Dr. Ligon Duncan’s Seminar on the Marrow Controversy

In today’s theological climate, antinomianism and the Sonship theology are rife within Reformed circles. The Marrow Controversy therefore has much to teach us about the relationship of grace and law.

Dr. Duncan started by sketching a short history of the Marrow Controversy, emphasizing Boston’s role in recommending the Marrow of Modern Divinity. The book, of course, caused waves in the Scottish Presbyterian church. There had been a professor at Glasgow who had showed affinity for Socinianism and Arminianism. This man was tried by the church and basically given a slap on the wrist. So those heterodox doctrines would find a refuge in the Scottish Presbyterian Church, but the evangelical Calvinism was not found congenial. The Auchterarter Presbytery had a question that they asked candidates about the relationship of coming to Christ and forsaking sin. Understood properly, the question was designed to make clear that a person does not forsake sin in order to come to Christ, but rather comes to Christ in order for sin’s hold on the person to be broken. The General Assembly rebuked the Auchterarter Presbytery for asking the question this way. What would later be called “moderatism” had its beginnings in the General Assembly. Enlightenment thinking took over, to the point where, as one writer puts it, a typical “moderatism” sermon was like a winter day: cold, clear, and brief. The Marrow, on the other hand, was condemned by the General Assembly. The defenders of the Marrow, such as Thomas Boston, and the Erskine brothers appealed the decision, which was rejected. This almost guaranteed that everyone in Scotland would purchase a copy of the book! There’s Scottish contrariness for you.

There are three interpretations of the Marrow controversy. Some argue that it was an internecine dispute of two sides that both held to the Westminster Standards. Those who condemned the Marrow quoted the Westminster standards against the Marrow men, which creates a certain plausibility for this view. This view is wrong in Duncan’s mind, though.

The second view says that the Marrow men represented a revolt against classical Calvinism (this is held by J.B. Torrance). In other words, the Marrow men were trying to liberate the Scottish church from the Westminster Standards. The Marrow men, however, vowed ex animo in strict subscription to the Westminster Standards.

The third view is that the Marrow men were the Westminster theology men. This is the proper view.

Dr. Duncan then shared many of the most important quotations from both Boston and Fisher.

Job and Bunyan Versus The Shack

I am reblogging this book review of The Shack (originally posted January 7,2009), as it was a post most people found to be helpful.

The book entitled The Shack has been a marketing phenomenon among “evangelicals.” Blurbs compare the Shack to Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress. I am here to tell you that the hype is a bit forced. Let’s do a bit of comparison, first with the book of Job, then with Bunyan, interjecting a bit of C.S. Lewis in for fun.

The Shack is the story of a man whose beautiful daughter is brutally murdered. The man leaves the faith, only to receive a message from God to meet him at the shack, the very place where his daughter was murdered. He then meets God. The Father is a big jolly black woman, the Son is a Jewish carpenter, and the Holy Spirit is a wispy, mysterious Asian woman (we’ll get to that blasphemy in a moment). The upshot of the plot is that God explains to the main character the why’s and the wherefore’s, and the man is healed. The theological upshot is that God is good, but not all-powerful. Young takes Rabbi Kushner’s prong of the dilemma. What is important to notice here is a combination of rationalism and experientalism. On the one hand, Young tears at the heart strings, making the reader bleed for the main character. On the other hand, in order for the man’s faith to be “restored,” God has to explain himself.

Contrast Job. Job lost much more than the man in the story (ten children!), and it was due to the prince of demons being opposed to him, not a mere man, even if Job didn’t know that. He lost all his possessions, and then finally his health. He had much more to complain about than the man in The Shack. He too wanted God to explain. He wanted to vindicate himself as well. But when God finally has His say, He tells Job that He does not have to come to the bar of human reason. Humans have to come to the bar of God. This is where C.S. Lewis comes in. In his brilliant essay entitled “God in the Dock,” he makes the point that the really important thing for autonomous man is that he is the judge, and that God is in the dock. The man may very well be a kindly judge and acquit God of wrong-doing, if God shows Himself up to the task of defending himself. But the really important thing is that man is the judge, and God is in the dock (on trial). Job shows us that the reverse is true. God is the judge, and man is in the dock.

