Monday, September 27, 2010

TULIP - Some Practical Implications

As a blooming flower tracks the sun across the sky, so T.U.L.I.P. (i.e., Total Depravity, Unconditional Election, Limited Atonement, Irresistible Grace, and Perseverance of the Saints) helps keep us unwaveringly focused upon God. Because of this the “Five Points of Calvinism” are often referred to also as the “Doctrines of Grace.” This handy five-point summary of Biblical teaching clearly demonstrates that “Salvation is of the LORD.” Jonah 2:6b. Yes, God alone saves sinners. Thus the “Five Points” purposely draw the mind of the sinner away from himself to God in Jesus Christ.

However, Christianity (in its purest form) deals with more than just simply the mind of the sinner. It deals also with the practical, which is to say that it demonstrates how the Christian ought to live his or her life in light of what is taught in Scripture. Thus the Gospel applies to the heart and the hands of the redeemed sinner as well as the mind. This is to say that the Gospel impacts the whole man.

Perhaps this could be illustrated by the following: The head or mind asks: What has God done FOR me? The heart asks: What is God doing IN me? And the hands ask: What is God now doing THROUGH me?

The Head
What has God done FOR me – i.e., the believer? God, by His grace alone, has declared you the sinner righteous on account of the Man Christ Jesus’ righteous works and His atoning death. This is to say that Jesus Christ has kept all God’s Commandments perfectly on your behalf and has suffered death to pay in full the debt that you personally owed to God’s justice for not personally keeping God’s Commandments perfectly.

This salvation has been communicated to you by the Gospel message as the Holy Spirit worked (savingly) with it in your heart. You the believer have received the free gift of salvation revealed in the Gospel through the instrument of faith. Your faith is the instrument through which you are saved. Faith is not the cause of your salvation. You are not saved by faith. Rather you are saved by grace (through faith). Faith is merely an aspect of the whole free gift of God’s grace. You once were an unbeliever, but now God by His grace alone, has changed or converted you into a believer. He has granted you a saving knowledge of the way of salvation, an understanding of the things of God, and faith in Christ and His Gospel. Therefore, in God’s eyes you are now “Justified.”

Briefly this technical theological term “Justification” has to do with God imputing or accrediting or transferring Righteousness to you. When God justified you a transaction – an exchange – took place. Your sin was imputed to Christ and Christ’s righteousness was imputed to you. This is what it means to be “Justified” by God. It means that you have been declared righteous by God, but not on account of anything you have done, but only on account of what Jesus Christ has done for you as your representative.

Not only are you now “Righteous” but you are also now “Holy” in God’s eyes. Whereas “Holiness” has a lot to do with your state of being – in that you are holy, “Righteousness” has a lot to do with doing – in that you now perform righteous actions. This is to say that now that you are holy you are now inclined to do what is right in God’s eyes. Before God converted you, you were inclined only to doing what is evil in God’s eyes. This was because that which motivated you was wrong. Your will was in bondage. Yes, you had a free will, but paradoxically your will was in bondage to your own sinful desires.

Like a child being given the choice between a juicy steak and chocolate ice cream for dinner, you always chose what you liked best. If the steak represents God then you chose the chocolate ice cream every time over God. Jesus said to His disciples, “You did not choose Me, but I chose you…” John 15:16a. You the believer follow Jesus because He chose you to be His follower. He has renewed you. And now that your spirit has been renewed you wish (i.e., you will) to please God (though a hindering residue of sin will remain with you until you die). Thus when God looks at you the saved sinner He is now looking at someone who is something that he or she was not before, i.e., someone who is now, in the eyes of God, holy and righteous on account of Jesus Christ.

Because of its insistence on glorifying God in all things (even in the event of a sinner’s conversion), according to the Calvinist system the justified sinner is one who has seen the holiness of God. Thus, correspondingly and proportionately you the justified sinner have therefore seen your own unholiness (or sinfulness) – revealed to you by the Holy Spirit speaking in Scripture. You now can see and understand spiritual things with the mind (i.e., intellectually), which is to say that you now have a head knowledge of the holiness of God and the sinfulness of man in his fallen condition.

You are now able to discern something you were blind to before, for Scripture says, “But the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.” 1 Corinthians 2:14. You now have the ability to intellectually and spiritually identify with, and to a certain extent experience something of the emotion of what, for example, Isaiah experienced in the following:

“In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lifted up, and the train of His robe filled the temple. Above it stood seraphim; each one had six wings: with two he covered his face, with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one cried to another and said: ‘Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; the whole hearth is full of His glory.’ And the posts of the door were shaken by the voice of him who cried out, and the house was filled with smoke. So I said: ‘Woe is me, for I am undone! Because I am a man of unclean lips, and dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts.’ Then one of the seraphim flew to me, having in his hand a live coal which he had taken with the tongs from the altar. And he touched my mouth with it and said: ‘Behold, this has touched your lips; your iniquity is taken away. And your sin is purged.’” Isaiah 6:1-7.

