LBCF 1689 Reflections. Part 119

Reflections on the Baptist Confession of Faith of 1689

23 Aug 14 began a perhaps unbroken, orderly, and personal journey through my favorite written confession of faith. This will be my personal reflections on this beloved written codification of the Christian Faith which is according to a Baptist flavor.



Section 13a: “They who are united to Christ, effectually called, and regenerated, having a new heart and a new spirit created in them through the virtue of Christ’s death and resurrection, are also farther sanctified, really and personally, through the same virtue, by His Word and Spirit dwelling in them…”

I like to make the point these days when I can that regeneration is actually God’s first work of sanctification. Since regeneration is itself the life-giving work of the Spirit, hence faith itself is properly called “a gift”, it’s actually a sanctifying work. We’re first made holy by it.

I am very zealous to give God all the thanks in salvation. There can be no boasting before the Cross. None. None and not ever. God forbid. Being united with Christ is a spiritual thing spoken of in the Bible as something that no works could produce or ever hope to merit. The righteousness of faith is literally a relationship with God in peace and grace imputed fully and utterly “apart from works” of law (Judaism being a model given also for all religious systems anywhere) Romans 3:28; 4:6, Philippians 3:9, Ephesians 2:8-9, etc. Christians are saved by their Savior, Jesus. No other man or church of men can later make themselves out to be that savior. Jesus never commanded such a thing. If every single one of God’s elect from the start to the end were to look to their works, even ones they call done as the “outwork of love” and other such perversions of grace, and add them up to bring them to God as a payment for all of our sin it could not merit the forgiveness of even one fart irreverently placed in God’s house. We needed Jesus that bad. I detest the confusion of grace and works in so many traditions. And I love all traditions that love that! Ordinances symbolize what only God can do. That is their intention. The living bread himself lifted bread, not to later make bread into himself, but to order his own to love the treasure of the living bread they partake of hourly already by faith. “I am the bread of life; he who comes to me will not hunger, and he who believes in me will never thirst.” John 6:35. This is spiritual eating and drinking, not literal. Jesus is no more to become bread than he was to become wood and iron as the gate he said he was for all the sheep to come to the Father. He is the light; the light was never him. He has a sharp sword in his mouth that will never make him choke. It is truth, not literal metal. The living water commanded water baptism, not to make the water confused with the Spirit’s work, but to remind those already washed by faith of the treasure they have in their true cleanliness before God. Do good deeds. Yes. You’re commanded to. After many passages that speak of grace alone we have passages about living that out in works. Amen. But to doctrinally blur those good deeds with the grace that founds them is to lose the soul of the Cross. Many fake systems do this. Their works are not crassly declaring “we’re saved by works.” Of course not. The serpent is much craftier than this. But if your system amounts to a salvation by sacrament the devil is its shining head! It’s a lie. Paul deals with the addition of even as precedented a work of circumcision itself, misused in Christ as the “perfecting of grace,” as another gospel in Galatians. He condemned it. How much more any other traditions with even no such historical precedent as circumcision must we condemn who in effect make works the communication of grace? Baptism, the Lord’s Supper, evangelism, fasting, prayer, fellowship, financial giving, running an orphanage, leading the song team at church, feeding the poor, caring for others in your church. We’re to be doing all these works as we’re able. Obedience is the evidence of love (Exodus 20:6; John 14:15, etc.,) but the distinction must be sharply made between meritorious works that forgive any sin and what we do who as those forgiven for all sin. We are not therefore ever “saved by works.” Paul wrote so clearly on this saying, “when the kindness of God our Savior and His love for mankind appeared, he saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out upon us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by His grace we would be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life.” Titus 3:4-7. A helpful guide here is just to remember that God gets all the credit. Keep that in mind and it will assist you in many interpretations. It is a holy guide to our hearts which so often wants to photobomb our pictures of God’s saving grace. To be united with Christ is far more than what I can control. It is what’s articulated in places like Ephesians 2:4-6 where Paul says how, “God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus.” Or James 1:18 where James says, “In the exercise of His will He brought us forth by the word of truth, so that we would be a kind of first fruits among His creatures.” What ordinance we perform can be said to raise us up in the Spirit? Make us alive? Who can presume upon that by works? The answer in my opinion is no one who takes all this seriously!