Rationalism always results in God losing one of His attributes. If God is all-powerful and all-good, then how come evil exists? The Bible does not allow us to lessen the difficulty of this question by jettisoning one of these attributes. The reason the problem is so acute for the believer is that God is both all-benevolent and all-powerful.

Just to begin an answer (and not leave the readers hanging), God allows evil to exist for various reasons, but evil will not continue to last. God has dealt with the problem of evil on the cross and the empty tomb, and will finally eradicate the very presence of evil in this world in the future. No other religion, by the way, or atheism, has an answer to this question. Pantheism believes that evil is naturally part of the world. No hope of eradication there. Atheism cannot define right and wrong, so his faith in his own reason becomes shockingly apparent when he confidently talks about the problem of evil. Deists don’t believe that God has anything to do with the world. These all lack hope and eschatology.

Bunyan and Young go in fundamentally different directions. Christian’s journey is to the bar of judgment as a defendant whom God will acquit based on the spotless righteousness of Christ imputed to him. The man’s journey in The Shack is to the bench, where he magnanimously acquits God of wrong-doing, once it becomes evident that God is really powerless to stop it. Of course, if God is powerless to stop evil, then He is also powerless to eradicate evil, and so that road is also a dead end eschatologically speaking.

In talking with one of my friends, he made the very interesting point also about faith. What moves Christian? It is the scroll, the evangelist, the Interpreter, the fellow believers he meets on the way, the key of faith in Doubting Castle. It is the means of grace which compels Christian to a life of faith. In The Shack, it is a one-time rationalistic showdown where God pleads and begs with the man (in effect) not only to give Him a hearing, but to acquit Him of wrong-doing. Ultimately, the man’s faith is in himself.

My friend also noted the contrast between the way in which God is portrayed in the Bible as opposed to how God is portrayed in The Shack. The God of The Shack is hardly a God with the least little hint of awe and majesty. He is not the God of the whirlwind, which is how God treated Job. He is not the God before whom all bow their faces to the ground. Instead, He is a God whose booty sways to the music. Anyone who cannot see the blasphemy and rank heresy of this portrayal of God is seriously lacking in discernment. God is Spirit, and only the Second Person of the Trinity has a human body which exists only in hypostatic union with the divine nature, and is currently a glorified body. I choose to believe the God of the Bible, who will eradicate evil because He is completely omnipotent and completely free of sin.

Hints of Cessationism in NT?

(Posted by Paige)

A perennial puzzle that arises as we rub shoulders with our neighbors in the wider church is how we are to understand the claims of “continualists,” who attest that signs and wonders and special manifestations of the Spirit are (and ought to be) normative parts of Christian experience today. As this is a live question in my neck of the woods right now, I recently started thinking through the NT’s teaching, both implied and direct, on the temporary nature of these “special effects.” I’ve come to some interesting, tentative conclusions based mainly on a close study of Hebrews; but before I set these out for scrutiny, I thought I’d offer a question for your consideration and see what good thoughts I get back. Here is my basic query:

Can you identify in the NT any evidence of a shift, whether anticipated or inaugurated, from faith supported by words, sacraments, and miraculous signs to faith supported by words and sacraments alone? (Assume inspired words and the illumination of the Holy Spirit in both cases!)

Note please that I am only interested in NT support for this shift, not what the ECFs had to say about it. I’m also already familiar with the basic cessationist arguments, so no need to repeat Warfield or Calvin on this. What do you see in the NT that suggests a transition from an era that included wonders/sight to an era characterized by words/hearing?

Thanks in advance!

Update:My own contribution can be found in this comment.

Two Verses, Twelve Questions

(Posted by Paige)

Here’s a whimsical Bible puzzle for you to bat around. These two verses have recently caught my attention and raised a handful of questions in my mind:

The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith!”
And the Lord said, “If you had faith like a grain of mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you.” (Luke 17:5-6)

Here are twelve of my many questions. Tackle any that interest you, too!

1. What did the disciples assume about faith?

2. Were they correct in their assumption?

3. What did they assume about Jesus?

4. What did they expect Jesus to accomplish for them?

5. Is Jesus’ response intended as an affirmation or a correction of their request?

6. What does Jesus imply about faith?

7. Why a mulberry tree? Is there any symbolism here?

8. Is Jesus describing something that might literally happen, or is he using poetic hyperbole?

9. If hyperbole, what’s his point?

10. Is this the same message that Jesus intends in Matt. 17:20 (“…if you have faith like a grain of mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move, and nothing will be impossible for you.”)