Thus you the believer have seen what God has done FOR you. He has taken your iniquity away. He has made clean that which was unclean, i.e., you the believer. God as it were has planted you in His garden and will now cause you to bloom for His own glory.

The Heart
Having understood what God has done FOR you, let’s now ask the question: What has God done IN you? It is possible for a person to understand salvation by grace alone intellectually without personally experiencing it. The person may also intellectually understand “Initial” or “Definitive Sanctification” – whereby after having been “Justified” the sinner is personally infused with Christ’s righteousness. This is another way of saying that you the believer have been given a new nature – you are now righteous by nature. You now have the desire (or will) to do what is right in God’s eyes (though the residue of sin remaining in your heart means that you won’t always do what is right in God’s eyes).

A person may understand all these things intellectually without personally experiencing them – without actually undergoing and experiencing personal conviction of his or her sins. But, like love and marriage going together like the proverbial horse and carriage, so “Justification” and “Sanctification” are coupled together – you can’t have one without the other. Whereas “Justification” has to do with being declared “Righteous,” “Initial” or “Definitive Sanctification” has to do with “Infused Righteousness,” which is to say that “Sanctification” has to do with being made “Holy.” To be made “Holy” by God is to be “Sanctified,’ i.e., set apart by God for His special use.

A gardener may store tulip bulbs in a dry and dark cupboard for an indefinite time period. Only when he brings them into the light and plants them in good soil and waters them do they mysteriously begin to germinate. God has taken you the believer out of the dry and parched land of the kingdom of darkness and has translated you into His Kingdom of light. He has watered you with His Word and His Spirit has regenerated you in your heart, causing you as it were to germinate. You are now growing in the grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ. You now see the Light of God in the face Jesus Christ as revealed in Scripture. Your attention is now focused on God in Jesus Christ. And so now you are beginning to bloom in God’s garden.

Those who have been “Justified” look to God and cry out to Him with a broken and contrite heart (i.e., he or she is penitent, or sorry for their sins). They seek God for deliverance from their sins. For Scripture says: “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit, a broken and contrite heart – These, O God, You will not despise.” Psalm 51:17. Instead of seeking to avoid God you now are seeking God daily. You now wish (or will) to keep His Commandments in order to show God your gratitude to Him for saving a wretch like you by His amazing grace. This is because God by His grace has given you a new heart. Your prayer is now that of David, the sweet Psalmist of Israel, who prayed, “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.” Psalm 51:10.

When God saved you He regenerated you. He gave you (as He gives every believer) a new heart and a new spirit. With your new heart you now love Jesus and with your new spirit you now obey Him. For Jesus says, “If you love Me, keep My commandments.” John 14:15. Loving Jesus and keeping His commandments is the demonstration of the truth of what God promises believers where He says, “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will take the heart of stone out of your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. I will put my Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will keep my judgments and do them.” Ezekiel 36:26-27 (cf. Jeremiah 31:33 & Hebrews 8:10).

Therefore, not only do you the believer believe the Gospel Message intellectually (i.e., with your head), but you actually experience a hunger and a thirst for righteousness in your heart. The righteousness you seek is found only in Jesus. You now wish to grow in the grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ.

Before you were converted by His grace you didn’t really care, but now it grieves you in your heart when you sin against Him. You rejoice when you are reminded over and over that all your sins are forgiven. You are now able to relate to and experience what David writes in the following, “Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered. Blessed is the man to whom the LORD does not impute iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no deceit. When I kept silent, my bones grew old through my groaning all the day long. For day and night Your hand was heavy upon me; my vitality was turned into the drought of summer. I acknowledged my sin to You, and my iniquity I have not hidden. I said, ‘I will confess my transgressions to the LORD,’ and You forgave the iniquity of my sin.” Psalm 32:1-5.

The Hands
What is God doing THROUGH you? With a renewed mind and a humbled heart the Justified and Sanctified sinner also partakes of Holiness. As Scripture says, “For they [i.e., our earthly fathers] indeed for a few days chastened us as seemed best for them, but He for our profit, that we may be partakers of His holiness.” Hebrews 12:10. You the believer are holy because you belong to Jesus Christ. For speaking of His sacrifice on the cross Scripture says, “For by one offering He has perfected forever those who are being sanctified.” Hebrews 10:14. Therefore you the believer have been Justified by God, are being Sanctified by God, and are Holy unto God.

Sanctification and Holiness go hand in hand. Both speak of the same thing. As a human being being renewed in the image of Christ, Scripture says that you are to “Pursue peace with all people, and holiness, without which no one will see the Lord: looking carefully lest anyone fall short of the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing up cause trouble, and by this many become defiled…” Hebrews 12:14-15.

