Zwingli: Living daily in sin

20 12 2011

Two notes on the following text.  First, the text was written by the Swiss reformer Huldrych Zwingli.  Zwingli often gets lost between Luther and Calvin, although he shouldn’t be so easily displaced.  He was a remarkable thinker, gifted leader, and incredibly gracious in his dealings with a hostile Luther.  Second, and more importantly, this text deals with the common problem of Christians and continuing, even daily sin.  Pay attention to where Zwingli places confidence.  Is it in performance or Christ?  Pay attention to what Zwingli believes is a sign that God has entered into a person’s life, and to go further see if you can identify why he believes this.

“As long as we live, that rogue, the body, because of the temptation, will never let us live a godly life.  However, if we have trusted in God through Christ, then the flesh cannot throw us into damnation.  Rather, as Christ said to Peter: ‘See!  The devil has lain in waiting for you so that he may sift you as wheat.  But I have prayed for you, Peter, that your faith become neither unsteady nor weak” (Luke 22.31f).  Thus we must remain firm so that all our sins will be forgiven through Christ, although both the devil and the flesh will force us through the sieve and entice us with sin to despair.  But, as Peter’s external denial di dnot bring him into damnation, so also may no sin bring us to damnation, save one: unbelief.  Here, however, the true non-Christians say: “I firmly believe in Christ.”  Yet they do nothing Christian.  Herein one sees that they are non-Christians, for one recognizes a tree by its fruit.  Therefore, note for better understanding:  as has often been pointed out before, whoever has securely trusted in teh grace of God through Christ, after recognizing his sin, cannot be without the love of God.  Who would not love him who has so graciously taken away his sin and has begun first to love him, as 1 John 4.19 says, and to draw him to himself?  Where, now, the love of God is, there is God; for God is love himself and whoever is in the love of God is in God and God is in him, as 1 John 4.16 says.  Now if God is in the right believer and he nevertheless sins, then it follows that it is as Paul says in Romans 8.10: “If now Christ is in you, then the body is dead because of sin, but the spirit or soul lives because of justification.”  This justification is nothing but a person’s placing himself in and devoting himself to the grace of God.  This is true belief.  So the opinion of Paul is that our body is always dead and gives birth to works of death and sin.  However, the same sins cannot damn us if we are righteous in faith, so that we trust with certainty the grace of God through the Lord Jesus Christ.”

Huldrych Zwingli, A Short Christian Instruction Zwingli’s Works vol II pg 58-59





Rob Sturdy: Weak Hearts, Mighty Savior! (Matt 6.1-21)

20 12 2011

Preached at Trinity Church, Feb 24th 2009.

Culture places high value on the notion that the human heart is not only good, but that it is essentially trustworthy.  For many people the heart is the spring from which all that is good within us flows out.  We believe that the heart, the seat of our emotions is essentially good. We are in our innermost being good people, with good intentions.  And yet we don’t stop here.  Alongside this idea that the heart is fundamentally good in a moral sense, we also believe that the heart is unique in the sense that it is a trustworthy compass pointing us in the right direction.  If you were to type in the internet bookstore Amazon.com searching for titles that include the phrase “follow your heart,” you would find over six-thousand titles. This shows us two things:  first there are people in the world who have thought about the heart, about its goodness and trustworthiness (6,000 people!), and second there are people who are interested in reading about how good and trustworthy their hearts are.

The Bible also has many things to say about the heart.  For example, the Book of Proverbs instructs us to “Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life” (4.23). The heart is the root of the tree, the gasoline to the car, the hinge on the door, the wood for the fire.  In other words, as “from it flow the springs of life!”  Which is why the writer instructs us to “keep it with vigilance.”  Something so important should be tended to most carefully.  Because our hearts are so important, it is no surprise that God himself is deeply concerned with the nature of our hearts.  “the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance,  but the Lord looks on the heart” (1 Sam 16.7) and ““I the Lord search the heart and test the mind, to give every man according to his ways, according to the fruit of his deeds” (Jer 17.10).

