You Are What You…

Have you ever heard the expression, “You are what you eat”?  No doubt this is something maybe you have said before or heard someone else say at some point.  If you constantly eat ice cream and nothing else, and I happen to really like ice cream, your body is likely to show it soon enough.  Of course, you won’t literally become an ice cream cone, and good thing.

In a similar sense the psalmist says, “You are what you worship.”  This is a paraphrase of what we read in Psalm 135,

“The idols of the nations are silver and gold, the work of human hands. They have mouths, but do not speak; they have eyes, but do not see; they have ears, but do not hear, nor is there any breath in their mouths. Those who make them become like them, so do all who trust in them” (vv. 15-18, see also Ps. 115:4-8).

The psalmist reflects upon the fact that those who fashion idols become like them, and so do those who trust in these idols.  In America you won’t find as many idols made of silver or gold but one idol is silver and gold.  Such a person talks and thinks about money all the time.  They find it difficult to have a conversation about anything else, or at least they don’t desire to have conversations about other things.  Of course, just like the ice cream, in being made like money they don’t literally become money.  Although there is some truth to the one who worships money becoming like cold hard cash, emphasis on cold and hard.  Jesus says, “No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money” (Matthew 6:24).  The fact of the matter is you cannot serve God and anything else.  He alone deserves our total and complete allegiance, no one and nothing else.

How is it true of the Christian, “You are what you worship”?  For this is the will of God, your sanctification (1 Thess. 4:3a).  We are to grow in Christlikeness.  This is God’s will for the one who has trusted in Christ rather than in idols, what they or others have fashioned (in their minds or in their hearts).  We also see this as Paul speaks to the saints (aka believers) in Rome,

“And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified” (Romans 8:28-30).

God has predestined believers to be conformed to the image of His Son, to make them like the One they worship!


“T” is for Total Depravity

“T” is for total depravity.  For some people immediate thoughts come to mind, oftentimes negative, when they hear these words.  However, this usually stems from a misunderstanding.  Because of the possible misunderstandings some prefer to change the phrase altogether.  While that is one way of doing it another way is to keep the word (or phrase) and help people properly understand its meaning.  We will begin by looking at what it is not to clear some initial and incorrect understandings.  Then we will see what the proper and correct understanding of total depravity.

What It Is Not

We won’t spend much time here but in order to help us better understand what total depravity is we should nevertheless clear one common misunderstanding about it.  Total depravity does not mean that we as humans are as bad as we could possibly be.  This is not hard to understand since even some of the most grotesque leaders, say in the 20th century alone, could have been even worse.  So total depravity does not mean we are as bad as we could be, but what does it mean?

What It Is

The church father St. Augustine wrote out a prayer that one British monk did not like.  Augustine said something along the lines of, “Oh God, command what thou wouldst, and grant what thou dost command.”  The British monk who did not like this was Pelagius and it was not the first part of Augustine’s prayer that he objected to so much as the second part, “grant what thou dost command.”  Pelagius did not like this because it assumes a creature is not morally able to do the will of God.  Pelagius believed that man was capable of pleasing God, obeying His commands, and choosing good and not evil without any divine intervention.

Original Sin

Pelagius, and those who adhere to Pelagianism have a false view of original sin.  Original sin is not the first sin ever committed by Adam and Eve but rather involves the consequences of that first sin.  The New England Primer was a text used to help colonial children learn their letters among other things.  For the alphabet beginning with the letter “A” it states, “In Adam’s fall we sinned all.”  In other words the entire human race is fallen, born into sin.  King David said, “Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me” (Ps. 51:5).  David isn’t talking about when his parents came together in a sexual union that this was sinful but rather that he from the moment of conception was born sinful.  The reason looking at original sin is important is because of the meaning of total depravity.  Total depravity points out the seriousness of the fall and points to the fact that the totality of man’s being is depraved.  All of our being whether physical (death and disease), mental (darkened minds), emotional, or spiritual has been negatively impacted.  And many Christians would agree that we are fallen, and that this is a serious thing, and it impacts every part of our being.  But there is still disagreement on the level of its impact.  When people say that, “We are basically good” is this true?  Or are we at the core of our being evil?

