He Gave Them New Clothes (Genesis 2:4–3:24 Sermon Audio)

I was recently asked to preach at relatively short notice, so what to do? I dusted off my He Gave Them New Clothes post and added an introduction to turn it into a sermon proper. This is the result:

The sermon itself starts at 13 minutes 20 seconds into the recording. It is preceded by two Bible readings – a few verses from Luke 24, and then the main text from Genesis 2:4–3:24.

He Gave Them New Clothes

A narrative meditation upon the imputation of Christ’s active and passive obedience, from Gen. 2:8–3:24. Audio from a sermon based on this post is available.

They were both naked, the man and his wife, and they were not ashamed.

They are in the midst of a garden paradise, recipients of the bountiful goodness of the Lord God. He had created them and placed them there with a blessing: ‘Be fruitful and multiply.’

Near to where they stand is the Tree of Life, and the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.

Before the woman had been created, the Lord God had commanded the man concerning that latter tree, saying, ‘Of every tree of the garden you may freely eat; but of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.’

Also in the garden is a serpent. He is more cunning than any beast of the field that the Lord God had made.

The serpent speaks. The woman listens.

‘Has God indeed said, “You shall not eat of every tree of the garden”?’

An ostensibly innocuous question. And the woman has the answer, so she thinks.

She converses with the serpent.

‘We may eat the fruit of the trees of the garden, but of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, God has said, “You shall not eat it, nor shall you touch it, lest you die.”’

The woman overstates the prohibition.

Perhaps this is her error, or perhaps it was the fault of her husband when he relayed to her the Lord God’s command.

One of them, certainly, had added a hedge to God’s word – one tiny addition. For God had commanded the man not to eat of the tree’s fruit, but He had said nothing about not touching it.

(How easily we add to what God has spoken.)

With that one addition – oh how small and seemingly insignificant! – the woman opens the door to her adversary the Devil.

The serpent, liar and murderous deceiver that he is, assures the woman, ‘You will not surely die. For God knows that in the day you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.’

And so the woman entertains temptation and gazes at the tree.

What a beautiful tree! How good it would be for food!

Enticed by her desire to become wise like God, she reaches out and takes its fruit.

(See, she is unharmed! The serpent was right! Surely there is no danger here.)

Having suffered no consequence from touching the fruit, she eats it. In contravention of God’s command, a fatal act.

The woman also gives to her husband, who is with her.

(Why has he not intervened to keep her from harm? Does he not see the danger?)

The man had heard the clear words of God’s voice forbidding him to eat this fruit. He had heard the Lord God’s prescient warning, ‘For in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die’.

In wilful, unbelieving rebellion against his Creator, the man raises the fruit to his lips and eats.

Continue reading He Gave Them New Clothes

Law, Gospel, and a Good Hymn

What makes a good hymn?

We’d like it to be skilfully crafted. And it must be set to a fitting tune – preferably one we can sing.

But I suggest that the primary requirement of a good hymn is that it should clearly articulate biblical truth.

We remember what we sing.

A poor hymn can confuse us, lead us astray. A good hymn strengthens our knowledge of the Christian Faith.

What is that faith?

Continue reading Law, Gospel, and a Good Hymn

Cain and Abel, Law and Gospel

This is the third post in a series responding to a sermon given by a local Purpose Driven pastor. The first examined the astonishing claim that ‘Faith is giving when I don’t have it’. The second corrected a gross misinterpretation of Hebrews 11:4 that taught works righteousness and justification by tithing.

With the understanding gained from the previous two posts, we now turn to the Genesis 4 account of Cain and Abel. We shall see so clearly there the contrast between faith and works.

First though, here is a longer extract from the Purpose Driven sermon we have been examining, showing the wider context of the errors previously refuted:

The fourth attribute of faith is this: faith is giving when I don’t have it.

Now you’re discovering why the pastors are so uptight.

‘Now by faith Abel brought God a better offering than Cain did. By faith, he was commended as righteous, when God spoke well of his offerings.’

Both offerings were acceptable. They were the first fruits of the land for Cain. And the first fruits of the flock for Abel. They were good offerings. But what made them acceptable to God was the way in which they were given: one man giving out of a sense of duty; one man giving out of a sense of the love that he had for his God.

[Anecdote about a boy with his hand stuck in a vase because he will not let go of the coin within.]

You see, all too often that is our attitude as well. We cling to the riches of the world. I’m sure that many of you tithe to the church. And that’s great. But when faith is exercised, our attitude shifts from being like the attitude of Cain, who gave out of a sense of duty – give 10%, it’s your tithe, forget it. We want to see faith giving, like Abel, that is generous, that is of the heart, because we want to invest in what God is doing. We want to be like the widow who gave when she had nothing. And sometimes when we hold the riches of the world in our hands, we are just like the little boy [of the previous anecdote]. We’re trapped. But when we let go, we can experience true freedom.

From time-to-time, you probably hear Jonathan [the lead pastor] – most of the time you’ll probably hear Jonathan – harping on about tithing. And that’s a good thing. So he should.

