Posts filed under Teaching

AgapeStorm

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The Calm, Crazy, Whirlwind of Love

Read 1 John 4:7-21 and John 3:16 3 times, slowly.

As soon as we say the word, love, we find ourselves, metaphorically, on a rickety rope bridge swinging and creaking wildly in a tempestuous wind, dangerously high above treacherous rocks of meaning. We all think we know where we are, and despite the danger, we feel that simple calm and confidence; love is so familiar. We all know what love is, surely. It is stamped into our DNA so securely that, when we were young, we would ask, “How do you know love when you see it?” The answer is always the same, “Oh, yoU’LL know…”

And we do, kinda. Love is a feeling and a commitment, a force and a goal. When we’re “in it,” love makes our knees weak, or strong, depending on the situation. We become heroic, or bashful; silly or serious or forgiving. Love somehow breaks us and re-makes us, wherever it takes us. It generates more poems and songs and purpose and confusion than even our pets or our cars. We know with confidence from some mystical feeling that the Beatles were right, love really is all we need, or, for a song reference with far too many artists to mention; love does make the world go round.

The irony of the lyrics to these sappy songs is that, for a Christian, these largely superficial sentiments ring true in Jesus Christ. Since God is Love, love truly is all we need, and since Jesus is God, love actually does make the world, indeed, the entire universe, go ‘round. The rest of the irony, however, is that apart from God, love is confusing and difficult to define and understand. Of course, confusion is not God’s purpose, because love is central to who he is and at the core of his plan.

So, it is no surprise that for something so critical, God has a lot to say. Love is at the very core of the eternal, triune relationship (More on that in a future blog), such that, when God decides, together, to create and sustain an entire history of the cosmos, love explodes from within the Godhead and washes over every aspect of that story. In many ways, love is the why of everything God does for us. (Footnote: His own glory could also be used as the why of everything he does.) How do we know this?

There are three ways that God reveals love to us.

First, God demonstrates love in all he does. When you open the Bible, you see what God does. Every action is that of a loving father with his treasured children. The list of ways that he does this is endless, because every action he takes is an act of love. He walked with Adam and Eve, then disciplined them, banishing them from the garden. He called and protected Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and their families, and their descendents; the judges, Saul, David, Solomon, and Ezekiel, Isaiah, Hosea - everyone of his children. He listens to prayers, delivers from distress; heals, guides, teaches. He also punishes, disciplines, reconciles and restores. Every single action of God is ultimately a model of what love looks like in action. There is no better way to see what love looks like than to see everything that God does.

Second, God defines love over and over in his word. The passages abound. He tells us the characteristics of love and how to recognize it clearly. He tells us what love is, and what it isn’t. In his word, we learn why love has power and how to wield it for the good of others. Stay tuned, we are going to wade into many passages that will threaten to drown us.

Third, God incarnates love in Jesus Christ. Although I mention this last, it is by far the first in priority. It is no stretch to say that Jesus is the perfect expression of love, because Christ’s incarnation is how God chose to show us his love; a love that for us in the loftiest, most profound, and most intimate possible expression. And wonder of wonders; the eternal, triune love that Jesus has for us is best experienced through personal relationship as we are united to God through faith in Jesus. This is why John 3:16 is so precious to the church, God so loved the world that he gave his son. Wow! Suddenly, Love makes sense, but when held in contrast, this true love of God demolishes every other lesser concept of love.

Our passage from first John is a warehouse of content regarding love, but for now, we need to cook up two concepts from the passage and season it with a few other familiar ideas. Verse 11: Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another, and verse 19, We love because he first loved us. These two verses simmer in the pot and we are led to two inescapable conclusions. First, God wants us to love others the way that HE loves others (and us, by the way.) Second, God is the source of that love. The seasonings for this verse-stew are the two Great Commandments and loving our enemies. We must love God first (heart, soul, mind, strength). We must love our neighbors as ourselves. We must love our enemies.

This is a high calling. Love everyone the way God does.

Let’s cut to the chase. What is Love? What is God’s Love? What characterizes the love that God demonstrates, defines, and incarnates? What is the nature of the love we need to hold for everyone?

Here goes: God’s love is fervent, sacrificial, purposeful, gracious, expressive, bold, and covenantal. That is AgapeStorm. That is the challenge. We will begin to tuck in to this feast in the next blog.

This blog was written by Charles Fox

Posted on January 25, 2019 and filed under Teaching.

The Book of Revelation: Closing Remarks

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This past Sunday, I concluded at 14 week adult Sunday School class (Listen Here) on the book of Revelation. Prior to teaching this class, I did 13 weeks on the book of Revelation in the Sr High Sunday School class. That means that for the past 6 months (give or take a few weeks), I have been swimming head deep in the Apocalypse.  In all actuality, 14 weeks to teach Revelation is simply not enough time. I found myself thinking “I wish I had more time to go back and touch on this passage” more than once. I pray that in the future, the Lord will grant me another opportunity to teach and/or preach through this book, and if that happens, I’ll get the chance to touch on many things that got breezed over for the sake of time.  For now, however, I do want to offer up some “closing thoughts” about the book of Revelation; some reflections and final remarks. 

Teaching Revelation to the Youth vs teaching Revelation to the Adults:
I expect that teaching youth is a very different experience than teaching adults. But what I did not expect with Revelation was just how dramatically different this experience would be. First, in teaching the youth, it became very clear to me that we are in a post-dispensationalist era of the Church. The first week of both the youth and adult classes I asked, “What comes to mind when you think of the book of Revelation?” The adults were more than eager to offer up their thoughts. I would say an overwhelming amount of our adults were raised in Dispensationalism, knew that the Reformed Tradition is drastically different in that regard, and were eager to hear a Reformed/Historical perspective on the book.

The youth on the other hand? Nothing. They had no thoughts on the book at all other than some comments about how it seems very confusing with all the symbolism. In fact, when I brought up what were once “common thought” in Evangelicalism, ideas such as the rapture, a 7 year tribulation, even the entire “Left Behind” series, most students looked at me with puzzled looks. No one is truly a blank slate of course, but these kids were working with as close to a “tabula rasa” as one could get. On the one hand, this made my job very easy! The students simply accepted the things I was saying (for better or worse…) and the class ended up having a lot more discussion around application of the texts than interpretation. On the other hand, this left me very unprepared for what was ahead of me in teaching the adults. Sure, the first few weeks with the adults went off pretty easily. Then we got to Revelation 7 and the sealing of the 144,000. The next thing I knew, we were spending 3 weeks examining and discussing this passage. I learned after this that if I were to get through the material in the time I was given, I was going to have to do a better job at anticipating questions from folks who not only have been taught Dispensationalism their whole lives, but folks who were taught it very well! 

Dispensationalism takes the Scriptures seriously:
I always knew that Dispensationalists were an ally in the “battle for the Bible”, but this class really helped give me a new appreciation for this reality. Whatever else I might say about Dispensationalism as an interpretive approach to the Bible, I will say that I find its proponents to be very serious about the Bible, and for that, I give thanks. As Dispensationalism slowly begins to fall out of favor in the West, I can’t help but wonder if we’ll be losing a powerful ally. I may disagree strongly with men like Charles Ryrie, but he believed that the Bible was the very Word of God, saw the doctrine of inspiration as a “close handed” issue, and was willing to die on that hill. We need men and women like that in the Church today, maybe now more than ever. 

We don’t need to figure it all out:
As my teaching time with adults progressed, I found that I was being asked questions about portions of Revelation for which I simply didn’t have answers. To be fair, I did warn the class this would happen! But many of these questions arose from people being taught one thing about these portions of the text from a Dispensationalist perspective, wondering how they fit into a Reformed/Covenantal interpretation. Many times I could find answers. G.K. Beale’s 1500 page commentary on Revelation is extremely thorough! But, I did come to a point where I realized that if I didn’t have an exact answer concerning a certain portion of Revelation, that’s okay! It doesn’t uproot or shatter the interpretive approach to the book that I was teaching. Our understanding of Revelation is contingent upon how we read the whole of Scripture. We don’t interpret the Bible in light of Revelation, we interpret Revelation in light of the Bible. And there are certain things that we’d have to abandon to make a premillennial/Dispensational interpretation to Revelation work. Namely, our entire understanding of the history of redemption, the nature of covenants in the Scriptures, and the identity of the people of God.  The only way a dispensationalist interpretation of Revelation works is by believing that the Church and Israel are not one, that they’re two separate peoples with their own sets of promises and covenants, and that ultimately, its all about the Jews. This is an idea that is not only foreign to the Reformed tradition, it’s foreign to the entire history of the Church until J Nelson Darby arrives on the scene in the 1800s. And this is why I say, “We don’t need to have it all figured out!” If a portion of Revelation perplexes us or confuses us, it doesn’t shatter our overall understanding of the book because our understanding of the book is built upon the sure foundation of the entire biblical narrative of Redemption. 

