The enemy said, ‘I will pursue, I will overtake, I will divide the spoil, my desire shall have its fill of them. I will draw my sword; my hand shall destroy them.’
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.
It is odd that a book that is usually the cornerstone of a doctrine of sinless perfection begins with an extended section on the nature of sin, which removes any doubt that we are sinners. I just finished preaching I John 1:5-2:2. Here are some thoughts from this great passage.
God’s character restricts who he fellowships with. God cannot have communion with darkness therefore we must be light (Ephesians 5:8) if we are to be in fellowship with God.
A man cannot be a Christian and live a life dominated by sin.
People can claim to be Christians and yet be lying. They are shown to be liars by their actions (walking in darkness) or by their theology (I am sinless). There is such a thing as a false profession.
When we have fellowship with God by walking in his ways we also have fellowship with other Christians. We cannot claim fellowship with God and live in bitterness and antagonism towards our fellow believers. Yet this does not mean that everyone who claims to be a Christian we must be in fellowship with. See point above.
A claim to be without sin is a declaration of insanity. Any man who believes this about himself is living in a fantasy land.
Few of us will say we are sinless. However, many of us function as if we are not sinners. When we are confronted with our sin our mouths drop open and we say, “Impossible!” So while theologically we may not claim to be sinless, practically we live as if we are.
The truth and God’s Word are equivalent (See also John 17:17). Notice this pattern
I John 1:6 We lie and do not practice the truth
I John 1:8 We deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us
I John 1:10 We make him a liar and his word is not in us
Truth is not just a person, Jesus Christ, nor simply a set of beliefs, though it is both of those. Truth is something we practice or do. True grasp of the truth produces actions formed by that truth.
Regular confession of sin is the antidote to an elevated view of our own holiness.
I John 1:9 is not an excuse to keep on sinning. Anyone who uses God’s mercy in forgiving sins as excuse to keep on sinning does not understand God’s mercy. (See also Psalm 130:4).
One goal of Christ’s death, burial, resurrection, ascension, and sending of His Spirit is so we might not sin. Jesus, John, Paul, and Peter all believe we can make substantial progress in holiness in this life. We can never be perfect. We just begin to obey in this life, but it is real Spirit fueled obedience that is conforming us to the image of Christ.
Jesus’ blood is the key to our forgiveness and cleansing. It is easy, much easier than we would like to admit, to forget the cross.
God is faithful to his promises to forgive our sins and make us clean. He has shown this faithfulness in the death of His Son.
Christ is our propitiation, a covering our for sins that turns God’s wrath away from us. Trying to remove God’s wrath from the equation is a compromise.
Jesus Christ is our ever present intercessor. This means we always need intercession. There is never a day when we don’t need Christ pleading before the Father on our behalf.
Our Intercessor is righteous. We can put complete faithfulness in our High Priest. He will never do us wrong.
I John 2:2 does not teach that Christ’s death on the cross was a covering for all the sins of all the men who ever lived. But it does teach that he covered our sins at the cross.
John loves to use simple, everyday words to get across grand truths. Words like light, darkness, bread, know, walk, all have deep meaning within John’s writings. Here are the different ways John describes our salvation in his first epistle. I did not try to list all the ways John writes of our salvation. Nor do I list all Scripture references for each concept. Many of these he mentions several times. I also understand that some of these are causes of our salvation and others are effects of our salvation. We often view our salvation in a narrow way. The different ways John describes our salvation can help open our eyes to what it means to be saved. Rather than comment on them I am going to list them to show the variety he uses.
Being saved means we have eternal life and have passed from death to life (I John 1:2, 2:25, 3:14, 5:11, 13).
Being saved means we have fellowship with the apostles, with the Father and the Son, and with each other (I John 1:3,7).
Being saved means we walk in the light (I John 1:7, 2:10).
Being saved means that by the blood of Jesus our sins are cleansed and forgiven (I John 1:7, 9).
Being saved means that Christ is the propitiation for our sins (I John 2:2).
Being saved means we know God and know the truth (I John 2:3, 21).
Being saved means we keep the commandments of God (I John 2:3-4).
Being saved means we abide/remain in God and abide/remain in the light (I John 2:6, 10).
Being saved means that God abides/remains is us (I John 4:4, 13).
Being saved means we are anointed (I John 2:20, 27).
Being saved means we are children of God, have been born of God, and God’s seed remains in us (I John 3:1, 9).
Being saved means we believe on the name of Christ (I John 3:23, 5:13).
Being saved means we love God and the brothers (I John 3:17, 4:7, 19).
Being saved means we have the Spirit (I John 4:13).
Being saved means we confess that Jesus is the Son of God (I John 4:15).
Being saved means we have overcome the world (I John 5:5).
Being saved means we believe the witness/testimony of God (I John 5:9-11).
It was interesting to find this quote from Peter van Mastricht (1630-1706) about three periods of justification. Mark Jones quotes this with approval in the chapter “Good Words and Rewards” in his excellent book Antinomianism. I have removed Scripture references.
From this come three periods of justification that should be diligently observed here, namely 1: The period of establishment, by which man is first justified: in this occasion not only is efficacy of works excluded for acquiring justification, but so is the very presence of these works in so far as God justifies the sinner and the wicked. 2: The period of continuation: in this occasion, although no efficacy of good works is granted for justification, the presence of these same works, nevertheless, is required. And it is probably in this sense that James denies that we are justified by faith along but he requires works in addition. And lastly 3: The period of consummation in which the right unto eternal life, granted under the first period and continued under the second, is advanced even to the possession of eternal life: in this occasion not only is the presence of good works required, but also, in a certain sense, their efficacy, in so far as God, whose law we attain just now through the merit alone of Christ, does not want to grant possession of eternal life, unless [it is] beyond faith with good works previously performed. We received once before the right unto eternal life through the merit of Christ alone. But God does not want to grant possession of eternal life, unless there are, next to faith, also good works which precede this possession.
Mark Jones closes the paragraph with this note.
It is a sign of the times that not a few in the broadly Reformed church today–indeed, even professors of theology, would have a real problem with Van Mastricht’s conclusion that eternal life is not granted unless good works are performed by the godly.
Do we believe that good works are necessary for final salvation? I have found very few Christians, even reformed ones, who would say yes. Jones’ book challenged me on this issue.