Reflections on The Baptist Confession of Faith 1689: Part 14 ~ Saving Faith

Today we continue our series on Gospel Convergence concerning the 1689 Baptist Confession of Faith; each week I will reflect on a chapter of the Confession.  I would encourage you to pick up a copy of the confession and read along with me.

The Power to Believe

What exactly is ‘Saving Faith’?  The Confession answers in this way: ‘whereby the elect are enabled to believe to the saving of their souls’ (pg. 68).  In essence ‘Saving Faith’ is the God-given power to believe in Jesus and share in salvation.  Essentially, this is the Reformed way of speaking about faith as opposed to the Arminian understanding of faith.1689 - Final

The Confession argues that there are three ways in which the elect are given the power to believe.  First, it is ‘the work of the Spirit of Christ in their hearts’ (pg. 68).  Paul speaking of salvation in terms of being transformed into the image of Jesus confesses that ‘this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit’ (2 Cor. 3:18).  Therefore the power to believe comes first from the Spirit.  However, this often comes by means.  Second, then, the Confession states that this is ‘ordinarily wrought by the ministry of the Word’ (pg. 68).  This is of course famously supported by Romans 10: ‘how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard?  And how are they to hear without someone preaching? …faith comes through hearing and hearing through the word of Christ’ (vv. 14, 17).  However, it can be supported elsewhere in Scripture.  One of the major points of the Minor Prophets is that God speaks, and through that Word shapes His people.  Haggai evidences that:

The word of the LORD cam by the hand of Haggai the prophet…Thus says the LORD of hosts (1:1-2)

The word of the LORD came by the hand of Haggai the prophet (2:1)

The word of the LORD came by the hand of Haggai the prophet, Thus says the LORD of hosts (2:10-11)

The word of the LORD came a second time to Haggai (2:20)

The Word is not the only means though.  Third, the Confession identifies other sacraments/means of grace which increase and strengthen this faith.  ‘Saving Faith’ ‘by the administration of baptism and the Lord’s Supper, prayer and other means appointed of God, it is increased and strengthened’ (pg. 68).  Sadly, the Protestant church have been prone to shy away from understanding these disciplines as means of grace, strengthening ‘Saving Faith’, giving the elect the power to believe.  But the Confession gets it right!

Believe what?

‘Saving Faith’ is an all-encompassing faith though.  It does not just give us the ability to believe in Jesus and share salvation.  Rather, it aids us in knowing, understanding and trusting God more.  Here are some of the things identified by the Confession, ‘By this faith a Christian believeth…

  • To be true whatsoever is revealed in the Word.
  • The glory of God in His attributes, the excellency of Christ in His nature and offices and the power of the Spirit in His workings and operations
  • Yielding obedience to the commands
  • Trembling at the threatening
  • Embracing the promises of God in this life and that which is to come

Even so, ‘the principal acts of saving faith have immediate relation to Christ, accepting, receiving and resting upon Him alone for justification, sanctification and eternal life’ (pg. 69).

Sure Belief

Indeed, this ‘Saving Faith’ goes all the way to assurance.  ‘[T]hough it may be many times assailed and weakened, yet it gets the victory, growing up in many to the attainment of full assurance through Christ ‘ (pg. 69).  We desire to have ‘all the riches of full assurance’ (Col. 2:2) and the Confession assures us that this is possible, we may have ‘the full assurance of hope until the end’ (Heb. 6:11), and that because of ‘Saving Faith’ wrought in us by the Spirit through the Word.

Adoration

I haven’t always taken the time to consider application for the different chapters of the Confession.  Sometimes it would elongate the post too much, and other times the application is evident within the reflection.  However, today’s reflection could cause a little irritation with those of an Arminian persuasion.  Some Christians will repeatedly assert that they chose Christ, freely and willingly.  I don’t deny that.  What the Confession states in chapter 14 does not deny that.  God in His great grace, love and favour, subtly drew us toward himself by His power – this is ‘Saving Faith’.  Often this realisation does not dawn until a while after conversion and yet when it does the only response can be adoration of God’s greatness, power and compassion…

Struggling to adore God?  Consider His exercise of ‘Saving Faith’.

