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10 Reasons I’m Thankful for the Presbyterian Church in America

Jun 09, 2015 | Kevin DeYoung

PCAI’ve never attended the PCA General Assembly, but this is the first one I’ll miss as a PCA minister. I hope not to miss many more.

Our church won’t officially transfer until September, so I didn’t think I would be a PCA Teacher Elder before then. But the process moved more quickly than I anticipated and I was able to take my transfer exams at the beginning of May. Having had an overly busy spring, and not making any prior plans to attend this year’s GA in Chattanooga, my elders thought it would be best for me to sit this one out. I trust there will be plenty of General Assemblies to attend in the future.

As my fathers and brothers (isn’t that the way you put it?) gather this week to worship, laugh, pray, reminisce, and conduct the business of the church, I thought perhaps I could join in in some small way by reflecting on why I’m thankful for the PCA.

I know the PCA is not a perfect denomination. I know there are likely to be frustrations even at this year’s General Assembly. I know church bodies must keep a close watch on their life and doctrine. The PCA ain’t heaven on earth–never has been, never will be. But as a newcomer to the PCA and relative (though very interested and, I think, somewhat informed) outsider, I see much to be thankful for.

1. Growth. Numbers aren’t everything, but considering many mainline denominations continue to shrink–and have every year since the 1960s–I’m thankful that the PCA trajectory since its inception in 1973 has been up. More churches, more members, more pastors. This is good.

2. Ministers and missionaries. In healthy denominations you will two things on the rise: missionaries wanting to go and young men wanting to pastor. While it can be a challenge for those men looking for a pastoral call, an abundance of pastoral candidates means the church has a future. Ditto for missionaries. Healthy denominations look outside themselves–and not just for humanitarian work (which is good), but with a zeal for reaching the unreached and planting gospel churches.

3. Exams. I’m thankful for a rigorous examination process. Denominations will not serve the cause of joy in the world unless they are serious about examining their own pastoral candidates. I’m glad that the Presbytery of the Great Lakes did not give me or my church a free pass. I had to study and take a two hour committee exam and then be examined another 40 minutes on the floor of Presbytery. Exams should be fair, but they must be rigorous, thorough, and fail-able.

4. Standards. Although there are differences regarding certain articles in the Westminster Standards, I’ve found that nearly everyone I know in the PCA takes them very seriously. The only thing worse than a denomination always arguing about theology is a denomination that never argues about theology.

5. Unofficial motto. I love that the PCA wants to be “faithful to the Scriptures, true to the reformed faith, and obedient to the Great Commission.” All three are essential. Let’s boldly and winsomely be inerrantists, Calvinists, and evangelists. Wouldn’t that be a strange and glorious combination.

6. Seminary pipeline. As the seminaries go, so goes the churches. Are there important differences among the many seminaries PCA ministers attend? To be sure, but I’m willing to bet that students from RTS, Covenant, and Westminster (among others) are getting more of the same content than they are getting distinctive content. That’s good, and what they are getting is good.

7. Leaders. When people outside the PCA think about the PCA they think about leaders like Ligon Duncan, Tim Keller, and Phil Ryken. They think of authors like Nancy Guthrie and Susan Hunt. They think of pastors like Harry Reeder and R.C. Sproul. Having so many good men (and women!) to respect and admire is not a given and should not be taken for granted. With a healthy dose of authors, thinkers, leaders, and entrepreneurs, the PCA has always punched above its weight in terms of influence in the evangelical world and leavening in the broader culture.

8. Steady. The PCA has not budged on homosexuality or inerrancy or complementarianism or the uniqueness of Christ. Will the denomination always handle everyone of these issues in a way that strikes everyone as theologically robust and pastorally wise? Probably not. But is the PCA position on these issues widely known and held to with great unanimity? I believe so. Considering what kind of theological diversity exists in many denominations, the PCA runs a pretty tight ship.

9. Churches. Our 1300 congregations can look and feel very different. I doubt that any one church is thrilled with every other church in the denomination. But still, on the whole, when people ask me (as they do all the time), “I’m moving to some other part of the country, what church do you recommend?” I don’t hesitate to tell them, “Let’s start by seeing what PCA churches are in the area.” And it’s not just the big ones like First Presbyterian in Jackson, or Briarwood in Birmingham, or Tenth in Philadelphia, or Redeemer in New York City, or Christ Covenant in Charlotte, or Village Seven in Colorado Springs, it’s hundreds of lesser known churches that are no less faithful and have no less to offer by way of good gospel preaching, Christian community, and evangelistic outreach.

10. Opportunity. The PCA is a young denomination. I’ve moved from the oldest Protestant denomination in the country to one of the newest. There are always challenges that come with youth (who am I? what will I be when I grown up? how do I relate to those who have gone before me?). But there are also great opportunities too.

Like pursuing a gospel-driven diversity that listens and learns without patronizing and pigeon-holing.

Like engaging a wayward world with more theology, more conviction, more worship, and more of God.

Like showing the world that real unity can only be found in truth, that the richest doctrine leads to the fullest doxology, that the highest Christology produces the best missiology, and that staunchest Calvinists can be the most loving people you’ve ever met.

I don’t doubt that there are discouraging moments at most denominational meetings, but as a PCA outsider-turned-insider I see a whole more that makes me smile than makes me frown. So to all my PCA brethren: I’m very glad to be with you, even if for one more year I’ll be with you here instead of there.

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Monday Morning Humor

Jun 08, 2015 | Kevin DeYoung

School is done for a few months, but this should keep you learning real good all summer.

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Victory in Jesus: A Sermon on 1 John 5:1-5

Jun 05, 2015 | Kevin DeYoung

The following is a lightly edited transcript from a sermon I preached on May 17 entitled “Victory in Jesus” from 1 John 5:1-5. This is not an essay written for the eye, but a spoken message put to print with a few revisions to aid in understanding.

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Please turn in your Bibles to 1 John 5:1-5.

Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God, and everyone who loves the Father loves whoever has been born of him. By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey his commandments. For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome. For everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world—our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world except the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?

Recently I put a brief article on my blog. I don’t think I have ever started a sermon by reading one of my blog posts, and I hope not to very often. But it will set up this morning’s sermon, so here it is:

Whenever counseling Christians looking for assurance of salvation, I take them to 1 John. This brief epistle is full of help for determining whether we are in the faith or not. In particular, there are three signs in 1 John given to us so we can answer the question “Do I have confidence or condemnation?”

The first sign is theological. You should have confidence if you believe in Jesus Christ the Son of God (5:11-13).  John doesn’t want people to be doubting.  God wants you to have assurance, to know that you have eternal life.  And this is the first sign, that you believe in Jesus.  You believe he is the Christ or the Messiah (2:22).  You believe he is the Son of God (5:10).  And you believe that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh (4:2).  So if you get your theology wrong about Jesus you will not have eternal life.  But one of the signs that should give you confidence before God is that you believe in his only Son Jesus Christ our Lord (4:14-16; 5:1, 5).

