Who Owes Me Three Dollars?

March 13, 2007

Ash Wednesday + 17

Filed under: Uncategorized — ineedsheetmusic @ 8:48 pm

Free will, after the fall, exists in name only, and as long as it does what it is able to do it commits a deadly sin.

Up to this point the discussion was about the nature of objective works of man, whether works in ourselves of even of works done "in Christ". No avenue of merit for ourselves, as much as it is in our nature to think otherwise, has been uncovered which will spare us from the fact that all our works are deadly sins.

Now let’s briefly take a look from the other end, the subjective end – our will that is involved in the doing of these works.

"Virtually all of western Christendom, from St. Augustine forward, agrees that without the aid of grace, the will is bound and can do nothing to merit salvation. But must we not, do we not, make our decision for Christ, when all is said and done? We confess that we are saved by grace alone. So, if we are captivated and overwhelmed by grace alone, can we claim to play a part in the matter? The specter of force [puppetry] raises its ugly head here. Some are always driven to claim at least some freedom of choice – bargaining for little bits. In one way or another, the claim is made that the will must have at least a small part to play."

Maybe that little bit is, by our will, to prepare ourselves to be able to receive that grace. Maybe our will must desire and prepare for grace. If we do what is in us, if we do our best by our own free will, do we not prepare ourselves to be able to receive that grace that God gives us?

The protest against divine election is always "We aren’t puppets, are we? If everything happens by divine will, how can we be held responsible? We just can’t accept such a God. There must be some freedom of choice."

This human rationalism at work. Our own reasoning sense is elevated. "Certainly my own reasoning powers can’t be doubted on this one. Nothing else makes sense to me." Here, ironically, we see how our will is crippled. Our will is unable to will God to be God. Scripture shows how our will is bound, though free.

For example, we are free to do things. Come and go. Pick out a shirt to wear. To get a haircut. We may even decide to be moral or religious. We may even decide that Jesus is a wonderful person or a stirring example. These are examples of our free will at work. But when it comes to the living God that is above us, we encounter a fundamentally different problem. That problem is that we can’t stand the idea of an electing God who is actually above us. This is something we can not or will not will. Because, not being subject to our will, we reject it. Thus, regarding that which is truly above us, the will is not free but bound. Not forced, we are not forced to say no – we are just bound to do it. We are truly fallen. We do not want the grace of God alone. It would be safer, we think, if we made the decision ourselves! 

John 8:34,36 "Everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin. . . . So, if the Son makes you free you will be free indeed."

Augustine adds, "Free will without grace has the power to do nothing but sin." And "You call the will free, but in fact it is an enslaved will."

Sin makes it impossible for the will really to be called free because sin means an enslavement, a bondage from which it is impossible for the will to escape. The self seeks its own self in all things, even in its piety. There is no way out.

Hosea 13:9 "Israel, you are bringing misfortune upon yourself,  for your salvation is alone with me."

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March 6, 2007

Ash Wednesday + 11

Filed under: Uncategorized — ineedsheetmusic @ 9:25 pm

The works of the righteous would be mortal sins if they would not be feared as mortal sins by the righteous themselves out of pious fear of God.

Look at that closely and you will realize that you just got a breather on the crushing theses that I have been relating in this series.

What the above actually says is this: The works of the righteous are not deadly sins only when they fear that they are deadly sins. That still sounds pretty damaging to our pride though, doesn’t it?

Consider this quote:"To trust in works, (works that one ought to do in fear) is equivalent to giving oneself the honor and taking it from God, to whom fear is due in connection with every work. To please oneself, to enjoy one’s own works is completely wrong and is to adore onself as an idol. He who is self-confident and without fear of God acts entirely in this manner. For if he had fear, he would not be self-confident and would not be pleased with himself but would be pleased with God."

Our day is living through a drought as regards the fear of God. "It’s just not cool to keep on talking about our God-buddy in terms of this stifling fear. That’s just so old testament". When we reluctantly do finally allow this concept to seep in to our psyche, we get very creative with the word fear. We somehow give ourselves permission to take great liberties with the language.

Oddly, when God himself tells us to fear him, he talks baby talk to us. Since we don’t have the mind of God, since we don’t have a one-to-one copy of God’s knowledge on any point, we have to understand the admonition to fear him as information accomodated to our creatureliness. For us to take that revelation and further accomodate it to our own dispositions (by means of our creativity with the word fear) we are moving away from truth not toward it.

Examples in scripture (showcasing  this thought) are not hard to find. Ex 3:1-6 is certainly understated but the point is clear. Is. 6:1-5 is the chair passage for why it’s a bad idea to saunter into God’s presence (Isaiah was a prophet of God and a believer in Christ).