 

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Reflections on The Baptist Confession of Faith 1689: Part 13 ~ Sanctification

Today we continue our series on Gospel Convergence concerning the 1689 Baptist Confession of Faith; each week I will reflect on a chapter of the Confession.  I would encourage you to pick up a copy of the confession and read along with me.

Balance

Like almost everything in the Christian life, sanctification is about balance!  It seems that the doctrine of sanctification has long suffered from imbalanced views through many 1689 - Finalperiods of church history.  In the early nineteenth century we can observe the origins of a movement which came to be known as the holiness movement.  This movement still impacts Christian thinking and living today.  Essentially it calls for perfection in the believer’s life, while assuring that it is in fact attainable.  On the other hand, we have some who argue that because of our total depravity holiness is a ‘Disney dream’ that cannot be realised here and now (recently seen amongst members of The Gospel Coalition).  The difficultly is that each of these positions possesses some truth.

It is my contention that the Confession brings balance to the proceedings.

Sanctification

While sanctification is widely accepted as ongoing throughout the life of the believer, we must remember that it is also another aspect of salvation.  The Confession explains this neatly:

They who are united to Christ, effectually called, and regenerated, having a new heart and a new spirit created in them through the virtue of Christ’s death and resurrection, are also farther sanctified, really and personally (pg. 66).

So as we have considered effectual calling, justification and adoption over the past few weeks, we now note that sanctification is a continuation of that process.  Being a continuation, the Confession reminds us that it is effected by the same means, ‘through the same virtue, by His Word and Spirit dwelling in them’ (pg. 66).  Sanctification takes place in the believer as they have both the Word (Ps. 1:2; Matt. 4:4) and the Spirit (Gal. 5:22-23; 2 Thess. 2:13; 1 Peter 1:2) at work in their heart and mind.

Essentially the call in sanctification is to be holy.  This is an exhortation which has echoed throughout the Old Testament (Lev. 11:44; 19:2; Deut. 23:14; Ezk. 44:23; Hosea 11:12) and is then reiterated in the New Testament (1 Peter 1:15-16).  In this call to be holy the Confession assures that:

[T]he dominion of the whole body of sin is destroyed and the several lusts thereof are more and more weakened and mortified, and they more and more quickened and strengthened in all saving graces, to the practice of all true holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord. (pg. 66)

Reality

But, unlike the imbalanced points of view mentioned in our introduction, the Confession maintains the reality.  Yes, that last quotation may sound triumphant and worthy of the holiness movement.  However, the Confession states emphatically that our striving for sanctification will not lead to perfection.  While sanctification does indeed pervade the ‘whole man’, it does so imperfectly.  There remains ‘remnants of corruption in every part’ which thus result in a war between the flesh and the Spirit.  This reality is the picture painted by Paul in Romans 7:

For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am of the flesh, sold under sin. For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good. So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me.  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. Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin. (vv. 14-25)

This, however, is no excuse for laziness on our part.

Progress

For the Confession proceeds to state that progress must be evident:

In which war, although the remaining corruptions may for a time much prevail, yet through the continual supply of strength from the sanctifying Spirit of Christ, the regenerate part doth overcome; and so the saints grow in grace, perfecting holiness in the fear of God, pressing after an heavenly life, in evangelical obedience to all the commands which Christ as head and King, in His Word hath prescribed to them. (pg. 67)

Consequently, the man who wrote about the battle raging within himself, could later write: ‘Since we have these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from every defilement of body and spirit, bringing holiness to completion in the fear of God’ (1 Cor. 7:1; also see Rom. 6:14).

