Thursday, June 12, 2008

Free Will Vs. God’s Sovereign Choice

A friend recently asked me how I would defend the doctrine of election (that is, the idea the God sovereignly chooses who will obtain eternal life) to someone who holds to a "free will view" (which is the view that God lays out the conditions for each of us to choose eternal life, and leaves the choice completely up to us). These arguments, of course, are not new, and this matter will not be settled from a simple blog post written by a simpleton! However, sometimes it is helpful to hear how others have organized their arguments, and perhaps to hear new arguments which you had not previously considered. So, here goes...

First, let's look at some key Scriptures:

John 6:65—“No one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father.”

John 6:44- “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him.”

John 1:12-13—“But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.”

Roman 9:10-12—“when Rebekah had conceived children by one man, our forefather Isaac, though they were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad—in order that God's purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of him who calls— she was told, “The older will serve the younger.” As it is written, “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.”

Romans 9:14-16—“What shall we say then? Is there injustice on God's part? By no means! For he says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy.”

Romans 8:7-8—“For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God's law; indeed, it cannot. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.”

Ephesians 2:-5—“And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved.”

Romans 3:10-12—“as it is written: ‘None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.’”

Ephesians 1:4-6—“even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved.”

What is the difference between the “free will” point of view and the belief in God’s sovereign election?

-The “free will” point of view sees man as fully able to cooperate with God in attaining salvation. God lays out the conditions for salvation, according to this view, and leaves it up to man to take the deciding step. Man, in this view, is not spiritually dead, but only sick, and fully capable of choosing for God in his unregenerate state.

-The other view is that God is sovereign in choosing who will be saved. In this view, man is completely unable to save himself. He is spiritually dead, and therefore unable to respond to God (Romans 3:10-12, Ephesians 2:5, John 6:44, John 6:65, Romans 8:7-8). The only hope for man, therefore, is for God to actually bring him to life.

Questions to Consider:

-R.C. Sproul makes this argument: If salvation is ultimately left up to my decision, then why did I respond to the gospel and not my neighbor? Is it because I was more moral than he? Because I’m a better decision-maker? Because I am smarter? If so, then you have God only saving people who come in contact with better evangelists, or the most moral people, or the best decision-makers, or the smartest people. This actually makes God to discriminate more than the “Sovereign election” view, because it has God choosing people based on what they do or who they are, rather than because of His own sovereign choice.

-John Piper points out another difficulty with the “free will” view: If the decision to be saved is ultimately up to the choice of an unregenerate person, then why pray for them? What are we exactly asking God to do when we pray for an unsaved friend or family member? We may be asking to try to persuade, influence, cajole, but ultimately we are asking him to do something that He is powerless to actually accomplish, if man cannot be saved apart from his own decision.

-An old Baptist preacher from the 1700s, John Leland, made this excellent point: “When God sent Christ to redeem mankind, did he only “re-Adam” man, and do nothing more for him?” In other words, before the fall, Adam was capable of choosing for God, or choosing sin. He chose sin, and fellowship with God was lost. If the “free will” view is correct, then Christ’s death has only restored man to the same position Adam was in—to choose God or choose sin. According to the Scriptures above, and according to personal experience, which do you think unregenerate man will choose? Considering Adam’s choice, what makes you think that we would make a better choice than Adam did?

Why Does It Matter?

1. God’s glory is at stake. God is very passionate about His own glory. The Scriptural texts are too numerous to list, but a good list is found by clicking here.
This website points to such texts as 1 Corinthians 10:31, Ezekiel 36:22-23 and 32, Isaiah 43:6-7, Ephesians 1:4-6 and 12-14, and Isaiah 48:9-11.

God’s glory is at stake in this way: If my salvation ultimately depends on my decision, who gets the glory? The evangelist, because he was so persuasive? Me, because I made a really good decision? By contrast, the Scriptural view of salvation indicates that God designed it specifically so that He, not man, gets full credit for saving man. “Then what becomes of our boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of law? By a law of works? No, but by the law of faith” (Romans 3:27; see also Ephesians 1:4-6).

