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Archive for August, 2008

The last few months or so, I’ve been studying the book of Galatians. I’ve been using a couple different commentaries and one of them being Martin Luther’s. It is quite long, wordy, and its context is obviously in the midst of his dealings with the Catholic Church at that time, so he doesn’t refrain from attacking them constantly. But nonetheless, I have really enjoyed reading it. I’ve especially enjoyed growing in my understanding of the difference between the Law and the Gospel.

From my catechism days in middle school, I remember memorizing “The Law shows us our sin” and “The gospel shows us our Savior”, but beyond that I really didn’t understand it. I never really understood what my position and attitude was supposed to be towards the Law. Should I hate it? Should I disregard it? What should be its role for me today as a Christian? And how could I possibly have the same heart that wrote Psalm 119, that meditates and delights in the Law?

Paul explains the purpose of the Law in Galatians:

Why the Law then? It was added because of transgressions, having been ordained through angels by the agency of a mediator, until the seed would come to whom the promise had been made. (Galatians 3:19)

But the Scripture has shut up everyone under sin, so that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe. (Galatians 3:22)

Therefore the Law has become our tutor to lead us to Christ. (Galatians 3:24)

It should be noted here that other translations, instead of using the word “tutor”, use “guardian” or “schoolmaster”. In any case, it is supposed to describe someone hired to teach and discipline us, sometimes severely, to form us into the person our parents want us to be.

Luther comments on the intent of the Law:

The Law has a twofold purpose. One purpose is civil. God has ordained civil laws to punish crime. Every Law is given to restrain sin.

The second purpose of the Law is spiritual and divine…This is the principle purpose of the Law and its most valuable contribution. As long as a person is not a murderer, adulterer, a thief, he would swear that he is righteous…As long as a person thinks that he is right he is going to be incomprehensibly proud and presumptuous. He is going to hate God, despise His grace and mercy, and ignore the promises of Christ. The Gospel of the free forgiveness of sins through Christ will never appeal to the self-righteous.

This monster of self-righteousness, this stiff-necked beast, needs a big axe. And that is what the Law is, a big axe. Accordingly, the proper use and function of the Law is to threaten until the conscience is scared stiff. (Martin Luther’s Commentary on Galatians, chapter 3)

When we are unsaved and resistant to believing in Jesus Christ, we should utterly hate the Law as it whips us and binds us in chains. But when we trust Christ and confess that He alone is sufficient and supreme, we are able to look back at the Law with admiration, respect, and reverence as we would our schoolmaster who disciplined us into shape in our younger years. The Law was God’s appointed specialist to essentially “grind” us down into a position in which we could turn to no other but Christ.

Therefore, I thank God for His Law and take delight in it. I admire it the same way I would a really tough basketball or football coach. Although I may have hated it at the time, I know I wouldn’t be where I am today without the discipline and hard lessons I was given.

Thanks be to God for both His Law and His Gospel, for they both are wonderful and show His great faithfulness, commitment, love, and mercy to His people.

Although I think I have thoroughly (enough) explained the reasoning for rejoicing/respecting the Law. I don’t believe I’ve answered the question above, “What should be its role for me today as Christian?” Perhaps I’ll resolve that in a future post. For now, what do you think? I know there is a difference between being “under the Law” (Galatians 4:21) as in the time before we were saved, and revering the Law as rejoicing God’s commitment to us, but what role (if any) does the law now play in our lives? In other words, should we continue to ask for “the big axe of the Law” to continue to chop away at our own tree trunk of self-righteousness and self-sufficiency to lead us to a deeper understanding of Christ’s gift to us? Or is the axe no longer of any use to us as children of God?

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I just finished reading a short book by John Piper called When the Darkness Will Not Lift. The book is about spiritual darkness and some practical methods for fighting for joy and wait for God to lift our spirits.

I felt that this book was both an overview and an introduction into the topic of spiritual darkness. It was an overview because it briefly touched on issues related to fighting for joy/waiting for God. It was an introduction because Piper cites from several different expansive works about spiritual depression from other pastors/theologians. By dabbling in more historical works on the subject, Piper encourages me (as he always does) to dig deeper into the lives of the saints by reading biographies of those who have suffered from the “darkness”.

But if you were looking for a book review, you are not going to find it here. I began with the intension of writing a book review, but I realized I could not do this book justice because it was so short, yet so thick…if you know what I mean. Piper said whole bunch of rich, dense material in only 79 pages.

So, I’ll just bring up some quotes from the book and other resources that have been instrumental in giving me practical methods for releasing me from times of melancholy. They mostly fall into two categories:

1. Activity

Arise and eat. (1 Kings 19:5)

One of the most overlooked, dismissed methods for relief from melancholy when I am in the midst of it is action. I love what Oswald Chambers says in his devotional, “My Utmost for His Highest” on the day entitled The Initiative Against Depression:

The angel did not give Elijah a vision, or explain the Scriptures to him, or do anything remarkable; he told Elijah to do the most ordinary thing, viz., to get up and eat.

