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Ligonier National Conference – Alistair Begg

Pastor Alastair Begg is the senior pastor of Parkside Church in Cleveland, Ohio, and can be heard teaching daily on the radio program Truth for Life. Dr. Begg has served in pastoral ministry for over thirty years and has written many books including The Hand of God, Lasting Love, and Made For His Pleasure.
To address the topic The Breadth of the Almighty: The Holy Spirit, Pastor Begg read from John 16:4-15. The passage contains words which Jesus spoke to His disciples in the upper room concerning his departure (which was at hand). He tells them he wants them to love each other. The world will hate them, and will soon put them out of the synagogue. Now if ever there was a time when the disciples need Jesus, one would think it is now.
1. The necessity of Christ’s departure
In verse 7, Jesus tells his disciples that it is to their advantage that he go away. For if he does not go away, the Helper cannot come. It is helpful for us to consider at which expense this was accomplished. Jesus lived his entire life in union with the Father. Classically, at the age of 12, Jesus was not found to be with Mary and Joseph. When they found him in the synagogue, Jesus told them that “he needed to be about His Father’s business.” Luke tells us that this is one of the things that Mary treasured in her heart. In these chapters of John, we see Jesus preparing His disciples for His departure. And that at that peculiar moment on Calvary, we see Jesus (orphaned) as it were. It was necessary: How deep the Father’s love for us // How vast beyond all measure.
The necessity lies not simply in the disciples need to receive the Helper, but in the drama of redemption — it goes back to the covenant of redemption, where in eternity past the Son committed Himself to doing the Father’s will, giving Himself for the sins of His people.
2. The identity of the helper
This is the word parakletos, it has a legal dimension — that of an advocate. More broadly, it speaks of guidance, counsel, and comfort. We are introduced to Him as the Spirit of Truth.
In terms of the identity of the Holy Spirit, we need to understand (a) that the Holy Spirit is a unique person (a “He” not an “It), not some kind of impersonal force. Some people refer to the Spirit as a neuter. (b) As a person, He may be grieved, and He may be resisted. He is co-eternal with God the Son and God the Father. (c) The Spirit of God was present at creation and participated in creation. In Genesis 1:2 we see the “Spirit of God” hovering over the face of the waters. Then in verse 26, we understand the “let us make man in our image” as including the Holy Spirit. [Is it not the case that as we read further in the Bible, we see more in the Old Testament] (d) The Spirit of God is involved in the new birth (see Nicodemus, John 3). (e) The Holy Spirit is the author of the Scriptures. The doctrine of inspiration is directly connected to the Holy Spirit. Jeremiah noted that God had put His words into Jeremiah’s mouth.
The Holy Spirit is identified as “another” helper — He comes alongside. He will remain with God’s people forever.
3. The activity of the Holy Spirit
Jesus says straightforwardly in verse 8: “When he comes, he will convict the world concerning sin….righteousness…and judgment.” We see Jesus doing this sort of thing when he clears the temple. The Holy Spirit will confront the world by proving it guilty. Guilty of unbelief. Guilty of living a crooked life. Every deviation from God’s standards is culpable. The world is out-of-line. The Holy Spirit will be bringing the fact of this guilt onto the hearts and minds of sinners.
Consider the thief on the cross. He tells the other thief, “We are receiving our due. This man, Jesus, has done nothing wrong.” What happened in His heart? The Spirit of God confronted the thief in the dying moments of his life. This man was confronted with his sin, judgment, and his need for righteousness. “I know not how the Spirit moves, Convincing men of sin, Revealing Jesus through the Word, Creating faith in Him.”
What does Paul say to Felix and Drusilla (Acts 24:24-25)? He doesn’t just give a little sermon. He speaks of righteousness, self-control, and judgment. Why? Because he must. Many of us have lost our sense of the authority of God’s Spirit, rendering our efforts ineffectual. The work of the Holy Spirit needs to be understood Christologically — it is always centered on bringing glory to Christ, His person and His saving work. The unique prerogative of the disciples/apostles was to receive from the Holy Spirit the record of Jesus ministry, and to document it in the Scriptures for us.
The Holy Spirit glorifies Christ to the disciples and through the disciples. As the Holy Spirit indwells the disciples, they become like Him. “He walks with me and He talks with me and He tells me I am His own.” That is part of the ministry of the Spirit — to give us assurance of salvation. It was a tremendous thing for Jesus to go away–it universalized (and internalized) the person of Jesus. And what is the ultimate work of the Spirit of God if it is not to conform the children of God into the image of God? And I John 3:1-3 reminds us that our future is to be like the Holy Spirit — holy:

“See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure.”

