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The Sanctifying Spirit

Sep 23, 2014 | Kevin DeYoung

The opening greeting of Peter’s first epistle gives a clear example of the Trinitarian nature of our salvation. The “elect exiles” are saved according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, in the sanctification of the Spirit, that they might be obedient to Jesus Christ and sprinkled by his blood (1 Peter 1:2). We see here the Holy Spirit sanctifies in two ways. First, he sets us apart in Christ that we might be cleansed by his blood. Second, he works in us so we can be obedient to Jesus Christ. Through the sanctification of the Spirit we are given a new position and infused with a new power.

It’s the second element, the new power, that we usually think of when discussing “sanctification.” Though sanctification is positional too, as a theological term it usually refers to our progressive sanctification, the way in which God works in us for his good pleasure as we work out the life of salvation with fear and trembling (Phil. 2:12-13). Or as Romans 8:9-13 puts it, we are no longer in the flesh but in the Spirit (position); therefore, by the Spirit we ought to put to death the deed of the flesh (power).

Though we must make effort in our growth in godliness (2 Peter 1:5), the Spirit empowers through and through. The Bible is not a cheap infomercial telling us to change and then assuring our little ponytail hearts, “You can do it!” We have already been changed. We are already new creations in Christ (2 Cor. 5:17) and have a new strength at work in our inner being (Eph. 3:16), producing gospel fruit in us by the Spirit (Gal.5:22-23). The Bible expects that because God dwells in us by the Spirit, we can, by that same Spirit, begin to share in the qualities that are characteristic of God himself (2 Peter 1:4). Of course there is still a fight within us. But with the Spirit there can be genuine progress and victory. The New Testament simply asks us to be who we are.

How exactly, then, does the Spirit empower us for growth in godliness? Well think again of the metaphor of light. The Holy Spirit, as we’ve seen, is a like a light shining into our dark places, exposing our sin and leading us to repentance. The Spirit is also a lamp to illumine God’s word, teaching what is true and revealing it as precious (1 Cor. 2:6-16). And, as we saw in John 16, the Spirit throws a spotlight on Christ so we can see his glory and beauty and be changed accordingly. This is the stunning argument Paul makes in 2 Corinthians 3:18, “And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.” Just as Moses had his face transformed when he saw the Lord’s glory on Mt. Sinai, so will we be transformed when we behold God’s glory in the face of Christ. Except we won’t just get a shiny tan face, we will grow more and more into the image of the one we see. We become what we behold.

My wife loves to watch figure skating (which wife doesn’t?). She loves the artistry and beauty of it. She also enjoys the puff pieces on the young women. I find them nauseating (the pieces not the women), but I have to admit it is pretty remarkable what the skaters can do. I imagine most of them grew up watching figure skating. They probably marveled at all the lay-back spins and double-axles and triple salchows (uh?). I’m sure many of them were mesmerized as little girls by Kristi Yamaguchi or Michelle Kwan. They probably thought, “I want to do that. That’s amazing! That’s incredible! How can I be like her?” Of course, it takes practice to be a world class figure skater, just like sanctification takes effort on our part. But the effort in both cases is inspired and motivated and modeled after glory. The sight of brilliance and majesty is transformative in and of itself.

That’s why when the Spirit is at work to sanctify us—by revealing sin, revealing truth, and revealing the glory of Christ—and we look the other way, it is a profound offense. The Bible refers to this as resisting (Acts 7:51), quenching (1 Thess. 5:19), or grieving the Holy Spirit (Eph. 4:30). There may be slight nuances among the three terms, but they all speak of situations where we do not accept the Spirit’s work in our lives. When we reject what the word of God has to say to us, when we turn our eyes from the Spirit’s exposure to sin, when we say one thing as Christians and do another, we sin against the Spirit. But when we finally see clearly to acknowledge our sin, accept the truth, and adore Christ, then we can be sure the Spirit is at work within us to will and to do according to his good purpose and for God’s good pleasure.

