To Dance or Not To In Church: A Brief Examination

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I worship in a Reformed Baptist church—-Truth Missionary Baptist Church— and praise and worship which includes dancing and clapping is not an element of worship when we meet for corporate worship. We sing hymns and the psalter played to the tune of an organ. We adhere to The Regulative Principle of Worship (RPW) which primarily teaches that “the corporate worship of God is to be founded upon specific directions of Scripture.” This can be expanded by looking at the words in the Westminster Confession of faith which states that

…the acceptable way of worshipping the true God is instituted by Himself, and so limited by His own revealed will, that He may not be worshipped according to the imaginations and devices of men, or the suggestions of Satan, under any visible representation, or any other way not prescribed in the Holy Scripture” Dt 12:32; Mt 15:9,10; Dt 15:1-20; Ex 20:4,5,6; (WCF 21.1)

Simply, the elements of corporate worship must be those things that are explicitly taught in Scripture or can be inferred directly or indirectly from Holy Scripture. What isn’t explicitly taught in Scripture, or by inference can be deduced, we reject as  an element of worship. Throughout Scripture, God has indeed “regulated worship” and not just anything was allowed in worship. The worship of God is not to be profaned. Paul says all things must be done decently and in order. What then are the elements that can be present in a corporate worship one may ask?

The confession again answers this:

The reading of Scriptures with godly fear;the sound preaching, and conscionable hearing of the Word, in obedience unto God, with understanding, faith, and reverence; singing of Psalms with grace in the heart; as also, the due administration and worthy receiving of the sacraments instituted by Christ; are all parts of the ordinary religious worship of God: besides religious oaths, vows, solemn fastings, and thanksgivings upon special occasions, which are, in their several times and seasons, to be used in an holy and religious manner. (WCF 21.5).

Now corporate Christian worship is not a trifling moment to show all kinds of dancing skills. Can you pause perharps to examine whether the dancing you engage in or observe in church is indeed God glorifying?

On 15th June, 2018, I was at a retreat with my colleague seminary students who are from all denominational backgrounds–Pentecostals, Charismatics, Baptists, Methodists, Presbyterians and I was the only Reformed and Calvinist amongst them. Now, common to all the denominations gathered (apart from myself) was the element of dancing during what is popularly called praise and worship.

So it was time for praise and worship and the leader announced “we are going to dance to the Lord“. As is to be expected, because of my beliefs; I did not participate in “the dance to the Lord”. I found a place at the back while praise and worship goes on.

Now a friend, who knows my stance about dancing in corporate worship, stepped onto the dancing floor with insinuating moves directed at me (note they were doing this to the Lord). He was dancing and at the same time looking and pointing towards my direction while gleefuly laughing. He was obviously dancing to spite me. While dancing, he also prompted another colleague, then pointing to me, he told him “in his[my] church they don’t dance”. He was clearly enjoying himself while teasing me in his dancing. Having gotten a teasing accomplice, they will dance towards my direction mockingly while giggling. What surprised me was the playful manner this was been carried out while at the same time it was suppossed to be a dance unto the Lord. It was a heart-breaking moment for me. Even if my friend has a problem with my theological stance, this, the period of praise and worship, which was suppossedly to God, was not the time to prove me wrong. He should, as it were, give it all to the Lord. But no, in the “dancing to the Lord”, he found a place to tease me.

Right in that meeting, my convictions about dancing not being an element of corporate worship was strengthened. There was no reverence. I tried getting the attention of the two when they danced towards me by asking; “are you dancing to spite me or you are indeed dancing to God?” The “accomplice” got the message and backed off (or so I thought). Afterwards, I went to this friend privately and asked “what were you doing, dancing to God or spiting me?”. To my shock; he answered “both”. Here is a Christian, a seminary student, a friend and one of the sharpest brains in the class (he was once applauded by our Christian doctrine professor for a Christology paper he submitted) who steps foward to dance to God and at the same time dance to spite another believer.