Keeping our Balance

Getting this aspect of salvation and Christian living correct will aid us in keeping our balance.  If we are prone to pride sanctification will quickly correct us.  The standard is holiness like God.  In other words, perfection.  So, while we may have achieved a good standard in some aspect of our life we are not yet perfect in it – and undoubtedly much less than perfect in some other aspect.  If we are prone to despair sanctification carries a remedy for us.  God is at work in us to make us holy; we strive ourselves to increase our holiness; and when we fail this process continues again, and again, and again.  The standard is unattainable in the here and now, so do not despair.  However, this is not a licence to slack for without holiness we will not see the Lord (Heb. 12:14).

Reflections on the Baptist Confession of Faith 1689: Part 12 ~ Adoption

Today we continue our series on Gospel Convergence concerning the 1689 Baptist Confession of Faith; each week I will reflect on a chapter of the Confession.  I would encourage you to pick up a copy of the confession and read along with me.

A Close Connection

This week’s chapter is actually very closely connected with last week’s chapter.  The Confession states this explicitly: ‘All those that are justified, God vouchsafed, in and for the sake of His only Son Jesus Christ, to make partakers of the grace of adoption’ (pg. 65).  If the beauty of last week wasn’t enough for you, in addition to being justified we are now adopted!  In his letter to the Ephesians the Apostle Paul reminds the church that God had ‘predestined them for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ’ (1:5).  This is something which had already expanded on in an earlier letter:

I mean that the heir, as long as he is a child, is no different from a slave, though he is the owner of everything, but he is under guardians and managers until the date set by his father. In the same way we also, when we were children, were enslaved to the elementary principles of the world. But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God. (Gal. 4:1-7)

1689 - FinalDespite this chapter of the Confession being only one paragraph long, it squeezes eight benefits of adoption into that short paragraph.  Here they are:

  1. Through adoption we enjoy all the liberties and privileges of the children of God. John tells the readers of his Gospel that all who believe in Jesus have been given the right to become children of God (1:12).  As children we enjoy privileges and liberties, such as being fellow heirs with Jesus Christ (Rom. 8:17)
  2. Through adoption we have the name of God written on us. We now belong, are owned and have a home.  The great promise at the end of Scripture is that one day we will stand face to face with God (who through adoption is our Father), yet not only will we see His face, but His name will be written on us (Rev. 22:4).
  3. Through adoption we receive the Spirit of adoption. This phrase comes from Romans 8:15, and simply speaks of the Holy Spirit – but we have Him living in us because of our adoption.
  4. Through the indwelling of the Spirit of adoption we also have direct access to God (or the throne of grace as the Confession puts it). This is graphically depicted by the Paul’s use of the phrase ‘Abba, Father’ (Rom. 8:15; Gal. 4:6).  While there is debate about the formality of the phrase, all are agreed on the intimacy of it.  We speak to God directly, as our Father, because we have been adopted as His children.
  5. Through adoption we now have the assurance of God’s pity, protection, providence and punishment. Our Father pities us, has compassion for us (Ps. 103:13); He protects us, He is our refuge (Prv. 14:26); Our Father provides all our needs, His care for us is evidenced (1 Peter 5:7); Our Father punishes us, disciplines us, ensures we stay close to Him (Heb. 12:5-11).
  6. Through adoption we have the assurance that we will never be cast off, our standing as children is secure. Jude assures his readers that they are ‘kept for Jesus Christ’ (v. 1) and reminds them it is God who ‘is able to keep you’ (v. 24).
  7. Through adoption we are sealed by the Holy Spirit for the day of redemption. Paul explains that when we hear the gospel and believe in Jesus we are sealed with the promised Holy Spirit (Eph. 1:13), it is this that has sealed us for the day of redemption (Eph. 4:30) allowing us the knowledge that we will not be cast off.
  8. Through adoption we will inherit the promises of everlasting salvation. We end where we began to a degree, the privileges of adoption.  We will inherit salvation, and all that accompanies that (Heb. 1:14).