The second sign is moral. You should have confidence if you live a righteous life (3:6-9).  Those who practice wickedness, who plunge headlong into sin, who not only stumble, but habitually walk in wickedness-should not be confident.  This is no different than what Paul tells us in Romans 6 that we are no longer slaves to sin but slaves to righteousness and in Galatians 5 that those who walk in the flesh will not inherit the kingdom.  This is no different than what Jesus tells us in John 15 that a good tree cannot bear bad fruit and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit.  So if you live a morally righteous life you should have confidence (3:24). And lest this standard make you despair, keep in mind that part of living a righteous life is refusing to claim that you live without sin and coming to Christ for cleansing when you do sin (1:9-10).

The third sign is social. You should have confidence if you love other Christians (3:14).  If you hate like Cain you do not have life.  But if your heart and your wallet are open to your brothers and sisters eternal life abides in you. One necessary sign of true spiritual life is that we love one another (4:7-12, 21).

These are John’s three signposts to assure us that we are on the road that leads to eternal life. These are not three things we do to earn salvation, but three indicators that God has indeed saved us. We believe in Jesus Christ the Son of God. We live a righteous life. We are generous toward other Christians.  Or we can put it this way: we know we have eternal life if we love Jesus, we love his commands, and we love his people.  No one of the three is optional.  All must be present in the Christian, and all three are meant to be signs for our assurance (see 2:4, 6; 4:20; 5:2).

John belabors the same points again and again. Do you love God?  Do you love his commands?  Do you love his people?  If you don’t, it’s a sign you have death.  If you do, it’s sign that you have life. And that means confidence instead of condemnation.

That’s what I wrote on my blog. It is basically a summary of 1 John, and especially a good summary of 1 John 5:1-2. Somewhat surprisingly, there was a good deal of controversy surrounding this blog post. I want to share some of the comments because they are indicative of what many people think, perhaps even some of you. I’ve edited some of the comments for length, and have put them into my own order. But this will give you the gist of what the comments were like.

Comment #1

I grew up in church my whole life and recently (within the past 5 yrs) understood the scriptures in a completely different way. It led me to doubt my own salvation but more than that, doubt my relationship (or lack thereof) with this holiest of holy God of the universe.

As someone who’s been struggling with this for some years, I am sorry to say this brief explanation can be so misleading. Not to be hateful. I follow your blog regularly and respect what you do. But who out there can confidently say they live without wickedness within or love their fellow “christians” without fail?

Comment #2

I have also spent time doubting my salvation. All these items can be false indicators. And they are confusing, and they leave room for human judgement. Am I my own judge? Is my brother my judge? Who will decide that I am loving well or living well or that my doctrine is correct? Certainly He is my judge. We must submit ourselves to Him and He will show us what it means to have assurance of salvation.

[Rom 8:16 NASB] 16 The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are children of God.

Comment #3

The problem with articles such as this is that definitive, objective answers are not provided.

Nobody, not even Kevin DeYoung lives a perfectly upright and moral life. While Kevin doesn’t advocate sinless perfection here, it is very difficult to know if sin that you struggle with is part of your sanctification battle, or indication that you are making a practice of sin and are therefore not saved. The question about quantifying is not to say “how much sin can I practice and still be saved?’ but rather, “I have done awful things in my life, I still struggle with sin, and how do I know if I have changed enough to be confident?” Kevin DeYoung cannot quantify this.

To the third point, absolutely we need to love others in the Body of Christ. But every person reading this, including the writer, loves his brothers and sisters imperfectly. If one is honest with themselves, they see this. How close to perfect must your love be before you have assurance of salvation.

Comment #4

Is this the gospel? After all this is the gospel coalition website. What message are they preaching?

Comment #5

TGC, please, it’s time for a lengthy sit-down interview with Kevin. This is salvation we’re talking about here.

Comment #6

As a Christian who is currently stumbling and struggling, this article is pretty discouraging. I feel hopeless in the midst of my sin, and hopeless that I have failed to live a morally upright life and I imagine myself knocking on heaven’s gates one day and being denied entrance. Even though in my heart of hearts I know that I have encountered God’s love and have known Him… Can one so easily just look at the lack of moral uprightness in my life and say that I am not a Christian? Isn’t this failure, this sin the exact reason that I need Jesus and needed Him to give His life on the cross?

Comment #7

I’m a little surprised and disappointed that Mr. DeYoung says nothing about faith in the finished work of Christ on the cross, and that he gives the appearance of leaning in the direction of trusting in one’s own works for salvation, even if he does not intend to do so.

While we do bear fruit, we bear it imperfectly, and we will always see our best works tainted with sinful actions or motivations. And Mr. DeYoung, as well intended as he may be, ultimately makes salvation rest on me and my efforts rather than on Christ and the cross.

One entire article was written in response. It was thoughtful and well written. Here’s part of it.

Some [people when talking about assurance] urge folks to ask themselves if they really believe, if they really love their neighbor, if they really live a moral life. But no matter how well intentioned such an urging might be, rather than helping, it is pouring the poison of doubt into the souls of those for whom Christ died.

Look inside yourself to answer, “Are you a Christian?” and you will find a heart that is deceitful above all things (Jer 17:9); a heart from which flow evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander (Matt 15:19); a conscience that testifies that nothing good dwells in you, that the evil you do not want to do, you nevertheless keep right on doing (Rom 7:18-19).

Look at your deeds to answer, “Are you a Christian?” and you will find that all your righteousness is as filthy rags (Isa 64:6); and if such be your righteousness, how dirty and defiled must be your unrighteousness. Look at your deeds and you will find that even when you have the desire to do what is right, you don’t have the ability to carry it out (Rom 7:18). Even if you did all that you were commanded, you must still say, “I am an unworthy servant; I have only done what was my duty,” (cf. Luke 17:10). If such be the response of a person whose has kept all God’s commands, then we who have broken those commands are worthy of nothing but punishment, now and forever.

Thus, to answer, “Are you are Christian?” by looking inside ourselves, or by looking to our deeds or love of the neighbor, is to drink the poison of doubt. In fact, the more Christians look at themselves to see whether they are Christians, the more they will become convinced that they are not Christians.

The answer is found not within us but within Christ. Our assurance is in his objective, external work of salvation on our behalf. Not in our hearts but in the heart and life and death and resurrection of Jesus Christ we receive assurance that we are the children of God…

How do you know you’re a Christian? Not because your heart is good and pure but because the heart of Christ pulses with a love for you that will never end. Not because your deeds are righteous but because he has been righteous on your behalf and clothes you with that righteousness. Not because you have lived for him but because he has lived and died and risen again for you. Not because you asked him to be your Savior but because while you were yet a sinner, Christ died for you, chose you, called you, and washed you clean in his own divine blood.

Reading the comments and subsequent article you can boil down the objections to five points.

  1. This is salvation by works.
  2. We should never look at ourselves for assurance.
  3. None of us really love God or love our neighbor.
  4. To think that we really love God or our neighbor is prideful.
  5. This way of assurance makes me doubt my salvation.

What should we say to these objections? Here are responses to each of these objections.