Sadly so, many people dance suppossedly to God but the true motive for their dance is far from pleasing God. I have heard people after dancing and sweating in church remark that “this is my only disco where I can can dance and be happy.” So for such a person, dancing in church is nothing but entertainment; a substitute for a night club. Before a praise and worship session sometimes worshippers are told to dance their problems away. Some people, especially the youth will dance with all kinds of dancing skills— borrowed from the world of course. No wonder, every dance form that shows up in the world, finds expression in corporate worship. Dancing cannot be controlled, its motives cannot be determined and it is not found as an element of corporate worship:

The elements of New Testament worship are prayer (Mat. 6:9; Phil. 4:6; 1 Tim 2:1-2; 1 John 5:14), Scripture reading and hearing (Neh. 8:8; Acts 15:21; Rev 1:3), preaching and hearing of the Word (Neh. 8:8; Mat. 28:19-20; Luke 24:47; 2 Tim. 4:2), singing of psalms (Eph 5:19; Col 3:16; James 5:13), administration and receiving the sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s Supper (Mat 28:19; Acts 2:42; 1 Cor 11:23-29), as well as occasional oaths (Deut 6:13 with Neh 10:29) and vows (Isa 19:21 with Ecc 5:4-5) 1and “upon special emergent occasions, to separate a day or days for publick fasting or thanksgiving, as the several eminent and extraordinary dispensations of God’s providence shall administer cause and opportunity to his people” (2 Chron. 20:2-3; Ezra 10; Neh. 9; Joel 1:14, 2:15; Zeph. 2:1-3; Matt. 9:15).2

A careful observer will recognise how dancing has flung open the door of irreverence into the gathering of God’s people. At this point, I will make no conclusions about whether to dance or not. I leave that to the reader to assess their position. I will here end this article with words from John Calvin’s book, The Necessity of Reforming The Church.

…when we are left at liberty [without regulation], all we are able to do is go astray. And then when we have turned aside from the right path, there is no end to our wanderings  until we get buried under a multitude of superstitions” [3]

Notes

1: https://purelypresbyterian.com/2017/01/31/what-is-the-regulative-principle-of-worship/#ft7

2:https://purelypresbyterian.com/2017/01/31/what-is-the-regulative-principle-of-worship/#ft8

3: John Calvin, The Necessity of Reforming The Church (Linn:Monergism Books, 2018), ebook

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Saved By Grace

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For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God  (Ephesians 2:8).

This little phrase “by grace are ye saved” is undoubtedly the favourite of many believers. There is no denying the fact that the Christian life is all of grace from start to finish. Even if you do not know this text, as a Christian, you know or must know that your salvation is all of grace to which you added nothing or contributed nothing and the text is clear in that sense: “and that not of yourselves.” If you don’t know this fact, perhaps I will ask you “how did you become a Christian?” B. B. Warfield, a theologian in the 19th century said that: “The whole gospel turns as upon its hinge on this fact,that salvation is of pure grace.” The text under consideration therefore is one of the glorious truth of the Christian faith that salvation is all of grace.

What Is Grace?

In the world, there are only two religions. There is a religion of grace and a religion of human effort: a religion of faith and a religion of works; True religion and false religion. And Christianity apart from all religions is a religion of grace through faith alone for salvation. Now before we can have a good appreciation of the grace of God, we need to have have a good appreciation of what our problem as human beings is. Grace has become a normal language so perhaps many often lose the true significance of grace. You ask someone how are you and whether they are a Christian or not, you are likely to hear them responding “fine by grace.” Grace is not lost on us I believe, but often many people interpret grace in very shallow and materialistic way. Listen to the words of this contemporary gospel music:

From the planes I fly, the cars I drive, the money I have
Ebe God e dey bless me
Food on my table, houses I’ve built, family I’ve got
Ebe God e dey bless me,
It’s not by power, it’s not by strength, just by the Holy Ghost
And I’m not ashamed to tell the world, my blessings dey come from God

You see what people call blessings out there? Money, cars, houses, food… Not that these are not important. But if these are what we want to point out to the world as God’s blessings, then we are doomed. Our understanding of blessing is very shallow and materialistic indeed. To have a good understanding of grace therefore, we need a good understanding of our condition as human beings. Contrast and compare the words of the song we just looked at with the words of this hymn and the difference will be clear:

Amazing Grace. How sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me!
I once was lost, but now am found,
Was blind, but now I see

Here is a true reflection of what grace really is and it reveals the condition of the sinner and everyone before they came to Christ: They were wretched, lost and blind. Wretched because we lacked the love of God. Lost because we are distanced from God and blind without an appreciation of the truth of God. Sinners are blinded to the truth of God. Grace, is commonly described as God’s unmerited favour. Others have described it as God’s Redemption at Christ’s Expense using the letters that spells grace.

All these are true. But I want us to look at the text and get our own understanding from the text about what grace is and what Paul is talking about. As we attempt to do that, we will also answer the question.