Jesus also has much to say about the heart.  Today, in this passage, though he never specifically mentions the heart he nevertheless has much to say about the heart and what he says about the heart can be summed up in one word:  “Beware.”  Beware!  It is the last thing that you would suspect would come from the mouth of gentle Jesus meek and mild about the human heart.  We expect the Lamb of God to come gently bleeting compliments and high praise for the goodness of our individual hearts.  Rather he expresses a fearfulness, withdrawing in horror as if he had seen some type of dangerous predator or a horrific car crash, recoiling he says “Beware!” Read the rest of this entry »





Rob Sturdy: The Glory of Christ and the Destruction of Sin

19 12 2011

I think it would be good for me to do a little explanation on the front end for why I have chosen these two themes, “the glory of Christ” and the “destruction of sin.” I think it would also be wise for me to explain why I have chosen such a hard sounding session for a “renewal” conference.  So let me begin with the two themes, and I trust that it will become clear in time how the two relate.  First the glory of Christ:

The Glory of Christ

Let me begin by saying that the glory of Jesus Christ is an all consuming passion of mine, and I believe it is a passion well ingrained in the language of Scripture.  First of all let me say from Scripture that I gain the sense that God the Father’s consuming passion is the glorification of his Son:

“If I glorify myself, my glory is nothing. It is my Father who glorifies me, of whom you say, ‘He is our God.’ (John 8.54)

“Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus ever knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father” (Phil 2.9-11)

Furthermore, the glorification of the Son is one of the if not the principle work of the Holy Spirit:

“I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you.” (John 16.12-14)

I want to take a second and unpack that last verse for a moment.  Jesus says “I still have many things to say to you, but I won’t say them now.  I will say them later.”  But how will Jesus say them later if he leaves?  “When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak and he will declare to you the things that are to come.”  So the work of the Spirit is to come and complete the words of Jesus.  That is the action of the Spirit, and the fruit of that action is the New Testament.  Now I believe the next verse is crucial for how we read the new testament.  “He will glorify me,” that is when God the Holy Spirit inspires the New Testament into being he is inspiring words of Jesus’ glory into being.  The whole of this book is to be read as a praise song to the Lord Jesus.  If you read it in any other way you have wandered far off the rails of reading this book rightly.

Aside from the glory of Christ being an obvious passion of the Father, the Holy Spirit, and Scripture it is also a personal passion.  In August and September of 1999 I had the great opportunity to read about Jesus for the first time in my life.  In August of 1999 I left my home in Alabama to study at The Citadel, the Military College of South Carolina.  Wednesday of Hell Week we were escorted to the chapel where a team of chaplains greeted us and gave us Bibles.  It was not the first Bible I had ever owned, but it was the first Bible I had ever read.  By mid September I had made it clear through John’s Gospel and without knowing the cross, or the forgiveness of sins, or the adoption of sons, or of eternal life, I did know simply from reading about Jesus in John’s Gospel that Jesus was glorious.  I knew he was worth following and from that moment on I committed my life to following him.  I want to be very careful as I talk about commitment, because Christian commitment is not a work but a grace.  What do I mean by this?  Augustine described Christian commitment as grace best when he wrote:

Do not think that thou are drawn against thy will.  The mind is drawn also by love… “Delight thyself in the Lord, and He shall give thee the desires of thy heart” (Psalm37.4).  There is a pleasure of the heart to which that bread of heaven is sweet.  Moreover, if it was right in the poet to say, “Every man is drawn by his own pleasure,” –not necessity, but pleasure, not obligation, but delight, -how much more boldly ought we to say that man is drawn to Christ?…Give me a man that loves, and he feels what I say.  Give me one that longs, one that hungers, one that is travelling in this wilderness, and thirsting and panting after the fountain of his eternal home; give such and he knows what I say

– Augustine, Homilies on John’s Gospel [1]

According to Augustine, Christian commitment is commitment to the extent that a thirsty man is committed to drinking a cup of water, or a hungry man is committed to eating a sandwich.  As Augustine says I was drawn by pleasure, not obligation but delight.  To the extent that is commitment, I suppose you could say I was committed, but I hope you now see what I mean by commitment as grace rather than as work.

