Sunday, April 29, 2012

"Changed from glory to glory" (Part V): Our Role in the Process

"But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining to 
what lies ahead., I press on toward the goal for the prize of the
upward call of God in Jesus Christ." (Php. 3:13b-14)
In part III, we've seen how dangerous it is to put one's self under the compulsive moral obligation of God's law apart from the life-giving and liberating power of the Spirit (Rom. 7:1-25). Then in part IV, we have discussed how the Holy Spirit causes us to obey God's will (Eze. 36:27) and emphasized that even our willingness and exertion of efforts energized by love, even the desire to pray, are marks of divine favor wrought in us by this same Spirit (1 Cor. 4:7; Php. 2:13).

This leads us to the next question: If we do not possess the autonomous power to change ourselves (Jn. 15:5), so much so that our progress to holiness is entirely at the disposal of God (Php. 2:13), does this mean we don't have any role to play in our sanctification? If the Holy Spirit does it all, can we now just sit around and relax? 

V. Our Role in the Process

If we should attend to the question at hand biblically, the correct answer should be negative. The fact that the Bible says "it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure" (Php. 2:13) doesn't mean we should neglect what is said in the previous verse: "work out your own salvation with fear and trembling" (v. 12b). It is true that God is absolutely sovereign over human choices (Rom. 9:18), but we are also morally responsible and have moral duties to fulfill (Lam. 3:39-41). I know this is somewhat mind-boggling (philosophically speaking), but in so far as the Bible supports both concepts (i.e. God's sovereignty & human responsibility), we should therefore maintain both as truth - BUT with diligent care and balance. 

Why with diligent care and balance? Because over-emphasis of one to the effect of denying or neglecting the other can lead to terrible screw-ups, theologically and practically. For example, believers who over-emphasize human responsibility (and free-will) have a strong tendency of relying on their own 'natural abilities' in the pursuit of holiness. The usual argument is: "If we are truly responsible, it necessarily follows that we must be endowed (in nature) with all the necessary means to perform our moral duties. The main problem with this view is that it fails to consider the vast effects of Sin on man's nature and his disposition of will (see Rom. 3:9-12, 8:7-8; 1 Cor. 2:14; Eph. 2:1-3). Moreover, if pushed to its logical conclusions, this view would render God's help as insignificant, or if it has any significance at all, it is not absolutely necessary. Against this self-relying / self-glorying mindset, the Bible says: "For who sees anything different in you? What do you have that you did not receive? If then you received it, why do you boast as if you did not receive it?" (1 Cor. 4:7); and again, "But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me" (1 Cor. 15:10); and again, "Not that we are sufficient in ourselves to claim anything as coming from us, but our sufficiency is from God" (2 Cor. 3:5); and again, "for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure" (Php. 2:13); and many other passages. 

Now, as much as there are those who so rely in themselves in their over-emphasis of human responsibility, there are also Christians who put so much emphasis on God's sovereignty and human depravity that they tend to be slothful. These people tend to have a weak prayer-life; or worse, don't pray at all (i.e. "why pray if God has already predetermined all that should occur"-attitude). They also tend to be so lazy sharing the gospel to the lost (i.e. "why evangelize if those who have been predestined will surely be saved anyway"-attitude). And even worse, some tend to just sit down and relax in front of their laptops and computer screens the whole day, searching for people over the internet whom they can argue with over the doctrines of grace, Calvinism, etc. Some even go too far by saying we shouldn't exert any effort at all! But I should add that this problem of slothfulness isn't confined only to those who over-emphasize God's sovereignty. This is a problem widespread among Christians of different theological persuasions.

Make every effort to become more like Christ!

Wait... Did I just say"effort"? Yes! And I would argue that this is our proper role in the process of sanctification (see 2 Pe. 1:5-10). Does this mean I am retracting what I stated in my previous entries that we, as frail humans, don't have the sufficient natural capability to sanctify ourselves through our own efforts? Not in any way. 

By "own efforts," I mean efforts done in the flesh and not by the liberating, love-infusing, and energizing power of the Spirit. These are efforts driven with a wrong mindset or motives and are merely superficial in nature (Mat. 15:8, 23:28). Such works cannot please God who searches the hearts, however good they may appear outwardly, because they're not borne in humble faith and true love of God (Rom. 14:23; Heb. 11:6; 1 Cor. 13:1-3). 

In other words, effort isn't really bad. It becomes bad only if it isn't based on truth and if we rely on them for the attainment of holiness (Rom. 10:2-3). It is Christ and His work alone that we should rely on: "who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, so that, as it is written, 'Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord'" (1 Cor. 1:30-31). Relying on Christ, however, doesn't entail that we can just sit down and relax. The Bible also tells us to: "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 Pe. 1:5-7). True, we are saved by grace alone without works (Eph. 2:8-9), but it is also true that we are saved for and unto good works: 
"For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them" (Eph. 2:10).
So the Bible tells us that we are "created in Christ Jesus," or born again, "for good works," and it was God's plan all along that "we should walk in them."  Physically speaking, walking doesn't really require much effort, unless you are impaired. An average person makes about six-thousand steps per day, and we don't even notice it. But in the spiritual realm where we are torn in the battle between the Spirit and our old-self, walking in righteousness is surely not a very easy task, that is, unless we have in our hearts the true love of God by which "we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome" (1 Jn. 5:3). Yet having genuine love for God and his righteousness is in itself not a very easy thing to do. This is where prayer assumes an important role in our sanctification.

The Importance of Prayer

In prayer, we come to God completely empty-handed, recognizing His sovereignty and acknowledging our frailness and insufficiency. We don't pray to brag about our achievements. We pray because we know we are nothing apart from Him (Jn. 15:5).

In Part IV of this series I have listed seven ways the Holy Spirit causes us to obey God; namely, that He (1) illuminates us, (2) convicts us of Sin, (3) infuses love in our hearts, (4) leads us not into temptation, (5) makes us pray, (6) intercedes for us, (7) and permits us to fall for a time. The last two in the list cannot be obtained through prayer, because it is a default that the Holy Spirit intercedes for us whenever we pray, and that His permitting us to fall for a time is due to our impertinence and pride. The first five, however, can all be procured through prayer. Thus, we pray that God will give us understanding (illumination) when we read His Word (Jas. 1:5). We pray God to convict our hearts so that we may not continue in sin (Job. 6:24). We also pray that God will grow the seed of love which Has implanted in our hearts so that we may delight and walk in His ways (Psa. 119:124). We pray that God won't let us fall into temptation by reminding us of what we have learned from His Word (Luk. 16:13). And lastly, since it is the Holy Spirit also who makes us to pray (Rom. 8:15), we should also pray that we should be more prayerful (Psa. 80:3)! 

Of course God knows exactly what we need before we even ask (Mat. 6:8), and He can give everything we need without us praying. Yet He commands us to pray so that when we receive what we need, we will not think of it as coming from ourselves or ascribe it to fortune. Prayer leads us to praise God for His wisdom in providence, because we cannot truly say, "To him be glory forever. Amen!" if we do not in the first place acknowledge that "from him and through him and to him are all things" (Rom. 11:36).