The Bible Tells Me So

Psalm 14:1-2 says, “The Lord looks down from heaven on the children of man, to see if there are any who understand, who seek after God. They have all turned aside; together they have become corrupt; there is none who does good, not even one.”

Proverbs 20:9 says, “Who can say, “I have made my heart pure; I am clean from my sin”?  [Note – This is a rhetorical question and the answer is, no one].

Eccles. 7:20, “Surely there is not a righteous man on earth who does good and never sins.”

Ephesians 2:1-3, “And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.”

Titus 1:15, “To the pure, all things are pure, but to the defiled and unbelieving, nothing is pure; but both their minds and their consciences are defiled.”

Many more verses we could look at but each of these shows how sinful we are and that we are not basically good people who need a few government reforms to be made right with God.  When people speak about being basically good they base that claim on a purely human understanding, on a horizontal plane.  This lessens the understanding of sin to something accidental and outside ourselves, rather than what it really is, rebellion and disobedience against a holy God that is found within our very hearts.  When fleshing out these verses to help us understand man’s condition and our word total depravity we see that we are enslaved to sin, we are spiritually dead, and we are living in rebellion against God.

We are not in need of a few tweaks here and a few adjustments there but a radical heart transplant is needed, and something only God can do.  For, “…no one can come to me [Jesus] unless it is granted him by my Father” (John 6:65).   Our condition is dead in our trespasses and sins and only by the grace of God through the work of the Holy Spirit in regenerating our hearts do we place our faith, a gift from God (see Eph. 2:8-9), in Jesus Christ.

“S” is for Sanctification

“S” is for sanctification.  A simple definition is provided in Webster’s 1828 dictionary, “The act of making holy.”  The Greek words translated “sanctified” and “sanctification” most frequently both have the root word for “holy” in them.  I’ve also heard it defined as the process by which a believer becomes more like Christ.  That is fitting since Christ is holy and perfect.  Notice how it is a process of becoming more like Christ, or becoming more holy.

In our instant gratification culture the thought of a lifelong process sounds rather daunting and downright defeating.  When we want something we want it now.  Well it is good to want to become more like Christ, in fact that is great.  We just need to recognize that it is a lifelong process and one that is not complete in this life.  Some would disagree with this statement so let’s turn our attention to the biblical text to help clarify.

Biblical Texts

Mentioning a quick distinction will help us in understanding a number of biblical texts and for making a proper distinction between the truth of what we are and the truth of what God is making us, holier.  Some call it the indicative and imperative of sanctification.  Others speak of positional sanctification and progressive sanctification.

Positional Sanctification

Believers are declared holy because they have been set apart by faith in Christ as God’s own possession (Demarest, The Cross and Salvation, 407).  For example, Paul begins a number of his letters in the NT by addressing the believers as “saints in Jesus Christ” (see Eph. 1:1; Phil. 1:1; Col. 1:2).  The word “saints” is literally “holy ones.”  To the believers in Corinth Paul said, “To those sanctified in Christ Jesus” (1:2).  If you were to conclude here that the believers in Corinth had obtained moral perfection you would be incorrect.  How do we know that?  All you would have to do is get past the thanksgiving to vv. 10-12 of chapter one to see that these believers in Corinth were not perfect.  So we would say that believers are positionally holy because of the righteousness of Jesus Christ that has been imputed (or counted or credited) to their account.  Or to say it another way “Paul spoke approvingly to the Christians at Corinth not because of their deepening spirituality (progressive sanctification), but because of their justified standing in Christ (positional sanctification)” (Demarest, 407).

