The Walking Is Not a Speed Bump (John 6:1–21)

John 6:5–7 (ESV)

Lifting up his eyes, then, and seeing that a large crowd was coming toward him, Jesus said to Philip, “Where are we to buy bread, so that these people may eat?” He said this to test him, for he himself knew what he would do. Philip answered him, “Two hundred denarii worth of bread would not be enough for each of them to get a little.”

—John 6:5–7

As the fourth sign of feeding the five thousand coasts along from the sign itself (6:1–15) towards its significance (6:22ff), we may feel that the fifth sign of Jesus walking on the water is an unnecessary speed bump. Why it is here? Yes, it is chronologically sequential and explains how we get from one side of the sea to the other with the same crowd. This is true, but we’ve only relocated the question. This tells us something of why John wrote the story this way, but why does the Father write it this way? Why does the Father ordain that the walking happen now? Why does he pave the road from here to there with what seems to be a speed bump in between? Why didn’t Jesus in this instance just get into the boat and go to the other side with the disciples and retire to a solitary place thereafter?

If there is one word that more than any other links the feeding to the walking and the talking, it is the word “test” (v. 6). Jesus said this to test him. Only in John is the question directly directed to Philip, who hailing from the nearby town of Bethsaida, would best know where bread could be procured for such a crowd. In the Synoptics, this problem is put to all the disciples. You can see that here too as Andrew feels free to pipe in and as all the disciples are given commands to deal with the need. Jesus tests Philip. Philip stands in for all the disciples. Jesus is testing them. What is Jesus testing? Mark spells it out for us as he links the walking with the feeding. 

“And he got into the boat with them, and the wind ceased. And they were utterly astounded, for they did not understand about the loaves, but their hearts were hardened.”

—Mark 6:51–52

They did not understand the feeding, but after the walking the lesson begins to set in. Their tested faith being found lacking, is now tested by water, and comes out cleaner on the other side. Matthew tells us, “And when they got into the boat, the wind ceased. And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, ‘Truly you are the Son of God’” (Matthew 14:32–33).

Does John really intend to demonstrate that the faith that faltered in the feeding is strengthened by the storm? On the other side of the sea, when many depart from Jesus as He unpacks the significance of the feeding, Jesus turns to the twelve and asks, “Do you want to go away as well?” This time it is Peter who speaks for the twelve. He replies, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.”

John tells us that this gospel is written to put these signs before us that we might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God and that by believing, we might have life in His name. These signs are for faith. They are not only for sowing faith in the barren hearts of unbelievers. They are for strengthening the established faith of those who believe. These signs are both for the budding and the blooming of faith.

The walking is no speed bump in-between the feeding and the talking. It is wind in the sails of the disciples’ faith bringing them to the other side.

The Bishop: Beware of Lot’s Choice

“Remember this in choosing a dwelling place or residence. It is not enough that the house is comfortable, the situation good, the air fine, the neighborhood pleasant, the rent or price small, the living cheap. There are other things yet to be considered. You must think of your immortal soul. Will the house you think of help you toward heaven or hell? Is the gospel preached within an easy distance? Is Christ crucified within reach of your door? Is there a real man of God near, who will watch over your soul? I charge you, if you love life, not to overlook this. Beware of Lot’s choice.

Remember this in choosing a calling, a place, or profession in life. It is not enough that the salary is high, the wages good, the work light, the advantages numerous, the prospects of getting on most favorable. Think of your soul, your immortal soul. Will it be fed or starved? Will it be prospered or drawn back? Will you have your Sundays free and be able to have one day in the week for your spiritual business? I beseech you, by the mercies of God, to take heed what you do. Make no rash decision. Look at the place in every light, the light of God as well as the light of the world. Gold may be bought too dear. Beware of Lot’s choice.

Remember this in choosing a husband or wife, if you are unmarried. It is not enough that your eye is pleased, that your tastes are met, that your mind finds congeniality, that there is amiability and affection, that there is a comfortable home for life. There needs something more than this. There is a life yet to come. Think of your soul, your immortal soul. Will it be helped upwards or dragged downwards by the union you are planning? Will it be made more heavenly or more earthly, drawn nearer to Christ or to the world? Will its religion grow in vigor, or will it decay? I pray you, by all your hopes of glory, allow this to enter into your calculations. “Think,” as old Baxter said, and “think, and think again,” before you commit yourself. “Be not unequally yoked” (2 Cor. 6:14). Matrimony is nowhere named among the means of conversion. Remember Lot’s choice.” —J.C. Ryle, Holiness

The Bishop: Two Great Marks

“The Child of God has two great marks about him, and of these two, we have one. He may be known by his inward warfare, as well as by his inward peace.”—J.C. Ryle, Holiness

Why You Walk (Genesis 17)

1 When Abram was ninety-nine years old the LORD appeared to Abram and said to him, “I am God Almighty; walk before me, and be blameless, 2 that I may make my covenant between me and you, and may multiply you greatly.” —Genesis 17:1–2

When the covenant was cut with Abram in Genesis 15, God walked it alone. Concerning the covenant promises, Abram had asked God, “How shall I know…?” (Genesis 15:8). God instructed Abram to bring him several animals. Abram cut them in half and laid the pieces opposite one another. Manifest as something like a smoking fire pot and a flaming torch, God passes between the pieces. Normally, when a covenant was made, both parties would walk through the pieces, pledging covenant loyalty and invoking a curse on themselves should they fail to keep covenant. But God walked it alone.