2. The “free will” view (in my opinion) contains dual problems: first, a lower view of God, and second, a higher view of man.

It has a lower view of God because it does not view God as completely sovereign in the salvation of men, and renders Him ultimately unable to decisively bring someone to Himself. He lays aside His sovereignty so that man may be the decisive agent in salvation.

It also has a higher view of man, in that it presents man as not quite as bad as all that. He is negatively affected by the fall, but only sick, and not spiritually dead. There is an “island of righteousness” preserved in man from the fall which allows him to be capable of making good spiritual decisions—to allow him to be inclined to love God and trust Christ for salvation without God’s intervention.

3. The view that God was completely Sovereign and decisive in my salvation has a more humbling effect on my soul. It is true that there are those in both camps who are “proud” of their doctrines, who love to be right rather than demonstrating Christ-like humility. However, this does not negate the fact that when I see myself as completely (not partially) dependent on God for my salvation, then I have no grounds to boast. I can only raise my hands and say, “salvation is of the Lord” (Jonah 2:9). If, however, I cast the deciding vote in my salvation, then don’t I deserve a little credit?

4. If salvation depends on man’s decision, then ultimately the evangelist must trust his own powers of persuasion. If a man is lost, then was it because I failed to persuade him? It is true that we should use the most persuasive arguments possible. Acts 19:8 says of Paul that “he entered the synagogue and for three months spoke boldly, reasoning and persuading them about the kingdom of God .” However, we must never trust in our ability to persuade, but rest in God’s power to use our feeble words to bring men to Christ: “For Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel, and not with words of eloquent wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power” (1 Corinthians 1:17).

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Book Update

As my regular readers know (thanks, Mom!), I have been writing a biography on the life of my favorite author, the Puritan Jeremiah Burroughs. I have now completed 7 chapters of what will probably be an 11-chapter book. I have been greatly encouraged as I've discovered more about this godly man. A link to a brief biography of Burroughs can be found through the Jeremiah Burroughs homepage, which I have developed and maintain. You can find the link at http://jeremiahburroughs.blogspot.com/.

Please pray for me, as I seek to find a publisher for the book. One thing I have learned through all this is my utter dependence on the Lord for anything to become of this work which will bring Him glory. Please pray! In Christ,

-Phil

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Quote of the Week-- Humble Orthodoxy

I am guilty of putting up exceptionally long posts. This isn’t because I am generally a windbag, but because some of what I post are modified from Sunday School lessons or from other more in-depth studies. In other words, they don’t start out as blog posts; I simply modify them, and post them, with the attitude that, if they help just one person, it was worth the effort.

Today, you get a break from my lengthy posts. I simply want to offer a quote that has significantly impacted my life over the past couple of weeks. It’s from Josh Harris, pastor of Covenant Life Church in Gaithersburg, MD. The quote is taken from a message he gave at the New Attitude Conference a few weeks ago in Louisville, KY. For those not familiar with the conference, it is for singles and young married couples. The idea behind the “new attitude” is that we, as Christians, should embrace what Josh Harris calls a “humble orthodoxy”. We should care about the truth, love the truth, live the truth, and share the truth; however, a true response to what God has done for us in Christ should be that of humility, not brashness or arrogance. The conference messages are all worth listening to, and are available for download from http://www.newattitude.org/conference/. Josh also preached a message entitled “Humble Orthodoxy” at his church recently; it is available for download from http://www.covlife.org/sermons/.

Here’s the quote:

“Orthodoxy is a commitment to the teaching and application of the established and cherished truths of the gospel of Jesus Christ. We want to rediscover these ancient paths and to let them shape us. We want this truth—which has always been—to completely shape us. We want to humbly live this truth, and humbly proclaim this truth—not merely as people who are right, but people who have been rescued.”

May God grant us all a love for the truth which leaves us as humble rather than proud. And may God forgive my own desire to be right, rather than a demonstration of tears that God should be so gracious to such an undeserving one as me.

