Coram Deo ~

Looking at contemporary culture from a Christian worldview


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How I Spent Spring Break: 9 Reflections on the 2017 Ligonier National Conference

Almost every year since 1997, my wife Tammy and I have left the cold of the Illinois winter to head down to the sun and warmth of Central Florida to attend the annual Ligonier Ministries National Conference. This year’s conference, held March 9-11, was their 30th National Conference. It had a theme of “The Next 500 Years” and was being held on the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation. Thus, many of the speakers referred to Martin Luther and his influence in their addresses. The conference was held in the wonderful facilities of the First Baptist Church in Orlando where it has been held most years, sold out months in advance, and featured an excellent lineup of speakers, including John MacArthur, Alistair Begg, Albert Mohler, Sinclair Ferguson, R.C. Sproul, Michael Horton and more.

As Ligonier President and CEO Chris Larson told the attendees at the beginning of the conference, “Pace Yourself”. The three-day conference can be exhausting. In total, there were 26 sessions you could attend, in addition to a prayer session, two mini-concerts, and a bookstore tour. I always purchase copies of the messages and listen to them multiple times in the months after the conference. Here are the daily highlight posts that Ligonier posted about the conference:

Thursday

Friday

Saturday

Here are 9 reflections I have from this year’s conference: Continue reading


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My Book of the Year: Devoted to God by Sinclair Ferguson

Devoted to GodDevoted to God: Blueprints for Sanctification by Sinclair Ferguson. Banner of Truth. 296 pages. 2016
****

Every once in a while, a book comes along that is truly special. Hearing that Sinclair Ferguson whom R.C. Sproul calls his favorite theologian was writing a book on sanctification, I knew this book had the potential to be special. As I read the book, which is my top book of the year, I knew that it had delivered on that promise.

Dr. Ferguson writes in the “Introduction” that the book has a goal of providing a manual of biblical teaching on holiness developed on the basis of extended expositions of ten foundational passages in the New Testament that serve as biblical blueprints for building an entire life of holiness. These passages (which are printed in Appendix 5), create the possibility for exponential growth in our understanding of what sanctification is, and how it is nurtured.  Each chapter in the main portion of the book focuses on one of these passages, which the author recommends we meditate on, and even memorize them.

The passages focus on teaching that is given in the indicative, rather than the imperative mood – passages that describe sanctification, rather than passages that command it. As such, this is not so much a “how to” book but a “how God does it” book. It is not dominated by techniques for growing in holiness.  He states that the book is a manual written to encourage those who read it to “strive….for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord”. (Hebrews 13:14).

The author writes that holiness is unreserved devotion to the Lord. He tells us that the biblical teaching on holiness, a life devoted to God, is simply an extended exposition of 1 Corinthians 6: 1-20.

Holiness means belonging entirely to him. He tells us that from beginning to end being a Christian and being holy are virtually synonymous. Sanctification is the fruit of the Spirit’s ministry and likeness to Christ is the ultimate goal of sanctification. Sanctification is holiness, and therefore the ultimate fruit of being devoted to God.

As there has been some controversy regarding justification and sanctification in recent years, he writes that justification (God counting us as righteous in Christ) and sanctification (God making us more and more righteous in ourselves) should never be confused. Nor is the former dependent on the latter.  He states that we are not justified on the basis of our sanctification; yet justification never takes place without sanctification beginning.

Themes covered in this wonderful book include union with Christ, sin, God’s grace, election, the Trinity, flesh and Spirit, putting to death the old and putting on the new, and the Christian and the Law.

The 5 appendices included in the book nicely supplement the main text, which is bathed in Scripture. And as with all of his books, the author often quotes from old hymns of the faith.

I cannot recommend this book too highly.

30 Wonderful Quotes from Devoted to God:
Blueprints for Sanctification
by Sinclair Ferguson

This year I’ve read many excellent books but this is my favorite book of the year. Here are 30 quotes from the book that I wanted to share with you:

  1. Sanctification is God setting us apart for himself. As saints we have already been sanctified by him. Then he gradually transforms us so that we begin to reflect his attributes and attractiveness. Jesus Christ’s life begins to be mirrored in our lives and personalities.
  2. Divine election is the foundation of sanctification – not the other way around. Everything depends upon God taking the initiative.
  3. If God has committed himself to changing our lives, to sanctifying us, then wisdom – not to mention amazed gratitude – dictates that we should be committed to that too. Otherwise God’s will and my will are in competition with each other.
  4. The whole Trinity cooperates in bringing me to the goal. The Father, the Son and the Spirit co-operate with one another, but they also co-operate with me in order to make me more like Christ.
  5. Holiness is not only the desire of the Trinity, it is a specific command.
  6. Those who are becoming holy will always have a two-fold impact on those around them. On the one hand there will be the irresistible attraction of the beauty of holy-love showing what life in the presence of God really is – life as it was meant to be lived. On the other hand, this holy-love, so attractive in itself, also involves loving-holiness that will offend those who are repelled by God’s holiness and live in rebellion against him. It cannot be otherwise.
  7. Sanctification is the fruit of the Spirit’s ministry.
  8. If we are to understand the nature of sanctification and successfully pursue it, we must immerse ourselves in appreciating the grace of God expressed to us in Jesus Christ and applied in us by the Holy Spirit.
  9. Sanctification – being devoted to God – is always the fruit of his setting us apart in and through Christ.
  10. God’s grace transforms us through our union and communion with Jesus Christ.
  11. Believers are so united to Christ that all he is and has done for us becomes our possession too.
  12. Our lives are transformed only when our minds are renewed.
  13. For Paul, the “big idea” of the gospel is that the believer is “in Christ”.
  14. Romans 6: 1-14 are among the most important verses of the New Testament. It is not claiming too much to say that the church is still trying to fully understand some of the details of his teaching in Romans 6. So there is room here for a lifetime of reflection.
  15. Exhortations to be holy are always derived from an exposition of what God has done and provided for us in Christ and through the gift of the Spirit. Indicatives are always the foundation for imperatives even if they appear in the reverse order. God has been or done this – therefore you should be or do that. Or, be this, or become that – because this is who God is and what he has done.
  16. The Christian life involves us in an ongoing, lifelong conflict. The gospel therefore calls us to live under the reign of the Spirit in a world dominated by the flesh.
  17. Living in the Spirit therefore means a daily commitment to please Christ and not to please self.
  18. There can be no other way to live the Christian life than by (1) Putting to death the old, and (2) Putting on the new.
  19. Many young believers are shocked to discover that indwelling sin seems to be like an onion in the soul; the unraveling of one layer simply reveals the next – on and on continue the painful revelations of our sinfulness.
  20. The key test of any formula for sanctification is: Does this enable me to overcome the influence of sin, not simply in my outward actions but in my inner motivations? And, in particular: Does it increase my trust in and love for the Lord Jesus Christ?
  21. Success in the Christian life never means that we live for ourselves or see ourselves as superior to others. No, the real success the gospel effects releases us from our self-obsessions and self-interests, so that at last we are free in Christ to love and serve others.
  22. Growing in holiness, enjoying closer fellowship with God, brings with it an ongoing and very painful revelation of layers of sin that have been subtly hidden in our hearts but rarely if ever exposed.
  23. The Christian life has both seed-time and harvest. We therefore need to take a long-term view. If I sow to the flesh I will always reap from the flesh corruption; sow to the Spirit and I will enjoy a spiritual harvest in eternal life. That is an unchanging law in the kingdom of God.
  24. For what we think about and love will have a determinative influence on our character. What fills our minds will shape our lives. We become what we think!
  25. The law-maker became the law-keeper, but then took our place and condemnation as though he were the law-breaker. Now the requirements of the law have been fulfilled in him, its prescriptions fully obeyed, its penalties finally paid. All that remains is for this to be imputed to us in justification and imparted in us in sanctification through the ministry of the Holy Spirit.
  26. Sin has a way of knitting itself into the very fabric of our being, into our character and personality, into our propensities and our weaknesses and, yes, even into our strengths – sometimes especially into our strengths. It becomes my distinctive sin.
  27. It is always a shock to our pride when we discover that we are sinners – and not merely people who occasionally sin.
  28. Those who experience the grace of God in justification want to experience his grace in sanctification too. That involves strenuous activity on our part.
  29. Jesus himself is the litmus test for all of our attitudes. His example is to be the driving force in our devotion. He never sought to please himself. If we are his we too are called to live in the same way.
  30. Union with Christ means that we come to participate not only in his death but also in his weakness. This weakness is not something from which union with Christ delivers us, but into which union with Christ brings us.


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Prepare to Celebrate the Christ of Christmas with these Three Wonderful New Books

Over the past year three of my favorite authors – Tim Keller, Sinclair Ferguson and Alistair Begg – have written wonderful books about the true meaning of Christmas. Enjoy my reviews of these books below – better yet read these books! – as you prepare to celebrate the birth of our Savior.

Hidden Christmas, The Surprising Truth Behind the Birth of Christ by Tim KellerHidden Christmas: The Surprising Truth Behind the Birth of Christ by Timothy Keller. Viking. 154 pages. 2016
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Tim Keller states that the ideas expressed in this short book were forged not in writing but in preaching. Each chapter represents at least 10 or so meditations and sermons on each biblical text that he delivered in Christmas services across the decades.

