We can be thankful in trying circumstances because we are being pruned to bear more fruit. The Lord is removing the dross and refining the gold. We can be thankful in trying circumstances because they serve as a stage on which the deliverance and provision of God’s grace in Christ may be displayed in our lives.
Often, the most basic of God’s commands are the hardest for us to obey. We may ask ourselves whether or not we would have the faith to offer up a child to God—as Abraham did when he was called to offer up Isaac—while never really stopping to ask ourselves whether or not we have the faith to obey the most basic new covenant commands.
Take, for instance, Paul’s statement in 1 Thess. 5:18:
Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you all.
When we consider such a command, we must ask ourselves the following questions: Am I thankful in all circumstances? What about when times are difficult? What about when I have experienced some particular trial? The Lord commands us to “count it all joy when we fall into various trials” (see James 1:2). How can I be thankful and joyful in the midst of a painful trial? The answer, of course, is found in all that the Scriptures teach us about trials. Here are ten reasons Christians can be thankful in trying circumstances:
- We can be thankful in trying circumstances because we deserve eternal judgment and whatever we are experiencing short of that is a mercy.
- We can be thankful in tryingcircumstances precisely because we have already been redeemed by Christ, blessed with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ, and sealed with the Spirit until the possession of the eternal inheritance.
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Why Machen Is Important for the Church Today: A Reflection on Ch. 7 of Christianity and Liberalism (Part 2)By Gregg Allison — 5 months ago
Given the liberal (members, churches) elements’ abandonment of essential matters, conservative (members, churches) must withdraw. In such cases, the operative framework echoes Paul’s words (2 Cor. 6:14–16): Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers. For what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness? Or what fellowship has light with darkness? What accord has Christ with Belial? Or what portion does a believer share with an unbeliever? What agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God.
The Fatherhood of God and the Brotherhood of Man
Because liberal theologians like von Harnack and Ritschl emphasized the Fatherhood of God and the brotherhood of man at the heart of liberalism, I begin with Machen’s acknowledgement that such emphases contain some truth: all human beings, as creatures of the one Creator and thus image bearers of God (Gen. 1:26–28), have God as their Father in the sense of creation. As Paul preached (Acts 17:24, 26, 27–29):
“The God who made the world and everything in it . . . gives to all mankind life and breath and everything. And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth. . . . He is actually not far from each one of us, for
‘In him we live and move and have our being’;
as even some of your own poets have said,
‘For we are indeed his offspring.’
Being then God’s offspring . . . .”
Alluding to the creation narrative of Adam (Gen. 2:7) and citing the pagan poets Epimenides of Crete (sixth to fifth century BC) and Aratus (“Phaenomena;” third century BC), the apostle affirms from Scripture and from the general human sense of a divine Creator the universal recognition that all human beings have God as their Father. Consequently, all human beings belong to one brotherhood, in the sense of creation.
Though it balks at the liberal distortion of these truths, the contemporary church should acknowledge “one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all” (Eph. 4:6) and thus the unity of the human race: we are all sons and daughters of God the Father in the sense of creation. Accordingly, cooperative efforts between the peoples of the world, including Christians united with non-Christians in certain endeavors, should resonate with all human beings. These endeavors include efforts to halt genocide; to bring relief to the poor, marginalized, orphans, widows, and victims of natural disasters; to share resources and technology for the betterment of the disadvantaged; to advocate for a culture of life against a culture of death; to encourage biblically sanctioned human rights—these and other similar efforts contribute to the flourishing of human society, and our brothers and sisters by virtue of their origin are recipients of good deeds.
Christians rightly join itself to such efforts, reflecting Machen’s endorsement that Christianity “can accept all that the modern liberal means by the brotherhood of man” (133). At the same time, again following Machen, the church rightly embraces a different “Christian” notion of brotherhood: in the sense of salvation, only those who are rescued from sin by Jesus Christ constitute “the brotherhood of the redeemed” (134).
By affirming these two notions of brotherhood—the one, a universal idea in the sense of creation; the other, an exclusive idea in the sense of redemption—the contemporary church echoes Machen’s intriguing affirmation of both a universality and an exclusivity at the heart of Christianity: First and universally, the church indiscriminately communicates the gospel to all peoples everywhere, in obedience to Christ’s Great Commission (Matt. 28:18–20). Racial and ethnic prejudice, personal distaste for people of a different political persuasion, partiality, and indifference to the plight of the lost cannot be allowed to deter the church from expanding an invitation to the Christian brotherhood to all human beings.
Moreover, Christian ministry engages in good works not only to the “inside brotherhood” but the “outside brotherhood” as well. Paul and Barnabas exemplified such orientation, gladly obeying the exhortation of James, Peter, and John: “they asked us to remember the poor, the very thing I was eager to do” (Gal. 2:10). Paul continued and insisted on this thrust for all churches: “So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith. (Gal. 6:10). James demanded the same inclination: “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world” (James 1:27).