In Genesis 12, Abram walks, leaving Haran to journey to the land God would show him. In Genesis 17, Abraham walks before God, keeping covenant, circumcising all the males in his household. Between Abraham’s two walkings, God walks it alone. and it is there, in Genesis 15, where Abram does nothing but believe God’s word, that we are told, “he believed the LORD, and he counted it to him as righteousness” (Genesis 15:6).

Paul makes a big deal of this order in Romans 4 telling us that Abraham “received the sign of circumcision as a seal of the righteousness that he had by faith while he was still uncircumcised. The purpose was to make him the father of all who believe without being circumcised, so that righteousness would be counted to them as well, and to make him the father of the circumcised who are not merely circumcised but who also walk in the footsteps of the faith that our father Abraham had before he was circumcised” (Romans 4:11–12; emphasis mine). The order is critical. It is an order one must keep in mind when they read “walk before me, and be blameless, that I may make my covenant between me and you, and may multiply you greatly” (Genesis 17:1–2; emphasis mine).

Before the sign, the signified. God circumcises before Abraham does. There is a circumcision without which circumcision means nothing. Because God walked it alone, Abraham walks. His covenant faithfulness ensures ours.

Saints, Jesus walked it alone. He walked before God all His days to be your righteousness. He walked to the cross to bear the wrath of the Almighty for your sin. He walked out of the tomb conquering death and Satan. Because He walked it alone, you walk in Him. Because He died and rose, you have died and risen and may be baptized. Because He circumcised your heart, you may love. Because of His covenant faithfulness you may keep covenant.

Straining towards What You Cannot Grasp (Philippians 3:11–16)

“Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own.” —Philippians 3:1

Perfectionism is a peculiar heresy. It is also a perpetual heresy. Part of its peculiarity is its perpetuity. How does this thing live on? A number of variations have afflicted the church throughout the years. All mutations of this virus are strains of Pelagianism. 

Pelagius was that British monk who balked at Augustine’s prayer from his Confessions, “My entire hope is exclusively in your very great mercy. Grant what you command and command what you will” Augustine confessed that man was bankrupt and dependent entirely on grace. Pelagius said man has what it takes in himself. There is grace to help, but it is not necessary.

Charles Finney, who is lauded by many evangelicals as a hero of the Second Great Awakening, was a rank heretic whose perfectionism had a strong Pelagian flavor. He denied original sin and total depravity. In contrast and yet developing from Finney, the most infectious forms of perfectionism today are semi-pelagian. They are an attempt to make pelagianism palatable, but pelagianism dressed in garb of grace is still the whore of works underneath.

Full blown pelagianism is the greater evil, but let’s give it this much, at least in pelagianism man may fully take responsibility for his delusion of perfection. Whereas in much perfectionism, man essentially “blames” God for the delusion.

Perfection may be redefined as not “knowingly sinning” as Wesley did. Since Wesley, most perfectionist theology has a strong experiential flavor as in the Keswick, Higher Life, Holiness, and second-blessing theologies. Through some “crisis experience” one comes to “entire sanctification.” Faith is often stressed in this, in contrast to Pelagius’ works.

But the most dangerous form of perfectionism for many is incipient perfectionism, perfectionism in the bud. You must realize that perfectionism finds prepped soil in the heart of every depraved sinner. In unearthing the origins of Finney’s perfectionism, B.B. Warfield, tracing it to New Haven, meaning Yale, and the professor N.W. Taylor, writes, “Pelagianism, unfortunately does not wait to be imported from New Haven, and does not require inculcating—it is the instinctive thought of the natural man.” Pelagianism is the instinctive thought of natural man.

Now if you don’t realize how subtle the danger can be and if you’re unable to identify this heresy as a sapling, consider this: you haven’t arrived even when you realize the flesh profits nothing and you count all as loss for Christ. You haven’t arrived when you realize you won’t arrive in this life.

