Tim Keller: The Acid Test of Being a Christian

20 12 2011

Perhaps what I noticed most about this excerpt from Dr. Keller’s sermon was that a “real Christian” has a spirit of wonder that permeates their whole life.  There is an old woman at Trinity, who whenever a promise of the Gospel is put forward she exhales loudly and will say something like “oh how marvelous!”  This woman has a host of difficulties in her life that would cause many of us to be miserable.  But what is most striking about her life is that she is utterly amazed at Jesus Christ and is therefore a very happy woman.  My heart breaks for people who spend their whole life in church and are never amazed at what God has done in Christ, who never rejoice in the gift of his Holy Spirit or who are never moved with gratitude at the gift of his word.  People who live out their Christian lives in such a way are like folks who turn their nose up at a banquet table to munch on stale, moldy bread.

A real Christian is a person who says, “it is an absolute miracle that God’s loves me. “It’s just a miracle that I am a Christian.” This is actually an acid test; let me just lay it on you here at the end. There are two kinds of people that go to church: there’s religious people and real Christians. And the way you can tell the difference is that a Real Christian is somebody who sees everything that comes as a gift.  In other words a real Christian sees that you are totally in debt to God, but a religious person is someone who is working hard and making an effort and trying to be good, going to Bible studies and just saying “no” everywhere, and denying themselves a lot of pleasures, and so forth, and a religious person is someone who is trying to put God in their debt. That is the difference.  A religious person is someone who is trying to save themselves through their good works. A religious person is somebody who thinks they are putting God in their debt since they have tried so hard. A Christian is somebody who sees themselves as in God’s debt.

Here is the acid test: If you are a Christian you have a spirit of wonder that permeates your life. You are always saying “how miraculous”, “how interplanetary”, “how unreal”. You are always looking at yourself and saying, “me a Christian … incredible, miraculous, unbelievable, a joke!!! ” but a person who is trying to put God in their debt – there is none of that spirit of wonder at all.  For example, when you show up to get your paycheck.  I am assuming that most of you work hard for your money.  When you show up for your paycheck do you say “Ah, BEHOLD!!!, you’ve paid me, you’ve given me money!!! Oh!! Are you real?.” No, you don’t do that, you say “of course you paid me, I worked.”  If you ask a religious person who does not understand the grace of God. you say, “Are you a Christian?” They say “Of course I am a Christian, I have always been a Christian. Sure I am a Christian. “  My friends, if you are a Christian there is no “sure” about it and there is no “of courseness” about it, not a bit.

The acid test is your spirit of wonder stays there even when things go bad.  You see when things go bad, when problems happen, here you can tell the difference between a moralist and a Christian.  A moralist says, “what good is all my religion, what good is going to God, I have tried hard to be a Christian, I am trying hard to be obedient to God, and what good is it? God owes me.” And you see you get mad. You say, “I have been trying hard and look what’s going on in my love life, look what’s going on in my career”, and you get bitter. Why? because God owes you.  But A Christian keeps that spirit of wonder.  A Christian may say “my career has not gone too well, my love life has not gone too well, it’s astonishing… Its amazing that God is as good as He is to me. Its all grace. Its all grace.  That spirit of wonder. That sense of being a miracle. That everything that comes to you being an absolute mercy. That is an acid test.  In fact, in some ways I have made a dichotomy that is unrealistic.  Christians, to the degree that you behold the free grace of God, to the degree that you meditate on it and you let it become a holy fire in your heart, to the degree you experience and behold the love of God, to that degree you are going to find that to difficulties you will be able to say “oh well, my Father must have a purpose here because He loves me, and besides that, He does not owe me a good life. He owes me a far worse life than I’ve got.” You can handle anything. And when good things come you will say “Behold! what a miracle”  And the very fact you can get up in the morning and say, “I am a Christian. Who would have thought it?” There is a spirit of wonder about you, and if you have lost that you are slipping back into moralism, you are slipping back into thinking “well I guess what it means to be a Christian is just to do.”  Here is Christianity:

And can it be that I should gain
an interest in the Savior’s blood!
Died he for me? who caused his pain!
For me? who him to death pursued?
Amazing love! How can it be
that thou, my God, shouldst die for me?