Progressive Sanctification

“Therefore since we have been justified by faith we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Rom. 5:1).  We stand justified in the sight of God because of the work of Jesus Christ on our behalf.  But while we are holy positionally through justification we are to progress in holiness morally.  How do we know this?  “For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality; that each one of you know how to control his own body in holiness and honor…For God has not called us for impurity, but in holiness” (1 Thess. 4:3-4, 7).  As a quick aside many people ask the question, “What is the will of God for my life?”  Now usually this question comes with a focus on relationships, career choices, college selection, or another important decision.  My response to those seeking the will of God in these areas above is to ask them, “How are you doing with the revealed will of God?”  There are multiple times throughout the Bible that God’s will is made plain to us (see Rom. 12:1-2; 1 Thess. 4:3-4; 5:16-18).  Let’s start by focusing on being faithful there and trust that God will take care of the rest.  That was the long way of pointing out that “this is the will of God, your sanctification” (v. 3).  How important is our sanctification to God?  Important enough that it is His will for EVERY believer and so it needs to be that important to us as well.

Peter reminds us that, “As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, ‘You shall be holy, for I am holy’” (1 Pt. 1:14-16).  We progress in sanctification by avoiding the sinful patterns of our old self and the sinful behaviors of those around us, but also by putting on the new self and obeying the commandments of our Lord (cf. Eph. 4:17-32).  We are to be holy in all our conduct because we currently are not holy in all of our conduct.

Does the believer participate in this process of sanctification?  After all we have been saved by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone.  “Not a result of works” (Eph. 2:9).  The answer to this question is found in Philippians where Paul writes, “Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure” (Phil. 2:12-13).  This sounds like a cooperative effort to me.  No I am not saying you justify yourself before God but that God has decided that believers should have a part in putting to death the old man and putting on the new self (cf. Col. 3:5-17).  As a pastor friend has said,
“We can only work out what God is working in.”  That is to say that there can be no sanctification apart from God’s grace.  As Eph. 2:10 says, “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”  We are saved apart from works but we are also saved for good works.

“J” is for Justification

“J” is for justification.  The doctrine of justification has been at the center of great debate, particularly in the 16th century.  It was Martin Luther who recovered the importance of Paul’s words in Romans 1:17, “The righteous shall live by faith.”  The doctrine of justification by faith alone is, as Luther and Calvin believed, the article by which the church stands or falls.  Nevertheless the importance of a biblical understanding of this doctrine is necessary as much in our day as it was back in the 16th century.

While much of what will be stated in this week’s blog may serve as only review for you hopefully the beauty of this doctrine will cause you to be glad you read to the end.  A definition of justification as it relates to theology is found in Webster’s 1828 dictionary where he writes, “In theology [justification means], remission of sin and absolution from guilt and punishment; or an act of free grace by which God pardons the sinner and accepts him as righteous, on account of the atonement of Christ” (see “A” is for Atonement).

There was, and remains, a great divide on how God pardons the sinner and accepts him (or her) as righteous, on account of the atonement of Christ.  Protestants affirm justification by faith alone.  However, this doctrine is rejected by the Roman Catholic Church (RCC).  Certainly much could be said than what you will see here but we will explore the doctrine of justification by faith alone that sparked the Protestant Reformation and see how the RCC rejected it then and still does today.  We will also see how this doctrine is under attack in our own day from the broader culture.  But first we will see what the Bible says about this doctrine and why it is so crucial that we uphold it.

  Justification by Faith Alone

The verb “justified” is used frequently throughout the New Testament and oftentimes means, “to declare righteous.”  Luke 7:29 says, “When all the people heard this, and the tax collectors too, they declared God just, having been baptized with the baptism of John.”  The phrase “they declared God just” in Greek is literally, “they justified God.”  Certainly Luke is not making the argument that the tax collectors and other people are making God righteous rather they were declaring God to be righteous, or acknowledging this truth about God.  In the OT we see that in a dispute the judges are to “justify the righteous and condemn the wicked” (Deut. 25:1, NASB).  While people want to think they are righteous, or at least more righteous than wicked, the Bible tells us a different story.  We are both sinners by birth (cf. Rom. 5:12-20) and sinners by the decisions we make every day (cf. Rom. 3:9-12, 23).  A double whammy that leaves us dead in our trespasses and sins (cf. Eph. 2:1).  In a world that like talking about “my rights” and what “I deserve” everyone deserves hell and nothing more.  What hope do we have to be made right with God if we are dead in our trespasses and sins?  It is the doctrine of justification by faith alone that was and still is under attack.