Ligonier National Conference – Steve Lawson (II)

Pastor Steve Lawson, in addressing the topic The Holy One of God: The Holiness of Jesus, had us turn to Mark 1:21-24. Whenever the light of holiness, of truth, shines upon dead religion, sin is exposed, Satan is provoked, and unclean spirits are angered. There is no greater stronghold of Satan than in houses of worship where truth is suppressed. And there is no greater threat to Satan than when truth penetrates these houses of dead religion. All hell is about to break loose in the text. Jesus has entered the godless synagogue where Satan had gained a foothold. Remember that it was a religious crowd that most opposed Christ, maligned Him, slandered Him, accused Him of being born out of wedlock, of being in cahoots with the devil’s minions.
Capernaum was an important city of enterprise in that day. Jesus enters the synagogue. Now it was not uncommon in that day for a visiting teacher to be asked to make some public remarks. Jesus opens up the Word for those in attendance. [We recall that Jesus' primary approach in ministry was to read the Word, teach the Word, and apply the Word. Jesus is the Great Expositor who has come to give the Word.] We read that the crowds were “amazed at his teaching.” It is a very strong word used: the crowds were amazed at the authority of Jesus. Not only what He said but the way He said it. While the rabbis of that day were quoting other rabbis, Jesus was saying “Thus says the Lord.”
And it is no coincidence that we have a demon-possessed man present. Demons traffic the most in places where their is dead religion. Jesus said of Capernaum, “Will you be exalted to heaven? You shall be brought down to Hades” (Luke 10:15). We see a similar reference in Revelation 2:9. Demons are real and they can conquer the wills and hearts of those committed to dead religion.
Jesus Receives a Title of Deity, Supremacy, and Purity
This demon cries out from this particular demon-possessed man. And he speaks for his company of demons, “What do we have to do with each other?” In other words, “What do we have in common?” This demon knows that the fallen angels are under the judgment of God. He wonders if now is the time for their destruction. And he says to Jesus, “I know who you are.” There is no question of Jesus’ identity among the realms of demon spirits. He identifies Jesus readily, with a better testimony than from liberal pulpits, “The Holy One of God.” The Holy One — the only Holy One. Jesus was more than a carpenter, he was the fully divine Son of the Living God. Not 50% man, 50% God. 100% God. How strange that such an astute confession should come from such unclean lips.
Jesus is completely Holy. His motives, His thoughts, His actions. What is the holiness of God? It is His “other-ness” — it speaks of the profound difference between Him and us. It speaks of His transcendent majesty. The demon recognized this — this was the One that was high and lifted up — the One who was blameless in all His ways.
Look again at the title,”The Holy One of God.” This is a formal, technical title. “The Holy One of God” is a formal title for God in the book of Isaiah. No less than 26 times in the book of Isaiah we find this title for Jehovah God: “The Holy One of God.” It is picked up in Ezekiel, Psalms, and elsewhere. So when this demon says, “I know who you are, the Holy One of God,” the identity is unquestionable. The identity was assigned to God in the Old Testament, and it is assigned to Jesus in the New Testament. That is what is taking place — from the lips of a demon-possessed man.
There is only one other place where this is found, John 6:69. Jesus looked at Peter, “You alone have the words of eternal life.” He then addressed their Teacher as “The Holy One of God.” It is a title of Deity. It is a title of Supremacy. It is a title of purity. II Cor 5, “Him who knew no sin.” Jesus said, “The ruler of this world is coming and He has nothing in me.” [Meaning: There is no beachhead in me in which he was entrenched himself. Satan has no foothold in my life whatsoever.]
Jesus authoritatively tells the demon to shut-up and come out of the man. The crowd was already amazed, and now this? They began to say among themselves “Who is this?” A new teaching, with authority. New for them, but old in origin. Immediately in verse 28 we read, “The news of Him spread everywhere.” This is the holiness of Jesus. Conquering the ruler of this world. At Calvary, fully defeating them, dying as the Sinless Lamb of God, becoming sin for us. “Now is the ruler of this world cast out.” Jesus “rendered powerless him who had the power of death.” He plundered the house of the strong man.