Saturday, June 09, 2007

Preparing for Worship

These thoughts are from Exodus 19. This is a chapter which some commentators have called the most important chapter in the Bible. Now while that may be an overstatement, it is important to realize the significance of this chapter. You see, the 10 commandments are given in chapter 20, and the reasoning is, that if you don’t understand chapter 19, you can’t understand chapter 20. You can’t understand the Law and its purpose if you don’t understand who God is and how He prepared the people to receive the law.

Part of our focus today will be on the idea of preparing to draw near to God in Worship. Let’s read Exodus 19:1-25:

1 On the third new moon after the people of Israel had gone out of the land of Egypt, on that day they came into the wilderness of Sinai. 2 They set out from Rephidim and came into the wilderness of Sinai, and they encamped in the wilderness. There Israel encamped before the mountain, 3 while Moses went up to God. The Lord called to him out of the mountain, saying, “Thus you shall say to the house of Jacob, and tell the people of Israel: 4 You yourselves have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles' wings and brought you to myself. 5 Now therefore, if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession among all peoples, for all the earth is mine; 6 and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. These are the words that you shall speak to the people of Israel.”
7 So Moses came and called the elders of the people and set before them all these words that the Lord had commanded him. 8 All the people answered together and said, “All that the Lord has spoken we will do.” And Moses reported the words of the people to the Lord. 9 And the Lord said to Moses, “Behold, I am coming to you in a thick cloud, that the people may hear when I speak with you, and may also believe you forever.”
When Moses told the words of the people to the Lord, 10 the Lord said to Moses, “Go to the people and consecrate them today and tomorrow, and let them wash their garments 11 and be ready for the third day. For on the third day the Lord will come down on Mount Sinai in the sight of all the people. 12 And you shall set limits for the people all around, saying, ‘Take care not to go up into the mountain or touch the edge of it. Whoever touches the mountain shall be put to death. 13 No hand shall touch him, but he shall be stoned or shot; whether beast or man, he shall not live.’ When the trumpet sounds a long blast, they shall come up to the mountain.” 14 So Moses went down from the mountain to the people and consecrated the people; and they washed their garments. 15 And he said to the people, “Be ready for the third day; do not go near a woman.”
16 On the morning of the third day there were thunders and lightnings and a thick cloud on the mountain and a very loud trumpet blast, so that all the people in the camp trembled. 17 Then Moses brought the people out of the camp to meet God, and they took their stand at the foot of the mountain. 18 Now Mount Sinai was wrapped in smoke because the Lord had descended on it in fire. The smoke of it went up like the smoke of a kiln, and the whole mountain trembled greatly. 19 And as the sound of the trumpet grew louder and louder, Moses spoke, and God answered him in thunder. 20 The Lord came down on Mount Sinai, to the top of the mountain. And the Lord called Moses to the top of the mountain, and Moses went up.
21 And the Lord said to Moses, “Go down and warn the people, lest they break through to the Lord to look and many of them perish. 22 Also let the priests who come near to the Lord consecrate themselves, lest the Lord break out against them.” 23 And Moses said to the Lord, “The people cannot come up to Mount Sinai, for you yourself warned us, saying, ‘Set limits around the mountain and consecrate it.’” 24 And the Lord said to him, “Go down, and come up bringing Aaron with you. But do not let the priests and the people break through to come up to the Lord, lest he break out against them.” 25 So Moses went down to the people and told them.

Now, a word about the context of this passage: This section of Exodus occurs after the Exodus, after receiving manna to eat, and immediately before the giving of the law (i.e., the 10 commandments) in chapter 20.

Let’s briefly look at vs. 1-8; the focus of this lesson, however, will be on vs. 9-20.

In v. 4, God says to the children of Israel, “You yourselves have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles' wings and brought you to myself”. The term, “Eagles’ wings”, denotes the swiftness of their deliverance from the Egyptians, and of their dependence, of grace. He Himself carried them, like an eagle carrying its chicks; they hadn’t done it on their own.

