A Covenant Freely Given

Pierre Marcel on the glory of the covenant of grace. All italics are his.

It is a covenant of grace, that is to say, freely given. It does not depend upon any human condition, it is not a gift in exchange for some service, it does not answer to any fulfillment of law on the part of man. God Himself, in the person of His Son, provides the surety of the covenant, whereby all our obligations are met at the same time as the demands of the divine justice.

Again, it is a covenant of grace, a free covenant, because God by His grace, rendered efficacious by the working of the Holy Spirit, makes man capable of living in conformity with the requirements prescribed by the terms of the covenant. The covenant of grace has its origin in the grace of God, it is put into execution by the grace of God, and it is experienced in the life of sinners through the grace of God. From beginning to end it is pure grace for the sinner. It is God who descends to man and raises him to Himself. It is God who disannuls the covenant of sinful man with Satan and with death (Is. xxviii. 18), who places enmity between man and Satan, who destroys death, and who, taking man for His possession, promises him victory over every adverse power. It is the work of God, only His Work, and all His work. Man cannot lay claim to any personal glory: all the glory emanates from the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

J.C. Ryle to Parents: Go Forward and Obey

Here is a great quote from J. C. Ryle’s little Booklet The Duties of Parents. It is under the heading of “Train your children with an abiding persuasion on your mind that much depends on you.”

Beware of the miserable delusion into which some have fallen, that parents can do nothing for their children, that you much leave them alone, wait for grace, and sit still. These persons have wishes for their children in Balaam’s fashion; they would like them to die the death of the righteous man [Numbers 23:10, 31:16], but the do nothing to make them  live his life. They desire much, and have nothing. And the devil rejoices to see such reasoning, just as he always does over anything which seems to excuse indolence, or to encourage neglect of means.

I know that you cannot convert your child. I know well that they who are born again are born, not of the will of man, but of God. But I know that God says expressly, “Train up a child in the way he should go,” and that He never laid a command on a man which He would not give man grace to perform. And I know, too, that our duty is not to stand still and dispute, but to go forward and obey. It is just in the going forward that God will meet us. The path of obedience  is the way in which He gives the blessing.

Book Review: Saved by Grace

Saved by Grace: The Holy Spirit's Work in Calling and RegenerationSaved by Grace: The Holy Spirit’s Work in Calling and Regeneration by Herman Bavinck
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

One of the best books I have read on the intersection between calling, regeneration, and the means of grace, especially the preaching of the Word. Bavinck takes particular care to show what we should and should not believe concerning the regeneration of covenant children. He also shows how the reformed position refutes both the Anabaptist’s rejection of means, as well as the Roman Catholic position that regeneration is automatically conferred through the sacraments. As a minister in the CREC I have been involved in the Federal Vision controversy on various levels. My understanding of the strengths and dangers of Federal Vision were clarified by reading this book.