He tells us that Christmas is a Christian holy day that is also a major secular holiday, resulting in two different celebrations, each observed by millions of people, which brings some discomfort on both sides. His fear is that the true roots of Christmas will become more and more hidden to most of the population. In this book he aims to make the truths of Christmas less hidden. He looks at some passages of the Bible that are popular because they are read each Christmas.

In the first chapters of the book, looking at the Gospel of Matthew, we learn about the gifts God gave us at Christmas. In the following chapters, looking at the Gospel of Luke, we consider how we can welcome and receive those gifts.

Through the Christmas story, Keller tells us about the Gospel. This is a book that I recommend you read and discuss with others, which I am doing with friends in a book club at work. Keller says many things about Christmas and the Gospel that I appreciated. A few of them are:

  • To accept the true Christmas gift, you have to admit you’re a sinner. You need to be saved by grace.
  • Christmas is not simply about a birth but about a coming.
  • Christmas shows us that Christianity is not good advice. It is good news.
  • Christmas means that God is working out his purposes. He will fulfill his promises.
  • Christmas tells us that despite appearances to the contrary, God is in control of history, and that someday he will put everything right.
  • Christmas means that for those that are believers in Christ, there is all the hope in the world.
  • The doctrine of Christmas, of the incarnation, is that Jesus was truly and fully God and truly and fully human.
  • No one is really neutral about whether Christmas is true. If the Son of God was really born in a manger, then we have lost the right to be in charge of our lives.
  • Christmas means that the King has come into the world. But the Bible tells us that Jesus comes as King twice, not once.
  • Christmas means that race, pedigree, wealth, and status do not ultimately matter.
  • Christmas means illumination and spiritual light from God; it means reconciliation and peace with God by grace; it means God taking on a human nature.
  • Christmas means the increase of peace, both with God and between people.
  • The manger at Christmas means that, if you live like Jesus, there won’t be room for you in a lot of inns.
  • Christmas means that salvation is by grace.
  • Christmas means you can have fellowship with God.
  • Christmas and the incarnation mean that God went to infinite lengths to make himself one whom we can know personally.
  • The incarnation, Christmas, means that God is not content to be a concept or just someone you know from a distance.
  • The joy that Christmas brings, the assurance of God’s love and care will always reinvigorate you no matter the circumstances of your life.

Child in the MangerChild in the Manger: The True Meaning of Christmas by Sinclair B. Ferguson. Banner of Truth. 216 pages. 2015 
****

This book was published just before Christmas 2015. Sinclair Ferguson is one of our day’s best Reformed theologians. I have read many of his books and heard him speak many times at the Ligonier National Conference. He has been a pastor and seminary professor in numerous churches and seminaries throughout the world, and is also a Ligonier Teaching Fellow. I cannot tell you how much I enjoyed and was blessed by this new book.
Dr. Ferguson writes that this book sets out to explore the question of the real meaning of Christmas. He tells us that when we find the answer we realize that it isn’t only for the Christmas season. He states that at the center of history stands the person of Jesus Christ. He does so because he is at the center of God’s story. Christ who is the creator of all things has entered his own creation in order to become our Savior. That is what gives Christmas meaning. It is what gives history and our lives meaning too.
He writes that the heart of the Christmas message is a baby bound in swaddling bands and lying in a wooden manger, who is destined to be bound again later in life and laid upon wood on the cross of Calvary. He tells us that the meaning of Christmas is this: the Light of the world has come into the darkness of the world, in order to bring light into the darkness of our hearts, and to illuminate them with the grace of forgiveness. He tells us that Christmas is not coming, but it has already come. The Word already has been made flesh. He already has lived, bled, died, and risen again for us. Now all that remains is to receive him. For Jesus is the meaning of Christmas.
He tells us that Philippians 2:5-11, which he calls a bold, even a daring passage, tells the inside story of Christmas. As we mature as Christians, we begin to count others as more significant than ourselves. This is what the Christmas gospel does. Or to state it differently, this is what the Christ of Christmas does. But he does so only when we discover the true meaning of Christmas.
The author tells us that the New Testament does not obligate Christians to celebrate Christmas. However, he writes, the wisdom of the church throughout the ages suggests that if we do not celebrate the incarnation of Christ deliberately at some point in the year we may be in danger of doing it all too rarely, perhaps not at all.
In his writing and speaking, Dr. Ferguson has a wonderful way with words. Here is an example as he writes of the birth narrative: “The one who populated the forests with trees lies within the bark of one. The one who has always been face to face with his Father now stares into the face of his teenage mother. The one whom the heavens cannot contain is contained within a stable. He who cradles the universe is himself cradled in an animal’s feeding trough.”
Today, most people in the United States celebrate Christmas. The author states that they love to hear Christmas music, even to sing the familiar Christmas carols. But, he tells us, their hearts seem to go cold when they hear about the true meaning of Christmas, that Jesus came into the world to save sinners. The response is then, whether they say it or not, “Let’s sings the songs, but don’t talk to us about being saved from sin!” Let us enjoy Christmas without Christ!”
Finally, Dr. Ferguson tells us that the true meaning of Christmas is seeking, finding, trusting, and worshipping the Lord Jesus Christ.
I so enjoyed reading this book just a few weeks before we celebrate the birth of the One who came to save us from our sins. Ferguson writes about Jesus, “The heart of the Christmas message is a baby bound in swaddling bands and lying in a wooden manger who is destined to be bound again in later life and laid upon wood on the cross of Calvary.”