But Abel offered the first fruits. He gave the best of what he had to God. And it was credited to him as righteousness. You see, tithing is not about impressing your friends. It’s not about satisfying some form of guilt. Tithing is about giving the best of what you have to a God who sees that as righteous. As credible.

We can encourage faith giving. Let’s not even call it tithing. Let’s give from our faith. That is what generosity really is.

It is a wonderful thing for Christians to give willingly. ‘God loves a cheerful giver’ (2 Cor. 9:7). ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive’ (Acts 20:35). But Christians are under no duty to tithe, let alone to give what they do not have. True Christian giving is voluntary, arising from a pure Gospel motivation: we love much because we have been loved so greatly. Yet there was no Gospel in this sermon. Nothing at all about Christ and His loving work for us.

My intent, though, is not to focus on the burdensome exhortations to giving evidenced here and sadly predominating throughout the last third of the sermon. (The seeker-sensitive mute the Law and veil the Gospel for fear of giving offence, yet they are nevertheless proud to solicit money through the most guileful of means. Those who cite the widow who gave all she had would do well also to recall Jesus’ immediately preceding words concerning those who devour widows’ houses.)

Rather, the purpose of this post is to see what we can learn from the account of Cain and Abel’s offerings. Is it true that Cain gave ‘out of a sense of duty’, whereas Abel ‘out of a sense of the love that he had for his God’? Is giving-out-of-duty versus giving-out-of-love really the distinction taught by Genesis 4?

Continue reading Cain and Abel, Law and Gospel

Christ, Our Exceedingly Great Reward

This is the second post in a series responding to a sermon by a local Purpose Driven pastor. The first part, Justified by Faith, Apart from Works, may be of interest to readers for establishing context.

It is not, I think, entirely unreasonable to be alarmed by a sermon that teaches justification by tithing, no matter how affable the preacher:

But Abel offered the first fruits. He gave the best of what he had to God. And it was credited to him as righteousness. You see, tithing is not about impressing your friends. It’s not about satisfying some form of guilt. Tithing is about giving the best of what you have to a God who sees that as righteous.

The primary claim in this allusion to Hebrews 11:4 is that Abel’s offering of his best to God was credited to him as righteousness. In other words, this is an assertion that Abel was justified (that is, declared righteous) by his works.

My previous post, Justified by Faith, Apart from Works, demonstrated the biblical impossibility of such an interpretation, and emphasized the necessity of distinguishing between faith and works. I plan for my next post to look more closely at the Genesis 4 account of Cain and Abel. First though, we must understand Hebrews 11:4:

By faith Abel offered to God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain, through which he obtained witness that he was righteous, God testifying of his gifts; and through it he being dead still speaks.

Continue reading Christ, Our Exceedingly Great Reward

Justified by Faith, Apart from Works

I recently listened to a train wreck of a sermon by a local Purpose Driven pastor. In his 44 minutes on the subject of faith, he achieved the remarkable feat of avoiding any mention of the proper object of Christian faith: Christ, and His life, death and resurrection for sinners.

The pastor defined faith by a number of its purported attributes. The fourth was this:

Faith is giving when I don’t have it.

Let’s leave aside the aspect of ‘giving when I don’t have it’, problematic though that is. There is a more fundamental error lurking in this statement.

Notice that the pastor does not say that faith results in my ‘giving when I don’t have it’. Neither does he state that ‘the kind of faith that justifies produces a desire to give’. Rather, he asserts that faith is giving. This is to confuse faith with the fruit of faith, namely the works that faith produces.

Though it might at first seem as if I am splitting hairs, maintaining the distinction between faith and works – especially with respect to justification – is foundational to a proper understanding of biblical Christianity (cf. the epistles to the Romans, Galatians, etc.). This distinction was a lynchpin of the Reformation. Against the Reformers’ emphasis on justification by grace alone (unmerited favour) through faith alone (apart from works), Rome erroneously insisted that justification is ‘not by faith alone, which some incorrectly teach, but faith that works through love’ (see the Pontifical Confutation of the Augsburg Confession).

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Can the Roman Catholic Gospel Save?

In a recent blog post, C. Michael Patton of Credo House Ministries asked, ‘Are Roman Catholics Saved?’ He argued that the most important question was the one Jesus asked of His disciples, ‘Who do you say that I am?’, and that the Church of Rome answers this correctly.

Apologist James White of Alpha and Omega Ministries says that Patton has asked the wrong question. Speaking on his Dividing Line show, White dissects Patton’s post and states that what really matters is whether God’s grace to us in Christ is wholly sufficient to save – are we saved by grace alone? Here, White asserts, Rome commits the same error as the Galatians, adding our works to the grace of God as a requirement for justification. Because the Apostle Paul said that the Galatians who had done likewise were ‘severed from Christ’, the very Gospel itself – and our salvation – hangs on the answer to that question. White concludes, ‘The fundamental issue is the fact that the Roman Catholic Church does not possess – and, in fact, anathematizes – the Gospel of Jesus Christ’. ‘If a Roman Catholic is saved, they are saved in spite of the Roman Catholic Church, not because of it.’