What Have We Been Saved From?

The text speaks of been saved by grace. Now to be saved means one was previously in a dangerous or precarious situation. And as we look at the Scriptures; what we have been saved from becomes clear.

And you hath he quickened, who were dead in trespasses and sins;
Wherein in time past ye walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience: Among whom also we all had our conversation in times past in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind; and were by nature the children of wrath, even as others.

Dead in trespasses and sins

The whole text we are looking at paints a picture of gloom and hopelessness from vv.1-3. Paul here contrasts the life of the Ephesian believers when they were unbelievers with their lives when they became believers. And in this contrast, we learn something true of all humanity before they come to Christ.All of us and all human beings have different personalities. We come from different backgrounds. Different parts of the world. In our own country we come from different tribes. We are different in so many ways. But all of us, despite our different background have one thing in common; we are sinners. We come into his world as sinners. One theologian has said that “we come into this world, dead on arrival” And our sin has actually separated us from God.

Hopelesness

Wherefore remember, that ye being in time past Gentiles in the flesh, who are called Uncircumcision by that which is called the Circumcision in the flesh made by hands; That at that time ye were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope, and without God in the world (vv 11-12).

To be hopeless is simply to be without Christ and without God. The world’s greatest problem is not poverty or sickness. The world’s greatest problem is separation from God. As Gentiles, the Ephesians, before they came to faith were hopeless. They had no hope.
Not only that, as Gentiles, the Ephesians were outside of God’s family: they were aliens and strangers from the covenants of promise. When God’s people are counted, they didn’t belong. The Jews had a national pride for being the people of God and everyone else was outside of the covenant of God. Remember David’s description of Goliath? “Who is this uncircumcised Philistine?” Circumcision then was a mark of covenant relationship. In simple terms Gentiles did not fit in. They didn’t belong to God’s family. They were far off (v.13).

Enemies of God

For he is our peace, who hath made both one, and hath broken down the middle wall of partition between us; Having abolished in his flesh the enmity, even the law of commandments contained in ordinances; for to make in himself of twain one new man, so making peace; And that he might reconcile both unto God in one body by the cross, having slain the enmity thereby (vv. 14-16).

Because sinners are dead in sin living their lives contrary to God’s commands, they have set themselves up against God. Sinners are enemies of God, they will have nothing to do with God. We hate God. Naturally of our ownselves we will have nothing to do with God. Paul used an actual historical event to illustrate this. There is evidence that in the second temple of Jewish worship, there was an inscription barring Gentiles from entering the temple. Any Gentile who goes against this will suffer death. The inscription reads:

No foreigner is to enter the barriers surrounding the sanctuary. He who is caught will have himself to blame for his death which will follow
So both from the natural point of view and the spiritual, man is lost and helpless without God.
that not of yourselves

The very first three verses of Ephesians as you can see is full of gloom and hopelessness. Natural man is depicted as not having the ability in themselves. to respond to God: “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day”(John 6:44). In fact, if left on her own, the sinner would not come to God. To be dead in sin is comparable to a corpse. A corpse cannot give life to itself can it? It is in this sense Paul say “not of yourselves”. You cannot save yourself. You have no power over your life. In Matthew 6 Jesus said you cant even add a cubit to your height. How much more salvation?

But God
Having spoken of how gloomy our situation was, a light of hope is shown through our hopelessness with the words in vv.4-5“But God”. This juxtaposes God’s ability with our inability: what we couldn’t do with what God did in our regeneration. Out of our despondent, desperate, hopeless situation as sinners, hope sprung from God. From v4 onwards, we see the love and mercy of God at display towards the sinner. And that’s what grace is about:

But God, who is rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he loved us (v.4)

Grace is about God’s richness in mercy towards sinners. Grace is God’s great love towards his people.

A New Life

When God intervenes in our deadness, He gives us eternal life. He makes us alive to be able to relate with him. He also grants us eternal life and draws us to himself through Christ. The sinner who once had no hope is now given hope in this life because he is now united with Christ and reconciled to God (v5). We are seated in the heavenly places that means we are now citizens of heaven. We have hope now and hope in the life to come. God has purposed to show us “in the coming ages…the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus “(v7).
This new life is not a result of anything good or meritorious work in us. It is a new life that springs from the love, mercy and grace–unmerited favour– of God

What Must You Do?

