Faith, Presumption, and the Sovereign Grace of God

In her book From Fear To Freedom, Rose Marie Miller insightfully unfolds how our gracious Father uses personal crises and major life transitions to reveal to us an otherwise unseen distinction between faith and presumption.

The distinction between faith and presumption by itself is helpful.

However, this distinction takes on greater significance as she personally describes her own journey through those disordered crises moments and life transitions, and how God graciously enabled her to see what she was blind to on her own.

As she unfolds her story, her recognition of this mix of faith and presumption personally helps me think and pray about my own faith.

Often my faith unravels during difficult events, or major life changes when I feel completely out of control or helpless.

My auto-response is usually to blame God, play the victim, presumptively resolve to re-apply myself do or be better, and demand God and others fix my problems — all at the same time.

Consequently, I found bringing these separate references together in one place helpful for me to better think through what Rose Marie is saying.

“Presumptive self-confidence may look like faith, but it has a very different spiritual root (Jer. 17:5-10).

Faith and presumption look alike because both qualities are characterized by confidence, but faith begins in the recognition and acceptance of our total human weakness. It relies solely on God and his gracious willingness to empower us.

Presumption, on the other hand, is a reliance on human moral abilities and religious accomplishments, on visible securities. It ultimately relies on human will power to serve God and people.

In my case, I was unknowingly relying on [family], or past successes, or my own abilities. And I came to see that a mix of presumption and faith produces a personal instability that surfaces in crises and major life transitions …

In our presumption we suppress a great deal of the painful truth about ourselves. We can see sins in others and have the same sins in ourselves without recognizing it.

Suppressing pain and doubt serves only to trap you in a vicious circle of spiritual blindness. You can begin to break this circle by opening up to God and sharing your deepest doubts—often in the presence of another whom you can trust and who is willing to accept you as you struggle …

Faith and presumption (reliance on self and outward morality) look so much alike that only crises can expose presumption for what it is.

Presumption constantly tries to shift our reliance on Christ’s righteousness to our own efforts.

Therefore, crises become God’s means of forcing us to turn away from circumstances, feelings, and our own strength—and to turn toward God.

Growth in Christ is not rooted in moralistic will power.

It is only possible as we are transplanted by faith, through the power of the Spirit, into the soil of grace …

Prayer: Our Father in heaven, please show me the difference between real faith and a demanding presumptive faith—so I can put my trust in Christ alone. I am so easily blinded by wanting to look good to myself and to others. May the gospel of the Cross and the resurrection of Christ be a continuing power in my life. Amen.”

From Fear To Freedom, Rose Marie Miller, Kindle Locations 329, 536, 1141.


Prayer As The Experience Of Adoption

images-6Prayer is the only chapter topic to remain the same through all the various editions of Calvin’s Institutes from its catechetical form in 1536 to its final form in 1559.

By the final edition, it is the longest chapter in the Institutes . . .

Calvin’s strong pastoral and theological interest in the topic of prayer is in contrast to the sparse attention his thought on the topic has received among scholars and Christians.

Why is prayer, especially corporate prayer, so important?

When a person sees how in himself he is “destitute and devoid of all good things”, he “must go outside himself” to see after his or her need. In the midst of this situation a wondrous exchange takes place when one receives the revelation of Christ by faith:

“The Lord willingly and freely reveals himself in his Christ. For in Christ, he offers all happiness in the place of misery, all wealth in the place of our neediness; in him he opens to us the heavenly treasures that our whole faith may contemplate his beloved Son, our whole expectation depend upon him, and our whole hope cleave to and rest in him. This, indeed, is that secret hidden philosophy which cannot be wrested from syllogisms. But they whose eyes God has opened surely learn it by heart, that in his light they may see light.”

Prayer is the place where people “learn it by heart,” namely, the dynamic that they must look outside of themselves for happiness, wealth and communion. This takes place “in Christ,” revealing the Father.

“After we have been instructed by faith to recognize that whatever we need and whatever we lack is in God, and in our Lord Jesus Christ, in whom the Father willed all the fullness of his bounty to abide so that we may all draw from it as from an overflowing spring, it remains for us to seek in Him, and in prayers to ask of him, what we have learned to be in him.”