Ligonier National Conference – Sinclair Ferguson (II)

Sinclair Ferguson, to address the theme Hallowed By Your Name: The Holiness of the Father, had us turn to the high priestly prayer of John 17. In verse 11 of that prayer, we have the only instance in which Jesus refers to His Father as “Holy Father.” It is the only time we see this phrase (what scholars call a “hapex legamano”). What should we make of it? “O Holy Father” is indeed a most rare expression used for addressing God.
Chapter 12 of John’s gospel is sometimes considered the beginning of the “second half” of John’s gospel. Jesus performs signs of wonder in the first half of the book, but the latter half appears devoted to Jesus enfolding His disciples into the ineffable mysteries of God the Holy Trinity. [Here is evidence that the Trinity is in no way a "speculative" and "unpractical" doctrine.] Jesus brings His disciples into a deeper understanding of God the Father (who sent Him) and God the Holy Spirit (who will be with them after their departure). If you want to know Jesus Christ, then you must have at least a working knowledge of what Jesus unpacks in this discourse.
After His resurrection, he tells one, “Go and tell my brothers, that I am ascending to my Father and their Father.” We see Jesus gathering His brothers and sisters into the Family.
1. What does it mean for the Lord of glory to come to the Father and say “Holy Father”?
There are two dimensions running through John’s gospel. On the one hand, we see the Eternal Son of God addressing the Father as Holy Father. What does it mean that from all eternity there has been this response of the Eternal Son to the Eternal Father such that He addresses Him as “Holy Father.” For something to be an attribute of God it must have been, in action, expressed among the three persons of the Trinity. [God expresses wrath, but strictly speaking it is not an attribute of God, because in the blessed Trinity there is no manifestation of it. Rather, wrath is a temporary manifestation of God's holiness in response to sin.]
The meaning of holiness becomes separation to the creation and to the sinner, but within the Trinity holiness means purity, but not separation. Holiness is the intensity of expression of God the Father with reference to God the Son, such that the Son cries to the Father “Holy Father.” We see in Isaiah 6 that the prophet feels “undone.” We are not fit to say “Holy Father.” Look at the seraphim — they have never sinned, but they have to cover their faces because they dare not look directly upon the Holiness of the heavenly Father. They rightly fear disintegration.
And we are told in John 1 that “in the beginning, the Word was ‘face-to-face’ with God the Father, and able to bear it.” The Son gazes into the eyes (as it were) of His heavenly Father and is able to experience the intensity of the Father’s love for Him (as a wife and husband share an exclusive intensity of love for one another).
Have you ever been in the presence of someone whose love for you was so intense that you felt you had to get away? The intensity we’re talking about here might be not unlike what a young man and woman feel for one another when they prefer nothing more than to talk and to gaze at one another, connecting and relating. John 5:19-20: Jesus speaks of His relationship with God the Father, and he says, “The Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees his father doing.” And then in John 10:17 “for this reason the Father loves me, that I lay down my life in order to take it up again.”
Jesus grew in wisdom and stature and in favor with His heavenly father. As the challenges mounted and his obedience became increasingly great, His heavenly father was increasingly pleased. Even when he was dying on the cross, His father was quietly singing, “My Jesus I love thee, I know thou art mine….if ever I loved thee, my Jesus tis now.”
2. And we have been brought into the fellowship of the Trinity.
We will be there when he presents us to the Father and says, “Here I am, and the children you have given me.”
A. The church which Jesus purchased with His own blood is the holy Family. The New Testament shows a church family that people were afraid to join (so different they were), yet they poured in. The Spirit was mightily with the holy Family.
B. Jesus wants us to know how much he loves us. He died that we might be with Him forever — so intense was His love for us.
C. God the Father will stop at nothing to make His ransomed church be saved to sin no more.

Ligonier National Conference – R.C. Sproul Jr.