The Bible is remarkably unified:
It was no mistake-although it was not planned by human minds-that as I began teaching Revelation to the youth, we began a new sermon series on the book of Genesis. And I can honestly say that almost every week throughout both the youth and adult class, whatever we were talking about in Revelation somehow connected with the sermon series. It was uncanny, to be honest! One of our elders commented to me after one class, “I appreciate how you and Pastor Troy are coordinating your Revelation class and the Sunday sermons”. I just had to laugh and admit that Troy and I weren’t coordinating at all! All this overlap was due 100% to the providential work of God. And for myself and many, it was an amazing testimony to the fact that the Scriptures truly are one great and grand story of redemption. How can we explain the idea that two books of the Bible that were written by two men, living thousands of years apart, one wandering in a desert outside of modern day Israel, the other imprisoned on a Greek Island in the Aegan sea, some 1300 miles away (as a man walks), are so connected with one another, so interwoven, so consistent with each other? No human mind could pull this off. The Scriptures truly are “breathed out by God”! 

The main point is the same:
Whether you hold to Covenant theology, to Dispensationalism, whether you’re Pre-mil, Post-mil, Amil, whether you’re a Futurist, a Preterits, whatever your interpretive approach is, ultimately we all end up with the same conclusion to the book of Revelation: Christ wins. And that’s really the great hope for us all, isn’t it? Christ wins. All the enemies of Christ, all the enemies of God’s people-the beast, the false prophet, those who follow the beast, the harlot of Babylon, and ultimately, the Great Dragon are all defeated. Their fate is the same. Meanwhile, whether you believe that Israel and the Church are one people, or two separate brides, either way our fate is also the same-eternity with Christ in the New Creation, enjoying perfect, full and true communion with Christ and with one another, where God himself will wipe every tear from our eyes, death shall be more more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things will have passed away. And that leads us all to join in the Apostolic proclamation, “Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!”

This blog was written by Andy Styer

Posted on May 8, 2018 and filed under Teaching.

Communion with God Chapters 23&24

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Here we are in the last two chapters of "Communion with God". I hope you enjoyed reading along this summer through both the book and this blog. It's always a privilege to read and blog on these books!
Chapter 23 continues Owen's discussion on communion with the Holy Spirit. The title of the chapter is "The Behaviour of the Saints towards the Holy Spirit", but really, the chapter is about what we strive to not do towards the Holy Spirit. Owen lists three things.

1-We strive to not grieve the Holy Spirit. Now, Owen is careful here. We have to speak of grieving the Holy Spirit carefully, lest we come away with the impression that the Spirit is manipulated emotionally. This is not true. The Westminster Confession states this clearly by saying that God is without passion. That does not mean God is without emotion or passions, but it means that he is not controlled emotionally by external forces. And yet, there is a very real sense where the Spirit does indeed grieve when we, as the blood-bought people of God, do not pursue holiness in our life. Owen offers up a meditation on this topic:


The Holy Spirit is infinite love and kindness to me. He has wonderfully chosen to be my Comforter. He does this work willingly, freely and powerfully. What great things I have received from him! How often has he comforted my soul! Can I live one day without him? Shall I not care what he wants to do in me? Shall I grieve him by my negligence, sin, and foolishness? Shall not his love constrain me to walk before him in such a way that brings him great pleasure?

2-We strive to not quench the Spirit. Drawing off of Old Testament imagery where the Holy Spirit was typified by the fire that was always burning on the altar in the tabernacle and temple, Owen here is speaking specifically about not suppressing the works of the Spirit. If we resist the Spirit's work, it would be as if we're throwing wet wood on a fire to smother it. 

Now when we want to resist fire, we quench it. So the opposition made to the Holy Spirit working in us is called 'quenching the Spirit', as wet wood will do when it is cast into the fire. So we are said by the same picture to 'stir up with new fire' the gifts that are in us. The Holy Spirit is striving with us, working in us, encouraging growth in grace and the production of his holy fruit in us. 'Take heed,' says Paul, 'lest by the power of your lusts and temptations, you do not pay attention to him, but quench his works of good will in you.'

3-We do not resist the Holy Spirit. Owen's point is so good here. Stephen accused the Jews of "resisting the Spirit" by rejecting and killing the prophets of God. How might we resist the Spirit? By holding the preaching of the Word of God up with contempt. 

When the Word of God is preached, the authority, wisdom and goodness of the Holy Spirit in setting up this ordinance is to be recognized and respected. For this reason, obedience is to be given to the Word when it is preached, because the Holy Spirit and he alone gives gifts fro the Word to be preached. When this truth keeps us humble and dependent on the Holy Spirit, then we have holy fellowship with him in this ordinance.

Chapter 24, the last chapter of the book, really focuses in on worshiping the Holy Spirit as God. We'll close this blog with these words:

Our fellowship or communion with the Holy Spirit should stir us to give him praise, thanks glory, honour and blessing for the mercies and privileges we receive from him, as we do the Son for his work of Redemption (Rev. 1:5-6). Are not the same praises and blessings due to him who makes Christ's work of redemption effectual to us? The Holy Spirit undertook to be our Comforter with no less infinite love than the Son who took it on himself to be our Redeemer. When we feel our hearts warmed with joy, strengthened in peace and established in obedience, let us give him the praise that is due to him. Let us bless his name and rejoice in him.

This blog was written by Andy Styer

Communion with God Chapters 21-22

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Chapter 21 continues to look at the fellowship and communion of believers with the Holy Spirit, and in this chapter Owen turns his attention towards the futile attempts of Satan to undermine this communion. And Owen frames Satan's main attempts to undermine the Spirit within the context of gathered worship. This is a fascinating insight from Owen. He is exactly right to begin here, for no doubt, the Enemy wants nothing more than to pervert God's people in this way. He knows that we were created to glorify and enjoy God, and so it makes sense that the Enemy would create and spread lies among mankind concerning the nature of worship!

The first attack against the Spirit from Satan is by setting up ministers and gathered worship services which are completely independent of the Holy Spirit. They have the right liturgy, the minister guides the congregation through the service effortlessly, and by all outward appearances, these gatherings seem to be gatherings of Christian worship. Yet, apart from the Holy Spirit, they are nothing of the sort.

The second attack against the Spirit is that Satan attempts to do the exact opposite of his first attack by deceiving Christians into thinking that you can have the Holy Spirit apart from a structured, gathered worship service. All you need is the Spirit, and you can him without biblical worship and the ministry of Word and Sacrament that happens in a worship service!

Owen's words here speak into our context today just as strongly as they spoke into his in the 17th century. For Owen, this is not a choice between liturgical worship and the Holy Spirit. For Owen, the believer needs both, and if we would discard either one, then we are proving ourselves susceptible to the attacks of Satan.  We need the gathering of God's people in structured, liturgical services where the ministry of Word and Sacrament happen, and we need the Holy Spirit's  work, empowerment, and blessing in these services of worship, lest they become mere exercises of the flesh. 

Owen says that these attacks do two things. The first attack tries to get us to focus merely on the physical by having all the right outward (physical) things in place, but no Spirit. The second attack tries to get us to focus on merely the spiritual reality of Christ by discarding the importance of the physical things. But Owen reminds us that the true ministry of the Spirit concerns both the physical and spiritual, because Jesus Christ himself is both truly God and truly man. The Holy Spirit reminds us of Christ's words and work on our behalf. The Spirit glorifies Christ, the God-Man. The Spirit pours into our hearts the love of God. The Spirit guides and directs us in prayer. And while Owen doesn't state this conclusion, we can say that this is exactly what the Holy Spirit does when we gather together for worship that is both guided by the Scriptures and empowered by the Holy Spirit. 

Chapter 22 is focused upon the Spirit's work as our comforter. It's a difficult chapter on some level because Owen openly talks about afflictions as being something that the people of God should not despise. He reminds us that troubles and afflictions are part of our Father's chastisement and discipline. And God's discipline of his children is an essential part of our discipleship. So while men apart from God despise affliction and trouble, the children of God remember this is part of our Father's molding and shaping us, and we look to the Holy Spirit as a comforter and help during affliction. 

And the Spirit does bring us comfort and help. He brings us comfort when we are burdened with sin. While men apart from God are crushed by guilt, the Spirit reminds those who have union with Christ that we are, indeed, children of God and we have no need to fear God's wrath nor do we fear the accusations of Satan. The Spirit also brings strength and comfort in this life as we eagerly await the consummation of the resurrected life in the new creation. Apart from the Spirit, we would be crushed by the troubles and trials of this current life. But with the Spirit, we patiently await and endure until "the end". 