In explaining how we draw upon this “overflowing spring,” Calvin speaks of the Spirit and the adoption enabled through the Spirit.

“The Spirit of adoption, who seals the witness of the gospel in our hearts, raises up our spirits to dare show forth to God their desires, to stir up unspeakably groaning, and confidently cry, ‘Abba! Father!'”

While union with Christ makes the riches of the Father available to believers, the Spirit enables believers to pray. Moreover, the Spirit enables believers to experience God as Abba Father. Through calling upon the Father by the Spirit, believers receive “an extraordinary peace and repose to our consciences.”

When one experiences God as Father, one recognizes that God deals with us with generosity and kindness, “gently summoning us to unburden our cares into his bosom.”

In experiencing this adoption through the Spirit by praying in Christ, one needs to have “true gratitude of heart and thanksgiving,” for all good gifts come from the Father. Indeed, one of the purposes of prayer is that “we embrace with greater delight those things which we acknowledge to have been obtained in prayers.”

Since all the goodness and riches of this life are in fact from the Father, prayer is a spiritual exercise to help believers live out the reality that all good things are gratuitous gifts received from God.

A synthesis of a quotations from p. 141-144 by Todd Billings, Calvin, Participation and the Gift: The Activity of Believes in Union with Christ.


Union With Christ: Mysticism or Mystery?

1239903318_space_14To many evangelical ears, “union with Christ” terminology and imagery sound “mystical” . . .

This is a failure, however, to distinguish between mysticism and mystery in theology.

Mysticism is a vague, speculative, unmediated, and direct experience of God, or absorption into God.

By contrast, nearly all of the central biblical doctrines we embrace are rooted in mystery (e.g., the creation of the world ex nihilo, the virgin birth, the incarnation, the hypostatic union, the resurrection, the Trinity, the inspiration of Scripture, and others).

This is why theology requires a healthy dose of modesty . . . “Theology is based on mystery and enters into mystery” writes Hans Boerma.

Despite the obvious truth of this assertion, modern evangelicals often seem more prepared to embrace doctrines apparently amenable to logical, rational systematization than to embrace the mysteries of our faith in a state of wonder and confession.

This may explain our tendency to spend an inordinate amount of time explaining the mysteries of our faith rather than adoring and savoring them.

Mystery speaks of a reality that can be apprehended, pointed to, and described, but never explained, let alone explained away.

. . .  Our union with Christ is indeed one of the great mysteries that lies at the heart of Christian confession, and it is thoroughly evangelical.

Of the mystery of union with Christ, Martin Luther writes:

“But faith must be taught correctly, namely that by it you are so cemented to Christ that He and you are as one person, which cannot be separated but remains attached to Him forever and declares: “I am as Christ.” And Christ, in turn, says: “I am as the sinner who is attached to me and I to him. For by faith we are joined together into one flesh and bone .” Thus Eph. 5: 30 says: “We are members of the body of Christ, of his flesh and bones,” in such a way that faith couples Christ and me more intimately than a husband is coupled to his wife.”

John Calvin Concurs:

First, we must understand that as long as Christ remains outside of us, and we are separated from him, all that he has suffered and done for the salvation of the human race remains useless and of no value to us. Therefore, to share in what he has received from the Father, he had to become ours and to dwell within us . . . for, as I have said, all that he possesses is nothing to us until we grow into one body with him.

This reminded me of another image of Robin Williams and an elderly lady collapsing into a pool of Spaghetti in the movie Patch Adams. 

images-5

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Perhaps this image may help! It’s okay t try to figure out union with Christ.

But as you do, as you meditate on the majesty and beauty of Jesus, do not forget that it boggles the mind simply because it is a great mystery; while also being a very great and precious promise from God to us. We do not have to comprehend it fully to dive into it and enjoy it. In the end, the way to really begin comprehending it is to savor it, to collapse into Christ himself, and to rest in Him and His promises.

