Pastor’s Ponderings: January 2015

We begin 2015 by continuing our series on the order of salvation (ordo salutis).  So far we have looked at effectual calling, regeneration, faith, repentance, justification, adoption, and sanctification.  This month we look at perseverance.  Immediately we hear the word perseverance and we think that sounds like I’m in for a difficult time of it, I’m going to have to reach down deep to make it through.  Well put that thought out of your mind for a moment and read on.  The Shorter Catechism asks for following question (#36), “What are the benefits which in this life do accompany or flow from justification, adoption, and sanctification?”  The answer to the question is: “The benefits which in this life do accompany or flow from justification, adoption, and sanctification, are, assurance of God’s love, peace of conscience, joy in the Holy Ghost, increase of grace, and perseverance therein to the end.”

What a great comfort it is read these theological truths that come from the Scriptures and point us back to the Scriptures.  We have these amazing benefits in Christ and I want to look at the last one listed, “perseverance therein to the end.”  Where does this perseverance come from, well it is part and parcel of being united to Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit as we have pointed out throughout this series.  Soak up a couple of passages used to support this truth from Scripture. 

Paul says in Philippians 1:6, 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.  What a great comfort to know that God doesn’t invest without a return.  He will see His every work through to completion.  If you are in Christ, then that verse is talking about you.  He has saved you, He is saving you, and He will save you, there is no other alternative.  This is the gospel!  Now listen to what Peter says as he summarizes the gospel in a couple of verses with emphasis on perseverance in v.5.  Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4 to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, 5 who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time (1 Peter 1:3-5). By God’s power we are being preserved, we will persevere.  This is Good News!  No matter what happens, the one in Christ will be brought safely to the end.  That is not to say that nothing bad will ever happen to you.  Godly people get killed in horrible ways, godly people contract and die of cancer, godly people are afflicted with all kinds of trials and tribulations.  Every godly person, every person in Christ will be brought at the end to their inheritance in the presence of the Lord, nothing can stop that, God has promised and so it will be. 

We’ll close with one last quote, it is the first paragraph of chapter 17 of the Westminster Confession: “They, whom God hath accepted in his Beloved, effectually called, and sanctified by his Spirit, can neither totally nor finally fall away from the state of grace, but shall certainly persevere therein to the end, and be eternally saved.”  Armed with such good news, let us face 2015 together with joy in Jesus.



Pastor’s Ponderings: December 2014

If you have been following the Pastor's Ponderings over the last months, you know that we are going through a series on the order of salvation (ordo salutis). I'll let you in on a little secret, I'm doing this series because of the confusion of some surrounding sanctification. Sanctification is the aspect of the order that we deal with this month. What is sanctification? Sanctification is the work of God's free grace, whereby we are renewed in the whole man after the image of God, and are enabled more and more to die unto sin, and live unto righteousness. The Shorter Catechism has given us a beautifully succinct definition. I like what G.I. Williamson says about this:

“[Sanctification] is not merited by any man. It is not anything for which a sanctified man can take any credit. For it is not man who sanctifies himself but God only. As we shall see, however, it is accomplished in such a way that man himself is active and responsible in the process of sanctification.” The Apostle Paul tells us in Philippians 2:12-13 to, “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, 13 for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” There is no doubt this is hard for us to grasp. How can the work of sanctification be the work of God and yet at the same time be the work of man?