And finally, I want to argue that a passion for the glory of Christ is one of the key distinguishing factors between a hypocrite and a true child of heaven.  As a pastor of a church I see men and women who have a Biblically informed worldview.  I also see many men and women who profess Christ as Lord and savior.  I also see a great deal of men and women who pray, attend worship, tithe, read their Bibles etc.  But where the rubber really hits the road for me relates to the glory of Christ and the desires of the heart.  Let me draw back for a moment in order to enhance this theme somewhat.  C. S. Lewis in his Reflections on the Psalms had some interesting things to say about worship, praise, and glory and how they relate to the human heart.  He writes:

“I had not noticed either that just as men spontaneously praise whatever they value, so they spontaneously urge us to join them in praising it: “Isn’t she lovely? Wasn’t it glorious? Don’t you think that magnificent?” The Psalmists in telling everyone to praise God are doing what all men do when they speak of what they care about. My whole, more general, difficulty about the praise of God depended on my absurdly denying to us, as regards the supremely Valuable, what we delight to do, what indeed we can’t help doing, about everything else we value.”[2]

First you will notice from Lewis’ quote that all people worship something. Second you will notice that all people worship whatever they most value.  Thirdly you will notice that when people do this they take delight in it. And finally you will notice that because they delight in praising what they value, they cannot help but praise what they value. The true child of heaven worships Christ because they value him most, and delight in praising him because it is the consummation of their desire.  William Guthrie a Scottish Puritan living in the 1600’s once wrote:

“Hypocrites never apprehended Christ as the only satisfying good in all the world, for which with joy they would quite all; for then the kingdom of God were entered into them…The truly renewed man dare, and can upon good ground say, and hath a testimony of it from on high, that his heart hath been changed in taking up with Christ, and hath been led out after him, as the only enriching treasure in whom ‘to be found he accounteth all things else loss, and dung (Phil 3.8,9)”[3]

The Destruction of Sin

In regards to the destruction of sin let me first say that the destruction of sin is a calling placed up all those who have been adopted by the Father and called into the Body of Christ. “Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity,passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry” (Col 3.5).

1)      The destruction of sin directly relates to the glory of Christ.  “The name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you” (Rom 2.24).  In a recent national survey the number one reason why people said they would not become Christians was because their principle experience with Christians was one of hypocrisy.

2)      Sin can keep us from the light of Christ.  “And this is the judgment:  the light has cominto the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their deeds were evil.  For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light lest his deeds should be exposed” (John 3.19-20).  Many times in the lives of young Christians, not young in age but young in experience I have witnessed this phenomena.  They receive Christ.  Sin is dealt a crushing blow.  Their lives are visibly and dramatically changed, so much so that they begin to trust in their changed lives rather than in the God who changed it and they set up their changed life as a false God.  When that false God fails them, they withdraw from the God, from the church, and from the Godly people who have poured into them because they don’t want the sin, which they proclaimed form the rooftops as defeated to be exposed.

3)      Sin will be with us as long as we are in the body:  “So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members.” (Rom 7.21-23).  I want to be clear that this seminar is not about abolishing sin in your life.  Rather, if Paul’s words resonate with you at all take heart!  For you would not even struggle if the Spirit of God were not struggling within you.

4)      Sin will sicken the “new man”.  “So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day.”  Commenting on this verse John Owen writes:

“Paul affirms that the inward man is renewed day by day, while the outward man perishes.  Those who neglect mortification allow the inner man to perish.  Grace in the heart must have exercise.  If it is allowed to lie still, it withers and decays (Rev 3.2), and sin seeks to harden our hearts (Heb 3.13).  The omission of mortification withers grace while lust flourishes.  The frame of the heart grows worse and worse.  When sin gains a considerable victory, it breaks the bones of the soul (Psa 31.10; 51.8).  It makes a man weak, sick, and ready to die (Psa 38.3-5), so that he cannot look up (Psa 40.12). [4]

5)       If you neglect the destruction of sin you will cause both yourself and those you love enormous pain. Read the rest of this entry »