View all my reviews

Bartering and Blessing

If you want to read the first part of this post go here. I am now going to address two objections to the idea that we should not give to get and then end with some ways to have a more biblical mindset when giving, whether it is time, energy, or possessions.
But Doesn’t God Promise Blessing to Those Who Obey?
                It could appear that what I said previously contradicts the idea the God blesses us for obedience. If we give to God won’t we get back from God? God does promise blessing if we obey and we should strive after those blessings. And we should seek to obey everything God has commanded. But this is not the same thing as trading with God so he will give us what we want. And while the difference is not always easy to discern it is real and important. Paul knew he had fought the good fight and had a crown of glory laid up for him. But he also knew that God owed him nothing.  Paul did not treat God like a puppet.
                The trick here is the definition of blessing.  Usually for us blessing means I get what I want when I want it. In the Scriptures there are blessings in this life that come with obedience. So yes the man who avoids sinners and meditates on God’s Word will be blessed (Psalm 1).  But those blessings are not defined by us. We don’t get to say, “Lord, I will trade you a good prayer life for a new wife.”  “Lord I will read my Bible every day and you will make sure my job doesn’t fall through.” (Remember these trades are usually unspoken.) You could read God’s Word and meditate on God’s Word and get fired for obeying it. Even in Psalm 1 the ultimate blessing is in the end when we stand with God’s people after the wicked have been driven away (verses 4-5).  The problem with a bartering mindset is that we set the rules. We say, “I will trade you this for that.” That is not the same thing as saying, “I know God blesses obedience, so I am going to obey him and he will bless when and how he sees fit.”  The first views God as if we are a consumer. The second views God as if we are his sons and heirs.
                And of course, the greatest blessing is God himself.
But Shouldn’t Relationships Have Some Give and Take?
                One person commented on my post by asking about friendships.  They said, “Shouldn’t friendships be built on a give and take type relationship?”  The answer to this is, “No.” Friendships should be built on giving. We should pour ourselves out for those around us, whether it is family or friends or our brothers and sisters at church.  Of course, we will benefit from most friendships when we pour ourselves out for others. This is seen clearly in passages like Ephesians 5:28 where it is said that the man who loves his wife loves himself.  Throughout Proverbs there is the idea that a man who disciplines his son benefits with the son giving honor to the father.  In other words, the Bible teaches  that we are blessed when we give.
                But this is not the same thing as giving so we will get. The question is not do we receive blessing when we give to others. We do. The question is do we think we deserve it. Do we believe that if we give x they must give y? And as with God, we often trade for a specific thing. If I am nice to her she will help me with my children. If I serve at church in this way, then the leaders will give me more responsibility later. We should not have this mindset. We should not be giving so others will give to us now or in the future. We should give freely to our friends and family and let God bring blessings through them when he sees fit.
Learning to Give Not Trade
                First, learn to give in circumstances where there is no immediate benefit.  Care for a child when the child cannot give anything back to you.  Show respect to someone who doesn’t respect you.  Do a good deed that no one else will see.
                Second, drink deep of God’s many kindnesses to you.  The more we meditate on God’s kindness the easier it will be for us to express that same undeserved kindness to others.
                Third, do things for people secretly. This does not mean every gift must be a secret. But doing things secretly can show us the state of our heart.  If it is hard then we know we give because we like praise.
                Fourth, learn to say thank you instead of trying to pay someone back for a gift.
                Fifth, strive whenever you do something for your children or spouse to do it for their good and their good alone. Our hearts are very deceitful here. We can often do something that appears to be the right thing, say teaching our children to do chores, but instead of doing it for the good of our children we are doing it for our good. We are trading, bartering with them instead of giving to them. 

Giving So We Can Get

                As a boy I loved to trade baseball and football cards with my friends. We would meet on Saturday morning, go to the local supermarket, buy a few packs, open them up and then decide what we wanted to keep and what we wanted to trade.   Of course, what you could get from your friends always depended on what you had. If I got a Ken Griffey Jr. rookie card or Brett Favre special edition then I could get something in return. But if all I had was a lame 15 year veteran who had never really done much then I was stuck.
                I was talking to a friend last week and we were discussing how we treat our wives and God and it became clear that even as grown men we still like to trade. But now instead of trading cards we are trading good deeds for good deeds. I will do this for you, if you will do this for me.  We give so we can get. The more I thought about this the uglier it became. I realized that as Christians we often approach life like we are trading cards (or whatever girls traded when they were young).  Here are some ways we do this:
Parenting
                I never traded a card if I did not think I was getting something better in return.  Parents can adopt this same mindset. They do not give for the sake of the child, but for the sake of the parent. This can work a thousand different ways, but here are some examples. I bought you those clothes so now you must show me respect.  I spent time playing a game with you, so now you should happily do your chores. I spent my time and money to educate you, so now you must get a job that I approve of.  We can do this with spanking as well. Spanking can become a way of getting from the child instead of giving to the child. We are trading some swats for what we want. Now obviously all of these things, buying clothes, playing games, etc. are good things and we should do them. But there is often a spirit behind them that does not reflect the love of God towards us. The things we do become hooks in our child to bind them to us instead of training for our child to be free to follow God. The parents do not spend their life giving. They spend their life trading.
Marriage
                Spouses do the same thing in marriage.  The wife cooks all day and thinks her husband should now be nice to her because of her labor in the kitchen. The husband treats his wife to a nice dinner on Friday night so he can watch football on Sunday afternoon.  The wife submits to her husband in one easy area so she won’t have to in another more difficult area.  The husband is kind in public so he can be a jerk in private.  The possibilities are endless. Just like the parents the spouses here are trading, not giving.