How does the Spirit comfort us? Very simply, he communicates to us the truth that God loves us. He comforts us by reminding us that the Father's love is eternal and unchangeable. He comforts us by communicating to us and making us more and more familiar with the grace of Jesus Christ, and brings to us the fruits that Christ as purchased for us. He comforts us by glorifying Christ in us, revealing his excellencies to us. He comforts us by reminding us that in Christ, we are justified and adopted into the everlasting family of God. 

And why? Why does the Spirit do this for us? Because of his infinite love for us, and his willingness to help us in our weakness and helplessness. 

He (the Holy Spirit) knew what we were, what we would do and how we would deal with him. He knew we would grieve him and provoke him. He knew we would quench his activities in us and defile his dwelling place, and still he becomes our Comforter. Lack of a due consideration of this great love of the Holy Spirit weakens all the principles of our obedience. Did this knowledge abide in our hearts, how highly we would value his work as Comforter. As we value the love of Christ in laying down his life for our salvation, so we must value the work of the Holy Spirit as our Comforter.

This blog was written by Andy Styer

Posted on September 7, 2017 and filed under Teaching.

Communion with God chapters 15-20

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If you have been reading along through "Communion with God" this summer, then of course, you realize I am massively behind on this blog! But today I seek to amend this, and cover chapters 15-20 in one blog post! 

Chapter 15
There is much about chapter 15 that could be said. Owen's main thrust is that communion with Christ leads to acceptance with the Father. And just like every other chapter of this work, it's steeped in Trinitarian theology. For the sake of this post, I just want to point out Owen's discussion on the doctrine of imputation, or "the great exchange" as some have called it. Imputation has poked its head up in several sermons over the past few months at Proclamation, and it's a core doctrine for Protestantism. And actually, imputation may be at the heart of the justification debates between the Roman Catholic Church and the Lutheran/Reformed traditions. If you're interested in this, here is a fairly good overview from a Reformed perspective on this issue. 

Unfortunately today, it seems that imputation is now being attacked even in Protestant and Evangelical circles. The issue here, as it was for Rome as well, is not that our sin was put on (or imputed to) Christ. Generally, we all agree with that. The issue here is the other side of imputation, that is, Christ's righteousness put onto us. We see this attack on the imputation of Christ's righteousness from men like N.T. Wright who wrote,

It is therefore a straightforward category mistake, however venerable within some Reformed traditions including part of my own, to suppose that Jesus ‘obeyed the law’ and so obtained ‘righteousness’ which could be reckoned to those who believe in him. …It is not the ‘righteousness’ of Jesus Christ which is ‘reckoned’ to the believer. It is his death and resurrection. (Justification: God's Plan and Paul's Vision)

Owen, in response to the Catholics of his day, and equally applicable to the deniers of imputation today, does a wonderful job at defending this doctrine. At the heart of his argument is a clear distinction between the role of Christ's righteousness, as the mediator and covenant representative of God's people, and our works of obedience-which even after justification are not meritorious. Christ's righteousness counted to us is vital to the Holy God declaring us righteous! Even after regeneration, unless we can achieve pure holiness in this life, our sins would make us unrighteous in God's sight. But if Christ's righteousness is counted as our own, then our hope is sure. It's on solid ground because our works are really the works of God the Son Jesus Christ.

Yes, we are regenerated to new life. And yes, we can now, because of new life in Christ, do righteous works that please God. But pleasing God and earning favor or merit with him are not the same thing. Owen points out that these new works of obedience don't contribute to the finished work of Christ, but rather, are products of the workmanship of God, works that we do out of love gratitude to him for the grace he has given us.

Chapter 16
We could do an entire blog series on the theology of imputation and justification, but we have much ground to cover! Chapter 16 deals with the issue of holiness. Namely, the holiness of God's people and it's role in our communion with God. 

Owen states that Christ does three things to bring his people into holiness.
1) His work of intercession. Namely, Christ is interceding with the Father so that we would receive the promised Holy Spirit, who does the work of sanctification.

2) The receiving of the Spirit from the Father and sending him into the hearts of his saints, there to dwell in his place, and to do all things for them and in them which he himself has to do in them. In other words, Christ is the one who sends the Spirit from the Father to dwell in us and do the work of sanctification. 

3) By his (Christ's) Spirit, he imparts a new, gracious, spiritual life. Owen explains what this means when he says that by the work of the Holy Spirit, "The soul is filled and enabled to obey, and to receive every divine truth presented to it according to the mind of God.

Chapter 17
The focus of Chapter 17 is the doctrine of adoption, which Owen defines as

the authoritative transfer of a believer, by Jesus Christ, from the family of the world and Satan into the family of God with his being admitted into all the privileges and advantages of that family.

And what are the privileges and advantages we receive? Owen lists several (if you have not yet, read chapter 17 for a description of many of these):

We receive liberty
We receive a title (or a privilege)
Boldness with God by Christ
Affliction coming from love and leading to our spiritual good
The privilege of being called sons of God
Being heirs and joint-heirs with Christ
Being predestinated to be conformed to the image of God's Son
Being called Christ's brethren
Fellowship in Christ's suffering
Fatherly discipline
Fellowship in God's kingdom
We shall reign with Christ

Chapter 18
Owen now shifts from focusing on our fellowship with the Son to our communion and fellowship with the Holy Spirit. And here, he wants to examine the foundation of our fellowship with the Spirit, namely that our foundation with him is grounded upon the reality that it is Jesus Christ who has sent the Spirit to be our Comforter and helper. This is based on the promise of Christ in John 16:1-7 when after warning the disciples of many trials and persecutions, he gives the promise to send a helper, the Holy Spirit. And the Holy Spirit is more than willing to come and be the Comforter and helper of God's people. Owen states about our communion with God in light of the Spirit's work that it is a

special communion with the Father in love, the Son in grace, and the Holy Spirit in his work as comforter and helper. This is the way into fellowship with the Holy Spirit to which we are called. His gracious and blessed will, his infinite and wonderful willingness to come down to us, all the works he enables us to do and all the privileges he brings to us, of which we are made partakers, is what our souls by faith receive from him. And our response is to pour out on him all our gratitude and thanksgiving.

Chapter 19
And what is the work of the Holy Spirit in communion with the believer? Owen answers this in chapter 19, reminding us of the Spirit's continual work in our lives. 
1) The Spirit brings to mind the words and promises of Christ
2)The Spirit glorifies Christ
3)The Spirit pours the love of God into our hearts

4)The Spirit bears witness with our spirits that we are the children of God
5)The Spirit seals us, or is the evidence to our soul, that we have been accepted by God
6)The Spirit is our deposit or guarantee of our eternal inheritance
7)The Spirit anoints believers


Let me remind you of Owen's closing paragraph in this chapter:

Here, then, is the wisdom of faith. Faith looks for and meets with the Comforter in all these works of his. Let us not, then, lose their sweetness by remaining in the dark about them, nor fall short of the response required of us in gratitude.

Chapter 20
Well, we come now at last to the final chapter in this "Catch-Up" blog post. Short and sweet, yet so essential to the lives of God's children, this chapter deals with the Holy Spirit and the hearts of believers. What are the works of the Spirit in the hearts of those who belong to Christ?
1) The Holy Spirit comforts and strengthens the hearts of believers
Owen calls this the "chief work" of the Spirit in our lives. He brings our souls, which are often troubled, to rest and contentment not in some temporal earthly way, but rather, by focusing us on the eternal truths of God. This is an everlasting comfort, a strong comfort, and a precious comfort. 

2) The Holy Spirit brings joy to the hearts of believers. 
Reminding us that the Spirit is called the "oil of gladness", Owen states that true joy is produced by the Spirit pouring God's love into our hearts, which carries us through every kind of trial. The Spirit does this directly. He needs no other means, no other tools, no other help. This is HIS work, and it's a work that, just like John the Baptist in his mother's womb, causes us to leap for joy in knowing Jesus. This joy flows from the assurance that the Spirit gives; assurance of God's love for us and our adoption into his family. 

3) The Holy Spirit brings hope to the hearts of the believers.
What is our great hope? Owen says it's to "be like Christ and to enjoy God in Christ for ever". The Spirit, by showing us 'the things of Christ', and by glorifying Christ in our hearts, "arouses", as Owen puts it, our desires to be like Jesus. And this leads to our growth and increase in hope. This, Owen says, is one way that the Spirit sanctifies us. By arousing our hopes, which leads us to a desire to be more like Christ, the Spirit is actually making us more and more holy.

These are the general works of the Holy Spirit in the hearts of believers, which, if we consider them and all that they produce, will bring joy, assurance, boldness, confidence, expectation and glorying. We shall then see how much our whole communion with God is enriched and influenced by them.