R.C. Sproul Jr. is the founder of the Highlands Study Center in Mendota, Va., which seeks to help Christians live more simple, separate, and deliberate lives to the glory of God and for the building of His kingdom. Dr. Sproul travels extensively as a conference speaker and has written several books including Tearing Down Strongholds, When You Rise Up, Bound for Glory, and Biblical Economics.
Dr. Sproul Jr. began his message with a celebration of his daughter Molly’s 7th birthday (which is tomorrow). We all sang happy birthday to her. Then Dr. Sproul Jr. took us to Exodus 3, the passage in which Moses observes the burning bush. God tells Moses to go tell Pharaoh that He, God, was the one who lifted up Pharaoh.
Executive Bible Summary?
Dr. Sproul Jr. proceeded to confess that he loves to read–anything. The back of the cereal box, the Sky Mall on an airplane, anything. He mentioned a service whereby business leaders have executive summaries written for them (for various books) as they do not have much time to read. That made Dr. Sproul Jr. wonder: “Is there a market for this? I could publish executive summaries about the Bible for Christians who are too busy to read it.”
Just look at the first commandment in the Bible: “Be fruitful and multiply.” Sounds like a good executive summary. Or look at Moses; he received the Ten Commandments. Sounds like a good executive summary. Or how about Micah? He got a good executive summary: “He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” (Micah 6:8)
But we’re New Testament Christians. Jesus told us to “Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness.” Or Peter got one, “Feed my sheep.” So what should we do, as we have all these different executive summaries. Well, as Presbyterians, we can look to the Westminster Confession: “Man’s chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever.”
Christians of old glorified God, but not as much in their life as after they died. You see, after we die, we see God as He is, and we can truly glorify Him. We understand that glorifying God and enjoying God is one and the same thing. (As John Piper has written, “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him.”) And we are most satisfied in Him when we are more like Him, when we revel in His glory, when we fully become what we were made to be.
Adam and Eve glorified God prior to the Fall. What was lost in the Fall? The pinnacle of Eden became the valley of the curse. In that garden we walked with God.
Two Names For God
There are two names of God given in Exodus 3. God gives as His name I AM. But He also gives this as His name: The Lord, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob. You see, God is both transcendent and near. He is mighty and awesome, but He also calls us each by name.
In my family, says Sproul Jr., we don’t do “family devotions.” Doing “family devotions” smacks of formality and duty. Instead, says Sproul Jr., when we gather before God, we do so to worship Him. The great I AM invites us to be with Him, that He might be our God, and that He might be the God of our children. And that He might lead us into great joy.
But as moderns, we tend to refuse this. It’s not practical–or so we think. Oh, but it is. One of the blessings of family worship is that it quiets our souls. It encourages our children to be still and to participate in corporate worship. This is why our children should be with us on the Lord’s Day. Meeting on the Lord’s Day reminds us of our identity as a family of faith. Meeting together for corporate worship as a family reminds us of our identity.
Marva Dawn tells us that worship is a “royal waste of time.” What does she mean? Worship, unlike our other goals, is an end in and of itself. We don’t do worship for the sake of something else. Everything else we do, we do for the sake of worship. We do it to “bring down high heaven onto our heads.”
So, how do we do this?
Doing Family Worship
Sproul Jr. wants to take us through how his family does family worship, but he doesn’t want to impose upon us his practice as the only way to do it. His family practices family worship right after the evening meal (they used to do it right before the children went to bed). After supper, he will ask the children, “Please gather the things for worship.” A child will gather the books and present them to their father.
They begin with their catechism verse. A catechism consists of a series of questions and answers. They start with a short one (50 questions and very brief answers). When they all learned it, they all went out to ice cream. Then, they moved onto the Westminster Shorter Chatecism. When everyone learned that, they all went skiing.
They are currently working through a particular Psalm. Then they read a Scripture and Dr. Sproul Jr. gives a 20-30 second sermon. And the emphasis of the sermon is that whoever the sinner (or foolish one) was in the story, that person is like us. And then Dr. Sproul Jr. prays for his family, after which they sing some of the songs that are regularly a part of their corporate worship at church. Only one child-recommended song per night.
Not very time consuming. Not a duty–a delight.
What to do if you’ve not been doing this?
Fathers, gather your family and apologize for failing them in this way. Tell them that Jesus came to suffer the wrath of God for failures such as this. Pray and sing in thanksgiving for God’s forgiveness for that sin.
But what if you’re too busy? Then stop being too busy. What is it that could possibly be more important? The transcendent God is inviting you to walk with Him in the cool of the evening. Will you say to Him: Thanks for the invitation, but I’ve got an important meeting? Nobody is too busy to draw near to the living God. Nobody is too busy to give up that which is less rewarding for the Source of all joy. Our problem is, as C.S. Lewis said, that we’re too easily pleased. We don’t properly esteem the value and the joy of what God sets before us.
God is delighted when we delight in Him. Suffer the children to come to Him. We can do this with joy now, because we will be doing it forever.

