Doxological Theology

“Shout for joy to God, all the earth;
sing the glory of his name; give to him glorious praise!
(Psalm 66:1–2)

I have heard it said, and I completely agree, that all theology should lead to doxology.  That is, every conversation about God, who He is, what He has done, should ultimately inspire us to praise.  The more we know about God, the more we will want to fall on our knees and praise Him.  Allow me to illustrate…

Last Sunday I began our Adult Sunday School Class on the book of Jude.  As Jude opens his letter, he addresses the epistle to “those who are called, beloved in God the Father and kept in Jesus Christ” (Jude 2).  As we unpacked this threefold phrase (called, beloved, kept), I asked the class to turn to Romans 8:29-30 – what is commonly referred to as the Golden Chain of Salvation.

In these two verses we find one of the most succinct explanations of God’s work of Salvation in all of Scripture.  These two verses have inspired volumes and tomes to try to describe God’s great work of grace and mercy in our salvation.  There will be no attempt to speak exhaustively on it here: but note what the apostle teaches:

For those whom he foreknew… This word draws upon the OT word “know” to emphasize that God had a personal, covenantal affection for His people.  God wasn’t randomly picking names out of a hat, but those whom He knew from the beginning of time…

He also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son…  God has crafted our destiny, and our destiny is to be conformed to the image of His Son, to be like Christ.  Many reject the notion of predestination as God for-ordaining our every move.  I don’t think that’s what Paul is saying.  That’s not what predestination means.  I don’t think that God orchestrates our every move, as though we are marionettes on a string.  I do, however, affirm that God’s sovereign will and His plan for all creation will be fully realized, and in the end we will see how, for those who love God, all things have worked together for good, that is, the good and glorious goal of our being conformed to the image of Christ.

And those whom he predestined he also called…  God calls His children, by the testimony of the Word (preached, read, etc.) and by the inward working of the Holy Spirit.  When we are lost in sin, dead to the things of God, alienated from His kingdom, God calls us out of darkness and into the light.  God calls us out of death and into life.  God calls us out of sin and into righteousness.  God calls us out of the dominion of sin and into the kingdom of Christ.  This call comes through the outward preaching and teaching of the Word, the proclamation of the Gospel, and is received by the inward working of the Holy Spirit.  The reason you responded to the call is not because you are wiser than the others, but because the Spirit changed your heart.

Those whom we called he also justified…  The Westminster Confession says it best: God justified, “not by infusing righteousness…, but by pardoning their sins, and by accounting and accepting their persons as righteous; not for anything wrought in them, or done by them, but for Christ’s sake alone; not by imputing faith itself, the act of believing, or any other evangelical obedience to them, as their righteousness, but by imputing the obedience and satisfaction of Christ unto them, they receiving and resting on him and his righteousness by faith; which faith they have not of themselves, it is the gift of God.”

Those whom he justified he also glorified…  Those who have been known by God, predestined by God, called by God, and justified by God, will ultimately also be glorified by God as well.  Paul speaks of this assurance of God’s work with such confidence that he puts it in the past tense.  God will complete what He has started, and as Paul finishes the 8th chapter of Romans, we are assured that nothing will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Okay, I said this would not be an exhaustive study on Romans 8:29-30, so let me get back to my original point.  As I said at the beginning, all theology should lead to doxology, to praise, and this Golden Chain of Salvation clearly demonstrates how that happens.

Notice as you read through Romans 8:29-30, there is not one mention of our work, of our choice, of our responsibility.  Our salvation is the one work of God.  Yes, there is the gracious response to all that God is done.  When the Spirit makes us alive to God, we answer the call, embrace the grace, and grow in righteous obedience to the Word of God.  But all of this is a response to the primary, foundational, sine qua non gracious work of God.

Because our salvation is the work of God, it is therefore sure and secure.  I don’t have to worry that I might let God down (that’s actually a given), that I might rebel and fall away from my salvation.  I am kept in Christ, it is His sovereign grace, His calling, His justifying – it is His work.  He will not let me go.

As I was teaching this to the Sunday School class, one class member stopped me and said, “Can I just say, ‘Hallelujah!’”  Absolutely; that’s the point of it all.  All our theological musings, all our confessional statements, every word upon the Word should lead us, ultimately, to give glory to God.

All theology should produce a humble and gracious response of love.  If you study this Golden Chain, or the 5 Points of Calvinism, or any other theology for that matter, and come away with an air of superiority and self-righteousness, you have completely missed the point.  If your theology leads you to sit in judgment of others who are lost in sin rather than compelling you to demonstrate for all to see the very grace, mercy, and love of God that delivered you from sin and death, then your theology is of no use to you, to the world, and does not bring God glory. The theology of the church does not exist to puff up the pride of man, but to exalt and glorify God.