This blog was written by Andy Styer

 

Communion with God chapters 13-14

Chapter 13 is a very weighty chapter, and yet so essential to the Christian life. What is Owen talking about here in this chapter when he writes about "Communion with Christ Purchased in Grace"? Simply, he is speaking about the reality of the Christian being united to Jesus Christ. Owen writes, 

there is almost nothing that Christ has done, but we are said to have done it with him (Gal. 2:20, 2 Tim. 2:11, Col.3:3, Rom. 6:4, Col. 2:12; 3:1, Eph. 2:5-6)

If you want to know what he is speaking about, check out the verse references. 

Galatians 2:20: I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.

2 Timothy 2:11-12: The saying is trustworthy; for: If we have died with him, we will also live with him; if we endure, we will also reign with him;

Colossians 3:3: For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.

Romans 6:4: We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in the newness of life.

Colossians 2:12, 3:1: having been buried with him in baptism in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead...If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God.

Ephesians 2:5-6: even when we were dead in our trespasses, (God) made us alive together with Christ-by grace you have been saved-and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus.

Do we now understand what Owen means when he says that there is almost nothing Christ has done that we are not said to have done with him? This is union with Christ, and union with Christ is at the heart of our salvation. We are united to Christ in his life of perfect obedience (read chapter 15 if you haven't yet for a wonderful explanation on why Christ's life, not just his death and resurrection, is so essential for the Christian). We are united to Christ in his death. We are united to him in his resurrection. We are united to him in his ascension into heaven. We are united to him in his glorification. And we will be united to him in his future reign in the new heaven and new earth. This is amazing! This should just floor us. It should bring tears to our eyes to think that we, who were once enemies of God, objects of wrath, infinitely guilty before his infinite holiness, worthy of nothing but damnation, that we would be brought into such a rich inheritance because of what Jesus Christ has done for us. This is the reality of union with Christ and communion with the Triune God. 

This blog was written by Andy Styer

Communion with God chapters 11&12

There's a lot in these two chapters to reflect upon, but I really want to focus the theme of prayer that Owen hits on in chapter 11. 

Owen begins his exhortation on prayer with this simple statement: 

Christ delights to reveal his kingdom to his saints...Christ enables his saints to reveal their minds and souls to him that they might walk together in intimate love and friendship...But to know this truth will not avail us if we do not know how to open our hearts to him. this we do in prayer. To Christ, the prayers of his saints are like incense...If we would open our hearts to Christ, we need help to pray.

Two things. First, notice here that Owen is saying that Christ makes himself and his Kingdom known to the saints, and the saints make their minds and souls known to him through prayer. Prayer is how we share in a deep, intimate love and friendship with Jesus Christ. But secondly, notice Owen fully recognizes that we are weak in prayer and that we need help. And here, Owen reminds us that the Holy Spirit, the "Helper" as Christ referred to him, is the one who helps us in our prayers. 

I'm encouraged by these two points. First, doesn't it make our hearts sing to know that Jesus Christ makes himself known to us, and delights in having us make ourselves known to him in an intimate friendship? The one who in and through whom all things were made, the eternal Son of God, the King of kings and Lord of lords, the very image of the invisible God delights in us. He delights in having an intimate friendship, a deep rooted love, and communion with us. That fact alone should give us great delight in the act of prayer! 

And yet, all of us still struggle with prayer, don't we? We are tempted to see prayer as a chore. We don't delight in prayer as we should. We may know that through prayer we are having sweet communion with God, and yet how many of us are eager to go before the Lord in prayer? How many of us struggle to even know what to say and how to say it? And here is the encouraging reminder from John Owen that Jesus, who knows our weaknesses first hand, has sent a Helper-the Holy Spirit of Christ. He writes:

...we need help to pray. This help we have by the Spirit of Jesus. All attempts at praying without the help of the Spirit working in us a prayerful spirit are of no avail and of no value. Christ greatly delights in the prayers of his saints when they truly open their hearts to him. When the soul is driven to hide from Christ, then Christ calls it out and enables it to pray by giving it the help of his Spirit."

If we (when we...) struggle to pray, let us all look to the power of the Holy Spirit, who is working in us. He is the one who will help us to pray! The Spirit gives us the help and power we need to pray, which leads to sweet communion and fellowship with Jesus Christ, through whom we are able to come into the presence of the Father who sits upon a throne of grace, to which we draw close with confidence!

This blog was written by Andy Styer
 

Communion with God chapters 9&10

In chapter 8 of "Communion with God", Owen began exploring the "excellencies of Christ", giving us glorious truths about Jesus in the hopes that by meditating on Christ's attributes, we would be encouraged to give ourselves up more fully to the Lord Jesus Christ. 

Chapter 9 continues Owen's exploration of Christ's attributes, looking specifically at his wisdom and knowledge. But really, what Owen has in mind here is not so much an exploration of the wisdom and knowledge Christ showed in his earthly life, but rather, Owen speaks to the truth that in Christ we truly know God and that to know God is to be truly wise. It is in Christ that we get to see and know the attributes of the eternal God. For example, in Christ, we know God's righteousness and justice in punishing sin. We see this at the cross. Yet we also know his mercy and love and forgiveness for sinners. 

All this is hidden in Christ. The great and unspeakable riches of God's wisdom in pardoning sin, saving sinners, satisfying justice, fulfilling the law, regaining his own honour and providing for us a much greater weight of glory are all accomplished in Christ. And all this was accomplished out of an impossible state of affairs. It was impossible for angels or men to discover how God could possibly restore all things to his glory or ever save one sinful creature from everlasting ruin...

Nothing in God concerning our salvation can be known or received except by Christ. All that is necessary for our salvation is in Christ and is shown to us by Christ. All truth outside Christ does not lead to the knowledge of salvation. It only leads to further corruption.

Do we desire to be wise? Do we desire to truly know God, which is the heart of all wisdom? Then our desire should be to know Jesus Christ, because, "To know Christ and to be in Christ by faith is to know the wonder and excellence of the wisdom and knowledge of God in the salvation of sinners."

Chapter 10 marks a turn in Owen's thought. If we are to have a saving knowledge of God in Christ, we must also know ourselves. And what are we to know about ourselves? We are to know just how desperately we need Jesus Christ. We are to know that we are sinners. We are rebellious. We are breakers of God's holy law. We are worthy of eternal punishment for our sin. And most terrifying of all, we are to know that all mankind will face a day of judgment, carried out by Jesus Christ himself. 

And yet...this thought should bring us hope and comfort as well, because this means that we will be judged by the one who loves us and gave himself up for us. We are to be judged by the one who has taken away enmity between us and God. If we are putting our faith in Christ, if we have communion and fellowship with him, if we are "walking with him", (and Owen gives several examples of what walking with Christ means), then we can rejoice in knowing that Jesus has indeed reconciled us to the Father. And while for some the day of judgment will be a terrible day, for us, it will be a day of unspeakable joy. All of this is an encouragement to us to continue to pursue communion with Christ, aiming for the day when he comes again, restores all things, and we have perfect and eternal communion with him, unhindered by our enemies of sin, death, and the devil. 

This blog was written by Andy Styer

Communion with God chapters 7&8

One of my favorite "pastimes" is chatting with one of our ruling elders at Proclamation, Matt Henny. We talk about many things dealing with the church both locally and globally, and we talk about what we're reading. Recently, Matt was sharing some thoughts after reading these chapters in "Communion with God". He said to me:

A really important word to meditate upon in Owen's "Communion with God" is the word "receive." Have you received the love, fellowship, and communion with the Eternal Trinity--Father, Son and Spirt by faith? This is the essence of communion: receiving love and then loving back out of adoration.

If you've read these two chapters, then you know that Matt is right. The word "receive" is so essential to Owen's thoughts on communing with God. And you know Matt is right about how communion works. We receive love from the Triune God, and in return, we love back out of adoration. This is what Owen is saying in his closing statements in chapter 7 when he writes:

Let us, then, receive Christ in all his excellencies and glories as he gives himself to us. Frequently think of him by faith, comparing him with other beloveds, such as sin, the world and legal righteousness. Then you will more and more prefer him above them all, and you will count them all as rubbish in comparison to him. And let your soul be persuaded of Christ's sincerity and willingness to give himself to you, in all that he is, to be yours forever. And let us give up ourselves wholeheartedly to him. Let us tell Jesus that we will be for him and not for another. Let him hear this from us. He delights to hear it from our lips. Christ says, 'Your voice is sweet to my ears, and your face is beautiful to my eyes'. Are we going to disappoint Christ by neglecting this communion with him?

Isn't it astonishing that Christ would be disappointed because we would neglect communion with him? It is absolutely remarkable that the eternal Son of God, the one whom through all things were created, the one who holds all things together, the one who is reigning and ruling over all creation would want and desire to have communion with us. And when you read chapter 8, when you see how excellent and glorious Christ is, the truth that Jesus would desire communion with us should become all the more remarkable to us. Let us not disappoint our dear Savior by neglecting communion with him!

This blog was written by Andy Styer

Communion with God chapters 5&6

These two chapters shift from exploring the communion believers have with the Father into looking at the communion believers have with the Son. 

