The August Theologian: Tested by Fire

For as the same fire causes gold to glow brightly, and chaff to smoke ; and under the same flail the straw is beaten small, while the grain is cleansed ; and as the lees are not mixed with the oil, though squeezed out of the vat by the same pressure, so the same violence of affliction proves, purges, clarifies the good, but damns, ruins, exterminates the wicked. And thus it is that in the same affliction the wicked detest God and blaspheme, while the good pray and praise. So material a difference does it make, not what ills are suffered, but what kind of man suffers them. For, stirred up with the same movement, mud exhales a horrible stench, and ointment emits a fragrant odour. —Augustine, The City of God

The August Theologian: Grant What You Command

“My entire hope is exclusively in your very great mercy. Grant what you command, and command what you will. You require continence. A certain writer has said (Wisd. 8: 21): ‘As I knew that no one can be continent except God grants it, and this very thing is part of wisdom, to know whose gift this is.’ By continence we are collected together and brought to the unity from which we disintegrated into multiplicity. He loves you less who together with you loves something which he does not love for your sake. O love, you ever burn and are never extinguished. O charity, my God, set me on fire. You command continence; grant what you command, and command what you will.” —Augustine, Confessions

These because of Those (2 Peter 1:5–11)

“For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love” (2 Peter 1:5–7 ESV).

Before you deal with these, you must remember those. These because of those is a fundamental principle. Before you make every effort, you must see the reason why you should do so, namely, the two grants mentioned in vv. 3–4.

“His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire (ESV).”

You are not to make every effort to gain the grants; you are to make every effort because you have the grants.

Many churches are thick on command and thin on promise, which means they get neither. If you don’t understand the promises of vv. 3–4, you can carry out the command of vv. 5–7. Paradoxically to some, it is that church that is soft doctrinally that is more about law than grace. Show me a church that is atheological and I will show you one that is anti-promise. To teach the promises of Scripture you must teach doctrine. Doctrines like election, calling, substitution, propitiation, redemption, and covenant are essential to understanding God’s promises. You don’t need any doctrine at all to teach five steps to a better marriage. You don’t even need God’s law. Because we don’t teach God’s promises, we don’t teach God’s law either. We’ve substituted those of man in both instances. Thus it is that we get neither grace nor law.

When God gives His law to His people it comes as grace on top of grace. This means that there must be grace for the law to come on top of. If there is no foundational grace, then the only kind of grace the law conveys is not constructive but destructive as it shows us our need of Christ. But to those redeemed by the blood of the Passover Lamb, God prefaces His law in this way, “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. You shall have no other gods before me” (Exodus 20:1–3).

Peter is writing to those who stand righteous by faith in Christ (1:1). The Christ in whom they stand has granted them all things that pertain to life and godliness (v. 3). He has granted his great and precious promises through which they partake of the divine nature (v. 4). For the reason of those two grants, we are to make every effort at these virtues. All our effort then is an expression of faith in Christ. Before you make every effort at these virtues, make sure there is a faith to supplement first, faith in the Christ of those promises.

Those Who Have All and Those Who Have Not (2 Peter 1:3–4)

Fill in the blank. 

The pastor announces, “Hey church, Jesus has given us everything we need for ____________!”

So what’s rattling in your noggin? I bet most Evangelicals would have answers related to either evangelism and growth or finances and buildings. Jesus has given us everything we need to be BIG. I think many responses would indicate just how deeply the prosperity heresy has infiltrated the ranks. Of course, she is dressed up as a sexy spy rather than gaudily made up—prosperity soft rather than prosperity over-the-top. That said, how few would answer godliness?

“His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire” (2 Peter 2:3–4).

All we need for life and godliness, Christ has granted us by His divine power. If you’re checking the Scriptures for an exchange policy, hoping for some measurable bigness instead, I’m afraid you’ll find you don’t have an authentic receipt. You’ve received no grant from Christ at all. You don’t have to make godliness attractive to the saints.