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Monday Morning Humor

Sep 22, 2014 | Kevin DeYoung

Not exactly on the same page, I’d say. (HT: 22 Words)

Which, of course, reminds me of this (the action picks up at 0:40):

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What Jesus Didn’t Say

Sep 19, 2014 | Kevin DeYoung

Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets: I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.

But on the other hand, do not think that I have come to completely affirm everything in the Law or Prophets either. There are stories in the Old Testament that did not happen as they are recorded. Sometimes, God’s people thought they heard the voice of God, but were mistaken. Other times, ancient people used God to justify their violence and exclusion. We can still read those parts of the Hebrew Bible and learn how unenlightened people used to think, but those sections are best corrected or set aside.

For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished.

Obviously, this is a bit of an overstatement–Jewish hyperbole, poetic license, that sort of thing. By “jots and tittles” I don’t mean every bit of chronology, cosmology, or history. I’m just trying to say that the Old Testament is still really important and that it points to me. But whether, say, the exodus happened like it says in Exodus, or if Isaiah made any predictive prophesies, or whether the whole storyline of the Old Testament is out of whack–that kind of thing is not terribly important.

Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.

Again, let me clarify: I’m not actually against relaxing some of the more outdated commandments. After all, who doesn’t like relaxing! I don’t want my disciples getting hung up on minutia. As long as you are concerned about love–whatever you understand that to be–I wouldn’t worry about the particulars. People need relationships not rules, you know.

For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and the Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.

In hindsight, this is probably not the best way to express myself. I’m sorry for anyone who was hurt by the whole “never enter the kingdom of heaven” bit. That’s just an figure of speech for “the best way to live!” And I apologize if the righteousness piece felt legalistic. When I talk about hungering after righteousness or pursuing righteousness I’m thinking more on a cosmic level, not so much about your personal holiness. The only righteousness I expect to see from you is being right enough to know you are wrong. Look, the last thing I want is for people to get uptight with the Bible and start freaking out about doing everything by the book.

And when Jesus finished these sayings, the crowds were super cool with his teaching, for he was teaching them as one who had a realistic understanding of the Bible and helped the disciples feel better about themselves.

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Magnify Conference

Sep 18, 2014 | Kevin DeYoung

The Church Matters with Mark Dever

November 14-15, 2014

University Reformed Church
East Lansing, MI

I’m thrilled to have Mark Dever as our keynote speaker at this year’s Magnify Conference. This two-day event is sponsored by several Lansing area churches.

Whether you are a pastor, church leader, church member, or church drop-out we invite you to attend this special conference focusing on the centrality and health of the local church. Mark will be speaking three times. I will be speaking once and interviewing Mark for another session. Mark will also be preaching at University Reformed Church on Sunday, November 16.

This conference is always one of the highlights of my year. It brings together Christians from all over the area for fellowship and learning–and in a more intimate setting than many large conferences allow. And it’s very inexpensive.

You can register for the conference here.

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A Prayer for the Revival of Religion in Scotland

Sep 18, 2014 | Kevin DeYoung

Scotland CastleAs Scotland goes to the polls to vote on the question of independence, it would be fitting for all Christians–especially Reformed Christians–to give thanks for the rich Christian heritage in that nation and pray for a revival of gospel truth and grace.

I don’t claim to be an expert on contemporary Scotland or the church scene there. But I do know how concerned John Witherspoon was for his homeland in the 18th century. Here is a prayer adapted from portions of his sermon Prayer for National Prosperity and for the Revival of Religion Inseparably Connected preached on Thursday, February 16, 1758 on a public fast day in Scotland. Perhaps it captures how Scottish Christians might pray today, or how any of us in the West might pray for our own country

O Lord, let us not for Scotland, or for any nation, ask for national prosperity without a revival of religion. Our prayers are only warrantable when we adjust and proportion our esteem of the mercies of God to their real worth, and desire them for their proper ends. A love to one’s country, and a desire of its outward welfare, is, no doubt, an excellent an amiable disposition. But it is much more so to be concerned for their everlasting interest. When we ask for temporal prosperity, without an equal, or rather superior solicitude for the enlightening and sanctifying influences of the Holy Ghost, we are alienating his mercies from their proper use, turning them into weapons of rebellion against him, and cherishing that love of the world which is destructive of the love of God.