We are His creation.  Salvation is His gift.  It is all His work.  All glory and honor belong to Him.

Sola Deo Gloria!

Contend for the Faith

“…contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints. 
For certain people have crept in unnoticed…
who pervert the grace of our God into sensuality
and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ.

(Jude vs. 3 & 4 ESV)

There are times when I’d like to have seen the other letter that Jude was planning on writing, the one concerning our common salvation.  Instead, we have this necessary letter, which dealt with the very pressing issues of the false teaching and corrupt theology of Jude’s day, but also sounds perfectly relevant for our church today (the sovereignty and provision of God is truly amazing).

Jude wrote to the church in response to the corrupt teachings of those who had crept into the community of faith and had perverted the grace of God into sensuality and thereby had denied our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ.  While it is impossible to know exactly who these false teachers were, or what they taught, we can make an educated guess.

These were teachers who crept into the church, not by stealth, but by deception.  They said that they believed, but as was evidenced by what they taught and by their actions, they did not.  They came in and taught destruction.  They said one thing in order to gain admittance into the church, to be accepted as teachers and leaders, but when they began to teach, their doctrine was a perversion of God’s grace and a denial of the Lordship of Christ.

Scriptures teach that the grace of God is that free favor of God which we receive through faith in Jesus Christ, wherein we are forgiven and liberated from sin and the condemnation of the Law.  Jude’s complaint is that these false teachers have perverted this grace into a license for immorality, (the Greek word translated here “sensuality” literally means “licentiousness, debauchery, and sensuality – sexual excess).  In other words, they interpret the Christian’s liberation by God’s grace as liberation from all moral restraint, twisting the grace of God into a promotion of all sorts of sinfulness.

Not only that, but they denied our only Lord and Master Jesus Christ.  After all, if there is no real Sovereign God in the church, anything goes.  If Christ is not ultimately our Lord, if the Author of life has no authority over life, then there is no moral law or imperative for those in the grace of God.  The promotion of sinfulness and the denial of Christ’s Lordship over us go hand in hand, they assume one another.

This is what Jude was facing in the church of his day, and this is why Jude wrote to the church to contend for the faith.  This word “contend” brings to mind a boxer in a ring, striving for the victory for fifteen rounds; the runner contending for the prize, enduring the race set before him.  As a matter of fact, the word here in the Greek where the English word “agonize” comes from.  While it would be more pleasant to encourage one another with conversation about our mutual salvation in Christ Jesus, the present situation dictates that we strive for our faith, contend for the truth, that we aggressively continue to defend the faith against false teaching.

Jude could just as easily have been writing about our church today.  From denominational leaders and from the pulpits and classrooms, the recent decision to remove the requirement that “those refusing to repent of any self-acknowledged practice which the confessions call sin shall not be ordained” has been heralded as a great new day for the church.  The rationale in given in support of this change made it clear this would open the door for the ordination of self-affirmed practicing homosexuals.  How is this any different than when Jude wrote about perverting the grace of God into sensuality?  Sure, those in favor of this change will say that sessions and presbyteries still have the right to determine their standards for ordination, guided by Scripture and the confessions, but now that all clear and precise standards have been removed from the Book of Order, there is very little to guarantee that will happen.  This outright perversion of the grace of God comes hand in hand with the denial of Christ’s authority as Lord over the life of the church and the hearts and minds of its members.

Friends, there is an apocryphal saying attributed to Edmund Burke (although no citation has ever been given) that goes something like: “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.”  That is exactly what we have seen in the church today.  Those who tired of contending against an entrenched progressive wing of the denomination have left.  Those who disagree but still remain are weary and don’t know how to fight.  And while we are reeling from this blow, more attacks to the Biblical faith and values entrusted to the Church through the generations are coming.  Next year at General Assembly, look for a motion to redefine marriage, and in the coming years for litigation that will require Presbyteries and Sessions to ordain practicing homosexuals, regardless of the standards set by the local body.

I don’t write this to cause you grief, but these things should upset you and cause you agony.  I struggle over writing this, and I am sure that there will be some who will use these words to say that I am not promoting the Peace, Unity, and Purity of the Church, when in fact, those are the very things I am striving for.  We must take this time, for there may not be a tomorrow, to contend for the faith.  We must stand firm and make our voice heard that we do not agree, that we will fight for the truth of God’s word, for the preservation of the truth, and to proclaim the Good News of God’s mercy and grace in Jesus Christ which can overcome all sin in the world today.

So I encourage you to contend for the faith.  Pray for the Session and for me as your Pastor, that we may know the appropriate steps to take, and that I may “boldly proclaim the gospel” (Eph 6:19).  Pray that our congregation may grow in wisdom and grace, that the bond of Christ may hold us together during these difficult days.  Pray that the church may be purified and strengthened in the truth.  But most of all, pray that God’s glory may be exalted!