Calvin: On the distinction between faith and repentance

19 12 2011

We must first note the distinction of faith and repentance, which some do falsely and unskillfully confound, saying, that repentance is a part of faith. I grant, indeed, that they cannot be separate; because God doth illuminate no man with the Spirit of faith whom he doth not also regenerate unto newness of life. Yet they must needs be distinguished, as Paul doth in this place. For repentance is a turning unto God, when we frame ourselves and all our life to obey him; but faith is a receiving of the grace offered us in Christ. For all religion tendeth to this end, that, embracing holiness and righteousness, we serve the Lord purely, also that we seek no part of our salvation anywhere else save only at his hands, and that we seek salvation in Christ alone. Therefore, the doctrine of repentance containeth a rule of good life; it requireth the denial of ourselves, the mortifying of our flesh, and meditating upon the heavenly life. But because we be all naturally corrupt, strangers from righteousness, and turned away from God himself. Again, because we fly from God, because we know that he is displeased with us, the means, as well to obtain free reconciliation as newness of life, must be set before us.

Therefore, unless faith be added, it is in vain to speak of repentance; yea, those teachers of repentance who, neglecting faith, stand only upon the framing of life, and precepts of good works, differ nothing, or very little from profane philosophers. They teach how men must live; but, forasmuch as they leave men in their nature, there can no bettering be hoped for thence, until they invite those who are lost unto hope of salvation; until they quicken the dead, promising forgiveness of sins; until they show that God doth, by his free adoption, take those for his children who were before bond-slaves of Satan; until they teach that the Spirit of regeneration must be begged at the hands of the heavenly Father, that we must draw godliness, righteousness, and goodness, from him who is the fountain of all good things. And hereupon followeth calling upon God, which is the chiefest thing in the worship of God.

We see now how that repentance and faith are so linked together that they cannot be separate. For it is faith which reconcileth God to us, not only that he may be favorable unto us, by acquitting us of the guiltiness of death, by not imputing to us our sins, but also that by purging the filthiness of our flesh by his Spirit, he may fashion us again after his own image. He doth not, therefore, name repentance in the former place, as if it did wholly go before faith, forasmuch as a part thereof proceedeth from faith, and is an effect thereof; but because the beginning of repentance is a preparation unto faith. I call the displeasing of ourselves the beginning, which doth enforce us, after we be thoroughly touched with the fear of the wrath of God, to seek some remedy.

Faith toward Christ. It is not without cause that the Scripture doth everywhere make Christ the mark whereat our faith must aim, and as they say commonly, set him before us as the object. For the majesty of God is of itself higher than that men can climb thereunto. Therefore, unless Christ come between, all our senses do vanish away in seeking God. Again, inasmuch as he is the Judge of the world, it must needs be that the beholding of him without Christ shall make us afraid. But God doth not only represent himself unto us in Christ’s image, but also refresh us with his Fatherly favor, and by all means restore us to life. For there is no part of our salvation which may not be found in Christ. By the sacrifice of his death he hath purged our sins; he hath suffered the punishment that he might acquit us; he hath made us clean by his blood; by his obedience he hath appeased his Father’s wrath; by his resurrection he hath purchased righteousness for us. No marvel, therefore, if we said, that faith must be fixed in the beholding of Christ.

Calvin’s Commentaries, vol. XIX, pg 246-247





Jerry Bridges: If I “died to sin” why do I keep sinning?

19 12 2011

A wonderful excerpt seeking to answer an important pastoral question

The question arises, however, “if we died to sin’s dominion, why do we still struggle with sin in our daily lives?”  When Paul wrote, “We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer?” he was referring, not to the activity of committing sins, but to continuing to live under the dominion of sin.  The word live means to continue or abide in.  It connotes a settled course of life.  To use Paul’s words from Romans 8.7, “The sinful mind [one under sin’s dominion] is hostile to God.  It does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so.”  But the believer who has died to sin’s reign and dominion delights in God’s law.  the believer approves of it as holy, righteous, and good (Romans 7.12), even though he or she may struggle to obey it.