It’s interesting that he says, “I brought you”, not out of a country, but to a person--“to Myself“! They were brought out,
-not from Egypt, but to God Himself;
-not out of slavery, but into a relationship. This was not just deliverance from injustice, but bringing them out for the much grander purpose of entering into communion with Him.

In v. 6, we read “you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation” (c.f. 1 Peter 2:5,9). It’s interesting that He should say this to Israel. We generally think, “Old Covenant = Levitical priests only; New Covenant = all are priests.” But here, we see that, in some measure, God brought Israel out so they could all serve as priests, all be set apart and capable of mediating between God and men.

In v. 8, the people agree that all that the Lord had spoken (i.e., obeying His voice and keeping His covenant--v. 5), they would commit to do. They agreed to this before receiving the words of the actual covenant. Their hearts were submissive to anything He might require of them. They didn’t want to first see if it was “do-able”. He is the Lord, and worthy of our submission to whatever He asks. Steve Camp, in his song entitled “Whatever You Ask”, says, “Lord, whatever You ask I want to obey You; To let my life beat with a servant's heart; Lord whatever You ask I know that You can give me wisdom and courage To equal the task, whatever You ask”.

Is this the expression of our hearts? “All that the Lord has said I will do?” Even if it’s hard?

Let’s turn our attention to the bulk of this lesson, beginning in v. 9. First, the Lord says, “Behold, I am coming to you in a thick cloud”. Why a thick cloud?

1) It was a barrier, a protective cloud, protecting them from the sight of the Almighty. Why? Because God Himself says “No one can see Me and live” (Exodus 44:20). Remember Moses’ attempt to catch a glimpse of God…

-Ponder for a moment what this tells us about God’s holiness: An unmediated glimpse of Him in His unveiled form, by the eyes of sinful and unperfected men, is always, and immediately, fatal!

Isaiah said, after glimpsing God in a vision, “Woe is me, for I am undone” (literally, “unraveled”).

It may be good for us to consider at this point: How does this picture of God’s holiness contrast with modern views about God?

So, to repeat, the reasons why God came in a cloud:
1) It was to shield the people from His unveiled, unmediated holiness.
2) Because the barrier was visual (i.e., a cloud), it allowed the people to still hear God. This was allowed for their benefit:

In verse 9, we read “that the people may hear when I speak with you, and may also believe you forever.”

What would have happened if Moses had simply gone to Mount Sinai, come down, and then said, “Thus says the Lord”? They might not have believed. “Who is this Yahoo?“, they might have asked. The hearing of God’s voice by the Israelites confirmed the authenticity of Moses’ message being from God.

Now, I want to make the point that in verses 10-11 , the people were preparing to worship God. Now it may seem a bit of a jump to compare what the people of Israel were doing here with what we do on Sunday mornings. However, consider the following elements of corporate worship that were present on this occasion: They were about to:

1) Meet with God (v. 17-- They were meeting with God, not just with Moses)
2) Receive His Word (chapter 20)
3) Prepare to consider how they would obey His Word, and
4) Acknowledge in their hearts God as the only God, the Sovereign One, worthy of their submission

The fact that this is a worship event is further confirmed when you remember what Moses told Pharaoh: “Let my people go”, that they may do what? “That they may worship Me” (NIV) (or “serve Me“--ESV), and to hold a feast, and to sacrifice to the Lord (see Exodus 5-10). It was for His worship that God led them out of Egypt, and He is about to fulfill that purpose here.

Verses 10-15 tell us they were to spend two days preparing for this event. They were to spend these days:

1) Being consecrated (by Moses, somehow; we don’t know exactly how. Did Moses say, “I consecrate thee?”). They were setting themselves apart, preparing themselves for holy use.
2) Washing their clothes-- An outward symbol of inward cleansing /repentance. A reminder that God is clean, and they are not.
3) Sexual abstinence-- Their attention, their focus, their concentration was to 100% fixed on the Lord. There were to be no distractions.