Here is the video of James White responding to Patton’s article (MP3 is also available from the Alpha & Omega Ministries blog):

A review of T.D. Jakes’ Code Orange Revival sermon

This article is a review of T.D. Jakes’ Code Orange Revival sermon, preached on 20 January 2012 at Elevation Church in Charlotte, North Carolina.

T.D. Jakes is the leader of The Potter’s House, a 30,000 member congregation located in southern Dallas, Texas. I had never heard a T.D. Jakes sermon before, though I knew of his reputation. I was curious to see – if only via an Internet video stream – the man that Elevation Church reminded us was named ‘America’s Best Preacher’ by Time Magazine. Would I be able to uncover the secret of his mystique? And would he preach the Biblical Gospel?

After 40 minutes or so of emotionally intense praise and worship, Steven Furtick, founder and lead pastor of Elevation Church, introduces Jakes to the manifestly ecstatic, cheering crowd. Furtick promises that God is about to speak to us, that our lives will never be the same:

God’s gonna honour your faith. He’s going to shake you, and He’s gonna remake you. And He’s gonna do things in your life that will blow your mind. And we’re believing that for you tonight.

We’re in revival. If you’re joining us from all over the world, you need to know that this is night 10 of Code Orange Revival. We’re coming to you live from Elevation Church in Charlotte, North Carolina, reaching over a 100 countries all over the world. And God has made an appointment with you tonight. He’s about to speak something to you. Your life will never be the same. In His presence is fullness of joy.

Continue reading A review of T.D. Jakes’ Code Orange Revival sermon

What’s Wrong with Wright: Justification and the New Perspectives on Paul

Bishop N.T. Wright (a.k.a. Tom Wright) has undertaken sterling and valuable work in defence of the historicity of the New Testament and the resurrection of Christ. Unfortunately, he is also a leading proponent of the New Perspectives on Paul.

Those, like Wright, who advocate the New Perspectives, posit that the Reformers were wrong in seeing first century Judaism as a religion of legalistic works-righteousness. As Dr. Cornelis P. Venema (President of Mid-America Reformed Seminary, where he is also Professor of Doctrinal Studies) writes in his very helpful little book addresing the the New Perspectives, Getting the Gospel Right:

The problem with the Judaizers’ appeal to the ‘works of the law’ was not its legalism, Wright insists, but its perverted nationalism. (p. 37, original emphasis)

Venema continues in his description of Wright’s views:

One of the unfortunate features of the Reformation and of much evangelical thinking, according to Wright, is that they reduce the gospel to ‘a message about “how one gets saved”, in an individual and ahistorical sense’.

In this way of thinking, the focus of attention, so far as the gospel is concerned, is upon ‘something that in older theology would be called an ordo salutis, an order of salvation’. Because of its inappropriate focus upon the salvation of individual sinners, the older Reformation tradition was bound to exaggerate the importance of the doctrine of justification.

Whereas the Reformation perspective understands the gospel in terms of the salvation of individual sinners, Wright maintains that Paul’s gospel has a different focus. According to Wright, the basic message of Paul’s gospel focuses upon the lordship of Jesus Christ.

(pp. 39–40, bold emphasis mine)

So, according to Venema, Wright thinks that the Reformers inappropriately focused on the salvation of individual sinners and exaggerated the importance of the doctrine of justification (how we obtain a right standing before God).

Continue reading What’s Wrong with Wright: Justification and the New Perspectives on Paul

Some preliminary musings on sanctification

In this post: Introduction; What is sanctification? The essential difference between justification and sanctification; The relation of justification to sanctification; Whose work is sanctification?; Through what means does God work sanctification in us?; Parting thoughts

In response to my post of Dr. Rosenbladt’s refreshing presentation, The Gospel for Those Broken by the Church, both Charisse and Jason weighed-in on the topic of sanctification. I greatly appreciate thoughtful comments like theirs, and I read them all with care and interest. I respond here with some initial thoughts.

I have been observing some of the wider debate on sanctification that has recently been occurring.

I say ‘debate’, but some of what I have been seeing has been, regrettably, outright and uncharitable hostility towards those of us who would argue that sanctification is God’s work in the life of the believer, rooted in the Gospel, and causing us to produce fruit. Careless (and certainly, as far as I can see, unwarranted) accusations of antinomianism have been thrown around by some, though there have been many other, more honourable, voices also engaged in the discussion. I wish all were as measured in their comments as are Jason and Charisse.

I have been forcing myself to read some blog posts that I find intensely frustrating, as I want to be sure that I am properly grasping the nuances of the opposition’s position and understand their arguments. I am inclined to suspect that much of the heat is the result of various misunderstandings of what other people are actually intending to say, and perhaps a fair degree of people talking past each other by using identical terminology to mean different things. Which is not to say that there are not also important differences of substance at play here – there most certainly are.

Continue reading Some preliminary musings on sanctification