Articles on Other Sites

I’ve had the privilege the last few months to write for a couple of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelical websites. I’ve been meaning to make note of them here and link to the articles I’ve written. I’ll try to do so more quickly with the next ones, but to catch up, here are the ones I’ve written so far.

Place for Truth has a series called Theology on the Go which interviews authors on various topics. A few articles are also written on the topic of the interview as a way of continuing the discussion. So far, I’ve had the pleasure of writing five such articles. I look forward to having the opportunity to write more at Place for Truth this coming year.

I’ve also had the honor of writing a couple of articles for Reformation 21. One was on the Nashville Statement and my concern that it is going to be used as a litmus test by conservative churches and organizations, which appears already to be happening. The other article is a book review of Christina Fox’s most recent book, Closer than a Sister. I hope you’ll take the time to check out these articles and the Alliance websites if you aren’t familiar with them.

Warfield & Inspiration: The Authority of the Bible

B.B. Warfield, Principal of Princeton Theological Seminary at the turn of the 20th century, is well-known for his work defending the divine inspiration of Scripture. During his time at Princeton Seminary, a debate was raging over the authority of the Bible. Were the words of Scripture actually God’s words, or were they merely the words of men with a “divine element” mixed in?

The New Perspective on Paul: Salvation

Unfortunately, this stress on the importance of the cosmos is part and parcel of Wright’s theology. Wright truly does believe that the cosmos are more important in the grand scheme of things. He believes that we have become far too focused on saving people and lost sight of our role in redeeming the cosmos.

Not only has the church misunderstood the purpose and overarching theme of redemption, according to Wright, the church has misunderstood the gospel. When Scripture says that Jesus came to save His people from their sins, Wright believes that the point is not so much about individuals being saved from their moral failures, but rather, that Jesus had to come to put God’s rescue plan for creation back on track.

Westminster & Ordination: The Vows

Some, especially those in non-confessional denominations, believe that having confessional standards for ordination that elders are required to know, affirm, and uphold is unnecessarily strict. Some have called the standards a “straitjacket.” On the contrary, the structure and protection the standards provide should be a great comfort both for elders and for members of the congregation. Each knows what to expect.

Assurance and the Westminster Confession of Faith

“The greatest of all Protestant heresies is assurance.” Cardinal Robert Bellarmine (1542–1621)

Can we know that we’re saved? That question was at the heart of the Reformation. Rome taught that professing believers could never be certain of their salvation. For this reason, believers needed to be careful to perform all the duties and sacraments required to merit final justification. But even the most dedicated believers could not know for sure if they would be saved.

Prayer: Sovereignty & Prayer

The question should not be “If God is sovereign, why should we pray?” but rather, “If God is not sovereign, why should we pray?” It is only because He is sovereign that it makes any sense to pray to Him. What use would a god be that was powerless to help us or who might not hear us when we pray?

The Nashville Statement: A Test of Orthodoxy?

As Christians and as the church, we must stand strong for what the Bible teaches, in all aspects of life. But we should be careful not to bind the conscience of other believers. The Nashville Statement, for however good it might be, is not the Bible. It is also not part of the confessional standards of my denomination. As such, even if it were a perfectly accurate representation of what the Bible teaches, I would not be required to sign it. Given the many valid concerns that faithful, honest believers have regarding the Nashville Statement, we should be very cautious about making support of it a test of orthodoxy.

Closer Than a Sister

Of course, it takes time and effort to build the kinds of relationships where we can trust each other with our struggles and fears and needs. It’s not always easy, as Christina points out. Not everyone is trustworthy. Sometimes friends hurt us, even our brothers and sisters in the church. When that happens, as it does for most of us at some point, it can be hard to open up and allow others into our lives again. But when we withdraw and isolate ourselves so that we can’t get hurt again, we become increasingly lonely, and we miss out on the opportunities God has given us to serve others and to be ministered to.

 

 

The God of Peace

The second Advent focus is peace. Peace means so much more than the kids are quiet and not arguing so I can read my favorite book. It’s also more than an absence of war between nations. What follows is an article I wrote a few years ago about the true meaning of peace.

In November 2012, my family and I went to College Station for an RUF (Reformed University Fellowship) reunion. RUF has been on campus at Texas A&M for more than 25 years. The best part of the whole weekend was hearing my former campus minister, Chris Yates, preach. I am so thankful for him and his family and for all I learned in my years at RUF.

Pastor Yates preached from 1 Thessalonians 5:23-24:

Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you entirely; and may your spirit and soul and body be preserved complete, without blame at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. Faithful is He who calls you, and He also will bring it to pass.(NASB)

While I’m not going to summarize the whole of his excellent sermon (you can listen to it here), I want to share and expound on one of the points he made.

Pastor Yates opened by discussing what it means that God is a “God of peace.” Since it comes in the opening or closing parts of Paul’s letters, it is easy to skim over it and not really consider the importance of those words. What kind of peace is Paul referring to? Political peace? No, there wasn’t political peace in Paul’s day any more than there is today. How about world peace? Is there world peace? Was there then? No, there isn’t and wasn’t. Well, since Paul isn’t lying, it must mean something else. What other kind of peace is there?

Pastor Yates then pointed us to the verse in Luke 2:14:

Glory to God in the highest, And on earth peace among men with whom He is pleased. (NASB)

And then to the hymn, Hark the Herald Angels Sing:

Hark! The herald angels sing,
“Glory to the newborn King;
Peace on earth, and mercy mild,
God and sinners reconciled!”

The peace that Paul refers to is the peace of “God and sinners reconciled.” What joyful news this is! As the country preacher once said, “God ain’t mad no more!”