If you have not come to faith in Christ Jesus, all that has been said of the former life of the believer is true of you. You are dead in sin, hopeless without God, you are an enemy of God and his wrath is upon you. This is a fearful thing and this very day, God offers you life in his Son Jesus. You have to turn to him in faith and repent of your sins. He makes a call: “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28).

 

Dashed Hopes In Christ

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But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel (Luke 24:21a).

These words were spoken by the men taking a journey to Emmaus whom Jesus approached and started asking questions of. Apparantly, they were discussing the events that had happened; i.e. Jesus’ crucifixion, burial and resurrection. Jesus joined them and asked a question. Scripture says somehow, they couldn’t recognise him:

That very day two of them were going to a village named Emmaus , about seven miles from Jerusalem, and they were talking with each other about all these things that had happened. While they were talking and discussing together, Jesus himself drew near and went with them . But their eyes were kept from recognizing him. And he said to them, “What is this conversation that you are holding with each other as you walk?” (Luke 24:13-17a).

The first response to that question Scripture tells us was sadness: “And they stood still, looking sad” (Luke 24:17b). These words are not encouraging since it showed a sense of disappointment. Now what better explains all of this is that these were people with misplaced hopes of the ministry of Jesus Christ. They had defined Christ’s ministry according to their most immediate felt needs. During Jesus’ lifetime on earth, the Jewish nation was under Roman rule and hence the Messiah, in their understanding was going to deliver them from that rule. Another of such misplaced hopes is seen in Acts 1:6 before Christ’s ascension: “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” the disciples asked.

You see, one thing is clear here. Their agenda differed from God’s. While they looked to the restoration of Israel from Roman rule; God’s agenda was on a global scale gathering a “great multitude…from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages” (Rev 7:9). Many people in the same sense come to Christ with wrong hopes. Some come with the hope of an improved life, better life prospects, looking for a spouse, seeking healing for a disease etc. In the gospels, we see a group of people who sought Christ for the wrong reasons. And Christ rejected them:

Now when he was in Jerusalem at the Passover Feast, many believed in his name when they saw the signs that he was doing. But Jesus f on his part did not entrust himself to them, because he knew all people and needed no one to bear witness about man, for he himself knew what was in man (John 2:23-25).

Clearly, these people didn’t have a true heart in seeking after Christ. And Christ knowing what is in man (speaking of his divinity) rejected them. Now it is one thing to come genuinely to Christ for salvation and another thing to come with our expectations rather than his will. In such situations, you are likely to have your hopes dashed and blame Jesus or say Christianity doesn’t offer what it promises. No, in actual fact, Christianity doesn’t promise some of the things people hold so dearly like prosperity and a good health.

So we are not disappointed in our walk with Christ, let’s bear in mind the only thing guaranteed and promised in Christ is the forgiveness of our sins and the promise of eternal life if we come to him by faith and turn from our old ways. All other things apart from these are not guaranteed and will lead to dashed hopes.

Christ Was Crucified For Our Sins

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I find no guilt in him” (John 18:38; 19:4;6).

Three times in his trial, Jesus–the Great and Sovereign Judge of all—was found not guilty by a human judge Pilate. However, justice was perverted and an innocent life killed.

Though innocent, his death was to keep in line with biblical prophecy. His death was no random death in human history. He came to die for the sins of humankind. Isaiah prophesied of his death saying: “he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed.” (Isaiah 53:5). Matthew narrating the annunciation recorded the angel telling Mary “thou shalt call his name JESUS: for he shall save his people from their sins.” (Matthew 1:21). John the Baptist, calling the attention of the people gathered, pointed to Christ saying: “Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world.” (John 1:29).

Apostle Peter reflecting on Jesus’ death quoted Isaiah saying: “Who his own self bare our sins in his own body on the tree, that we, being dead to sins, should live unto righteousness: by whose stripes ye were healed” (1Peter 2:24). Finally apostle Paul also summarised the intent of Christ’s death saying: “For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him.” (2Corinthians 5:21).

All the biblical writers attested to this one truth that Christ died for sinners. He gave his life so we might have life and be reconciled to God through faith. Jesus died so sinners will be delivered from eternal damnation: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” (John 3:16).

The message of Easter is Christ’s death for sinners. God condemns all human beings as sinners separated from him and culpable of death (Isaiah 53:6,Romans 3:23;6:23). However, hope is provided in the death and resurrection of Christ to reconcile sinners unto himself (1Peter 2:25).

