Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Chapter 6 - Transformed into His Likeness

Here are just a few of the things we discussed this week about Chapter 6.

The Christian struggle and pursuit of holiness: The picture of sin as waging a guerrilla war on page 106 was particularly helpful to us in helping to understand how sin has been defeated be yet still troubles us. ‘Sin is like a defeated army in a civil war that, instead of surrendering and laying down its arms, simply fades into the countryside, from which it continues to wage guerrilla war of harassment and sabotage against the government forces. Sin as a reigning power is defeated in the life of the believer, but it will never surrender. It will continue to harass us and seek to sabotage our Christian lives as long as we live…. If we are going to pursue holiness, we must accept the fact that there will be continual tension with us between our desires and our performance. As British theologian J.I. Packer so often says, our reach will always exceed our grasp.' We all felt that we could relate to the passage in Romans 7:14-25 when Paul laments that ‘When I want to do good, evil is right there with me'.

The doctrine of election: We discussed how as reformed believers we often find ourselves thinking that we need to apologise for the doctrine of election (click here for a brief explanation) . We can understand why its been said that the doctrine of election is a doctrine for believers. People often think that it paints a picture of God, as uncaring and choosing to send multitudes of people to hell, It doesn’t fit into their understanding of a God of love. But when we truly understand sin to be ‘… a rebellion against Gods authority, a despising of his person and a defiance of his commands’ page101… and deserving of judgement, then it changes the whole picture. It reveals Him to be more loving than we suspect. We no longer look on Him as tyrant sending men to their death, but as an incredible loving and merciful God who, though his people are completely deserving of hell and judgement, has chosen to deliver them, reached out to them personally and drawn them out of the fire. It highlights how important it is to start with sin and its offence to God. Why do we hate sin? As Jerry says on page 101 ‘We often hate the consequences of sin (even if it seems to be no more than the guilt feelings that follow sin, but I suspect we seldom hate sin as sin.’ Do you really hate sin? Even the sins that others don’t see in you?

Some of us recalled that in our previous understanding of Christianity, we believed that Christ died potentially for the whole world. We didn’t realise at the time how impersonal this really is. However when we understand biblically the doctrine of election, and that God chose those whom he would save, we realise that Christ’s relationship to us is far more intimate. When Christ was dying on the cross he knew my name, he knew when he was dying that he was dieing for me. His sacrifice didn’t merely make salvation possible, but it actually saved everyone whom the father had given Him. (John 17:9-20, Rom 8:28-39, Eph 1:3-14, John 10:15-18) None whom he died for that day will be lost! Every one of those whom he died for will be saved. He died personally for every person whom the father had given him before time, and His sacrifice is complete. Talk about a real personal relationship with Jesus…

Justification and sanctification in reverse: It is interesting to compare the Charismatic or Pentecostal experience of justification in sanctification to that we read about on page 99 ‘In justification we rely on what Christ did for us on the cross. In sanctification, we rely on Christ to work in us by His Holy Spirit. In justification, as well as regeneration, God acts alone. In sanctification He works in us but elicits our response to cooperate with Him.’

Some of our discussion group have had Charismatic and Pentecostal upbringings, and remember that whilst we were not necessarily taught it, our experience was the reverse of what Jerry stated. We considered Justification and salvation, as something in which we co-operated with God. God was willing to save us and had made salvation possible through Christs sacrifice but He was helpless to actually save us unless we chose Christ (rather than him first choosing us. 1 John 4:19). Belief was a work on our part. God could not save us with out our co-operation. Grace then becomes the reward for our faith or our work of believing in the gospel (salvation by works). But when it came to sanctification and holiness we trusted that God would do all the work in changing our hearts.