We must first understand that sanctification relies first upon the change wrought in the heart by God's grace in regeneration. The Holy Spirit takes away our hearts of stone and gives us heart's of flesh that are able and willing to respond to the Gospel. In regeneration we are given a new nature that is all by God's grace. Secondly, we need to understand that sanctification is a “work” of God's free grace, which means it is gradual it is a process. The Holy Spirit sanctifies us little by little. NB, we do have a “positional sanctification” meaning we are counted righteous and holy before the Lord in a spiritual sense. However, in our lives we still sin and the Holy Spirit is working so that more and more we will die to sin and live unto righteousness. As you know, if you have been a believer for any length of time, this is a slow process. In fact it is a process that will not be complete in this lifetime, but the Holy Spirit will bring it to full completion when we come to the nest step in the order of salvation (more on that next month). The last thing we need to see here is that all the other steps in the ordo salutis are monergistic, that is to say they are the work of God only, but sanctification is synergistic. Synergistic means a work in which man cooperates with God. It is a work in which both man and God are active. The work of God is such that God gets all the credit for man's sanctification. The work of man is such that he never more than an “unprofitable servant.” We must always remember that it is God alone who enables us to do any good work. So don't be afraid of the commands and imperatives of the Scriptures. They are given for us to keep, but we keep them in reliance upon the enabling work of the Holy Spirit.

In this time of Christmas we celebrate the birth of Jesus who came to save us from our sins and He also came so that we would live in our sins no longer, but He calls us to take up our crosses and follow Him. He went to the cross in our place, now we are to die to our sin and selfishness and live unto righteousness, that is to live following Jesus. Praise the Lord, He has saved us!



Pastor’s Ponderings: November 2014

Who are you? How do you answer that question? How you answer that question says much about you. Who are you? As we continue in our series on the order of salvation, we will look at one of the benefits of justification. Last month we defined what justification is, in brief, being made right with God. However, if we leave it there we will have a stunted view of justification. There is much more to it than being counted righteous before God, even as wonderful as that may be, Jesus has secured even more than that for us through the cross. In securing our justification Christ subsequently secures our adoption. Galatians 4:4-7 reads, “But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, 5 to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. 6 And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” 7 So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God.”

No longer slaves born under the law, we are now, through Christ, counted as sons and daughters of God. Think back in the order of salvation that we have looked at so far. Everything we have looked at so far, effectual calling, regeneration, conversion, faith, repentance, and justification have led us to this point of adoption. You can trace these in John1:12-13, But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, 13 who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.

Part of being born again is being born into the family of God. Think about it carefully here, believers are counted as the children of God. That title doesn't apply to the unbeliever. We are children of God by adoption, not children by nature. Adoption is a legal act whereby a child is taken into a family into which they were not naturally born. When Paul was writing Galatians, he was thinking of the example of the Roman practice of adoption. In Rome an adopted child was given all the rights and privileges of a natural born child. However, there was something different about an adopted Roman child. In Rome the natural born child could be disinherited and disowned; the adopted child could not be disinherited or disowned. Our adoption as the children of God is part of His eternal decree as we are told in Ephesians 1:4-5. This is truly awesome news!

The Westminster Shorter Catechism is always a good place for us to check out when we are talking about theology because it gives us quick and pithy answers to our theological questions. “What is adoption? Adoption is an act of God's free grace, whereby we are received into the number, and have a right to all the privileges, of the sons of God.” Think about what that adoption means. Think about the amazing blessings that are ours through Jesus Christ. We are sons and daughters of God by grace through faith in Jesus. This is all part of God's initiative in saving a people for Himself. It is all part of the plan of salvation. That is a lot to think about, it is a lot to be thankful for, it gives us every reason to praise the Lord.

1John 3:1 See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him. 2 Beloved, we are God's children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. 3 And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure. Which sets us up for next month when we look at sanctification. We have a reason to be thankful! Happy Thanksgiving!



Pastor’s Ponderings: October 2014

As many of you are probably aware, Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the door of the Wittenberg Church on October 31, 1517. That date is known to many of us as, “Reformation Day.” Many count that event and that date as the beginning of the Reformation, probably the most important event in human history in the last 500 years. All of this because a German monk, an academic, issued an invitation to debate what was never intended to go past the faculty there in Wittenberg. The most important doctrine to come out of the Reformation is that of justification. Justification refers to how we are declared righteous before God. The Shorter Catechism question 33 asks, “What is justification?” The answer is, “Justification is an act of God's free grace, wherein he pardons all our sins, and accepts us as righteous in His sight, only for the righteousness of Christ imputed to us, and received by faith alone.” Our salvation rests here in justification, therefore it is of utmost importance.