Indeed, there is power in prayer. Not a power to compel God to move for our own benefit; but a power to make hold of God's promises. Not a power to change God's eternal plans; but a power to change us from the inside out according to His plan. The Prince of Preachers, C.H. Spurgeon, says about prayer:
"If any one should ask me for an abstract of the Christian religion, I should say it is in that one word prayer. If I should be asked, “What will take in the whole of Christian experience?” I should answer, “prayer.” A man must have been convinced of sin before he could pray; he must have had some hope that there was mercy for him before he could pray. All the Christian virtues are locked up in the word prayer. In troubling times our best communion with God will be carried on by supplication. Tell Him your case, search out His promise, and then plead it with holy boldness. This is the best, the surest, and the speediest way of relief." (link)
I've got plenty of other things to say concerning our role in sanctification. But since I don't want this paper to become too much of an eye-sore, the rest of this chapter will be on a separate post. God bless and stay tuned!

To God be the glory!

Friday, April 27, 2012

A Response to Vivator on St. Augustine and Monergism

"The human will does not obtain grace by freedom, but
freedom by grace." ~ St. Augustine of Hippo
Catholic apologist and "certified structural engineer" Vivator has a three year old post over at his blog in which he asserted that St. Augustine was not really a monergist (i.e. one who holds that God works alone in drawing sinners to faith in Christ) as widely believed among reformed folks and all honest scholars of Church History, but that he was actually a synergist (i.e. one who holds that God's drawing to faith requires man's willing cooperation). Now being an avid reader of St. Augustine, I knew from the start without any spark of doubt that Vivator has failed to accurately represent St. Augustine in his article. Hence, in the comment section of that post, I gave this reaction (emphasis added):
Certainly in some sense St. Augustine is synergistic. He taught that in order for a good work to be done, one must willingly cooperate with God’s grace. But unlike Rome’s position today, St. Augustine is always careful to explain that man’s willingness to cooperate with Grace is itself God’s gift of Grace. This prior work of Grace which makes man willing is God’s doing alone – in other words, monegistic. 
Therefore, St. Augustine’s synergism is just on the secondary level. Men must cooperate with co-operating grace in order to perform a good work (*synergism in the secondary level), but God must first and foremost operate in man’s heart to make him willing (*monergism in the prime level). (link)
Vivator responded by directing me to another post he wrote about St. Augustine's view on merits and grace, but I insisted that it doesn't contradict my last explanation over St. Augustine's seeming synergism. His next reply was interesting (emphasis mine):
As far as I know (based on what other wrote) in his later days Augustine’s view changed and became closer to what we know today as Calvinism. Thus when Reformed scholars quoted from him they use his later works. (link)
In response to my assertion that St. Augustine was also monergistic, Vivator conceded that the bishop's thoughts drifted towards a more Calvinistic direction during "his later days." To this I agree. What's interesting about this comment, though, is that it show's Vivator's complete ignorance of the fact that all the citations he used in an attempt to prove St. Augustine was a synergist were in fact taken from a book which was written by St. Augustine himself "in his later days"; the time when St. Augustine's view was supposed to have already "changed and became closer to what we know today as Calvinism"! This supports my case that St. Augustine was primarily monergistic in his soteriology, and in some way or another, also synergistic - since both ideas seem to have been held by him at the same time. I will prove this further later. Meanwhile, let's examine what Vivator exactly had in mind when he used terms "monergism" and "synergism" (emphasis added):
The key difference between Monergism and Synergism is whether we can exercise our freewill in our salvation or not. Note that Monergism believes we do have freewill but to them it is under bondage of sin – it is not really free, i.e. we cannot choose to act rightly. (link)
Alright. Now this makes me ask myself how come I haven't met any monergist who teaches that man's freewill doesn't have any role to play in salvation? For example, John Calvin himself was an ardent preacher of the God-glorifying doctrines of total depravity, unconditional election, irresistible grace, etc., yet he also contended that man's will is not wholly passive under the sovereign influence of grace (see Institutes, Book III). In particular, Calvin taught and defended justification by faith, which alone is a conspicuous proof that man's uncoerced positive willingness has a role to play for the attainment of salvation!

The truth is, monergism doesn't mean man cannot exercise his freewill in his salvation as Vivator would have his readers to believe. What monergism states is that God works alone effectively and irresistibly in quickening spiritually dead sinners so that they should freely play their proper role in salvation, that is, to believe the Gospel and repent of their sins. Vivator is clearly misrepresenting the monergist position here.

Now in support of his dishonest definition of the reformed view of monergism, Vivator cited a reformed source which says:
It would be correct to say man HAS A WILL and that his choices are VOLUNTARY (not coerced) but this does not make the choices free. Fallen man chooses sin of NECESSITY due to a corruption of nature, and this is just as much a form of bondage of the will from which we need to be set free by Christ, and a more properly biblical way of expression.
- J.W.H.
Great. Now pleace note that Hendryx's point here isn't whether man has a role to play on salvation, but he is rather discussing the condition of man's will as a fallen being. In a nutshell, what Hendrix is trying to say here is that even though totally depraved sinners can't help sinning due to their corrupt nature (necessity), their choices remain voluntary (not coerced). This, according to Hendryx, is "as much a form of bondage of the will from which we need to be set free by Christ." In other words, we are not able to make right use of our will unless we are first set free by Christ, and guess what... this is exactly what St. Augustine taught against the Pelagians of his time! For example, in response to the Pelagian objection that St. Augustine's idea of total depravity is tantamount to saying that "men are forced to sin by the necessity of their flesh" and therefore cannot be responsible for their sins, the blessed doctor of grace defended himself and wrote (all emphasis mine):
It is not, therefore, true, as some affirm that we say, and as that correspondent of yours ventures moreover to write, that "all are forced into sin," as if they were unwilling, "by the necessity of their flesh"; but if they are already of the age to use the choice of their own mind, they are both retained in sin by their own will, and by their own will are hurried along from sin to sin. For even he who persuades and deceives does not act in them, except that they may commit sin by their will, either by ignorance of the truth or by delight in iniquity, or by both evils—as well of blindness as of weakness. But this will, which is free in evil things because it takes pleasure in evil, is not free in good things, for the reason that it has not been made free. Nor can a man will any good thing unless he is aided by Him who cannot will evil—that is, by the grace of God through Jesus Christ our Lord. "For everything which is not of faith is sin." (Romans 14:23) And thus the good will which withdraws itself from sin is faithful, because the just lives by faith. (Habakkuk 2:4) And it pertains to faith to believe in Christ. And no man can believe in Christ— that is, come to Him— unless it be given to him. (Romans 1:17) No man, therefore, can have a righteous will, unless, with no foregoing merits, he has received the true, that is, the gratuitous grace from above. (Against Two Letters of the Pelagians, Ch. 7)
Isn't this exactly what Hendryx wrote concerning the fallen man's will? Hendryx says sinners choose sin voluntary, but they necessarily choose sin due to their corrupt nature, and for this reason Christ's liberating power is needed. St. Augustine agrees by saying that "by their own will [sinners] are hurried from sin to sin" (voluntarily), but "this will, which is free in evil things because it takes pleasure in evil, is not free in good things (necessity), for the reason that it has not been made free." St. Augustine's words couldn't have been any more clearer!