The paradoxical position of the children of God is that in this life they are to press on towards that which they acknowledge they will never arrive at until the next. While it is premature to think one may attain perfection in this life, it is immature not to press towards taking hold of that for which you were taken hold of. The late R.C. Sproul once warned, “Sanctification is a process. It is a gradual process. Run for your life from those who promise you instant sanctification.” As Douglas Wilson says, the poison is so often found in the -ism. So you must run from perfectionism, and yet you must run towards perfection.

You must in this life run towards what you will only have in the next. If you’re not running, and using God’s grace as an excuse, then while denying perfection, you’re acting as though you already are.

Working Out “Working Out” (Philippians 2:12–13)

“Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.”

—Philippians 2:12–13

“The Doctor” says of these verses, 

“I venture to put it to you, it is perhaps one of the most perfect summaries of the Christian life to be found anywhere. It was one of those perfect pictures which we tend to find so frequently in the writings of this Apostle. He was very fond of stating the whole thing over and over again; he liked to give a summary of the Christian life, and here is one of the most pregnant statements which even he himself ever made.”

Lloyd-Jones, David Martyn. The Life of Joy. Baker Publishing Group, 1989, p. 160.

As glorious as these two verses are, they have troubled many sola-affirming Protestants. Salvation is by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone, to the glory of God alone and here Paul is telling us to work out our salvation! Keep calm. Carry on. There’s no need to drop sola Scriptura at this point in order to keep the others. Working out the meaning of just two words should work out any difficulties you have with “working out our salvation.”

I’ll only briefly deal with the first here. Paul instructs these saints to work out their salvation. He does not tell them to work it up. He does not tell them to work it in. Paul does not tell them to work for their salvation. He tells them to work it out. We have an aversion to salvation and works ever being put into a concoction together, but we need to be more sophisticated chemists than that. While abhorring Galatian-chemistry involving salvation and works, we need to practice Philippian-chemistry involving salvation and works.

The second word is “salvation.” Our problem here is that we confuse Christianese with Biblical language. Biblical and theological language are not the problem, though people sometimes complain of them as though they are. No one complains when the football commentator speaks football. If you love the game you learn the language. Yes, we need to define our terms and help people along, but many complaints about Biblical language in the church are really just evidence that the church is full of people far more interested in other games.

However, we are fluent in Christianese. Rather than speaking the foreign language of the Bible as heavenly citizens, we impose a foreign language on the Bible. And the sneaky thing about Christianese, is that it so often is just right enough to get you confidently wrong at some critical junctures. When Christians today hear “salvation” they think narrowly when most often the Scriptures speak broadly. Christians think only of the beginning of the race, when the Scriptures are speaking of the whole of it—from start to finish with all the sweat and exertion in-between. Perhaps I’m being a bit unfair. Maybe just as many Christians think of the end of the race as well. But most leave out the race itself. We are deists concerning God’s new creation. God has wound us up. Now we are on our own till the alarm sounds.

The Bible speaks of the salvation of the saints in all three tenses. We were saved; we are being saved; we will be saved. Salvation is not simply something that has happened to you. It is happening to you and it will happen to you. Salvation involves not just your regeneration, justification, and adoption. It also includes your sanctification and glorification. More than that, your salvation stretches further back than your experience. Your salvation stretches from eternity to eternity, from election to glorification.

So when Paul tells these saints in Christ Jesus (1:1) to work out their salvation, he is clearly referring to the nowness of salvation, assuming a past, advancing to the future. Paul is assuming regeneration, justification, and adoption in the past and calling for sanctification in the present towards glorification in the future.

What is sanctification? It is what Paul spoke of in 1:25, it is “progress and joy in the faith.” It is, as Jerry Bridges speaks of it with his various book titles (and very Biblical ones mind you), The Pursuit of Holiness, The Discipline of Grace, and The Practice of Godliness. Sanctification is the saints being sanctified. It is our growth in holiness, godliness, obedience, and discipleship.

But have I not just narrowed a term that I said was broad? Salvation remains broad; it’s the working out that is the narrow part. This part we call sanctification. Sanctification is working out your salvation past toward your salvation future. The salvation you are to work out is God’s salvation—the whole of it; but the working out of it is narrow, it is part of it.

Now, if you’r estill bothered, I have only two things for you at this point. The first is my weak words, linked below. The second is God’s strong word. When the Word causes you to stumble, it will be the word that steadies. Keep reading. When the Word confuses, it will be the Word that clarifies. Keep reading. The salvation you are to work out, is worked out for this reason, “for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure” (emphasis mine).

Tipping the Scales with Balance (Philippians 1:3–11)

“I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy, because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now. And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. It is right for me to feel this way about you all, because I hold you in my heart, for you are all partakers with me of grace, both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel. For God is my witness, how I yearn for you all with the affection of Christ Jesus. And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God” (Philippians 1:3–11).