11. Why is this exchange recorded here in Luke (i.e., in this particular location in the Gospel)? Are the apostles reacting to something, or has Luke collected similar material together?

12. How is this exchange related to what has come before and what will follow?

Bonus question: What would you emphasize if preaching from this passage?

Some Thoughts on William Evans’s Ref21 Piece

Sean Lucas has some good thoughts on his current situation in relationship to what Evans said. I thought it might be worthwhile to chime in as well. It has all the earmarks of a great conversation, irenic, yet to the point. I hope to continue in that manner.

The things I agree with Evans: 1. I agree that one of the main problems facing the church today is what Bonhoeffer calls “cheap grace.” I think there definitely is still legalism present in the church. However, the pressure of culture is far more radically licentious than legalistic. 2. This is one key reason why the law needs to be preached. If people can’t see their need of Jesus by being convicted by the law, then there is no reason to preach the Gospel. 3. I agree with his read of Romans 6, that sanctification flows from union with Christ. I would not, however, want to dismiss justification as constituting any ground of sanctification whatsoever. While our response to justification does not make up all of our motivation for sanctification, it does constitute part of it. The key here is to emphasize the inseparability of justification and sanctification. That justification constitutes part of the ground of sanctification is more due to the inseparability of the two than any kind of temporal priority (although there, too, it must still be acknowledged that justification comes before almost all of our sanctification, the only part of sanctification excepted here is definitive sanctification, which occurs simultaneously with justification). I still think there is a way to reconcile the concerns of WTS and WSC. WTS emphasizes union as being all-embracing (although some things from Horton also emphasize this), whereas WSC emphasizes the priority of justification. Can’t justification have a priority within union?

Questions I would have for Evans: 1. Maybe Tchividjian’s context is different from Evans’s. Could it be that in his congregation, legalism might be more of a threat? This might help explain why Tchividjian speaks the way he does. Different contexts make for very different problems. I would agree with Lucas here in saying that different regions might have different concerns. In the Midwest, the problem I have noticed is the “Midwestern nice.” They will say all kinds of nice things about Christians and Christianity, and they will typically be rather polite even if you go door to door. However, whether they actually need salvation is entirely another matter. They believe they are good enough. They are not very licentious as a general rule (though they are becoming more so). But neither do they believe they are perfect. They believe they are “good enough.” I wonder where that fits on the scale here between antinomianism and legalism? It is a form of antinomianism in this respect: Midwestern nice reduces the demands of the law to a keepable level (antinomianism does this on a theoretical level; legalism also reduces the demands of the law, but does so not in theory but in practice). However, they don’t believe that they can just do whatever they want. So they aren’t antinomian in that respect. 2. Is the Law-Gospel distinction only Lutheran? I believe not. See some of the original sources quoted here, here, and here. Of course, the Law-Gospel distinction only refers to the pedagogical use of the law. The Law is no enemy to the Gospel after the person becomes a believer, but rather becomes the Christian’s guide and friend. The pedagogical use of the law still operates after the believer becomes a Christian, too. However, this is not bringing condemnation, but rather God’s fatherly displeasure.c

Update: Rick Phillips has some very important thoughts here, and so does Jim Cassidy.

Relativism and the Church

Relativism is the third tooth in the mouth of the wolf that attacks the church. This one is particularly nasty, in my opinion, because it is so prevalent, and so hard to fight. You can’t always even use logic to fight this one, because they usually reject logic outright (at least, they say they do). The consequences are severe for the church. Everything becomes “relational,” while commitment to truth simultaneously erodes (see Sittema, With a Shepherd’s Heart, p. 61). The only thing that is absolutely wrong is to hold absolute values (pp. 62-63). Church discipline becomes extremely difficult, since how dare those elders tell me that I am sinning! People lose conviction that the Bible is really God’s Word.

Sittema gives us five suggestions on how to fight this horrific error. 1. Proclaim loudly and often the infallible and absolute authority of the Bible; 2. Call sin by its rightful name: sin! 3. Teach the Bible (I would include with this Bible memorization); 4. Rebuke sinners with the Bible; and 5. Lead by example. I might add a few other suggestions here that will help, especially geared towards young people, who are the most affected by relativism. 6. Teach young people the catechisms, so that it’s in their blood. 7. Preach against the television (who can fight the indoctrination of relativism if the television has such a complete grasp of the time of our young people? Plus, there is usually little of value on the TV) 8. Teach apologetics to the youth groups and to college age folks, so that they are not only aware of relativism, but also how to understand it and avoid it, and even maybe help others avoid it.