Ligonier National Conference – Q&A Session I

The panel consisted of Steve Lawson, Ligon Duncan, Albert Mohler, and Sinclair Ferguson. John Duncan asked the questions.
Why is Calvin so important?
Ferguson noted that Calvin had a genius to capture what the text was saying. Lawson noted that Calvin stood at the dawn of the Reformation, the printing press had just been invented, ships were going out to new lands, etc. Part of Calvin’s genius is where he stood in history. The Puritans, the Westminster Divines, in large part these stood on the shoulders of John Calvin. Mohler noted that Calvin combined pastoral ministry and systematic theology, and he was doing this with his life at stake. Ferguson noted that Calvin was influencing the best of the teachers of the next generation. Calvin was voluminous as a writer, and he had to operate on the basis of excellent exegesis (since he didn’t have a 100 systemic theologies they could borrow from).
Where should people today go to learn more about Calvin?
Lawson: His sermons on Galatians, on Ephesians….his sermons will feed your soul. There is energy and exposition. And of course Calvin’s Institutes are a great place. Mohler suggested people “dive right in”. The Institutes are a great place to come to know the God we worship. Ferguson commended “The Golden Book of The Christian Life” — Calvin is undaunting. Duncan suggested going through The Institutes with your pastor, or with a group of Christians. Duncan suggested getting Calvin’s commentary on Romans from Rutherford House — Calvin gets to his point quickly.
What is one thing about Calvin that is generally unknown or misunderstood?
Mohler noted that Calvin’s personal suffering is often overlooked. He suffered numerous infirmities throughout his life. He had to read and study under excruciating pain. He lost his wife after a short amount of time, for example. What strikes the reader is his extraordinary joyfulness and piety. In some of his letters, he could be very honest about his struggles.
Duncan noted that Calvin was not even a citizen of Geneva until the last few years of his life. So it is a myth that Calvin somehow was “pulling strings” on the political mechanics of the city. He could write and persuade, of course. Also, Calvin was very zealous about promoting a missions movement, to places as far as South America. Lawson noted that we think of Calvin’s mind, but his heart was so soft to God. His life motto was “I offer my heart to you, eagerly and earnestly.” His was a combination of genius and godliness. Ferguson noted that Calvin’s friends would die for him. Lawson futher commented that Calvin received significant opposition from various religious groups (e.g., the anti-nomians, whom he forbid from the Lord’s table). At one point, he was put out of his own pulpit.
Calvin is often criticized for his role in the execution of Servetus. Can you please comment on his role?
Michael Servetus was widely viewed as a heretic (by Catholics and Protestants alike). The man was off the charts in the views he held. Now many cities in that day had heresy laws — there were certain expectations in that day regarding morality and teaching. Calvin warned Servetus not to come to Geneva, because he would be punished. Servetus nevertheless came to Geneva, and was arrested by the authorities (of which Calvin was not one) and sentenced to be burned at the stake. Calvin petitioned (without success) the authorities and pleaded for a more humane form of execution.
In that day, heresy and treason were one in the same. In fact, said Mohler, heresy is a greater evil than treason–but it should not be the role of the state to punish heresy. That should be the church’s role.
Lawson: Calvin did not put him to death; he was called upon as a witness. He was not even a citizen at the time. The men sentencing Servitus were actually Calvin’s enemies.
What was Calvin’s relationship with Martin Luther and his followers?