This was such a timely reminder for me. I had had a particularly difficult week, and not just the disappointing election results. In troubled times, it is easy to despair. But when we remember that God, through the work of Christ, has defeated sin and death and has reconciled us to Himself, we can lift our eyes and rejoice. When we remember that God is still at work, in the world and in our lives sanctifying us, we can be at peace. Because we are at peace with God, we can be at peace in our lives. What better news is there?

In our culture, it’s in vogue to treat this glorious gospel message with disdain, and not just outside the church. Plenty of scholars, theologians, and pastors will say that it’s wrong to focus on the salvation of God’s people. As Peter Enns has said, “The gospel is not about how you get saved.” They say we’re missing the big picture of the work that God is doing to redeem the cosmos. As Dr. Tim Keller has said:

The whole purpose of salvation is to cleanse and purify this material world. … [T]he whole purpose of salvation is to make this world a great place. … God sees this world as not a temporary means to an end of salvation, but actually salvation is a temporary means to an end – to the renewal of creation. Saving souls is a means to an end of cultural renewal.

It seems to me that while it is certainly true that God is at work in the world and that there is an ultimate renewal/restoration/re-creation coming that will include the whole of the creation, that as a culture we’ve lost sight of the depths and seriousness of our sin. The weight of our sins, from Adam down to the believers yet to be born, was so severe, the cost of our sins was so high, the chasm between God and man brought about by our sin was so great, that God Himself DIED to pay the penalty. Let me say that again. God DIED. Because of me. Because He LOVES me. Because He has called me by name and written my name on the palm of His hand. Do you not feel the weight of that? Is there anything that could possibly be better news?

Apart from Christ, we are sinners, separated from God, bearing the weight of our sins, unable to save ourselves, but that’s not the end of the story. The God of peace has come, has redeemed His people, is at work sanctifying them Himself, and will come again to present them as holy and blameless. This Sunday, I was reminded of His love for me, of all He has done, is doing, and will do for me. Oh, what joy!

When we sang “Stricken, Smitten, and Afflicted” that Sunday, these words struck me anew:

Ye who think of sin but lightly,
Nor suppose the evil great,
Here may view its nature rightly,
Here its guilt may estimate.
Mark the Sacrifice appointed!
See Who bears the awful load!
’Tis the Word, the Lord’s Anointed,
Son of Man, and Son of God.

Thank God for the peace He’s given us through Christ!

Christian, Where is your Hope?

Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you will abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. (Romans 15:13 NASB)

Hope is the first of the four themes for advent. All too often we speak of hope in a wishful way. “I hope I make it to work on time.” “I hope you’re feeling better.” “Hopefully, my children will sleep tonight.” This kind of uncertain, wishful thinking is not what it means to have hope in Christ. In Christ, we have assurance. We have security. We have a Savior who has come, fulfilling the prophecies of old, and who will come again! Maranatha!

In this advent season, I began thinking about where I often put my hope, and where it ought to be. To remind myself, I made a list of where my hope should not be:

  • My hope is not in my finances.
  • My hope is not in my health.
  • My hope is not in my children.
  • My hope is not in my husband and his love for me.
  • My hope is not in my career or my professional success.
  • My hope is not in my ability to control my life.
  • My hope is not in my appearance.
  • My hope is not in my self-reliance or independence.
  • My hope is not in those around me.
  • My hope is not in me.

All of these things are fleeting. All will ultimately disappoint. None will satisfy. None will save. None are secure. If I have everything the world offers, I could lose it tomorrow. My only hope is in Christ. He will not fail.

The Heidelberg Catechism teaches us where our comfort or hope comes from as believers:

What is your only comfort in life and death?

That I am not my own, but belong with body and soul, both in life and in death, to my faithful Saviour Jesus Christ. He has fully paid for all my sins with His precious blood, and has set me free from all the power of the devil. He also preserves me in such a way that without the will of my heavenly Father not a hair can fall from my head; indeed, all things must work together for my salvation. Therefore, by His Holy Spirit He also assures me of eternal life and makes me heartily willing and ready from now on to live for Him.

Christ is our only sure hope. Our salvation is secure in Him. God has saved us, God is saving us, God will save us. Past, present, and future. All are certain in Him. We have great hope.

As the words of the hymn say, “He then is all my Hope and Stay.” Rejoice today in the hope of Christ!

My hope is built on nothing less
Than Jesus’ blood and righteousness.
I dare not trust the sweetest frame,
But wholly trust in Jesus’ Name.

On Christ the solid Rock I stand,
All other ground is sinking sand;
All other ground is sinking sand.

When darkness seems to hide His face,
I rest on His unchanging grace.
In every high and stormy gale,
My anchor holds within the veil.

His oath, His covenant, His blood,
Support me in the whelming flood.
When all around my soul gives way,
He then is all my Hope and Stay.

When He shall come with trumpet sound,
Oh may I then in Him be found.
Dressed in His righteousness alone,
Faultless to stand before the throne. — Edward Mote

Back to the Reformed Confessions and Catechisms

Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more – Henry V, Shakespeare

The debate over salvation by faith alone continues unabated. As I wrote in my last article on the subject, at issue is whether and how good works can be considered necessary or part of salvation. From the recent Desiring God article, it’s apparent that I did not overstate things when I said that Piper was separating justification from salvation. The article, though not written by John Piper, references Piper’s article and states:

But what about being saved by faith alone? You’re not. You’re justified through faith alone. Final salvation comes through justification and sanctification — both initiated and sustained by God’s grace. (emphasis original)

The article also warns that your salvation depends on you killing your sin. According to Piper and others at Desiring God, justification is by faith alone, but salvation (or final salvation) is through works and faith. As I wrote previously, this teaching is contrary to what the Scriptures and the Reformed confessions and catechisms teach.