Objection 1: This is salvation by works.

You may think: “This causes people to rest on their righteousness rather than on the finished work of Christ.” Clearly that is not what I mean to say; in fact, it is not what I do say. These are not three things we do to earn salvation but three indicators that God has indeed saved us.

We are talking about signposts. How do you know you are driving on the right road in the right direction? Sometimes we need signs, especially when traveling in a foreign country where they drive on the opposite side of the road, to let us know that we are going in the right direction. These signs are not instructions on how to build the ladder to heaven, but evidence, fruit, indicators. Any notion of salvation by works or that we rest in our works rather than in Christ would be inconsistent with scripture.

Perfectionism is ruled out. It is well established in scripture that everyone sins, we all need to be forgiven, we all need to be cleansed, we all need an advocate: somebody who can argue our case before the Father and say because of what I did these sinners ought to be forgiven and made clean and counted righteous. Salvation by works is ruled out.

Objection 2: We should never look at ourselves for assurance.

Again, some people may argue, “Look, there is too much emphasis on I. What I believe, what I do, how I love, how I act. The Bible does not want us to look at what we’re doing but at the objective work of Christ outside of us.” This is one of those statements that is three-quarters true. It is true in what it states—we should look to the objective work of Christ outside of us. Where it is misleading is to say that means there is never any room to find assurance of evidence in our own life.

1 John was written in part so that we might know, that we might see, that we might discern truth from error by looking at people’s lives—what they do, what they believe, how they act. For example, 1 John 2:5, “by this we may know that we are in him.” How do you know if you are in him? Answer: “whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked.” That’s how we know. Are we walking as he walked? 1 John 3:10, “By this it is evident who are the children of God, and who are the children of the devil.” We are suppose to look at evidence and what is the evidence? “Whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is the one who does not love his brother.” Again in 1 John 3:14, “We know we have passed out of death into life,” how do we know that? “because we love the brothers;” verse 19, “by this we shall know that we are of the truth and reassure our hearts before him;” Verse 24, “whoever keeps his commandments abides in God and God in him and by this we know that he abides in us.” So we are meant to see something. Over and over we hear, “by this we know.” It sounds very pious to say we’re never meant to look at any external evidence just look to Christ. But scripture says over and over that there is evidence to know how people are living their lives.

In 2 Cor. 13:5 it says, “Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith.” That is a scriptural injunction, to examine yourselves. That doesn’t mean we become narcissistic and navel gazing. But there is a place to examine ourselves and see if this fruit is really evident in our lives.

This is what we find in the Reformed Confessions. The Canons of Dort say that assurance is not produced by any private revelation. Assurance, says Dort, springs from three things: “from faith in God’s promises, which He has most abundantly revealed in His Word for our comfort; from the testimony of the Holy Spirit, witnessing with our spirit that we are children and heirs of God; and lastly, from a serious and holy desire to preserve a good conscience and perform good works” (5.10). The Westminster Confession of Faith says pretty much the same thing. The “infallible assurance of faith” is “founded upon the divine truth of the promises of salvation, the inward evidence of those graces . . . . [and] the testimony of the Spirit of adoption.” One the second point (evidences of grace), the Confessions lists four proof texts: 2 Peter 1:4-11, which urges us to make our calling and election sure by the diligent effort to grow in godliness and bear spiritual fruit; 1 John 2:3, which testifies that we know we belong to God if we keep his commandments; 1 John 3:14, which assures us that we have passed from death to life because we love our brothers; 2 Cor. 1:12, which speaks of rejoicing in the testimony of a good conscience.

Clearly, the Confessions teach that a transformed life is one sign, not the only and not the cause, of our right standing with God. So there is a place in the Christian life to know that we belong to Christ by seeing evidence of it.

Objection 3: None of us really love God or our neighbor.

To be a Christian, you have to be willing to think carefully, to make careful distinctions. Because it is in one sense true: no one loves God and our neighbor as we should. We know we need to love God better; we are imperfect in our love; we often feel convicted of our failures. That is the normal Christian life. But if we think we have no love for God, no love for our neighbor, we cannot make sense of scripture.

1 John 5:2, “By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey his commandments.” John is operating with the category there are people who are born of God and they love God and they obey his commandments; verse 1, “Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God.” So if you are born of God, these three things are happening in your life. You believe in the Son of God, you love God, and you love the people of God, if you are born again. If the one category—none of us really love God or love our neighbor—is an empty set, then the other category—truly born again of God—is an equally empty set. John Stott says, “The true Christian, born from above, believes in the Son of God, loves God and the children of God, and keeps the commands of God.”

The Gnostics wanted to separate morality from religion but God cannot be separated from himself. Calvin says, “He who loves him [God] must necessarily have his heart prepared to render obedience to righteousness. The love of God, then, is not idle or inactive.”

Look at this remarkable statement in verse 4, “everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world.” If you struggle and do not feel like a victorious Christian that very may well be the normal pattern of the Christian life. But if you succumb to sin, do not turn from sin, your life is habitually marked by sin, you revel in sin, then you are at odds with what scripture tells us to do and expects us to be. It is expected that those in Christ overcome the world. That means Christians set the ways of the world—the desires of the flesh, desires of the eyes, the pride of life—aside.

There is a difference in asking, “How do you know you’re a Christian?” and asking, “How do you become a Christian? How do you become right with God? How can you be justified before God?” You are not saved because your heart is pure. God does not tell us to clean up our life and then he will save us. But we are not wrong to look for good works as evidence of Christian fruitfulness in the life of a true believer—the one who overcomes.

Objection 4: It is prideful.

There is no room for boasting in the Christian life, and if you are drawn to compare yourself to others, then that is wrong. It is the new birth that makes this life of obedience possible—not because we woke up one morning and thought we would become a Christian and tried real hard to get our life together. It is by God’s sovereign work of grace that you have new life and a new spirit and a new heart. Of course there will be some evidence of this new life. When a woman has a baby, the baby is the evidence of the new life. If you never saw the baby, then you would wonder if she had really given birth.

These signs are not the cause of regeneration but the consequences of regeneration. So that our attitude toward God and his commandments changes. The commands are not burdensome, not only because of the nature of the commandments but because of our new nature. What felt oppressive has become freeing. What was dread-inspiring has become a delight. His yoke is easy and his burden is light. The victory that overcomes the world is our faith. That is a surprising twist. We believe the promises of God, fighting the fight of faith. It is not boasting to say, “I worked harder than any of them,” if you then say, “though it was not I, but the grace of God that is within me” (1 Cor. 15:10).

God’s grace saves us from our sin and saves us unto righteousness. Anything else makes Christ only half a Savior. Christ not only saves us from the penalty of sin, he also saves us from the power of sin. We need a category for obedience in the Christian life that is not meritorious or perfect, with weakness and failings and yet it is genuine, heartfelt, sincere, God-pleasing obedience. There are a lot of Christians who live their entire life thinking they cannot do anything that will please their heavenly father. And many times we think it is more spiritual to think this way. But there is a way, as God’s people, to live a life that is obedient to him, not perfectly and it is not what earns your salvation, but it is sincere and genuine. The Westminster Confession says that our works are also accepted in Christ, so that God, “looking upon them in his Son, is pleased to accept and reward that which is sincere, although accompanied with many weaknesses and imperfections.”