Last month I wrote about faith and how that fits into the order of salvation and it is integrally linked to justification. We believe that we are justified before God by faith in what Jesus Christ has done for us on the cross. At the cross Jesus took upon Himself our sin, the Scriptures even saying, “He became sin…” He was counted guilty because of our sin and the wrath of God against our sin was poured out upon Him. His righteousness was then credited to us; we are counted righteous because His righteousness has been imputed to us. When we exercise faith in Christ's finished work in our behalf, then we are justified. Rom. 5:1 Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. It is so important for us to understand God's initiative and work in our justification. It is God's work, it is God's initiative; salvation is all of grace, because all we could add to our salvation is sin. If any part of our salvation depended upon our effort we would be lost because there is nothing in us that is holy and righteous. All that we are is tainted by sin and therefore unworthy, but in Christ we are made worthy by God's grace. Therefore we can stand before the very throne of God and not be ashamed because of what is ours in Jesus. Ours is holiness and righteousness in Christ. Let that soak in. That is the Good News, that is the gospel. We need it daily, we need it from hour to hour so that we might be better equipped to live the life we were designed to live.

Justification sets us free from the false idea that we must earn our salvation or that we can merit God's favor in any way. When we trust in Jesus Christ for our salvation it is “just as if we have never sinned.” That is justification and that is worth celebrating this month as we remember the reformation.



Pastor’s Ponderings: September 2014

Louis Berkhof says, “The Ordo Salutis describes the process by which the work of salvation, wrought in Christ, is subjectively realized in the hearts and lives of sinners.” There are a number of elements in this order of salvation, so far we have looked at the following: effectual calling, regeneration, and conversion. This month we take a quick look at that which our church is named after: faith. We begin in the Scriptures, as is always best. Romans 10:17 So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ. Faith comes from hearing God's Word, but what is it? Paul tells us in Ephesians 2:8-9, For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. So we know faith is a gift from God that comes from our hearing God's Word which is marvelous to know, but that doesn't answer the more foundational question; what is faith? There are different kinds of faith, but there is only one faith that saves and that is what should consume our attention.

Saving faith has three elements to it: knowledge, assent and will. There is information we must know; our intellects are involved in faith. There is truth that we must believe, it is God's truth found in God's Word. That truth is the gospel and that truth we must know. It does us no good to just know the truth, we must also agree that it is true. There is an emotional aspect of faith here tied up in our accepting the truth of the gospel. Berkhof spoke of this by saying, “When one embraces Christ by faith, he has a deep conviction of the truth and reality of the object of faith, feels that it meets an important need in his life, and is conscious of an absorbing interest in it, — and this is assent.” That assent to the truth is followed then by the will, what theologians call “fiducia”. Faith becomes a matter of the will, determining the direction and action of the soul. Fiducia is the aspect of saving faith that actually goes out and appropriates the object of faith. Fiducia is what moves a person to place their trust, for their very life, in Jesus. Therefore the Westminster Divines wrote in the shorter catechism, “Faith in Jesus Christ is a saving grace, whereby we receive and rest upon him alone for salvation, as he is offered to us in the gospel.” It is faith that sings from the heart, “Nothing in my hands I bring, simply to thy cross I cling; naked come to thee for dress; helpless look to thee for grace; foul, I to the fountain fly; wash me, Savior or I die.” The clear message of the Bible is that we are saved by grace through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. It is here that we are confronted with the overwhelming grace and compassion of our covenant keeping God who loves us and gave His Son for us.