Believe it or not, these are some of the most "controversial" portions of "Communion with God". Not because of what Owen says about Christ's fellowship with his people, but because of his use of "Song of Songs". There's been a long debate, predating Christianity even, going back to the Jewish understandings of this book, concerning how "Song of Songs" should be read. Should it be read and understood within the context of a literal love-relationship between a man and his lover, or should it be understood allegorically to describe God's love for his people? Owen here appears to side with many throughout the history of the Church and even many within the Jewish Rabbinical tradition by taking a more allegorical approach to "Song of Songs", using it to describe Christ's love for the church. And while many may argue against Owen's use of "Song of Songs" here, I do think that ultimately, what he says concerning Christ's relationship with his people is correct. In other words, we may disagree with Owen's interpretive approach to Scripture in these two chapters, but hopefully none of us would disagree with his conclusions! 

Listen to and reflect upon some of Owen's conclusions concerning Christ and his relationship with the church based upon his understanding of "Song of Songs":


The Lord Christ greatly delights in the sweet fruits of the Spirit in his saints.

The souls of the saints are the garden of Jesus Christ, the good ground which is blessed by God.

He (Jesus) is, in the heavens, as glorious as the sun, and as the bright morning star. Among the beasts is is like like the lion, the lion of the tribe of Judah. Among the flowers, Christ is as beautiful and as glorious as the rose and the lily. He is like the rose for the sweetness of its perfume, and like the lily for its beauty.

Owen spends ample time discussing the beauty of Jesus Christ, giving us great reason to delight in who Jesus is and to bask in the reality that we do, indeed, have communion and fellowship with him. 

How does one have communion with Christ? Owen stresses that it is by grace that we enjoy this fellowship with Jesus. "We have communion with Christ in grace. We receive from Jesus all manner of grace whatever. In grace, then, we have fellowship with Jesus."

Owen lays out three uses of the word, "grace":
 1-Grace can mean a personal presence and beauty. This is how we use the word when we refer to someone as being "graceful".
2-Grace can mean free favor and acceptance. Owen equates this use with "by grace you have been saved".
3-Grace can mean the fruit of the Spirit that sanctifies and renews our natures, that grace that enables us to do good things which God has commanded and ordained us to do. 

All three of these uses have a redemptive purpose. This is typical of the Puritan writers. In our context today, we tend to give broad use to the word, "grace". For example, we talk about God's "common grace", that is, the idea that there is a general grace that is shown to all peoples on earth. It's the idea that the "rain falls on the wicked as well as the righteous". It's not a saving grace, but rather, a grace that sustains and provides for all creation. But for the Puritans, "grace" was generally used only in direct connection with redemption. They would talk about the rain falling on the wicked as well as the righteous in terms of God's general love for his creation rather than use the word "grace", and for Owen, even the first use of the word "grace" as it applies to Jesus is understood within the context of Christ as our mediator. This "personal grace" of Christ, as he calls it, refers to his mediatorial work on our behalf. Here, his glory and his beauty, "as appointed and anointed by the Father", does the great work of "bringing home all his elect". In Christ, in our mediator, God and man meet and the person of Jesus Christ becomes "More beautiful and gracious than anything here on earth." In this union of God and man in Jesus Christ, Christ is "fit to save".  Owen writes,

Christ brings God and man together who were driven apart by sin. We who were afar off are brought near to God by Christ. For this very reason, he had room enough in his heart to receive us and strength enough in his spirit to bear all the wrath that was prepared for us. Sing brought infinite punishment because it was committed against an infinite God. Christ, being the infinite God in human nature, could suffer the infinite punishment that the sinner deserved. And so, by this personal union in Christ we are saved.

And it is because of this first use of the word grace, this "personal grace" of Christ, that the other two uses, what Owen calls "purchased grace", our "fellowship in his sufferings, and the power of his resurrection" are ours to enjoy. 

Owen ends chapter six with several charges directed towards those who are truly seeking Christ, those who reject him, directed to "the young", and to those who would look to themselves for their righteousness before God. And we find at the heart of these charges Owen's final sentences in this chapter:

Has Christ his rightful place in your hearts? Does he mean anything to you? Is he in all your thoughts? Do you know him in all his glory and beauty? Do you desire him more and more? Do you really count all things 'loss and dung' in comparison to him? Or do you prefer almost anything in the world to him?

This blog was written by Andy Styer

Communion with God chapters 3&4

If you're reading along with us this Summer, then you should, in theory, be done reading through chapter 6. The blog is a week behind due to both Troy and my absence last week. I'm sure we'll catch up at some point.

Very few chapters throughout "Communion with God" have made such a lasting impression on me than chapters 3-4. Here, Owen begins looking more deeply at the communion we have with each person of the Trinity, these two chapters specifically focusing in on our communion with the Father. 

Throughout these two chapters, Owen hits on a major issue within the Christian mindset, and that is the idea that we, even as God's children, struggle to think of God the Father as loving. We tend to see the Son as being full of love, and yet, when it comes to the Father who sent the Son for us, we fall into the trap of seeing him as full of wrath and anger. Owen is right to point out that this is exactly how unrepentant sinners should see the Father, but this is not how his children should see him! We need to remember that for those who are in Christ, we have communion and fellowship with the Father, and the bond of that communion and fellowship is love. The Father has an eternal, never-ending love for us, his people, and we in turn love him because he first loved us. 

Owen says the Father's love is like the Father himself in that it is unchangeable. Just as the Father never changes, his love for us never changes. It is never less, and it is never more. He loves us as much as he possible could ever love us, and that never changes. While our love for him, Owen says, is like the moon in that it waxes and wanes, the Father's love for us is like the sun in that it is always there! It may be hidden by a cloud from time to time, but it is no less radiant. It is no less intense. He says:

Whom God loves he loves to the end, and he loves them all alike. On whom he sets his love, it is set for ever. God's love is an eternal love that had no beginning and that shall have no end. It is a love that cannot be increased by anything we do and that cannot be lessened by anything in us.

Remembering this truth about the Father will have a great impact on the lives of God's people. When we remember how much the Father loves us, Owen says it will lead us to run towards him, to cherish our fellowship with him, to not see him as only in his "terrible majesty, severity and greatness", but also to see him as one who is "most kind and gentle...as one who from eternity has always had kind thoughts towards us."

Owen says that it is the greatest desire of God the Father that we should have loving fellowship with him. And yet, how often is our mindset the one Owen describes when he writes:

Flesh and blood is apt to think hard thoughts of God, to think that he is always angry and incapable of being pleased with his sinful creatures, that is is not for them to draw near to him, and that there is nothing in the world more to be desired than never to come into his presence.

But these thoughts grieve our Lord and delight our enemy! Let us therefore be intentional about how we think of our Father in heaven, and remember the truth Owen reminds us of when he writes, 

"The saints have close communion and fellowship with the Father. Their relationship with the Father is a relationship is a relationship of love. Men are generally esteemed by the company they keep. It is an honour to stand in the presence of princes, even if it be as a servant. What honour, then, have all the saints, to stand with boldness in the presence of the Father and there enjoy his love!"

This blog was written by Andy Styer

"Communion With God" Chapter 1&2

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Last week began this blog series on John Owen's book, "Communion with God". If you missed last week's post, please read it to see our plans and hopes for reading and blogging through the book this summer. 

Chapter 1

The greatest joy for any created being is to have fellowship with his Creator. But John Owen points out that we have a major problem. 

Because of sin, no man in his natural state has fellowship with God. God is light, and we are darkness. What communion has light with darkness? God is life; we are dead. God is love; we are enmity. So what agreement can there be between God and man?

Our hope, however, is in Jesus Christ. Owen calls Christ "our way back into fellowship with God". Sinners would be terrified to approach a Holy God, but in Christ, we can approach him without fear. 

We have a tendency to think of our salvation as being saved from something. And that's true. In Christ, we're saved from God's wrath. We're saved from spiritual death. We're saved from an eternity cut off from God's favor. But Owen's work helps us to think in terms of what we've been saved to.  We're saved to have communion with God. And Owen defines that communion as:

the mutual sharing of those good things which delight all those in that fellowship. This was so with David and Jonathan. Their souls were bound together in love. Their love for one another was shown in various ways. But their love was nothing in comparison to the love that is between God and his people. This fellowship of love is far more wonderful. Those who enjoy this communion are gloriously united to God through Christ and share in all the glorious and excellent fruits of such communion.

And this communion is an unbreakable communion because it flows out of our union with Christ, and that is a union that will never be broken!

Chapter 2

Owen turns our attention to what it means to have communion with each person of the God-Head. That is, what it means for Christians to have communion with the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. This Trinitarian emphasis is one that runs the whole way through the book, and the rich Trinitarian theology of the Puritan writers like Owen is one of the huge benefits to reading the Puritans! 

