Can I love Jesus and dislike the Church?

alone in church

Although this line of thought is prevalent today, it seems it is not new.  John Stott, writing almost seventy years ago, notes “‘Hostile to the church, friendly to Jesus Christ.’  These words describe large numbers of people, especially young people, today.” (Basic Christianity, pg. 7).  So can we love Jesus and dislike the church?

In short, the answer is NO!

Jesus Loves the Church

We cannot love Jesus and dislike the church because Jesus loves the church.  The Apostle Paul makes this point explicit whenever he writes to the church in Ephesus.  He tells them that ‘Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her’ (Eph. 5:25).  Jesus loves the church, and displayed that love in a tangible act by giving himself up for her – in other words dying, spilling his own blood for her (Acts 20:28).  As the hymn puts it:

From Heav’n He came and sought her
To be His holy bride;
With His own blood He bought her
And for her life He died.[1]

The cross is the supreme act of love, and Jesus’ death on the cross was not for individual people here and there, but for the church of God spread across all nations, tribes and languages (Rev. 5:9-10).  Not only does Jesus show his love for the church in giving up his life for her; but he also displays it in waiting for the church to be presented to him in perfection in the new heavens and new earth (Rev. 19:7-9).

Turning Your Back on Jesus

In fact, even asking the question ‘can I love Jesus and dislike the church?’ reveals a dangerous presupposition in our thinking.  To dislike the church is actually to turn our back on Jesus – we cannot love Jesus if we don’t love the very thing he gave his life to rescue.  That means our choice of Jesus over the church is actually a choice of our opinion over Scripture, because as we have seen the Bible clearly tells us that Jesus loves the church.  John Piper puts it this way:

[T]he Bible is where we meet Jesus…You can’t make him up. He is the Jesus of the Bible or he is the Jesus of your imagination.  If he is the Jesus of the Bible, you take the whole Jesus.  You can’t carve him up in pieces.  And the whole Jesus is the Jesus who loves the church. He died for the church.

Therefore, if we say we love Jesus we must love his Word, and as a result we cannot but love his church.  As Mark Dever warns, ‘if you don’t like the church, you may not really like Jesus’ (The Church: A Summary and Reflection in Understanding the Times: New Testament Studies in the 21st Century, pg. 87).

[1] S. J. Stone, The Church’s One Foundation, 1866.

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Reflections on The Baptist Confession of Faith 1689: Part 18 ~ Assurance

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 Tricky Business

The topic of assurance is indeed a tricky business, and the Confession openly acknowledges that this is the case.  It is possible, argues the Confession, for unregenerate men to ‘vainly deceive themselves with false hopes and carnal presumptions of being in the favour of God and state of salvation’ and yet for them to find that this ‘hope of theirs shall perish’ (pg. 79).  Nonetheless, it is also possible to be certain of our salvation and have assurance of eternal life with Christ.  The Confession puts it this way:

[Y]et such as truly believe in the Lord Jesus, and love him in sincerity, endeavouring to walk in all good conscience before Him, may in this life be certainly assured that they are in the state of grace, and may rejoice in the hope of the glory of God, which hope shall never make them ashamed. (pg. 79)

This is why it is such a tricky business, because some people who enjoy assurance are simply deceiving themselves, while others are not.  If we are assured of our salvation which camp do we fall into?  How can we tell?

First John

First John is perhaps the place to turn in order to test whether our assurance is legitimate or not.  Toward the end of his letter John reveals that the purpose of writing this letter is so that his readers ‘may know that you have eternal life’ (5:13).  This is achieved by a checklist of sorts.

First, John tells his readers that a holy lifestyle is evidence of a legitimate assurance.  He writes ‘if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus cleanses us from all sin’ (1:7).  Again, ‘you may be sure that everyone who practices righteousness has been born of him.’ (2:29); then it is stated negatively, ‘No one born of God makes a practice of sinning’ (3:9).

Second, and undoubtedly as part of this holy living, those who enjoy legitimate assurance obey God’s commands.  John tells us ‘by this we know that we have come to know him, if we keep his commandments’ (2:3).

