Derek Thomas

Corinthian Enthusiasm

Let us be the sort of people who prayerfully and carefully immerse ourselves day and night in God’s Word (Josh. 1:8; Ps. 1:2). Let us also be the sort of Berean-like people who receive good teaching about God’s Word “with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so” (Acts 17:11).

Only one book is absolutely essential to save us, to equip us to obey God’s will, and to glorify Him in whatever we do. Only one book gives us undiluted truth —the whole truth and nothing but the truth. Only one book serves as our ultimate and final authority in all that it affirms. That book, of course, is the Bible, God’s Holy Word. No wonder John Wesley once exclaimed, “Let me be homo unius libri”—a man of one book!
And yet the irony is that if we use only this book, we may in fact be in disobedience to it. We should count good teaching about the Bible—whether through commentaries, books, sermons, study Bibles, and so on—to be a gift from God for the good of His church (see Eph. 4:11; James 1:17). So what may look pious on the outside (“Just me and my Bible!”) can actually mask pride on the inside.
Acts 8 describes a story that might help us think through this. An Ethiopian eunuch—a God-fearing Gentile who served as treasurer to the Ethiopian queen—had made a five-month journey by chariot to Jerusalem in order to worship God. During his return trip he was puzzling out loud over the Isaiah scroll that he held in his hands. And the Holy Spirit appointed Philip to help him understand the meaning of the Bible.
Philip first asked this man if he understood the passage that he was reading (chap. 53). The Ethiopian responded, “How can I, unless someone guides me?” (v. 31). After inviting Philip to sit in his chariot, he asked him about whom this passage spoke. ‘Then Philip opened his mouth, and beginning with this Scripture he told him the good news about Jesus’ (v. 35). Soon after, the eunuch insisted they stop the chariot in order to be baptized by Philip in obedience to his new savior and king, Jesus Christ. To be sure, this is a historical narrative recounting an event. The purpose is not necessarily to guide believers today in how to read their Bibles or how to think about the teaching of God’s Word.
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The Regulative Principle of Worship

Without the regulative principle, we are at the mercy of “worship leaders” and bullying pastors who charge noncompliant worshipers with displeasing God unless they participate according to a certain pattern and manner. To obey when it is a matter of God’s express prescription is true liberty; anything else is bondage and legalism.

What is the regulative principle of worship? Put simply, the regulative principle states that the corporate worship of God is to be founded on specific directives of Scripture. Put another way, it states that nothing ought to be introduced into gathered worship unless there is a specific warrant of Scripture.
Let us be clear: we worship God in “all of life”—when fishing, playing golf, eating breakfast, or driving a car. Paul makes this very clear: “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect” (Rom. 12:1–2).
Because of this, some have argued that there is no special set of rules for gathered worship. There’s just worship. But this ignores some very important issues. True, there is a regulative principle (a set of general rules) for what we might call “all of life” worship. Everything we do must have in view the glory of God. “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Cor. 10:31). We might call this a general regulative principle. But is there a more specific application of this principle for gathered worship? The Reformers (John Calvin especially) and the Puritans answered yes. God is especially concerned as to the question of how we worship in public gatherings.
Typical by way of formulation are the words of Calvin: “God disapproves of all modes of worship not expressly sanctioned by his Word,” and the Second London Baptist Confession of 1689: “The acceptable way of worshiping the true God, is instituted by himself, and so limited by his own revealed will, that he may not be worshiped according to the imagination and devices of men, nor the suggestions of Satan, under any visible representations, or any other way not prescribed in the Holy Scriptures.”
The Westminster Assembly
When the Westminster Assembly gathered, its primary directive was to answer this very question. It soon began to address other issues, but it was the issue of worship that dominated its initial agenda. It would later publish a Directory for the Public Worship of God. The term directory is itself important; it is not a Book of Common Prayer as the Anglicans had. They were very clear that the directory functioned in a very different way.
The very first chapter of the Westminster Confession of Faith is about Scripture. It was a way of saying that before we can say anything about God or humanity or sin or the church, or worship, we need some basis of authority. And that sole authority is the Word of God. All of Scripture is a product of God’s outbreathing (2 Tim. 3:16–17). Men spoke as they were driven along by the Holy Spirit (2 Peter 1:21). For the Westminster tradition, then, we begin with Scripture.
It is in this opening chapter on Scripture as the foundation of all knowledge that the regulative principle appears:
The whole counsel of God concerning all things necessary for his own glory, man’s salvation, faith and life, is either expressly set down in Scripture, or by good and necessary consequence may be deduced from Scripture: unto which nothing at any time is to be added, whether by new revelations of the Spirit, or traditions of men. Nevertheless, we acknowledge the inward illumination of the Spirit of God to be necessary for the saving understanding of such things as are revealed in the Word: and that there are some circumstances concerning the worship of God, and government of the Church, common to human actions and societies, which are to be ordered by the light of nature, and Christian prudence, according to the general rules of the Word, which are always to be observed. (WCF 1.6)
The point being made is that Scripture lays down certain principles about two particular issues (there are others): the form of church government and public worship. The same principle appears again in the chapter on worship:
The light of nature shows that there is a God, who has lordship and sovereignty over all, is good, and does good unto all, and is therefore to be feared, loved, praised, called upon, trusted in, and served, with all the heart, and with all the soul, and with all the might. But the acceptable way of worshipping the true God is instituted by Himself, and so limited by His own revealed will, that He may not be worshipped according to the imaginations and devices of men, or the suggestions of Satan, under any visible representation, or any other way not prescribed in the holy Scripture. (WCF 21.1)
The point is that Scripture (that is, God Himself, since Scripture is God’s Word) prescribes how we worship God. The word prescribe carries the idea of authority. When you go to the drugstore and you need some medicine that isn’t an “over the counter” drug, you need a prescription—it used to be a piece of paper signed by the doctor (these days it is usually done electronically).
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The Breath of God