“I Can Do All Things Through Christ”…You May Have Been Misinterpreting The Text.

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Paul’s epistle to the Philippians is one exuding with great joy, praise and adoration. In this epistle, you encounter words like “rejoice in the Lord” (3:1); “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice” (4:4). What is most fascinating is that Paul wrote these words while in prison. The epistle to the Philippians, therefore, is one of Paul’s prison epistles. Now it is fascinating because, in our normal human reasoning, a man in prison shouldn’t be exuding with such admonishments to be joyful. John MacArthur notes that “In spite of Paul’s imprisonment, the dominant tone of the letter is joyful (1: 4, 18, 25, 26; 2: 2, 16– 18, 28; 3: 1, 3; 4: 1, 4, 10)”¹. Philippians without doubts contains great themes not only of joy, but also of the humiliation of Christ and the great exchange that took place:

Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him a name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

Here is a Christological statement telling us of the humility, humiliation, and exaltation of Christ. Albeit, despite these great themes, there is one text in Philippians which is often widely quoted, and often widely misinterpreted. That text is Chapter 4:13. It reads,

I can do all things through him[Christ] who strengthens me.

Paul’s words here have been interpreted to basically mean the ability to achieve great feats in whatever endeavour a believer sets their minds to. A believer has exams to write, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me“. A believer is attending a job interview, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me“. A Christian businessman is chasing a contract, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” A believer competes in a sports event, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me“. An online article aptly describes how this text has been used in the sports arena by some athletes.

Tim Tebow put Phil 4:13 under his eye before football games. Jon Jones, the former UFC light heavyweight champion, has it tattooed on his chest.

What we must not do is pluck biblical texts out of context to say what we want them to say. Unfortunately, that is what many believers have done with Philippians 4:13. In hermeneutics, that is, the science of biblical interpretation, this is called eisegesis—reading into a text a meaning that is not there. On the contrary, we must be doing exegesis—reading meaning out of the text. Now, it doesn’t matter how sincere we may be with a text; once it is taken out of context we are being unfaithful to God’s word.

So, you may ask, how must we view Philippians 4:13? In dealing with any biblical text, the immediate context and the larger context of the bible is to be taken into consideration. We shouldn’t, for example, interpret a text in such a way that other passages of Scripture are contradicted. Thus, in the immediate context of Philippians 3, what do we learn?

Not A Booster for Great Achievements

Firstly, Paul’s words “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” should not be taken to mean the believer can do any great thing they set their minds to. In fact, with a correct understanding of the text, I dare say “you cannot do all things through Christ who strengthens you.” Eyebrows raised? Of course, the text says exactly that so why am I saying otherwise?
Please hear me out. The fact is, Christ doesn’t empower you to be able to do ‘everything’ you want to do. If you are not a trained surgeon, for example, you cannot perform a surgery simply because you believe “you can do all things through Christ”. This may sound an extreme example but that is a perfect picture you paint if you believe you can do all things. You cannot pilot a plane if you have not been trained to do so, simply because you can do all things. In fact, you cannot fly because you believe you can fly. You are not a bird.

It has been noted earlier that Philippians is a prison epistle. Think of this: what greater feats is a man in prison attempting to achieve when he writes “I can do all things…?” No, Paul cannot do all things in the sense of achieving whatever great feat he can set his mind to. This is someone in prison, who is probably bound in shackles and couldn’t even move about freely. Achieving arbitrary great feats will not be his focus at that time. A man in prison will perhaps be making good use of the limited time he has. He wouldn’t be having “conquering the world in great achievements” on his plate at all.

Contentment

In Philippians 4:13, what Paul is speaking about condenses simply into contentment. You see, Paul is in prison and the Philippian church have finally had an opportunity to show their concern for his upkeep: “I rejoiced in the Lord greatly that now at length you have revived your concern for me. You were indeed concerned for me, but you had no opportunity” (v.10). It could be that perhaps hitherto, they had not had the opportunity to show their concern to Paul in prison, yet, through divine providence, it had become possible and Paul shows gratitude for their concern. However, perhaps for them not to feel compelled under duress to further provide for him, Paul quickly explains he is not appreciating them out of need. He tells them: “Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be a content” (v.11).

