Drinking Deeply

Thursday, October 23, 2008 at 10:11 AM

James 1: A Doctrine of God

James is a book on doing faith. It is not sufficient to believe only, but one must also do. This might lead one to believe that James is absent of much theology, but instead is filled with commands and exhortations.

But that actually isn't the case. Though James is filled with very practical commands - rejoice in trials, ask for wisdom, boast in exultation- just to give a few examples from the first 18 verses- James' practice always flows out of theology. Many times it's explicit, sometimes it's implicit.

I had the opportunity yesterday to lead a group of guys through a study of the first 18 verses and one of the themes that came up over and over again was how important knowing the character and nature of God was to our obedience. It's hard to obey someone when we don't trust them or don't believe they have our best interests at heart, to obey when we know and have confidence that the commands are for our good is easy.

What follows below is not what we talked about per se, but some isolated thoughts on how theologically grounded James is.

Why do we rejoice in trials? (James 1:2-4) Is it because somehow those trials magically turn into endurance? And the endurance magically turns into completeness so we won't lack anything? Of course not, it is by God's gift (James 1:17) that these trials come, for our good. That's why they lead to such good things and that's why we can rejoice in it.

Likewise, why do we ask God for wisdom? (James 1:5) Is it not because we recognize God as the very source of wisdom and not a stingy one at that?

Who exalts the humble and humbles the exalted? (James 1:9-11) We cannot boast in what we have done for ourselves (gathering riches), but we must boast in what God has done for us. Our confidence is outside of this world and thus cannot be taken from us.

In realizing God is sovereign over such things, we cannot use that as an excuse to blame God for our sins, as if his sovereignty somehow made it not "sin" anymore. No, the end of sin is death (James 1:13-15)and we must cut it off at the roots in our desires. But why is death the result of sin? God is the one who condemns the sinner to judgment and everlasting perdition just the same as he rewards those who stand with a crown of life (James 1:12).

No, don't be deceived. God is good, a loving father that is immutable (never changes). And He's shown that He is for us and not against us by the gift of spiritual rebirth - which is a gift of the will of God, not of man (James 1:16-18).

So want to learn how to live out your faith better? Learn about the object of your faith better first.

Revelation 1:5-6
To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood 6 and made us a kingdom, priests to his God and Father, to him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.


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Thursday, October 16, 2008 at 12:59 AM

I have faith, but you have works?

James 2 contains a few interesting thoughts. Probably the first is the question of faith and works, but that's not really what this post is about.

James 2

14 What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? 15 If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, 16 and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good [2] is that? 17 So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.

18 But someone will say, “You have faith and I have works.” Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. 19 You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder! 20 Do you want to be shown, you foolish person, that faith apart from works is useless?
Look specifically at v.18. After James rebukes those who claim "faith" but lack the natural fruit of works, he poses a possible objection, "But someone will say, 'You have faith and I have works.' " After posing the objection, it doesn't seem like James answers it!

Yeah, I really don't quite understand how James answers the objection. If anything, it seems like he is answering an objection that says, "I have faith and you have works," by rebuking the objector and saying, "prove it!" But as it stands (and the greek is emphatic, YOU have faith and I have works) this verse doesn't quite make sense to me.

One possibility is that the quotations actually extend further, but that doesn't actually help because there's no place where they could end for James' response to begin.

Let me put it another way, but actually imagining the conversation and highlighting where I don't understand:

James - What good is it if someone claims to have faith but actually does not have works? It's like a person who says to a homeless person, "go and be warm and fed" but doesn't actually do anything for that guy. Faith without works is dead.

Objector - But you have faith, and I have works.

James - Well then, show me your faith apart from your works, and I'll show you my faith by my works.

Objector - But I never claimed to have faith...I have works. I said that you have faith....

James - ...

::shrug:: I just don't understand. It's not a contradiction in Scripture, it's a contradiction in me.


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Sunday, October 12, 2008 at 9:20 PM

Living for Christ

I think for me, on paper, (maybe inappropriately, but here are my thoughts) it seems very easy to die for Jesus. If someone puts a gun to my head, and says to reject Christ or die, then the Bible's black and white on this issue. He died for me, how could I refuse to die for him? That's what Christ commands us right?

Now, maybe when push comes to shove, my self-preservation instinct would actually be stronger than the black and white, and I would fold and give up my Savior for my life (Lord forbid!).

But that got me thinking - it seems so easy to "die" for Christ. But how willing would I be to live for him? Was I willing to put Christ at the front of every goal, every ambition, every plan, every hope and dream? Was I willing to sacrifice my future, my security, my comforts?

My first instinct is to say, "well, what will Christ ask of me?" which pretty much just shows the answer to all of that really is a flat "no."