Please notice a very important detail here: They were to spend two days in preparing for worship, and one day in actual worship!

Now, I’m not implying that this is some sort of formula; I’m not teaching that you’ve got to tell your boss you’ll have to miss Fridays now, because Fridays and Saturdays are to be given in preparation for Sunday Worship! Nor am I saying that, if the worship service is one hour long, then two hours must be spent beforehand in preparation.

However, I think there are principles to be gleaned here. I have asked myself regarding last Sunday, “Was any private time spent the night before, or in the morning of, in preparing my heart to engage in this holy act of worshipping the Savior along with God’s people? Or did I just rush through the morning, chat about all kinds of things, and just show up?

Listen to the following quotes; I think they’re helpful:

Don Kistler: “If the act of worshipping God is the most noble act of which man is capable, then great preparation must go into it. It is a sign of our low esteem of worship that we spend so little time, if any at all, in preparing for it… Think back before you came this morning: what was involved in your getting ready for worship, to come here, and how much time did you spend preparing for it? For most of us, it involved showering, dressing, eating breakfast, reading the paper, and trying to get here on time.”

John Willowson (18th century Scottish theologian): “If we consider the nature of our Sabbath work, and our unfitness for it, preparation for it will be found very needful. We are called upon this day to make near approaches to that God who is a glorious Spirit, and to hold communion with Him Who is infinitely holy. Is it not very necessary then that we, who are naturally carnal and much involved in worldly business throughout the week, should endeavor to abstract our thoughts from earthly things, that we may draw nigh to so great a God upon this holy day. For holy performances God requires us to make holy preparations. When Christ prepares a table before you in the gospel, and furnishes it with all the dainties of heaven (pardon, peace, love, grace, and eternal life), should you not empty your stomach, cleanse your heart, adorn your soul, and make ready to feast with your Redeemer?”

Let’s now turn to verse 12. We see there that God sets a boundary: The people were not allowed to touch the base of the mountain. Why weren’t they allowed to do this? Wasn’t God’s Presence manifested only on the mountaintop?
We don’t know for certain, but perhaps this was a “buffer zone“, graciously given for their protection, or perhaps the mountain itself had become holy, because it represented the place where God condescended to meet with man.

Also, we’re told in vs. 12-13 that “Whoever touches the mountain shall be put to death. No hand shall touch him, but he shall be stoned or shot; whether beast or man, he shall not live.”

Does this sound harsh? Stoning/shooting someone for touching the base of the mountain? Perhaps. But if so, it’s only because we have a watered-down view of God’s holiness!

We now, through Jesus Christ, have the priceless privilege of being able to freely and boldly approach the throne of grace with confidence. We may come boldly, but we’ve confused boldness with brashness. We’ve substituted free access to God for flippant access.

Compare it to the teenage child of a President. Now the teenager has free access to their father. However, if the President is in a meeting, discuss whether or not to enter into war, the child may not walk brashly into the meeting, and say, “Yo, wha’s up, Pops?” There is free access, there are times when he may walk right up to his father and ask for help with homework; but the child must never forget who his father is!

When we display a low view of God, is it any wonder that worship is to us oftentimes a thing to be endured rather than a thing to be offered? No wonder so many seek to be entertained rather than to spend themselves offering to God their best worship.

Back to verse 12--Let’s pause for a minute and wonder that the Almighty God chose to condescend to a mountaintop to meet with sinful man. It would do our corporate and personal worship wonders, if we understood that this holy God has condescended to allow mere sinful creatures the priceless privilege of worshipping Him. Here in Exodus 19, He comes down, condescends, to a mountaintop; this is but a picture of the further, ultimate condescension that occurred when the Son of God humbled Himself, though He had been reigning in heaven, took heaven off like a robe to be clothed in frail human flesh; further, he condescended to the place of a servant-man; further, an obedient man, even obedient to death on the cross (Php 2:1-11). What a thing to be marveled at! What cause for rejoicing and worship!