That last part is what I want to focus on in this article. Last time, I used several Bible verses to explain the Scriptural foundation for salvation by faith alone. While I did quote from the Heidelberg Catechism, I wanted to give additional excerpts from the other well-known Reformed confessions and catechisms. As you will note, the teaching that salvation, from first to last, is by faith alone is clear in all of the Reformed confessions and catechisms.

From the Westminster Confession of faith, notice that it says that saving faith means resting on Christ alone for justification, sanctification, and eternal life.

By this faith, a Christian believes to be true whatsoever is revealed in the Word, for the authority of God Himself speaking therein; and acts differently upon that which each particular passage thereof contains; yielding obedience to the commands,  trembling at the threatenings,  and embracing the promises of God for this life, and that which is to come. But the principal acts of saving faith are accepting, receiving, and resting upon Christ alone for justification, sanctification, and eternal life, by virtue of the covenant of grace. (WCF XIV.2 on Saving Faith, emphasis added)

The section on good works has several useful passages. The first one quoted here states that good works are the fruit and evidence of faith. Some have used the last statement highlighted below to say that the confession is teaching the same as Piper, that good works are instrumental to salvation and eternal life.

These good works, done in obedience to God’s commandments, are the fruits and evidences of a true and lively faith: and by them believers manifest their thankfulness, strengthen their assurance, edify their brethren, adorn the profession of the Gospel, stop the mouths of the adversaries, and glorify God, whose workmanship they are, created in Christ Jesus thereunto, that, having their fruit unto holiness, they may have the end, eternal life. (WCF XVI.2 on Good Works, emphasis added)

But it is clear from the following passages that this is not what the Confession teaches. There is no merit of eternal life nor profit for us in our good works.

We cannot by our best works merit pardon of sin, or eternal life at the hand of God, by reason of the great disproportion that is between them and the glory to come; and the infinite distance that is between us and God, whom, by them, we can neither profit, nor satisfy for the debt of our former sins, but when we have done all we can, we have done but our duty, and are unprofitable servants: and because, as they are good, they proceed from His Spirit, and as they are wrought by us, they are defiled, and mixed with so much weakness and imperfection, that they cannot endure the severity of God’s judgment. (WCF XVI.5 on Good Works, emphasis added)

The Westminster Larger Catechism also teaches that salvation is by faith alone. Justifying faith rests on Christ for salvation:

Q. 72. What is justifying faith?
A. Justifying faith is a saving grace, wrought in the heart of a sinner by the Spirit and Word of God, whereby he, being convinced of his sin and misery, and of the disability in himself and all other creatures to recover him out of his lost condition, not only assents to the truth of the promise of the gospel, but receives and rests upon Christ and his righteousness, therein held forth, for pardon of sin, and for the accepting and accounting of his person righteous in the sight of God for salvation. (WLC 72, emphasis added)

And how does that faith justify? Not by good works:

Q. 73. How doth faith justify a sinner in the sight of God?
A. Faith justifies a sinner in the sight of God, not because of those other graces which do always accompany it, or of good works that are the fruits of it, nor as if the grace of faith, or any act thereof, were imputed to him for his justification; but only as it is an instrument by which he receives and applies Christ and his righteousness. (WLC 73, emphasis added)

Sanctification, the Catechism reminds us, is God’s work:

Q. 75. What is sanctification?
A. Sanctification is a work of God’s grace, whereby they whom God hath, before the foundation of the world, chosen to be holy, are in time, through the powerful operation of his Spirit applying the death and resurrection of Christ unto them, renewed in their whole man after the image of God; having the seeds of repentance unto life, and all other saving graces, put into their hearts, and those graces so stirred up, increased, and strengthened, as that they more and more die unto sin, and rise unto newness of life. (WLC 75, emphasis added)

The 39 Articles also teach that good works are the fruit of salvation and are not a means of salvation:

XII. Of Good Works.
Albeit that Good Works, which are the fruits of Faith, and follow after Justification, cannot put away our sins, and endure the severity of God’s Judgement; yet are they pleasing and acceptable to God in Christ, and do spring out necessarily of a true and lively Faith; insomuch that by them a lively Faith may be as evidently known as a tree discerned by the fruit. (Article 12, Of Good Works, emphasis added)

The Second Helvetic Confession speaks at length about good works and their place in the life of a Christian. It categorically rejects the teaching that salvation is through good works:

WE ARE NOT SAVED BY GOOD WORKS. Nevertheless, as was said above, we do not think that we are saved by good works, and that they are so necessary for salvation that no one was ever saved without them. For we are saved by grace and the favor of Christ alone. Works necessarily proceed from faith. And salvation is improperly attributed to them, but is most properly ascribed to grace. The apostle’s sentence is well known: “If it is by grace, then it is no longer of works; otherwise grace would no longer be grace. But if it is of works, then it is no longer grace, because otherwise work is no longer work” (Rom. 11:6).  (Second Helvetic Confession, Chapter XVI, emphasis added)

The 3 Forms of Unity include of the Heidelberg Catechism, the Belgic Confession, and the Canons of Dordt. They don’t all go into the same depth on the same subjects as the Westminster and Second Helvetic Confessions, but the themes of the Reformation are still very clear.