In another treatise commonly known as Enchiridon, St. Augustine advanced a similar yet more explicit view of man's total depravity (emphasis all mine):
But this part of the human race to which God has promised pardon and a share in His eternal kingdom, can they be restored through the merit of their own works? God forbid. For what good work can a lost man perform, except so far as he has been delivered from perdition? Can they do anything by the free determination of their own will? Again I say, God forbid. For it was by the evil use of his free-will that man destroyed both it and himself. For, as a man who kills himself must, of course, be alive when he kills himself, but after he has killed himself ceases to live, and cannot restore himself to life; so, when man by his own free-will sinned, then sin being victorious over him, the freedom of his will was lost. "For of whom a man is overcome, of the same is he brought in bondage." This is the judgment of the Apostle Peter. And as it is certainly true, what kind of liberty, I ask, can the bond-slave possess, except when it pleases him to sin? For he is freely in bondage who does with pleasure the will of his master. Accordingly, he who is the servant of sin is free to sin. And hence he will not be free to do right, until, being freed from sin, he shall begin to be the servant of righteousness. And this is true liberty, for he has pleasure in the righteous deed; and it is at the same time a holy bondage, for he is obedient to the will of God. But whence comes this liberty to do right to the man who is in bondage and sold under sin, except he be redeemed by Him who has said, "If the Son shall make you free, you shall be free indeed?" (Enchiridon, Ch. 30; cf. see also On Man's Perfection In Righteousness, Ch. 4 [9th Breviate])
Please observe how St. Augustine explicitly stated in favor of Calvinism that when man fell in Sin by his own freewill, he destroyed both his liberty and himself! This is essentially what Hendryx's meant in his statement above! Notice also how St. Augustine argues for a monergistic regeneration when he likened man's plight to a suicide: "For, as a man who kills himself must, of course, be alive when he kills himself, but after he has killed himself ceases to live, and cannot restore himself to life; so, when man by his own free-will sinned, then sin being victorious over him, the freedom of his will was lost." Now how can a dead person bring himself to life? Of course that's impossible. So how can Vivator inject any synergistic notion of regeneration here when St. Augustine was more than clear that man's freedom to choose good, much less cooperate with God's grace, was lost in him when he sinned? I'd really really love to know how Vivator will respond to this!

Now let's turn to those statements of St. Augustine cited and used by Vivator to make him appear to be a thorough synergist. Taken from St. Augustine's book On Grace and Free Will, the first quotation reads (original emphasis by Vivator retained):
Therefore, my dearly beloved, as we have now proved by our former testimonies from Holy Scripture that there is in man a free determination of will for living rightly and acting rightly; so now let us see what are the divine testimonies concerning the grace of God, without which we are not able to do any good thing. (On Grace and Free Will, Ch. 7)
 Taken also from the same book, the second and last quote reads (original emphasis by Vivator retained):
When God says, “Turn ye unto me, and I will turn unto you,”[Zechariah 1:3] one of these clauses–that which invites our return to God–evidently belongs to our will; while the other, which promises His return to us, belongs to His grace. (On Grace and Free Will, Ch. 10-v)
There you have it... St. Augustine denying monergism! What Vivator fails to show here, unfortunately, is the exact statement where St. Augustine actually denies that God alone operates in the heart of the sinner, apart from any cooperation on man's part, in drawing him to fait in and obedience to Christ. What we only have here are statements from the blessed doctor of grace saying that (1) man possesses freedom to live rightly - provided he is under the influence of grace [as clear from its immediate context], and that (2) our turning to God is an act of the human will. Monergism doesn't deny any of these! What monergists deny is that man, though dead in his sins and transgressions, still has a cooperating role in the illuminating, heart-softening, regenerating work of God, and this denial is clearly seen on St. Augustine's words: "For it was by the evil use of his free-will that man destroyed both it and himself. For, as a man who kills himself must, of course, be alive when he kills himself, but after he has killed himself ceases to live, and cannot restore himself to life; so, when man by his own free-will sinned, then sin being victorious over him, the freedom of his will was lost" (Enchiridon, Ch. 30).

So, was St. Augustine a monergist or a synergist? I would say both, but not on equal terms. Let me explain further. St. Augustine teaches that God alone efficaciously works within man to make him willing (monergism), but when man is made willing, God cooperates with him to the execution of good (synergism). His own words (all emphasis mine):
But yet, however small and imperfect his love was, it was not wholly wanting when he said to the Lord, "I will lay down my life for Your sake"; (John 13:37) for he supposed himself able to effect what he felt himself willing to do. And who was it that had begun to give him his love, however small, but He who prepares the will, and perfects by His co-operation what He initiates by His operation? Forasmuch as in beginning He works in us that we may have the will, and in perfecting works with us when we have the will. On which account the apostle says, "I am confident of this very thing, that He which has begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ." (Philippians 1:6) He operates, therefore, without us, in order that we may will; but when we will, and so will that we may act, He co-operates with us. We can, however, ourselves do nothing to effect good works of piety without Him either working that we may will, or co-working when we will. Now, concerning His working that we may will, it is said: "It is God which works in you, even to will." (Philippians 2:13) While of His co-working with us, when we will and act by willing, the apostle says, "We know that in all things there is co-working for good to them that love God." What does this phrase, all things, mean, but the terrible and cruel sufferings which affect our condition? That burden, indeed, of Christ, which is heavy for our infirmity, becomes light to love. For to such did the Lord say that His burden was light, (Matthew 11:30) as Peter was when he suffered for Christ, not as he was when he denied Him. (On Grace and Free Will, Ch. 33-xvii)
This proves what I've asserted above that St. Augustine's seeming synergism was only on the secondary level under the umbrella of his monergism, which is first and foremost in his soteriology. The blessed doctor affirms that man has a role to play in salvation (faith, repentance, etc.), but unless God first enables him and operates within his heart to make him willing (which Calvinists equate to spiritual regeneration), man will never perform the role he has to play. As St. Augustine puts it elsewhere in the same book: "It is certain that it is we that act when we act; but it is He who makes us act, by applying efficacious powers to our will" (cf. On Grace and Free Will, Ch. 32-xvi). This divine operation, according to St. Augustine, needs no willing cooperation on man's part because it is in the first place performed by God for the purpose of making us willing. Therefore, this gift cannot be resisted by any hard heart, because it is given for the sake of first taking away the hardness of the heart. In his famous two-volume book On Predestination of the Saints, St. Augustine wrote (emphasis added):
...This grace, therefore, which is hiddenly bestowed in human hearts by the Divine gift, is rejected by no hard heart, because it is given for the sake of first taking away the hardness of the heart. When, therefore, the Father is heard within, and teaches, so that a man comes to the Son, He takes away the heart of stone and gives a heart of flesh, as in the declaration of the prophet He has promised. Because He thus makes them children and vessels of mercy which He has prepared for glory. (On Predestination of the Saints (Book I), Ch. 13-viii)
This is exactly what Calvinists mean when they talk about God's grace being irresistible. Not that men are drawn by God against their will, but that they are wondrously drawn by God so that they should certainly and freely choose to come to Him for Salvation. St. Augustine wrote in another treatise: "[the sinner] is drawn in wondrous ways to will, by Him who knows how to work within the very hearts of men. Not that men who are unwilling should believe, which cannot be, but that they should be made willing from being unwilling" (cf. Against Two Letters of the Pelagians, Ch. 37-xix).