Paul here makes it clear he has learnt contentment in whatever situation he finds himself. And this is the crux of the whole text: contentment. Building up to v.13 Paul will again speak of how he has learnt contentment in every situation: “I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need (v.12). This is very instructive to us today in a world that constantly calls us to crave for more. A consumerist spirit has gripped many and they are never content with what they have. But not so with Paul. He tells us he has learnt to endure both plenty and lack. Where did he learn this from? He learnt it by emulating Christ. Remember, earlier he had advised the Philippians to “have this mind among [themselves], which is yours in Christ Jesus.” Learn from Christ, he is saying. Set your mind upon him. Let his humiliation be an example to endure whatever situation you find yourself. Be content with whatever you have and learn to trust in God in the bad and good situations.

Logically, if you have read v.12, the meaning in v.13 must now begin to stand out when Paul says “I can do all things through him[Christ] who strengthens me.” The ‘all things’ refers in the first place to coping with need or plenty. The apostle’s words are better translated ‘I can do all things in him…’. It is ‘in Christ’ that he has learned to do this.² If you have never seen contentment in Philippians 4:13; begin looking at the text in its context. I will conclude with the words of Sinclair B. Ferguson in his book ‘Let’s Study Philippians’:

Christians today live in a society which is permeated by a spirit of discontentment. Greed has destroyed gratitude, getting has replaced giving. But in the pursuit of self-sufficiency, we have lost our way. We have developed spirits driven forwards to gain more, incapable of slowing, stopping and remembering that those who sow the wind reap the whirlwind…It is time to pause and to ask: ‘Am I content, in Christ?’ If not, it is the first thing I need to begin to relearn³.

Notes:

1. Note on Philippians 4:13 from The MacArthur Study Bible, 2006, Thomas Nelson.

2. Sinclair B. Ferguson, Let’s Study Philippians (Edinburgh:Banner of Truth, 2005), 108

3. Ferguson, Let’s Study Philippians, 109

Scripture And Divine Guidance

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Who do I marry? What work or profession must I take on? Where should I live? etc. are some of the legitimate questions Christians ask. Believers must seek to please God in all they do and hence these questions are commendable. However, these questions tend to be answered in ways that I believe are dangerous to believers. Many books, supposedly answering these questions inundate the shelves of Christian bookshops. One such title reads, “Are You Still Single? Prayers to Locate Your Divine Spouse.” These and many more are bestsellers because people are indeed looking for answers to life’s questions and somewhat these titles promise to offer them their answers. But are they the right answers?

As believers, God has given us his Word as the means by which we will please him and every other “How Tos” not faithful to Scripture are to be avoided. And many of these “How Tos” are indeed unfaithful to Scripture. The Old and New Testaments; that is the whole Bible has been given to us “to be the rule of faith and life.”1 A rule, by dictionary definition, is “a set of explicit or understood regulations or principles governing conduct over an area of people”. It is also “control of or dominion over an area or people” Following from this definition, the Word of God then becomes our explicit or understood regulations or principles governing our conduct. The word of God has control of or dominion over us. This simply a means Scripture has an overarching authority over the believer. If Scripture is the word of God (and it is), then we are to submit our whole lives to its obedience, for in the obedience of Scripture we obey God.  Everything we need to live lives pleasing to God is addressed in Scripture. Is this not an over-stretch you may ask? No, it is not. The Bible indeed has all the answers for our lives.

Perhaps one of the places in Scripture where Scripture testifies of itself is Psalm 119. In this Psalm, David speaks of all what the word of God does for the believer. He places a premium on the Word and in this Psalm, David celebrates the Word of God. The Word keeps us pure, he says. There are wondrous things in the Word to behold, he beckons. The Word is to be treasured above all riches, he admonishes. How relevant all these are to someone who wants to please God by his word! The question remaining unanswered so far is how the word of God gives us guidance. To this I turn to the Westminster Confession of Faith:

The whole counsel of God, concerning all things necessary for His own glory, man’s salvation, faith, and life, is either expressly set down in Scripture, or by good and necessary consequence may be deduced from Scripture: unto which nothing at any time is to be added, whether by new revelations of the Spirit, or traditions of men. Nevertheless, we acknowledge the inward illumination of the Spirit of God to be necessary for the saving understanding of such things as are revealed in the word; and that there are some circumstances concerning the worship of God, and government of the Church, common to human actions and societies, which are to be ordered by the light of nature, and Christian prudence, according to the general rules of the word, which are always to be observed.2

There are two important things to be noted in the words of the confession in terms of knowing those things which please God and serve as a guide for our lives. Firstly, there are those things expressly set down in Scripture and secondly, there are those things by good and necessary consequence may be deduced from Scripture. In other words, there are things that are so plain in Scripture we don’t need second thoughts or opinions to obey them; and there are those things we cannot clearly see stated in Scripture but can know them as we study and apply Scripture.