So, what is the exhortation to us regarding all this? Look at verse 12--“Take heed to yourselves“. Don’t come casually into God’s presence. He’s not your pal, your buddy, or the Man upstairs. He’s the Almighty God!

Look at your life and ask Him to show you what work of consecration you need to do before you meet with Him on Sunday mornings. What part of your life requires cleansing, not by washing your clothes, but by confession and repentance? What distractions do you need to set aside? Take heed to yourselves!

Verse 13 says that “When the trumpet sounds a long blast, they shall come up to the mountain.” The significance of the trumpet should not be overlooked. The trumpet was to be to them the signal to let them know: it’s time to come near to God.

Have you ever heard a sound that, upon hearing it, made your skin crawl, because of what it indicated was coming? For me, I remember the time in fifth grade when a boy named Chris told me he was going to beat me up after school. Hearing the school bell ring evoked sheer terror in my soul!

In the same way, the sound of the trumpet evoked a certain sense of trembling in the children of Israel. It was not a “happy, clappy” worship service, as we’ll see later.

In verse 16, the trumpet signal was given. Note their response: they trembled. Nichole Nordeman has a song called “Tremble”. In it, she says the following:

Have I come too casually?
Because it seems to me
There's something I've neglected
How does one approach a Deity
with informalityAnd still protect the Sacred?
'Cause you came and chose to wear the skin of all of us
And it's easy to forget You left a throne
Oh, let me not forget to tremble
Face down on the ground do I dare
To take the liberty to stare at you
Oh, let me not… forget to tremble

Is there any of this kind of heart response when you come near to God? There is, as Paul says, such a thing as knowing “the terror of the Lord”.

In vs. 18-20, we see tremendous word-pictures, a sort of divine pyrotechnics display: “Now Mount Sinai was wrapped in smoke because the Lord had descended on it in fire. The smoke of it went up like the smoke of a kiln, and the whole mountain trembled greatly.”

Then, in v. 20, the Lord Himself condescends: “The Lord came down on Mount Sinai, to the top of the mountain. And the Lord called Moses to the top of the mountain, and Moses went up.”

In verse 21, the people are again warned not to go beyond the boundaries (they had already been warned in v. 12); but this time, the reason they are not to break through is given: though they might want to see God, doing so would result in their immediate death.

So, far from being a harsh restriction, this warning is given as a loving protection. We see God’s grace in this passage in two ways:
- first, in His condescension to meet with lowly man at all, and
-second, in His warnings which protected the people from Himself.

Now, some of you may think, “Well, this is Old Testament stuff. Now, we do have free access to God. Hebrews 12:18-24 comes to mind--
18 For you have not come to what may be touched, a blazing fire and darkness and gloom and a tempest 19 and the sound of a trumpet and a voice whose words made the hearers beg that no further messages be spoken to them. 20 For they could not endure the order that was given, “If even a beast touches the mountain, it shall be stoned.” 21 Indeed, so terrifying was the sight that Moses said, “I tremble with fear.” 22 But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, 23 and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, 24 and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.

So it’s true, we are heirs of a better covenant. We have free access to God, and for that we should be extremely grateful. However, the character of God Himself has not changed one whit since Exodus 19. It is not that the God of the Old Testament was a God of wrath, whereas the New Testament God is a God of mercy. If we think this way, we may be tempted to approach Him in worship very casually, indeed. The difference between the two covenants is v. 24, that we now have a better Mediator than Moses. Yet the thinking that God is no longer to be feared because we are in a new covenant is dispelled if we continue on reading in Hebrews 12, starting with v. 25:
See that you do not refuse him who is speaking. For if they did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, much less will we escape if we reject him who warns from heaven. 26 At that time his voice shook the earth, but now he has promised, “Yet once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens.” 27 This phrase, “Yet once more,” indicates the removal of things that are shaken—that is, things that have been made—in order that the things that cannot be shaken may remain. 28 Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, 29 for our God is a consuming fire.