Are we not also, O Lord, in a very low and fallen state as a church? How have all ranks, from highest to lowest, corrupted their ways. How gross and prevalent is infidelity? How many of high rank have wholly deserted the house and worship of God? And with how much zeal and diligence does the lower part of the nation emulate the higher in that which is the reproach of both? So great is the prevalence of irreligion, contempt of God, sensuality and pride, that many of the grossest crimes are not only practiced but professed, not only frequent but open, not only persisted in but gloried in and boasted of.

It is not, indeed, to be wondered at that not only this nation, but the Protestant states of Europe in general should be brought under the rod, as they have so shamefully departed from that purity of faith and the strictness of morals which was the glory of the Reformation. How many have of late been ashamed of the cross of Christ and the doctrine of the grace of God? And what hath been substituted in their room? A pliant and fashionable scheme of religion, a fine theory of virtue and morality. A beautiful but unsubstantial idol, raised by human pride, adorned and dressed by human art, and supported by the wisdom of words.

For this reason, we ask that we might discover Christ’s power and glory in an eminent and remarkable revival of religion among all ranks.

That our blessed Redeemer, the king of Zion, who reigns to all generations, who hath ascended up on high and received gifts for men, would send forth his Spirit in a large and plentiful measure.

That his work and power may appear in all his gracious influences, convincing and converting sinners, sanctifying, quickening and comforting believers.

That this may be a common blessing on all corners of the land, on persons of every class and denomination, of every rank and degree, from the highest to the lowest, of every station and office, civil and sacred.

Above all, that he would “clothe his priests with salvation, that his saints may shout aloud for joy.”

O when shall the time come when “the Lord of hosts shall be for a crown of glory and a diadem of beauty to the residue of his people”? When instead of fine schemes spun for the honor of their makers, those who are called ministers of Christ shall preach the gospel, “with the Holy Ghost sent down from heaven.” When the truth of God, by its simplicity, majesty, force and efficacy, shall make its way into the hearts of the most obstinate, and Satan’s kingdom fall as lightning before it.

We plead that believers may be brought back to their first faith and their first love; that the unhappy divisions among us be abolished; and that the bond and centre of union may be Christ crucified, the only author of salvation.

Let us not give way to desponding thoughts. Though infidelity unresisted spread its poison, though profaneness and enmity to religion and seriousness everywhere abound, though there are few to support the interest of truth and righteousness, let us not be discouraged.

We plead the cause that shall finally prevail.

Religion shall rise from its ruin; and its oppressed state at present should not only excite us to pray, but encourage us to hope for its speedy revival. While every one is diligent in his own sphere, and in his proper duty, and earnestly pleading for the revelation of the arm of the Lord, let us recollect his favor and protection to the church in every time of need, and his faithfulness which is to all generations. Let us say with the Psalmist, “Walk about Zion and go round about her: tell the towers thereof. Mark ye well her bulwarks, consider her palaces; that ye may tell it to the generation following. For this God is our God for ever and ever, he will be our guide even unto death.” Amen.

Almost every word of the prayer above was taken directly from scattered portions of Witherspoon’s sermon. The message, based on Isaiah 51:9, can be found in Volume 2 of The Works of the Revd. John Witherspoon (Woodward, 1802), pages 453-477.

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Have a Happy Consitution Day and Read the First Amendment

Sep 17, 2014 | Kevin DeYoung

ConstitutionToday commemorates the signing of the United States Constitution (September 17, 1787). If you’ve never read the Constitution, it’s not long and well worth reading (and re-reading).