Ferguson: It was distant. They never met. Calvin thought the church was indebted to Luther. There were elements in Luther’s theology that troubled Calvin. But Calvin was as careful as he could possibly be to correct Luther graciously. But Calvin was tougher on Melacthon for “watering down” some of Luther’s sharper edges.
Mohler: We need to distinguish between different seasons in Calvin’s life. Early in Calvin, he saw Luther as a father figure. With Melacthon, Calvin thought (for a while) that there was a possibility of uniting. But Calvin got frustrated with the Reformation not being developed to its logical conclusion, so that caused disappointment and some distancing between Calvin and Melacthon.
Duncan: Calvin attempted to write Luther several times, but Melacthon kept on intercepting the letters. He thought they would provoke Luther and thus did not pass them on to him.
Is there anything in Calvin that you would not advise people to follow?
(Immediate joke about the fact that there were two baptists to the right of Mel Duncan.)
Mohler noted that Calvin never sought to produce Calvinsists per se, but rather God-besotted people.
What is central to Calvin’s teaching beyond the 5-points?
Ferguson: Two things happen in Calvin’s theological development. (1) The influence of Romans on how Calvin thought. The logic of Romans (the role of approaching the gospel) became the logic of Calvin. (2) His immense Trinitarianism. Calvin had significant appreciation for the distinction between the different persons in the Trinity.
Lawson: The unity of God in his saving purposes is preserved in the doctrines of grace, even definite atonement.
Mohler: The knowledge of ourselves and the knowledge of God in Christian theology are the twin ends of the Christian life. The sovereignty of God is pervasive for Calvin. We ought not to reduce Calvin’s theology to a series of points; we can miss the whole for the parts if we are not careful.
Duncan: We should remember that Calvin never wrote “the 5 points.” Rather, those were written in response to the 5 points of Arminianism (which were the first to be listed, historically speaking). That said, Calvin was a “5 point Calvinist.” Do note, however, that Calvin’s terminology is somewhat different than ours. For example, Calvin used “conversion” for everything from regeneration all the way through progressive sanctification.
How is it that people see pre-Conferences like this as an “over reverence” for Calvin?
Ferguson: Sometimes, an unhealthy Calvinism develops out of an over-zealous defence of the 5-points….in this overzealous defence, we unconsciously reduce the love for the gospel to 5 points.
Mohler: It is OK to see yourself in a theological tradition, even as you grow to learn more about that tradition (always being careful to follow the example of the Bereans).
Lawson: When I say I am a Calvinist, what I mean is that I am a biblicist. I want to go to the text and learn from it.
Duncan: Many non-Calvinists will take offense at the notion that “Calvinism is just full-orbed Christianity.” Labels allow us to say a lot quickly. But when you are dealing with friends who are concerns with Calvinistic categories, focus not on labels, but on having a big view of God and of His word. Be God-centered and just go to the text with them.
Leave us with one thing you learned from Calvin’s writings.
Ferguson: The centrality of the ministry of the Word that characterized Calvin’s life. When someone goes to receive counseling, they are generally not asked: Are you sitting under the regular ministry of the Word?
Lawson: To understand Calvin is to understand Calvin the preacher.
Mohler: Calvin was also a teacher.
Duncan: Calvin taught me that our biggest problem is idolatry. There are worshippers of God and there are idolaters — and that’s it. Calvin gave a great doctrine of the atonement. But at that time in history, there was nothing like what Calvin wrote. And of course Calvin’s piety was remarkably commendable.