Objection 5: This makes me doubt my salvation.

This is the most personal and pastoral objection. There are some who should doubt but not those who desire holiness, hate their sin, and flee to Christ. 1 John is written in order that we might have confidence. It is not meant to make us doubt. It is meant to make us discerning, and through discernment to have confidence. John’s letter summarizes that we are children of our heavenly Father. There are false teachers out there. Don’t listen to them. I want you to be confident in your position in Christ. Don’t run after sin. Run to Christ. Walk with Christ. Then your joy will be filled to overflowing.

To those who ask, “How do I know if I am loving enough?” let me give you three words: trajectory, community and apology.

Don’t measure how you’re doing today compared to two days ago but look over months and years. Is there growth in godliness? Is there love for the things of God? Look for a long term trajectory.

Next community—assurance is a community project. The closer to get to a holy God, the more you see your own sin. We need each other to point out the fruit in our life. There are people we all know that we would like to model our Christian walk after, but none of them are sinless or earned their salvation. We don’t refer to them as sinless, but as godly. We see it in other people, but it can be difficult to see it in ourselves.

Thirdly, apology, in other words, repentance. One of the signs that you are walking in the light is that you are honest about having walked in the darkness. This doesn’t mean you do not sin anymore or that you still do not have some dark times. It means that you bring your sin into the light and are honest about it and repent and come to Christ . We are meant to have a clean conscience. Born again Christians are changed Christians—the change may be stumbling, imperfect, full of temptation, much struggle, but the change is never the less real, heartfelt, sincere and discernible.

This message is fundamentally all about Christ. Am I in Christ? Do I cling to Christ? Do I run to Christ? Am I being conformed to the image of Christ? As you are conformed to the image of Christ you will say, I love righteousness. I hate sin. I desire to please my Father. I trust his goodness. I believe that greater is he that is in me than he that is in the world. Who is it that overcomes the world except the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God.

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So How Do I Really Know I’m a Christian?

Jun 04, 2015 | Kevin DeYoung

A few weeks ago I wrote a short piece entitled How Do I Know I’m a Christian? The post flowed from a semester of preaching through 1 John. Like John Stott (and others), I see 1 John as a letter about assurance, a brief book in which the Apostle John outlines (over and over) three signs that confirm what John already knows: namely, that the recipients of his epistles are beloved children of God.

  • The first sign is theological. You should have confidence if you believe in Jesus Christ the Son of God (5:11-13).
  • The second sign is moral. You should have confidence if you live a righteous life (3:6-9).
  • The third sign is social. You should have confidence if you love other Christians (3:14).

There is nothing original about these points. Stott calls the three signs “belief” or “the doctrinal test,” “obedience” or “the moral test,” and “love” or “the social test.” As far as I can tell from the commentaries I consulted, my understanding of 1 John is thoroughly mainstream. I made clear that “These are not three things we do to earn salvation, but three indicators that God has indeed saved us.” I also explained that looking for these signs was not an invitation to look for perfection. “Lest this standard make you despair,” I said at one point, “keep in mind that part of living a righteous life is refusing to claim that you live without sin and coming to Christ for cleansing when you do sin (1:9-10).” In other words, the righteous life is a repentant life.

Surprisingly, the post elicited a strong response, much of it critical. As these things go on the web, some of the critiques were petty and personal. But others raised genuine concerns worth engaging. Because they raised questions people in my own congregation might have, I took time in my sermon on May 17 to explore several of these concerns and respond to them from 1 John. I hope to have a transcript of the sermon available soon.

In the meantime, I thought it would be helpful to engage more substantively with one particular response. After my initial article, a number of people on twitter directed folks to this post by Chad Bird as a much better answer to the question “How do I know I’m a Christian?” I don’t know Chad except that he is a contributor at Christ Hold Fast, a former Lutheran pastor and professor, and an occasional blogger at Liberate. I want to interact with his post not because it is so bad, but because it is, in so many ways, terrifically good. It is heartfelt, well-written, and points people to Christ. At the same time, by my reckoning the post evidences a number of theological and exegetical missteps (or at least, half-truths). My overarching concern is that when talking about the need for personal holiness we need to find categories besides “sinless perfection” and “filthy rags.” I hope that in taking the time to respond to this brother’s article I’m not stirring up more heat, but producing more light on these thorny and perennial issues of sanctification, good works, and assurance. I’ve reprinted Bird’s article below in bold italics, with my commentary in regular print.

There are questions about ourselves that are easily answered, and there are other questions that present more of a challenge.

If someone asks me, “Are you a husband?” I can show them my ring, present my wedding certificate, point to the woman standing next to me who shares my life and my last name. Yes, I am 100% sure that I’m married.

If someone asks me, “Are you an employee?” I can show them where I work, present my pay stubs, point to the truck with which I make deliveries. Yes, I am 100% sure that I’m an employee.

Other questions are not so easily answered. If I’m asked, “Are you a good husband?” what immediately comes to mind are the times I’ve failed my wife, acted selfishly, and been anything but a good husband. I have no real external, tangible, objective way to answer that question. I must rely on feelings and speculations. Similarly, if someone asks, “What kind of employee are you?” my mind goes to the labor I’ve put in, but also to the times I’ve slacked off yet expected a full paycheck for a half-hearted performance. What if I think I’m doing an okay job but my boss thinks different and fires me?

There are questions about ourselves that are easily answered, and there are other questions about ourselves where we have to explore our hearts to test their sincerity, take account of the good and bad things we’ve done, focus inwardly to find the answer.

What about the question, “Are you a Christian?” Does this one belong to that second category, where we must explore our hearts, test our actions, focus inside ourselves to get to the right answer?

That’s certainly what some people think. So they urge folks to ask themselves if they really believe, if they really love their neighbor, if they really live a moral life. But no matter how well intentioned such an urging might be, rather than helping, it is pouring the poison of doubt into the souls of those for whom Christ died.

Here Bird makes a direct reference to my blog post mentioning the three signs I argue are put forth for our assurance in 1 John. In these opening paragraphs we get a sense of Bird’s overarching concern: when it comes to answering the question “Are you a Christian?” we should not look at ourselves or in ourselves. We will never find confidence by looking at ourselves, only misplaced doubt. To be sure, this is a real problem for many Christians, which is why pastoral care and one-another counseling must take into account all of Scripture and all of the life for person we are trying to help. But is it right to present these three signs (theological, social, moral) as only leading to poisonous doubt? Three quick thoughts.