Communion with the Father
"To believe on the Son of God is to receive the Lord Christ as the Son, the Son given to us to fulfill in us the purposes of the Father's love". Owen reminds us that the Son is the Father's gift to us. Could there be a greater gift? And to receive this gift, to believe in the Son and put our faith in him, it is not only putting our hope and trust in the Son, but also our hope and trust in the Father who sent him. And so, communion with the Father is to receive his love, it is to receive his favor, it is to be tapped into "the fountain and the source of all good things which come to us in Christ".

Communion with the Son
Faith is the means through which we have communion with the Son.

Believing is putting our trust and confidence in the Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, as the Son of God. The Son, whom the Father gave, is to be trusted as the one that gives us everlasting life and who will keep us from perishing.

Notice Owen's emphasis on the worship of Christ as the Son of God. He writes,

Love for the Lord Jesus Christ is love for him as God and it therefore includes love for him in religious worship. Only where there is such love does the apostolic benediction belong: 'Grace be with all those that love our Lord Jesus Christ in sincerity.

For Owen, Jesus is to be the centerpiece of our worship together. Apart from Christ, there can be no true Christian worship. And, drawing from John's vision in the book of Revelation, it's clear to Owen that both the Father and the Son are worthy to receive the worship of God's people. 

Communion with the Holy Spirit
Not only is worship to the Father and Son necessary for Christian worship, but also worship of the Holy Spirit. And while Owen doesn't spend much time at all on how communion with the Spirit works, his point in this brief discussion is this. If we are called to worship all three persons of the God-Head, then we can be assured that we also have communion with each person in the God-head. A God who does not receive our worship and adoration, our "faith, hope, and love", as Owen stresses throughout the chapter, is not a God with whom we have fellowship. 

But this communion with God is expressed differently for each person of the Trinity. The Father, Owen says, communes with us, (here Owen speaks of him communicating his grace to us) by his own authoritative will. The Son communicates his grace to us out of a purchased treasury. That is to say, Christ, in whom the fulness of the Father was pleased to dwell, has the authority to communicate that fulness to us. And the Spirit communicates grace to us by directly working in us by his power. 

All of this bears testimony that Father, Son, and Spirit are all in agreement to raise us from death unto life. And as he wrote in chapter 1, the reason we could not have communion with God prior to his work in our lives is because "God is life; we are dead". Now, here, each person of the Trinity, through their communing with us, their communicating grace to us, has raised us to life. The Great and Holy Triune God has made it possible now for us to have sweet fellowship with him. 

Communion With God Introduction

Today we begin a new blog series, working our way through John Owen's book, "Communion with God". For those who are unfamiliar with Owen, he was one of the great leading English Puritan thinkers of the 17th century. He served as both a minister and as Dean of Christ Church in the University of Oxford.

For this blog, we'll be using the abridged "Puritan Paperback" edition published by Banner of Truth

The goal of this blog, just like the goal of the blog we did on Owen's, "Mortification of Sin" two years ago, is to read this book together. Please read the corresponding chapters of the book prior to each blog post. We're aiming to publish the blog every Thursday. So that means that before next Thursday, June 15th, we'd encourage you to read chapters 1&2 of the book.

So why are we reading this book? What can we learn from a 17th century Puritan today in the 21st century? 

Well, there are a few reasons why we chose this work.

First, this is a blog Troy and I have talked about doing for quite some time. In fact, we were discussing this book in 2015 while working through "The Mortification of Sin". For the past 3 years, we've had the privilege of attending the "Banner of Truth Minister's Conference", held at Elizabethtown College. The first year we were there, one of the speakers was talking about John Owen's writings, and said that "we should always read 'The Mortification of Sin' together with 'Communion with God'". So, 2 years later, we're finally going to take that advice and read, "Communion with God"! 

Secondly, if you've been joining us for our sermon series on the book of Ephesians, then you'll remember Troy speaking about how to make the best use of our time in his sermon on Ephesians 5:14-21. One of his suggestions was to spend at least 15 minutes a day reading. Here, then, is a great book to be reading this summer! It's devotional, it's remarkably Trinitarian, and hopefully it shapes the affections of your hearts and influences the thinking of your minds!

Thirdly, and most importantly, in this book, John Owen offers us a wonderful reminder of the hope every Christian has: Through our union with Jesus Christ, we have restored communion, that is, restored fellowship, with the great and holy Triune God. This communion with God is not just a future promise, but a present reality for the believer. And this book will remind us of that reality, helping us to reflect on what this communion means for our lives here and now. 

R.J.K. Law, the editor of this edition of the book, writes, 

John Owen believed that communion with God lies at the heart of the Christian life. With Paul he recognized that through the Son we have access by the Spirit to the Father. He never lost the sense of amazement expressed by (the Apostle) John: 'Our fellowship is with the Father and with the Son, Jesus Christ'. In this outstanding book he explains the nature of this communion and describes the many privileges it brings.


We hope that your hearts are encouraged and lifted up in the gospel as we read this book together, and it's our prayer that none of us ever loses the sense of amazement that "through the Son we have access by the Spirit to the Father". 

This blog was written by Andy Styer

Posted on June 8, 2017 and filed under Teaching.

Westminster Shorter Catechism Q&A 106 & 107

106:
Q: 
What do we pray for in the sixth petition? 
A: In the sixth petition, which is, And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil, we pray that God would either keep us from being tempted to sin, or support and deliver us when we are tempted.
1 Corinthians 10:13 No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it. 

107:
Q: 
What does the conclusion of the Lord's prayer teach us? 
A: The conclusion of the Lord's prayer, which is, For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever, Amen, teaches us to take our encouragement in prayer from God only, and in our prayers to praise him, ascribing kingdom, power and glory to him. And in testimony of our desire, and assurance to be heard, we say, Amen. 
 1 Corinthians 14:16 Otherwise, if you give thanks with your spirit, how can anyone in the position of an outsider say “Amen” to your thanksgiving when he does not know what you are saying? 

This is it! This is the final blog post in our 2 year series on the Westminster Shorter Catechism. I hope it has been as helpful and edifying for you to read as it has been for me to write. 

Question 106 deals with the sixth petition in the Lord's prayer. This petition flows out of the fifth petition, where we ask God to both forgive us for our sins and to have the grace we need to forgive others. Here, we are recognizing before the holy God that while we have been delivered, in Jesus Christ, from the power of sin, we still struggle every day to walk in a way that is pleasing to God. The remnants of the old man, as John Owen called it, are strong within us! We are new creations in Christ, but we still feel the effects of the old man. And not only that, we are constantly being bombarded with arrows from the Enemy, arrows that tempt us to give in to sin and live as if we are not new creations. We ask God, who does not tempt us to sin, to lead us away from temptation. We ask God to deliver us from the temptations that we face, and when we do face temptation, which we surely will, we ask God to be our shelter, to "support us", give us the strength we need to flee from temptation. 

Finally, question 107 deals with the closing of the Lord's prayer. Now we realize there has been some controversy over the past several years concerning the use of the closing portion of the Lord's prayer, "For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory forever, amen." While this phrase is found in older English translations, such as the King James version, it is not found in newer translations, and for good reason. As more early texts of the New Testament have been discovered, it became apparent that this portion of the prayer was, indeed, added to Matthew 6 later on and was more than likely not part of the original manuscript.

So why do we continue to use this portion of the prayer in our gathered worship services? Well, a big reason why is because this closing portion is indeed modeled after other biblical prayers that we find in Scripture. In fact, it follows very closely Old Testament Jewish doxological structures. We can see this in 1 Chronicles 29:11, "Yours, O LORD, is the greatness and the power and the glory and the victory and the majesty, for all that is in the heavens and in the earth is yours." Given the liturgical structure of the Lord's prayer as given by Christ, we see no problem in "attaching" a doxology of praise modeled after Biblical liturgical prayers to the end of the prayer. More than likely, early Christians did the same thing (which is how it most likely was added into manuscripts of Matthew). It is fully appropriate, within the context of liturgical prayer, to close with such a doxology-a statement of praise-for us to say as one body, "For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever, amen!"

This blog was written by Andy Styer

Westminster Shorter Catechism Q&A #104-105

104 Q: What do we pray for in the fourth petition?
A: In the fourth petition, which is, Give us this day our daily bread, we pray that of God's free gift we may receive a competent portion of the good things of this life, and enjoy his blessing with them. 

105 Q: What do we pray for in the fifth petition?
A. In the fifth petition, which is, And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors, we pray that God, for Christ's sake, would freely pardon all our sins; which we are the rather encouraged to ask, because by his grace we are enabled from the heart to forgive others.
Ephesians 4:32 Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you. 