I will describe this as moving from the known to the unknown: “The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law.” (Deut. 29:29)

Expressly Set Down In Scripture

Whatever is expressly set down in Scripture simply indicates things that are clear and unambiguous. They are things that are revealed and ought to be obeyed. They are so plain it will take only disobedience not to see them. One of the characteristics of the Bible taught by the sixteenth-century Reformers is what they call perspicuity of Scripture. “What they mean by that technical term was the clarity of Scripture. They maintained that the Bible is basically clear and lucid. It is simple enough for any literate person to understand its basic message.”3 Of course, this doesn’t mean everything in Scripture can be easily understood. But at least, the very important things we need are explicit.

All things in Scripture are not alike plain in themselves, nor alike clear unto all; yet those things which are necessary to be known, believed, and observed for salvation, are so clearly propounded, and opened in some place of Scripture or other, that not only the learned but the unlearned, in a due use of the ordinary means, may attain unto a sufficient understanding of them.4

One of the clear teachings of Scripture about our conduct as believers is in 1 Thess. 4:3 “For this is the will of God, your sanctification…” God demands nothing but a sanctified life; that is, a life separated from any form of ungodliness. The text actually goes on to list all that is in view here by our sanctification: “that you abstain from sexual immorality; that each one of you know how to control his own body in holiness and honor, not in the passion of lust like the Gentiles who do not know God; that no one transgress and wrong his brother in this matter, because the Lord is an avenger in all these things, as we told you beforehand and solemnly warned you. For God has not called us for impurity, but in holiness.” (vv.4-7) The list here is not exhaustive, albeit it tells us clearly what God demands from us. It guides our conduct. The popular verse, Romans 12:1-2 is another place we see an explicit teaching of Scripture: “I appeal to you, therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect”.

There are indeed many other teachings of Scripture on money, relationships, employment, marriage and any other thing we may call practical issues of life. We are to be good stewards of our finances. We are to love one another as ourselves. As Christians, we are to marry Christians and of course we are to marry from the opposite sex and not same sex. In matters of employment, we are to firstly work and work as unto God and not as to men. These are basics indeed and if we commit to obeying these, other areas of our lives would be less blurred.

Deducing from Scripture by Good and Necessary Consequence

The Scriptures are to be studied and its lessons applied to our life. Any believer who doesn’t make the study of Scripture a part of their life will surely walk about not knowing what God requires of them in any sphere of life. All Scripture, Paul tells us, is “profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” (1Timothy 3:16-17) If Scripture is profitable, then we are to study it and apply it to our lives. For example, studying Scripture will lead us to make a good choice of a marriage partner. God’s word has already laid down many things to look out for when one is considering marriage. As I mentioned earlier, first consideration for marriage is that a believer marries a believer of the opposite sex (this emphasis is important as marriage has taken on an unbiblical outlook). This is a non-negotiable and anything contrary to it is unbiblical. This is a general rule, but how does one narrow down to specifics? Well, if you find a Christian and you both love each other, nothing prevents you from marrying.

Many believers are postponing important life decisions because somehow they want to hear God speak to them. Well, God has spoken in Scripture (Heb. 1:-2), they are simply not listening. Stop postponing life decisions. Make decisions as long as they don’t violate what God has clearly revealed in Scripture.

Waiting for this will of direction is a mess. It is bad for your life, harmful to your sanctification, and allows too many Christians to be passive tinkers who strangely feel more spiritual the less they actually do5

I will conclude with the last part of the Confession which is very instructive: “according to the general rules of the word.” (1.6). Whatever decisions we must make should be guided by what Scripture clearly teaches and we will not go wrong. Let Scripture be your guide in your decision-making. Say with David “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path” (Psalm 119:105).