Second and exclusively, the church acknowledges the severe limitations of such loving service toward people in need. It prioritizes instead its evangelistic efforts that urge sinful people to repent of their sins and trust Jesus Christ alone—exclusively—to save them. As the gospel ignites faith (Rom. 10:17), as the good news brings about regeneration (1 Pet. 1:23–25), as divine grace prompts belief (Acts 18:27), the Christian brotherhood expands, which is the hope of the world.
Separation from Liberal Churches
Machen theologically and strategically advocates for conservative Christians to remain in their churches and protect/reclaim them from liberalism; at the same time, he realistically acknowledges that such a conserving presence and influence may not ultimately succeed. As the saying goes, Machen practiced what he preached: in the 1930s, he led a group of conservative ministers and lay people out of the Presbyterian Church in the United States of America (PCUSA) and formed the Presbyterian Church of America (PCA), shortly later re-named the Orthodox Presbyterian Church (OPC). Other examples, like the Conservative Baptist movement that emerged from the Northern (now American) Baptist Convention (1943), could be cited.
In our contemporary church context, two similar developments stand out: the Anglican Church of North America and the Methodist Church.
In the early 2000s, conservative members of the Episcopal Church in the United States and the Anglican Church of Canada broke from their Episcopal/Anglican churches and formed the Anglican Church of North America (ACNA) under the auspices of Anglican bishops in Africa and South America. The issue at the heart of their departure was growing concern about the disconcerting pervasiveness and expansion of liberalism—particularly abandonment of biblical authority and truthfulness and departure from historic Christianity—in the existing communions.
In 2022, conservative Methodists broke from the United Methodist Church (UMC) and formed the Global Methodist Church (GMC). In large part, discussion about and actual disaffiliation awaits the 2024 General Conference of the UMC; however, some conservative churches have already joined the GMC. As with the ACNA, the key issue is biblical authority as particularly applied to LGBTQ+ issues.
As Machen prophesied and warned, such departure could cost the fledgling conservative congregations their church property. And it has. The Falls Church, which left the Episcopal Church in the United States in 2006, lost a court battle and had to give up its 250-year-old property. Still, this future of financial/property loss for conservative churches is not set: while decisions about church properties are still a year off in the United Methodist Church, some early signs point to broad (even financial) support for the new GMC.
Departure of members from their local church, and disaffiliation of churches from their denomination, are somber and severe decisions. On the one hand, the unity of the church is broken—a serious matter.
By Pierce Taylor Hibbs — 2 years ago
The word of God isn’t just a conceptual comfort; it’s a cutting blade. It cuts through evil. When we’re struggling to fight a particular thought, we need to confront that thought with the power of the truth. If thoughts can be evil, then they can also be wise and righteous; they can be Christ-exalting.
One of the many telling lines in C. S. Lewis’s The Screwtape Letters is this one, from one devil to another, “It is funny how mortals always picture us as putting things into their minds: in reality our best work is done by keeping them out” (Letter 4). Keeping what out of our minds, exactly? Here’s one example: the idea that thoughts can be evil or demonic.
I realize in our contemporary secularized culture, where everything has been de-supernaturalized, that’s a lot to take in. “Aren’t thoughts just…thoughts? Synapses firing in the brain? You don’t have to go all medieval on something that has a perfectly grounded medical and scientific explanation.” I hear you. Really, I do.
But what if that is exactly what demons want? Screwtape told his nephew that they do their “best work” by keeping things out of our heads, not putting things into them. What if they’ve been celebrating since the Enlightenment because people mostly assume that thought is a neutral, physiological phenomenon? What if Satan celebrates the fact that many Christians view their thought lives as neutral?
I’m reminded of a similar what-if that John Mark Comer draws out, as he builds on the work of Evagrius (a monk of the early church) in Live No Lies:
For Evagrius, logosmoi, or our thought patterns, are the primary vehicle of demonic attack upon our souls. That might sound far-fetched to our skeptical Western ears, but think about it: Have you ever had a thought (or feeling or desire) that seemed to have a will to it? An agenda that was hard to resist? And not thinking it felt like fighting gravity? It seemed to have a weight or power over you that was beyond your ability to resist?
Could it be that the thoughts that assault your mind’s peace aren’t just thoughts? Could it be that a dark, animating energy is behind them? A spiritual force?
Could it be that this is about more than mental hygiene or positive thinking; it’s about resistance?
John Mark Comer, Live No Lies, p. 86
“A dark, animating energy…” Yea. What if thoughts aren’t just synapses firing within the soft walls of our brain tissue? What if a thought could be weaponized? Would that change the way we walk through life each day?