The wonder is a mark that you know the Lord. The ability to handle anything with that sense of almost childlike wonder. That sense of being a miracle.  That tells you that you know him.

Let us love and sing and wonder,
Let us praise the Savior’s Name!
He has hushed the law’s loud thunder,
He has quenched Mount Sinai’s flame.
He has wash’d us with His blood,
He has brought us nigh to God.

read the whole thing here





Augustine’s on Nature and Grace

19 12 2011

Below is an excerpt from the introductory section of a work written by Augustine that God used to help lead me into a deeper understanding of God’s grace and my own sinfulness.  I first encountered this work at the Radcliffe Camera in Oxford in 20I’ve attached a link at the bottom where you can click through and read the whole thing.

The book which you sent to me, my beloved sons, Timasius and Jacobus, I have read through hastily, but not indifferently, omitting only the few points which are plain enough to everybody; and I saw in it a man inflamed with most ardent zeal against those, who, when in their sinsthey ought to censure human will, are more forward in accusing thenature of men, and thereby endeavour to excuse themselves. He shows too great a fire against this evil, which even authors of secular literature have severely censured with the exclamation: The human race falselycomplains of its own nature! This same sentiment your author also has strongly insisted upon, with all the powers of his talent. I fear, however, that he will chiefly help those who have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge, who, being ignorant of God’s righteousness, and going about to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted themselves to the righteousness of God. Now, what the righteousness of God is, which is spoken of here, he immediately afterwards explains by adding: For Christ is the end of thelaw for righteousness to every one that believes. This righteousness of God, therefore, lies not in the commandment of the law, which excites fear, but in the aid afforded by the grace of Christ, to which alone the fear of the law, as of a schoolmaster, usefully conducts. Now, the man who understands this understands why he is a Christian. For If righteousness came by the law, then Christ is dead in vain. If, however He did not die in vain, in Him only is the ungodly man justified, and to him, on believing in Him who justifiesthe ungodly, faith is reckoned for righteousness.  For all menhave sinned and come short of the glory of God, being justified freely by His blood.  But all those who do not think themselves to belong to the all who have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,have of course no need to become Christians, because they that be whole need not a physician, but they that are sick; whence it is, that He came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.

click here to read the whole thing.  Read it carefully and follow the logic.





J.C. Ryle: “Suppose an unholy man went to Heaven…”

19 12 2011

Suppose for a moment that you were allowed to enter heaven without holiness. What would you do? What possible enjoyment could you feel there? To which of all the saints would you join yourself and by whose side would you sit? Their pleasures are not your pleasures, their tastes are not your tastes, their character not your character. How could you possibly be happy, if you had not been holy on earth?

Now perhaps you love the company of the light and careless, the worldly-minded and the covetous, the reveler and the pleasure-seeker, the ungodly and the profane. There will be none such in heaven.

Now perhaps you think the saints of God too strict and particular and serious. You rather avoid them. You have no delight in their society. There will be no other company in heaven.

Now perhaps you think praying and Scripture reading, and hymn singing, dull and melancholy and stupid work, a thing to be tolerated now and then, but not enjoyed. You reckon the Sabbath a burden and a weariness; you could not possibly spend more than a small part of it in worshipping God. But remember, heaven is a never-ending Sabbath. The inhabitants thereof rest not day and night, saying, “Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty,” and singing the praise of the Lamb. How could an unholy man find pleasure in occupation such as this?

Think you that such an one would delight to meet David and Paul and John, after a life spent in doing the very things they spoke against? Would he take sweet counsel with them and find that he and they had much in common? Think you, above all, that he would rejoice to meet Jesus, the crucified One, face to face, after cleaving to the sins for which He died, after loving His enemies and despising His friends? Would he stand before Him with confidence and join in the cry, “This is our God… we have waited for Him, we will be glad and rejoice in His salvation” (Isaiah 25:9)? Think you not rather that the tongue of an unholy man would cleave to the roof of his mouth with shame, and his only desire would be to be cast out? He would feel a stranger in a land he knew not, a black sheep amid Christ’s holy flock. The voice of cherubim and seraphim, the song of angels and archangels, and all the company of heaven, would be a language he could not understand. The very air would seem an air he could not breathe.