The Canons of Dordt teaches that eternal life (salvation) is by faith in Christ alone:

FIRST HEAD: ARTICLE 4. The wrath of God abides upon those who believe not this gospel. But such as receive it and embrace Jesus the Savior by a true and living faith are by Him delivered from the wrath of God and from destruction, and have the gift of eternal life conferred upon them. (Canons of Dordt, 1.4, emphasis added)

The Belgic Confession also teaches that salvation is by faith in Christ alone:

Article 22: The Righteousness of Faith
For it must necessarily follow that either all that is required for our salvation is not in Christ or, if all is in him, then he who has Christ by faith has his salvation entirely.
Therefore, to say that Christ is not enough but that something else is needed as well is a most enormous blasphemy against God-– for it then would follow that Jesus Christ is only half a Savior. And therefore we justly say with Paul that we are justified “by faith alone” or by faith “apart from works.” (Belgic Confession, Article 22, emphasis added)

And that good works are evidence and the fruit of our salvation, but not a means of salvation:

Article 24: The Sanctification of Sinners
So then, we do good works, but nor for merit– for what would we merit? Rather, we are indebted to God for the good works we do, and not he to us, since it is he who “works in us both to will and do according to his good pleasure” — thus keeping in mind what is written: “When you have done all that is commanded you, then you shall say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have done what it was our duty to do.’
Yet we do not wish to deny that God rewards good works– but it is by his grace that he crowns his gifts.
Moreover, although we do good works we do not base our salvation on them; for we cannot do any work that is not defiled by our flesh and also worthy of punishment. And even if we could point to one, memory of a single sin is enough for God to reject that work.
So we would always be in doubt, tossed back and forth without any certainty, and our poor consciences would be tormented constantly if they did not rest on the merit of the suffering and death of our Savior.  (Belgic Confession, Article 24, emphasis added)

The Heidelberg Catechism I referenced in my first article. It is very clear in affirming salvation by faith alone in Christ alone and rejecting that good works merit us salvation or eternal life:

Q & A 60
Q. How are you righteous before God?

A. Only by true faith in Jesus Christ. Even though my conscience accuses me of having grievously sinned against all God’s commandments,
of never having kept any of them, and of still being inclined toward all evil, nevertheless, without any merit of my own, out of sheer grace, God grants and credits to me the perfect satisfaction, righteousness, and holiness of Christ, as if I had never sinned nor been a sinner, and as if I had been as perfectly obedient as Christ was obedient for me. All I need to do is accept this gift with a believing heart.

Q & A 61
Q. Why do you say that through faith alone you are righteous?
A. Not because I please God by the worthiness of my faith. It is because only Christ’s satisfaction, righteousness, and holiness make me righteous before God, and because I can accept this righteousness and make it mine in no other way than through faith.

Q & A 62
Q. Why can’t our good works be our righteousness before God, or at least a part of our righteousness?
A. Because the righteousness which can pass God’s judgment must be entirely perfect and must in every way measure up to the divine law. But even our best works in this life are imperfect and stained with sin.

Q & A 63
Q. How can our good works be said to merit nothing when God promises to reward them in this life and the next?
A. This reward is not earned; it is a gift of grace.

Q & A 64
Q. But doesn’t this teaching make people indifferent and wicked?
A. No. It is impossible for those grafted into Christ through true faith not to produce fruits of gratitude. (Heidelberg Catechism, Questions 60-64, emphasis added)

The confessions and catechisms were written, in part, to teach lay people what the Bible teaches on various important topics. As such, the material is usually straightforward and beneficial for believers of all ages and all levels of education. This is in keeping with the Reformed emphasis on educating all believers so that all may be informed especially regarding salvation.

As the Westminster Confession of Faith states, while Scripture may not all ways be easy to understand, what we need to know about salvation is plain and does not require advanced degrees or special knowledge of obscure sources in their primary languages to understand correctly:

All things in Scripture are not alike plain in themselves, nor alike clear unto all: yet those things which are necessary to be known, believed, and observed for salvation are so clearly propounded, and opened in some place of Scripture or other, that not only the learned, but the unlearned, in a due use of the ordinary means, may attain unto a sufficient understanding of them. (WCF, I.7, emphasis added)

These Reformed confessions and catechisms comprise the standards for most confessional denominations. They are not equal to Scripture, and the Westminster Confession makes clear that the Scriptures are the “supreme judge” in any controversies:

The supreme judge by which all controversies of religion are to be determined, and all decrees of councils, opinions of ancient writers, doctrines of men, and private spirits, are to be examined, and in whose sentence we are to rest, can be no other but the Holy Spirit speaking in the Scripture. (WCF, I.10)

Everything, no matter who said it, must be weighed against Scripture. And for confessional Christians, a good place to start is with our confessional standards. Confessional Christians, especially ordained leaders, believe and affirm that the confessional standards of their denomination contain “the system of doctrine taught in the Holy Scriptures” (PCA and OPC ordination questions). For this reason, it is important to know and to return to the confessional standards in any controversy.

Piper does not hold to any of the Reformed confessions or catechisms. That doesn’t mean he isn’t a Christian or that he doesn’t teach useful things. But it does mean that we shouldn’t be surprised when he teaches something outside the confessional standards.

No matter how much we may like Calvin, Twisse, Edwards, Horton, or Piper,  ultimately we don’t confess them. We confess the standards of our denominations. It really is that simple.

If you’d like to read more on the current Sola Fide debate, I recommend the following articles:

Rachel Miller Contra Mundum? The 5 Solas and John Piper, Part 1
Rachel Miller Contra Mundum? The 5 Solas and John Piper, Part 2: “Salvation”
Rachel Contra Mundum? The 5 Solas and John Piper: Part 3, Beginning at the End: The Marrow Men
Salvation Sola Fide: Martin Luther and the Fruits of Faith
“…Let’s just pipe down and let the experts handle this.”
Piper: Salvation by faith alone and just a little bit more?
The Gospel According to Piper
Believers Are Saved And Sealed
In By Grace, Stay In By Faithfulness?
Salvation Sola Gratia, Sola Fide: On Distinguishing Is, With, And Through

Innocence Lost … and Regained

The young couple, with stars in their eyes,

Walks hand in hand with joyful hearts.