Pastor’s Ponderings: August 2014

Do you ever think about history? Some of us are ardent students of the past, while others of us are only concerned with the past as it applies to us personally. I would venture to say that if you have ever been in a history class that at some point the teacher sought to teach you the importance of studying history. The more I learn, the more I understand the importance of having a solid grasp of history. Understanding our history is a step in understanding our identity. The implications of that statement are many. So why am I talking about history here? Well, this is a significant time in the life of our church. On June 2, 1979 Faith Reformed Presbyterian Church became a “particular” church of the Reformed Presbyterian Church Evangelical Synod. On August 19, 1979 we moved into the facility here on Yellow Springs Road. We have been a congregation now meeting in this facility for the past 35 years. It is important for us to recognize and celebrate what God has done in and through this congregation over those years.

We are planning to celebrate our 35th Anniversary on Sunday, August 17th with a dinner and worship service. I hope you will make plans to come out and participate in that celebration. It is a celebration for you the member or regular attender of the church because without you we would not be a church. The church is the people not the place, so it is fitting to celebrate 35 years together as the family of God that just happens to meet here on Yellow Springs Road. In those 35 years there have been four pastors beginning with Jack Skeen who was followed by George Miller, then Jim Knight and finally me, John Armstrong. Pastors and people come and go, but there are some of you who still remember Jack Skeen and even more of you that remember George Miller and Jim Knight. In all of the years since our beginning as a church the Lord has been faithful throughout to sustain and build His church. Psalm 127:1 Unless the LORD builds the house, those who build it labor in vain. The Lord is always faithful in His labors in spite of us and He has been faithful to Faith Reformed Presbyterian Church. He is worthy of all our praise and worship. Therefore we are going to have dinner on the grounds on the evening of Sunday, August 17th followed by a time of remembrance, praise, and worship. This is a family celebration so we hope you will be there gathered with your family at Faith.



Pastor’s Ponderings: July 2014

We are currently going through a short series on the order of salvation (ordo salutis) in the Pastor's Pondering section of the newsletter. So far we have looked at “effectual calling” and “regeneration”. All of these steps in the order of salvation are linked together. If one is not present the others fall apart. Therefore, if we are going to get a better understanding of salvation, we need a better understanding of this ordo salutis.

The next step in the order after effectual calling and regeneration is “conversion.” We get the term conversion from the Greek word “metanoia” which means literally “a change of mind.” The concept of conversion is more complex than a simple “change of mind” and we do well to remember that fact. “Metanoia” includes a conscious opposition to the way things were before. That is a critical element of conversion, “to be converted is not merely to pass from one conscious direction to another, but to do it with a clearly perceived aversion to the former direction,” according to Louis Berkhof. “So we see that conversion has both a positive and a negative side; looking backward as well as forward in our lives. The converted person becomes conscious of his ignorance and error, his willfulness and folly. That person's conversion includes both faith and repentance.” These are important distinctions for us to understand because the focus of conversion has become over the years an emphasis on the emotional aspect of human response. The emotional aspect has its place but there is more to it than just human response.

True conversion is born of godly sorrow, and issues in a life of devotion to God. Look at

2Cor. 7:10, For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death. Our conversion is rooted in God's work of effectual calling and regeneration. It is fundamentally a work of God; apart from God's working in the life of a person there would be no conversion. Here is a two-part definition of conversion from Berkhof that is very helpful: “Active conversion, is that act of God whereby, He causes the regenerated sinner, in His conscious life, to turn to Him in repentance and faith. Passive conversion is the resulting conscious act of the regenerated sinner whereby he, through the grace of God, turns to God in repentance and faith.” There are some striking biblical examples of this kind of conversion, think of Naaman in 2Kings 5, or of Zaccheus in Luke 19. Of course there are many examples from the Scripture and I am sure there are examples of people from your life. I hope you have a clear testimony that points to God's work of conversion in your life.

Conversion marks a moment in time when we consciously begin to not only put away the old man and flee from sin, but also to put on the new man with a striving after holiness of life. Do you remember your conversion? If you do not come talk to me or to one of the elders about that, it could not be more important. Christians are a converted people. We have been effectually called, regenerated, and converted all by God's grace.