1. There are people externally connected to God’s covenant community who ought to doubt whether they truly belong to Christ. Isn’t this the point (at least one of the points) when 1 Corinthians 6:9 announces “that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God,” or when Galatians 5:21 warns “that those who do such things [works of the flesh] will not inherit the kingdom of God,” or when Galatians 6:8 reminds us that “the one who sows to the his own flesh” will not reap “eternal life” but “will from the flesh reap corruption”? Weren’t many of Jesus’ statements meant to disturb the comfortably religious? It is possible to say “Lord, Lord” and not actually know the Lord and enter the kingdom of heaven (Matt. 7:21-23). Some people honor God with their lips, but have a heart that is far from Christ (Matt. 15:8). To be sure, the purpose of 1 John is to provide comfort for believers (1 John 5:13) not pour out the poison of doubt, but doubting our salvation is not a bad things if we are not saved.

2. The call to examine oneself does not have to lead to crippling doubt and self-loathing. When Paul enjoined believers in 2 Corinthians 13:5 to examine themselves to whether they were in the faith, he fully expected them to pass the test (“Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Or do you not realize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?—unless indeed you fail to meet the test!”).

3. While it is never a good idea to “focus inside ourselves,” it is impossible to make sense of 1 John if looking for moral, social, and theological evidence is entirely inappropriate. For example, 1 John 2:5-6 says “By this we may know that we are in him: whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked.” Likewise, 1 John 3:10 says, “By this it is evident who are the children of God, and who are the children of the devil: whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is the one who does not love his brother.” We see similar “by this we know” language in 1 John 2:3; 3:14, 19, 24; 4:2-3; 4:13; 5:2. Clearly, we are meant to know something about the person by looking at what he believes, how he lives, and how he loves. One doesn’t have to be in favor of morbid introspection to understand that 1 John urges Christians to look for evidences of grace in themselves and in those who might be seeking to lead them astray.

Look inside yourself to answer, “Are you a Christian?” and you will find a heart that is deceitful above all things (Jer 17:9); a heart from which flow evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander (Matt 15:19); a conscience that testifies that nothing good dwells in you, that the evil you do not want to do, you nevertheless keep right on doing (Rom 7:18-19).

Look at your deeds to answer, “Are you a Christian?” and you will find that all your righteousness is as filthy rags (Isa 64:6); and if such be your righteousness, how dirty and defiled must be your unrighteousness. Look at your deeds and you will find that even when you have the desire to do what is right, you don’t have the ability to carry it out (Rom 7:18). Even if you did all that you were commanded, you must still say, “I am an unworthy servant; I have only done what was my duty,” (cf. Luke 17:10). If such be the response of a person whose has kept all God’s commands, then we who have broken those commands are worthy of nothing but punishment, now and forever.

Thus, to answer, “Are you are Christian?” by looking inside ourselves, or by looking to our deeds or love of the neighbor, is to drink the poison of doubt. In fact, the more Christians look at themselves to see whether they are Christians, the more they will become convinced that they are not Christians.

Let’s deal with Scripture first. Except for the reference to Romans 7, I don’t think any of these passages make the point Bird wants them to make. Jeremiah 17:9 is true for the unredeemed, but is “deceitful above all things” an accurate description of the hearts of those who have been born again? What about the promise of the law of God written on our hearts in Jeremiah 31? Or the promise of a heart of flesh in Ezekiel 36? Isn’t the Christian being renewed into the image of Christ (Col. 3:15) and created in Christ Jesus for good works (Eph. 2:10)?

Likewise, Jesus’ words in Matthew 15:19 are not describing the regular life of a born again disciple. If they were, how could we make sense of the instructions in the Sermon on the Mount, let alone the description of those outside of the New Jerusalem in Revelation 21:8?

I’ve written before that “filthy rags” in Isaiah 64:6 refers to perfunctory ritual obedience. The fact that Isaiah 64:5 speaks of the Lord smiling upon “him who joyfully works righteousness” proves that God does not turn his nose up at everything we ever do in his sight. Your heavenly Father is not impossible to please.

I don’t see the relevance of Luke 17:10. The discussion is not whether our obedience makes us worthy of anything, but whether obedience is a helpful (and even necessary) sign of our belonging to Christ. We are talking about the fruit of our justification, not the root.

Romans 7 is notoriously difficult to interpret, but assuming the passage is speaking about the converted Paul (which is what I think), these self-recriminating verses do not mean it is wrong to look for the sort of signs 1 John outlines. Elsewhere, Paul seems quite satisfied in his conscience that he has been walking in faith (and presumably in repentance) with the Lord (1 Cor. 4:3-4; 2 Cor. 1:12). Romans 7 expresses the very real sense of conviction and inner turmoil we can experience as Christians, which is why I would never say Christians should only look to their own lives for assurance. It is the testimony of most great saints that the closer they got to God, the more of their sin they began to see. Assurance is not a task for the navel-gazer, but a community project that relies (among other things) on evidence and on the spiritual sense of our brothers and sisters.

The answer is found not within us but within Christ. Our assurance is in his objective, external work of salvation on our behalf. Not in our hearts but in the heart and life and death and resurrection of Jesus Christ we receive assurance that we are the children of God.

This is the crux of the matter. Is the Christian’s assurance based on the objective, external work of salvation won by Christ on our behalf? Yes, yes, a thousand times yes! Are there other grounds of assurance? Also yes. The Reformed confessions (Dort and Westminster) mention three grounds of assurance: “the divine truth of the promises of salvation, the inward evidence of those graces. . . .[and] the testimony of the Spirit of adoption.” On the second point regarding inward evidences of grace, Westminster lists four prooftexts:

  • 2 Peter 1:4-11 which urges us to make our calling and election sure by the diligent effort to grow in godliness and bear spiritual fruit.
  • 1 John 2:3 which testifies that we know we belong to God if we keep his commandments.
  • 1 John 3:14 which assures us that we have passed from death to life because we love our brothers.
  • 2 Cor. 1:12 which speaks of rejoicing in the testimony of a good conscience.

Clearly, the Confession teaches that a transformed life is one sign (though not the only sign, and certainly not the the cause) of our right standing with God. Whether Lutheran Orthodoxy agrees with Reformed Orthodoxy on this point I cannot say, but the Defense of the Augsburg Confession does state: “It is, therefore, manifest that we require good works” (III.19).

In Christ, God was reconciling the world to himself (2 Cor 5:19)—the world of which you are a part. In Christ you are reconciled to God, at peace with the Lord, adopted as a child of the heavenly Father. God loved the world in this way: by sending his only begotten Son to die as the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. And if the world’s sin is taken away, then your sins are taken away. God made him who knew no sin to be sin for us in order that in him we might become the righteousness of God (2 Cor 5:21). His worthiness covers our unworthiness.

Your name is written in the wounds of Jesus. He has dipped his pen in the crimson ink of his veins and written your name, indelibly, in the Lamb’s Book of Life. He has engraved your name on the palms of his hands. He has tattooed his name onto your soul and heart and mind and body—you are completely and everlastingly his and his alone. In baptism you did not commit yourself to Christ; he committed himself to you. More than that, in those waters he crucified you with himself, laid your body with his in the tomb, and he carried you forth into the light of life again. He who believes and is baptized shall be saved. That believing, that faith, is not a conviction you created but a gift you received. By the Holy Spirit you confess, “Jesus is Lord.”