Yet, this is the example that Christ set for us. He left relative obscurity and peace as well as (presumably) a stable job. He traded that all in for crowds that just wanted his miracles, apostles that would flee away at danger, mocking at the hands of his people, and certain death. Not only that, but he had the power to stop them. I think if I were tortured, we'd probably break down emotionally, but I'd endure it because there's nothing else I can do. Not so with Christ. He had the power to crush all of that, in an instant. And he turned that down, all for the sake of God and the joy set before him (Hebrews 12:2). Ummm, wow.

Yet I'm ashamed. The fear of man and his opinions govern what clothing I wear, what I say, who to evangelize, and so on. Sad.

Christ says that those who are faithful with little will be faithful with much (Luke 16:10). If God asks for my life, I'd like to think it is His, but really I'm only offering flesh and blood. And would I really be able to do that? God asks for my life in not just flesh and blood, but my being, my essence, my soul. A living sacrifice (Romans 12:1), not a dead one.

Christ died for me, not only so, but He lived for me. Can I live for Him?

In other news, we sang this song sometime this weekend, and it was pretty awesome -

Guide Me O Thou Great Jehovah

1. Guide me, O Thou great Jehovah,
Pilgrim through this barren land.
I am weak, but Thou art mighty;
Hold me with Thy powerful hand.
Bread of heaven,
Feed me now and evermore;
Bread of heaven,
Feed me now and evermore.

2. Open now the crystal fountain,
Whence the healing stream doth flow;
Let the fire and cloudy pillar
Lead me all my journey through.
Strong Deliverer,
Be Thou still my Strength and Shield.
Strong Deliverer,
Be Thou still my Strength and Shield.

3. When I tread the verge of Jordan,
Bid my anxious fears subside;
Death of deaths, and hell's destruction,
Land me safe on Canaan's side.
Songs of praises, I will ever give to Thee;
Songs of praises, I will ever give to Thee.

Land me safe on Canaan's side
Bid my anxious fears, bid my anxious fear
Land me safe on Canaan's side
Bid my anxious fears, bid my anxious fears, goodbye

©2002 2037 Music (ASCAP).
admin. by The Loving Company.
Used by permission. All rights reserved.


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Thursday, October 09, 2008 at 10:23 PM

Within the Bounds of Orthodoxy: a retraction on N.T. Wright

Way back when, I had written a post about NT Wright stating some of my concerns about the direction of his theology and what it sounded like he was doing. I had read a few articles and some material on his webpage, and it really was ambiguous enough that I still had my concerned.

This summer on a flight back to Chicago, I had the pleasure of reading an article that had been recommended to me long ago. It was an analysis of the whole Federal Vision and the New Perspective on Paul and a comprehensive source-checking of the whole deal.

In short, after reading it, I realized I needed to publicly retract my earlier concerns of NT Wright. While he doesn't like the terminology of "imputation," it is clear that he still affirms the idea behind it, and thus would affirm the traditional solas, specifically faith alone and Christ alone.

My personal support of the Federal Vision still stands. I think everyone who is critical of the FV should read the paper first. I think it lays everything out clearly and demonstrates that it is actually entirely within traditional orthodox formulations. We can disagree, and disagree vehemently, but I don't think this is a wolf-sheep disagreement.


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Wednesday, October 08, 2008 at 8:32 PM


Two interesting conversations with my siblings as of late. In both cases somehow we got onto the topic of relationships and both of them casually mentioned that before they got married, they planned to live with their significant other for a period of time, "just to try things out."

Of course, being a Christian (and a concerned older brother), I tried my best to dissuade them such an endeavor. I talked highly of promises made and promises kept, about the place of "giving yourself" and "keeping yourself." Both of them were like, "hmm, I think I see your point," which I guess was a victory, but how much of one?

Was it better that they be moral people on the outside and darkness inside? I tried to point out that these ideas were grounded upon Christianity, but it was still a very "pragmatic" discussion, one that on the surface, makes sense without God. (but really, it doesn't make sense without God because without God, who's to hold someone accountable to their promises? Promises are empty without a binding moral authority)

Yeah, so I'm afraid of winning the argument but losing the war. Jesus said that the prostitutes and tax-collectors go before the Pharisees to the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 21:31), would you rather your unregenerate friends and family be prostitutes or Pharisees?

Instinct says I'd rather they not be overly impacted by sin, especially their own. But is that a good instinct? Do they need to see the darkness before they realize how good the light is? Jesus didn't come to save the righteous, etc etc.


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Sunday, October 05, 2008 at 9:25 PM

Better than "Too good to be true"

We sometimes think to ourselves that something was "too good to be true."

Maybe it turns out fine, and everything works out and such, but yet we're always looking over our shoulder, waiting for the hammer to fall, carefully planning out our steps, just in case y'know. We step forward with tentativeness because you never know whether or not this new job is really going to work out, maybe it's a bait an switch.

Or maybe it doesn't work out. That big job prospect doesn't pan out. The boss is a jerk and the coworkers that are in your actual group are moochers who aren't able to carry their own weight. "I knew it," we'd say, "there's no way something that promising could last."