Christmas Playlist, Four Songs That Bring You to the Heart of Christmas – Alistair BeggChristmas Playlist: Four Songs That Bring You to the Heart of Christmas by Alistair Begg. The Good Book Company. 80 pages. 2016
****

This new book is about Christmas songs, but not necessarily Christmas songs you might have anticipated. Alistair Begg, Senior Pastor for 33 years at Parkside Church in Cleveland, looks at four songs of the first Christmas, which were heard before, during and after the birth of the baby who lies at the heart of the real Christmas.  This is a “playlist” that helps us to prepare for Christmas properly, and to celebrate Christmas joyfully.

In this short book which reads like an extended sermon, he looks at the following four songs:

  • Mary’s Song. This is a song inspired by her role in the events of the first Christmas, but in which she doesn’t sing about herself, but about God. The author writes that it is the first Christmas song in history.
  • Zechariah’s Song. The author writes that Zechariah is singing about the truth that God has turned up. And he has turned up to redeem us—to pay the price, bear the cost of freeing us and restoring us so that we can know him and live with him again, forever.
  • The Angel’s Song. The angel’s choir declares what this baby will achieve: “On earth peace.” The peace of God that invades a life is based on the discovery of peace with God.
  • Simeon’s Song. Simeon was a devout believer in God who was patiently waiting for the promises God had made to be fulfilled. The Holy Spirit had told him that he wouldn’t die until he saw these promises begin to unfold. About his song the author writes “And this is why the wooden food trough led to the wooden cross, and why you will never get to the heart of Christmas if you don’t grasp the meaning of Easter. Christianity is not good advice about what we should do. It is the good news of what Christ has done. Christianity does not proclaim that you are worth saving or able to save yourself. It announces that God is mighty to save.” He goes on to write that between the events of the first Christmas Eve and the first Easter Sunday, Simeon’s words had come true.

This is a book about four songs that tell about the gift of redemption through faith in Jesus, the Son of God. The author writes that Christmas provokes a decision. At that first Christmas, Jesus came to you. Now you must decide whether you will come to him.  This would be an excellent book to give a non-believer to read and discuss together.


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BOOK REVIEWS and NEWS

book reviews

Core ChristianityCore Christianity: Finding Yourself in God’s Story by Michael Horton. Zondervan. 192 pages. 2016
****

The purpose of this new book by Westminster Seminary California professor and theologian Michael Horton is to help the reader understand the reason for their hope as a Christian so that they can invite others into the conversation.  He wants believers to know what they believe and why, a phrase those familiar with Horton will have heard often on his long-running radio program The White Horse Inn. 

Horton, who has also written larger works of theology (The Christian Faith and Pilgrim Theology), offers an apologetic or defense, for the Christian faith, covering the essential and basic beliefs that all Christians share. It is written in an easily understandable manner, and as such, could be read by a relatively new believer. It is theologically spot-on, as you would expect from Horton.

Horton begins by asking the question why is doctrine important? Why can’t we just love Jesus? For the framework for the book, he uses the following “four “D’s”:

  • Drama
  • Doctrine
  • Doxology
  • Discipleship

He writes that oftentimes we hear Christians tell their story and how God is a part of it. But that’s an incorrect way of looking at things. It‘s not so much that He is a part of our stories, but that we are a part of His.

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MY BOOK REVIEWS and NEWS

book reviews

There have been several wonderful articles about Jerry Bridges since his death on March 6. Here are a few of them from Tim Challies, Bob Bevington, Justin Taylor, Robert Brady, Randy Alcorn and Tony Reinke. Justin Taylor also shared the entire memorial service for Bridges.

God Took Me by the Hand: A Story of God’s Unusual Providence by Jerry Bridgesjerry bridges. NavPress. 192 pages. 2014.
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Jerry Bridges, who passed away on March 6, was one of my favorite authors. A few years back, my pastor asked if we could bring him to our church to speak. Unfortunately, by that time, he had made the decision only to accept speaking engagements with those he had already had a relationship with. I was blessed to see him speak at a Ligonier National Conference some years back however.