The Holy Spirit of God, who first hovered over the waters of creation, spoke through prophets and Apostles, and was poured out at Pentecost as a witness to Christ’s promise of another Paraclete (comforter, sustainer, equipper, counselor). Jesus continues His ministry to His disciples by means of the Spirit as His personal, representative agent. The Spirit’s work, at all times, is to draw attention to Christ.

The ancient hymn Veni Creator Spiritus, composed in the eighth century and part of the Roman breviary of Vespers, is a hymn extolling the Holy Spirit. John Dryden’s magnificent translation renders the opening lines this way: “Creator Spirit, by whose aid the world’s foundations first were laid.”
The activity of the Holy Spirit as Creator finds expression in the second verse of the Bible! Describing the undeveloped creation as “without form and void” and in “darkness,” the author describes the Spirit of God as “hovering over the face of the waters” (Gen. 1:2). Forming a bookend at the close of this opening chapter of Scripture comes the pronouncement of the creation of man: “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness” (Gen. 1:26). The use of the pronoun “our” is a reference to the triune Godhead, which includes the Holy Spirit. From the very beginning, the Holy Spirit has been the executive of the creative activity of God. In the creation of the world, as well as the creation of man in particular, the Holy Spirit was the divine agent.
At the dawning of the new covenant era, Pentecost would be demonstrative of a similar work of creation, or, better, re-creation. Fallen humanity is to be transformed by the Spirit to a degree unknown under the old covenant.
In an action that was meant to be symbolic of Pentecost, Jesus, in an incident that followed His resurrection, illustrated Pentecost’s significance by breathing on His disciples and saying, “Receive the Holy Spirit” (John 20:22). The action is a reminder of the opening sequence of Genesis: the Holy Spirit, the “breath of God,” is the agent of the “breath of life” (Gen 2:7; John 20:22). As God breathed life into Adam, so Jesus, “the last Adam,” breathes new life into His people. Jesus becomes, in Paul’s language, “a life-giving spirit” (1 Cor. 15:45). Pentecost was an epochal event, signifying the dawning of a new era.
Midway between creation and re-creation, Pentecost is the point after which it can be said, “the end of the ages has dawned” (1 Cor. 10:11). Historically, at nine o’clock in the morning, the Spirit gave the disciples a clear understanding of Jesus’ role in redemption and consummation, equipping them with extraordinary boldness in making Jesus known. The gift of tongues that accompanied the outpouring of the Spirit enabled folk from different countries to hear the gospel in their own languages. In an instant, the curse of Babel was arrested (Gen. 11:7–9). Spirit empowered disciples were thus motivated and enabled to take the message of reconciliation to the nations of the world in the certainty that God would accomplish that which He promised (Luke 24:48; Acts 1:4). What appears to be a blessing for the gentiles proves to be a judgment upon Israel. The very sound of the gospel in languages other than their own confirmed the covenantal threat of God issued in Isaiah: “For by people of strange lips and with a foreign tongue the Lord will speak to this people” (Isa. 28:11).
What was to be a blessing for the nations proved to be the very instrument of hardening to Israel, until the “fullness” of the gentiles is brought in (Rom. 11:25).
With this interpretation of Pentecost, repetition cannot be envisioned. Though history records many “outpourings” of the Spirit in extraordinary displays of revival, none of these, strictly speaking, is a repetition of Pentecost. Pentecost marked the major turning point from old to new covenantal administrations. The days of type and shadow were replaced by days of fulfillment and reality.
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God-Centered Prayer