Pastor’s Ponderings: June 2014

This will be the second in a series of short articles in which I am introducing the “order of salvation” (ordo salutis). In last month's article we were exposed to the doctrine of “effectual calling” and that doctrine is inextricably linked to the doctrine of “regeneration.” That is why these two are often dealt with together in theological works. The Westminster Shorter Catechism question 34 asks, “What is effectual calling?” The answer is: Effectual calling is the work of God's Spirit, whereby, convincing us of our sin and misery, enlightening our minds in the knowledge of Christ and renewing our wills, he doth persuade and enable us to embrace Jesus Christ, freely offered to us in the gospel. Regeneration is the part where our wills are renewed and we are persuaded to come to Christ. This is a big doctrine in terms of its tremendous importance. Everything hinges on this doctrine because apart from regeneration there is no possibility of salvation.

The first thing we need to know about regeneration is that is a creative work of God in which man is purely passive. Man has nothing to do with it; it is all of God's initiative. One of the best definitions of regeneration can be found in one of our great Reformed Confessions, the Canons of Dort. There, in section III and IV, article 11 says this:

Article 11: The Holy Spirit’s Work in Conversion

Moreover, when God carries out this good pleasure in his chosen ones, or works true conversion in them, he not only sees to it that the gospel is proclaimed to them outwardly, and enlightens their minds powerfully by the Holy Spirit so that they may rightly understand and discern the things of the Spirit of God, but, by the effective operation of the same regenerating Spirit, he also penetrates into the inmost being of man, opens the closed heart, softens the hard heart, and circumcises the heart that is uncircumcised. He infuses new qualities into the will, making the dead will alive, the evil one good, the unwilling one willing, and the stubborn one compliant; he activates and strengthens the will so that, like a good tree, it may be enabled to produce the fruits of good deeds.

When you read that you may be like me and have to read it again to try and take it all in. Those few words say a lot! They refer in part to one of my favorite passages of scripture from Ezekiel 36:26, And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.

All-of-a-sudden, by God's grace, we are changed and are given a new spiritual life, the Holy Spirit gives birth within us to a new nature that moves in a “Godward” direction. This change affects our whole being, the intellect, the will, and the emotions. We will be able to see and hear the truth of Christ as He is presented to us in the Gospels. We will love Him and we will submit to Him as Savior and Lord. Apart from this work of regeneration in the heart, man is left bankrupt, dead in trespasses and sin, utterly unable to respond to the gospel. Now we see this doctrine for what it is. This is a life and death doctrine. Apart from regeneration there is no salvation. Just as the incarnation, life, death and resurrection of Jesus are the pivotal events in all of history, so regeneration is the pivotal event in the life of any believer. I will leave you with this definition of regeneration from Louis Berkhof that will tie it to our next topic, conversion. See if you can catch the link. “Regeneration is that act of God by which the principle of the new life is implanted in man, and the governing disposition of the soul is made holy and the first holy exercise of the new disposition is secured.” That is so cool. Enjoy your June.



Pastor’s Ponderings: April 2014

Welcome to our new edition of “The Tapestry.” I'm very grateful to Mary Claire Armstrong for making this a reality. We have not had a newsletter since September 2013 and it is great to have it again. Back in September I started a new series of Pastor's Pondering articles and in order to maintain continuity, I'm reprinting that first article here so everyone will start at the beginning. I usually deal with some aspect of practical theology in these articles because I want us to take what the Bible says and apply it to our every day lives. Theology that is not put to use in our daily lives is vanity and we don't want any of that. So let's take a look as some very practical theology as we talk about salvation. Salvation is made up of a number of things that God does to fully and finally reconcile us to Himself through Jesus Christ. These things are sometimes called the “Ordo Salutis,” the “Order of Salvation.” John Frame says, “The purpose of the ordo [salutis] is to list the events in the life of every saved person that join him to Christ. Typically, the list of events looks like this: effectual calling, regeneration, faith, repentance, justification, adoption, sanctification, perseverance, glorification.” It is my intent to take us briefly through a discussion of each of these “events” in the coming Pastor's Ponderings.

