The biblical standard of goodness is . . .

by R.C. Sproul

Before Jesus answered his question about the requirements for salvation, He dealt with the compliment. Jesus asked: “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone” (v. 19). Some critics hold that, by virtue of this response, Jesus was denying His goodness and deity. No, Jesus knew very well that this man did not have a clue about the person to whom he was speaking. This man didn’t know who Jesus was. He didn’t know he was asking a question of God incarnate. All the rich young ruler knew was that he was talking to an itinerate rabbi, and he wanted an answer to a theological question. But Jesus’ identity was central to the answer. So Jesus said: “Why do you call Me good? Haven’t you read Psalm 14:3: `They have all turned aside; together they have become corrupt; there is none who does good, not even one’? No one is good except God Himself.”

Does that seem absurd? After all, we see people who aren’t believers doing good all the time. It all depends on what we mean by “good.” The biblical standard of goodness is the righteousness of God, and we are judged both by our behavioral conformity to the law of God and by our internal motivation or desire to obey the law of God. I see people all around me who aren’t believers but who practice what John Calvin called “civic virtue”; that is, they do good things in society. They donate their money for good causes, they help the poor, and they sometimes even sacrifice themselves for others. They do all kinds of wonderful things on the horizontal level (i.e., toward other people), but they do none of it because their hearts have a pure and full love for God. There may be what Jonathan Edwards called an “enlightened self-interest” involved, but it is still self-interest.

Can I Be Sure I’m Saved? (Kindle Edition)

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Which is important for the church: edification or mission?

This and the blog article below it (by David Black) are part of a discussion. Too bad such items get put in backwards, but read both and think about their challenges. This one by Alan Know, one of the writers I always read and have been challenged and helped so much by.

There is a bit of a feud (and that is a huge overstatement) going on between two of my friends – real friends – on their blogs.

It started when Eric at “A Pilgrim’s Progress” wrote the post “No Guarantee.” In the post, Eric exhorts the church to seek to edify one another. He concludes, “I simply want to encourage us all to be intentional in our efforts at mutual edification as the body gathers. Otherwise we miss the point of the meeting altogether.”

In response Dave Black (Wednesday, June 29, 2011 at 9:32 a.m.) says, without disagreeing with Eric, that the church’s purpose is mission. He writes, “As I understand Scripture, the church is to carry out the Missio Dei of the Triune God at both the micro (individual salvation) and macro (societal) levels, with a view to redemption, reconciliation, and social transformation.”

So, is edification important for the church or is mission important for the church? The answer is, obviously, YES! Both edification and mission are important – and vital and necessary – for the church.

As Eric pointed out, when the church gathers together – that is, whenever we are together with other brothers or sisters in Christ – our goal should be to build up one another – to help one another grow in maturity in Jesus Christ.

Edification is the responsibility of every believer – yes, every believer, not just leaders – whenever the church gather together. And, edification includes anything that allows us to help one another walk in the Spirit (put on Christ, mature in Christ, honor God – however you want to say it). We are all ministers (servants) given to the church by God to help the church grow in his grace.

For further explanation, see my recent post “Whenever you come together.”

But, as Dave pointed out, we are also to carry out the mission of God. This mission takes on both an individual aspect and a societal aspect. While proclaiming the good news of Jesus Christ to people we meet (with both our words AND our actions), we are also to be serving those around us (our neighbors, our co-workers, other students, others in our communities) in order to demonstrate the kingdom of God to the world.

Again, this is the responsibility of ALL believers – not just leaders or those who are “specially called.” We are God’s witnesses testifying of the good work that God is doing in our lives. We are all missionaries sent into the world by God to carry out his mission.

In fact, we may choose carry out this mission together – with other believers. In that case, our missional lives become a further opportunity to edify the church, thus carrying out both aspects of church life listed above: edification and mission.

(For further explanation, see my recent post “Our shared mission.”)

So, yes, when the church comes together, we are to build up one another in maturity in Jesus Christ. And, we are to carry out God’s mission as those sent into the world by God.

Both are important for the church.

It’s about “being” and “going”

by David Black at daveblackonline.com

9:32 Wednesday June 29, 2011 entry:

Much is being written these days about the purpose of the church. Some (like Eric Carpenter) argue that the purpose of the church is to glorify God through mutual edification. I do not disagree with this perspective. But it seems to me that the emphasis in Reformed circles on the glory of God is rather nebulous. In my opinion, this definition is neither missiologically broad enough nor theologically deep enough.

As I understand Scripture, the church is to carry out the Missio Dei of the Triune God at both the micro (individual salvation) and macro (societal) levels, with a view to redemption, reconciliation, and social transformation. I recognize that many Christians today are starving for genuine koinonia and deeper relationships within the Body of Christ. Yet Jesus Christ defines His followers as those whom He has sent forth into the world. Thus, while it is good and proper to unpack the theological and ecclesiological significance of such texts as 1 Cor. 14:26, which speak of mutual edification as a goal whenever the church gathers, I think it is neither scriptural nor helpful to reduce our definition of “church” to the gathering. The ecclesiological challenge must drive us closer and closer to our original mission, not further away from it. An outward focus is critical, not optional.