Trust and Belief

Sean Gerety has posted a thoughtful short essay on saving faith and trust. I thought I would respond to it here and see what people thought about this.

First of all, I think two problems are evident. On the one hand, when looking at the Clarkian position, the tendency has been to say that Clark believes in salvation by intellectual assent alone. This is not what Clark is saying. Clark most definitely includes a personal appropriation of the truth of the Gospel when he talks about saving faith.

On the other side, when people look at the three-fold definition of knowledge, assent, and trust, that last word is ambiguous. What is trust? Is it a once-for-all entrustment of the soul to God? Or is it a lifelong loyalty to the covenant? Here is where the rubber hits the road. It becomes a little bit more complicated once we introduce the distinction between justification and sanctification into the picture.

I would say that if we use the word “trust” in relation to justifying faith (faith as related to justification specifically), we absolutely have to eliminate any thought of life-long loyalty from the discussion, because then we would be justified by loyalty, which obviously includes works of loyalty. So, if we use the word “trust,” then we have to limit it to the once-for-all entrustment of the soul to God.

Now, let us relate this once-for-all entrustment of the soul to God, on the one hand, to belief in a personal appropriation of the Gospel, on the other hand. Are they not really the same thing? The former is what most Reformed theologians have said. Clark has said it in the latter way. Might they not actually be the same thing? At this moment in time, I am more inclined to favor the personal appropriation language of belief to describe the third element of faith, precisely since, as Sean has pointed out, the word “trust” is so ambiguous.

To conclude, when Clark/Gerety et al say “justification by belief alone” they are not talking about just knowledge, or even just assent. They are also including in that a personal appropriation of that truth to the sinner. I do not see a whopping difference between that and what others have said concerning trust. Are you not placing your trust in God when you come to the belief that God’s Gospel applies to you personally? Maybe the two orthodox sides are not so different after all.

The New Perspective on Paul Schools the FV

I was quite pleasantly surprised to find this in none other than James Dunn’s commentary on Romans. Given the recent discussions on faith versus faithfulness, I thought people might enjoy mulling over this quotation. Dunn is commenting on Romans 4:21 (which describes Abraham’s confidence that God fulfills His promises):

It was confidence in God, a positive acknowledgment of God’s power as creator, a calm certainty that God had made known to Abraham his purpose and could be relied on to perform it without further question or condition. Here from another aspect is the same reason why Abraham’s faith should not be though of in terms of covenant loyalty or as incomplete apart from works, for faith is confidence in God’s loyalty as alone necessary, as alone able, as alone sufficient to bring God’s promise to full effect (p. 239 of volume 1).

It should be noted here that in the context of Romans, Paul goes on immediately to apply Abraham’s faith as a template or example for us (see 4:23). I should note that this quotation does not alleviate the other problems in Dunn’s theology. However, on this point, Dunn seems to agree with the critics of the FV.

Two Baptisms Or One?

I am becoming more and more convinced that the Federal Vision believes in two baptisms. Consider this point: do they expect an infant baptism to work the same way an adult baptism would? This presupposes another question, of course: should our doctrine of baptism be able to take into account all baptisms? The answer to this latter question is yes, since we believe in one baptism, as Ephesians 4:5 tells us, and as the creeds tell us. So the problem for the FV is this: if the sign and the thing signified are tied so closely together that you can’t even insert a credit card in between the two, then how to explain adult baptisms? Does the adult get the thing signified at the time point of faith, or do we have to tell him, “Whoa there, slow down, pardner! You don’t have union with Christ and forgiveness of sins until you’re baptized.” Isn’t that telling an adult that faith alone is not sufficient for justification?