Let's think for a moment about “effectual calling.” What is effectual calling? Effectual calling is the work of God's Spirit, whereby, convincing us of our sin and misery, enlightening our minds in the knowledge of Christ, and renewing our wills, he doth persuade and enable us to embrace Jesus Christ, freely offered to us in the gospel.

If you think that sounds like a question and answer from the Shorter Catechism you would be absolutely right. The catechism is of course a very helpful tool for us. However, in this instance the catechism conflates (brings two concepts together as one) the ideas of effectual calling and regeneration. Regeneration has to do with renewing of the will and we will address that next time. For the purpose of this discussion, effectual calling is the Spirit's work of convincing us of our sin and miserable condition and enlightening our minds in the knowledge of Christ. This is what I like to call the “bad news and the good news” of the Gospel.

Before we can make a profession of faith in Jesus Christ we must first know that we are in desperate need. The Spirit convinces us of that very thing. We need to know we are sinners before we can know that we need a Savior. Once we have a real sense of our own “sin and misery” then we will be ready to respond. So that is the bad news—you are a sinner bound for hell. When we get that into our minds we are apt to ask, “Is there no hope?” That is when the good news comes. We are sinners in need of a Savior and indeed there is a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. Through effectual calling the Holy Spirit convinces us both of sin and the possibility of redemption through Jesus. Praise God for His grace to us through effectual calling.



Pastor’s Ponderings: September 2013

I've decided it is time for us to talk some theology here in the Pastor's Pondering. Now if you think that is something new, you need to start paying attention or maybe I need to explain what studying theology is all about. In every issue we usually deal with some aspect of practical theology. That means we seek to take what the Bible says and apply it to our every day lives. Theology that is not put to use in our daily lives is vanity and we don't want any of that. So let's take a look as some very practical theology as we talk about salvation. Salvation is made up of a number of things that God does to fully and finally reconcile us to Himself through Jesus Christ. These things are sometimes called the “Ordo Salutis,” the “Order of Salvation.” John Frame says, “The purpose of the ordo [salutis] is to list the events in the life of every saved person that join him to Christ. Typically, the list of events looks like this: effectual calling, regeneration, faith, repentance, justification, adoption, sanctification, perseverance, glorification.” It is my intent to take us briefly through a discussion of each of these “events” in the coming Pastor's Ponderings.

Let's think for a moment about “effectual calling.” What is effectual calling? Effectual calling is the work of God's Spirit, whereby, convincing us of our sin and misery, enlightening our minds in the knowledge of Christ, and renewing our wills, he doth persuade and enable us to embrace Jesus Christ, freely offered to us in the gospel.

If you think that sounds like a question and answer from the Shorter Catechism you would be absolutely right. The catechism is of course a very helpful tool for us. However, in this instance the catechism conflates (brings two concepts together as one) the ideas of effectual calling and regeneration. Regeneration has to do with renewing of the will and we will address that next time. For the purpose of this discussion, effectual calling is the Spirit's work of convincing us of our sin and miserable condition and enlightening our minds in the knowledge of Christ. This is what I like to call the “bad news and the good news” of the Gospel.

Before we can make a profession of faith in Jesus Christ we must first know that we are in desperate need. The Spirit convinces us of that very thing. We need to know we are sinners before we can know that we need a Savior. Once we have a real sense of our own “sin and misery” then we will be ready to respond. So that is the bad news—you are a sinner bound for hell. When we get that into our minds we are apt to ask, “Is there no hope?” That is when the good news comes. We are sinners in need of a Savior and indeed there is a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. Through effectual calling the Holy Spirit convinces us both of sin and the possibility of redemption through Jesus. Praise God for His grace to us through effectual calling.