I know not what others may think, but to me it does seem clear that heaven would be a miserable place to an unholy man. It cannot be otherwise. People may say, in a vague way, they “hope to go to heaven”, but they do not consider what they say…

read it all here





Octavius Winslow: “The Holy Spirit a Deep and Living Well of All Spiritual Blessings”

19 12 2011

Winslow was a Puritan reformer in England who appears to know the Holy Spirit well! Below is an excerpt from his work “The Holy Spirit: An Experimental and Practical View”. “Experimental theology” was quite important to the puritans of that day. In a nutshell, “experimental” is shorthand for practical experiences of grace that the believer can recognize and rejoice in. Experimental theology is somewhat of a lost discipline, and though it has almost universally fallen out of favor I find it an indispensable tool in pastoral care and discipleship. Perhaps more on that later! For now enjoy the reading!

The Spirit dwells in the believer as the ever-living Spirit of all grace and comfort. All that is really holy and gracious in a child of God is found in the work of the indwelling Spirit. All the holy breathings and desires of the soul, all the longings for God and for conformity to His will and image, all that is lovely and like Jesus in the saint, are the result of this gracious act of the eternal Spirit. The Lord Jesus Himself would direct us to this truth. John 4.14: “Whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst; but the water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life.” That this well of water is the indwelling of the Spirit, seems clear from the loth verse: “Jesus answered and said unto her, If you knew the gift of God,” etc.; that “gift of God” was the Holy Spirit, alluded to again still more emphatically in ch. 7. 38, 39: “He that believes on me, as the scripture has said, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water. (But this spoke he of the Spirit, which those who believe on him should receive: for the Holy Spirit was not yet given; because that Jesus was not yet glorified.”)

Here is a gracious truth. The Spirit in every believer is a deep and living well of all spiritual blessings. He dwells in the soul “not like a stagnant pool, but like an ever-living fountain that flows at all seasons of the year, in heat and cold, and in all external circumstances of weather, whether foul or fair, wet or dry.” Nature could not produce that which the indwelling Spirit accomplishes in the saints of God. The hungering and the thirsting for righteousness, the rising of the heart in filial love to God, the sweet submission to His sovereign will, the longing for more knowledge of Christ, the constant struggling with the law of sin, the mourning over the indwelling principle of sin; all this is above and far beyond nature. It is the fruit, the precious fruit, of the indwelling spirit.
It may be, reader, that your heart is often anxious to know in what way you may distinguish between nature and grace, how you may clearly discern between that which is legal and that which is spiritual, between that which is the work of man, and that which is the work of God. In this way you may trace the vast difference- that which at first came from God, returns to God again. It rises to the source where it descended. Divine grace in a sinner’s heart is a springing well- “a well of water springing up into eternal life.” Did nature ever teach a soul the plague of its own heart? Never! Did nature ever lay the soul in the dust before God, mourning and weeping over sin? Never! Did nature ever inspire the soul with pantings for God and thirstings for holiness? Never! And did it ever endear the throne of grace, and make precious to the soul the atoning blood, the justifying righteousness of Jesus? Never! never! All this as much transcends the power of nature as the creating of a world. Is this your real state, reader? O look up! “Flesh and blood” did not reveal it to you- but the eternal God has revealed it and that by the indwelling of His own blessed Spirit in your heart.

read it all here





J.I. Packer: On Reformed Evangelism (of course its worth reading…it’s J.I. Packer!)

19 12 2011

The Puritan type of evangelism, on the other hand, was the consistent expression in practice of the Puritans’ conviction that the conversion of sinner is a gracious sovereign work of Divine power.  We shall spend a little time elaborating this.