Let’s try a thought experiment that seeks to make infant baptisms and adult baptisms work the same way. Let’s suppose that an adult comes to faith before he receives the sign and seal (like Abraham in Romans 4, for instance). Could this be paralleled in an infant’s life? Sure thing. An infant can trust in its Creator even in the womb (an implication of John the Baptist, not to mention David’s strong language of infant faith in the Psalms). Okay, what about coming to faith after baptism, can that happen? This is also very possible. An adult can fool himself into thinking that he has real faith, and only realizes his mistake after baptism. We would certainly not re-baptize such a person. His faith came after the sign and seal. This also happens with infants, since it happened with me. I came to faith when I was six, though baptized as an infant. And no, no one doubted my words when I said I came to faith. I was always encouraged to hold to what I said. I was encouraged both before and after my conversion to grow up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. My parents did not assume one way or the other whether I was saved or not. In other words, I myself do not fit the FV paradigm.

If one believes, then, that the thing signed and sealed always comes at the time-point of baptism, then one believes in two baptisms, because it never happens that way with an adult, and almost never with an infant. Would a church responsibly baptize an adult who did not have a credible profession of faith? Of course not. In baptizing an adult, the church is required to assume that the thing signified is already present. Therefore, the FV believes in two baptisms. It works one way for infants, and another way for adults. This is not tenable, and it is certainly not confessional. The Westminster standards says that the efficacy of the sacraments is not tied to the moment when they are administered. It comes in God’s own appointed time. That appointed time is when the Holy Spirit comes upon the person in power and changes that person from a citizen of Hell to a citizen of Heaven. That happens by faith alone.

This is why saying that sign and thing signified always or even mostly occur at the same time is very dangerous. Whenever God gives faith-that is when the thing signified and sealed is granted. God is not tied to the moment of baptism to give that.

One commenter long ago wrote on this blog that the FV is a baby-driven theology. I think this is true. Rather than coming at the sacrament in such a way that all forms of it fit the same template, so as to have only one baptism, they think almost exclusively in terms of how a baby experiences baptism, and it is not consistent with how the adult baptism works. They should work the same way.

Faith Strengthened

Romans 1:8-15


Audio Version

It is a wonderful thing to have one’s faith strengthened by someone else. It could be a small or a big thing. Maybe it gives you that boost that you needed to start climbing your way out of despair. Or maybe you just needed a little pep in your walk, and someone gives you a word of encouragement. Maybe it’s a worship service that seemingly lifts you to heaven itself. Regardless of what it is, you know that God sent it to you at just the right time. That may well have been how the Romans would have felt on hearing these words from the apostle Paul. Of course, most of the Roman Christians had not ever seen the apostle Paul. However, most of them would have known that Paul was the apostle to the Gentiles. Some of them might have wondered why it was that the apostle to the Gentiles had never visited the capital of the Gentile world: Rome. They might even have felt a little neglected by Paul. So Paul here reassures them that they are in his mind very often, and that he wanted to go see them, but had been prevented until then from going to Rome. For us, as we look at this passage, we will be focusing our attention on the ways in which faith can be strengthened.

First, faith is strengthened by Paul’s words of thanksgiving and encouragement that show that he is impressed with their faith, and thankful to God for their faith. Verse 8 shows us Paul’s attitude towards the Romans. He thanks God for their faith. Now, that in itself is a remarkable thing, for how many times have we thanked God for someone else’s faith? If we thank God at all for anything, usually it’s what He has given us, not what He has given our neighbor. But Paul is very unselfish here. He thanks God for the faith that has been given by God to the Romans.

Notice this small phrase “through Jesus Christ.” Paul never forgets that all our prayers (and thanksgiving is certainly one of those prayers) can only be heard through the mediation of Jesus Christ. He is our mediator, who is our advocate at the throne of God. He pleads with the Father that the Father should hear our prayers. God the Father hears our prayers because of Jesus Christ. In this case, it is the thanksgiving of Paul that is mediated through Jesus Christ, and is then heard by the Father.

Paul commends the faith of the Romans, saying that it is reported all over the world. I’m sure that Paul here means the known world, specifically, the Christians within it. It would be a great encouragement to many people to know that there were Christians at the very heart of the Roman empire. So, Paul thanks God and encourages the Romans by his words. We should encourage one another concerning their faith. We should mention to people that we thank God because of their faith, and the things that they have done for God. We should make it one of our missions in life to encourage other believers. Some of us are very good at this. You would hardly hear a word of criticism from them. Others of us, however, will only speak up to someone if they have a word of criticism. It might feel weird to some of us to encourage someone else, but we should seek to try to get used to saying those kinds of things. Goodness knows we need far more encouragement than criticism in our lives, although criticism has its place. But we should imitate Paul’s example here and thank the Lord for other people’s faith, and encourage them by saying so.