Quote taken from Johnson, Marcus Peter (2013-08-31). One with Christ: An Evangelical Theology of Salvation (Kindle Locations 342-356). Crossway. Kindle Edition.


Laboring Over A Sermon And Research Paper — Reflections By A Pastor And Student

a96b34dcf54fdccc2007e6f9deab327bThough there is obvious disanalogy, there is a good analogy between having an unattractive baby and preaching a sermon every Sunday or writing a lengthy research essay for your professor.

You nurture, sooth, talk to your baby weeks and months before giving birth. You research and get everything ready for your babies arrival. You want to find all the right words to express what you feel. Your love for your baby grows each day in the womb, and you can’t wait to see that beautiful child delivered in the daylight of a sermon on Sunday morning, or see your beautiful SBL-Word formatted baby finally emailed to your professor.

You are so proud. You try not to take too much credit, but perhaps someone will notice your brilliance, nominate you as the parent of the year for giving birth to such an exquisite child. There will be celebrations, baby showers and gifts. Some will even give money.

When the time comes to give birth the pain increases, anguish gives way to exhaustion, and after intense labor in those painful hours of final preparation and editing, this brain-child just has to come out no matter what, or I’ll burst.

Then finally my beautiful baby has arrived. You hold your new born baby for loved ones to hear and see and rejoice with you.

You notice the smiles seem a little forced, and the kindnesses somewhat artificial.

But no one wants to tell an exhausted mother who has carried this baby for so long and worked so hard to give birth, that she has just delivered one of the ugliest babies they have ever seen.

So then, soon after giving birth, when you need to rest and enjoy the moment, you become anxious and begin worrying. You start examining your baby to see what’s wrong with it.

You listen to your sermon or reread your paper and you begin to see everything that is wrong with your baby.

Your child is not nearly as beautiful as you thought, and you begin noticing all the misspellings, the odd-shaped paragraphs, the poorly formed sentences, etc. Then you start wondering if your baby will be rejected by others, made fun of, bullied with a red marker and a bad grade. You begin to feel like a failure as a preacher and student.

And you begin to think that may be next time, I will finally give birth to a beautiful child.

And then, as a good mother, you sigh and say, “That’s okay” and pridefully love your ugly-to-everyone-else-but-beautiful-to-you baby anyway.

It is in this weakness — my pastoral and academic insecurity and my need for acceptance — that, by grace, I run to the gospel crying out to the Spirit in prayer who then seeds in my heart a new hope for that next sermon and research paper due in the coming week or months.


In Christ Alone — John Calvin

When we see salvation whole, its every single part is found in Christ, And so we must beware lest we derive the smallest drop from somewhere else.

For if we seek salvation, the very name of Jesus teaches us that he possesses it.

If other Spirit given gifts are sought-in his anointing they are found; strength-in his reign; and purity-in his conception; and tenderness-expressed in his nativity, in which in all respects like us he was, that he might learn to feel our pain:

Redemption when we seek it, is in his passion found; acquittal-in his condemnation lies; and freedom from the curse-in his own cross is given.

If satisfaction for our sins we seek-we’ll find it in his sacrifice; and cleansing in his blood.

If reconciliation now we need, for this he entered Hades.

To overcome our sins we need to know that in his tomb they’re laid.

Then newness of our life-his resurrection brings and immortality as well comes also with that gift.

And if we also long to find inheritance in heaven’s reign, his entry there secures it now with our protection, safety, too, and blessings that abound -all flowing from his royal throne.

The sum of all is this: For those who seek this treasure-trove of blessings of all kinds, in no one else can they be found than him, for all are given in Christ alone.

John Calvin, as quoted by Sinclair Ferguson in In Christ Alone, Location 93 Kindle.


Jack Miller: Adoption and Union With Christ in the Context of Honesty/Lying In Prayer

“[B]eing in Christ, being adopted, the whole point of it is that your adoption is firm, it’s beyond repealing, and so, you have a right to pray no matter how you feel about it.

That would mean you could even go to God and tell Him, “I don’t feel like praying. Will you help me? I really don’t feel like repenting, I’m enjoying my rebellion today. My heart is hard.”

