwillingness to stop the sin they have been accused of, separated themselves from the benefits of God’s method of protecting and nurturing them, that is his Church.  At this point God says to leave them in their sin so that their sin might be the thing that makes them come running back for shelter.  Their eventual realization, by God’s providential revelation to them, will cause them to repent and seek restoration to the body.  Even if God chooses to never restore the person and he proves to be, as John describes one who “went out from us, but they were never of us,” God still works for his Church’s good. If a Church leadership does not use this prescribed method of discipline, then they are not functioning as a Church by definition.  They are failing to love their sheep and disciple them, just as parents who don’t disciple their children aren’t loving them.  They desire the love of men more than the love of God.  They are denying the membership the opportunity to see God work things for their good.

In the example of the restored Church member we see how God used sin to Glorify himself.  He powerfully uses the sin of the offender to bring about an example of his mercy.  He creates a situation for love to one another, for trust in his ways,  and for living instances of sacrifice in the face of difficult circumstances.  The “Prodigal Son” will never be played out on their stage.

I hope I have whet your appetite for more on this subject.  This truly is a case of “playing Polyanna,” to put a positive light on an apparent negative. In the next part to Question 5, we will look more closely at some of the evidential positives for “Why God suffereth sin to remain in the regenerate?”


Miscellaneous Question 4

I cannot do justice to the beauty, for lack of a better word, of the writing style that commonly existed among the authors of these earlier times, such as Thomas Boston.  As my electives in college, I took courses in Early and Middle English literature, rather than P.E. and basket weaving.  Though I was no literary scholar, I enjoyed studying the works of prose and poetry from what is considered an archaic era.  However, for Boston, these would have been very influential periods.  Because we now have video to stimulate the visual part of our brains, we do not appreciate how vocabulary can cause us to see with our imaginations.  Truly, writing was an art form in days gone by.

I say all this because, in the opening lines of Boston’s answer to the fourth “Miscellaneous Question,”  he paints a picture with words to create a vivid description of man’s fall from the state of innocence.  Boston states, “It was man’s glory that he was created in the image of God.  It was God’s will that he was created mutably so.  Of his mutability there can be no controversy.  Sad experience teacheth us that man is not now perfect; but on the contrary, a mass of sin, and a lump of hell, the noble kind being affected with diabolic contagion, which he voluntarily received.”

Boston’s fourth question, at least for me, lacks the dilemma of his previous three.  However, for the Church of three hundred years ago, and today, there has been a segment that has held to error when answering his question, “Where hath sin its lodging place in the regenerate?”  In other words, what part of you, as a believer, does your remaining sin originate from?  Is it from your mind and soul, or is it from the physical body?

Some within the faith believe that baptism literally cleanses sin from your spiritual being.  Here is not the place to get into the efficacies of baptism, but if you hold to a similar position, then you may want to at least consider the history and origin of such doctrines.  From the totality of scripture, not specific verses, is where Boston defends the positon that sin is still present in your mind and soul.

Church History is a very necessary study for the Christian.  We tend to think that somehow the Church is unique today.  However, many of the same beliefs today have always been resonant among Christian doctrinal discussion.  The “Holiness” movement in America began in the mid 19th century, primarily in the rural South and Midwest.  Originally an offshoot of Methodism or Wesleyanism, the faith morphed into a system of theology all its own.  Holiness church doctrine teaches “perfectionism.”  Perfectionism is a belief that, by the work of spiritual baptism, the soul of the regenerate is somehow made actually righteous and free from sinful inclinations.  Therefore, any remaining sin must only be present in the physical body.  Acts of righteousness originate, therefore, from the sinless mind and soul.  For example the Holiness believer would say that a lustful desire or even action is caused by the functions of the corrupted body, the old man.  They could simply justify a sin by saying that “my body made me do it.”