Secondly, faith is strengthened by prayer. And in this case, it is the prayers of other people, the prayers of Paul, that strengthen the faith of the Roman Christians. Paul wants them to know how much he prays for them. In fact, Paul swears an oath here that he has prayed for them many times. He calls God to witness, as in a court of law, that he has prayed for the Romans constantly. Notice in verse 9 that Paul desires the Romans to know that he is sincere in this. He says that he serves God with his whole heart. Paul’s religion is not some window-dressing that masks a heart full of hatred. No, he serves God with his whole being. It is one thing to hear that someone is praying for you. It is quite another to know that this person who is praying for you is a genuine, fervent Christian who is praying for you! It is that kind of assurance that Paul wishes to give to the Roman Christians.

This kind of Christian, in the form of the apostle Paul, is the one praying for the faith of the Roman Christians. And God uses that prayer of Paul to strengthen the faith of the believers there. Hear this truth, then: our prayers can strengthen the faith of other believers. This happens because God is the one who uses our prayers to accomplish His will. It is obviously God’s will that the faith of the saints be strengthened. Therefore, God will use our prayers for other people in order to strengthen their faith. How often do we pray for those Christians we know that their faith be strengthened? All too often, we have this idea that once they’re a Christian, we don’t really need to pray for them anymore. As if regeneration and conversion were all there was to the Christian life! If Romans itself is any indication, conversion is just the beginning. The rest of life is then a constant battle between the old sin nature that dwells within us and the regenerated part of us, which is the Holy Spirit’s work in our lives. We need to be growing constantly in the faith. And prayer is one of those things that is absolutely essential, both our own prayers, and the prayers of others on our behalf. One prayer isn’t enough, either. For notice Paul’s words here. He prays constantly for them at all times (verses 9-10). He does not simply pray for them once, and then forget about them. He prays for them all the time.

Prayer, however, can be a puzzle to us, can’t it, especially the connection between prayer and faith? Let us consider some errors in this area of doctrine before we consider what the truth of the matter is. Many people think that strong faith means prayer is answered, whereas a weak faith means that prayer might not be answered. Know this for a certainty: the prayers of all true Christians, no matter how weak their faith is, will be answered. God might answer “no.” But He answers “no” to strong Christians like Paul, as well as to weak Christians. Paul mentions in verse 13 that he planned to come to the Romans many times, but was prevented. There were good reasons for this, since God had other work for Paul to do. We must remember, then, that if God doesn’t not give us the answer we want, He will have His reason for saying no. Maybe it is to humble us, to help us realize that we are not as indispensable as we think we are. Maybe it is because God has other work for us. Maybe it is because the thing we pray for would not be a good thing for us to have or to do. Faith trusts in God that He knows better than we do. So it is not the power of our faith that fuels the power of prayer. The prayers of even the strongest saint needs the help of the Mediator, Jesus Christ, in order for God to hear it. This, by the way, is the reason why God does not answer the prayers of non-believers. They have no mediator.

Does prayer do anything? Yes, it does. It does two things. Firstly, prayer is what God uses to accomplish His will in our lives. That is the relationship between our prayer and the sovereignty of God. When our prayers line up with God’s revealed will, then God will use our prayers to accomplish His will. Furthermore, prayer changes us. Talking to God is always something that will change us. James Montgomery Boice told the story of a missionary who had served long and hard overseas, seeking to make converts to the Gospel. When he came home to America, he happened to be on the same boat as Theodore Roosevelt, who naturally got all the attention. There was, in fact, no one to welcome the missionaries home. The missionary was offended by this, until his wife told him to take the matter up with God. After praying to the Lord, the missionary felt much better. He said to his wife that he had told God how he felt, and it was as if God had laid His hand on the man’s shoulder and said to him, “But, my son, you are not home yet. When you come home, then I will give you a royal welcome.” Prayer changed him, and it changes us. It changes our attitude. It can be very useful, for instance, if we are having a dispute with someone, and our attitude is getting out of hand. We may not even realize it at the time, but if we can only remember to pray right then, we will find that our attitude will change in the circumstance. So prayer changes us, and God uses it to bring about His will. That is especially true with regard to other people. When we pray for others, that their faith will be strengthened, God will answer that prayer with a yes.