Furthermore, St. Augustine taught (again, in favor of Calvinism) that this divine gift of conversion is not given to all but only to those particularly chosen by God in eternity past. Evidence of this is found everywhere in his lengthy treatise On Predestination of the Saints, but this is already a topic of another post.

Now back to the question: Was St. Augustine a monergist? Certainly. Was he a synergist? In some way, yes, but it should be noted that in his system monergism is always prior. Was he a thorough synergist? In Vivator's dreams, maybe.

- Jeph

Thursday, April 26, 2012

"Changed from glory to glory" (IV-b): Should we blame God for our shortcomings?

"For he will complete what he appoints for me, and many such
things are in his mind."
(Job 23:14)
Before we advance to the next main topic of this series which concerns about our role in the process (i.e. sanctification), I would first want to clarify an important matter in relation to what has been laid down in the previous entries, especially the last one. (Originally, there were two misconceptions that I wanted to discuss in this paper, but I ended up treating only one because the second objection is essentially in connection to the central topic of our next treatment).

The Objection

In my previous installment for this series, I have proven from Scripture that it is wholly God's gift, by the inner working of His Spirit in us, that we desire and do that which pleases Him. This is clear in Paul's words: "for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure" (Php. 2:13); and again, "For who sees anything different in you? What do you have that you did not receive? If then you received it, why do you boast as if you did not receive it?" (1 Cor. 4:7); and again, "But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me" (1 Cor. 15:10).

Yet, however God-glorifying and truly humbling to the soul this truth is, it is also prone to perversion like many other Christian doctrines. Some people, due to their ignorance of Scripture, object: "If it is God's gift that we desire and do His will, then our sinning is evidently a consequence of God's withholding that gift from us. Therefore, when we do well - God receives the praise, but He should also receive the blame for our shortcomings."

Our Reply

The proper response to objections of this kind is to show the utter falleness of mankind and God's sovereignty in dispensing His mercy to whomever He wills. True, God has created man with a free determination of will with regards to both good and evil, but man's freedom to live rightly was lost in him when he sinned. Consider the following verses:
 "The LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually." (Gen. 6:5)
"See, this alone I found, that God made man upright, but they have sought out many schemes." (Ec. 7:29)
"This is an evil in all that is done under the sun, that the same event happens to all. Also, the hearts of the children of man are full of evil, and madness is in their hearts while they live, and after that they go to the dead." (Ec. 9:3)
"For we have already charged that all, both Jews and Greeks, are under sin, as it is written: 'None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one'." (Rom. 3:9-12) 
So it is man's own fault that he is now enslaved by "the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience" (Eph. 2:2) and is utterly incapable of loving God and desiring to walk in His righteousness (Jer. 13:23). With this in mind, it should be clear that every good quality that we have which pertains to holiness (e.g., faith, love of God, strong will for obedience, perseverance, etc) are all God's gift since we don't have in us the natural capacity to produce them. For "which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit" (Jn. 3:6). But it is argued that anyone denied with any of these gifts can justly blame God for his sinning or shortcomings. Is that so?

Consider this illustration:

Suppose you and a friend of yours owe me P10 million each. In order for both of you to keep up with my regular collection of payback, and because I'm a good guy, I have also provided each of you a business to run for yourselves so both of you can earn sufficient money to pay me. Unfortunately, after a week, you ended up financially drained and bankrupt due to deliberate over-spending and gambling. The same thing happened to your friend. Now there's no way you and your friend can pay your debts, and I'm about ready to sue both of you.

First question: Is it against justice if I will pursue sending you to prison due to your inability to pay the money you owe me? Obviously not. Why? Because in the first place, it wasn't my fault that you lost the capacity to pay! In fact, I myself have provided the means by which you can earn money in order to pay me, though it was never a money-lender's obligation to do so. It was you who wasted your resources, and according to law you deserve to be punished!

Now suppose I'm gonna give your friend (who is in the same financially bankrupt condition as yours) a special favor. I will absolve his debts so he would no longer be liable to prison, and in addition to that, will make him heir to my billion-peso-worth of properties and real estate. Meanwhile, on the other hand, you will remain financially bankrupt, unable to pay your debts, and with a lawsuit filed against you.

My next question is this: Is it against justice if I do this? Is it unlawful for me to have material favor on whomever I like? Absolutely not! Why? Because common-sense tells us that I have every right to do whatever I wanna do with my own things, and I'm not bound to give anyone anything materially, especially those who have offended me!

Another question: Can you ever justly blame me of your own financial bankruptcy merely on account of my refusal to give you the same favor I gave your friend? Plain common-sense will tells us again: Absolutely not!  Again, it wasn't my fault that you were on that miserable condition; it was all yours! You cannot blame me for refusing to give you the same compassion I had on your friend. I don't owe you anything!

My point here, and I hope you're seeing it clearly already, is that God is not indebted to anyone in any way (Rom. 11:33-36). It is we who owe God our existence, and for that reason we are forever bound to glorify Him in all things. This is our eternal duty. Back in creation, God has given man all the means he would need to fulfill that duty. Man was endowed with all capability of will to live rightly. He had freedom. Yet man dissipated this gift by disobeying God and ended up entangling himself under the tyranny of Sin (Ec. 7:29; Eph. 2:1-3). Hence, in the final analysis, God cannot in any way be blamed on account of man's sinfulness since it was man's own fault that he lost his moral liberty.

Now God has every right to dispense His gifts on whomever He wants to give it according to His good pleasure. "For he says to Moses, 'I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.' So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy" (Rom. 9:15-16; cf. Dan. 4:35). God is absolutely just and His sovereignty is unrestricted when it comes to His giving the gift of faith, repentance, holiness, etc. to whomever He wills (Mat. 20:15).

Therefore, in the case of those who believed the Gospel and are striving to live according to God's law out of love for their Savior, boasting is excluded because it is "God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure" (1 Cor. 3:7; cf. 1 Cor. 4:7). In sinning, however, everyone must acknowledge their full accountability.

Lastly, if there's anyone who still wishes to pry against this biblical truth, putting forth questions like:"Why [then] does [God] still find fault? For who can resist his will" (Rom. 9:19), let the apostle St. Paul himself rebuke them: "But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, 'Why have you made me like this?' Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for dishonorable use?" (Rom. 9:20-21).

In my next installment, I will center around our role as Christians in our sanctification in holiness. God bless and stay tuned!

To God be the glory! Amen!

Monday, April 23, 2012

It's always between you and God

Here's an interesting gem I found over at,
People are often unreasonable, illogical and self centered; Forgive them anyway.
If you are kind, people may accuse you of selfish, ulterior motives; Be kind anyway.
If you are successful, you will win some false friends and some true enemies; Succeed anyway.
If you are honest and frank, people may cheat you; Be honest and frank anyway.
What you spend years building, someone could destroy overnight; Build anyway.
If you find serenity and happiness, they may be jealous; Be happy anyway.
The good you do today, people will often forget tomorrow; Do good anyway.
Give the world the best you have, and it may never be enough; Give the world the best you’ve got anyway. 
You see, in the final analysis, it is between you and your God; It was never between you and them anyway.
- Kent M. Keith

Sunday, April 22, 2012

"Changed from glory to glory" (Part IV): The Spirit that gives life

This is the longest entry, so far, in my exposition regarding Sanctification, but I pray that God will give you patience to read through this post entirely and digest them by heart.