I propose a third route, one grounded upon the grace and the goodness of our Sovereign God -

Why do we think that if something is good, God would voluntarily withhold it from us? Why do we ask for the little things, as if there's just no way that God would answer the big prayers? Does not the Lord say that we do not have because we do not ask? (James 3:2b) Yes, it's true, all that we have is more than we deserve,but that's no reason not to ask. God is a gracious Father, one who give abundantly to His children for their joy (John 16:24). He has given us His only Son, why would we think that He would not, with Christ, give us all things (Romans 8:32)? Is God like Zeus? So spiteful and tricky that we always have to look the gift horse in the mouth? Of course not.

And what if it does come to an end? Was it too good to be true? No, it was not good enough to be true. God, in His sovereignty, has taken away so that He can give better. This is not to say that He's promising to shower material riches or anything like that, but simply to say that we will be able to look back (whatever happens) and thank the Lord for leading us as He has. There will be no cause for doubting God's provision on the last day, and there is no cause for doing so today.

So the next time we think that something is "too good to be true," correct yourself and bring that thought to heel under Christ. It's "good enough to be true" (if it continues) and it's "not good enough to be true" (if it ends). There is no conception of something too good to be true in Christianity.

Let's say with Job, "the Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord." (Job 1:21)

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Friday, October 03, 2008 at 10:28 AM

Statement of faith

Hopefully I can flesh this out a little more (maybe post to defend various positions), but here's a starting point.

By God's grace, I am... (roughly in order of importance)

Trinitarian - I affirm that God, as revealed in Scripture consists of 3 distinct persons sharing the same essence, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Though they all share the same attributes of divinity, they have differing roles and relationships to one another.

Evangelical - I hold to the 5 solas (alones) of the Reformation, affirming that Scripture reveals that salvation is through faith, by grace, in Christ, and all for the glory of God.

Reformed - I hold to the 5 points of the Doctrines of Grace (also known as Calvinism), affirming that man is by nature utterly unable move towards God, but it is God who selects, dies for, regenerates, and preserves man holiness. I also hold to what I would like to call the zeroth point of Calvinism - God is completely and absolutely sovereign over every molecule, thought, and action in all of creation.

Inerrantist - I affirm that the entirity of Scripture is inspired by God and thus infallible and without error in all that it says, be it history or faith.

Covenantal - I affirm that the people of God are set apart by means of a covenant. Ethnic Israel under the Old Covenant, and the Christian church (true Israel) under the New Covenant. Baptism and the Lord's Supper have replaced circumcision and Passover as covenantal sacraments.

Paedobaptist - I affirm that not only are professing believers members of the New Covenant, but their children as well, and are worthy of the covenantal sign of baptism. (I'm also considering Douglas Wilson's position of covenant communion, but that's secondary)

Presbyterian - I affirm that the body of Christ requires formal organization and is led by a plurality of elders who are in charge of the spiritiual direction of the church. While I accept other forms of church government as within the bounds of Scripture, I feel like the call for Christian unity requires denominational accountability rather than independence.

Complementarian - I affirm that God created male and female to complement one another in different roles rather that co-equals. I affirm that the husband is to be the head of the wife and that a man should be in the pulpit of the church. I affirm that just like Christ, the Holy Spirit, and the Father are all of the same worth but different in role, the husband and wife are of the same worth but different in role.

Continuationist (sort of) - I affirm that God continues to work miracles today, and actively gives gifts like prayer, healing, tongues and prophecy. I deny that what modern charismatics call tongues (private prayer language, babbling) and prophecy (leadings and hunches) are actually tongues and prophecy as described in the Bible.

Presuppositional - I affirm that when reasoning with unbelievers, a Christian ought not to affirm unbelief and try to reason to God, but rather must affirm God, and reason against unbelief.

Less convinced or maybe not as important, but still things that I believe:

Postmillenial (leaning) - I affirm that the promises of God for us today are better than the promises of God to Moses, with direct and clear ramifications for this age and the age to come. I affirm that when God tells Abraham that his sons will be like the stars and the sand God really means that it's going to be everywhere, and not just a remnant lasting for a very long time.

Young Earth Creationist - I affirm that a straightforward reading of Scripture leads one to conclude that the earth (and the universe) was created in 6 literal days.

Supralapsarian - I affirm that God has planned the end from the beginning. That creation happened with the intent that the fall would happen, and the fall happened with the intent that the resurrection would happen, all to the praise of His Name.

Not a teetoler - I couldn't think of a good word=p. I affirm that God gives wine for us to enjoy and while it is entirely possible for someone to mess up God's gift, that's no reason to not use it and thank Him for it.

Theonomist (in a limited sense) - I affirm that the government (as with all of creation) must also be subject to the law of Christ, and there are consequences for disobedience in their duty to reward good and punish evil. I actually do not know what the main tenants of theonomy is, but other people have described that position as theonomist, so I figure if it quacks like a duck...


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