The fourth petition of the Lord's prayer reminds us of several things. First, it reminds us that we are fully dependent upon God to sustain our lives. By asking for our daily bread, we are saying to him, "Father, we recognize that you alone hold our lives in your hands and you sustain us!" It also reminds us that all we have is, indeed, a gift from God. He is the giver of all good things! There is nothing good that we have that is truly a work of our own hands. Third, we are to enjoy his gifts to us and give praise to God because of his gifts. Not only do God's provisions sustain our lives, they remind us that we serve a loving God who is worthy of our praise and adoration, and we should overflow with thanksgiving for the good gifts God gives us each day. 

The fifth petition reminds us of our sin. It reminds us of our need for a savior. It reminds us of our need for Jesus Christ. And not only does it remind us of our sin, and our need for God's forgiveness for our sins, but it also reminds us of the call to forgive others, "as God in Christ forgave you". It's really teaching us a wonderful truth. If we can be forgiven by God, as we most certainly are when we are trusting in Jesus, then we can most definitely forgive anyone who may "sin" against us! Despite our offense to a thrice holy God, we rest in knowing our forgiveness is certain. Because our forgiveness is certain, then we can certainly forgive others. And we're not only, through this portion of the Lord's prayer, asking God to forgive us in Christ, but also asking for the grace to be gracious in forgiving others. 

This blog was written by Andy Styer

Westminster Shorter Catechism Q&A 102-103

102 Q: What do we pray for in the second petition?
A: In the second petition, which is, Thy kingdom come, we pray that Satan's kingdom
may be destroyed; and that the kingdom of grace may be advanced, ourselves and
others brought into it, and kept in it; and that the kingdom of glory may be hastened.

103 Q: What do we pray for in the third petition?
A: In the third petition, which is, Thy will be done on earth, as it is in heaven, we pray that God, by his grace, would make us able and willing to know, obey and submit to his will in all things, as the angels do in heaven.
Psalm 19:14 Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.

Moving forward in examining the Lord's prayer, this week we look at the 2nd and 3rd petitions of the prayer. The second petition deals with the coming of God's kingdom. Here, we are recognizing that by nature, mankind belongs to the "kingdom of Satan" because of our sin and rebellion against God. But we are also recognizing that when Christ came, he brought with him a "kingdom of grace" to which his people belong by faith. And when Christ came, lived a life of perfect obedience, died, rose, ascended, and was glorified, he "bound the strong man" (Satan), set his people free, and began undoing the ruinous effects that sin, death and the devil have had both on God's people and on God's good creation. We are praying here that God's kingdom of grace would continue to expand, that others would be drawn into it, that the effects of Satan's kingdom would continue to be undone, and that God would hasten the day when Christ would return again to complete his redemptive work, bring about the renewal and recreation of all things, and establish forever his "kingdom of glory". 

The third petition, "thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven", has to do with two things. The first is that we are asking God to help us be obedient to his will. We are asking God to continue to make us more like Jesus Christ, to continue sanctifying us, through the power of the Holy Spirit, so that we will become joyfully submissive to his will. The second thing that we are asking is that God would work all things according to the counsel of his will. In other words, we are asking God to continue his work of providence! Of course, we know that God will, indeed, continue his works of providence. But by praying this petition, we are saying to God that we recognize God's sovereignty, we recognize that he is working all things according to the counsel of his will for his own glory and for the good of those who love him, and that we, as his people, are submitting to and trusting in the working of his providence.  

This blog was written by Andy Styer

Westminster Shorter Catechism #100-101

100:
Q: 
What does the preface of the Lord's prayer teach us?
A: The preface of the Lord's prayer, which is, Our Father which art in heaven, teaches us to draw near to God with all holy reverence and confidence, as children to a father able and ready to help us; and that we should pray with and for others.

101:
Q: 
What do we pray for in the first petition?
A: In the first petition, which is, Hallowed be thy name, we pray that God would enable us and others to glorify him in all that whereby he makes himself known; and that he would dispose all things to his own glory. 
"Worthy are you, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created."

It's hard to believe, but we are coming now to the closing sections of the Westminster Shorter Catechism! I'm already thinking about what to blog through in 2017, but we'll get to that later. For now, we're moving into the sections of the catechism which break down and investigate the sections of the Lord's prayer. These blog posts won't be long, as I think the catechism here is pretty self-explanatory. 

Question 100 shows us a wonderful comfort. It echoes the words of Hebrews 4:16, "Let us with confidence draw near to the throne of grace". Why? Because this is, indeed, our heavenly Father that we are praying to. This is, for us his children, not a throne of judgment, but rather, a throne of grace upon which sits our Father. Our loving, caring, all powerful, all sovereign, all wise, all compassionate Father will withhold no good thing from his children! Our Father is the Father who created all things, who governs all things, and who will work all things for the good of those who love him. So we can, with confidence, draw near to his throne. 

On one final note, notice too, question 100 makes a point in emphasizing the corporate nature of this prayer. God is not "my Father" singular, he is "our Father", which reemphasizes the liturgical structure, by the way, that we talked about in the previous blog post. The implication of this plural language is exactly what the catechism says. We should pray both with and for others. Prayer is not only a means of grace for individuals, but one by which the people of God can and should participate in corporately. 

Question 101 looks at the first petition of the prayer, "Hallowed be thy name". What are we asking, or saying, to God when we pray this petition? We are asking him to glorify himself! We are asking God to receive all glory in all things. We are asking him to conform our wills to his-for his glory. We are asking him to make his glory known to us and to all of creation so that everyone and everything will bring him glory. We are asking God to bring about in our lives what the very first question in this catechism says is the goal of our entire existence-that we would glorify God and enjoy him forever. 

This blog was written by Andy Styer

Westminster Shorter Catechism #99

Q: What rule has God given for our direction in prayer?
A: The whole word of God is of use to direct us in prayer; but the special rule of direction is that form of prayer which Christ taught his disciples, commonly called, the Lord’s prayer.

Acts 2:42: And they devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.

I think it’s good that the catechism makes mention that the whole of Scripture is useful in instructing us to pray. I remember one time in college we were examining a prayer prayed by an Old Testament prophet (I believe it was Samuel). At the end of reading the passage I joked, “Man! Samuel prays like a Presbyterian!” My professor laughed and said, “Why do you think that is?” “Obviously”, I said, “because he was a Presbyterian!” All joking aside, examining the prayers in Scripture, one does begin to pick up certain patterns and formulas to what prayer should be. So when the Westminster Divines point to the whole of the Bible as a model and instruction for prayer, a “rule” for what prayer should be, they are right in doing so! But, of course, the Lord’s Prayer is given to us by Jesus Christ himself as the “ultimate” model of prayer. In giving us the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus really is giving us a framework and pattern for prayer that truly has been used throughout the whole of Scripture. There’s nothing new in the Lord’s prayer as far as the structure goes. What Jesus gives us is a model of prayer that is based on the biblical patterns and structures used throughout the Scriptures.

Now, as I said in the last blog post, the Lord’s Prayer can be used in two ways. The first is a model for prayer. The Lord’s prayer can and should give us a structure to our prayers. We see in the prayer elements of praise (hallowed be thy name), we see in it a submission to God's will (thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven), supplication (give us this day our daily bread), repentance (forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us), and so on. Over the next several weeks, we'll discuss these elements of the prayer and see how they can shape our own prayer lives. 

The second way that the Lord's prayer can and should be used is as a prayer in and of itself. God's people should be praying the Lord's prayer as it was given. In fact, Jesus himself commands this in Luke 11, when as he's about to give the prayer he says, "When you pray, say..." And the prayer itself is, indeed, given in a liturgical structure, thus indicating that Jesus is saying, "Hey, this is a prayer you ought to be saying often!" The church has historically understood the prayer in these terms. So much so, in fact, that the ancient Didache, a first century treatise which contains supposed teachings of the Apostles, states that the prayer should be said by Christians at least three times a day!

It's for these reasons that the Reformed church, as well as Catholic, Orthodox, Anglican, Lutheran, and just about every other major branch of Christianity has, for centuries, included the Lord's prayer as a liturgical element in their weekly gathered worship services. This is the reason why I used Acts 2:42 as a Scripture reference for this question. It shows us that the early believers dedicated themselves to "the prayers". That little word, "the" before the word "prayers" indicates that these were structured, memorized prayers used for liturgical purposes. Quite likely, these prayers included the Lord's prayer. Going back to that college class I mentioned in the beginning of this blog, as we began discussing the Lord's prayer, the professor asked, "How many of you attend a church where the prayer is said every week?" Sadly, only two of us raised our hands (the other person who raised his hand attended a Reformed Baptist church). The professor then asked, "what are some of the objections to not saying the prayer every week?" The most common objection was, "well if you say it every week, it can become meaningless!" This is certainly a reason that many of us hear when it comes to using any repeated elements of worship, not just the Lord's prayer! But our professor had a great response to this. He said, "Isn't that an issue of the heart with the worshiper, not an issue of the Lord's prayer itself? Why is our solution to this problem simply to not use the prayer at all? Shouldn't our solution be, rather, to address the heart issues of our worshipers who find this prayer to be meaningless if we repeat it too much? This prayer was given to us by Jesus Christ himself! How could it ever become meaningless!?" 