Even in Boston’s day, the idea of spiritual perfectionism was not a new phenomenon.  In fact, the apostles dealt with a similar issue in the early Church.  In his letters, John warns about some of the false teaching that was prevalent due to influences of Gnosticism.  The primary issue this heresy fueled was the idea of Christian liberty.  Rather than freedom from the bondage of sin, this notion of liberty taught that Christians were free to sin because the spirit was righteous, without sin.  Therefore all sin was outside of the requirements of the law because sins of the flesh were not judged.   Ideas within the church have always been evident, even among fairly sound Christian denominations,  that are quick to point out the abolition of many old testament legal requirements and cry Christian liberty.  This leaning tends to flow from a fear of legalism.  The opposite effect is a swing towards antinomianism, or no law.  This tends to give Christians the license to sin because their sins are forgiven.

The American Holiness  movement, which is the origin of today’s perfectionism belief system, began when some fell prey to teaching that interpreted Old testament  prophecies, such as Joel, giving women authority to preach and miraculous gifts from a secondary blessing experience. Holiness was not always associated with Pentecostalism, but always promoted a separation from worldly values and adherence to practical godliness.  These values are not within themselves wrong.  God does require them, but not with the intention that they be motivated by a notion of the attainment of sinless perfection.

Some of the primary scriptural evidence that the Holiness movement relies on is from Paul.  Romans 7 is Paul’s testimony about his struggles with sin.  We are probably most familiar with the “I do” verse.  “I do not understand what I do. For what I do I do not want to do, but what I hate I do.”(Rom. 7:15)

This portion of scripture also deals with the benefits of the law for the believer.  Paul points out how the law sheds light on sin, so that the believer may know his transgressions and correct his shortcomings.  Paul is not relieving himself of responsibility for sin simply because he can’t seem to do what he should do.  Holiness interpretation of the entire section (v. 14-25),  would say that Paul intends that he cannot stop sinning in the body because of the remaining corruption of it.  But that his “good” intentions of his spirit are the result of its perfection.  As some would say, as an excuse for their sin, “the devil made me do it,” this perception could lead to the excuse “my body made me do it.”  Once again when we take scripture out of the context for which it is intended, we create dangerous interpretations.

In religion, hermeneutics, the practice of interpreting scripture, can be done in two primary ways.  Eisegesis and exegesis are good terms to be familiar with.  In layman’s terms, eisegesis is when we try to prove a point from scripture by finding verses that support our hypothesis.  Exegesis is when we interpret the meaning of scripture as it is intended by the author.  We must be careful when we try to use scripture, particularly small segments, to prove a belief that we have.  More often than not this is how false teaching begins.

The entirety of scripture teaches that when man fell, his entire being became corrupt.  Even spiritual regeneration does not completely transform the spiritual sin nature.  If anyone can say that his tendency to sin, in fact most of his sin in general, does not originate and occur in and from his heart, he is in a serious state of delusion.  As Paul indicates, the spiritual desire to obey God is a result of his new found life.  But the battle with the old life still rages within him.  “The heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked, who can know it.”(Jerimiah 17:9)  So the next time you say, “I know in my heart,” you might want to stop and think, this is where sin still dwells, do I really want to trust its opinion?



Miscellaneous Question 3

Repentance is a two sided coin.  It is both necessary and unnecessary, required and unrequired.  Boston tackles this dilemma when he asks the question, “Whether or not repentance be necessary to the obtaining of the pardon of sin?”  At the heart of the question is what is meant by repentance and where repentance falls in the order of salvation.  As Boston has already addressed this issue in the answers for his previous two questions, it may seem redundant to take on a third and similar question.  However, there is much more here to unpack.

Yes and no may be the actual best answers to this question, but for the purpose intended, the acquisition of pardon for sin, the answer is dependent on the axiom from which you approach the question.  Does God annex pardon for sin to repentance or is repentance annexed to pardon?  If you have been following this series of questions it is obvious how Boston will answer.  Boston would clearly conclude that repentance is not necessary in order to obtain pardon for sin.  Pardon for sin must bring about repentance. He gives concessions to the necessity of repentance.