In the previous entry we have proven that God's law doesn't have any intrinsic power to sanctify us. Left in ourselves the law is but "the letter that kills" - which only aggravates the sinful passions of our flesh by its righteous admonitions (cf. Rom. 7:7-14). God's intention in handing out His law is to show man his sinfulness; to terrify him, in order that he may abandon self-dependency and rely on God's grace alone for healing, redemption, and sanctification.

Our sinful nature indeed avails for nothing except to sin. It cannot and will not bring forth any spiritual good that God's requires of men according to His law. "That which is born of the flesh is flesh" (Jn. 3:6a). "For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God's law; indeed, it cannot. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God" (Rom. 8:7-8). In order that we may fulfill God's law, a special divine influence powerful enough to overcome the rebellion of our flesh is needed. This divine influence, as you know it, is the Spirit of God indwelling everyone who are in Christ. "It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all" (Jn. 6:63). "And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules" (Eze. 36:27). How the Holy Spirit works in our lives in making us more like Christ will be the central topic of this paper.

IV. The Spirit that gives life

"And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my 
statutes and be careful to obey my rules." (Eze. 36:27)
In order for anyone to be able to fulfill God's law, he must first and foremost be freed from the power of Sin (Rom. 6:20). Those who are in Christ are already free from the tyranny of Sin, in the sense that its guilt and penalty have already been taken away by the blood of Christ (Rom. 3:24-25), and that the course of their moral lifestyle now faces a whole new direction (i.e. from rebellion unto sanctification - Rom. 6:18). However, in a narrower sense, we still do not posses total freedom from Sin in every respect, in so far as we remain imperfect in practice and in deed (1 Jn. 1:8). The reality of this truth is evident in Paul's words: "Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry" (Col. 3:5; cf. Rom. 8:13). Thus, although "we know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin" (Rom. 6:6), we are still to "put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires" (Eph. 4:22).

Having said all these, we conclude that the liberating power of the Spirit is necessary not only with respect to our conversion, but also to our daily sanctification as Christians (2 Cor. 3:5-6). God's aid should be continually implored by the faithful as long as he lives in his mortal flesh. When the Holy Spirit grants us liberty from any sinful habit that we have, it inevitably leads us to actually overcome that habit and walk according to God's will. This victory is worked out in us by the Spirit in many ways which I have listed below:
1) By illuminating us concerning the truths of God's Word. "Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth" (Jn. 17:17). The primary external means the Spirit uses to sanctify the redeemed is God's Word; i.e. the holy Scriptures (2 Tim. 3:16-17). Mere reading or hearing of Scripture will not profit us anything if we don't understand what we read or hear. This is when the illuminating power of the Spirit comes in. Because He dwells in us (Jn. 14:17), the Spirit can lead us into all truth, as Jesus promised: "But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you" (Jn. 14:26); and again, "When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come" (Jn. 16:13).
 2) By convicting us of Sin. "And when he comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment" (Jn. 16:8). A Christian may know all the truths concerning God and His will, but unless He is convicted of his own sins and depravity, he will never turn from his old ways and seek God for deliverance and transformation. Man, however, cannot produce this conviction in his own heart (2 Tim. 2:25-26). It is God's gift through His Spirit. 
3) By infusing love in our hearts. In John 14:16-17 & 26, we find a concise description of the sanctifying agency of the Holy Spirit in the life of a Christian. Note that every time Jesus tells his disciples that love is (or should be) the motivating factor in obeying His commands (v. 15, 21, 23), He immediately mentions the Spirit's internal influence in the life of believers. Jesus is implying that when our hearts begin to love God and take delight in His law, the praise should be ascribed to God Himself, who has "[poured His love] into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us" (Rom. 5:5). This infusion of love is also described in the Bible as God writing His law on our hearts (Jer. 31:33). Therefore, it is God's gift that we truly love Him and hence ardent in obeying His commands (Deut. 30:6, cf. Rom. 2:28-29; Eze. 11:19-20; 36:26-27; 1 Jn. 4:19).
 4) By leading us not into temptation. "It was I who kept you from sinning against me" (Gen 20:6).  If it is in order that we should willfully walk in righteousness that the Spirit infuses love in our hearts, the same Spirit also infuses hate in our hearts towards carnality and Sin so that we may successfully overcome temptation. Jesus taught us to pray that God should lead us not into temptation; that is, that we may not fall into it and Sin (Mat. 6:13).Certainly, if we have in us the natural power to overcome the enticement of evil, Christ wouldn't have taught us to make such supplication. Thus it is God's gift also that we succeed in mortifying our sinful habits, for it is "the Spirit [who] helps us in our weakness" (Rom. 8:26; cf. Php. 2:13). 
5) By making us pray. "For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, 'Abba! Father!'" (Rom. 8:15). All the gifts mentioned above can be obtained by the Christian with or without requesting them in prayer. Nonetheless, those gifts are basically procured through prayer. In fact, Christian sanctification is a process mobilized by our total dependence on God's grace (manifested in prayer) and the power of the Spirit (1 Thes. 5:17; 2 Thes. 5:23-24). Yet in order that we may not boast of our progress in holiness on account of our being prayerful, the Scripture also reveals that it is God (by His Spirit) who moves us to come to God in prayer. "For what do you have that you did not receive?" (1 Cor. 2:14). Therefore, it is itself a mark of divine favor that we desire and begin to pray. This is one of the glorious mysteries of our faith: That God commands what He wills, but He also grants what He commands. That God entreats us to pray, but it is also Him who makes us to pray. "For it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure" (Php. 2:13). And again,  "...but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, 'Abba! Father!'" (Rom. 8:15b).
6) By interceding for us. "...for we know not how to pray as we ought; but the Spirit himself maketh intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered; and he that searcheth the hearts knoweth what is the mind of the Spirit, because he maketh intercession for the saints according to the will of God" (Rom. 8:26b-27, ASV). As frail humans, we cannot actually make a prayer worthy of God's attention: "for we know not how to pray as we ought" (v. 26b). The only reason I see why this is the case is that it is impossible for us to pray with a perfectly undivided heart, however adorned with deep flowery words and intense emotions our prayer can be. But there is truth in the saying: "God will provide" (Gen. 22:8), because God has "sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, 'Abba! Father!'" (Gal. 4:6). It is the Spirit who makes our prayer acceptable by praying it Himself on our behalf "with groanings which cannot be uttered." Now the Bible also teaches elsewhere that Christ makes intercession for "those who draw near to God through him" (Heb. 7:25), but the nature of His intercessory ministry should not be confused with that of the Holy Spirit. In His high priestly office, Jesus Christ intercedes for the saints in the right hand of the Father to entreat His mercy on their behalf, on account of His saving and sanctifying blood shed on the cross so that they might be saved "to the uttermost" (Heb. 7:25a; cf. Rom. 8:32-34, 39). The Holy Spirit, on the other hand, intercedes for us within our hearts so our prayer will be worthy of God's attention. 
7) By permitting us to fall for a time. Now it seems strange to say that the Spirit who works our sanctification, also in some occasion permits us to fall. But I would contend that when the Holy Spirit does, it is due to our unfaithfulness and pride. However, since the Holy Spirit is God and infinitely wise, He perfectly knows how to make use of our downfalls to benefit us at the end of the day (Rom. 8:28). St. Augustine wrote: "God in some degree forsakes you, in consequence of which you grow proud, that you may know that you are 'not your own,' but are His, and learn not to be proud" (On Nature and Grace, Ch. 32 [xxviii]). So when the Holy Spirit withholds His influence from us, it is basically due to our prideful heart, yet it is also for the purpose (and notice the irony) of taking away that same pride that is in our hearts. Unless we are driven to despair by the realization of the fact that we can do and are nothing apart from God (Jn. 15:5), we will never appreciate His grace. Sometimes we must learn the hard way. Thus, the Holy Spirit would at times allows us to trip and fall in order to bend our pride (i.e., the mindset of self-sufficiency), to humble us, so that upon realizing our hopelessness apart from God's grace, we may cry out to the Lord in despair as David did: "Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and uphold me with a willing spirit!" (Psa. 51:12). Moreover, in allowing us to trip and fall, the Holy Spirit gives the Father an occasion to manifest His fatherly love and deep concern for us by hitting us with His rod of disciple (Heb. 12:5-9), the end result being is our sanctification in holiness (v. 10-14). 
There are many preachers today who hold that the Holy Spirit will not be free to work in our lives if we ourselves are not willing to change. I don't subscribe to such view. Our willingness and desire to change is proof that the liberating power of Holy Spirit is already at work in our lives, as I've shown many times over. Hence, it is not we who give the Holy Spirit freedom to accomplish His will, but Him who frees us and works within us "to will and to act according to His good pleasure" (Php. 2:13). This is not to say, however, that we are thoroughly passive in that we don't exert any willing cooperation with the Spirit's working in our pursuit of holiness. But when we willingly cooperate, we must acknowledge that it is God's Spirit Himself who made us to cooperate, so that we may not glory in ourselves but in the Lord (1 Cor. 1:30-31). "For who sees anything different in you? What do you have that you did not receive? If then you received it, why do you boast as if you did not receive it?" (1 Cor. 4:7).