Still, though the saints rejoice at this promise, godliness remains one of those words we throw around but seldom pause to define. Our text speaks of “life and godliness.” The pairing links them together as one. Godliness is a way of life. Godliness is life. As sin is death, so godliness is life. In this way we see that godliness is akin to holiness and righteousness. It is a way of looking at the same thing from a different angle. 

What particular aspect is brought to the fore by speaking of godliness? The original could be translated as “piety” or “devotion.” The reason godliness is such a good translation is that these are the words used to define what godliness means. Unfortunately, we think of a pious person as one who puts on a show of religious devotion. Though the hypocrite is devoted, it is only to the religion of self. But true piety is godliness—a life devoted to God. The only alternative to piety then is idolatry. Calvin defined true piety in this way: 

“I call ‘piety’ that reverence joined with love of God which the knowledge of his benefits induces. For until men recognize that they owe everything to God, that they are nourished by his fatherly care, that he is the Author of their every good, that they should seek nothing beyond him—they will never yield him willing service. Nay, unless they establish their complete happiness in him, they will never give themselves truly and sincerely to him.”

The verity of Calvin’s definition is born out by this text. True piety is the result of God’s goodness, not the cause of it. This motive distinguishes true piety from false. Godliness is a gift, not an attempt to garner God’s gifts. Here we have gospel-godliness—a godliness that flows from the grace of God in Christ our Savior.

You can never be more devoted to Jesus than Jesus is to you. Any devotion you demonstrate to God is a gift. You can never out give Jesus, for all your giving is a gift. We are like toddlers trying to splash our dad more than he splashes us. Our hands are so tiny and his are so large. God gives oceans and we return thimbles which we have filled from His oceans.

Jesus gives us everything needed for life and godliness. An earthly and benevolent king may desire to give his subjects many things, peace and safety chiefly, but no matter how great his power, he is limited. There are always threats. Jesus divine power grants and there are no threats nor thresholds. A good father may promise a good thing to his daughter that is well within his ability, yet a thousand evil may prevent him still. But the one who gives what is requisite for godliness is God incarnate. Limitless power grants you limitless resources—everything you need for life and godliness.

This promise thrills the saints and outs the ain’ts. If this promise doesn’t thrill you, then the promise of a new heaven and a new earth, everything true and beautiful you are seeking in your prosperity-soft harlot minus the lies, is not for you. As J.C. Ryle so clearly put it:

“Most men hope to go to heaven when they die; but few, it may be feared, take the trouble to consider whether they would enjoy heaven if they got there. Heaven is essentially a holy place; its inhabitants are all holy; its occupations are all holy. To be really happy in heaven, it is clear and plain that we must be somewhat trained and made ready for heaven while we are on earth.”

The Exegetical Systematician: The Law of Growth

“The law of growth applies, therefore, in the realm of the Christian life. God is pleased to work through the process, and to fail to take account of this principle in the sanctification of the people of God is to frustrate both the wisdom and the grace of God. The child who acts as a man is a monstrosity; the man who acts as a child is a tragedy.  If this is true in nature, how much more in Christian Behavior. There are babes in Christ; there are young men, and there are old men. And what monstrosities and tragedies have marred the witness of eh church by failure to take account of the law of growth!” —John Murray, “Progressive Sanctification”

The Fruit of Salvation is Grown in a Community Garden (Colossians 3:12–17)

12 Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, 13 bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.” —Colossians 3:12–13 (ESV)

Growth in Christ, or sanctification, has two parts, mortification and vivification. If mortification is an odd cat, vivification is an extraterrestrial green alien. The word is rare, the reality likewise. To mortify is to kill, to vivify, to enliven.

One reason that vivification is rare is that it requires community. Solo spirituality cannot sanctify. The virtues of Paul’s vivify list all deal with people and they assume people are something to deal with. Just as you must kill the old, know that your brother is doing likewise. He has to deal with you and you with him. If you want to kill the old man, you must do so in community. False spirituality is an individual sport where you get to show your best. The Christian faith is a team sport. We see one another at our best and at our worst, and we admonish and teach one another for the good of the whole.