Praying for other people is therefore essential. However, sometimes there is simply no substitute for being with the other person. And that is our third point. Faith is strengthened by the communion of saints. That is one of the things we say in the Apostles Creed. We believe in the communion of saints. Here in verses 10-13, we have a beautiful picture of what the communion of saints looks like. It starts with prayer. That is how our second point leads to our third point. For Paul was praying that he might at long last, finally get to see the Roman Christians. He has been very eager to get there, but has been prevented until then. What good will the communion of saints do to the Roman Christians? Verse 11 tells us that there will be an impartation of spiritual gifts from Paul to the Romans, and that such a gift will help to make them strong.

Notice how humble Paul is here. Paul immediately corrects himself in verse 12. The Roman Christians might think that the strengthening might go only one way: from the great apostle Paul to the Roman Christians. But Paul wants the Romans to know that he needs encouragement and strengthening as well. So that is why he says in verse 12 that the strengthening goes both ways. Even the apostle Paul, one of the strongest Christians ever, still needs strengthening and encouragement. The faith of Paul and the faith of the Romans will strengthen each other’s faith. That is the beautiful thing about the communion of saints, isn’t it? It is like how geese travel. They travel in a V shape so that the air lift that comes from the one in front helps the goose that comes behind. And no one is at the front of the V for very long, before it is relieved of its post, so that it doesn’t get too tired. They help each other fly, and in that way, can cover much longer distances. So it is with the Christian faith. We all have something about our faith that will help someone else’s faith. It doesn’t matter how small we think our gift is. It will help someone else. Even if it’s just a small lift, that is important. Let’s ask ourselves this question: is my faith encouraging other people’s faith? It is one of the most important aspects about faith, the effect that it has on other people. Faith believes in the God who gives us the communion of saints.

Finally, faith has obligations. Paul says here that he is obligated, or under debt, to everyone, that he preach the gospel to them. To understand how this works, we need to look at two different kinds of debt. If person A borrows money from person B, then person A owes that money back to person B. That is one kind of debt, what we might call “direct” debt. However, supposing person A gave something to person B in order to give that something to person C. In that case, as long as person B has the item, he is in debt to person C in order to give it to them. This is what we might call “indirect” debt. It is the debt of having something entrusted to us, that we might give that in turn to someone else. That is the kind of debt Paul is talking about here. Paul was entrusted with the gospel in order that he might give it to all other people. He had never simply been given the gospel to keep it to himself. And here we see the last aspect of faith that Paul writes about here: the indebtedness of faith. When God gives us faith, He tells us that that faith is not ever meant to be kept to ourselves, but must also be given away to others. We are in debt to all other people to give them the knowledge of what faith is. Paul says he has to give this to Greeks and non-Greeks, to the wise and to the foolish. This is everyone in the world. He is in debt to everyone in the world. It is never wise to live in constant debt. Therefore, we must pay off that debt by sharing the gospel to everyone. We need to make sure that everyone has heard the gospel and knows what is the true nature of faith. Has everyone in Hague, Strasburg, Pollock, Linton, and Herreid heard what the gospel truly is? I think not. Our way forward is clear. Probably everyone in those towns is known by someone or other in our congregations. That means that we have the opportunity to reach every single person in those towns for Christ.

Our problem here is that we can tend to have the wrong idea about what faith really is, and it is on this point that I will close. Faith is not the same thing as sincerity, although we certainly want faith to be sincere. But people can be sincere, but sincerely wrong. We are not saved by sincerity. We are saved by faith. Faith is not the same thing as emotional feeling, either, although there again, faith includes our emotions. But emotional feeling can be just as wrong as sincerity. Muslims are sincere, and they can be very emotional! But that does not mean that they are saved. Faith is knowledge, assent and trust in Jesus Christ. Faith knows Jesus personally, agrees with the truths concerning Jesus Christ that are laid out in the Bible, and entrusts itself to Jesus Christ. That is true faith: knowing Jesus, agreeing with the truth, or believing the truth, and then entrusting oneself to Jesus, as the crucified and risen Lord. That is the only thing that will save. It is that faith that we need to seek that others should have. And it is that faith that needs to be constantly strengthened by encouragement, prayer, and the communion of saints.

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