The Book of Acts consistently emphasizes “missional hermeneutics,” and is clear that the Gospel is the Holy Spirit’s instrument for the formation of faithful witnessing communities that enjoy corporate life both together and scattered in the world. This same Spirit now works through believers to enable them to be Christ’s witnesses in Jerusalem, in Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth. To be sure, “church” is broader than the missional church. But the focus of God is the world, not the church. Thus, while calls for mutual edification are valid (and sorely needed), it does not help to make the overcorrection of emphasizing corporate discipleship at the expense of Trinitarian mission.

The only way Christ is presently incarnated to a lost world is through believers as they carry on His presence, His Word, and His works to a new generation. We are no longer citizens of this world but Christ’s ambassadors, sent to this world from another kingdom, operating in His authority and power. If we’re rightly connected to the Head in this way, it would be hard to imagine making the focus of the church the gathering rather than the going.

A Prayer for Revealing Jesus through Our Brokenness

by Scotty Smith

But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. 2 Cor. 4:7–10

Dear Jesus, to compare my season of stress with the apostle Paul’s would be like comparing my guitar playing with Eric Clapton’s, my dancing with the cast of River Dance, or my cooking skill with Mario Batali. There’s simply no comparison. When I consider everything your servant Paul experienced, I have nothing to bemoan or groan about—the whine meter doesn’t register very much.

Nonetheless, Paul’s honesty and vulnerability are great gifts to me this morning. His freedom to acknowledge both his anguish and his joy in the same paragraph gives me tremendous encouragement and focus. Posing and pretending were crucified at Calvary. Despair and hopelessness were sabotaged by your resurrection. Fear and uncertainty are domesticated by your ascension and present reign.

Jesus, in the midst of everything I’d love to fix, change or eliminate, help me to be far more preoccupied with the treasure within than with the pressures without. If your all-surpassing power will be shown most dramatically through my weakness, I surrender to your will. If your incomparable beauty will be most clearly revealed through my hardships, I surrender to your ways. If your redeeming purposes will be most fully realized through my brokenness, I surrender to you.

With my palms up, I offer you praise for the treasure of the gospel. The gospel will win the day, my heart, the nations, and the cosmos. Though there are seasons when throwing in the towel, finding another story, or just flat running away are incredibly attractive, where else would I go but to you? You alone give the words of life, the sufficient grace, and the hope of glory. May your voice be ten times louder than the murmurings around me and the grumblings inside me.

Jesus, in the coming hours and days and weeks, prove the wonders of your love in our midst.

I pray the same for good friends reeling from betrayals, exhausted by chronic pain, shamed by their foolish choices, disillusioned with vocational ministry, lonely in their marriages, enslaved by an addiction, or just flat out weary from the demands and daily-ness of life. So very Amen I pray, with hungry expectancy in your powerful name. Amen.

Spirituality Isn’t Inward

Good words to ponder from The Resurgence blog

When a lot of Christian’s think about “spirituality” they tend to think of it monastically—individualistically.

In his book on sanctification, Harold Senkbeil writes, “What has developed under the guise of the practice of the Christian faith borders on a new monasticism.”

Many of us, in other words, think about spirituality exclusively in terms of personal piety, internal devotion, and spiritual formation. We focus almost entirely on ourselves and our private disciplines: praying, reading the Bible, and so on. That, we conclude, is what spirituality is first and foremost.

Works of Public Service

While personal disciplines are indispensable aspects of staying tethered to the truth of gospel (you’ll shrink without them), it’s interesting that when James makes his strong point in 2:14-26 about faith without works being dead, what he describes are not works of private spirituality but public service:

If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? – James 2:15-16

As one of my friends wrote recently, “True Christianity may be personal, but it’s not private. It is wildly, unashamedly, thoroughly public.”

Abandon Worldliness

Similarly, in James 1:27 (the only place in the Bible where the word “religion” is used positively), he writes:

Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.

Even in that last phrase “keep oneself unstained from the world”, James is not talking about monastic retreat, private meditation, or even personal piety. The contextual implication involves the need to “wash our hands of worldliness” which, throughout the book of James, is defined as self-absorption–a “my life for me” approach to life in contrast from a “my life for you” approach to life. Worldliness then, according to James, is me thinking always about me (see James 4:1-3).

Forget About Yourself

In both James 1:27 and 2:15, he’s making it clear that true spirituality actually take us away from ourselves and into the messy lives of other people. It is, in other words, not introverted, but extroverted—it doesn’t take me deeper into me; it sends me away from me. Real spirituality is forgetting about yourself, washing your hands of you.