Authentic prayer, God-centered prayer, realizes that the promise of prayer is God Himself. Being in the presence of God is the greatest reward of prayer. Godly folk have always relished this.

It is easy to be critical of prayer, particularly the prayers of others. Robert Murray McCheyne’s words are often cited because they remain painfully true: “You wish to humble a man? Ask him about his prayer life.”
Our prayers reveal much about us. Prayers with little or no worship and focusing on our needs (usually health) reveal a distorted, Adamic bent. What they reveal is self-centeredness, what Martin Luther labeled homo in se incurvatus: “man curved in on himself.” Listen to prayers at the church prayer meeting (if one still exists). You will discover that the majority of prayers are “organ recitals”—prayers for someone’s liver, kidney, or heart. Not that we shouldn’t pray for medical issues, but a preoccupation with health is itself a reflection of how little we understand why it is we desire good health. We desire it so that the person we are praying for lives for Jesus Christ.
Prayer is “talking to God” (Graeme Prayer and the Knowledge of God, p. 15.). Sometimes, perhaps too often, the “talk” is all about us. We’ve all had those annoying conversations that have been entirely one-sided, showing little or no interest in us. It’s all about them—their interests, desires, needs, and complaints. Prayer can get like that: we pour out our woes, become totally self-absorbed, and show no interest in dialogue that involves “listening” to what God has to say. God is patient and, in His grace, He responds. But it shouldn’t be like that. When Jesus taught us to pray, He showed us that prayer begins (and continues) with God: “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name” (Matt. 6:9). Take a look at the structure of the Lord’s Prayer, and it will show you that at least half of our praying should be addressed to the praise and worship of God.
Many factors influenced Tertullian when he coined the term personae to represent the threeness of God, but he employed this term primarily because the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit “talk” to each other. They relate personally—to each other and to us. In other words, God communicates with Himself and with His people. It stands to reason, therefore, that prayer should consist of personal communion—talking to God with inquisitiveness as to His nature and His desires, and eagerness to learn about the things that please and displease Him.
The first petition of the Lord’s Prayer, among other things, reminds us that there must be a clearheaded focus on our part on who God is and what God is like. Theologians have reflected on how we come to know God and what it is that we know about Him. The answer has often come in this form: we know very little in answer to the question “What is God?” What we do know (because God has revealed it to us) is in answer to the question “What is God like?” God shows us what He is like by revealing to us His name.
Our minds, whether consciously or subliminally, are (to use John Calvin’s phrase) “idol factories,” constantly succumbing to “I like to think of God as . . .” formulas, all of which are seriously wrong, conceived by a persistent anti-God bias in our mental, moral, and spiritual systems. To avoid idolatry in prayer, we must begin by reminding ourselves of His name—whether that be God’s covenant name “I AM WHO I AM” or Yahweh (that is, self-existent, self-sustaining, self-determining, everywhere present, and always in control); or, as the Lord’s Prayer wonderfully encapsulates, “Father” (expressive of the newness of the new covenant and the access and status to which the work of our Redeemer has introduced us); or, “Father, Son, and Holy Spirit” (as Jesus Himself disclosed in the Great Commission of Matthew 28:19). When Jesus commissioned His disciples to baptize in the “name” (singular) of “the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,” He revealed the impenetrable truth that there is more than one in the one God.
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God’s Sovereignty and Glory

God is the “first cause” of all things, but evil is a product of “second causes.” In the words of John Calvin, “First, it must be observed that the will of God is the cause of all things that happen in the world: and yet God is not the author of evil,” adding, “for the proximate cause is one thing, and the remote cause another.” In other words, God Himself cannot do evil and cannot be blamed for evil even though it is part of His sovereign decree.