In this, his last book released while he was alive, written at age 84, he tells his life story in light of the doctrine of the providence of God. Bridges originally intended to have this become a published book explaining and exalting the providence of God. But the more he worked on it, the more he sensed it was too personal to become a book, so he changed his mental audience to family and close friends. However, some people at NavPress read the story and thought it could be useful to a larger audience. Bridges’ prayer is that this book will be helpful to his readers to see how the providence of God can work in the life of a very ordinary individual.

Bridges states that the purpose of the story is to explain, illustrate, and exalt God’s providence. Bridges intends his life story is meant to be only a backdrop and a series of illustrations of specific acts of the invisible hand of God so that many believers will come to recognize and appreciate more of God’s work in their own lives.

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50 Helpful Quotes from The Whole Christ by Sinclair Ferguson

The Whole ChristI recently read Sinclair Ferguson’s excellent new book The Whole Christ: Legalism, Antinomianism, and Gospel Assurance – Why the Marrow Controversy Still Matters. Here are 50 helpful quotes from that book:

  • The first and inarguable conclusion is that legalism and antinomianism are much more than doctrinal positions.
  • The second thing I learned was that the root of both legalism and antinomianism is the same. My guess is that most readers will find this the best new insight for them, one that could even trigger a proverbial paradigm shift.
  • Therefore, the third thing I learned was that to think the main problem out there is one particular error is to virtually put one foot into the other error.
  • The Marrow Men were suspected of antinomianism. What they most deeply feared was that many of the condemners of the Marrow doctrine were themselves guilty of a subtle form of legalism. At the root of the matter lay the nature of the grace of God in the gospel and how it should be preached.
  • The Marrow Controversy raised a major question about how the gospel is to be preached. The issue was the heart of the gospel itself.
  • Boston stressed that this emphasis of the Marrow preserved two of the great keynotes of the New Testament’s message. First, that in Jesus Christ there is a fullness of grace for all who will come to him. Second, it preserved the New Testament’s emphasis not only on the fullness of the grace of Christ but also on the freeness of that grace in Christ.
  • The offer of the gospel is to be made not to the righteous or even the repentant, but to all. There are no conditions that need to be met in order for the gospel offer to be made.
  • Perhaps the most significant underlying issue was that the gospel was being preached in a way that implied a separation between Christ and the benefits of the gospel. The benefits of the gospel (justification, reconciliation, redemption, adoption) were being separated from Christ, who is himself the gospel. A major indication that such a separation has taken place is that one of the most prominent emphases in the New Testament becomes marginalized, namely, union with Christ.
  • There was no doubt about the focus of the Marrow Brethren. They wanted their preaching to be full of Christ himself.
  • For whenever we make the warrant to believe in Christ to any degree dependent upon our subjective condition, we distort it. Repentance, turning from sin, and degrees of conviction of sin do not constitute the grounds on which Christ is offered to us. They may constitute ways in which the Spirit works as the gospel makes its impact on us. But they never form the warrant for repentance and faith.
  • What conditions were met in us in order for God to send his only Son into the world to die for sinners? None. Indeed there can be none.
  • Confessional orthodoxy coupled with a view of a heavenly Father whose love is conditioned on his Son’s suffering, and further conditioned by our repentance, leads inevitably to a restriction in the preaching of the gospel.
  • What is a godly pastor, after all, but one who is like God, with a heart of grace; someone who sees God bringing prodigals home and runs to embrace them, weeps for joy that they have been brought home, and kisses them—asking no questions—no qualifications or conditions required?
  • In seeking to bring freedom from legalism, we are engaged in undoing the ancient work of Satan.
  • It bears repeating: in Eve’s case antinomianism (her opposition to and rejection of God’s law) was itself an expression of her legalism!
  • Legalism is simply separating the law of God from the person of God.
  • Thus the essence of legalism is rooted not merely in our view of law as such but in a distorted view of God as the giver of his law.
  • Legalism and antinomianism are, in fact, nonidentical twins that emerge from the same womb.
  • Legalism is, therefore, not merely a matter of the intellect. Clearly it is that, for how we think determines how we live.
  • And legalism is also related to the heart and the affections—how we feel about God.
  • But the essence of legalism, as we have seen, is a heart distortion of the graciousness of God and of the God of grace. For that reason, as now becomes clear, legalism is, necessarily, not only a distortion of the gospel, but in its fundamental character it is also a distortion of the law.
  • The gospel never overthrows God’s law for the simple reason that both the law and the gospel are expressions of God’s grace.
  • The Bible is an extended narrative of God’s grace from start to finish.
  • The proclamation of the gospel is a repudiation of doctrinal legalism.
  • Repentance does not precede faith in an individual’s coming to Christ. At the end of the day we cannot divide faith and repentance chronologically.
  • Grace highlights legalism’s bankruptcy and shows that it is not only useless; it is pointless;