The Puritans did not use “conversion” and “regeneration” as technical terms, and so there are slight variations in usage. Perhaps the majority treated the words as synonyms, each denoting the whole process whereby God brings the sinner to his first act of faith.  Their technical term for the process was effectual calling; calling being the Scriptural word used to describe the process in Rom. 8:30, 2 Th.  2:14, 2 Tim. 1:9, etc., and the adjective effectual being added to distinguish it from the ineffectual, external calling mentioned in Mt. 20:16, 22:14.  Westminster Confession, X. i., puts “calling,” into its theological perspective by an interpretative paraphrase of Rom. 8:30: “All those whom God hath predestinated unto life, and those only, he is pleased, in his appointed and accepted time, effectually to call, by his Word and Spirit, out of that state of sin and death in which they are by nature, to grace and salvation by Jesus Christ.” The Westminster Shorter Catechism analyses the concept of “calling” in its answer to Q. 31: “Effectual calling is the work of God’s Spirit whereby, convincing us of our sin and misery, enlightening our minds in the knowledge of Christ, and renewing our wills, he doth persuade and enable us to embrace Jesus Christ, freely offered to us in the gospel.”

Concerning this effectual calling, three things must be said if we are to grasp the Puritan view:

(i) It is work of Divine grace; it is not something a man can do for himself or for another.  It is the first stage in the application of redemption to those for whom it was won; it is the time when, on the grounds of his eternal, federal, representative union with Christ, the elect sinner is brought by the Holy Ghost into a real, vital, personal union with his Covenant Head and Redeemer.  It is thus a gift of free Divine grace.

(ii) It is a work of Divine power. It is effected by the Holy Ghost, who acts both mediately, by the Word, in the mind, giving understanding and conviction, and at the same time immediately, with the Word, in the hidden depths of the heart, implanting new life and power, effectively dethroning sin, and making the sinner both able and willing to respond to the gospel invitation.  The Spirit’s work is thus both moral, bypersuasion (which all Arminians and Pelagians would allow), and also physical, by power (which they would not).

Owen said, “There is not only a moral, but a physical immediate operation of the Spirit…upon the minds or souls of men in their regeneration…The work of grace in conversion is constantly expressed by words denoting a real internal efficacy; such as creating, quickening, forming, giving a new heart…Wherever this work is spoken of with respect unto an active efficacy, it is ascribed to God.  He creates us anew, he quickens us, he begets us of His own will; but when it is spoken of with respect to us, there it is passively expressed; we are created in Christ Jesus, we are new creatures, we are born again, and the like; which oneobservation is sufficient to avert the whole hypothesis of Arminian grace.” (Works, ed.  Russell 1,1, II. 369). “Ministers knock at the door of men’s hearts (persuasion), the Spirit comes with a key and opens the door” (T. Watson, Body of Div., 1869, p. 154).  The Spirit’s regenerating action, Owen goes on, is “infallible, victorious, irresistable, or always efficacious” (loc cit.); it “removeth all obstacles, overcomes all oppositions, and infallibly produceth the effect intended.” Grace is irresistible, not because it drags man to Christ against his will, but because it changes men’s hearts so that they come most freely, being made willing by His grace.”(West.  Conf.  X. i). The Puritans loved to dwell on the Scriptural thought of the Divine power put forth in effectual calling, which Goodwin regularly described as the one “standing miracle” in the Church.  They agreed that in the normal course of events conversion was not commonly a spectacular affair; but Goodwin notes that sometimes it is, and affirms that thereby God shows us how great an exercise of power every man’s effectual calling involves. “In the calling of some there shoots up very suddenly an election-conversion (I use to call it so).  You shall, as it were, see election take hold of a man, pull him out with a mighty power, stamp upon him, the divine nature, stub up corrupt nature by the roots, root up self-love, put in a principle of love to God, and launch him forth a new creature the first day … He did so with Paul, and it is not without example in others after him.” (Works, ed.. Miller IX. 279). Such dramatic conversions, says Goodwin, are “visible tokens of election by such a work of calling, as all the powers in heaven and earth could not have wrought upon a man’s soul so, nor changed a man so on a sudden, but only that divine power that created the world (and) raised Christ from the dead.”

The reason why the Puritans thus magnified the quickening power of God is plain from the passages quoted:it was because they took so seriously the Bible teaching that man is dead in sin, radically depraved, sin’s helpless bondslave.  There is, they held, such a strength in sin that only omnipotence can break its bond; and only the Author of Life can raise the dead.  Where Finney assumed plenary ability, the Puritans taught total inability in fallen man.