God doesn’t need our good works, but our neighbor does.

That’s quite different from the current way our individualistic and subjectivistic culture thinks about spirituality. Almost everything that is considered “spirituality” today is private and focuses on the inner life and personal betterment of the individual. This subjectivistic spirit of our age has seeped into the Evangelical church. “The evangelical orientation”, writes Sinclair Ferguson, “is inward and subjective. We are far better at looking inward than we are at looking outward.” One serious consequence of engaging in this type of morbid introspection, this propensity to “spiritualized navel-gazing”, is that when we do we fail to see the needs of our neighbor and serve them–which is James’ definition of “good works”. After all, as Martin Luther said, “God doesn’t need our good works, but our neighbor does.”

Sin Turns Us In

The biggest difference between the practical effect of sin and the practical effect of the gospel is that sin turns us inward and the gospel turns us upward and outward. Martin Luther picked up this imagery in the Reformation, arguing that sin actually bends or curves us upon ourselves (homo incurvatus in se). We were designed to embrace God and others, but instead we are now consumed with ourselves.

The Gospel Turns Us Up and Out

The gospel causes us to look up to Christ and what he did, out to our neighbor and what they need, not in to ourselves and how we’re doing. There’s nothing about the gospel that fixes my eyes on me. Any version of Christianity that encourages you to think mostly about you is detrimental to your faith–whether it’s your failures or your successes; your good works or your bad works; your strengths or your weaknesses; your obedience or your disobedience.

We were designed to embrace God and others, but instead we are now consumed with ourselves.

The irony, of course, is that you and I are renewed inwardly to the degree that we focus not on inward renewal but upward worship and outward service. The more you see that the gospel isn’t about you, the more spiritual you will become.

Examples Of Delighting In God

by John Piper

One of the most remarkable expressions of delighting or rejoicing in God is found in Habakkuk 3:17-18. My wife Noël and I used this in our wedding ceremony to express our expectation that life would be hard, but that God would be our all-satisfying portion. “Though the fig tree should not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines, the produce of the olive fail and the fields yield no food, the flock be cut off from the fold and there be no herd in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the LORD; I will take joy in the God of my salvation.” In other words, when all the supports of human life and earthly happiness are taken away, God will be our delight, our joy. This experience is humanly impossible. No ordinary person can speak in truth like this. If God alone is enough to support joy when all else is lost, it is a miracle of grace.

The psalmists speak repeatedly of the joy, delight, and satisfaction that they have in God. “I will go to the altar of God, to God my exceed- ing joy” (Ps. 43:4). “Let those who delight in my righteousness shout for joy and be glad” (Ps. 35:27). “Great are the works of the LORD, stud- ied by all who delight in them” (Ps. 111:2). “As for me, I shall behold your face in righteousness; when I awake, I shall be satisfied with your likeness” (Ps. 17:15).

In both Old and New Testaments we are commanded to rejoice or delight in the Lord. “Delight yourself in the LORD” (Ps. 37:4). “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice” (Phil. 4:4). In the Old Testament, to be converted from worldliness to godliness was to discover the truth of Psalm 16:11: “You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.” In the New Testament, conversion meant discovering that Jesus was a treasure of such surpassing worth that joy would enable a new disciple to leave everything and follow him: “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and cov- ered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field” (Matt. 13:44).

~ Why I don’t Desire God

Examples Of Desiring God

by John Piper

The God-entranced psalmist, Asaph, says, “Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever” (Ps. 73:25-26). Here is a desire for God so strong that it makes all others as nothing. From all the portions that earth and heaven can give, Asaph turns away and says, “God is my portion forever.” Jeremiah said the same: “‘The LORD is my portion,’ says my soul, ‘therefore I will hope in him’” (Lam. 3:24). David, the king, spoke in the same way: “I cry to you, O LORD; I say, ‘You are . . . my portion in the land of the living’” (Ps. 142:5). “I say to the LORD, ‘You are my Lord; I have no good apart from you.’ . . .The LORD is my chosen portion” (Ps. 16:2, 5).

The longing psalmist expresses his desire for God with the image of a panting deer: “As a deer pants for flowing streams, so pants my soul for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God” (Ps. 42:1).

David pours out his heart with similar language: “O God, you are my God; earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you; my flesh faints for you, as in a dry and weary land where there is no water. . . . Your steadfast love is better than life” (Ps. 63:1, 3).

The prophet Isaiah from time to time overflowed with words of longing for the Lord: “My soul yearns for you in the night; my spirit within me earnestly seeks you. For when your judgments are in the earth, the inhabitants of the world learn righteousness” (Isa. 26:9).

The apostle Paul revealed the depth of his desire for Christ more clearly in his letter to the Philippians than in any other: “My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better. . . . Whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ” (Phil. 1:23; 3:7-8).