Third, legitimate assurance is evidenced by true love for Christian brothers and sisters.  ‘Whoever loves his brother abides in the light, and in him there is no cause for stumbling’ (2:10).  Later in the letter, John then urges ‘Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God’ (4:7).

Fourth, assurance can be confirmed by the presence of the Holy Spirit in one’s life.  This is not necessarily evinced by speaking in tongues, delivering prophecies or orchestrating miraculous healing.  Rather, John, speaking of the Holy Spirit, writes ‘But the anointing that you received from him abides in you, and you have no need that anyone should teach you.  But as his anointing teaches you about everything, and is true, and is no lie – just as it has taught you, abide in him’ (2:27).  Twice more John explains to his readers that we know God abides in us because of the Spirit he has given us (3:24; 4:13).

Fifthly, assurance can be trusted when we live with a clear conscience.  John writes lovingly, ‘Beloved, if our heart does not condemn us, we have confidence before God’ (3:21).

Finally, in this brief race through 1 John, we are told that assurance can rest on a right doctrine also.  John explains that a right confession about who Jesus is offers us assurance.  ‘By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God’ (4:2).  Indeed, ‘[w]hoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God (4:15).  Finally, it is true that ‘[e]veryone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God’ (5:1).

This is by no means a comprehensive survey of 1 John, and it is not a case of picking and choosing the elements which suit you.  Rather, if all of these things are true of you then you ‘may know that you have eternal life’ (5:13).

The Confession

We return to the Confession again.  It is possible after reading1689 - Final the above ‘checklist’ that we may be fooled into thinking that our assurance rests on all the things we do and believe, but that would be a mistake.  Our assurance can only be assurance when it is based on the object of Jesus, rather than our subjective feelings based on our ‘spiritual performance’ this week.  The Confession makes clear:

This certainty is not bare conjectural and probable persuasion grounded upon fallible hope, but an infallible assurance of faith found upon the blood and righteousness of Christ revealed in the gospel (pg. 79).

That being said, assurance is not a golden ticket that has booked us a seat in heaven despite our lives here on earth.  Our sin: wounding our conscience, submitting to temptation, negligence in spiritual disciplines all contribute to a diminished and shaken assurance (pg. 81).  And rightly so, lest we presume on Christ’s sacrifice for sin we still revel in!

Moreover, even though it is certainly founded wholly on Jesus sacrifice, we do have the responsibility of making our calling and election sure so that our ‘heart may be enlarged in peace and joy in the Holy Spirit, in love and thankfulness to God, and in strength and cheerfulness in the duties of obedience, the proper fruits of this assurance’ (pg. 80).

Reflections on The Baptist Confession of Faith 1689: Part 17 ~ Perseverance of the Saints

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. 1689 - Final

Being Kept

The Confession is keen to reinforce this splendid promise which is peppered throughout Scripture.  We are, argues the Confession, everlastingly saved – once saved, always saved.  In other words, we are being kept.  The perseverance of the saints is the reality that God’s people ‘can neither totally nor finally fall from the state of grace, but shall certainly persevere therein to the end, and be eternally saved’ (pg. 76).  The promise is that ‘though many storms and floods arise and beat against them, yet they shall never be able to take them off that foundation and rock which by faith they are fastened upon’ (pg. 76).

My preferred expression of this doctrine in Scripture is Jesus’ precious words in John 10:

My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.  I give them eternal life, and they will never perish and no one will snatch them out of my hand.  My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. (vv. 27-29)

However, both Paul and John make the same promises!  Paul assures the Philippian church that ‘he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ’ (1:6).  John, identifying the false teachers troubling the believers he writes to, confirms that those who are truly Christians continue in the faith (1 Jn. 2:19).  The perseverance of the saints is our being kept, and that being kept is an act of God.