A day of excitement and wonder awaits.

What will the future bring?

A boy full of energy and laughter?

A girl with bright eyes and sweet smile?

Anxiously they wait for their turn,

Surely only a few minutes more.

 In their minds are pictures of a nursery

With soft blankets and toys on the floor.

Then it’s time, the wait’s almost over.

The tech starts to measure and scan.

But what’s this? She seems worried and tense.

Why won’t she answer?

“The doctor is coming to talk,” she says.

The sweet couple sits in silence.

The tears begin falling,

The first of so many to come.

His arm around her, She sits on his knee,

That small comfort keeping her from falling apart.

The doctor looks sad,

“Your baby is dying.”

“You did nothing wrong. It just happens sometimes.”

The young couple leaves heartbroken and shocked.

The poor tech is in tears as they walk by,

Sympathy etched on her face.

The young couple, with tears in their eyes,

Walks hand in hand with sorrowful hearts.

——————-

And the baby? A girl.

Born still and too soon.

Their hearts grieve, but with hope.

They will see her again,

And never be parted.

——————–

And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Revelation 21: 4-5 (ESV)

Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness

I don’t generally get involved with the various “awareness” months. However, there is one that is very dear to my heart. October 15th is Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day. Fifteen years ago, Matt and I lost our first baby girl to Turner syndrome. She was born still at 21 weeks gestation. The list of my friends and family who have had pregnancy or infant loss is very long. All of you are in my thoughts and prayers today. If you have someone in your life who has had or is going through this trial, hug them and tell them you love them. Don’t spout platitudes. Just be there for them. They need your love and support. No matter how long it’s been, they have not forgotten the pain. Talking with them about it will not cause them more pain. They will be grateful that someone remembers their little ones. Our babies are gone, but never forgotten.

Here is my story. I pray Bethanne’s short life will be an encouragement to you.

Fourteen years ago, on February 25th, Matt and I were waiting with great excitement for our big ultrasound. I was 20 weeks pregnant and had just started wearing maternity clothes, even though I didn’t really need them yet. We had our VHS tape in hand and couldn’t wait to find out if this was a little girl or boy.

When they started the ultrasound, I knew the tech wasn’t allowed to tell us anything good or bad, except the gender. So, I waited and watched. I knew from friends that they would measure the limbs, get a good look at the internal organs, and other body parts. We listened to the heartbeat. Then the tech excused herself. I began to worry a little bit. My OB had told me that we would talk about the results at my next visit. If there was anything that needed watching she’d call, and if anything was badly wrong she’d meet us there in the room.

The tech came back with the doc that oversaw the radiology lab. They turned the screen and whispered and pointed. The doc agreed with whatever the tech had seen and told us that our OB would be there in a few minutes. They left so I could get dressed. I told Matt something was wrong. This was not good. I called my dad on my cellphone and asked him to pray. I sat on Matt’s lap with tears in my eyes as we waited for the OB.

She came in a few minutes later. She sat down and told us that our baby girl had Turner syndrome. That it was terminal, and that she would advise termination. I looked at her in shock. How did this happen? She assured us that it wasn’t our fault. That it just happens some times. Two days later, at the appointment with the specialist, we found out that our daughter’s heart had stopped in the womb.

On March 1, 2002, my OB started my induction. As I changed clothes into a hospital gown, I cried out to God, “Dear God, I do not want to be here.” Let me tell you, when you are only 21 weeks pregnant, your body does NOT want to go into labor. Hours and hours passed. Nothing seemed to be happening. Physically it hurt, but the worst of the pain was emotional. My parents and Matt were with me through all of it. I know it was hard for them to watch and pray. There was nothing anyone could do for me. Finally, after 28 hours of labor, Bethanne Grace Miller was born on Saturday, March 2, 2002 at 11:08 am. It was a very bittersweet moment.

I got to hold my sweet baby girl. It was so precious. It hurt so much. I was exhausted both physically and emotionally. She was so very tiny. No bigger than a baby doll. I could see that her eyebrows looked like Matt’s. Her little mouth looked like mine. It was joy and agony.

Today when we go to her grave and put some beautiful tulips there to remember, I am sad as I always am this time of year, but I rejoice knowing that I will see her again.

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth passed away, and there is no longer any sea. And I saw the holy city, Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God made ready as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne, saying, ” Behold, the tabernacle of God is among men, and He will dwell among them, and He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away.” Revelation 21:1-4 (NAS)

Salvation by Grace Alone through Faith Alone in Christ Alone

As we celebrate the 500th anniversary of the Reformation this year, some may wonder if the Reformation still matters today. We don’t face the same problems today in the church that they did back then, right? No one is selling indulgences. No one in in the evangelical world is teaching salvation by works and certainly not in the Reformed world! Right?

Last week, Desiring God ran an article by John Piper on sola fide, Does God Really Save Us by Faith Alone? The article is a rerun of older material by Piper. It makes the rounds every couple of years and receives a wide range of responses. The point of the article seems to be to encourage believers to have an active faith as described in James 2. This is a worthy aim. There are many today, even in Reformed circles, who speak and act as though believers should not be expected to live godly lives and to struggle against their sins.

The problem in many responses to such antinomianism is a trend towards moralism, pietism, or legalism. Such a reaction to antinomianism is not surprising, but it is equally dangerous. And this is the ditch Piper’s article falls into.