God is sovereign in creation, providence, redemption, and judgment. That is a central assertion of Christian belief and especially in Reformed theology. God is King and Lord of all. To put this another way: nothing happens without God’s willing it to happen, willing it to happen before it happens, and willing it to happen in the way that it happens. Put this way, it seems to say something that is expressly Reformed in doctrine. But at its heart, it is saying nothing different from the assertion of the Nicene Creed: “I believe in God, the Father Almighty.” To say that God is sovereign is to express His almightiness in every area.
God is sovereign in creation. “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth” (Gen. 1:1). Apart from God, there was nothing. And then there was something: matter, space, time, energy. And these came into being ex nihilo—out of nothing. The will to create was entirely God’s. The execution was entirely His. There was no metaphysical “necessity” to create; it was a free action of God.
God is sovereign in providence. Traditional theism insists that God is omnipotent, omniscient, and omnipresent—all powerful, all knowing, and everywhere present. Each assertion is a variant of divine sovereignty. His power, knowledge, and presence ensure that His goals are met, that His designs are fulfilled, and that His superintendence of all events is (to God, at least) essentially “risk free.”
God’s power is not absolute in the sense that God can do anything (potestas absoluta); rather, God’s power ensures that He can do all that is logically possible for Him to will to do. “He cannot deny himself,” for example (2 Tim. 2:13).
Some people object to the idea that God knows all events in advance of their happening. Such a view, some insist, deprives mankind of its essential freedom. Open theists or free-will theists, for example, insist that the future (at least in its specific details) is in some fashion “open.” Even God does not know all that is to come. He may make predictions like some cosmic poker player, but He cannot know absolutely. This explains, open theists suggest, why God appears to change His mind: God is adjusting His plan based on the new information of unforeseeable events (see Gen. 6:6–7; 1 Sam. 15:11). Reformed theology, on the other hand, insists that no event happens that is a surprise to God. To us it is luck or chance, but to God it is part of His decree. “The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the Lord” (Prov. 16:33). Language of God changing His mind in Scripture is an accommodation to us and our way of speaking, not a description of a true change in God’s mind.
God is sovereign in redemption, a fact that explains why we thank God for our salvation and pray to Him for the salvation of our spiritually lost friends. If the power to save lies in man’s free will, if it truly lies in their unaided ability to save themselves, why would we implore God to “quicken,” “save,” or “regenerate” them?
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The Regulative Principle of Worship

Particular elements of worship are highlighted: reading the Bible (1 Tim. 4:13); preaching the Bible (2 Tim. 4:2); singing the Bible (Eph. 5:19; Col. 3:16) — the Psalms as well as Scripture songs that reflect the development of redemptive history in the birth-life-death-resurrection- ascension of Jesus; praying the Bible — the Father’s house is “a house of prayer” (Matt. 21:13); and seeing the Bible in the two sacraments of the church, baptism and the Lord’s Supper (Matt. 28:19; Acts 2:38–39; 1 Cor. 11:23–26; Col. 2:11–12). In addition, occasional elements such as oaths, vows, solemn fasts and thanksgivings have also been recognized and highlighted (see Westminster Confession of Faith 21:5).

