Friday, February 29, 2008

The Discipline of Grace – Chapter 3

Preach the Gospel to Yourself

These are few points we discussed this week:

What is the Gospel?
As reformed Christians, we have tended to shy away from ‘methods’ of sharing the gospel, such as the wordless book, or the coloured beads, for fear of it leading someone just saying praying the ‘sinners prayer’ and believing that that is enough to guarantee their salvation. But we recognised that given the number of Christians that have difficulty articulating what the ‘gospel’ means that some of these tools could be useful. And we could use them to help explain the gospel.

The Gospel is for believers too.
‘I [Jerry] believe part of the problem is our tendency to give an unbeliever just enough of the gospel to get him or her to pray a prayer to receive Christ. Then we immediately put the gospel on the shelf, so to speak, and go on to the duties of discipleship. As a result, Christians are not instructed in the gospel. And because they do not fully understand the riches and glory of the gospel, they cannot preach it to themselves, not live by it in their daily lives.’ pg 46.

I think this describes the climate of most of the Christian world today. It was certainly the experience of church that I grew up in. We discussed how a poor understanding of the Gospel and of Grace, effects the way we live our Christian lives. As Jerry says ‘The gospel is not only the most important message in all history; it is the only essential message in all of history. Yet we allow thousands of professing Christians to live their entire lives without clearly understanding it and experiencing the joy of living by it.’ Page 46

Why do we act as though we can live lives acceptable to God?
Sadly I think this is true of most of us, even ‘reformed’ Christians. ‘We readily acknowledge that we can never through our own obedience attain a righteousness that is sufficient for salvation. But then as believers we act as if we can live lives acceptable to God. pg 48 This is one reason why we need to preach the gospel to ourselves daily to remind ourselves that our obedience to God is not what keeps us saved, but it is Christs righteousness, imputed to us. As Jerry puts it when expounding Romans 3: 19-26. ‘Because we cannot attain a sufficient righteousness on our own, God has provided it for us. This righteousness from God is non other than the perfect righteousness of Jesus Christ, who through His sinless life and His death in obedience to the Father’s will, perfectly fulfilled the law of God.’ Pg 49

Faith is not a verb.
We were surprised to learn that … ‘The word faith is a noun and has no verbal form in English. Instead the word believe is used.’ Pg 51. In many Christian circles today faith has become a verb. In some cases where people are ill it has been said that they are ill because they don’t have enough faith, or that they don’t have the answer to their prayers because they don’t have enough faith. It has also become a ‘magical’ formula; if you can produce enough faith, or believe in something enough, then God will answer your prayers. But this way of thinking is offensive to God. It makes the action of faith the conduit of blessing. It makes God powerless to overcome our lack of faith. Faith becomes a work.

This is also true of how many view salvation, as though salvation is due to our own ability to produce enough faith to believe in God. This is not the Gospel. Jerry puts it very well on page 51 ‘Jesus Himself is always to be the object of our faith. We sometimes say we are saved by faith alone, meaning apart from works. That expression, however can be somewhat misleading, as though faith itself has some virtue that God respects. It is more accurate to say we are saved by God’s grace through faith. Faith, again, is merely the hand that receives the gift of God, and God through His Spirit even opens our hand to receive the gift.’ There is no action on our behalf, we do not have enough faith to receive grace. Grace is not a reward for faith. But we are saved by Grace, through the free gift of faith. We should be careful, not to make ‘Faith’ a work. But remember that it is a gift. Ephesians 2:8-9 ‘For by grace you have been saved, through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.’

Christ was thinking of me on the cross.
We discussed one of the biblical doctrines of grace, Particular Redemption. How knowing that Christ died particularly for his chosen people, the elect, is much more personal than the idea of a universal potential atonement. Whilst on the cross, Christ was thinking of ‘me’ (and you), not just some vague idea of those who might accept him. It also shows how powerful God is in that he has already accomplished the salvation of all his people, even those who have not been born yet. And he has also accomplished for them righteousness, and he is powerful enough to uphold them till the end. Amazing Grace! Christ death was absolutely perfect and none whom he died for will be lost. If we believe that he only died potentially for all men, then we devalue the sacrifice he made. We imply that his sacrifice was not enough, because it was not able to cover the sin of unbelief, and he was not powerful enough to overcome our lack of faith.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Good Question_Sproul

This book was recommended by Deb in our book discussions on 'The Displine of Grace', as an excellent book for all those tough questions.