Piper rightly says that believers are justified by faith alone, but then he makes a distinction between justification and salvation by faith alone:

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.” (emphasis added)

He goes on to say that works are necessary for “final salvation”:

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. (emphasis added)

Piper is saying that we are justified by faith alone in Christ alone but that there is also a final salvation separate from justification that includes our works. In this way, he says, we are saved through faith AND works. This is not simply sloppiness or poor wording. This is what he is teaching, and it is clear from the context of the article. And it is contrary to Scripture, to the Reformation, and to the Reformed confessions and catechisms.

In Scripture, Paul says clearly that we are SAVED, not only justified, by faith alone and not by works:

For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. (Ephesians 2:8-9, NASB, emphasis added)

In Galatians, Paul addresses a very similar concern. He asks:

Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh? (Galatians 3:3, NASB)

In Romans, Paul explains that we are saved through faith in Christ:

if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved;for with the heart a person believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation. (Romans 10:9-10, NASB)

Paul goes on to say that grace is only grace if works are excluded:

But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works, otherwise grace is no longer grace. (Romans 11:6, NASB)

The Scriptures do not distinguish between an initial salvation (or justification) and a final salvation. It does distinguish between justification, sanctification, and glorification. However, all are said to be the work of God.

Romans 8:29-30 says that God is the one who predestines, calls, justifies, and glorifies:

For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren; and these whom He predestined, He also called; and these whom He called, He also justified; and these whom He justified, He also glorified. (Romans 8:29-30, NASB)

In Philippians, we are told to work out our salvation, but even here it is clear that God is the one who works in us and through us:

So then, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure. (Philippians 2:12-13, NASB, emphasis added)

In 2 Thessalonians, the passage Piper quotes above, Paul does say that salvation is through sanctification and faith. But notice who does the sanctifying:

But we should always give thanks to God for you, brethren beloved by the Lord, because God has chosen you from the beginning for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and faith in the truth. (2 Thessalonians 2:13, NASB, emphasis added)

The Spirit sanctifies us, part of the work of sanctification is to change us so that we are willing and able to obey as God has called us to. We do good works, but the merit is all God’s and not ours:

For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them. (Ephesians 2:10, NASB)

It is absolutely true that without sanctification, without holiness, no one will enter glory. Hebrews tells us so:

Pursue peace with all men, and the sanctification without which no one will see the Lord. (Hebrews 12:14, NASB)

But since sanctification is the promised work of the Spirit in the life of a believer, all who are justified will be sanctified and will ultimately be glorified. It is God’s work from beginning to end, and He will bring it to completion:

For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus. (Philippians 1:6, NASB)

But what about our actions? Won’t Christians be lazy and sinful if their works don’t have any part in saving them? Again, the Scriptures anticipate every argument. Paul writes in Romans:

What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin so that grace may increase? May it never be! How shall we who died to sin still live in it? (Romans 6:1-2, NASB)

Because we have been justified, we are being sanctified, and we will be glorified. Our salvation is secure because God is the One doing the work. And because the Spirit is at work in us to sanctify us, we will see changes in our lives and in our actions. That is what James 2 is explaining. Justifying faith will always be accompanied by good works.

Justifying faith will always be accompanied by good works. Those works are evidence and absolutely necessary, but they do not earn us any part of our salvation. The evidence is for our sake and for the sake of others in the church. It’s a means of assurance and a means of confirming who are believers in the church.

God does not need proof to know who of us is saved. He knows! He chose us before the foundation of the world. He has called us by our names. We are His! He will not lose a single one of us.

The Reformers fought and many died to restore the truth of SALVATION by faith alone through Grace alone in Christ alone. They wrote the catechisms and confessions we have today, not to displace the role of Scripture alone, but to lay out what the Scriptures teach in such a way that all might understand. So many of the current problems and troubles in the church today would be resolved if people would study the Scriptures and catechize themselves and their children.

For example, the Heidelberg catechism questions could have been written with this very discussion in mind:

Q & A 60
Q. How are you righteous before God?

A. Only by true faith in Jesus Christ. Even though my conscience accuses me of having grievously sinned against all God’s commandments,
of never having kept any of them, and of still being inclined toward all evil, nevertheless, without any merit of my own, out of sheer grace, God grants and credits to me the perfect satisfaction, righteousness, and holiness of Christ, as if I had never sinned nor been a sinner, and as if I had been as perfectly obedient as Christ was obedient for me. All I need to do is accept this gift with a believing heart.

Q & A 61
Q. Why do you say that through faith alone you are righteous?

A. Not because I please God by the worthiness of my faith. It is because only Christ’s satisfaction, righteousness, and holiness make me righteous before God, and because I can accept this righteousness and make it mine in no other way than through faith.

Q & A 62
Q. Why can’t our good works be our righteousness before God, or at least a part of our righteousness?

A. Because the righteousness which can pass God’s judgment must be entirely perfect and must in every way measure up to the divine law. But even our best works in this life are imperfect and stained with sin.

Q & A 63
Q. How can our good works be said to merit nothing when God promises to reward them in this life and the next?

A. This reward is not earned; it is a gift of grace.

Q & A 64
Q. But doesn’t this teaching make people indifferent and wicked?

A. No. It is impossible for those grafted into Christ through true faith not to produce fruits of gratitude.

This is the consistent message of Scripture and all the Reformed confessions and catechisms. Salvation is by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone, to God alone be the glory! By all means, we need to struggle against the sins in our lives and encourage others to do the same. We should look for evidence of the work of the Spirit in our lives and in the lives of our children. We should press on and serve God faithfully and honorably in all we do.