Ligonier National Conference – Ligon Duncan

J. Ligon Duncan III is the senior minister of First Presbyterian Church in Jackson, Miss., and adjunct professor of theology at Reformed Theological Seminary. He is the president of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals and chairman of the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood. Dr. Duncan has written, edited, and contributed to several books including Preaching the Cross, Women’s Ministry in the Local Church, and Should We Leave Our Churches?, and Fear Not!


Photo: Lukas Van Dyke

To unpack the theme Calvin and The Christian Life, Dr. Duncan took us to I Timothy 1:3-5. There we see that whereas false teaching does not cultivate the fruits of the Spirit, true teaching leads to “love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith.” Paul wants the practical fruits of godliness working out in the inmost being. Paul is not interested in just filling up our heads with knowledge. Love to God, love to neighbor, and love for the gospel — that’s what ministry is about. A changed life. The goal is that the truth will radically transform us.

I. The idea of piety for John Calvin

Piety for Calvin was short-hand for the whole practice and faith of the Christian life. Calvin did not call his Institutes a sum of Christian theology but rather a sum of piety. Yes, Calvin’s institutes was an engagement on the truth of God’s word, but it was for the sake of producing piety.
What is meant by piety? Two things: (1) An experiential love for God as Father. And (2) a fear and reverence for Him as our Lord. The term “religion” has negative connotations for some — it conveys a formalized, external, even hypocritical life. Not so for John Calvin. For Calvin, “religio” is faith joined with fear and reverence for God. For Calvin, piety is reverence joined with the love of God which the knowledge of God’s benefits induces.
The knowledge of God Himself is the beginning of this true piety. It shows us who we are (sinners deserving of God’s wrath). It shows us who God is (holy, righteous, altogether pure). It shows us that God condescended to bear the wrath that was owed to us. And this induces piety in us.
Many do not know that John Calvin studied classical authors prior to writing his theological works. He had read abundant classical literature on the topic of piety. So Calvin knew that piety stood for the appropriate attitude of children toward their parents. In fact, good Romans thought that citizens should have piety toward the state: deeds of goodness should adorn one’s citizenship as a Roman. This is why Christians were charged with impiety and atheism–because Christians’ loyalty and fidelity was directed not as the leader of Rome but at the one true God. Romans thought they were being disrespectful. And yet, the early Christians took this idea from the Romans and applied it to their relationship with the one true God. The idea of piety typically shows up in the New Testament under the term “godliness.”

II. The root of the idea of piety in the life of John Calvin

As noted above, Calvin got an idea of “piety” from his study of classical writings. In addition, Calvin’s conversion was infused with this idea of piety. Some of the saints of old have a specific text of Scripture associated with their conversion. Consider Augustine –vile sinner, took a concubine, etc. One day he hears children singing “tolle lege,” which means “take up and read.” He opened his Bible (which he had with him at the time) and his eyes found Romans 13:13-14. For Martin Luther, Romans 1:16-17 was instrumental in breaking the chain of self-righteous, anxious toil. We don’t know from Calvin’s own writings if there was a particular text which God used in converting him. Calvin does tell us that it was a “sudden” conversion. However, Ford Lewis Battles, that great Calvin scholar, believes that Romans 1:18-25 was the instrumental text. In fact, Battles believes that verse 21 was particularly crucial: “For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened.” And what do we see? The need to honor God and to give thanks to Him. And these became pervasive themes in Calvin’s writings — even his polemical responses to his detractors. Farel challenged Calvin, when he wanted to pursue a more contemplative life, with his duty to honor God by joining in the more active work of the reformation. Calvin realized that it was his duty to do whatever God called him to do.

III. John Calvin’s teaching on piety

Calvin’s Institutes, Book 3, chapters 6-10 is the place to find the heart of Calvin’s teaching concerning piety. There we learn that God’s goal in sanctification is to restore the image of God in us — that image in which we were originally created, and which was mired by sin. Just as Christ obeyed the law on our behalf, so He is busy conforming us into the likeness of God. Piety is about the believer coming into greater harmony with God’s righteousness. Very often, Christian ministers say, “We’ve been saved by grace, and we are now free from the law of God, and from any restraint.” To this Calvin would reply: “No, Christian freedom is by no means a license to sin. True Christian freedom is found when we want to do what we ought to do.”
Furthermore, we have a rule of life set forth that prevents us from wandering. Many today think we don’t need commandments, directives, instructions. We can just “walk by the Spirit.” But for Calvin, piety implied not only a love of righteousness but a rule of life. It is true that grace is a huge motivation for living the Christian life. But in book 3, chapter 6, section 2, of Calvin’s Institutes, Calvin does not use this motivation. He seeks to motivate us by the knowledge of God’s holiness. “From what foundation can righteousness better arise, then from the Scriptural truth that we must be holy since God is holy.” How? “When we hear mention of our union with God, let us remember that holiness must be the basis of that union. Not our holiness, of course. But we must first cleave to Him so that, infused with His holiness, we may follow wherever He leads.”
We have fellowship with God on the basis of His holiness. God in his grace revealing himself as our Father motivates us to show ourselves to be His true children. Since Christ has cleansed us, we would not want to make ourselves filthy. Ever since the Holy Spirit dedicated us as a temple of the living God, why would we want to do something that would make the temple unclean? Calvin piles up these things that God has done and is doing for us as Christians, and asks: How are we to respond to this?
True piety is not a matter of outward/external perfection; it is a matter of growth. It is that doctrine of progressive sanctification. Our hope is that God is not done with us.
A. Self-denial
The living of the Christian life begins with denial of self. In large measure, it is going the way of the Savior. Jesus is an example and the model for us: a prefiguring of the way that we are going to go in the course of self-denial. The denial of self is not among the top concerns among Christians today. We are the most self-preoccupied generation of Christians who ever lived.
B. Cross-bearing
The bearing of the cross is the way God conforms us into His son’s image. We are called to live our entire lives under the cross. The whole life – the bearing of a cross. This is of vital importance because we experience God’s provision for us when we bear the cross (when we are in our extremity). In bearing the cross, God teaches us patience and obedience. He corrects us and trains us and restrains our sin.
We are thus animated by a hope to live now for God’s glory. Calvin urges us toward moderation in the enjoyment of God’s blessings, toward industry rather than laziness, and to always draw a quick line from a gift to the Giver – so that we would always choose the Giver over the gift.