From the Publisher: 'R. C. Sproul, a distinguished theologian and educator, addresses doctrinal points and contemporary issues such as euthanasia, evolution, and abortion.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

The Discipline of Grace - Chapter 2

The Pharisee and the Tax Collector

We all found this chapter very challenging. It made us look into our own hearts and see what secret sins reside there…

Here are a few things we discussed:

Refined sins:
If we are honest with ourselves we can all see refined sins in our hearts that have gone unchecked and untamed for years. Maybe we have subconsciously justified them because as Jerry suggests ‘These are sins of nice people, sins that we can regularly commit and still retain our positions as elders, deacons, Sunday school teachers, Bible study leaders, and yes, even full-time Christian workers’ pg 33 We can go about our Christian lives with all the right, and Godly actions, and still commit these sins in our hearts; nobody sees… but God sees.

The chapter on refined sins beginning on page 33 was very challenging. I personally identified with Jerry Bridges when he said 'As I looked at my own life, one of the first [refined sins] that came to mind was the tendency to judge others and to speak critically of them to other people. That this sin came to mind so quickly surprised me, because I don’t think of myself as a critical or judgemental person. Perhaps that is part of the problem. This seems to be such and acceptable vice among believers that we don’t even recognize it unless it is flagrant – and always in someone else.’ page 33. I started to think of occasions when I have thought this way. When I have looked at another’s beliefs, philosophy or even parenting, and spoken of them to others. Even when I havn’t spoken about them, I have judged them in my heart. We felt convicted when we read that... ‘We are simply not to say anything about someone else that we wouldn’t want to eventually reach that person’s ear. Even criticism addressed to someone should be given only with the goal of benefiting that person.’ Page 35. Is our critisism really benefiting that person? We are to defend the truth, and speak to people about the truth, but it needs to be motivated by love and tempered with kindness. Is our motive to help them, rather than make ourselves feel superior? Are we motivated by love? Do we walk in the fruits of the spirit?

The Seriousness of Sin
We know sin is very serious. Of course we believe that all sin offends Gods. We acknowledged that we certainly give verbal assent to this. But when we tolerate these refined sins in our own hearts are we not saying ‘this little sin isn’t so bad’. ‘We forget or perhaps have never learned, how seriously God regards all sin.’ Pg 36. ‘Again, the seriousness of sin is not simply measured by its consequences, but by the authority of the One who gives the command.’ Page 37

In light of the fact that often these ‘refined sins’ are hidden from others, and we are not challenged to change by those around us, how do we recognise our sin. Meditating and studying Gods Word, shows us our sin in James 1:23-25 we see Gods Word as a mirror revealing to us our true character and showing us our need of Grace. Psalm 119:11 says ‘Your Word I have hidden in my heart, that I might not sin against You.’ Psalm 119:105 ‘Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path’. I’m sure there are many other scriptures you could find to show us how important it is to spend time in and meditate on Gods word, so that we recognise sin, and hate it for what it is.

Realising that these sins are so ingrain in us as humans only magnifies the glory of Gods Grace and shows us that without the gift of faith it is impossible to please God. We loved the quote he gave from a Puritan preacher ‘Even our tears of repentance need to be washed in the blood of the Lamb’ pg 44. Even our most holy acts are sinful.

Since we have been saved by Grace; that is a free unmerited gift of God, to sinners. Shouldn't we be excited and willing to share it with others!? Lets not be afraid to share the Gospel. Let us not be ashamed or fearful.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Guidance and the Voice of God by Philip Jensen

Voice of God_Jensen
This book was recommended at our last Book Club to help give us a true biblical understanding of the voice of God and how He speaks to us today through his Word.

Publishers Description : "Guidance and the Voice of God has recently been added to Matthias Media's new series: Guidebooks for Life. As the series unfolds, it will deal with the important nuts-and-bolts topics that Christians need to know about as we walk each day with our Master.
  • How do I know what God wants me to do?
  • How can I make decisions which are in line with his will?
  • If God still speaks, will I recognize his voice?
These are important questions, and many Christians grapple with them.

Guidance and the Voice of God charts a way through these often confusing issues, and shows how for those who have ears to hear, God is still speaking loud and clear through his Son."