Christians’ have “a new heart” the confession says. Man, has this been evident in me since about 2004. I love what I used to hate, and hate what I used to love…by nature. God has made all the difference. I confess James 1:18 and Ephesians 2:4-6 as parts of what God did in me in Florida those many years ago. A new heart is one guided by a “freed will”. The freed will coming from the new heart. In numerous places like Isaiah 61:1-2a (Cf. Luke 4:18-19) and Ezekiel 36:26, God announced his promises saying: “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.” When Jesus said things like, “if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed” in John 8:36, we can see that the freedom he gives is freedom from the condemnation of sin. It comes to us in the provision of the “new heart” God had promised, purchased and delivered. Sounds like some old Stevie Wonder song lyrics. That heart is led by a “freed will.” A will that now can want what’s good. It comes by grace alone. The gift of that new heart is regeneration—being born again. It is being united to Christ. It leads us to repent and trust in Jesus alone for our justification and glorification with him to come.

I love here how I read of God’s sanctifying work being both, “really and personally” done in me. It is so wonderfully personal, but it’s also communal. I have “heard God’s voice” in a million things and experiences in my sanctifying life.

“His Word and Spirit” is the beautiful function of God’s sanctification in these last days. I love the phrase “God is married to his word.” He wants us to “put him in a box.” That box is his word. He says, in effect, “think of me like this.” From the ministry of John onward God was sending out the final and full revelation of Jesus Christ via Jesus’ own preaching and later that of the Apostles. The inscripturation of that revelation evidentially ended with John. Those Apostles, as is always the case even when we write today, wrote of the most important matters of faith in letters to other Christians during their ministry. I may teach a class a lot of things over a few weeks, but if at some point later I wished to write them a letter on the heart of that class even a transcript would be in many ways less effective. I would codify my thoughts and make my points sharpest by purposed words. A person’s letters distill their thoughts and purposes. So nothing that is written will ever contradict what was spoken by the same men when understood. This especially makes your prepared statements on a subject of much more value to those who’ve not been able to inquire of you than what others may “say you said” a hundred years later. Paul wrote what Paul wanted his readers to know. Peter, John, Luke, etc. Those letters alone are called “inspired” by those taught by them for a reason—they’re actually God’s thoughts. 2 Timothy 3:16-17, etc. Some men in Spain who may have attended a public sermon of one of Peter’s messages in Jerusalem in AD 30 may claim to have been “taught by Peter” and originate all manner of mischief, but what we have for sure today is Peter’s theology written for us. It’s to that we go. The only way anyone ever truly knew that any Apostle spoke for God, from literally the very start of their preaching and/or writing, is by that exact method we see recorded for us in Scripture where the Apostles were shown by the church’s rock—Jesus in Matthew 16:17 that: “flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but My Father who is in heaven.” The only way we can truly know Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God, is by the very same divine and very personal illumination being given to us directly from God. Scripture shows us this. No one can argue that there have been very sincere and devout “Bible-driven” devils throughout church history. Our only claim, if we are in line with God’s word, is that the God of that word has shown himself to us in his word. And please hear me when I say that that is no shaky foundation. That is a sure foundation. “Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and acts on them, may be compared to a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and slammed against that house; and yet it did not fall, for it had been founded on the rock.” Matthew 7:24-25. We get this from inscripturated revelation. This is no shaky foundation! God’s intention from the start, even from Moses to whom he gave the special revelation of all creation on, was to build his people around his word. Throughout the history of God’s people, all the way through today, the only settlement to arguments is from Scripture. This is the evident work of men like Athanasius, Basil, Augustine, Luther and Zwingli. The Scriptures is to what we appeal for ultimate truth. Traditions must bow down be they Arian or Baptist. Today we read, “God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, in these last days has spoken to us in His Son…” Hebrews 1:1-2a. What we have in Jesus, codified by his Apostles in inscripturated revelation, is the greatest knowledge ever delivered to mankind on every subject it touches. We actually know more about God than Adam for we know him now as redeemer, preserver, advocate, judge and more. Because of what he’s told us. This is the work of “word and Spirit” in these last days. There will be disagreement. That’s ok. Yet we are one nonetheless if we’re wise and submitted to Jesus and to one another.

What a privilege! The Son has given us himself through his own words and the biblical witness of his 66 books. The Catholic Church didn’t create the canon. They only pretend that. They didn’t even dogmatically define a canon until the late sixteenth century. Local councils, even actual ecumenical councils, did not at all carry the kind of weight some of us like to pretend they did. Through all the fog of history, the only claims I care to make is that God had communicated his word to his people. Since Moses, this has been the case. And no councils with jurisdiction are needed to hear him speak. The canon is what God gave. Since the beginning, his sheep have heard his voice. Do you hear him there? I hope so. If you’ve heard the Gospel. The work of the Son on the Cross. Have you repented of your sin and put your trust in him alone? If you have, perhaps you too have heard his call. Now get into his word and seek it out daily. May God bless you richly in that glorious pursuit. 2 Timothy 2:15.

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