But if we sell our birthright of salvation by faith alone for the pottage of moralism, we will have lost all our Reformed ancestors fought for, and we will do great damage to our own faith, to the faith of others, and to our churches. As we vow when we profess faith and join the church in the PCA, we must receive and rest on Christ alone for salvation. Beginning to end, the work is God’s. Here we stand, we can do no other.

A Life of Faith and Love

Last week as the city of Houston, and most of Southeast Texas, was dealing with Hurricane Harvey and massive flooding, my sweet grandmother went home to be with the Lord. In addition to the stress and worry over flooding and the safety of our family and friends, we have been grieving the loss.

God has been very gracious to us through it all. My immediate family is dry and safe. The flood waters around my aunt’s house, where my grandmother was living, receded and did not cause the difficult situation to be worse than it already was. The flooded streets have prevented us so far from gathering together to tell stories and laugh and cry.  Hopefully next week we’ll be able to do so.

For today, I want to share with you a little about my grandmother and the testimony of her faith. My grandmother, Anita, was a strong believer and a great encouragement to all who knew her.  Her smile and her laugh were genuine and infectious.

My grandparents, Tom and Anita, married young, by today’s standards, and shared an enduring love for each other. My grandfather died nearly 20 years ago, but my grandmother never stopped loving him and missing him. Their example of love throughout their marriage is an inspiration to me.

Life wasn’t always easy for my grandparents. They married at the end of WWII. Like many men of his time, my grandfather served in the Navy through the war. My grandparents kept letters they wrote to each other through those times.

After they married, my grandfather went on to become a Baptist pastor. My grandparents were missionaries in South America for many years. After my uncle died in a construction accident here in the States, my grandparents returned to Texas and did not go back on the mission field.

My grandfather continued to work in ministry until his retirement, and my grandmother worked in education until her retirement. Through it all, they raised my dad, my uncles, and my aunt. Once they retired, they loved to travel, often taking some of the grandkids along. I have great memories of Glorieta, Carlsbad Caverns, and 4th of July weeks at the beach.

My grandparents left an enduring legacy of faith in our family: children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren who love the Lord and serve Him in many ways. It’s my grandmother’s faith, as well as her love and her laughter, that I will remember most.

A couple years ago, we had the joy of celebrating our middle son, Gabriel, as he professed faith and became a communing member of the church. My grandmothers were both able to attend. After church, my grandmother, “Mom” as we always called her, hugged my neck and told me how proud she was of us, how thankful she was that our boys love the Lord.

As her health failed, my grandmother continued to demonstrate the strong faith she had in the Lord. My aunt said that she and my grandmother had conversations about the challenges she was facing as her health got worse. My grandmother accepted what was happening and the hardships. She trusted God to carry her through it, one way or another. And He did.

In the last couple of weeks, my grandmother knew it was nearing time for her to go. We gathered together to hold her hand, to hug her neck, to tell her we loved her. She smiled and squeezed our hands. She told us she loved us. She had joy and faith that she would see Her Savior and also her beloved Tom. Her hope was in her eternal life with Jesus and in the coming resurrection.

I miss her terribly. My heart aches, and my eyes hurt from crying. But I know I will see her again. And when that happens, there will never again be tears and pain and separation and death.

I could tell wonderful stories, funny ones too, about my grandmother’s life. She loved to laugh. She loved to tease. She loved to be with her family. What I will remember is her laughter, her smile, her love, and her faith. I pray that I will honor her legacy in my own life and faith.

 

This is the obituary my aunt and cousins wrote. It’s a lovely tribute to my grandmother.

Anita Newell Green, a native Texan born on the anniversary of Texas Independence, March 2, 1926 was received into the loving arms of her Lord and Savior August 28, 2017. She was the youngest daughter of Virgil “Merle” and Jesse “Pearl” Newell.

She graduated from Reagan High School before attending The University of Mary Hardin-Baylor in Belton, Texas. While she did not graduate from UMHB, she was an honorary member of the class of ‘47 and enjoyed celebrating yearly homecoming events until recently. In 1945, Anita married the love of her life, Thomas Stuart Green in Temple, Texas and they were married until Tom’s death on April 10, 1999. Anita went on to graduate with a BA from Howard Payne University (‘49) in Brownsville, Texas and later received her M.Ed from the University of Houston (‘69).

After nine years of teaching, raising children, and serving as the pastor’s wife for several Baptist Churches, Tom and Anita were called to serve as missionaries for what was then known as the Foreign Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention. After language school in Costa Rica, the family moved to Paraguay in 1959. While in Paraguay, Anita was the director (principal) of Colegio Bautista de Villa Morra, the president of the Women’s Organization of the National Baptist Convention, and a member of the Board of Trustees for the Baptist Hospital.

Upon their return to the United States in 1970, Tom and Anita settled in Houston, Texas where Anita was an educator in the Houston Independent School District. As they settled into their new life in Houston they found a tumultuous and divided city along racial lines. As an educator, she was one of the first teachers in HISD to participate in “cross over” integration in support of equal education for all. She continued her career as a Magnet Coordinator at Davis High School where she worked tirelessly to provide a quality education for all students. Her last assignment was teaching High School English at Waltrip High School until her retirement in 1989.

In 1992, Tom and Anita moved to Huntsville, Texas and were active members of University Heights Baptist Church. As an active member of UHBC, Anita ministered in various ways. Whether one needed wise counsel, a friendly smile, or a compassionate hug. Anita touched many members of the church and the community. She led the Women’s Missionary Union (WMU) and encouraged women of all ages to take an active part in missions. She demonstrated that faith as a member and leader of UHBC’s Widows’ group, Circle of Friends. She also touched the lives of many young college girls who needed the quiet respite of a home atmosphere and a home cooked meal.