A Bold (& False) Statement

Session VI Canon IX of the Council of Trent 1547, a standing council of the RCC, states “If any one saith, that by faith alone the impious is justified; in such wise as to mean, that nothing else is required to co-operate in order to the obtaining the grace of Justification, and that it is not in any way necessary, that he be prepared and disposed by the movement of his own will; let him be anathema.”  It is not as though the RCC is against faith and the grace of God BUT they are vehemently opposed to faith alone as the means of our justification.  For it states, “Let him be anathema” or “accursed” or “eternally condemned.” Thus if it is not faith alone the logical conclusion we can draw is that it is faith plus something.  Which immediately goes against the teachings of Scripture like Eph. 2:8-9, “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works so that no one may boast” (see also Rom. 3:28; 4:3-5; 5:1; Gal. 2:15-21).

Reformation in Our Day

We switch gears to a reformation needed in our own day.  On the news and in the newspaper we read about people seeking justice for a number of things.  When it comes to our standing with God we should not be so quick to cry out to God for justice since as David said, “If you, O Lord, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand?” (Ps. 130:3).  If God dealt with us as our sins deserved, if God gave us justice, NO ONE could stand.  Our “good” is not good enough in God’s sight.  And God cannot merely overlook our sin for that would go against His character.  But God is the just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus Christ (cf. Rom. 3:26).  Wait a minute, if God is the justifier, the One who declares us to be righteous, what happens to my boasting about how good a person I am and all the good things I do?  “Then what becomes of our boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of law? By a law of works? No, but by the law of faith. For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law” (Rom. 3:27-28).  So far in this section we’ve seen that justification by works is out and justification by “God will overlook my sin because its me” is out.  We are justified, declared righteous, not because of our merits or anything in us.  Luther said the righteousness by which we are declared just before a holy God is extra nos (outside of us).  It is the righteousness of Jesus Christ that is imputed to all who put their trust in Him.  To “impute” means to reckon to one what does not belong to him.  What takes place is God reckons our sins to Christ, which don’t belong to Him since He lived a perfect life, but Christ willingly takes them upon Himself and pays the penalty for sin on the cross.  So our sin is imputed to Christ and His righteousness, which He obtained through His perfect obedience to the Father’s will, is reckoned to us who most certainly are not righteous apart from Jesus Christ.  We are justified by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone.

“H” is for Hamartiology

“H” is for hamartiology.  What in the world does that mean?  As you are likely picking up on now, this theological word is comprised of two Greek words.  The one you have seen a few times, “-ology” comes from the Greek word logos which means “word” or can be understood to refer to “the study of” something.  So “biology” is the study of life.  Or “theology” in the broader sense is the study of God and all that entails.  The beginning of our word comes from the Greek word hamartia (ἁμαρτία) which means, “sin.”  “Hamartiology” is the study of sin.  You were probably hoping for something a bit more fascinating.

Why take a closer look at this word?  Today we hear a lot about how Jesus wants a personal relationship with you.  This sort of warm fuzzy feeling.  While the Gospel certainly includes a relationship with our Lord unlike any other relationship because through Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection He reconciled enemies together.  Not friends who were in a little feud like you maybe have gone through with a friend before.  Not an employee/employer relationship that is on thin ice because you have failed to meet the quota again this quarter.  Not even like a parent/child relationship that has gone sour because your son or daughter stayed out late one too many nights.  None of these suffice for describing our relationship with God.  We are alienated from God because we are wretched sinners.  Paul tells us in Romans 3:23, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”

What is Sin?