Beautiful stuff. I think I detect a universal atonement in the first paragraph and a little Lutheran sacramental theology in the second paragraph, but outside of this these are wonderful gospel truths that I hope every Christian would warmly embrace.

Do we still struggle to believe? Of course we do, for we are far from perfect in this life. As a father once prayed to Jesus, so we also pray, “Lord, I believe; help Thou my unbelief,” (Mark 9:24). And he does. He enlivens and strengthens our faith by continuing to forgive us, to love us, to heal us, to give us himself. It is not our faithfulness that saves us, but the faithfulness of Jesus. For even if we are faithless he remains faithful, for he cannot deny himself (2 Tim 2:13).

Setting aside the question of how to interpret 2 Timothy 2:13 (which some take to be God’s faithfulness to save us and others interpret as God’s faithfulness to judge those who deny him), Bird is being both biblically true and pastorally wise to remind us that “we are far from perfect in this life.” No one is without sin, and if we claim to be without sin we call God a liar (1 John 1:8, 10). The problem is that whenever mention is made of obeying God or pleasing God (manifestly biblical categories), some Christians–whether because they have an axe to grind or (more likely) because they have a tender conscience–hear in that language: flawless, spotless, meritorious obedience. As I said earlier, when explaining the need for personal holiness in the life of the Christian, we need categories besides “sinless perfection” and “filthy rags.” Employing this category is one of the strengths of 1 John and is necessary if we are to make sense of Hebrews 12:14, the Sermon on the Mount, qualifications for elders and deacons, the fruit of the Spirit, or almost anything in the New Testament.

We are capable of doing what is good–not perfectly, not without blemish and weakness, but truly, sincerely, and in a way that is pleasing to God. According to the Westminster Confession of Faith, our sins are not only forgiven in Christ, our works are also accepted in Christ, such that God, “looking upon them in his Son, is pleased to accept and reward that which is sincere, although accompanied with many weaknesses and imperfections” (WCF16.6). It is equally a denial of Scripture and of the grace of God to say that the Christian cannot do good as it is to say that the Christian never does what is bad (1 John 1:8, 10; 2:1, 3, 12-14, 15-17; 3:2-3, 4-10; 5:1-5; 18-20).

How do you know you’re a Christian? Not because your heart is good and pure but because the heart of Christ pulses with a love for you that will never end. Not because your deeds are righteous but because he has been righteous on your behalf and clothes you with that righteousness. Not because you have lived for him but because he has lived and died and risen again for you. Not because you asked him to be your Savior but because while you were yet a sinner, Christ died for you, chose you, called you, and washed you clean in his own divine blood.

If someone asks you, “How do you know you’re a Christian?” the answer is as simple as it is beautiful: you know you’re a Christian
because Christ has made you his own
because Christ will hold you fast
because nothing can separate you from the love of God
because Christ knows you, forgives you, washes you, and will never let you go.

That’s how you know you’re a Christian.

I love a lot about these concluding paragraphs. I love the emphasis on the work of Christ on the cross. I love the focus on Christ’s never-failing love. I love the reminder that we do not hold on to Christ, but he holds on to us. I love what Bird affirms in this closing section. My concern is in what he denies. I find this to be a recurring problem in recent sanctification debates. It’s not the affirmations of grace that trouble me, but what so often shows up as the antithesis to grace. If the question was “How do I become a Christian?” then the “nots” would be well placed. But the question is how do I know I’m a Christian? In which case what we believe, what we do, and what our hearts feel is not irrelevant. What should we make of someone whose heart is bad and impure, someone whose deeds are unrighteous, someone who does not live for Christ, someone who has not asked Christ to be his Savior? I suppose in one sense–and this is likely what Bird means–we could still conclude that this person was a Christian, if we mean someone whose heart still struggles with sin, someone whose deeds are not always righteous, someone who does not live for Christ as well as he would like, someone whose confidence is not in faith itself but in the object of his faith. I assume that’s what Bird means, but by themselves these statements say too much. They claim that looking at the heart, looking at our deeds, looking at a life of discipleship, looking at a basic faith commitment has no bearing on whether you know you’re a Christian. Even if these were absent there would be no grounds for questioning your position in Christ. Is this good biblical counsel and pastoral care? Is there anything a professing Christian can say or do or fail to manifest that would suggest a profession is false?

If you can hang with me a few more paragraphs, read through this tedious but important section from (Lutheran) Defense of the Augsburg Confession:

We, therefore, profess that it is necessary that the Law be begun in us, and that it be observed continually more and more. And at the same time we comprehend both spiritual movements and external good works [the good heart within and works without]. Therefore the adversaries falsely charge against us that our theologians do not teach good works while they not only require these, but also show how they can be done [that the heart must enter into these works, lest they be mere, lifeless, cold works of hypocrites].

The result convicts hypocrites, who by their own powers endeavor to fulfill the Law, that they cannot accomplish what they attempt. [For are they free from hatred, envy, strife, anger, wrath, avarice, adultery, etc.? Why, these vices were nowhere greater than in the cloisters and sacred institutes.] For human nature is far too weak to be able by its own powers to resist the devil, who holds as captives all who have not been freed through faith. There is need of the power of Christ against the devil, namely, that, inasmuch as we know that for Christ’s sake we are heard, and have the promise, we may pray for the governance and defense of the Holy Ghost, that we may neither be deceived and err, nor be impelled to undertake anything contrary to God’s will. [Otherwise we should, every hour, fall into error and abominable vices.] Just as Ps. 68:18 teaches: Thou hast led captivity captive; Thou hast received gifts for man. For Christ has overcome the devil, and has given to us the promise and the Holy Ghost, in order that, by divine aid, we ourselves also may overcome. And 1 John 3:8: For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that He might destroy the works of the devil.

Again, we teach not only how the Law can be observed, but also how God is pleased if anything be done, namely, not because we render satisfaction to the Law, but because we are in Christ, as we shall say after a little. It is, therefore, manifest that we require good works. Yea, we add also this, that it is impossible for love to God, even though it be small, to be sundered from faith, because through Christ we come to the Father, and the remission of sins having been received, we now are truly certain that we have a God, i.e., that God cares for us; we call upon Him, we give Him thanks, we fear Him, we love Him as 1 John 4:19 teaches: We love Him, because He first loved us, namely, because He gave His Son for us, and forgave us our sins. Thus he indicates that faith precedes and love follows.

Likewise the faith of which we speak exists in repentance, i.e., it is conceived in the terrors of conscience, which feels the wrath of God against our sins, and seeks the remission of sins, and to be freed from sin. And in such terrors and other afflictions this faith ought to grow and be strengthened. Wherefore it cannot exist in those who live according to the flesh who are delighted by their own lusts and obey them. Accordingly, Paul says, Rom. 8:1: There is, therefore, now no condemnation to them that are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit. So, too, Rom. 8:12-13: We are debtors, not to the flesh, to live after the flesh. For if ye live after the flesh, ye shall die; but if ye, through the Spirit, do mortify the deeds of the body, ye shall live. Wherefore, the faith which receives remission of sins in a heart terrified and fleeing from sin does not remain in those who obey their desires, neither does it coexist with mortal sin.(III.15-23, emphasis and paragraph breaks mine)

I find in this section so much of what is often denied by those on the “stop looking at yourself” side of the sanctification discussion.