Depression is apt to turn us away from the ordinary commonplace things of God’s creation, but whenever God comes, the inspiration is to do the most natural simple thing – the things we would never have imagined God was in, and as we do them we find He is there. The inspiration which comes to us in this way is an initiative against depression; we have to do the next thing and do it in the inspiration of God. If we do a thing in order to overcome depression, we deepen the depression; but if the Spirit of God makes us feel intuitively that we must do the thing, and we do it, the depression is gone. Immediately we arise and obey, we enter on a higher plane of life.

I agree wholeheartedly with Chambers about pushing yourself to do the most natural, next thing. Whether it is taking out the trash, doing the dishes, making a to-do list, making dinner, or calling a friend, initiating activity can be most helpful during those melancholic times.

2. Confession

Sin destroys joy. It offers deceptive delights, but it kills in the end. In dealing with our sin we can make two mistakes. One is to make light of it, the other is to be overwhelmed by it. In the fight for joy we must take it seriously, hate it, renounce it, and trust Christ as our only Savior from its guilt and power. (Piper, When the Darkness Will Not Lift, p. 53)

Confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. (James 5:16)

Confession has been one of the greatest methods for me in fighting for joy in the midst of darkness. Melancholy or spiritual darkness, however you want to call it, has a certain amount of hiddeness to it. But confession exposes what has been hidden away and opens us up to see Christ more clearly. True confession is an act of humility. It involves both the acknowledgment of the sinful nature compared to the Holiness of God and then speaking that out loud to someone else. And after being humbled and exposed in front of both God and man, it is much easier to “taste and see that the Lord is good.” (Psalm 34:8)

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Mark Dever

I was introduced to the preaching of Mark Dever of Capital Hill Baptist Church yesterday and have thoroughly enjoyed it. I posted the link to the sermon archive, which takes a little reading to figure out how to reach all of the sermons, but well worth it (just download an excel file). He periodically preaches one sermon on an entire book.

I listened to his sermon on Galations yesterday…excellent. Check it out.

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Most Pitied

A few weeks ago I was at the funeral of a Christian brother who died way too young. I rode to the cemetery with some close friends of his and of mine and we were talking about living the Christian life. I made the statement that if I live life this way and die, only to find out that there is no God, this life would still be worth it. The others heartily agreed.

This is a statement that I have believed for years and most of us probably would. Living the Christian life helps us avoid STDs and unplanned pregnancies by patiently waiting for marriage. It allows us to avoid hangovers and regretfully bad decisions by consuming alcohol in moderation (assuming legal age of course!) Indeed there are many blessings that come from obeying God’s word as all His commands are for our benefit. This has been my basis for making the statement that the Christian life is “worth it.”

A few weeks ago, the apostle Paul sternly rebuked my view of this life. His statement goes like this,

For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised…If we have hoped in Christ in this life only, then we are of all men most to be pitied.

Paul’s statement is pretty much the exact opposite of mine. Why would my life be worth it, but Paul says we are acting as fools if the dead are not raised? The reason is that Paul’s faith caused him to take risks and actually suffer for the sake of the gospel, rather than only enjoy the blessings. An honest assessment of my life shows very little, if any, suffering. This is not due to God just being nice to me, it is due to a serious lack of risk-taking in my faith. There should be an element of decision making in our lives that is simply foolish without Christ. It would do us all good to identify some activities (giving generously, sharing the gospel boldly (including the part about sin), missions, etc.) that would actually cause us to forsake some of our comforts.

Yet in all this, we must remember the words of our Savior,

Truly I say to you, there is no one who has left house or wife or brothers or parents or children for the sake of the kingdom of God, who will not receive many times as much in this age and in the age to come.

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Here I Stand

I figured some quotes I’ve recently read from Roland H. Bainton’s Here I Stand: A Life of Martin Luther would be a great place to begin this blog.

Bainton describes the dramatic scene in which thousands gathered at the Diet of Worms as Luther was summoned by Charles the V to recant his works:

The scene lends itself to dramatic portrayal. Here was Charles, heir of a long line of Catholic sovereigns – of Maximilian the romantic, of Ferdinand the Catholic, of Isabella the orthodox – scion of the house of Hapsburg, lord of Austria, Burgundy, the Low Countries, Spain, and Naples, Holy Roman Emperor, ruling over a vaster domain than any save Charlemagne, symbol of the medieval unities, incarnation of a glorious if vanishing heritage; and here before him a simple monk, a miner’s son, with nothing to sustain him save his own faith and the Word of God. Here the past and future were met. Some would see at this point the beginning of modern times. (141)

And later on during the meeting:

“I ask you, Martin-answer candidly and without horns-do you or do you not repudiate your books and the errors which they contain?” Luther replied, “Since then Your Majesty and your lordships desire a simple reply, I will answer without horns and without teeth. Unless I am convicted by Scripture and plain reason-I do not accept the authority of popes and councils, for they have contradicted each other-my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and I will not recant anything, for to go against conscience is neither right nor safe. God help me. Amen.”

The earliest printed version added the words: “Here I Stand, I cannot do otherwise.” The words, though not recorded on the spot, may nevertheless be genuine, because the listeners at the moment may have been too moved to write. (144)

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