Donald Whitney – Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life

Donald Whitney’s highly regarded book Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life is available this month as a free audio download from Use the coupon code MAR2009.
The publisher’s description:

It’s not uncommon for an accomplished musician to be able to sit down in front of a new piece of music and play it through without a hitch; to make it seem easy, as if it required no effort. Yet the “freedom” to play with such skill comes only after years of disciplined practice.
In the same way, the freedom to grow in godliness to naturally express Christ’s character through your own personality is in large part dependent on a deliberate cultivation of the spiritual disciplines. Far from being legalistic, restrictive, or binding, as they are often perceived, the spiritual disciplines are actually the means to unparalleled spiritual liberty. So if you’d like to embark on a lifelong quest for godliness, Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life will help you on your way. Based on the rich heritage left us by the early church fathers, the Puritan writers, and Jesus Christ Himself, this book takes you through a carefully selected array of disciplines including Scripture reading, prayer, worship, Scripture meditation, evangelism, serving, stewardship, Scripture application, fasting, silence and solitude, journaling, and learning.
By illustrating why the disciplines are important, showing how each one will help you grow in godliness, and offering practical suggestions for cultivating them on a long-term basis, Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life will provide you with a refreshing opportunity to embrace life’s greatest pursuit — the pursuit of holiness — through a lifelong delight in the disciplines.

Time Magazine: New Calvinism is Changing The World

According to Time Magazine’s latest cover story, ten ideas changing the world right now are:
1. Jobs Are the New Assets
2. Recycling the Suburbs
3. The New Calvinism
4. Reinstating the Interstate
5. Amortality
6. Africa, Business Destination
7. The Rent-a-Country
8. Biobanks
9. Survival Store
10. Ecological Intelligence
Yep, #3 jumps out. At least I didn’t see that coming. The write-up is pretty fair (particularly for secular media). John Piper, Mark Driscoll, Albert Mohler, Collin Hansen, and Between Two Worlds are all mentioned. If you’re curious about this phenomenon, Hansen’s book is a great place to start.

Susan Hunt Conference: March 7 in Corona, CA

Susan Hunt, author of By Design, Spiritual Mothering and Women’s Ministry in the Local Church (with Ligon Duncan), and (recently), Sammy and His Shepherd, is doing a one-day conference in Corona, CA on By Design: God’s Distinctive Calling for Women. The conference runs from 8:30 AM – 2:30 PM on Saturday, March 7 at Northpoint Evangelical Free Church. Registration runs about ~$30.
8:30 am Registration
9:00 am Session 1: Our Creation Design
10:45 am Session 2: Our Redemptive Calling
Noon Lunch (boxed meal is included in registration price)
1:00 pm Session 3: Generation to Generation
2:00 pm Question & Answer

Too Wise To Be Mistaken, Too Good To Be Unkind

God shall alone the refuge be,
And comfort of my mind;
Too wise to be mistaken, He,
Too good to be unkind.
In all his holy, sovereign will,
He is, I daily find,
Too wise to be mistaken, still
Too good to be unkind.
When I the tempter’s rage endure,
‘Tis God supports my mind;
Too wise to be mistaken, sure,
Too good to be unkind.
When sore afflictions on me lie,
He is (though I am blind)
Too wise to mistaken, yea,
Too good to be unkind.
What though I can’t his goings see,
Nor all his footsteps find?
Too wise to be mistaken, He
Too good to be unkind.
Hereafter he will make me know,
And I shall surely find,
He was too wise to err, and O,
Too good to be unkind.
(By Samuel Medley, from A Selection of Hymns for Public Worship by William Gadsby)