Can you think of New Testament examples where God shows Himself to be a consuming fire? Examples that come to my mind are:

-In Acts 5:1-11, Ananias and Sapphira treated a money offering lightly, lied to the Holy Spirit, and were killed instantly!
-In Corinth (see chapter 11, vs. 27-32), some believers actually died because of their irreverential practices at the Lord’s Supper.
-Peter, upon realizing who Jesus was, said to Him, “Lord, depart from me, for I am a sinful man”.
-In Revelation, we see John getting a vision of God’s holiness, and falling on his face as one dead.

Now, thankfully, God does not always execute those who approach Him irreverentially, but at times He chooses to show display His holiness by immediately judging sin; this reminds us to enter into His Presence freely, but with reverential awe. There should be an element of holy fear, of trembling, (Isaiah 66:2) when we approach God in worship. Bob Kauflin spoke recently at a conference on “Healthy Tensions in Corporate Worship”, and such “healthy tensions” for which we are to strive include the balance between:

-approachability and fear,
-familiarity and trembling,
-celebration and repentance.

John Piper says that a great problem in the church today is “that man the creature is big in the church and God the Creator is small.’ What we think is important in the church, what we want done in the church is important, not what God thinks, not what God wants, not want God says. We come to the church saying, ‘how will our needs be met?’ We come to the church saying, ‘how will these services be fulfilled, and if you don’t do them the way I want, I’ll pack my bags and go somewhere else.”

So, in verse 25, Moses obeys the Lord. Then, in chapter 20, the law is given.

Now what is our application? Here are two:

1) Commit to some form of preparation for corporate and private worship. Perhaps it means that, as the music is playing, we find our seats a few minutes before the service, and quietly meditate on this God with Whom we are about to meet. Or perhaps it means we should make it a habit to pray for the worship service-- the singing, the prayers, the Lord’s Supper, the preaching and hearing of the Word-- and our response to it on Saturday nights or Sunday mornings.

2) Take heed to yourself as you enter God’s presence! Stop before you rush into prayer; confess your sins, and meditate on His excellencies.

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Saturday, May 12, 2007

Hymn #2--The Prayers of Two

The Spirit prays continually
My weakness never stops His pleas
And when words fail my prayerful thoughts
He groans for me, prays what I ought

Father, You hear the prayers of Two
Whose prayers for me are sweet to You
And though my prayers are fault’ring words
I rest secure; their prayers are heard

Jesus, My Great High Priest always
Pours prayers for my sustaining grace
He prays, “protect and purify
And unify, and glorify!”

Father, You hear the prayers of Two
Whose prayers for me are sweet to You
Though my best prayers are fault’ring words
I rest secure; their prayers are heard

I’m thankful for the prayers for me
Christ and the Spirit’s loving pleas
My prayers without them would be noise
But through them You hear a lovely voice

Father, You hear the prayers of Two
Whose prayers for me are sweet to You
And though my prayers are fault’ring words
I rest secure; their prayers are heard

What comfort’s mine; what perfect rest,
What grounds for peace and happiness
That One, Yet Three should all agree
Two pray for me; One hears their pleas

Father, You hear the prayers of Two
Whose prayers for me are sweet to You
And though my prayers are fault’ring words
I rest secure; their prayers are heard

Hymn #1: My Opened Eyes

A darkened prison held my soul
Though dark as night, I loved it so.
I loved my chains, though hid from view
I knew not love, I knew not You

My opened eyes now love the light
Which saw no sun, knew only night
And now my hands once bound by sin
Are free to serve my Loving King

I, under sentence, knew no life
But knew well anger, lust, and strife
When I’d despaired of finding grace
My Judge came down and took my place

All my best words could not express
My awe at His Great Faithfulness
That He Whom I’d offended so
Should call me child, and friend also

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Why Worship?

I recently had a friend ask me the question, "What is the purpose of worship?" That’s a great question. Every Sunday, hundreds of thousands of people around our country (and many more around the world) gather to central meeting places to carry on a thing called worship. But what is it, and why do we do it? (Please note that I’m speaking of corporate worship, not private worship, family worship, or the way in which our deeds are a form of worship--see Hebrews 13:15-16).