Too many pick a community where there is no need for this. They don’t really know anyone and they come together on the basis of secondary issues. Hobby churches, instead of carrying a byline like, “est. 2010,” need to be honest and say “dividing the church since 2010.” The unifying factor of the church becomes Jesus plus. Jesus plus bikes. Jesus plus cowboy culture. Jesus plus hipster culture. Jesus plus music preference. Michael Horton warns:

“It is not my church to shape into my image, according to my own cultural preferences, ethnic background, politics, or socioeconomic location. It is Christ’s community—and he is the location that we all share together. He is the demographic niche and the political rallying point of this kingdom. I still belong to other groups based on my cultural affinities, but my family is not something I choose; it is something I am chosen for.”

Get in a church that is centered on Jesus so that it crucifies your flesh, so that you center on Jesus. Get in a place where you have to put on love; a love that has its roots in Christ.

Sanctification is communal. We are not simply to put on the new man, we are to put on the new humanity, a new humanity comprised of Jew and Gentile, black and white, cowboy and biker, hipster and boomer, all because Christ is all and in all (Colossians 3:11).

Where’s Your Glory? (Exodus 38)

He made the basin of bronze and its stand of bronze, from the mirrors of the ministering women who ministered in the entrance of the tent of meeting (Exodus 38:8 ESV).

Who were these women? How did they serve? This was clearly something that was perpetuated (1 Samuel 2:22), so what was it? I have no clue. It is easier to tell you what they didn’t do than what they did. We know that they were not priests, but there are endless other ministries they could’ve performed. There are roles and ministries that only men should do, notably that of elder or priest. There are also roles that only women should do, notably the high and honorable roles disparaged by our culture known as wife and mother. Also, there are many ministries that both can do. Complementarianism does not make less of women. It glories in men being men, women being women, and both being made in the image of God. In John Piper’s little book, What’s the Difference?, he lists 80 kinds of ministry open to women.

But all this is beside the point I want to make. The emphasis here is not that these women served, but that the women who served gave their polished bronze mirrors for the construction of the basin.

Imagine you’re a slave. You’ve had very little and feel worn for your hard service. You see the Egyptian women with their mirrors, concerned with their beauty. They’re silk and you’re burlap. But, because of Yahweh’s victory, Israel now has the mirrors, along with jewelry and fine fabrics. What do you expect them to do with them?

These women, specifically these women who serve at the tent, give up their mirrors. Egypt no longer cared to see herself for her glory was destroyed. Israel didn’t need to see herself for her glory was another. By giving up their mirrors and serving at the tabernacle, these women are saying they’d rather behold God’s glory than their own.

I have little doubt these were among the most beautiful women of Israel because of what they did.

Likewise, wives, be subject to your own husbands, so that even if some do not obey the word, they may be won without a word by the conduct of their wives, when they see your respectful and pure conduct. Do not let your adorning be external—the braiding of hair and the putting on of gold jewelry, or the clothing you wear— but let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God’s sight is very precious. For this is how the holy women who hoped in God used to adorn themselves, by submitting to their own husbands, as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord. And you are her children, if you do good and do not fear anything that is frightening (1 Peter 3:1–6 ESV).

Scriptures like there are only as hard to embrace as mirrors are hard to let go of. If you find these words hard, ask yourself, “Where’s my glory?” The example laid down for you by these women isn’t to be less beautiful, but more beautiful. Bask in Jesus’ light and you will radiate. Peter gives Sarah as an example here, a woman who was praised for her beauty.

Douglas Wilson once debated an atheist from Beverly Hills. One thing he accused the Christian faith of being was misogynistic, yet, at dinner one evening, he turned to one of Douglas’ friends and commented that he had never seen so many beautiful women as they had in their community. How is this so? Because Jesus’ beauty treatment for His bride is unsurpassed. Because Jesus commands husbands to love their wives into beauty, just as He does the church. Enthralled with His beauty, we need not be concerned for our own.

Craftsmen, Contributions, Construction, and the Conductor (Exodus 35:30–36:38)

In Exodus 35 and 36 we see two kinds of Spirit-gifting. Some are given gifts, others give gifts. The contributions given are Spirit-wrought, the skills necessary for construction are Spirit–gifted.