  • We can grow as Christians (the Law being observed in us more and more).
  • As the fruit of our justification, good works are necessary for the Christian.
  • By the conquering power of Christ, good work are possible for the Christian.
  • Genuine faith in inconsistent with living according to the flesh.

As I read the books and blogs and tweets of my brothers and sisters on the other side of these debates I often find myself saying, “Yes, I love that too! But saying yes to that doesn’t entail saying no to this.” We have to deal with people in the full range of their problems, fears, hurts, and idols. We have to sing all four parts of the score and from more than our favorite oratorio. We have to be more careful with what we affirm and what we deny. And above all, we must be relentlessly biblical. If someone’s sermon or book or article makes you feel condemned or feel uneasy or feel out of sorts with God that is not inconsequential, but neither is it by itself conclusive. Maybe the message was off. Maybe the messenger was clumsy. Or maybe the fault lies with the one receiving the message. If we want to be good Reformed Christians or good Lutheran Christians (or any other kind of good Christians) we must keep going back to the Bible. We have to think carefully and speak carefully. This is an important conversation with lots of theological, personal, and pastoral ramifications. If we deal with slogans and caricatures, all will be in vain. If we talk calmly and dig deeply, much can be gained.

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Monday Morning Humor

Jun 01, 2015 | Kevin DeYoung

Even if you aren’t in to the Stanley Cup–and you should be!–this is a funny hockey story from a Blackhawks fan convention in 2011. Note: there are no swear words in the clip, though there are a couple allusions to people swearing. But you gotta love the cutest-sounding kid asking a great question and an athlete giving an honest answer.

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Hymns We Should Sing More Often: Sing Praise to the Lord

May 29, 2015 | Kevin DeYoung

This is part of an intermittent series I’ve called “Hymns We Should Sing More Often.” The aim is to remind us (or introduce for the first time) excellent hymns that are probably not included in most church’s musical canon. A few hymns–like Holy, Holy, Holy or Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing—are familiar to many congregations and get sung in conferences and other large gatherings. Unfortunately, for a growing number of churches, there are no hymnals in the pews (or on the chairs), and consequently there is little opportunity to draw from the deep well of Christian hymnody. Most of the hymns in this series are not unfamiliar, just underutilized. I hope you will enjoy learning about these hymns as much as I have and enjoy singing them even more.

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The Bible instructs God’s people to sing psalms (Eph. 5:19; Col. 3:16). Jesus sang the Psalms (Matt. 26:30). The early church sang the Psalms. The Reformers, especially in the tradition of Calvin, loved to sing the Psalms. The Bay Psalm Book was the first book of any kind printed in America. The Psalms—150 God-breathed songs—have been the staple of Protestant worship for 500 years. The Psalms give expression to the full range of human emotion-lament, joy, anguish, doubt, hope, longing, confusion, jubilation, contrition, and fear. We sing the Psalms to our great spiritual profit; we neglect them at our peril.

Psalm 149 is a song of praise. Composed after the exile to Babylon, this Psalm exhorts Israel to sing a new song to the Lord, praising him with instruments and dancing for saving the humble and opposing the wicked.

The tune used in the gray Psalter Hymnal is called HANOVER, after the House of Hanover, the family of King George III (the King at the time of American independence). Although the tune was printed anonymously, it is generally credited to William Croft (1678-1727), a teacher, organist, and composer. The descant comes from another Englishmen, Alan Gray (1855-1935), a composer and popular music director for many years at Cambridge.

Sing praise to the LORD; come sing a new song.
Amid all his saints his praises prolong.
Let Israel be glad in their Maker and sing;
let all Zion’s people rejoice in their King.

With timbrel and harp and joyful acclaim,
with dancing and song give praise to his name.
For God in his people his pleasure will seek,
with robes of salvation adorning the meek.

In glory exult, you saints of the LORD;
with songs in the night high praises accord.
Go forth in his service, be strong in his might
to conquer all evil and stand for the right.

For this is God’s word: his saints shall not fail,
but over the earth their power shall prevail.
All kingdoms and nations shall yield to their sword–
thus God shows his glory. Sing praise to the LORD!

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Summer Plans

May 27, 2015 | Kevin DeYoung

Before I applied for the PhD program at the University of Leicester two years ago, my elders graciously agreed in principle to give me three consecutive summer sabbaticals to work on my dissertation. The first summer off was last year, which makes this the second. I have an elders meeting this Thursday and I’ll preach one more time on June 14 (the last Sunday before our Associate Pastor, Ben Falconer, heads to Proclamation PCA), but other than that I will be free of regular pastoral responsibilities. It is a great gift. Taking time to do research and writing is good for my energy, good for my health, good for my longevity in ministry, and, I dare say, good for the church too. They will enjoy hearing different preachers this summer–mainly our Assistant Pastor, Jason Helopoulos, who is an excellent preacher–and they will find me much refreshed when I return to the pulpit at the end of August.

Last summer I allowed a number of extra responsibilities to crowd my sabbatical schedule. So this year my elders are forcing me to do as little a possible, except to spend time with my family, spend time with the Lord, and spend time in the 18th century. To that end they’ve made me cancel a number of speaking engagements and other events I had agreed to over the next three months. My sincere apologies if you were affected by these cancellations. I’m grateful that these men are looking out for me.

In order to have a productive and restful sabbath, my presence on social media will be greatly reduced during the next twelve weeks. You can expect a Monday Morning Humor and one other blog post per week (and the occasional guest post or a dissertation related quotation that seemed too good not to share). I’ll also be less active on Twitter. If I have something to share, I’ll share it. If not, I may go silent for days at a time (oh the horrors!). No one will be worse off for a little less Kevin DeYoung on the internet, and likely no one will be better off for it than me.

I hope you have a great summer. I am going to try hard to make mine great by trying to do fewer things. Rest, read, write, relax with the family. Physical exercise and spiritual exercises too. That’s the plan.

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Monday Morning Humor

May 26, 2015 | Kevin DeYoung

True, it’s Tuesday, but why not get a little humor to start your work week. With Bob Dylan’s birthday over the weekend and all the palindrome dates we had during the middle of this month (5-1x-15), I thought this song would be a fitting choice.

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Remembering Memorial Day

May 25, 2015 | Kevin DeYoung

This piece has appeared on Memorial Day before, but I thought it was worth posting again.

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Memorial Day, originally called Decoration Day, was instituted to honor Union soldiers who died in the Civil War. After World War I, the purpose of the day was expanded to include all men and women who died in U.S. military service. Today, Memorial Day is mainly thought of as the unofficial start of summer–a long weekend with a car race, playoff basketball, and brats and burgers on the grill.