We must distinguish between the activity of sin, which is true in all believers, and the dominion of sin, which is true of all unbelievers.  Sinclair Ferguson has written, “Sin is not primarily an activity of man’s will so much as a captivity which man suffers, as an alien power grips his soul.  It is an axiom [John] Owen [whose teaching Ferguson is summarizing] that while the presence of sin can never be abolished in this life, nor the influence of sin altered (its tendency is always the same), its dominion can, indeed, must be destroyed if a man is to be a Christian.

Therefore a believer cannot continue in sin.  We no longer live in the realm of sin, under its reign and practical dominion.  We have, to use Paul’s words, died to sin.  We indeed do sin and even our best deeds are stained with sin, but our attitude toward it is essentially different from that of an unbeliever.  We succumb to temptations, either from our own evil desires (James 1.13), or from the world or the Devil (Ephesians 2.1-3), but this is different from a settled disposition.  Further, to paraphrase from Ferguson on John Owen, our sin is a burden that afflicts us rather than a pleasure that delights us.

The late Scottish theologian John Murray wrote on Romans 6.2, “What the apostle has in view is the once for all definitive breach with sin which constitutes the identity of the believer.”  A believer cannot therefore live in sin; if a man lives in sin he is not a believer.  If we view sin as a realm or sphere then the believer no longer lives in that realm or sphere.

My perception of present-day Christendom is that most believers have little understanding of what Dr. Murray calls the “once-for-all definitive breach with sin.”  But it is this decisive deliverance from the dominion of sin through union with Christ in His death that ensures that a true believer will not have the cavalier attitude, “Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase?”  If a person does have such an attitude, it is a likely indication that the person is not a true believer, however much he or she professes to have trusted in Christ for salvation.

Bridges, The Disciplines of Grace, pg 72

buy the book here 





Dante, Sin, Repentance, and Desire

19 12 2011

One of the things I’ve learned through my reading of Scripture and my experience of the Christian life, is that spiritual growth is not so much about restraining old (sinful) desires but about gaining new, godly desires.  But in order for this to happen, our desires must be changed and this is the root of the Christian concept of repentance.  Repentance is not merely a conscious turning away from the world towards God, but on a deeper level it is exchanging old desires for new ones.  The new desires are not sinful but Godly, and they are to be enjoyed.  So the Christian life is not so much about restraining desire, as it is about indulging desire (the right desires!).  But how do we understand this?  And more importantly, how do we go about doing it?

Dante Alighieri’s Inferno contains a treasure of Augustinian theology wrapped in stunning verse after stunning verse. It also has much to say on the nature of sin, deisre, and repentance.   So we will turn to his most famous work,  The Divine Comedy, but particularly to the inferno to help us understand the complex interplay of sin, repentance and desire.

In the passage below we find our travelers in the eighth circle of hell (also in the eighth bolgia) with the “evil counselors”. The evil counselor we are here concerned with is Count Guido Da Montefeltro.[1] He was a “man of arms” who laid down the sword to become a Franciscan monk.Unfortunately, Pope Boniface VIII, who Dante describes as the new “Prince of Pharisees” persuades the new monk to use his old skills as a warrior to help him persecute a Christian land that he was hoping to acquire.  He does so with these words:

“Your soul need fear no wound; I absolve your guilt beforehand; and now teach me how to smash Penestrino to the ground.”[2]

With the assurance that the power to forgive sins rests with the Pope, our monk goes on to counsel him how to defeat his fellow Christians to acquire land and wealth for himself.  Thus, the monk becomes a “false counselor.”

For the purposes of the discussion we wish to have, “sin, repentance and desire” what happens next is far more interesting.  St. Francis, hearing that one of his monks is in Hell, goes to Hell to rescue him.  However, Francis is turned away at the gate.  We read of the account starting at vs. 109:

“Later, when I was dead, St. Francis came to claim my soul, but one of the Black Angels said: ‘Leave him.  Do not wrong me.  This one’s name went into my book the moment he resolved to give false counsel.  Since then he has been mine, for who does not repent cannot be absolved, nor can we admit the possibility of repenting a thing at the same time it is willed, for the two acts are contradictory.”[3]

What is important to notice about Dante’s theology of repentance is how closely it is tied to his theology of desire.  First let us notice what repentance is not.