As one who is Justified, Sanctified, and Holy you the believer are not to defile yourself which may in turn defile others. There is any amount of ways that you might defile yourself – e.g., involving yourself in theft, fornication, covetousness, idolatry, lying, etc. – but all defilement great or small involves breaking God’s Ten Commandments either in thought, or word, or deed.

When a dog-owner washes his dog immediately the washed dog wants to roll around on the grass and dirt. Does the dog’s rolling around cause the grass and dirt to become clean, or does it make the dog dirty again? Now that God has washed you the believer with the blood of His Son, you are to steer clear of those things that defile. Instead of sinning you are to pursue peace and holiness. Yes, we have help when we sin again. For Scripture says, “And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.” 1 John 2:1. And also, “Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived. Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor sodomites, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of God.” 1 Corinthians 8:9-11.

It is because God has given the believer a new mind, heart, and spirit, that he or she pursues holiness. The justified sinner’s pursuit of holiness is another way of saying that the believer strives to be obedient to God’s revealed will. However, it is important to note that this obedience to God is done in the power of the Spirit indwelling the believer. In other words, it is God who enables the believer to be obedient. Therefore God gets the all the glory for any good works the justified sinner does.

This “pursuit of holiness” is usually termed as “Progressive Sanctification,” whereby the justified sinner is subject to ongoing Righteousness; i.e., he progresses in Holiness throughout his or her Christian life by using his body members (his or her hands etc.) for doing what is right in God’s eyes. Whatever you the believer put your hand to, you are do it all to the glory of God. For Scripture says, “Therefore, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” 1 Corinthians 10:31.

We know we are saved when our head knowledge has led to a changed heart and when we now use our hands to serve God. We are to serve God in thought, word, and deed. Yes, in this life we serve our God imperfectly. That our struggle with sin this side of glory is continuous, is attested to by the Apostle Paul who says: “I delight in the law of God according to the inward man. But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members.” Romans 7:22-23. Therefore believers ought to trust God, distrust self, and always pray.

Though we delight in God’s Ten Commandments (summarized by the words: love God with all your heart, soul, strength, and mind, and love your neighbour as yourself) all Christians struggle when it comes to keeping God’s Law in thought, word, and in deed. That God will not desert the justified sinner is attested to by these words: “…being confident of this very thing, that He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ.” Philippians 1:6.

Scripture speaks of the Christian as one that has “put on the new man who is renewed in knowledge according to the image of Him who created him.” Colossians 3:10. And the Christian also is one that has “put on the new man who was created according to God, in true righteousness and holiness.” Ephesians 4:24.

In light of what we’ve looked at above, ”true knowledge” has to do with the “head,” and “righteousness and holiness” with the “heart and hands” respectively. Knowledge is related to God’s Word, i.e., prophecy. Holiness is related to being a doer of God’s Word, using our hands to God’s glory, i.e., it is priestly. And righteousness has to do with having the right heart-motivation for doing what is right in God’s eyes. Therefore righteousness has to do with ruling over sin rather than having sin rule over you (Genesis 4:7). To rule is to be kingly. Thus regarding the head, heart, and hands, every Christian reflects Jesus Christ our Prophet, Priest, and King. For in Him alone is there found the knowledge, true righteousness and holiness of God.

Scripture says, “But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the same Spirit of the Lord.” 2 Corinthians 3:18. There is a sense then in which we are being transformed into prophets (1 Peter 3:15), priests and kings (1 Corinthians 4:8; 1 Peter 2:5; Revelation 1:6).

The “Five Points” are an accurate summary of what the Bible teaches regarding each of these five interconnected and overlapping doctrines listed therein. They are a handy “pocket ready reckoner” to help you the believer work out whether any doctrine (i.e., teaching) espoused by any other is indeed a doctrine of grace or a doctrine of works. The “Doctrines of Grace” promote the glory of God by demonstrating that, according to Scripture, the salvation of sinners is completely by the grace of God alone. Thus you the believer are free to serve God with your whole being without wondering if you’ve done enough or are good enough to satisfy God to let you into Heaven.

Knowing that God has saved you by His grace ALONE brings you the believer the freedom not only from bondage to the sin that once enslaved you, but also freedom from the sticky and encumbering web of works-righteousness espoused by many who have a distorted view of the grace of God in Jesus Christ.

Because of God’s grace you the believer are now free to live your life (head, heart, and hands – even the whole man) to the glory of God. For Scripture says, “Stand fast therefore in the liberty by which Christ made us free, and do not be entangled again with a yoke of bondage.” Galatians 5:1.

(The above is excerpted from my larger work called "Demystifying the Gospel":

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