It is always tricky to know how the church should or shouldn’t celebrate patriotic holidays. Certainly, some churches blend church and state in such a way that the kingdom of God morphs into a doctrinally-thin, spiritually nebulous civil religion. But even with this dangers, there are a number of good reasons why Christians should give thanks for Memorial Day.

1. Being a soldier is not a sub-Christian activity. In Luke 3, John the Baptist warns the people to bear fruit in keeping with repentance. The crowds respond favorably to his message and ask him, “What then shall we do?” John tells the rich man to share his tunics, the tax collectors to collect only what belongs to them, and the soldiers to stop their extortion. If ever there was a time to tell the soldiers that true repentance meant resigning from the army, surely this was the time. And yet, John does not tell them that they must give up soldier-work to bear fruit, only that they need to be honest soldiers. The Centurion is even held up by Jesus as the best example of faith he’s seen in Israel (Luke 7:9). Military service, when executed with integrity and in the Spirit of God, is a suitable vocation for the people of God.

2. The life of a soldier can demonstrate the highest Christian virtues. While it’s true that our movies sometimes go too far in glamorizing war, this is only the case because there have been many heroics acts in the history of war suitable for our admiration. Soldiers in battle are called on to show courage, daring, service, shrewdness, endurance, hard work, faith, and obedience. These virtues fall into the “whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just” category that deserve our praise (Philippians 4:8).

3. Military service is one of the most common metaphors in the New Testament to describe the Christian life. We are to fight the good fight, put on the armor of God, and serve as a good soldier of Christ Jesus. When we remember the sacrifice, single-minded dedication, and discipline involved in the life of a soldier, we are calling to mind what we are supposed to be like as Christians in service to Christ.

4. Love of country can be a good thing. As Christians we have dual citizenship. Our first and ultimate allegiance must always be to Christ whose heavenly dwelling is our eternal home. But we are also citizens of an earthly country. We will stand before God not as individuals wiped clean of all earthly nationality, but as people with distinct languages, cultural affinities, and homelands. It is not wrong to love our distinct language, culture, or nationality. Whenever I’m at a ball game I still get choked up during the singing of the National Anthem. I think this is good. Love for God does not mean we love nothing else on earth, but rather that we learn to love the things on earth in the right way and with the right proportions and priorities. Love of country is a good thing, and it is right to honor those who defend the principles that make our country good.

5. This may be controversial to some, but I believe the facts of history will demonstrate that on the whole, the United States military has been a force for good in the world. Obviously, as a military power, we have blundered at times, both individually and corporately. But on the whole, the men and women of our armed services have fought and are fighting for causes that promote freedom, defend the rights of human beings, and reject tyranny. War is still hell and a tragic result of the fall. Praise God for his promise to one day end all human conflict. But in a world where people are evil by nature and leaders are not always reasonable and countries do not always have good intentions, war is sometimes the way to peace-at least the best peace we can hope for between peoples and nations this side of heaven.

So thank God for a day to remember God’s common grace to America and his special grace in enlisting us, poor weak soldiers that we are, in service to Christ our Captain and conquering King.

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What Does Jude 7 Mean By “Other Flesh”?

May 22, 2015 | Kevin DeYoung

Among those who agree that the Bible prohibits homosexual practice, there is a disagreement about whether the story of Sodom and Gomorr66721_2ah should be used in support of this conclusion. Traditionally, the sin of Sodom has been considered, among other things, the sin of pursuing same-sex intercourse. Hence, the act of male-with-male sex has been termed sodomy. More recently, others have maintained that attempted homosexual gang rape is hardly germane to the question of committed, monogamous gay unions today. Sodom had many sins–violence, injustice, oppression, inhospitable brutality–but same-sex intercourse per se is nowhere condemned in the Genesis account. Some conservative scholars, while still holding conservative conclusions about marriage and homosexuality, have concurred with this line of reasoning, arguing that when it comes to deciding the rightness or wrongness of homosexual behavior, Genesis 19 is irrelevant.

There are many important considerations to weigh when trying to make sense of Sodom and Gomorrah. Obviously, the Old Testament context matters. Knowing something about the Ancient Near East may help too. Looking at literature from Second Temple Judaism is also important. Most critical, however (at least for those with an evangelical view of Scripture), is how the New Testament understands the sin of Sodom. Which is why Jude 6-7 is so important.

And the angels who did not stay within their own position of authority, but left their proper dwelling, he has kept in eternal chains under gloomy darkness until the judgment of the great day—just as Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding cities, which likewise indulged in sexual immorality and pursued unnatural desire (sarkos heteras), serve as an example by undergoing a punishment of eternal fire. (Jude 6-7)

There is a case to be that Jude’s comment about sarkos heteras (“other flesh”)  is a reference to sex with angels not sex with other men. Verse 6 is likely an allusion to the sin of the angels in Genesis 6:1-4, which according to Jewish tradition, involved angels having sex with the daughters of men. So it is not far fetched to think that the “other flesh” in verse 7 is a reference to the men of Sodom trying to have sex with Lot’s angelic visitors. If this interpretation is correct, it makes it less likely (though not at all impossible) to see the sin of Sodom as being, at least in part, the sin of homosexual practice. Which, of course, would do nothing to invalidate the other verses that speak on the subject, but it would set aside the most infamous account of homosexuality in the Bible.

Having said all that, I still see good reasons to accept the traditional interpretation and conclude that Jude 7 is a reference to the sin of homosexual behavior.

1. This interpretation is in keeping with prevailing Jewish norms in the first century. Both Josephus and Philo not only condemn relations that are “contrary to nature,” they explicitly understand Genesis 19 as referring to homosexual acts.

2. As a striking example of sexual immorality, it would certainly be more relevant in a first century Greco-Roman context to warn against homosexual behavior as opposed to the non-existent temptation to have sex with angels (cf. 2 Peter 2:6).

3. It would be strange to refer to attempted sex with angels as pursuing other “flesh.” Of all the ways to reference angels, the very physical, human, and earthly sarx seems an odd choice.

4. The men of Sodom did not know they were trying to have sex with angelic beings. Even if sarkos heteras could be taken to mean a “different species” (and I don’t think it does), the men of Sodom had no idea that that is what they were pursuing. Isn’t it more likely to think they were guilty of pursuing sex with other men (as they saw them), then that they were guilty of pursuing sex with angels (which they did not understand)?

5. If pursuing “unnatural desire” is a reference to seeking out sex with angels, how do we make sense of the beginning of verse 7 which indicts Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding cities of this sin? Were Admah and Zeboim guilty of trying to have sex with angels? It makes more sense to think that Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding cities all had a reputation for sexual immorality and that one flagrant example of such sin was homosexual practice. This is why the parallel passage in 2 Peter 2:7-8 can depict Lot as greatly distressed by the sensual conduct of these cities. They had a reputation for lawlessness which did not rely on angels to be manifested.

In short, the sin of Sodom and Gomorrah and the whole region was not just a one-time attempted gang rape of angelic beings, but, according to Jude a lifestyle of sensuality and sexual immorality, at least one aspect of which was exemplified in men pursuing the flesh of other men instead of the flesh of women.

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