Anita is preceded in death by her parents Virgil “Merle” (1979) and Jesse “Pearl” Newell (1984); her husband, Thomas Stuart Green (1999); son, Thomas “Skipper” Stuart Green Jr. (1970); her sister, UnaVee Newell Yeatts (2011); her brother, Alvin Newell (1928); great-granddaughter, Bethanne Miller (2002); as well as several other precious great-grandbabies who were also welcomed into the Lord’s loving arms.

Anita is survived by son David Allen Green and wife Linda; son Jon Dale Green and wife Carolyn; daughter, Annesta Green Lunde and husband Gary; as well as Rosa “Rosie” Elizabeth Elgueta. She is also survived by her grandchildren: Travis and his wife Sarah; Dale and his wife Melissa “Missy”; April and her husband Anthony; Rachel and her husband Matt; Benjamin “Ben” and his wife Echo; Amy and her husband Joshua; Aleece and her husband Matthew; as well as 14 dearly loved great-grandchildren. She is also survived by Gordon Yeatts and family; Harriet Yeatts Sweatt and family; and Paula Saraceno and family.

Her light brightened so many of our lives and we can not help but mourn. The world seems quite a bit dimmer without her, but those of us who knew and loved her know that the light she shared with us was a reflection of the True Light. Therefore, we rejoice that she is in the presence of Christ, at home with God and has joined that great cloud of witnesses cheering us on as we live and love through faith by the power of the Spirit. She will most be remembered giving her whole life in service of her Lord, Jesus Christ. Her faith has inspired her family. She will be missed.

Eternal Subordination of the Son and the ESV Translation

One of the questions I was asked in my interview with the Theology Gals was about the connection between the eternal subordination of the Son (ESS) and the ESV Bible translation. My response was that I had not seen any evidence ESS in the translation itself, although there are several instances of it in the ESV Study Bible notes. I also noted that I have other concerns about the ESV translation, like the influence of Susan Foh’s work on the meaning of “desire” in Genesis 3:16, but that I had not seen any influence of ESS in the text itself.

The day after the Theology Gals’ podcast aired I came across another podcast from the guys at Gentle Reformation that gives examples from the ESV translation that demonstrate the influence of ESS. I so wish I’d seen that before my interview as I think it’s an extremely important concern. ESS does indeed appear to have influenced the translation of the ESV.

Here are the two texts that the 3GT podcast mentioned as evidence of ESS in the ESV:

Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own authority, but the Father who dwells in me does his works. John 14:10 ESV (italics mine)

And:

When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. John 16:13 ESV (italics mine)

As the guys on the 3GT podcast explain, the issue is the translation of the word “heautou” or “emautoú” as “on his/my own authority.” The Greek words used, heautou/emautoú, means “himself, herself, itself.” It does not mean “authority.” Most other translations use either  “of himself, herself, ourselves, myself” etc. or “initiative.” For example, John 14:10 from the NASB:

Do you not believe that I am in the Father, and the Father is in Me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on My own initiative, but the Father abiding in Me does His works. John 14:10 NASB (italics mine)

Or John 16:13 from the KJV:

Howbeit when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you into all truth: for he shall not speak of himself; but whatsoever he shall hear, that shall he speak: and he will shew you things to come. John 16:13 KJV (italics mine)

The ESV consistently translates heautou/emautoú as “on his/my own authority” in every passage referring to Jesus or to the Spirit. Examples include John 7:17, John 8:28, John 10:18, and John 12:49. They do not translate it “on his/my own authority” in the 300+ other occurrences of heautou/emautoú

In all of the other occurrences, heautou/emautoú is translated as “himself, herself, itself” etc. For example in Luke 14:27:

But he, desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” Luke 10:29 ESV (italics mine)

The ESV is not the only translation of the Bible that uses “authority” in this way, but the use of “authority” in these passages is a minority position. And with good reason. While it is not uncommon to speak of the incarnate Son as submitting to His Father’s authority, it is necessary to qualify what is meant by authority and submission.

Proponents of ESS teach that there is an eternal relationship of authority and submission between God the Father and God the Son. They teach that authority and submission are in the very nature of God. This is contrary to classic, orthodox teaching on the Trinity which does not allow for any difference of authority within the nature of the Trinity. As the God-man, Jesus did, of course, submit His human will to the authority of the Father. But that does not mean that the Father and the Son are eternally defined in their nature or being by authority and submission.

The truly dangerous result of the ESV translation of heautou/emautoú as “authority” is apparent in the John 16:13 passage. That passage is speaking of the Spirit. While the Son, after the incarnation, has a human will and a divine will, the Spirit does not. The Spirit’s authority is always the one divine authority. If the Spirit is not speaking on His “own authority,” whose authority is He speaking on?

I’m very grateful to the guys at 3GT for bringing this to my attention. I hope you will all check out their podcast and share this development with others. I continue to be amazed at the reach and influence ESS has had and is still having in the Reformed world.

 

Eternal Subordination of the Son- Podcast with Theology Gals

Last week, I had the great pleasure of being interviewed by Coleen and Ashley at Theology Gals for their podcast. We talked about the Eternal Subordination of the Son controversy. If you’re curious about what ESS is, why it matters, what impact it has practically in our churches, etc, you can listen to the interview here. My hope is that more people become aware of the continuing danger that ESS is for men, women, families, churches, and communities.

Link for podcast: http://biblethumpingwingnut.com/2017/07/17/eternal-subordination-of-the-son-with-rachel-miller-theology-gals/