So, I think the point is that fear is the appropriate posture to take as insurance against the possibility that we might be enamoured of our own good works just a little.

As a parting thought, and in this context an absolutely spectacular proclamation of the gospel, check out  Rev. 1:17.

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March 4, 2007

Ash Wednesday + 9

Filed under: Uncategorized — ineedsheetmusic @ 9:56 pm

The so-called good works of man are thus not deadly sins as though they were crimes. Conversely, the works that God does through man are also not merits, as though they were sinless.

The argument is not that our good works are deadly sins in the sense that they have the look of criminal acts. That’s the problem. They look good. Hence they are a trap.

All notions that our good works are in any way something in which we can rest, in which we can put our trust are to be excluded. We are easily seduced by them into putting our trust and our assurance in them. The most seductive of these traps can occur in the private worship (in our heart of hearts) where we get that really good feeling that we are doing a work that approaches sinless perfection.

Unfortunately, a bad tree can’t produce anything but bad fruit.

But you say, "Oh, I am now regenerated. I am a good tree." I think here the metaphor is being carried too far. Saying "I am now a good tree" seems to work as a refutation but scripture says that "Surely there is not a righteous man on earth who does good and never sins." (Ecclesiastes 7:20). This text says that even righteous men still sin in their doing good. Ergo we are simultaneously justified (righteous) and remain sinners.

The New Testament witness does not provide much relief here: "If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us." ( 1 John 1:8-10).

These verses go further than saying we occasionally sin. They are saying exactly what the thesis says. We have a stain that touches everything we say and do. So, we are in danger as long as we rest in our law keeping, and whenever we trust in those good works that God performs through us.

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March 1, 2007

Ash Wednesday + 7

Filed under: Uncategorized — ineedsheetmusic @ 9:55 pm

Although the works of man always seem attractive and good they are nevertheless likely to be mortal sins. Although the works of God are always unattractive and appear evil, they are nevertheless eternal merits.

Matthew 23:27-28 Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs which on the outside appear beautiful, but inside they are full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness. Even so you too outwardly appear righteous to men, but inwardly you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.

Galatians 3:10 For as many as are of the works of the Law are under a curse; for it is written, "Cursed is everyone who does not abide by all things written in the book of the law, to perform them."

What else could be the point of Isaiah 53:2? For He grew up before Him like a tender shoot, And like a root out of parched ground; He has no stately form or majesty That we should look upon Him, Nor appearance that we should be attracted to Him.

Also consider 1 Samuel 2:6-7 The LORD kills and makes alive; He brings down to Sheol and raises up. The LORD makes poor and rich; He brings low, He also exalts.

The Lord humbles us and frightens us by means of the law and the sight of our sins so that we seem in the eyes of men as in our own as nothing, foolish and wicked, for we are that.

So, how do we see things around us? Do we see ourselves accurately or are we blinded by our own sin and as a result "esteem ourselves more highly than we ought". Do we look at our own good works for too long, too lovingly?

How do we see the cross? Can we see what happened there for what it was? There God himself commited the crime of the ages in putting to death his own son in the most horrific and disgusting way conceiveable.

Here is the troubling tension. We look at our niceness and fail to see the despicable sin at work underneath. We look at God’s heinous act (diarrhea running down the legs of a nude man, blood everywhere, horse flies, gawkers, taunts) and fail to see it for what it was.

When I was about 10 years old, at summer camp, the bigger kids (probably 13-14 years old) caught this big old catfish at the lake. They took it alive and nailed it to a picnic table. That is what God did to his own Son. Although these boys did not  run off and hide. They stood and watched the fish writhing. Yet God forsook his Son, leaving him all alone.

And now we look away from the cross because it is simply too ghastly to see. Instead we see our goodness; our churches are now entertainment centers where our comfy "relationship with Jesus" is celebrated. We are more than happy to look at ourselves and fail to see what really lies there under the surface. We are more than ready to grade our sanctification by reciting to ourselves all those good things we do, and thus our assurance of salvation is strengthened.

So we never really see what is hanging there dying on that cross. We look through it, past it, straight to God’s essence thinking that this buddy of ours is something completely within our grasp, something we can master, when all we really can do his hear of  His mighty works and speech accomplished directly in history on this earth. The result of this blindness is very nearly idolatry, the idol in this case is the God we are creating in our own rational yet fallen sinful minds.

Sound too negative for you? Think of your hope then. Romans 8:16-17 The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, heirs also, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him in order that we may also be glorified with Him.

This glory that makes us feel so good now, is really just that we feel so comfortable with our sin, for our glorification is not something to be experienced in this life. So, don’t look up, look ahead, to the age to come.

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