In my next installment for this exposition, I will answer a serious question (or objection) concerning God's justice in molding us the way He wants us to be according to His goodness and absolute sovereignty.

To God be the glory!

Friday, April 20, 2012

"Changed from glory to glory" (Part III): The Letter that Kills

In the past two entries (part one & part two), I have sufficiently presented from the testimony of Scripture that (1) God demands practical holiness to all His children as necessary outward evidence of their saving relationship with Him and that (2) even after being regenerated and justified we still do not possess the full ability to walk in His righteousness apart from the inner working of His Spirit in our lives. This special influence of the Holy Spirit on the Christian will be further discussed in the next post, but for the meantime, let's briefly examine the role of God's law in our pursuit of being more Christ-like day after day.

III. The Letter that Kills

"When, indeed, [God] by the law discovers to a man
his weakness, it is in order that by faith he may refuge
to His mercy, and be healed" ~ St. Augustine of Hippo
It is basic that every Christian preacher and pastor should be highly ardent in exhorting God's children to "walk in all his ways, and to love him, and to serve the LORD thy God with all thy heart and with all thy soul" (Deut. 10:12). This is why every Sunday's preaching and sermon are full of lectures concerning what we should and we shouldn't do in conformity to God's precepts. Do this, do that. Stop doing this, abstain from that. This is law. And in so far as these moral principles were taken from the Word of God, it is God's law.

Now the law is in itself good because it reflects God's holiness and justice. Yet however, it is in itself insufficient to lead us to transformation and holiness. Note I'm not saying that the law is unnecessary for achieving holiness. What I'm trying to say is that the law alone wouldn't effect our Sanctification. In fact, left in our sinful flesh the law wouldn't bring us anything good but only disaster. Paul wrote:
"For while we were living in the flesh, our sinful passions, aroused by the law, were at work in our members to bear fruit for death." (Rom. 7:5)
For some reason, as observed by Paul, whenever the law is presented to us our flesh becomes even more aggravated to do exactly what it says we shouldn't do. When we are prohibited to lust, that's when we lust all the more. Why is that? Is Paul now implying that God's law wasn't somehow really holy and good since it apparently arouses our sinful passions whenever we are exposed to its admonitions? Paul gives us an answer:
"What then shall we say? That the law is sin? By no means! Yet if it had not been for the law, I would not have known sin. For I would not have known what it is to covet if the law had not said, "You shall not covet." But sin, seizing an opportunity through the commandment, produced in me all kinds of covetousness. For apart from the law, sin lies dead. I was once alive apart from the law, but when the commandment came, sin came alive and I died. The very commandment that promised life proved to be death to me. For sin, seizing an opportunity through the commandment, deceived me and through it killed me." (Rom. 7:7-11)
For sure Paul didn't intend to double-talk when he asserted that the same good law that prohibits covetousness actually "produced in me all kinds of covetousness," (v. 8) and that through it "sin came alive and I died" (v. 9). What he meant is this: The law is spiritual and intrinsically good having God as its direct souce. Strictly speaking, the law has absolutely nothing to do with our being sinful. The problem of Sin is in our sinful flesh, which is in its very nature "hostile to God, for it does not submit to God's law; indeed, it cannot" (Rom. 8:7). So the heart of the problem lies not in the law itself, but on our sinful nature which is unable to delight in the spiritual commandments of the law. Paul wrote:
"So the law is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good. Did that which is good, then, bring death to me? By no means! It was sin, producing death in me through what is good, in order that sin might be shown to be sin, and through the commandment might become sinful beyond measureFor we know that the law is spiritual, but I am of the flesh, sold under sin." (Rom. 7:12-14)
Therefore, the law plus our flesh will not effectuate genuine moral transformation in us. Mere presentation of law, the preaching of God's moral precepts, rebuke against sinful activities, and all kinds of appeal unto godliness will not profit us anything towards Sanctification unless by the aid of another influence powerful enough to overcome the hostility of our flesh. 

Now the reason why many preachers fail to effectively lead Christians to grow more in holiness, though their sermons are filled with invitations to live godly lives and all, is that they focus on law without also emphasizing our inability to fulfill them with our own will-power and might, and that we should be totally dependent on God's power in pursuit of holiness (1 Cor. 2:14; Php. 2:13). Without these essential elements, a preaching or sermon would be simply law - the letter that kills - which would make its hearers to trust in their own strivings and harden their own hearts all the more (Jer. 17:5). Of course they may for a time, out of fear or sense of obligation, do what the law says, but the quality of their labor is superficial and not long-term in the final analysis. There can't be any genuine transformation inside out.