Monday, February 04, 2008

Decision Making and the Will of God

Decision Making and the Will of God by Garry Frieson

I'm adding this book to our recommended reading list. It was recommended in our last book club meeting by Deb to aid us in our understanding of the Will of God.

A few years back our church held a camp at which we focused on the Will of God. It was very helpful in clarifying my understanding of Gods will and how he guides us. Understanding that God has given us the tools and the guidelines through his Word to help us follow God Will in every decision of our lives was like being set free. The lectures where given by John Paterson, who also recommended this book.

Publishers Description: 'Does God have a perfect will for each Christian? Can you be absolutely sure you’ve found God’s individual will for your life? Garry Friesen examines the traditional view of God’s will, then sets forth a different view that more accurately reflects biblical teaching. This new edition of Decision Making takes up the practical issues of choosing a mate, picking a career, giving of one’s resources, and areas of disagreement between Christians to give readers a new approach to knowing the will of God. Mr. Friesen also addresses many of the arguments that have surfaced since the original printing of this book over twenty-four years ago. Does God Have a Perfect Will for Your Life? Does God have a perfect will for each Christian? Can you be absolutely certain of God’s specific will for your life? In this expanded twenty-fifth anniversary edition of his highly acclaimed work, Garry Friesen examines the prevalent view on God’s will today and provides a sound biblical alternative to the traditional teaching of how God guides us. This new edition includes these helpful resources: Study guide for small groups Responses to Frequently Asked Questions Guide to painless Scripture memorization Friesen tackles the very practical issues of choosing a mate, picking a career, and giving in this fresh and liberating approach to decision making and the will of God.'

Story Behind the Book: Most Christians have been taught how to find God’s will, yet many are still unsure whether they’ve found it. God does guide His people, but the question is, How does He guide? After putting out a fleece to decide which college to attend, Garry Friesen began pondering why it was so hard to find God’s will when he had so sincerely sought it. Was he the only one who did not have 100 percent clarity for every decision? Then a new possibility struck-perhaps his understanding of the nature of Gods will was biblically deficient. Maybe there was a better way to understand HOW God guides.

Friday, February 01, 2008

Book Discussions: The Discipline of Grace

Welcome back to the book club for another year!

We had a first book club meeting last night, and we’ve begun reading Jerry Bridges Book, The Discipline of Grace. Some of us had read the first chapter, but others hadn’t so our discussion revolved mainly around grace, and some of the points in the first chapter.

In our discussions, we recognised again, how important Grace is and how an understanding of the ‘Doctrines of Grace’ is both liberating and motivating in our walk with God. Liberating because we realise that our salvation is not linked to our ‘performance’ as Christians. We know that God will preserve us, and that he didn’t choose us because of our ‘performance’. Grace is also motivating because we understand the magnitude and glory of what Christ has done for us, and that he did it while we were still sinners, it spurs us on to live a life that glorifies and pleases Him. Preaching the gospel to ourselves daily keeps grace in our sights and leads us to an even greater love for our Saviour.

For those of our readers who have not heard or understood the biblical doctrines of grace click here. This link sumarises the doctrines, as well as their corresponding errors. The link also provides biblical supports for the Doctrines of Grace.

When grace is not properly understood, our motivation for pursuing holiness and doing good becomes distorted. Rather than being obedient and living holy lives to glorify God and please Him, we do it to keep our salvation (though we barely recognise that this is what we are doing). We try keep ourselves in a good relationship with God and prevent ourselves from ‘backsliding’ through doing good. The problem is of course, that our good can never be good enough.

‘We need to continue to hear the gospel ever day of our Christian lives. Only a continuous reminder of the gospel of God’s grace through Christ will keep us from falling into good-day – bad-day thinking, wherein we think our daily relationship with God is based on how good we’ve been.’
It is only the joy of hearing the gospel and being reminded that our sins are forgiven in Christ that will keep the demands of discipleship from becoming drudgery. It is only gratitude and love to God that comes from knowing that He no longer counts our sins against us (Romans 4:8) that provides the proper motive for responding to the claims of discipleship.’ Pg 21

At the next meeting on the 14th of February we will be discussing Chapter 1: How Good is Good Enough? and Chapter 2: The Pharisee and the Tax Collector