After the Preamble, the most famous part of the Constitution is the First Amendment which states: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”

And what does this mean? John Baker, a Professor Emeritus of Law at LSU and a visiting Professor at Georgetown and Oxford, explains:

In recent years the Supreme Court has placed the Establishment and the Free Exercise of Religion Clauses in mutual tension, but it was not so for the Framers. None of the Framers believed that a governmental connection to religion was an evil in itself. Rather, many (though not all) opposed an established church because they believed that it was a threat to the free exercise of religion. Their primary goal was to protect free exercise. That was the main thrust of James Madison’s famous Memorial and Remonstrance (1785), in which he argued that the state of Virginia ought not to pay the salaries of the Anglican clergy because that practice was a impediment to a person’s free connection to whatever religion his conscience directed him.

Nor did most of the Founding generation believe that government ought to be “untainted” by religion, or ought not to take an interest in furthering the people’s connection to religion. The Northwest Ordinance (1787), which the First Congress reenacted, stated: “Religion, morality, and knowledge, being necessary to good government and the happiness of mankind, schools and the means of education shall forever be encouraged.” As President, George Washington’s practice concretized the understanding of most of his contemporaries. In his first inaugural address, Washington declared as his “first official act” his “fervent supplications to that Almighty Being who rules over the universe” that He might bless the new government. Directing his words to his compatriots, Washington said:

“In tendering this homage to the Great Author of every public and private good, I assure myself that it expresses your sentiments not less than my own; nor those of my fellow citizens at large less than either. No people can be bound to acknowledge and adore the invisible hand which conducts the affairs of men more than those of the United States.”

Washington bracketed his years as President with similar sentiments in his Farewell Address (1796):

“Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, Religion and morality are indispensable supports. In vain would that man claim the tribute of Patriotism, who should labour to subvert these great Pillars of human happiness, these firmest props of the duties of Men and citizens. There mere Politician, equally with the pious man, ought to respect and to cherish them.”

And he added: “And let us with caution indulge the supposition, that morality can be maintained without religion.”

There is nothing in the drafting history of the First Amendment that contradicts Washington’s understanding of the appropriate relation between government and religion. In the First Congress, the committee proposal in the House read, “no religion shall be established by law, nor shall the equal rights of conscience be infringed.” But some evinced concern that the phrase might put in doubt the legitimacy of some of the states’ own religious establishments. Six of the original thirteen states had established churches. James Madison believed modifying the phrasing to prohibit a “national religion” would be sufficient to allay that concern and would make clear that the new government was not to impinge on the rights of conscience by establishing a governmental connection to a church. Representative Samuel Livermore of New Hampshire suggested that “Congress shall make no laws touching religion or the rights of conscience.” The House finally settled on this language: “Congress shall make no law establishing religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof, nor shall the rights of Conscience be infringed.” The Senate preferred the formula “Congress shall make no law establishing articles of faith, or mode of worship, or prohibiting the free exercise of religion,” which likely would have permitted direct financial support to a sect.

In the end, the conference between the House and the Senate agreed on the current version: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” The addition of the word “respecting” is significant. It prohibits Congress from legislating either to establish a national religion or to disestablish a state religion. As Laurence Tribe has written, “[a] growing body of evidence suggests that the Framers principally intended the Establishment of Religion Clause to perform two functions: to protect state religious establishments from national displacement, and to prevent the national government from aiding some, but not all, religions.” ( The Heritage Guide to the Constitution, 302-303)

If you are looking for a one-stop, scholarly, yet accessible resource to understanding the Constitution, I recommend The Heritage Guide to the Constitution, edited by Edwin Meese III, Matthew Spalding, and David Forte. The volume provides a balanced, relatively brief commentary on the Constitution from an originalist perspective. I’m glad to have it on my shelf.