(iii)   Effectual calling is and must be a work of Divine sovereignty. Only God can effect it, and He does so at His own pleasure.  “It is not of him that willith, nor of him that runneth, but of God that showeth mercy” (Rom. 9:16).  Owen expounds  this in a sermon on Acts 16:9, “A vision of unchangeable, free mercy in sending the means of grace to undeserving sinners” (XV, I ff.). He first states the following principle: “All events and effects, especially concerning the propagation of the gospel, and the Church of Christ, are in their greatest variety regulated by the eternal purpose and counsel of God,” He then illustrates it.  Some are sent the gospel, some not.  “In this chapter…the gospel is forbidden to be preached in Asia or Bithynia; which restraint, the Lord by His  providence as yet continueth to many parts of the world;” while “to some nations the gospel is sent…as in my text, Macedonia; and England…”  Now, asks Owen, why this discrimination?  Why do some hear and others not? And when the gospel is heard, why do we see “various effects, some continuing in impenitency, others in sincerity closing with Jesus Christ?…In effectual working of grace…whence do you think it takes its rule and determination . . . that it should be directed to John, not Judas; Simon Peter, not Simon Magus? Why only from this discriminating counsel of God from eternity…Acts 13:48…The purpose of God’s election, is the rule of dispensing saving grace.”

watch him contrast this with modern evangelism here





Spurgeon helps us combat spiritual lethargy

19 12 2011

Let me remind you that if you will look at interesting things you will not sleep; and how can you be kept awake in the enchanted ground better than by holding up your Saviour before your eyes? There are some things, it is said, which will not let men shut their eyes if they are held before them. Jesus Christ crucified on Calvary is one of them. I never knew a Christian go to sleep at the foot of the cross; but he always said—

“Sweet the moments, rich in blessing,
Which before the cross I spend.”

And he said, too—

“Here I’d sit, for ever viewing
Mercies’ streams in streams of blood.”

But he never said, “Here I would lay down and sleep;” for he could not sleep with that shriek, “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani,” in his ears. He could not sleep with “It is finished!” going into his very soul. Keep thou near to the cross, Christian, and thou wilt not sleep.
Then I would advise thee to let the wind blow on thee; let the breath of the Holy Spirit continually fan thy temples, and thou wilt not sleep. Seek to live daily under the influence of the Holy Ghost; derive all thy strength from him, and thou wilt not slumber.
Lastly, labor to impress thyself with a deep sense of the value of the place to which thou art going. If thou rememberest that thou art going to heaven, thou wilt not sleep on the road. If thou thinkest that hell is behind thee, and the devil pursuing thee, I am sure thou wilt not be inclined to sleep. Would the man-slayer sleep if the avenger of blood were behind him, and the city of refuge before him? Christian, wilt thou sleep whilst the pearly gates are open; the songs of angels waiting for thee to join them; a crown decorated with delight to be worn upon thy brow? Ah, no!

“Forget the steps already trod,
And onward urge thy way.”
“Weak as thou art, thou shalt not faint,
Or, fainting, shalt not die;
He feeds the strength of every saint,
He’ll help thee from on high.”

read it all here





Jonathan Edwards: “The Admirable Conjunction of Diverse Excellencies in Christ Jesus”

19 12 2011

For all you guys who jumped on the “Jonathan Edwards is my homeboy” bandwagon but never read him, here’s your chance.  You’ll find him enormously difficult in diction and thought, nevertheless terribly rewarding.  I remember when I finally fought my way through “The End for Which God Created the World,” which was nothing short of mind blowing.  These few paragraphs below are intellectually and spiritually enriching, where Edwards takes such opposing thoughts as “highness” and “condescension” or “justice” and “grace” and shows how they meet in perfect union in Christ Jesus.

There is a conjunction of such excellencies in Christ as, in our manner of conceiving, are very diverse one from another. Such are the various divine perfections and excellencies that Christ is possessed of. Christ is a divine person, and therefore has all the attributes of God. The difference between these is chiefly relative, and in our manner of conceiving them. And those which, in this sense, are most diverse, meet in the person of Christ. I shall mention two instances.