It's a wonderful point, isn't it? This prayer was, indeed, given to us by Christ himself. There really could be no better way to pray than to pray the words of Christ! 

This blog was written by Andy Styer

Westminster Shorter Catechism #98

Q: What is prayer?
A: Prayer is an offering up of our desires unto God, for things agreeable to his will, in the name of Christ, with confession of our sins, and thankful acknowledgment of his mercies.
Psalm 10:17 O Lord, you hear the desire of the afflicted; you will strengthen their heart; you will incline your ear.

The catechism is setting us up here for it’s section on the Lord’s Prayer. We see hints of the Lord’s prayer in how this answer is structured. “Prayer is an offering up of our desires unto God, for things agreeable to his will” is pointing towards the phrase, “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on Earth as it is in Heaven”. “With confession of our sins” reflects the portion of the Lord’s Prayer, “Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors”. “Thankful acknowledgment of his mercies” points towards the section, “Give us this day our daily bread”. And in the coming weeks, we will explore in depth the Lord’s Prayer, all of its major sections (which the catechism breaks down by discussing four major requests in the prayer), and see how the prayer is both a model for us to use and is, indeed, a prayer in and of itself that we should make use of regularly.

But prayer is more than what the catechism lays out here, and I’d like to expand a bit upon this catechism by looking at two aspects of prayer not addressed in the catechism, at least directly. Because I think that too often we view prayer as a duty and a spiritual discipline. It is both of those things, but it’s a duty and a discipline given to us graciously for our own growth and good, and for God’s glory.

First, prayer is a means of grace. We already talked about how the means of grace are given to God’s people for their discipleship and nourishment. As a means of grace, prayer is vitally important to the life of a child of God. It is equally important, in fact, as the Word read and preached and the administration of the sacraments. God works through prayer to shape and mold our desires and feed our faith. As a means of grace, prayer is one of the ways that Christ himself communicates the benefits of our redemption!

Secondly, prayer is a privilege. Do we think about prayer in this way? As the book of Hebrews declares, we have a great high priest through whom we have been given access to the throne of God. There is one mediator between God and man, the Lord Jesus Christ. And when we go to God the Father in the name of the Son and by the power of the Holy Spirit, we are entering into the Holy of Holies itself and able to come before the maker of all things to lay our cares, our concerns, our desires, our hopes before him. And, remarkably, God hears us. The Holy God hears us, cares for us, and will be faithful to answer us. How can we not see prayer as a privilege? Imagine how special you would feel if the president of the United States invited you into his personal living quarters to talk to him? Here is the God of all creation saying, “Come my child, speak to me. I will listen, and I will answer”.

Lastly, something the catechism does mention, is that prayer is something we do in the name of Christ. We come to God the Father, the God of all creation, through God the Son. There is no other name by which we can come. Why are we not consumed by the holiness of God when we come into the presence of the Father in prayer? No reason, other than we are coming in the name of our great High Priest, Jesus Christ, who has made satisfaction for all our sins and who has clothed us in his robes of righteousness. When Christ died on the cross, you will remember the curtain in the temple which divided the outer court from the inner "Holy of Holies" was torn from top to bottom. This symbolized the reality that now, through Jesus Christ, all of God's people (not just Israel's high priest) could come into the very presence of the holy God himself and not be consumed, because we have one mediator between God and man-the Lord Jesus Christ. 

If prayer is all these things (and more!), then why are we so lazy with it? Why is it so hard for us? May God give us the grace daily to pray without ceasing, to make full use of this means of grace for our good and for his glory.

This blog was written by Andy Styer

Westminster Shorter Catechism #97

Q: What is required to the worthy receiving of the Lord's supper?
A: It is required of them that would worthily partake of the Lord's supper, that they examine themselves of their knowledge to discern the Lord's body, of their faith to feed upon him, of their repentance, love, and new obedience; lest, coming unworthily, they eat and drink judgment to themselves.
1 Corinthians 11:28 Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup.

Now that the Thanksgiving holiday is past us for another year, and we've gotten over the humps of some pretty big catechism questions, I hope to catch up and get this blog back on schedule over the next few weeks. 

This week's question is a "biggie" as well. Some may not realize the debates around the question of who is worthy to receive the Lord's Supper. Some will argue that if our children are, indeed, members of the covenant community, if they have received the sign of that community, then why should we keep them from the covenant meal? After all, children, even infants, were more than likely participants in the covenant meals of Israel, be it the Passover or the peace offerings. This idea is not a new thought in the Christian church. The practice of including infants in the Lord's Supper is seen very early in the Church's life. And while we do not know if it was the apostolic practice, we do know that by the end of the 2nd century, it was at least a somewhat common practice. But others will argue that the reason we do not include infants in the Lord's Supper is because the meal, according to New Testament texts, requires some level of discernment. This is the position of the Westminster divines, and also the stated position of the Presbyterian Church in America. You can read our position paper on this topic here

Given the position of the PCA and of the Shorter Catechism, our goal here is to not engage in the discussion of who should partake of the Lord's Supper, but rather, as the catechism asks, what is required of those who would partake. The catechism states that there are several things we must discern before partaking. First, we are to discern the Lord's body. Do we understand what we are feeding on and drinking of when we partake of the elements of the supper? Do we understand that the bread is the body of Christ, broken for us? Do we understand that the cup is the new covenant in Christ's blood, poured out for us, that apart from the death of Jesus Christ, there is no atonement for sin and no forgiveness? We are also to discern, that is, to examine, our own faith. Are we trusting in Christ for our salvation? This is a meal for the people of God. Those who are looking elsewhere for their hope, those who are putting their faith in anything but Jesus Christ should not participate in the meal.  Furthermore, we should examine ourselves for the outworking of faith. Do we live lives of repentance, do we see the workings of love-love for God and for our neighbor? This includes the question, "are we at peace with our brothers and sisters in Christ?" This is the context of 1 Cor. 11 where Paul gives the command to examine ourselves. He writes in 11:18 that he hears of divisions among the Corinthian Christians. This should not be! The Lord's Supper is not only a reminder that we are reconciled to God, but also a reminder that, as Paul writes in 1 Cor. 10, because there is one bread, we who are many are one body. If you are not at peace with your brother or sister in Christ, you need to, as Jesus says in Matthew 5, leave your offering at the altar and first be reconciled to your brother. To not do this is to eat and drink judgment upon yourself. Finally, we are to examine our obedience to the commands of God. This is not a question of whether or not we have sinned, but rather, it is to search ourselves to see if we have in us a desire to serve and obey the true and living God. If we do not have this desire to obey, if we do not have evidence of love in us for God and for our neighbor, if we do not live lives of repentance, then we should be questioning whether we have the faith that is required to participate in the covenant meal.

Let me just close with this thought. The table of the Lord is not a table of merit. The process of discerning, of examining yourself, is not meant to keep those who are truly trusting in Christ away from the table. The process of examination is meant to remind us that the Lord's Supper is not just another meal, as the Corinthians were treating it, but rather, it is a means of grace meant to strengthen and encourage, to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ, to God's covenant people. It is not designed to keep the struggling Christian, the Christian who feels weak in their faith, the Christian who feels beaten down by their struggles against sin, the Christian who is plagued with doubts and fears, away. These are the people who need the meal, who need the spiritual nourishment of the body and blood of Christ, and these are the people who are invited to come! We do not "earn" the privilege to come to the table of the Lord. You don't get to come because, in your mind, you sinned less this week than you did last. Too often, these levels of examination have been used by people to pervert what the Lord's Supper is about. The call to examine ourselves has been twisted in a way that makes people afraid to come to the table. The reality is, everyone who comes to the table of the Lord is a poor and beaten down sinner. The reality is, everyone who comes has, at some point in their life, felt weak in their faith, has struggled to hold on to our confession. We all need the grace that the meal gives us. We all need the repentance and faith that the meal encourages. This meal is given to us because of our weakness, not in spite of it! Or have we forgotten that we have a great High Priest who is able to sympathize? A High Priest who was tempted in every way? Jesus Christ, the giver of this meal, knows our weaknesses and sympathizes with us.  So we who are hoping and trusting in Jesus Christ alone for our salvation, who-though we sin often and sin boldly-are living lives of repentance, who, though we fail, truly do desire to live obedient lives for the glory of our God and King, may come and eat and drink! We may come and participate in the great peace offering of God and know that we are at peace with the Father through the Son. We may come and have our souls nourished, our faith fed, and our assurance strengthened as we commune with Jesus and with our brothers and sisters. 

This blog was written by Andy Styer