Our Walk with God
                And of course, we can do this with God as well. We barter with God. God if I pray every day then I expect my life to be easier.  If I show up at church every week then I won’t get fired or fall into financial ruin. If I clean up my life then you will bring a wife/husband. If I read my Bible every day then I will not get cancer or my child won’t die in a car wreck. If I preach faithfully then my church will grow by leaps and bounds. If I start obeying here then I expect you to bless me over here. And on and on it goes. We are trading with God. We are not giving. We are treating God like a vending machine where if we put in so much time or obedience then he will dispense blessings.
We can do this with our fellow church members as well or for me I can do it with my flock.
                One final point here: these trades are usually unspoken.  We would never say I am playing with my child so they will do their chores well.  Or I will be nice to my wife so she will let me spend some extra money next week.  So the words are rarely spoken, but that doesn’t mean the trade is not happening.
Dangers with this Mindset
                First, we begin to look at people based on what they can give us. You don’t trade with people who have nothing to offer.  Unless the person has something worth trading they are of little value to us. At best we put up with them and at worse we totally reject them.

                Second, we are frequently disappointed when God, our children, or our spouses do not deliver on their part of the trade.  People who live this way are bitter because they thought they were trading for $50.00 rookie card and got a 2 cent card instead.

                Third, we can assume that others are treating us the same way.  We look at a kindness done to us and we assume the other person wants to trade with us. So we try to give back to them in some way.  And this cuts out true thanksgiving. True thanksgiving comes when something is given, not when something is traded for.

                Fourth, our children will learn to function this way. They will drink from our well and learn to be kind to those from whom they can get something in return.

                Fifth, we misunderstand God’s grace in our lives. If we think that God is in the bartering business we are blind to our own sinfulness and God’s goodness to us. God was not kind to us because of what we could give back to him.  We can offer him nothing that he does not already have.

                Sixth, we obscure God’s grace to those around us. When we trade with those around us we are not treating them as God treats us.  We are like a carnival mirror giving a distorted picture of who God really is.
Well there is the diagnosis.   Tomorrow I will talk about obedience and blessing and will also suggest some ways to cure this particular disease. 

Leaving Sin Outside

Yesterday afternoon my son innocently brought his fishing pole into the basement.  We have rules about these types of things.  Fishing poles belong in the shed or possibly on the porch. They do not come into the house.  Fishing poles are in like sticks, big rocks, snakes, and lizards. They belong outside. My son knows this.  But like all of us, he sometimes does not do what he is told.
The bait on the pole looked like the one pictured above. It was big with numerous hooks designed to snare some large fish lurking beneath the surface of a local lake or river.  Each of these hooks has a barb designed to keep the fish from getting off the hook.  These barbs make extraction of a hook only slightly easier than extracting a tooth.   
Now what do you think happened when my son brought his rod into the house?  Do you think that lure just slid across the tile floor and caused no trouble. No. The hooks, all three of them, were promptly snagged on a blue couch cushion. (Lures do this. They gravitate, almost like they are alive, towards the place they can do the most harm.) I think my son tried to remove them, but hooks are designed to embed themselves deeper the more you mess with them.  By the time the cushion was laid contritely on my desk the hooks were entangled deep in the pillow. 

After about thirty minutes of labor that included a knife, pliers, and more than one muttered word of frustration, I finally removed all three hooks. The pillow was still usable, but it was no longer whole. The hooks had left their mark. 
As I sat extracting the lure, I thought how much this reminds me of my own life.  I know what God tells me to do. Do not lose your temper. Do not get bitter.  Do not be proud. Love your neighbor.  [Insert your own sin here.]  Yet I still bring sin into the house. Maybe I assume, like my son did, that the sin will not cause much trouble. It will innocently slide across the tile floor with little damage.  But that never happens.  Sin gravitates towards the place it can do the most harm.  Sin has barbs just like that lure did. When sin enters it finds a target and embeds itself deep. This may be my wife or my children or myself.  But sin never leaves its catch whole.  It can be removed but, there is always damage.  And if I am lucky the damage only takes a day or two to fix.   All because I did not listen.
I am grateful for Christ and his forgiveness. He takes away my sins and gives me grace that I might be restored. But I do not want to just keep coming back for forgiveness. I want to learn to leave sin where it belongs.  I want to listen to the Lord with an ear to obedience.   Christ has not just given me grace to be forgiven, but he has also given me grace to overcome. When I lean on this grace sin is not given the chance to hook me or my family. It is left where it belongs, outside.