Put simply, the regulative principle of worship states that the corporate worship of God is to be founded upon specific directions of Scripture. On the surface, it is difficult to see why anyone who values the authority of Scripture would find such a principle objectionable. Is not the whole of life itself to be lived according to the rule of Scripture? This is a principle dear to the hearts of all who call themselves biblical Christians. To suggest otherwise is to open the door to antinomianism and license.
But things are rarely so simple. After all, the Bible does not tell me whether I may or may not listen with profit to a Mahler symphony, find stamp-collecting rewarding, or enjoy ferretbreeding as a useful occupation even though there are well-meaning but misguided Bible-believing Christians who assert with dogmatic confidence that any or all of these violate God’s will. Knowing God’s will in any circumstance is an important function of every Christian’s life, and fundamental to knowing it is a willingness to submit to Scripture as God’s authoritative Word for all ages and circumstances. But what exactly does biblical authority mean in such circumstances?
Well, Scripture lays down certain specific requirements: for example, we are to worship with God’s people on the Lord’s Day, and we should engage in useful work and earn our daily bread. In addition, covering every possible circumstance, Scripture lays down a general principle: “present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect” (Rom. 12:1–2). Clearly, all of life is to be regulated by Scripture, whether by express commandment or prohibition or by general principle. There is therefore, in one sense, a regulative principle for all of life. In everything we do, and in some form or another, we are to be obedient to Scripture.
However, the Reformers (John Calvin especially) and the Westminster Divines (as representative of seventeenth-century puritanism) viewed the matter of corporate worship differently. In this instance, a general principle of obedience to Scripture is insufficient; there must be (and is) a specific prescription governing how God is to be worshiped corporately. In the public worship of God, specific requirements are made, and we are not free either to ignore them or to add to them. Typical by way of formulation are the words of Calvin: “God disapproves of all modes of worship not expressly sanctioned by his Word” (“The Necessity of Reforming the Church”); and the Second London Baptist Confession of 1689: “The acceptable way of worshiping the true God, is instituted by himself, and so limited by his own revealed will, that he may not be worshiped according to the imagination and devices of men, nor the suggestions of Satan, under any visible representations, or any other way not prescribed in the Holy Scriptures” (22.1).
Where does the Bible teach this? In more places than is commonly imagined, including the constant stipulation of the book of Exodus with respect to the building of the tabernacle that everything be done “after the pattern . . . shown you” (Ex. 25:40); the judgment pronounced upon Cain’s offering, suggestive as it is that his offering (or his heart) was deficient according to God’s requirement (Gen. 4:3–8).
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With Friends Like These

The reason why we can be wrong is that God’s ways are not our ways. His thoughts are not our thoughts. Does Job have an answer to the question “Why?” No, he does not. But he can lay his troubles at the feet of Almighty God. This is whom we need to direct people to when they are suffering inexplicably.

Perhaps Job wished his friends had remained silent. Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar initially didn’t speak a word to Job. His suffering was too great. They remained silent for a week. But Job 4 marks the beginning of their speeches, where they begin to tell Job what they really think.
Eliphaz is the first of Job’s friends to speak. He speaks first probably because he’s the oldest. We pick up in Job 15:9–10 that he’s a gray-headed man, older than Job’s father. Bildad is the second of Job’s friends to speak, beginning in Job 8. He is brasher than Eliphaz. Zophar is the third of Job’s friends to speak, and he is even brasher than Bildad. Job’s friends all share something in common, however: their understanding of Job’s suffering. It can be summarized in a few questions from their speeches:
Eliphaz:_ “Remember: who that was innocent ever perished? Or where were the upright cut off?” (Job 4:7)_
Bildad: “Does God pervert justice? Or does the Almighty pervert the right?” (Job 8:3)
Zophar: “Do you not know this from of old, since man was placed on earth, that the exulting of the wicked is short, and the joy of the godless but for a moment? (Job 20:4–5)
Job’s friends each understand the universe as operating according to a certain law. The reason for suffering, in their minds, is very simple. You reap what you sow. You get out of life what you put into it. You are responsible for your actions, and suffering is a consequence of your actions. The implication is that Job has sinned. It may have been a little sin, it may have been a medium-sized sin, or it may have been a big sin. It may be a present sin or some past sin that Job has forgotten about. One way or another, their answer to this predicament—from a philosophical, theological point of view—is that Job is reaping what he has sown. It’s karma. You get whatever’s owed to you.
What do we make of that as a principle, as a philosophy, as a theological way of understanding Job’s predicament?
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A Mother in Israel

Jacob had waited seven years to marry Rachel. Now, decades later, she is gone. The pillar he erected over her tomb in her memory (Gen. 35:20) was a witness to the sadness and hope that surrounded his life. Sadness in the loss; hope in the covenant promises that now assured him of a love that will not let him go.