I think it would. And doesn’t this make a bit more sense out of Paul’s call to spiritual warfare in Ephesians 6:12? We’re fighting against things that sound pretty abstract to 21st century Western ears: cosmic powers and spiritual forces of evil. And that’s not just a fraction of the enemy; that’s the enemy. Our war isn’t against “flesh and blood”; it’s against this.
What Makes a Thought Evil?
“Hold up,” says the well-rounded Christian skeptic (is that an oxymoron?). “How can you possibly link thoughts with these things?” Well, think about what our spiritual enemies do. Then think about what a thought can do. Satan and his servants want to do essentially three things. They want to take us…
Further from God. We only move in two different directions: either towards God or towards Satan. That’s it. There’s no neutral zone. Moving in God’s direction means moving deeper into relationship with him so that we start to resemble our creative, loving, generous, patient, self-giving Lord. Moving in Satan’s direction means becoming a black hole for all goodness. We become destructive, malevolent, hoarding, quick-tempered, self-seeking centers of chaos.
Deeper into doubt. If Satan can get you to doubt God and his promises, he’s already won the hardest part of the battle. Genesis 3 is a case in point. Doubting God’s goodness led immediately to breaking his law, which led to death and a kingdom of curses.
Lower into self-absorption. The devil’s aim is to bend our backs so much that we stare at ourselves for eternity. He wants each one of us to be as self-absorbed as possible, the practical center of our fantasy universe.
By Harrison Perkins — 6 months ago
We need to work like the body of Christ, not pretending that everything we want is directly linked up to God’s own will, realizing that the local church is the place where God distributes his gift of sanctification. As we rub against one another in sanctification, it polishes us so that we will eventually sparkle as gems of God’s work of grace in freeing us from sin’s hold on our hearts and hands.
The intricacy of LEGO products has changed immensely since I was a child. I remember the basics of rectangle and square blocks, thin flat pieces that work as a ceiling or something, and the occasional exciting hinge piece to mount a door. As I unpack my new LEGO kit, I’m astounded by the sorts of pieces they make today. Clearly, skilled engineers were involved, planning out how very small details mount up to the big picture that far surpasses what I can see at the outset of my process of assembling the pieces. Because I can’t see how it all fits together, I follow the instructions, trusting those who know better.
Preachers may have the first opportunity for sanctification as we think about that connection between doctrine and its fruit of holiness. Throughout the centuries, not only have theologians been baffled by how the proclamation of free grace could produce good works in God’s people, many have decided that we need to teach that good works are necessary to secure our everlasting state, otherwise, God’s people wouldn’t be holy. If sanctification is submission to God’s Word, then preachers get the first stab at submitting to it. Preachers not only need to submit to Scripture in the passage that they are expounding but also to its principle that God has engineered the link between the announcement of free salvation by the gospel and its fruit of growth in the Christian life. Teachers must first grow in trusting the Lord that he knows how the pieces fit together as a whole even when we do not.
The link between gospel proclamation and increasing sanctification highlights perhaps one of our most important points: our sanctification is a gift from God. Yes, we are meant to open up the LEGO kit of godliness to use it by getting on with our task of assembling the pieces. Nonetheless, we cannot forget that the whole kit is a present given to us by our gracious Father in heaven.
Reformed theology has historically referred to “the benefits of Christ.” The point here is to underscore that the benefits are plural. In Christ, we are reconciled to God, justified, adopted, have all the other benefits that do accompany or flow from these blessings, and have the guarantee of glorification. Among these gifts given to us is our sanctification. Too many like to say that justification is 100% God’s work, but sanctification is 50% God and 50% us. The impression is that God has given the free gift of a legal status, now we need to get cracking on our part. Although the Christian life certainly requires discipline and effort, we diminish sanctification’s importance, value, and meaningfulness if we forget that it too is God’s work of free grace, writing within us the newness of life that springs forth in our actions of setting aside sin and walking in righteousness.
We need a good reminder of the sweet news that holiness in our lives also flows from God as his gift to us. As Paul wrote to those who fell prey to the error of the Judaizers: “Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?” (Gal. 3:3) Sanctification, as much as justification, is a precious gift for our cherishing.
This mindset of sanctification as gift helps us discard antinomianism and legalism. Too many think that the response to antinomianism is to impose the idea of final justification or final salvation on the basis of a consideration of our works. Another version of this mistake is to motivate Christians to holiness with rewards in heaven in exchange for their obedience. God will reward his people in his everlasting kingdom, crowning us with his own gifts of grace. But the thoroughgoing antinomian would just dismiss the idea, saying, “getting to heaven will be enough, so I don’t need rewards.” The carrot doesn’t really entice those who don’t understand the value of carrots.