Our sinfulness impacts every relationship conceivable.  Man to God, man to man, man to nature, and even man to himself.  We will look at this aspect of hamartiology in this newsletter but first we should define what sin is.  We mentioned that the Greek word was hamartia (ἁμαρτία) which comes from the realm of archery meaning, “missing the mark or bulls-eye.”  Yet as RC Sproul points out this “might imply the error is only minor.”  For one could hit just outside the bulls-eye in the next section of the target.  “The truth is that the standard of righteousness, the bull’s eye, is God’s law, and we are not even close to it” (Sproul, Everyone’s a Theologian, 106).  If sin is “missing the bulls-eye” then we have not only missed the bulls-eye, we missed the target, and the barn that the target was leaning up against.  Questions #28-30 of the children’s catechism that we have been reading with our daughters helps define sin for us quite well.

Question #28, “What is sin?”  Answer, “Sin is any want of conformity unto, or transgression of, the law of God.”  Question #29, “What is meant by ‘want of conformity’?”  Answer, “Not being or doing what God requires.”  Question #30, “What is meant by ‘transgression’?”  Answer, “Doing what God forbids.”  So sin is both failing to keep God’s law by both not doing what we should do and doing what we should not do (cf. Ex. 20; Jam. 1:22; 4:17).

You may have heard before about sins of commission and sins of omission.  We commit a sin of commission by doing something we ought not to do.  Exodus 20:3 says, “You shall have no other gods before me.”  We commit a sin of omission by failing to do something we ought to do.  As James says, “So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin” (4:17).

Let me state here, in case you are still wondering why we are talking about this, that when we lessen the sins we commit and the fact that we are sinners we make less not more of our great Savior Jesus Christ and the work He accomplished.  Jesus said, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.” (Luke 5:31-32).  For those who think that all people are genuinely good or even that they themselves are righteous (apart from Christ) and that we just needed Jesus’ example not bloody sacrifice, they have left orthodoxy (right belief) and are still in need of repentance and faith.

Broad Effects of Sin

I mentioned earlier that sin impacts every relationship conceivable.  When Adam and Eve broke God’s command they brought physical death and destruction to both humanity and the earth.  Their sin also brought spiritual death to mankind, rupturing our ability to both worship and have fellowship with the Creator.  Man’s wholeness and uncorrupted nature as God’s image bearers was replaced by a sinful nature.  While we still bear the image of God it is corrupted because of our sin (cf. Jam. 3:9-10).  We now use the good gifts of God for evil and destructive purposes.  We see great atrocities committed against fellow image bearers, both on an individual scale and nation against nation.  Senseless bombings and killings, a thriving child sex industry even in America, and 3,000+ abortions every day here in the states to name a few.  Man’s relationship to the ground was also negatively affected (see Gen. 3:17-19).  It is because of our sin that creation is subject to its present frustration (see Rom. 8:20-22).  Lastly, sin impacts our relationship with ourselves.  People are very self-centered and seek to increase their own self-esteem.  You don’t have to teach a child to be selfish, why?  Because they have a sin nature since all are born into sin (Ps. 51:5).

What about Original Sin?

Original sin does not refer to the first sin committed by Adam and Eve but rather the consequences of that sin.  Original sin is our fallen, sinful nature.  But before you complain about Adam’s unrighteousness transferring to you be reminded of Rom. 5:12-19, “Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned for sin indeed was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not counted where there is no law. Yet death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sinning was not like the transgression of Adam, who was a type of the one who was to come.  But the free gift is not like the trespass. For if many died through one man’s trespass, much more have the grace of God and the free gift by the grace of that one man Jesus Christ abounded for many. And the free gift is not like the result of that one man’s sin. For the judgment following one trespass brought condemnation, but the free gift following many trespasses brought justification. For if, because of one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ.  Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men. For as by one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous.”  Thus Christ’s righteousness is imputed, which means to reckon to someone what does not belong to them, hence it is through no merit of your own that we receive His righteousness but solely by faith alone through grace alone in Christ alone.