There have been much better responses to that question than I am able to articulate here. Having said that, here is my attempt: Worship is simply ascribing to the Lord the glory due His Name (Psalm 29:2). How much glory is due to God’s Name? The Scriptures tell us He dwells in "unapproachable light" (1 Timothy 6:16). "I am the Lord," says God, "and there is no other, besides me there is no God". Psalm 115:1 says, "Not to us, O Lord, not to us, but to your name give glory". God is a God of infinite splendor; therefore, He is worthy of infinite worship and praise.

Why does God allow us the privilege of declaring His praises? First, because it was His design in creating us. Isaiah 43:7 says, "everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory". Second, because declaring His Glory is also ultimately the purpose for our redemption. 1 Peter 2:9 says "But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light." Again, Ephesians 1:4-6 also makes this point clear: "In love he predestined us for adoption through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved." God has a great zeal that His Name be revered and honored. "For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen." (Romans 11:36). Any ministry which is focused on leading God’s people into worship must have enhancing God’s reputation and declaring His excellencies back to Him as its primary goals.

So, God delights in having His Name exalted, and His excellencies declared. Does that make Him self-centered? If so, is that a sin? Not at all. When we boast, we are guilty of the sin of pride. But God can desire praise, because He is the only One worth boasting about. If you or I do anything of any lasting value, it is wrong for us to brag about it, because it is robbing God of the credit; anything we’ve done of eternal significance can only be done through His enablement and strength.

Finally, consider John 4:23-24--"But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth". Jesus spoke these words to the Samaritan woman at the well. The Samaritans had their own versions of the first five books of the Old Testament, and that was it. Their worship was emotional, and done in spirit, but lacked a foundation of truth.

Jews such as the Pharisees, by contrast, had prided themselves in having the Law. They had the truth, but Jesus said about them, "These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me". In other words, they worshipped in truth, but not in spirit.

God is seeking worshippers, Jesus says, who will both worship God in spirit--with ferver, love, emotion--and in truth--sound thoughts about God based on the truth of God from the Word of God, designed to cause us to love God all the more.

Any worship ministry in the church, therefore, must strive to accomplish these two things: provide elevated, lofty thoughts about God--His winsome character traits and His mighty deeds-- and provide an atmosphere in which these things are delighted in and cherished by the worshippers. This is true worship.

"Worship is not a gathering. Worship essentially is not a song service. Worship essentially is not sitting under preaching. Worship is not essentially any outward act. Worship is essentially an inner stirring of the heart to treasure God above all treasures in the world, a valuing of God above all that is valuable, a loving of God above all that is loveley, a savoring of God above all that is sweet, an admiring of God above all that is admirable, a fearing of God above all that is fearful, a respecting of God above all that is respectable, and a prizing of God above all that is precious. That is worship..."
--John Piper

"Declaring the truth about God and His Glory, about Christ and His work, provides a necessary correction to worship which begins with man and his needs. The problem, I believe, with most of our worship is that it begins with man and his need, not God and His glory. So people come to worship to receive, rather than to give, rather than to spend themselves. ‘You are worthy, our Lord and God’, says John in Revelation,’to receive glory and honor and power,’ and whatever we may get is the byproduct of acceptable worship--like picking up flowers along the path"
--Alistair Begg

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Blog Break

I will be taking a break from posting on this blog, in order to concentrate my time and energies on a new project. I have begun writing a biography on the life of the Puritan preacher Jeremiah Burroughs. This work is anticipated to be done in about two years.

I will still be posting on "Words of Grace" quarterly; see the link to the right. Hopefully, I will be able to post short notes regarding the progress of the biography. If time allows, I may also post some old stuff that I've not yet put online. But the biography itself will need to take priority right now.

Please pray for this project. Though Burroughs has historically been a man whose works have impacted (and continue to impact) many, a biography of his life has never been attempted. I believe there are lessons from this godly man's life which can instruct and inspire us, and cause us to appreciate his written works even more. In Christ,

Phil