If you want the scale of your life to be heavy on thankfulness, you shouldn’t think that petitions burden the scale on the opposite side. When we notice that our prayer life is fat on request and slim on thanks, we can easily become the guy who chases down his steroids with protein shakes and hits the gym twice every day. Sure, he’s bulked up, but that ain’t healthy. What thankfulness is to contentment, we shouldn’t think petition is to discontent. You can’t fix thanklessness with petition-lessness.

In Paul’s prayer not only are thanksgiving and petition mingled, they’re rooted in the same soil. So rather than being puzzled at this odd connection, we must realize that they are unstable compounds when isolated. These two go together like sodium and chloride. They also separate like them. Thankfulness, all alone, is very well as corrosive as chlorine. If your prayers only communicate contentment and no longing, perhaps it’s that you’re at home in this world and merely blessing God for it. We readily note the danger of prayers full nothing but petition. Thing is, if we try to correct it by beefing up on thanksgiving, we’ll find we’ve carried over the same root problem. Both the glutton and the body builder can have the same root sin. What we’re after is wholeness and balance. Perhaps then we should label one side of the scale “holiness” and the other “sinfulness.” If you want the scale tipped towards holiness, you need balance in your life. Not a balance between things such as godliness and ungodliness of course, but a balance of things that both go together on the holiness side of the scale, things like godly thankfulness and godly petition.

Rather than thanksgiving or petition rooted in self, what we need are thanksgiving and petition rooted in the gospel of Christ. What Paul gives thanks for is, upon examination, what Paul petitions for. Paul’s joyful gratitude is rooted in the good work God has done in the Philippians and the gospel partnership that is the result. His petition for them to abound in love with knowledge is essentially a prayer that God will continue to do this good work, a good work Paul has already said he is certain of.

When you want to tip the scales with thankfulness, what you need isn’t less sodium and more chloride. What you need is more salt. Look to Christ. Anchor your prayers in the gospel. Then you will see reasons not only to give thanks; you will long for more.

A Drink from Brooks: Don’t Despise Less as Nothing for Envy of More

“Now, let no Christian say, that he has no communion with God in closet-prayer, because he has not such a full, such a choice, such a sweet, such a sensible, and such a constant communion with God in closet-prayer—as such and such saints have had, or as such and such saints now have; for all saints do not alike enjoy communion with God in their closets: some have more, some have less; some have a higher degree, others a lower; some are enrapt up in the third heaven, when others are but enrapt up in the clouds. What man is there so childish and babyish as to argue thus, that he has no wisdom, because he has not the wisdom of Solomon; or, that he has no strength, because he has not the strength of Samson; or, that he has no life, because he has not the swiftness of Ahimaaz; or, that he has no estate, because he has not the riches of Dives? And yet so childish and babyish many weak Christians are, as to argue thus: namely, that they have no communion with God in their closets, because they have not such high, such comfortable, and such constant communion with God in their closets, as such and such saints have had, or as such and such saints now have! Whereas they should seriously consider, that though some saints have a great communion with God—yet other saints have but a small communion with God; and though some Christians have a strong communion with God—yet other Christians have but a weak communion with God; and though some Christians have a very close and near communion with God—yet other Christians have but a more remote communion with God; and though some of God’s servants have a daily, constant, and uninterrupted communion with God—yet others of his servants have but a more transient and inconstant communion with God.” —Thomas Brooks, The Privy Key of Heaven

A Drink from Brooks: Death the Cure

And as death will cure all your bodily diseases, so it will cure all your soul-distempers also. Death is not mors hominis, but mors peccati, not the death of the man, but the death of his sin; peccatum erat obstetrix mortis mors sepulcchrum peccati, sin was the midwife that brought death into the world, and death shall be the grave to bury sin. Death shall do that for a Christian that all his duties could never do, that all his graces could never do, that all his experiences could never do, that all ordinances could never do. It shall at once free him fully, perfectly, and perpetually from all sin, yea, from all possibility of ever sinning more. —Thomas Brooks, A String of Pearls

A Drink from Brooks: His Mercy Is More

balance-1172786-1279x867.jpgThy afflictions are not so many as thy mercies, nay, they are not to be named in the day wherein thy mercies are spoken of. What are thy crosses to thy comforts, thy miseries to thy mercies, thy days of sickness to thy days of health, thy days of weakness to the days of strength, thy days of scarcity to thy days of plenty? And this is that the wise man would have us seriously to consider: Eccles. 7:14, ‘In the day of adversity consider,’—but what must we consider? – ‘that God hath set the one over against the other.’ As God hath set winter and summer, night and day, fair weather and foul, one over against another, so let us set our present mercies over against our present troubles, and we shall presently find that our mercies exceed our trouble, that they mightily over-balance our present afflictions; therefore let us be silent, let us lay our hands upon our mouths. —Thomas Brooks, The Mute Christian and the Smarting Rod