  • The ongoing function of God’s law is not to serve as a standard to be met for justification but as a guide for Christian living.
  • Legalism begins to manifest itself when we view God’s law as a contract with conditions to be fulfilled and not as the implications of a covenant graciously given to us.
  • Conditions are written into a contract following negotiations; a covenant is made unconditionally. God’s covenants carry implications, but none of them is the result of divine-human negotiations.
  • If we come to think of God as one whose total focus is on exposing our sin, we will become too shortsighted to see his grace. We will be plagued by a spirit of doubting and mistrusting the Father of lights, who gives his good gifts to us. We will find that we have become incapable of responding to him (and his law) within the father-child bond of love.
  • The danger of legalism is that it builds up again what Christ has torn down. It distorts and may actually destroy the gospel.
  • What, then, is the remedy for legalism? It is grace. But it is not “grace” as commodity, grace as substance. It is grace in Christ. For God’s grace to us is Christ.
  • For our purposes the simplest way to think of antinomianism is that it denies the role of the law in the Christian life.
  • Practical antinomianism has many forms today. One of them is the secular gospel of self-acceptance masquerading as Christianity.
  • This has very concrete expressions in what are euphemistically described as “lifestyle choices”: “This is how I am, God is gracious, and [implied: unlike you, if you disagree with me] he accepts me as I am, and therefore I will remain as I am.” But it is misleading to say that God accepts us the way we are. Rather he accepts us despite the way we are. He receives us only in Christ and for Christ’s sake. Nor does he mean to leave us the way he found us, but to transform us into the likeness of his Son.
  • At root then antinomianism separates God’s law from God’s person, and grace from the union with Christ in which the law is written in the heart.
  • Antinomianism and legalism are not so much antithetical to each other as they are both antithetical to grace. This is why Scripture never prescribes one as the antidote for the other. Rather grace, God’s grace in Christ in our union with Christ, is the antidote to both.
  • There is only one genuine cure for legalism. It is the same medicine the gospel prescribes for antinomianism: understanding and tasting union with Jesus Christ himself.
  • Antinomianism then, like legalism, is not only a matter of having a wrong view of the law. It is a matter, ultimately, of a wrong view of grace, revealed in both law and gospel—and behind that, a wrong view of God himself.
  • Neither the Old Testament believer nor the Savior severed the law of God from his gracious person. It was not legalism for Jesus to do everything his Father commanded him. Nor is it for us.
  • Full assurance is therefore a complex spiritual and psychological process by which confessing, “Christ died for sinners, and I rest on him,” becomes, “I am sure that nothing in all creation can separate me from the love of God in Christ Jesus my Lord.”
  • Assurance is nourished on a clear understanding of grace and especially of union with Christ and the justification, adoption, and regeneration that are ours freely in him.
  • There is a strong link in the New Testament between faithfulness in the Christian walk and the enjoyment of assurance. Inconsistent Christian living leads to lack of assurance. Where there is no actual obedience to Christ, there will be no evidence of present love for him as Savior. The Christian who has developed a pattern of disobedience in his or her life will lose assurance.
  • Lack of assurance can also be related to misunderstanding the role of affliction in the Christian life.
  • The fatal mistake here is to base our assurance of grace and salvation on the fact that “God is blessing my life.” When we do so, we have no anchor if life turns sour. No, God anchors us to himself in Christ.
  • But what are the implications of union with Christ? In essence this: through our union with him in his death we are set free from the penalty of our guilt, which he has paid for us; in union with him in his resurrection a complete, final, and irreversible righteousness is ours; in union with him in his death and resurrection we have been set free from the reign of sin. Yet we remain sinners in ourselves. Sin continues to indwell us; only when our regeneration comes to further flowering beyond this life will we be free from sin’s presence.
  • A melancholic disposition de facto creates obstacles to the enjoyment of assurance—partly because it creates obstacles to the enjoyment of everything. Those who are of a melancholic spirit and are prone to doubt need to have their minds steeped in the assurances of divine grace that are to be found in such a Savior fully clothed in the garments of his gospel. Such believers often feel Christ to be distant, so what Hebrews does is bring him near.
  • Attacks of the Devil are also hindrances to assurance and often have this as their specific aim. Satan knows he cannot ultimately destroy those whom Christ saves. He is therefore determined to destroy our enjoyment of our new relationship to the Lord.
  • It is one of the wiles of the Devil to discourage the doubting believer from seeking fellowship, sitting under the Word, and coming to enjoy the gifts Christ has given to reassure us of his love for us. At such a time it is vital to remember that this, inter alia, is what the ministry of the Word and of baptism and the Supper are for. We ignore them to the peril of genuine assurance.
  • Christian assurance is not self-assurance and self-confidence. It is the reverse: confidence in our Father, trust in Christ as our Savior, and joy in the Spirit as the Spirit of sonship, seal of grace, and earnest of our inheritance as sons and daughters of God.