The result of this Spirit-wrought and Spirit-gifted obedience is that God’s commands are stunningly obeyed. The people give such that they have to be asked to stop. Israel so obeys the command to give that the craftsmen have everything they need to obey the command to build. As you read through the details of the construction of the tent, you’re struck with how they sound exactly like God’s instructions, and that’s the point. They’re building the tent exactly as God told them to.

The construction of the tabernacle is glorious like an orchestra filled with gifted and passionate instrumentalists dedicated to a brilliant composer/conductor. Or, it as awesome as a mighty army of zealous patriots marching as one to the orders of a revered and tactically brilliant general. Or combine the two, the construction of the tabernacle is like seeing the perfect marching band where every note is precise and never a step is missed, all ordered by a director without peer.

All this beauty and glory is Spirit-wrought and Spirit-gifted. Marvel at the obedience in such a way that you marvel at God. God is the composer, God is the conductor, God is the inspirer, God is the gifter of skills, and God is the giver of the instruments with which Israel plays. This is a glorious heavenly symphony, and as Bach ended his works, so this one has SDG written all over it, soli Deo gloria, glory to God alone.

Mountains Don’t Float (Exodus 19:1–8)

Contra Avatar, mountains don’t float. As a statue has a pedestal, so mountains have a foundation—a huge foundation. As Israel approaches the mountain of God’s law, it has a huge foundation and that foundation is grace.

When Israel comes to Sinai, Yahweh has delivered them, He has redeemed them, they are His people. The blood of the passover lamb has been spilt and applied. Grace covers them. The mountain of God’s law is surrounded by a thick perimeter of grace. Sinai, for the people of God, rests on the foundation of a continent of grace. This is the way God’s children come to the mountain of God’s law. Redeemed sons and daughters, if you’re hearing God speak His ten words from the fire, you’re standing on a continent of grace.

When good parents bring an adopted child home, one of the first loving things they do is explain the house rules. They don’t give the house rules so that the child can become a son. They give the house rules because the child is a son.

The problem we have is that the “ifs” of the law (Exodus 19:5) make us think we must do to become sons. So we either ignore the rules as impossible, or, we’re obsessed with earning covenant love. Children of the King should do neither. What do we make of this “if”? I take this “if” the same we we see it in the New Testament in the New Covenant.

Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain (1 Corinthians 15:1–2 ESV).

[H]e has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him, if indeed you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel that you heard, which has been proclaimed in all creation under heaven, and of which I, Paul, became a minister (Colossians 1:22-23 ESV)

The “adopted” child can still be disinherited. Do I mean they can lose their salvation? No, they can prove they never had it. Adoption didn’t really happen. They were just in the home pretending. When God saves a soul He makes them His child and He does this from the inside out causing them to be born again and made new. They’re different. God’s salvation goes long. Calvin put it this way, “It is therefore faith alone which justifies, and yet the faith which justifies is not alone: just as it is the heat alone of the sun which warms the earth, and yet in the sun it is not alone, because it is constantly conjoined with light.”

Listen to the “if” of Colossians 1 again. “He has reconciled…if you continue in the faith.” He doesn’t say He will reconcile you if you continue in the faith. The continuing in the faith is necessary not to merit the reconciliation but to demonstrate the reconciliation. Continuing in the faith doesn’t make sons, it marks sons. This is what John was getting at when he wrote, “They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us. But they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us (1 John 2:19).” Not everyone in the house is a son. Not all who claim to be sons are sons.

For those redeemed by the blood of the lamb, the law isn’t what must be done for salvation, it is what salvation does. Salvation is unto the restoration of the rule of God over the hearts of man. Under His rule, we are saved from sin, both its guilt and its power, to serve and glorify the Lord in obedience.

The law cannot lead to your justification, but it does lead either toward damnation or in sanctification. If the law is not leading you in sanctification, the foundation of justification isn’t there. You’re not standing on the continent of grace. You’re trying to make this mountain float, but it won’t. If the law doesn’t rest on the foundation of God’s grace, it will rest on you in damnation.