The proper use of God's law

Unlike the popular opinion that God's giving us His commandments indicates that we have the ability to fulfill its righteous demands (or in Pelagius' own words, "If I ought, I can"), the Bible actually states the contrary:
"Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God. For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin." (Rom. 3:20)
God's law doesn't tell us, "You can make it! You are able! You are strong!" On the contrary, it actually mirrors how frail we are as sinners and that every efforts of our flesh won't make us win God's favor. This exposition of sin is the prime purpose of God's law, for by it, we discover how utterly weak we are, in order that by faith we may run to God for mercy and be healed (Gal. 3:24). St. Augustine beautifully states it this way:
"The law was therefore given, in order that grace might be sought; grace was given, in order that the law might be fulfilled. Now it was not through any fault of its own that the law was not fulfilled, but by the fault of the carnal mind; and this fault was to be demonstrated by the law, and healed by grace." (On the Spirit and the Letter, Ch. 34)
We are no longer under the law of works but under grace; the law of faith. In other words, our motivation for walking in righteousness should not be compulsion or legalism, but total dependence and gratitude to the grace of God in Christ which works in us. This "grace" through which we are healed and enticed to fulfill the law refers to none other than the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit without whose influence the law is but "the letter that kills." 
"Now the Lord is that Spirit: and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty. But we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord." (2 Cor. 3:17-18, KJV)
In the next entry, we will discuss how the Holy Spirit, the third person of the Holy Triune God, works our transformation into being more like Christ day after day. God bless and stay tuned.

To God be the glory! Amen!

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

"Changed from glory to glory" (Part II): Are we capable?

(Read the first part here)

II. Are we capable?

"...even the beginning of our faith, as con-
tinence, patience, righteousness, piety, and
the rest... all God's gift, so that he that glo-
ries may not glory in himself, but in the Lord
~ St. Augustine of Hippo
Some Christians have this idea that when God freed us from the power Sin (at the point of Conversion), He thereby made us wholly capable of bringing about the moral transformation He expects us to achieve after being saved. Thus, it now lies in the power of our own will to walk or not to walk in God’s righteousness since He has already done His part by enabling us. Consequently, when we implore God’s help to work into our lives, it is only that we might perform our duties more easier or with less difficulty; but we can nevertheless attain to that Christ-likeness on our own in so far as we have already been freed from the power of Sin.

This idea is very appealing and prominent among many Christians today. However, I honestly believe God’s Word doesn’t support such view.  The Bible gives no indication that God made us wholly capable of sanctifying ourselves when He freed us from Sin. Freedom from the power of Sin does NOT grant us total independence from any spiritual influence so that we may be left on our own. Instead, God freed us from the power of Sin so that we may be under the inspiration and sanctifying influence of His Spirit (Rom. 8:15). To be exact, the Bible equates freedom from Sin [or deadness to Sin] to our incapability of totally going back to our old sinful lifestyle (see Rom. 6:1-2), but never to moral capability. Observe Paul's statement in Philippians 2:12-13:
"Wherefore, my beloved, as ye have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and tremblingFor it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure” (Php. 2:13). 
In exhorting the Philippians to "work out" their salvation (that is, to evince their justification by doing good works), Paul immediately added that they must strive do so with complete humbleness and lowliness of heart (i.e. "with fear and trembling"). Why? Paul gives us the reason: "For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure." Paul takes way all grounds of human boasting regarding our sanctification by exposing that it is God Himself who gives what He demands us to do according to His will. Note he didn't say, “God has already given you the ability, and the rest is up to you,” but rather “it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure. Certainly, this divine inner working would be rendered completely superfluous if believers already possess the ability of obeying God’s will on their own.

This is not to say, however, that we cease to have a will under the inspiration of God's grace, or that it is no longer we that act when we do that which pleases God, but that the actual execution of godly virtues is an evidence that God’s grace is at work in our lives. Moreover, when it is asserted that Christians are void of natural ability to reform themselves for the better, it doesn't mean we remain sinners or in bondage to Sin even after we are saved. Rather, it is simply acknowledging that we are in every way dependent on God's grace in our pursuit of holiness, and that whenever when we experience victory from our old sinful habits and lifestyle, it is by God's working and not by our own powers and capabilities that we overcome them (Php. 2:13). As St. Paul puts it:
"Not that we are sufficient of ourselves to think any thing as of ourselves; but our sufficiency is of God." (2 Cor. 3:5)
Christ told His disciples, “without me ye can do nothing” (Jn. 15:5); meaning, we are incapable of moral reformation by our own strength. It is God's gift that we have the ability and desire to change (cf. Gen. 20:6; Deut. 30:6; Eze. 36:26-27; Rom.  5:5; Php. 2:13).

In the next post we will discuss the role of God’s law in our journey to attaining moral Christ-likeness. Stay tuned and God bless!

To God be the glory!

"Changed from glory to glory" (Part I): Called and appointed to be holy

I. Called and appointed to be holy

The moment we put our faith in the Lord Jesus, we have been counted as holy in God’s sight based on the finished work of Christ on the cross (Rom. 3:24-25; 4:5-6). This is to say that judicially, in God’s sight, we are already just, righteous, and perfect. He no longer sees our sins because it has been washed away by the blood of Christ and that we are covered by His righteousness through our faith in Him (Rom. 5:19; 1 Cor. 1:30-31; Rev. 7:14). It is by grace that we are saved.

However, the story doesn’t just end in our being saved / justified. After saving us from the penalty of our Sins, He also expects us to "be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God" (Rom. 12:1-2; cf. Eph. 2:1-10). God didn't just call us unto a saving relationship with Him. He also called us to walk in all holiness to the praise of His glory!
“As obedient children, not fashioning yourselves according to the former lusts in your ignorance: But as he which hath called you is holy, so be ye holy in all manner of conversation; Because it is written, Be ye holy; for I am holy.” (1 Pe. 1:15, KJV) 
“But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvellous light:” (1 Pe. 2:9, KJV)
It is an amazing thing that God has counted us righteous in His sight (justified us) not by our own efforts, but He wants us to be practically righteous (i.e. Christ-like) as well.  This isn’t about maintaining our justification, but evincing the justification we had received once and for all. Concerning the difference and connection between justification and sanctification, Dr. Millard J. Erickson observes:
"...Sanctification is a process by which one's moral condition is brought into conformity with one's legal status before God. It is a continuation of what was begun in regeneration, when a newness of life was conferred upon and instilled within the believer. In particular, sanctification is the Holy Spirit's applying to the life of believer the work done by Jesus Christ...  
...In order to  focus more sharply the nature of sanctification, it will be helpful to contrast it with justification. There are number of significant differences. One pertains to duration. Justification is an instantaneous occurrence, complete in a moment, whereas sanctification is a process requiring an entire lifetime for completion. There is a quantitative distinction as well. One is either justified or not, whereas one may be more or less sanctified. That is, there are degrees of sanctification but not of justification. Justification is a forensic or declarative matter, as we have seen earlier, while sanctification is an actual transformation of the character and condition of the person. Justification is an objective work affecting our standing before God, our relationship to him, while sanctification is a subjective work affecting our inner person." (Christian Theology, Part IV, 46, pp. 968, 969)
"I am the Light of the world,” (Jn. 8:12) says Jesus Christ, and as Christians we must reflect His light which is in us by showing people that we changed! (Mat. 5:16). This has been God’s plan long before He called us; even before the world began:
“And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose. For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren.” (Rom. 8:28, KJV) 
“For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.” (Eph. 2:10; cf. 1:4-6, KJV) 
“Who hath saved us, and called us with an holy calling, not according to our works, but according to his own purpose and grace, which was given us in Christ Jesus before the world began,..” (2 Tim. 1:9, KJV)
You see moral transformation and sanctification isn’t optional.  It is every Christian’s duty and privilege at the same time. Striving to be more Christlike day after day manifests our deep gratitude to all the great things God has done in our lives.