There do meet in Jesus Christ infinite highness and infinite condescension.
Christ, as he is God, is infinitely great and high above all. He is higher than the kings of the earth; for he is King of kings, and Lord of lords. He is higher than the heavens, and higher than the highest angels of heaven. So great is he, that all men, all kings and princes, are as worms of the dust before him; all nations are as the drop of the bucket, and the light dust of the balance; yea, and angels themselves are as nothing before him. He is so high, that he is infinitely above any need of us; above our reach, that we cannot be profitable to him; and above our conceptions, that we cannot comprehend him. Prov. 30:4 “What is his name, and what is his Son’s name, if thou canst tell?” Our understandings, if we stretch them never so far, cannot reach up to his divine glory. Job 11:8 “It is high as heaven, what canst thou do?” Christ is the Creator and great Possessor of heaven and earth. He is sovereign Lord of all. He rules over the whole universe, and doth whatsoever pleaseth him. His knowledge is without bound. His wisdom is perfect, and what none can circumvent. His power is infinite, and none can resist Him. His riches are immense and inexhaustible. His majesty is infinitely awful.

And yet he is one of infinite condescension. None are so low or inferior, but Christ’s condescension is sufficient to take a gracious notice of them. He condescends not only to the angels, humbling himself to behold the things that are done in heaven, but he also condescends to such poor creatures as men; and that not only so as to take notice of princes and great men, but of those that are of meanest rank and degree, “the poor of the world,” James 2:5. Such as are commonly despised by their fellow creatures, Christ does not despise. I Cor. 1:28 “Base things of the world, and things that are despised, hath God chosen.” Christ condescends to take notice of beggars Luke 16:22 and people of the most despised nations. In Christ Jesus is neither “Barbarian, Scythian, bond nor free” (Col. 3:11). He that is thus high condescends to take a gracious notice of little children Matt. 19:14. “Suffer little children to come unto me.” Yea, which is more, his condescension is sufficient to take a gracious notice of the most unworthy, sinful creatures, those that have no good deservings, and those that have infinite ill deservings.

Yea, so great is his condescension, that it is not only sufficient to take some gracious notice of such as these, but sufficient for every thing that is an act of condescension. His condescension is great enough to become their friend, to become their companion, to unite their souls to him in spiritual marriage. It is enough to take their nature upon him, to become one of them, that he may be one with them. Yea, it is great enough to abase himself yet lower for them, even to expose himself to shame and spitting; yea, to yield up himself to an ignominious death for them. And what act of condescension can be conceived of greater? Yet such an act as this, has his condescension yielded to, for those that are so low and mean, despicable and unworthy!

Such a conjunction of infinite highness and low condescension, in the same person, is admirable. We see, by manifold instances, what a tendency a high station has in men, to make them to be of a quite contrary disposition. If one worm be a little exalted above another, by having more dust, or a bigger dunghill, how much does he make of himself! What a distance does he keep from those that are below him! And a little condescension is what he expects should be made much of, and greatly acknowledged. Christ condescends to wash our feet; but how would great men, (or rather the bigger worms,) account themselves debased by acts of far less condescension!

There meet in Jesus Christ, infinite justice and infinite grace.
As Christ is a divine person, he is infinitely holy and just, hating sin, and disposed to execute condign punishment for sin. He is the Judge of the world, and the infinitely just Judge of it, and will not at all acquit the wicked, or by any means clear the guilty.

And yet he is infinitely gracious and merciful. Though his justice be so strict with respect to all sin, and every breach of the law, yet he has grace sufficient for every sinner, and even the chief of sinners. And it is not only sufficient for the most unworthy to show them mercy, and bestow some good upon them, but to bestow the greatest good; yea, it is sufficient to bestow all good upon them, and to do all things for them. There is no benefit or blessing that they can receive, so great but the grace of Christ is sufficient to bestow it on the greatest sinner that ever lived. And not only so, but so great is his grace, that nothing is too much as the means of this good. It is sufficient not only to do great things, but also to suffer in order to do it, and not only to suffer, but to suffer most extremely even unto death, the most terrible of natural evils; and not only death, but the most ignominious and tormenting, and every way the most terrible that men could inflict; yea, and greater sufferings than men could inflict, who could only torment the body. He had sufferings in his soul, that were the more immediate fruits of the wrath of God against the sins of those he undertakes for.

read it all here