In other words, it takes honesty, integrity, and truth-telling in the packaging of your prayers. Maybe you don’t put one label on the package, and you have something else in the heart. It’s this kind of honesty that is pleasing to the Father because I don’t think He approves of our lying while we pray.

A lot of lying is done in praying. I would suspect that much of the lying that is done in this country happens Sunday mornings when people pray. “Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Let my will be done on earth, as I hope, someday, it will be done in heaven (emphasis added).”

That would really be what would be an honest prayer for many people, but they pray sweetly and glibly “thy will be done” when they have no heart for that at all. That would be the last thing they would want to happen in their lives.”

Jack Miller, Prayer Part II, page 3, Miller Archives

Note for those interested in Jack Miller’s understanding of the relationship between union with Christ and adoption:

Apart from the above being another great and convicting quote by Jack Miller, in this context on honesty in praying, you may have noticed that Miller uses adoption in apposition to union with Christ.

If you are like me and need help with apposition, without being complicated (e.g., using Google’s dictionary), to be in apposition is technically “the positioning of things or the condition of being side by side or close together.”

Grammatically, it is “a relationship between two or more words or phrases in which the two units are grammatically parallel and have the same referent (e.g., my friend Sue ; the first US president, George Washington).

Apposition is derived from the Latin apponere meaning “to apply.”

To briefly interpret Miller’s usage of adoption in apposition to union with Christ, it would be a grammatical fallacy, an overstatement, to say that adoption is here synonymous to union with Christ.

By example, an overstatement is in apposition to a grammatical fallacy, but they are not completely synonymous.

It would be more appropriate to recognize that Jack Miller’s normal usage of union with Christ and adoption is that the two are  closely related to one another, parallel and almost interchangeable, in a way comparable to what research has shown to be John Calvin ‘s usage of these two great doctrines.

This conclusion is generally supported elsewhere in Miller’s writings beyond this isolated appositional usage. However, a distinction between the two can also be detected in some of Miller’s writings, but that nuance is for another day of research.

For our immediate purposes, to further contradict a remaining straw man argument mentioned in my previous post, what Miller’s usage does mean is that he does not follow the Reformed Scholastics by subsuming adoption under justification (see Joel Beeke’s misplaced summary critique of Sonship, uncontested yet without reference, on this particular issue in his Heirs With Christ)

Furthermore, this same point is patently obvious in both the organization of the Sonship Course itself and Miller’s overarching emphasis on hospitality and the welcoming heart of God (e.g., contrary to being overly forensic should Miller have subsumed adoption under justification).

I do understand why one would want to marginalize Jack Miller’s influence. When he first put a thumb on my life, I wanted to run as fast as I could. He made my comfortable Christianity extremely uncomfortable by his vulnerability and directness.

And because he applied what he preached first to himself in order to lead us to Christ, I could hardly accuse him of being harsh or judgmental to escape conviction. 

It actually makes sense to me why some of the misdirected criticism leveled at Jack Miller and Sonship would better be directed at followers, like myself, who have been influenced by Miller/Sonship (e.g., overly therapeutic, antinomian, etc).

I for one, have accepted and confessed this charge personally of abusing and idolizing Sonship, not to mention the learning curve associated with living under the reign of omnipotent grace.

Personally, I was completely overwhelmed by the Gospel and didn’t know what to do with it.

Since I wanted to maintain some modicum of control and have a natural inclination to make an idol out of anything, I didn’t realize at the time I was assigning more weight to the Sonship program rather than having the King wreck my heart affections.

Unfortunately, Sonship became the new affection rather than Jesus Christ himself. Sadly, I turned the gospel into the law and hurt others with it.

Though it is inexcusable, it is also typical of the blinding nature of the sin of idolatry. 

It has not been historically atypical for those who have been influenced by a particular person to have this tendency to idolize them. But then let’s not forget that there is the person of the Holy Spirit who will not allow such sharing of affections.

Nonetheless, considering Jack Miller’s extensive influence and the rapid growth of Sonship, should it really have been unexpected or even surprising that abuses would occur?