By God

That this is indeed a work of God is expressed explicitly by the Confession: ‘[Christians] shall be sure to be kept by the power of God unto salvation’ (pg. 76).  He does do this through means, such as: faith, repentance, love, joy, hope and ‘all the graces of the Spirit’ (pg. 76).  However, in the end it is unmistakably God who has kept His saints:

The perseverance of the saints depends not upon their own free will, but upon the mutability of the decree of election, flowing from the free and unchangeable love of God the Father, upon the efficacy of the merit and intercession of Jesus Christ and union with him, the oath of God, the abiding of His Spirit, and the seed of God within them, and the nature of the covenant of grace; from all which ariseth also the certainty and infallibility thereof. (pg. 77)

Again, we see this expressed in Scripture as Jude both begins and closes his letter with the concept of perseverance.  He begins by encouraging the church with the knowledge that they are ‘kept for Jesus Christ’ (v. 1) and closes by reminding them that it is God ‘who is able to keep you’ (v. 24).

Against All Hope?

This is not to say that we are perfect, nor that we need not watch our life and doctrine closely since God will keep us.  In fact, Jude also reminds his readers that they must ‘keep yourselves in the love of God’ (v. 21).  We are not perfect, and we will neglect our life and doctrine at times.  The Confession is clear about this.  We will be tempted, corrupted, fall into sin, continue in sin, neglect means of grace, and grieve the Holy Spirit.  As a result we will impair our graces and comforts, harden our hearts, wound our conscience, scandalise others and bring judgement on ourselves.  Yet against all hope we will persevere:

Yet shall they renew their repentance and be preserved through faith in Jesus Christ to the end. (pg.78)

The reason this is a certainty is because Christians are those ‘who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time’ (1 Peter 1:5).

Reflections on The Baptist Confession of Faith 1689: Part 16 ~ Good Works

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.

What are Good Works?

It may seem strange to begin here.  Surely everyone knows what ‘good works’ are.  Being nice, talking politely, holding doors open, generosity with money, etc.  However, the Confession doesn’t let people develop their own list of ‘good works’.  Rather, it begins by stating explicitly that ‘good works’ are only those things which are found in the Bible.  ‘Good works’, argues the Confession, ‘are only such as God has commanded in His Holy Word’ (pg. 72).  Indeed, the prophet Micah tells God’s people ‘He has told you, O man, what is good’ (6:8).

I suppose the reason that the Confession ensures we don’t begin to develop our own list of ‘good works’ is because Scripture reveals the propensity humanity has to follow their own man-made rules over and against God’s.  God bitingly chides His people through the prophet Isaiah that they ‘honour’ Him with their lips, but their hearts are far from Him because they follow the commands of men (29:13).  Jesus picks up this passage from Isaiah calling the leaders of Israelite worship ‘Hypocrites!’ as they teach the commands of men as doctrines (Matt. 15:7, 9).

Before moving on we must also note where these ‘good works’ come from and how they are accepted by God.  These ‘good works’ are initiated and enabled by the Holy Spirit.  The Confession states: ‘Their ability to do good works is not at all of themselves, but wholly from the Spirit of Christ…there is necessary an actual influence of the same Holy Spirit, to work in them to will and to do of His good pleasure’ (pg. 73).  Moreover, these ‘good works’ are only accepted by God in Jesus.  The Confession explains: ‘the persons of believers being accepted through Christ, their good works are also accepted in Him…[God] looking upon them in His Son, is pleased to accept and reward that which is sincere, although accompanied with many weaknesses and imperfections’ (pg. 74-75).1689 - Final

What they do…

‘Good works’ are not just an end in themselves, but also lead to a number of benefits:

  1. ‘Good works’ evidence new life in a believer. Last week we considered repentance, the turning from sin to a new life of obedience.  It follows then that a life full of ‘good works’ (remembering that ‘good works’ are those things set out in Scripture) evidences new life.  Someone whose life is full of ‘good works’ displays that they are indeed an individual of faith, a follower of the Way.  James is perhaps the starkest defence of this position – ‘I will show you my faith by my works…faith completed by his works…faith apart from works is dead.’ (2:18, 22, 26).
  2. ‘Good works’ manifest thankfulness in the life of a believer. The Psalmist poses the question ‘What shall I render to the LORD for all his benefits to me?’ (116:12), the answer supplied is ‘offer to you the sacrifice of thanksgiving’ (116:17).  ‘Good works’ are simply a manifestation of the thankfulness we feel for God as a result of all His goodness, grace and love for us!
  3. In a similar vein to evidencing new life, ‘good works’ also strengthen a believer’s assurance. Many believers struggle with doubt, lack of assurance and question the genuineness of their faith, but the Confession would encourage you to examine your life.  Do you see ‘good works’, then be assured that God is at work in your life.  In his forthright letter John assures his readers: ‘by this we know that we have come to know him, if we keep his commandments…whoever keeps his word, in him truly the love of God is perfected.  By this may we know that we are in him…walk in the same way in which he walked.’ (2:3, 5-6).
  4. Our ‘good works’ also edify the saints. To see a brother or sister executing ‘good works’ on a regular sustained basis brings great joy to a believer’s heart.  Our ‘good works’ build one another up, strengthen one another, comfort one another, encourage one another, challenge one another.  This is exactly the point Paul makes after delivering a list of ethical imperatives in both Romans and 1 Thessalonians (14:9; 5:11).
  5. In the language of the Confession, ‘good works’ adorn the gospel. Not only do brothers and sister in Christ look on, but the world also looks on.  As they do, ‘good works’ offer a good representation of the gospel.  How often have you heard of someone seriously entertain thoughts of responding to the gospel in light of the ‘good works’ of a Christian?  Scripture makes this point repeatedly.  Jesus charges his listeners to ‘let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your father who is in heaven.’ (Matt. 5:16).  Again, Peter urges the churches of the dispersion to ‘keep your conduct among the Gentiles honourable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation.’ (1 Peter 2:12).
  6. Closely connected to the above point, ‘good works’ stop the mouths of evildoers. This is perhaps most strongly argued for in Titus as Paul urges the members of the church in Crete to act righteously ‘so that an opponent may be put to shame, having nothing evil to say about us.’ (Titus 2:8).
  7. An overarching benefit to ‘good works’, and in many ways the pinnacle reason for endeavouring to do ‘good works’ is surely the glory of God. This is the reason that both Jesus and Peter gave for Christians doing ‘good works’ in adorning the gospel – so that glory may be given to God (Matt. 5:16; 1 Peter 2:12).
  8. Finally, ‘good works’ lead to eternal life. In no sense to they achieve it for us, but they are the way in which we should walk and in walking in ‘good works’ we will find ourselves walking into eternal life.  Paul writes ‘But now you have been set free from sin and have become slaves to God, the fruit you get leads to sanctification and its end, eternal life.’ (Rom. 6:22).

What they don’t…

There are some things which the Confession is at pains to point out that ‘good works’ don’t do:

‘Good works’ do not make us perfect:

They who in their obedience attain to the greatest height which is possible in this life, are so far from being able to supererogate, and to do more than God requires, as that they fall short of much which in duty they are bound to do. (pg. 73)

‘Good works’ can never pardon sin:

We cannot by our best works merit pardon of sin or eternal life at the hand of God, by reason of the great disproportion that is between them and the glory to come, and the infinite distance that is between us and God, whom by them we can neither profit nor satisfy for the debt of our former sins’ (pg. 74).

‘Good works’ cannot excuse us:

Works done by unregenerate men, although for the matter of them they may things which God commands, and of good use both to themselves and to others; yet because they proceed not from a heart purified by faith, nor are done in a right manner according to the Word, nor to a right end, the glory of God, they are therefore sinful, and cannot please God, nor make a man meet to receive the grace from God, and yet their neglect of them is more sinful and displeasing to God. (pg.75)

Reflections on The Baptist Confession of Faith 1689: Part 15 ~ Repentance

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.

Puritanical

I can remember the first time I really considered repentance as a vital doctrine in the life of1689 - Final a Christian – it was roughly three years ago when I read Thomas Watson’s The Doctrine of Repentance.  This short Puritan Paperback captured my attention and pressed upon me the vitality that repentance brings to the Christian life (A Grief Observed: Inwardly Humbled, Visibly Reformed was one post growing out of that).  Therefore, while a call for repentance, sorrow and grief may come across a little puritanical, it is so very necessary.