1.  Repentance is not a turning to God to gain forgiveness

2.  Repentance is not a turning to God to avoid punishment

The essence of repentance for Dante is that the human will is turned towards God and away from all things that  are not God, or “no God” as Barth would say.  The repentance described above is a turning away from sin to gain forgiveness, or to avoid punishment, but it is not a turning towards God for God’s sake.  It is a turning towards God for something else.  The point being, at the end of the day, our monk still does not desire or will after God.  If fear of punishment were removed, he would still sin because that is his desire.  This excludes any possibility of repentance.

Genuine repentance (and genuine Christian discipleship) is not about restraining sinful behavior, it is about changing desires.  Hundreds of years later, it is Martin Luther who helpfully draws the distinction between restraint and a new creation.  He writes:

Every law was given to hinder sins.  Does this mean when the Law restrains sins, it justifies?  Not at all.  When I refrain from killing or from committing adultery or from stealing, or when I abstain from other sins, I do not do this voluntarily or from the love of virtue but because I am afraid of the sword and of the executioner.  This prevents me, as the ropes or the chains prevent a lion or a bear from ravaging something that comes along.  Therefore restraining from sin is not a sin of righteousness, but rather an indication of unrighteousness…This restraint makes it abundantly clear that those who have need of it- as does everyone outside of Christ- are not righteous but unrighteous and insane, whom it is necessary to tame with the rope and with prison to keep from sinning[4].

– Luther, Commentary on Galatians 1535  vs. 3.19

The problem for Luther is that restraint, like Dante’s false repentance, is not done voluntarily but under coercion.  The heart is not changed, it is corralled.  What then is the remedy?  For Dante, as for Luther, the remedy is a new heart, with new desires, and a new will.  One that can voluntarily turn to God.  How then is this accomplished?  We catch a glimpse from the source of both men’s thoughts, that is in Augustine who commenting on John 6..44 “No man comes to me unless the Father draws him”, writes:

Do not think that thou are drawn against thy will.  The mind is drawn also by love… “Delight thyself in the Lord, and He shall give thee the desires of thy heart” (Psalm37.4).  There is a pleasure of the heart to which that bread of heaven is sweet.  Moreover, if it was right in the poet to say, “Every man is drawn by his own pleasure,” –not necessity, but pleasure, not obligation, but delight, -how much more boldly ought we to say that man is drawn to Christ?…Give me a man that loves, and he feels what I say.  Give me one that longs, one that hungers, one that is travelling in this wilderness, and thirsting and panting after the fountain of his eternal home; give such and he knows what I say[5].

– Augustine, Homilies on John’s Gospel

The important thing to highlight about Augustine, especially in terms of repentance, is that God replaces our desire for worldly things by luring us away from them by showing us Himself, which is infinitely more lovely, infinitely more valuable, and infinitely sweeter than all our other lusts and desires.  This is the Christian’s experience of Rom 2.4, “it is God’s kindness that leads us to repentance.”  When God shows us his kindness, it is an irresistible beauty that compels us to repentance.  For Luther especially, this kindness is demonstrated most clearly on the cross, and nowhere is it more beautiful, or more alluring, than the savior who suffers for the ungodly.

When God draws men and women to himself, by showing himself to them, they begin to desire him.  So they repent.  Their repentance is both voluntary and genuine.  Rather than sinning freely and repenting grudgingly, they not repent freely and sin grudgingly.  So it can be said that their will has changed, their desire has changed, and their heart has changed. May God draw you and I daily by the beauty of the crucified Savior, away from the things of this world that we might desire him, and have our desire!


[1] Canto XXVII

[2] Canto XXVII.97

[3] Canton XXVII.109

[4] LW. Vol 26 pg 308

[5] Augustine, Homilies on John’s Gospel Tractate XXVI.4 NPNF vol. 7 pg 169