Jacob, the wily one, after ten or fifteen years, finally returns to Bethel. God has been at work in his life, drawing the wayward patriarch to himself. It has been a difficult journey. It invariably is so when our wills are set at variance against the Lord’s. From the perspective of hindsight, Jacob could now speak to his family of a God “who answers me in the day of my distress and has been with me wherever I have gone” (Gen. 35:3). Jacob had been sheltered within the orbit of God’s covenant faithfulness. Despite half-hearted commitment and questionable decisions made more out of fear than trust, Jacob had known the Lord’s providential goodness. Even now, as he returns, a path is opened up for him to return in safety to the place where God had first met with him. The promise God had made to him, then, must have haunted him through the years. He was to inherit the land and his offspring   were to be as ”the dust of the earth” (Gen. 28:13–15), but he had left with nothing but the clothes he had been wearing! Now, as he returns to Bethel, he brings with him his twelve sons (his twelfth yet unborn in his mother’s womb) and considerable wealth. And Jacob does the only thing possible under such circumstances — the only right thing: he worships! He pours out his heart in gratitude to the Lord for all that he now knew of God’s grace.
As Jacob worships, wonderful things happen: God renews the covenant that he had made (Gen. 35:9–15), reminding Jacob of the significance of the new name he had received at Peniel. Others may call him Jacob, but God has named him “Israel.” Some of the things God says to him must have reminded him of similar words used by his father Isaac so many years before, especially when he heard God say, “be fruitful and multiply” (Gen. 35:11; see 28:3). But a new promise is made, “kings shall come from your own body” (35:11). Imagine! Jacob’s pitiful attempt to buy a piece of the Promised Land at Shechem (33:19) is answered by God, saying, “I’ll give you and your descendents the whole of it!” Covenant mercies! Covenant grace! Covenant faithfulness!
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The Cure for a Lack of Fruit in Our Christian Lives

There is only one cure for a lack of fruit in our Christian lives. It is to go back to Christ and enjoy (yes, enjoy) our union with Him. 

The Westminster Confession of Faith insists that Christians may be “certainly assured that they are in the state of grace” (18:1) and goes on to assert that this “infallible assurance of faith” is “founded upon” three considerations:

“the divine truth of the promises of salvation”
“the inward evidence of those graces unto which these promises are made”
“the testimony of the Spirit of adoption witnessing with our spirits that we are children of God” (18:2).

The possibility of “certain” and “infallible” assurance is set against the backdrop of medieval and post-Reformation Roman Catholic views that paralyzed the church with an “assurance” that was at best “conjectural” (wishful thinking), based as it was on rigorous participation in a sacramental treadmill. Few epitomized the contrast more starkly than Cardinal Bellarmine (1542–1621), the personal theologian to Pope Clement VIII and ablest leader of the Counter-Reformation, who called the Protestant doctrine of assurance “the greatest of all heresies.” What, after all, could be more offensive to a works-based and priest-imparted system of salvation than the possibility that assurance could be attained without either? If Christians can attain an assurance of eternal life apart from participation in the church’s rituals, what possible outcome could there be other than rampant antinomianism (the belief that God’s commandments are optional)?
But what exactly did the Westminster divines mean when they implied that our assurance is “founded upon” inward evidence? Behind this statement lies a practical syllogism:
(major premise) True believers demonstrate the fruit of the Spirit.(minor premise) The fruit of the Spirit is present in me.(conclusion) I am a true believer.
It should be obvious that the subjectivity of this argument is fraught with difficulty. While the certainty of salvation is grounded upon the (objective) work of Christ, the certainty of assurance is grounded upon the (objective) promises God gives us and the (subjective) discovery of those promises at work in us. And it is this latter consideration that gives rise to one or two problems.
Theologians have made a distinction between the direct and reflexive acts of faith. It is one thing to believe that Christ can save me (direct act of faith). It is another thing to believe that I have believed (reflexive act of faith). Apart from the first consideration (that Christ is both willing and able to save) there can be no assurance of faith. Indeed, it is pointless to move forward with the discussion about assurance apart from a conviction of the truthfulness of this statement: “Christ is able to save those who believe.”
Assuming, then, that there is no doubt as to the ability and willingness of Christ to save those who believe, how may I be assured that I have this belief? The answer of the New Testament at this point is clear: there is an “obedience of faith” (Rom. 1:5; 16:26). True faith manifests itself in outward, tangible ways. In other words, the New Testament draws a connection between faithfulness and the enjoyment of assurance. True believers demonstrate the fruit of the Spirit, and this fruit is observable and measurable.
Four Ways of Knowing
The Apostle John addresses this very issue in his first epistle: “I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God that you may know that you have eternal life” (1 John 5:13). Apart from belief “in the name of the Son of God,” there is no point in furthering the discussion about assurance. The question at hand is, “How can I know if my belief is genuine?” And John’s answer emphasizes four moral characteristics of the Christian life.
First, there is obedience to the commandments of God. “By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey his commandments. For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments” (1 John 5:2–3). True faith is not and can never be antinomian.
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