Fortunate Son (Exodus 15:22–27)

God saves. His people sing. Then, they grumble! The children who praise and thank you at the beach, whine and moan on the way home.

God saves. His people sing. Then, they grumble. Yet, God is gracious! The children who praise and thank you at the beach, whine and moan on the way home, but you don’t drop them off at the nearest convenience store, you drive them all the way home.

God saves, we sing—this is the essences of salvation. We sing, then we grumble, yet God gives grace—this is the story of sanctification. In this wilderness of life east of Eden and south of the new heaven and new earth, sin remains in us, but it never exhausts the grace found in God. Grace that will drive us all the way home. Grace that will drive sin out of us.

I don’t understand my friends who think otherwise, but in my opinion, The Horse and His Boy is one of the best in Lewis’ Narnian tales. From one perspective, Shasta’s life has been a series of unfortunate events: abandoned as a child on foreign pagan soil to become a slave, finally gaining opportunity to seek his freedom, only to be exhausted by one obstacle after another. Journeying alone in the night he begins to complain that he must be the most unfortunate boy in the world. His grumbling is stunted by the terror of realizing he is not alone. After the unknown Thing travels alongside him for some distance in the darkness Shasta finally breaks the silence.

“Who are you?” he said, barely above a whisper.

“One who has waited long for you to speak,” said the Thing. Its voice was not loud, but very large and deep.

“Are you – are you a giant?” asked Shasta.

“You might call me a giant,” said the Large Voice. “But I am not like the creatures you call giants.”

“I can’t see you at all,” said Shasta, after staring very hard. Then (for an even more terrible idea had come into his head) he said, almost in a scream, “You’re not – not something dead, are you? Oh please – please do go away. What harm have I ever done you? Oh, I am the unluckiest person in the whole world.”

Once more he felt the warm breath of the Thing on his hand and face. “There,” it said, “that is not the breath of a ghost. Tell me your sorrows.”

Shasta was a little reassured by the breath: so he told how he had never known his real father or mother and had been brought up sternly by the fisherman. and then he told the story of his escape and how they were chased by lions and forced to swim for their lives; and of all their dangers in Tashbaan and about his night among the tombs and how the beasts howled at him out of the desert. And he told about the heat and thirst of their desert journey and how they were almost at their goal when another lion chased them and wounded Aravis. And also, how very long it was since he had had anything to eat.

“I do not call you unfortunate,” said the Large Voice.

“Don’t you think it was bad luck to meet so many lions?” said Shasta.

“There was only one lion.” said the Voice.

“What on earth do you mean? I’ve just told you there were at least two lions the first night, and—”

“There was only one, but he was swift of foot.”

“How do you know?”

“I was the lion.”

And as Shasta gaped with open mouth and said nothing, the Voice continued. “I was the lion who forced you to join with Aravis. I was the cat who comforted you among the houses of the dead. I was the lion who drove the jackals from you as you slept. I was the lion who gave the Horses the new strength of fear for the last mile so that you should reach King Lune in time. And I was the lion you do not remember who pushed the boat in which you lay, a child near death, so that it came to shore where a man sat, wakeful at midnight, to receive you.”

“Then it was you who wounded Aravis?”

“It was I.”

“But what for?”

“Child,” said the Voice, “I am telling you your story, not hers. I tell no one any story but his own.”

“Who are you?” asked Shasta.

“Myself,” said the Voice, very deep and low so that the earth shook: and again “Myself,” loud and clear and gay: and then the third time “Myself,” whispered so softly you could hardly hear it, and yet it seemed to come from all around you as if the leaves rustled with it.

Shasta was no longer afraid that the Voice belonged to something that would eat him, nor that it was the voice of a ghost. But a new and different sort of trembling came over him. Yet he felt glad too.

Shasta, was brought by the Lion to a regal home, for unbeknownst, he was heir to the throne. Unbeknownst, he had saved the kingdom—though really it was all Aslan’s doing. Unbeknownst to Shasta, Aslan, by all these trials, was changing Shasta, fitting him for this kingdom. Likewise, God’s strange, wise providence guides His people home, for His glory, and for their joy. No more grumbling will be heard, all will be song.