Five Facets of Repentance

In the Confession we can observe five facets of repentance put forth in chapter 15:

Repent unto Life

The first facet set forth is perhaps a rather obvious one – there must be repentance unto life.  Like we have noted previously many chapters build on preceding chapters; this chapter likewise builds on the doctrines of previous chapters (such as effectual calling and saving faith).  The Confession states: ‘Such of the elect…God in their effectual calling giveth them repentance unto life’ (pg. 70).  There must be repentance unto life.  This was of course the call of Jesus and the Apostles:

                ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand’ (Matt. 3:2)

‘unless you repent, you will all likewise perish’ (Luke 13:3)

‘Repent therefore, and turn again, that your sins may be blotted out’ (Acts 3:19)

In many ways life begins with repentance.

Repent throughout Life

Life does not end with repentance though, as the Confession makes clear there must be repentance throughout life.  We noted in an earlier post that no-one is without sin, and this battle against sin continues into our Christian lives (Part Six).  For that reason it is necessary to maintain an attitude of repentance throughout the Christian life.  God in His grace has made this possible for us:

‘God hath, in the covenant of grace, mercifully provided that believers so sinning and falling be renewed through repentance unto salvation’ (pg. 70).

This was Jesus’ invitation to the church in Ephesus, and therefore to the church everywhere: ‘repent, and do the works you did at first’ (Rev. 2:5).  The believers in Ephesus were reminded that their behaviour was different from when they began life with Christ – now they must repent and return to that way of life.

Repent with Despair and Determination

To be able to do so they needed to repent with both despair and determination, and this is the third facet highlighted by the Confession.  Permit me to quote at length:

This saving repentance is an evangelical grace, whereby a person, being by the Holy Spirit made sensible of the manifold evils of his sin, doth, by faith in Christ Jesus, humble himself for it with godly sorrow, detestation of it, and self-abhorrency, praying for pardon and strength of grace, with a purpose and endeavour, by supplies of the Spirit, to walk before God unto all well-pleasing in all things. (pg. 70-71)

There is to be horror and awe at our sin and our sinfulness, but in relation also a renewed purpose and determination to be holy.  This is not will-power though, but a grace brought about by the Holy Spirit.  This facet is the key to perceiving true and false repentance.  Paul makes the same clarification:

I rejoice, not because you were grieved, but because you were grieved into repenting.  For you felt a godly grief, so that you suffered no loss through us.  For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death. (2 Cor. 7:9-10)

Repent Particularly

The Confession encourages us to see it as every man’s duty to ‘repent of his particular known sins particularly’ (pg. 71).  There is no chapter and verse for this, so to speak.  Rather, it appears that this fourth facet is simply wise, practical advice.  Repent particularly; name and shame your sin.  There is nothing quite as humbling as specifically naming your sin.  The Confession gives a reference to the account of Zacchaeus’ repentance (Luke 19:1-10), and perhaps this is a good illustration of what repenting particularly might look like.

Repent of all Sin

Finally, the Confession wants its readers to be aware of both the heinousness of all sin, and yet the remarkable power of God to forgive repenting sinners.  We are reminded that the ‘wages of sin is death’ (Rom. 6:23); or in the wording of the Confession: ‘there is no sin so small but it deserves damnation’ (pg. 71).  But it also assures us that ‘there is no sin so great that it shall bring damnation on them that repent’ (pg. 71).  This truth is reinforced in the beautiful language of Isaiah:

Seek the LORD while he may be found; call upon him while he is near; let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; let him return to the LORD, that he may have compassion on him, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon. (55:6-7)

In other words, repent of all sin because no sin is so small it will not condemn you and no sin is so big that it will exclude you from God’s grace.  Therefore, this ‘makes the constant preaching of repentance necessary’ (pg. 71).

Conclusion

Essentially, rightly understanding and practicing repentance is a key indicator of new life in us.  Bruce Milne warns, ‘the absence of any changed attitude to sin is evidence that a person is not truly regenerate’ (Know the Truth, pg. 233).  This is exactly what the Apostle John writes:

No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God’s seed abides in him, and he cannot keep on sinning because he has been born of God.  (1 John 3:9)