God commands us to repent and it is a element of eternal life, the avoidance of temporal punishment, and the acquiring of a sense of pardon.  Repentance is a fruit of faith and proceeds from our union with Christ.  Repentance is pleasing to God,  but can only be done by faith.  “Without faith it is impossible to please God.”(Heb. 11:6)  This logical progression can only lead to a conclusion that one can only truly repent if your sins are already pardoned, because the first act of faith is union with Christ.  To be united with Christ you have to be cleared of the quilt for sin because God can have no mingling with sin.

Boston uses two terms to describe the examples of repentance used in scripture.  You must look closely to see the nuances. First is legal repentance.  As the term implies, legal repentance has to do with the law of God and how the law applies to the individual.  In other words, legal  repentance is a conviction of the conscience as a response to the requirements of a particular law being broken.

Two examples stand out in scripture as examples of legal repentance.  Cain had a natural conviction of conscience when he killed his brother.  He needed no codified law to inform him because it was written on his heart.  When questioned by God as to what had transpired, we see by his response that, although he knew what he had done was wrong, he was only sorry that he had been found out and would be punished, not sorry for offending God.  Judas was so convicted for his part in killing Jesus, that he killed himself.  Sorrow for self is not sorrow towards God.

Gospel repentance , on the other hand, is true repentance.  Like legal repentance, gospel repentance is conviction of conscience, but it includes a turning from sin to God, a fleeing to Christ.  As David describes his “broken spirit and contrite heart,” his sorrow for sin leaves him no other place to run to but to the mercies of God.  Secondly and most important for us, is the motivation behind gospel repentance.  The law of God does not motivate gospel repentance because, for the believer, the law has been made powerless.  When we obey a traffic law,  generally it is because we fear the consequences of being caught.  That is legal repentance.  If we obeyed the traffic law out of a love for the lawgiver, that is gospel repentance.  In fact, to take the argument farther, it would be like driving the speed limit even though we have diplomatic immunity.  The law of god no longer holds the penalty of death for the believer.  Though there may be chastening from God for transgression, the law cannot condemn.

I think by now you have a good idea of Boston’s position that repentance is a result of pardon not a prerequisite for pardon.  He provides a few more objections for the latter.  Within the doctrines attributed to Calvinism, but really are a collaborative work of the protestant reformation, is the doctrine of “Unconditional Election.”  Basically what this doctrine teaches is that God puts no requirements on your salvation.  You do nothing to merit God’s favor, but rather he favors you because he has a right to do so as your creator.  He shows mercy on whomsoever he chooses.  He chose to show mercy to Abram not because there was anything special about Abram.  Christ chose to pardon the woman who washed his feet in Luke 7, not because of her washing his feet.  She washed his feet because she was already pardoned.  She loved him because he loved her first.

Repentance is a part of your sanctification.  As we noted before, true repentance is a turning from sin to God.  We do not do this naturally.  It takes supernatural power. “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you,” says God to Ezekiel (36:26), “and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws.”( 36:27)  He regenerates you then empowers you to repent.  Hosea is told, “I will heal their backsliding, (idol worship) and love them freely, for my anger has turned away from them.”(14:4) God healed them, loved them, and turned away his anger all before they repented.  God told Isaiah, “I have swept away your offenses (past tense) like a cloud, your sins like the morning dew. Return to me, for I have (already) redeemed you.(Is. 44:22)

Scripture taken out of context is a dangerous practice in the Church.  A passage like Acts 3:19, taken out of context, changes all the rest of scripture.  Peter, speaking to the Jews after he had healed the crippled beggar says, “Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing might come from the Lord.”  If you take the order of repentance before pardon from this verse, then you undo the last three passages Boston gave us.  If you plug this verse back into the passage, you see what Peter is intending.  He is calling the Jews to take their own teachings from the prophets and see that Christ was the foretold Messiah.  They had killed the messiah whom they should have worshipped. Peter indicted them, about five thousand were convicted, pardoned by God, and empowered to repent.

Boston wants you to beware of the vicious cycle created by a notion that repentance is necessary for pardon.  If every time sin rises up in your life, and you feel the need to be re-pardoned for it, remember that God desires your repentance but does not require your repentance.  God provides for all he demands.  God loves you so much that he wants you to avoid the effects of sin on your life.  He delights in showing mercy.  Your repentance, is his mercy.