Notes:

  1. Westminster Confession of Faith (WCF) (1.2)
  2. WCF (1.6)
  3. R.C. Sproul, Knowing Scripture (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2009), Kindle edition
  4. WCF (1.7)
  5. Kevin DeYoung, Just Do Something: A Liberating Approach to Finding God’s Will (Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2009), Kindle edition

—originally published on The Gospel Network by author as Divine Guidance

The Great Work Of Salvation

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Israel was carried into captivity from their land of habitation into foreign lands. (Ezekiel 36:16-20) because of sin. Ezekiel as a priest and prophet of God was among those carried into captivity hence the scene of his prophecies is that of captivity (Ezekiel 1:1). In Ezekiel 36, God announces a restoration of the nation Israel despite their sin and rebellion: “I will take you from the nations and gather you from all the countries and bring you into your own land” (v.24). In these prophetic words of restoration, we learn many lessons about how God restores and reconciles sinners unto Himself.

1: Salvation Is A Work of God

God speaks through the prophet Ezekiel saying “I will…” In this phrase appearing about six times in the text, we notice that every action towards the restoration of the Israelites was solely a work of God. Salvation is monergestic as opposed to synergistic. God was restoring Israel for the sake of His name not because of any meritorious deed by them.

In an earlier verse, He told Ezekiel “Therefore say to the house of Israel, Thus says the Lord GOD: It is not for your sake, O house of Israel, that I am about to act, but for the sake of my holy name …” (v23). God acted in the interest of Israel “for the sake of [His] holy name”. David in Psalm 23:3 echoes this same truth: “He restores my soul. He leads me in the path of righteousness for his name’s sake”. (see also Ps.115:1).

No Place For Boasting

“For His name sake”

Here is an overarching theme of the Bible. Everything God does is to “the glory of God alone”—Soli Deo Gloria (Rev 4:11). There is no room for boasting in ourselves and our good deeds because salvation is “not a result of works” (Eph 2:9). It is by “grace” we “have been saved through faith”, It is not our own doing (v8). We owe our salvation to the glory of God. We are saved “to the praise of his glory”(Eph. 1:12, 14). The grace of God strips us off of all avenues of boasting. God saves on the merit of His grace. John Piper rightly noted: “When it comes to being a candidate for grace, your background has nothing to do with God’s choice.

Simply, we contributed nothing towards our salvation.

2: Cleansed By The Water Of The Word And Of The Spirit

Like the Israelites, we are also a people unclean by nature and in captivity to sin. We need cleansing and restoration. The Bible records that God created Adam and Eve and gave Adam a commandment to keep (Gen 2:16-17). Adam disobeyed God and by his disobedience, sin entered the world (Gen 3). Now, Adam in the garden of Eden was acting as a federal head for all of humankind therefore his fall became the fall of all who will ever walk this earth (Ps 51:5, Rom 3:23, 5:12), except Jesus who lived a perfect life without sin. In Adam, we are all separated from God by virtue of an inherited sinful nature and total depravity. As Adam was driven away from the presence of God (Gen 3:23-24), sin has driven us away from the presence of God and like the Israelites, we are under captivity and bondage to sin.

To The Rescue

However, despite our captivity and bondage to sin, God didn’t leave us in a hopeless state. He sent Christ to die in place of sinners to reconcile us unto Himself. God cleanses us from our sin by the water of the word and of the Spirit. Wherever the word of God goes forth, the Spirit of God follows to do His work (Acts 2:37). In John 17, what is termed Jesus’ High Priestly  Prayer, He prayed that the Father sanctifies the disciples in the truth, because His word is truth(v17). Peter taught that, we are “born again not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God”(1Pet1:23). The Spirit convicts sinners of sin when the word is ministered. The sinner is brought to a point of self-awareness of their sinful nature then they are brought to Christ for forgiveness and cleansing.

3: Regeneration

As said previously, all humankind are sinful, born in sin from the womb. The Christian, prior to his salvation was “dead in…trespasses and sins” (Eph. 2:1) If we were indeed dead in trespasses and sins and separated from God then the sinner can’t save herself. Dead men have no life neither can they inject life into their deadness. To be dead in sin is to not possess the ability to choose God; the inability to come to life by ourselves: To be alive therefore and come to salvation, we need an external influence to resurrect and give us life from our deadness (Jn. 6:44).

4 Alive To God

What God does in regeneration is to infuse life into our dead heart through His Spirit. Our cold, dead, unresponsive heart to divine truth is made alive to divine truth. Our unyielding heart now willingly yields to God. God’s Spirit then indwells the sinner as a guarantee one has been born of God and they belong to Christ (Eph1:14. Rom 8:9).

If God doesn’t intervene in a sinner’s life, there will be no spiritual life and spiritual birth. We must therefore pray that God will intervene in the lives of unbelievers so they will come to a saving knowledge of our Lord Jesus.