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BOOK REVIEWS and NEWS

The Whole ChristThe Whole Christ: Legalism, Antinomianism, and Gospel Assurance – Why the Marrow Controversy Still Matters by Sinclair Ferguson. Crossway. 256 pages. 2016
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Sinclair Ferguson is one of the most respected Reformed theologians of our day. In the past few months he has released three new books, with this one being the latest and arguably the most important. It is a challenging read, theologically deep and heavily footnoted. However, if you persevere, you will be highly rewarded. It is one of the best books I’ve read in a long time and although early in the year, will be a strong candidate for my book of the year. While many of Ferguson’s books are written for the church as a whole, I believe this book will most benefit pastors.

Tim Keller writes the Foreword for the book, and his contribution may well be worth the cost of the book. He writes that “One of the striking features of the Marrow Dispute is that supporters of the Marrow were accused of defending antinomianism, and at least some of its critics were, in turn, suspected of legalism—even though all parties had subscribed to what the Westminster Confession says about justification and works.”

The Marrow Controversy is an event that not many will be familiar with. It occurred nearly 300 years ago in a small Scottish town and centered on Edward Fisher’s book The Marrow of Modern Divinity. The core issue was whether or not a person must first repent of his sins before coming to Christ. The Marrow Men agreed with Fisher’s book, while their opponents did not.

Ferguson starts with the Marrow Controversy and then applies it to our present day. Keller writes “Against the background and features of that older dispute, he wants to help us understand the character of this perpetual problem—one that bedevils the church today.”

The books tells us that legalism and antinomianism are much more than doctrinal positions and that the root of both legalism and antinomianism is the same. It also tells us that the cure for both legalism and antinomianism is the gospel, and a “fuller, biblical, and profound understanding of grace and of the character of God.”

Ferguson tells of a speaking request that came to him in Scotland in 1980 asking him to speak about the Marrow Controversy at a pastors’ conference in the United States. He states that since that time many have told him that they have listened to those messages. That speaking engagement was the genesis of this book.

He tells us that on the surface the “Marrow Controversy was about how we preach the gospel; what role, if any, God’s law and our obedience play in the Christian life; and what it means to have assurance of salvation.”

Ferguson tells us that the book is not a study of The Marrow of Modern Divinity, although reference is made to it. It is not a historical analysis of the Marrow Controversy, although that serves as the background to it. It is also not a study of the theology of Thomas Boston, although he is mentioned and quoted often in the book. Rather, it is “an extended reflection on theological and pastoral issues that arose in the early eighteenth century, viewed from the framework of the present day.” He writes that central elements in the Marrow Controversy remain some of the most important pastoral issues of today.

The book includes themes such as gospel grace, legalism, antinomianism, assurance, and union with Christ. The book concludes with an appendix “Thomas Boston on Faith”. There is much that we can learn in these pages. I read the book rather quickly (given all of the footnotes). It is certainly worth repeated readings.

Calvin's Sermons on JobSermons on Job: Chapters 1-14 by John Calvin. A New Translation by Rob Roy McGregor. Banner of Truth. 2015
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In 1554-1554, John Calvin used the book of Job for his daily sermons at St. Pierre Cathedral in Geneva, Switzerland. Last May, we were able to visit that church while on vacation. In all, Calvin preached 159 sermons on the book. Each of these weekday sermons averaged just under an hour’s exposition of Scripture.

This new, and very readable translation of those sermons by Rob Roy McGregor, includes the first 59 of the 159 sermons. Having read some other translations of Calvin’s sermons, I was very pleased with the readability of this new translation and would commend this volume to you.

Book News:Lead Like Jesus Revisited

  •  Lead Like Jesus Revisited. I’m looking forward to this updated and revised edition of Ken Blanchard’s and Phil Hodges’ classic book Lead Like Jesus, which I used years ago as the basis for an adult Sunday School class. The new edition will be released April 19.
  • 5 Books You Should Read This Election Year. Trevin Wax shares these book recommendations. I’ve read Onward by Russell Moore and highly recommend it.
  • The Whole Christ. Read Tim Challies review of Sinclair Ferguson’s excellent new book. It’s a challenging, but fulfilling read.
  • The Passionate Preaching of Martyn Lloyd-JonesGod’s Plan for Us Includes Happiness in Him.  Randy Alcorn recently did an interview with Facts and Trend about his acclaimed new book Happiness. 
  • The Passionate Preaching of Martyn Lloyd-Jones. I’m looking forward to reading Steven Lawson’s new book on Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, to be published February 15.
  •  The Story Behind the Jesus Storybook Bible.  Bronwyn Lea interviews Sally Lloyd-Jones, author of the Jesus Storybook Bible, which has sold in excess of 2 million copies.Ashamed by Lecrae
  • Unashamed Audiobook. I’ve pre-ordered my copy of the audiobook of Lecrae’s upcoming book Unashamed, read by Lecrae through Christianaudio.