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Another Novelist to Consider Reading

Sep 16, 2014 | Kevin DeYoung

Reading Justin Taylor’s excellent series on Novels Every Christian Should Consider Reading has gotten me thinking about good old Jeeves and Wooster. I’ve mentioned before my delight in P.G. Wodehouse.

Wodehouse (1881-1975) is hands down one of the best writers in the English language. Ever.

He isn’t profound. He isn’t penetrating. His books may not be dissected in lit classes. But his command of vocabulary and syntax is amazing. And his humor is, unlike many humorists, is actually very, very funny. There’s nothing like unwinding with a little Jeeves and Wooster after a four hour elder meeting to get the old egg cracking again, what? (Take my word for it, and read Wodehouse to understand my drift).

Reading Wodehouse spin tall tales about foppish socialites and an unflappable butler is reminiscent of the best (and cleanest) episodes of Seinfeld. The stories are about nothing, but the characters are so memorable (e.g., the newt loving Gussie Fink-Nottle), and the dialogue so perfectly ridiculous (“Hello ugly, what brings you here?”), and his insults so ingenious (“It was as if nature had intended to make a gorilla, and had changed its mind at the last moment”) that you can’t help grin, chuckle, and even occasionally cackle.

The next time someone looks at you cross, try this line:

She looked at me in rather a rummy way. It was a nasty look. It made me feel as if I were something the dog had brought in and intended to bury later on, when he had time.

And to express your discouragement:

I’ve examined the darned cloud with a microscope, and if it’s got a silver lining it’s some little dissembler!

For use with the outdoorsy members of your family:

I ordered another. If this was going to be fish-story, I needed stimulants.

Looking for a good put-down?

It seemed to me almost incredible that a fellow could be such a perfect chump as dear old Biffy without a bit of assistance.

Wodehouse had a genius for word pictures and similes:

Honoria, you see, is one of those robust, dynamic girls with the muscles of a welter-weight and a laugh like a squadron of cavalry charging over a tin bridge.

His writing is also stuffed with biblical allusions and church-related hilarity. Here, for example, is a clergyman asking Bertie Wooster, who is secretly engaged in a gambling ring betting on the length of sermons, if his message might be too long:

You do not think it would be a good thing to cut, to prune? I might, for example, delete the rather exhaustive excursus into the family life of the early Assyrians?

And then there’s this allusion to Job 39:25 (which I had to look up):

He sat up with a jerk. The Biblical horse that said “Ha, ha” among the trumpets could not have displayed more animation.

For good measure, here are a few more of my favorite biblical references strung together:

There was a death-where-is-thy-sting-fulness about her manner which I found distasteful.

For the first time since the bushes began to pour forth Glossops, Bertram Wooster could be said to have breathed freely. I don’t say that I actually came out from behind the bench, but I did let go of it, and with something of the relief which those three chaps in the Old Testament must have experienced after sliding out of the burning fiery furnace, I even groped tentatively from my cigarette case.

Bertie Wooster won the Scripture-knowledge prize at a kids’ school we were at together, and you know what he’s like. But, of course, Bertie frankly cheated. He succeeded in scrounging that Scripture-knowledge trophy over the heads of better men by means of some of the rawest and most brazen swindling methods ever witnessed even at a school where such things were common. If that man’s pockets, as he entered the examination-room, were not stuffed to bursting point with lists of the kings of Judah.

And last but not least:

He fingered his moustache unhappily. He was feeling now as Elijah would have felt in the wilderness if the ravens had suddenly developed cut-throat business methods.

And as far as memorable one-liners, these have always stuck with me:

I could see that, if not actually disgruntled, he was far from being gruntled.

She looked as if she had been poured into her clothes and had forgotten to say “when.”

For your own growth in writing and facility with the English language, and most of all for sheer delight, read P.G. Wodehouse. It doesn’t matter much where you start, but Right Ho, Jeeves is one of my favorites.