All of this, says the Confession, is what we partake in as justified sinners!

Reflections on The Baptist Confession of Faith 1689: Part 11 ~ Justification

Today we pick up again our series on Gospel Convergence concerning the 1689 Baptist Confession of Faith; each week I will reflect on a chapter of the Confession.  I would encourage you to pick up a copy of the confession and read along with me.

Just-as-if…

Justification – almost every time I hear this word used it is then defined as ‘Just-as-if-you-had-never-sinned’.  In some respects this is a helpful way to think about it, but in other respects it is woefully inadequate.  So what is justification, and what is it not?

The Confession begins to build a multifaceted picture by asserting that justification is: freely given by God, a pardoning/overlooking of sins, an accounting and accepting (on God’s part) of people as righteous, of Jesus Christ due to his obedience to and fulfilling of the Law, and the imputing of the righteousness of Christ to people.  In other words, because of what Jesus has done individuals can be declared right before God.  On the other hand it claims that justification is not: infused into people by God, earned by people through anything they do, and caused by faith, belief or obedience in any respect (1689 - Finalpg. 62).  In other words it is a gift of God.

What we find then, is that the concept of justification is a much richer tapestry than ‘Just-as-if-you-had-never-sinned’.  The Confession is able to mention all of the subtle nuances while keeping the central thread of justification.

By Faith

As Paul asserts, so agrees the Confession; ‘one is justified by faith’ (Rom. 3:28).  However, have we not just noted that the Confession claims that justification is not caused by faith?  Yes we have, but as it clarifies, faith alone is the ‘instrument of justification’ (pg. 62-63).  Faith is receiving and resting on Jesus and his righteousness – therefore justification remains something achieved by Jesus alone, but applied to individuals by the instrument of faith.

The evidence that this has taken place is then displayed in that faith is never found alone – it is always accompanied by ‘all other saving graces’ (pg. 63).  Faith is the instrument by which we receive and rest on Jesus’ righteousness; this in turn leads to a new life demonstrated by the exercising of all other saving graces.

In Christ

Therefore, as the Confession proceeds to clarify, justification is not because of faith but rather is found in Jesus Christ.  By his obedience and death Jesus has discharged the debt which lay against those who are justified.  By his sacrifice and shedding of blood Jesus endured the justified person’s penalty, thus making a proper, real and full satisfaction of God’s justice.  So, justification is in Christ – freely given by grace, executing full justice and ultimately for the glorification of God’s name.

Justification is not ‘Just-as-if-you-had-never-sinned’ – it is ‘even though you are a sinner, the perfect Jesus has won salvation for you and gifted it to you’.  And so you are now declared right before God.

At a particular Time, and for all Time

Justification, according to the Confession, then takes place at a particular time and for all time.

Even though, as we noted a couple of weeks ago (Effectual Calling), God has chosen and predestined those whom he will glorify (Rom. 8:29-30) his people are not justified personally ‘until the Holy Spirit doth in due time actually apply Christ unto them’ (pg. 64).  In other words, there is a particular time in history at which individuals are justified – otherwise known as conversion.

Yet, justification is not constrained to the temporal.  It is for all time; although justified individuals may ‘fall under God’s fatherly displeasure’ they can never ‘fall from the state of justification’ (pg. 64).  This is something we will return to in future weeks, and so we won’t dwell on it here.  However, suffice to say that once justified, always justified.  Indeed, the Confession closes this chapter by suggesting that the Old Testament believers are justified in all respects with the same justification as New Testament believers (pg. 64).

Galatians

The book of Galatians is a great rallying cry from Paul for the churches of Galatia to hold tight to this doctrine of justification as presented in the gospel he preached to them.  At the heart of the letter Paul reminds them that:

No one can justify themselves, nothing we do can make us right before God.  Rather, it is by faith, in Jesus, that we can be declared right before God, by God, in perfect justice. (Gal. 2:16 – my loose paraphrase)