Studies in the Sermon on the MountStudies in the Sermon on the Mount BOOK CLUB – Won’t you read along with us?

Studies in the Sermon on the Mount by Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones

This book made a significant impact on my wife Tammy when she read and discussed it with friends thirty years ago. When I picked up my diploma the day after graduation ceremonies from Covenant Seminary last year I was given a copy of this book. After enjoying Lloyd-Jones book Spiritual Depression (and the sermons the book was taken from), I couldn’t wait to read this book, which is the printed form of sermons preached for the most part on successive Sunday mornings at Westminster Chapel in London. This week we look at

Chapter 23: The Mortification of Sin

  • Our Lord was anxious to teach at one and the same time the real and horrible nature of sin, the terrible danger in which sin involves us, and the importance of dealing with sin and getting rid of it.
  • What He says in effect is this: `If the most precious thing you have, in a sense, is the cause of sin, get rid of it.’ He is saying that, however valuable a thing may be to you in and of itself, if it is going to trap you and cause you to stumble, get rid of it, throw it away. Such is His way of emphasizing the importance of holiness, and the terrible danger which confronts us as the result of sin.
  • It is not merely a question of not committing certain acts; it is a question of dealing with the pollution of sin in the heart, this force that is within us, these powers which are resident in our very natures as the result of the fall. These are the problems, and merely to deal with them in a negative manner is not enough. We are concerned about the state of our hearts.
  • Our Lord indicates a number of points, which we must observe and grasp. The first, obviously, is that we must realize the nature of sin, and also its consequences.
  • There is no doubt whatever that an inadequate view of sin is the chief cause of a lack of holiness and sanctification, and indeed of most of the false teaching with respect to sanctification.
  • We must grasp the idea of `sin’ as distinct from `sins’. We must see it as something that leads to the actions and that exists apart from them.
  • The second thing we must realize is the importance of the soul and its destiny.
  • If my faculties, propensities and abilities do lead me to sin, then I must forsake them and get rid of them.
  • Our Lord here shows us that the importance of the soul and its destiny is such that everything must be subservient to it. Everything else must be secondary where this is concerned, and we must examine the whole of our life and see to it that this is ever in the forefront of our considerations. Nothing must be allowed to come between you and your soul’s eternal destiny.
  • Do we all realize that the most important thing we have to do in this world is to prepare ourselves for eternity?
  • We are all so very concerned about this life. But are we equally concerned about our soul and spirit and our eternal destiny? That is the question our Lord is asking us.
  • The third principle is that we must hate sin, and do all we can to destroy it at all costs within ourselves.
  • We must train ourselves to hate sin. In other words we must study it and understand its working. I think we have been very negligent in this respect.
  • The next principle is that we must realize that the ideal in this matter is to have a clean and pure heart, a heart that is free from lusts. The idea is not simply that we be free from certain actions, but that our hearts should become pure.
  • Our standard must always be a positive one. We must never think of holiness merely in terms of not doing certain things.
  • The last principle is the importance of the mortification of sin.
  • Any teaching that makes us live an unnatural life is not New Testament holiness.
  • These are things which we must do. What does it mean? Again, I am merely going to give some indication of the principles. First, we must never feed the flesh’.
  • We must avoid everything that tends to tarnish and hinder our holiness. Anything that I know does me harm, anything that arouses, and disturbs, and shakes my composure, no matter what it is, I must avoid it.
  • Morbid scrupulosity is always concerned about itself, its state and condition, and its own achievements. True holiness, on the other hand, is always concerned about pleasing God, glorifying Him and ministering to the glory of Jesus Christ. If you and I keep that ever in the foreground of our minds we need not be very worried about becoming morbid.
  • The next principle I would lay down would he this, that the must deliberately restrain the flesh and deal with every suggestion and insinuation of evil.
  • That, in turn, leads me to the last great principle, which I put in this form: We must realize once more the price that had to be paid to deliver us from sin. To the true Christian there is no greater stimulus and incentive in the fight to `mortify the deeds of the body’ than this.
  • If we realize the power and the true nature of sin; if we realize the awful grip it has on man, and its polluting effect; then we shall realize that we are poor in spirit and utterly feeble, and we shall plead constantly for that power which the Holy Spirit alone can give us. And with this power we shall proceed to `pluck out the eye’ and `cut off the hand’, `mortify the flesh’, and thus deal with the problem.

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