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Monday Morning Humor

Sep 15, 2014 | Kevin DeYoung

Some old school Monday Morning Humor, but still one of my favorites.

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A Prayer for Muslim Lands

Sep 12, 2014 | Kevin DeYoung

Samuel M. Zwemer (1867-1952), Hope College graduate, Princeton professor, RCA minister and “The Apostle to Islam,” prayed for the Muslim world like this:

Almighty God, our Heavenly Father, who hast made of one blood all nations and hast promised that many shall come from the East and sit down with Abraham in thy kingdom: We pray for thy prodigal children in Muslim lands who are still afar off, that they may be brought nigh by the blood of Christ. Look upon them in pity, because they are ignorant of thy truth.

Take away pride of intellect and blindness of heart, and reveal to them the surpassing beauty and power of thy Son Jesus Christ. Convince them of their sin in rejecting the atonement of the only Savior. Give moral courage to those who love thee, that they may boldly confess thy name.

Hasten the day of religious freedom in Turkey, Arabia, Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, and North Africa. Send forth reapers where the harvest is ripe, and faithful plowmen to break furrows in lands still neglected. May the tribes of Africa and Malaysia not fall prey to Islam but be won for Christ. Bless the ministry of healing in every hospital, and the ministry of love at every church and mission. May all Muslim children in mission schools be led to Christ and accept him as their personal Savior.

Strengthen converts, restore backsliders, and give all those who labor among Muslims the tenderness of Christ, so that bruised reeds may become pillars of his church, and smoking flaxwicks burning and shining lights. Make bare thine arm, O God, and show thy power. All our expectation is from thee.

Father, the hour has come; glorify thy Son in the Muslim world, and fulfill through him the prayer of Abraham thy friend, “O, that Ishmael might live before thee.” For Jesus’ sake. Amen.

Surely this prayer from 1923 is worth praying every bit as much now as then. It’s amazing how the needs and challenges are still the same generations after Zwemer’s prayer.

The paragraphs above, as well as other writings from Zwemer, can be found in Islam and the Cross: Selections from “The Apostle to Islam” edited by Roger Greenway.

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Blessed Are the Meek

Sep 11, 2014 | Kevin DeYoung

Meekness is hard to define. It is not a subservient groveling. It is not a spineless acquiescence. The Greeks had no respect for meekness because they equated it with servility–people taking advantage of you, people walking all over you, people punching you in the gut as you thank them for the pleasure of being hit, that sort of thing.

But that’s not what the Bible means by meekness.

Meekness is a combination of patience, gentleness, and a complete submission to the will of God. Meekness is learning to be self-controlled instead of needing to be in control. Meekness is opening your heart instead of clenching your fist. Meekness is the firm resolve that it is always better to suffer than to sin.

Meekness is one of the great virtues of the Christian (Col. 3:12). The world may have no place for it, but the Bible does.

Moses was the meekest man on the earth (Number 12:3). And if you know anything about Moses, you know he wasn’t born with a meek personality. He killed somebody! We are not talking about a personality trait. You can be soft or loud, introverted or extroverted and still have meekness. Moses had to have meekness pressed into him by life and by the Lord.

Or think of Paul. There were big time issues in Corinth, and Paul wasn’t afraid to talk tough. But his first approach was to plead with the saints by the meekness and gentleness of Christ (2 Cor. 10:1).

If you think meekness is for losers, then you think Jesus is a loser. The Son of Man was a meek man (Matt. 11:29). Of course, that’s not the only thing to say about Jesus, but it’s one thing we can say.

When you are confronted, when you are wronged, when you get all hot and bothered and you’re tightening up inside, what does meekness look like? When you come after your adversaries is it with a whip or with a weep? Who’s sins upset you more, the sins of your neighbors or your own? Meekness is not about being a doormat. It’s about being dignified, even in the face of confusion, anxiety, and injustice.

Blessed are the meek, for they–of all people!–shall inherit the whole wide world (Matt. 5:5).

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