What is hard for me to figure out is why informed Christian scholars and leaders would resort to building unsound theological arguments based on caricature and misrepresentation?

These misplaced caricatures and misrepresentations too are neither unexpected nor surprising, though they should not be left unchallenged. In the end, “abuse does not negate proper use.”

So if the problem should be directed more toward those following and abusing Miller/Sonship, like myself, let that be the case. I accept and agree to this criticism and ask for your forgiveness if you experienced this from me.

From Jack Miller and Sonship, I also learned a good healthy skepticism (not cynicism) so that, ironically, one could say I learned to repent of making an idol out of Sonship from Sonship. 

Unless, perhaps there is another reason for the proliferation of caricatures and misrepresentations of Jack Miller/Sonship?

In a somewhat prophetic way, could Miller’s above quote provide some additional explanation?

If it does, can you not also still hear his hearty laugh as he reminds you, “Cheer up! You are worse than you think you are” followed by “Cheer up! God’s grace is so much greater than you ever dared imagine.”


Oh The Melting, Conquering Power Of The Gospel!

images-4Thank you for your prayers and partnership in the gospel.

Your partnership with Harvest Prison Ministry (HPM) makes amazing stories like the one Richard Jennings read to me this morning possible.

So I wanted to make sure and share that joy with you, and ask you to pray with us for HPM, and the men and guards with whom they work.

Sometimes it is just so hard to believe what God is doing you just have to hear it for yourself and be astonished by his omnipotent grace.

This letter, dated July 27, 2014, was written from a medium security facility near Nashville that only recently has started opening its doors to HPM for special events which hopefully soon will be expanded access.

Rick Allen met this Korean inmate (I say that because his english is a bit broken) while he was at Charles Bass Correctional before being transferred, and has maintained contact with him. 

The name of the prisoner and prison is intentionally redacted.

“Dear Pastors Rick Allen and Richard Jennings: God bless you, your family and your ministries — Amen!

Thank you very much for what you’ve done for us in Christ — Amen!

We/I thank God and thank you in Christ — Amen!

It is a blessing from God. Allelujah! Amen!

What you did this time was really incredible in this compound. In history, during the 22 years in this compound, there never been like this event — the Christians, the Muslims, the gangs came together this time. 

The gangsters disciples were with us as the crips. And the Aryan-[N]ations were with us as the Vice-Lord. The Mexican gangs were with us as the BG&D and BGOS.

They never been together! Period!

However, at this time, they came together and praised the Lord together, worship God in one accord and eat food together. Amen!

After 2 years struggle in this compound, finally God opened their [Gang-Boss’] heart for the Church, regardless their preference toward the Muslim! Amen!

Food was little short because, whether the caterers sent us short or some kitchen workers stole some. However, at least we feed all! Praise the Lord! Amen! I will take more attention in securing food during our service, or I will use the dining room service. Then I can prevent stealing food. 

Please forgive my immaturity securing the food (smiley face).

Now, I’m preparing for next week Bible Study which will be a Bible-quiz. I saved more than a hundred stamps for Bible-quiz (smiley face). 

I just want to motivate brothers to read Bible. I’ve got 25 questions and I will give away 4 or 5 stamps for one [correct] answer. Please pray for us, thank you. 

I’m planning the 2014 Christmas Banquet in December 2014. Please would you come in? It would be December 20 or 21, 2014. Upon your situation I will be setting the date. And I will prepare more food this time.

The Gang-Boss came to me last night and this morning saying thank me and thanks to you two. 

And the Mexican gangs made food for me last night because I did not eat at the banquet.

The Crip [Gang] Boss sent me a pint of wine for appreciation which I did not drink (I just tasted it — Really!).

Many of them promised me not to “Ban” their members coming to church.

And they said they will come to church.

And they asked me to pray for their family — Amen.

(Tomorrow, I will make a copy for their name and number and I will sent to you).

Please pray for them, Sir.

Okay, Sir. I gotta go. I will write you soon.

God bless you, your family and your family members in Christ — Amen!

Sincerely, ………………….”


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