But the question should be asked: Are we capable of doing this? Do we have the natural ability to reform ourselves for the better? This will be discussed in the next entry of this series.

To God be the glory!

Monday, April 16, 2012

Gusto kong bumait pero di ko magawa!

Tukso. Nariyan yan sa halos lahat ng dako. Sa barkada. Sa paaralan. Sa internet. Sa bahay. Kahit saan! Lahat ng kabataang mananampalataya ay humaharap sa samut-saring mga tukso ng sanlibutan. Lahat tayo ay dumarating sa punto na bumibigay tayo sa panggogoyo ng kaaway.

Pero teka lang. Hindi ba sa kaloob-looban ng puso natin eh hindi naman talaga natin gustong gumawa ng kasalanan sa Diyos? Ang ibig kong sabihin, hindi ba lahat naman tayo na tumanggap kay Cristo ay nagnanais magbago at lumayo sa kasalanan? Pero bakit ganun, mas pinipili parin nating magkasala sa tuwing inihahain ng kaaway sa atin ang masasarap niyang putahe?

Ayaw nating magkasala, pero ginugusto nating magkasala. Ang gulo noh? Nalilito ka na ba? Ako rin eh.

Ang phenomena na ito ay ipinaliwanag ni San Pablo sa kanyang sulat sa mga taga-Galacia. Ayon kay San Pablo:
"Sapagka't ang laman ay nagnanasa ng laban sa Espiritu, at ang Espiritu ay laban sa laman; sapagka't ang mga ito ay nagkakalaban; upang huwag ninyong gawin ang bagay na inyong ibigin." (Gal. 5:17)
Kaya pala! Ang pagkakaroon natin ng dalawang magkaibang pagnanais sa puso natin ay repleksyon ng nagaganap na gyera sa pagitan ng Espiritu na nananahan sa atin, at ng ating laman o lumang pagkatao. Taglay natin ang kagustuhang magbago, ngunit dahil nadadaig tayo ng pagnanasa ng ating laman, hindi natin magawa-gawa ang kabutihang nais nating gawin. Sabi nga ulit ni Pablo:
"Ito ay sapagkat ang ginagawa ko ay hindi ko nauunawaan sapagkat ang hindi ko nais gawin ay siya kong ginagawa. Ang kinapopootan ko ang siya kong ginagawa. Ngunit kung ang hindi ko nais ang siyang ginagawa ko, sumasangayon ako na ang kautusan ay mabuti." (Rom. 7:15)
Alam natin ang masama at mabuti. Sumasang-ayon tayo na ang kautusan ng Diyos ay mabuti. Sang-ayon tayo na ang anumang uri ng adiksyon o bisyo na nakasisira sa katawan ay masama at di kalugod-ludog sa paningin ng Diyos. Alam nating masama ang magsinungaling. Alam nating masama ang makipag-away. Alam nating mabuti ang maging masunurin sa ating mga magulang.

Pero bakit ganun, lalo parin nating ginagawa ang kasalanan? Anong problema? Ayon sa Kasulatan, ito ay sapagkat mahina ang ating kalooban o will hinggil sa katuwiran. Ayon nga sa apostol: "...ako sa aking sarili ay naglilingkod sa kautusan ng Diyos sa aking isipan, ngunit sa aking makalamang kalikasan naglilingkod ako sa kautusan ng kasalanan" (Rom. 7:25b).

Ang ugat ng problema ay nasa disposisyon ng ating mga puso. Ayon nga kay Jesus, gawin mo munang mabuti ang puno at tsaka ito makapagbubunga ng mabuti (Mat. 12:33). Ngunit sino ang may kapangyarihang baguhin ang kalikasan ng isang puno? May kakayahan ba ang puno na gawin yun sa sarili nya? Syempre wala.

Kung gayon, sino ang makapagliligtas sa atin mula sa miserableng kalagayang ito? Pakinggan ang wika ng apostol:
"O anong saklap ng aking kalagayan! Sino kaya ang magliligtas sa akin sa kalagayang ito na nagpapahamak sa akin? Wala nang iba pa kundi ang Diyos sa pamamagitan ni Jesu-Cristo na ating Panginoon! Salamat sa kanya!" (Rom. 7:24-25a) 
"Ito ay sapagkat ang Diyos ang kumikilos sa inyo upang inyong loobin at gawin ang kanyang mabuting kaluguran." (Php. 2:13)
Sa madaling salita, hindi natin ito kayang pagtagumpayan kung sarili lang natin. Sa katunayan pa nga ay wala tayong magagawa kung hiwalay tayo kay Cristo (Jn. 15:6). Ang Diyos lamang ang may kakayahang baguhin ang disposisyon ng ating puso upang ibigin natin siya.

Ayon sa Panginoon,
  • "At tutuliin ng Panginoon mong Dios ang iyong puso, at ang puso ng iyong binhi, upang ibigin mo ang Panginoon mong Dios ng iyong buong puso, at ng iyong buong kaluluwa, upang ikaw ay mabuhay." (Deut. 30:6)
Sa mga taong may pagibig sa Diyos, ang mga utos ng Panginoon ay hindi mabigat o mahirap sundin (1 Jn. 5:3). Gayunpaman, ang pagibig na ito'y hindi bunga ng pagsisikap ng tao, kundi produkto lamang ng biyaya ng Diyos na binili ni Cristo para sa atin sa pamamagitan ng kanyang dugo (Rom. 5:5-6, 8:32). 

Kapatid ko kay Cristo, may mga kahinaan ka bang hindi mo mabitaw-bitawan at inaakala mong wala ka nang pagasa sapagkat hindi mo ito mabago? Gusto mo bang bumait pero di mo magawa? Tatapatin kita. Hindi mo talaga kaya! Hangga't hindi mo inaamin sa iyong puso na hindi mo kayang magbago at tanging Diyos lamang ang may kakayahang ipagkaloob ito sa iyo, paulit-ulit kang mabibigo - at hinding-hindi ka magtatagumpay. Sabi nga ng Kasulatan,
"Ganito ang sabi ng Panginoon: Sumpain ang tao na tumitiwala sa tao, at ginagawang sandigan ng lakas ang kanyang sariling bisig, na ang puso'y walang pagtitiwala sa Panginoon." (Jer. 17:5)
O ano pang hinihintay mo? Babasahin mo ba ito at kakalimutan na lang? Bumalik ka sa krus ni Cristo NGAYON! Isuko mo ang lahat-lahat ng mga kahinaan mo sa paanan ng ating Panginoon! Kay Cristo lamang matatagpuan ang TUNAY at TIYAK na pagbabago!

Maraming salamat sa Diyos! Sa kanya ang buong kapurihan!


Tuesday, April 3, 2012