Religious Affections PART FIVE

We are now to mark #5 of authentic conversion from Jonathan Edwards’ “Religious Affections”.

In regeneration, God works in the heart to convince the sinner of both the certainty and beauty of the gospel.What-is-the-Gospel-A-Look-at-God-Man

Edwards says that true conversion is accompanied by a deep-seated conviction, “a solid, full, thorough and effectual conviction of the truth of the great things of the gospel.”

This Spirit-produced conviction leads the believer to lose all things as rubbish for the surpassing value of knowing Christ. There must be historical knowledge of the facts of the gospel event, but that is not enough to be born again. There must be this new conviction of the beauty of the Gospel that God alone births or creates in the sinner.

This happened to Peter when he confesses Jesus as the Christ. Peter didn’t just somehow come up with this on his own, but his mind was opened to the truth of who Christ truly was.
Matthew 16:16–17 16 Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” 17 And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven.
Before our conversion, the Bible says that we were dead in sin (Ephesians 2:1) and were blinded by Satan. But when God in His awesome power birthed faith in our hearts, He opened our eyes not only to the facts about Jesus in the gospel, but also to the BEAUTY of Jesus in the gospel.
2 Corinthians 4:4-6 4 In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.  5 For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake.  6 For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.

As a newly regenerated Christian, we now have the knowledge of the light of the glory of the gospel in the face of Jesus Christ. This Spirit-birthed knowledge produces within us a heart-felt and strong conviction that the gospel is not only just true, but it is also beautiful.

As believers we need both. We need to have the assurance that what we believe about Jesus in the gospel is actually true and rooted in historical reality. But we also need to have this truth become precious and beautiful and glorious to us.

A very elementary way of saying it is that we need to have both head and heart knowledge of the Scriptures. The truths of Scripture must inform our minds, but they must also inflame our hearts with a passion for Christ.  We learn the Bible not just for information, but also for transformation.  And once we’ve been transformed by the sovereign regeneration of God’s Spirit, He produces within us a solid confidence and conviction in the truth of the gospel.

We can echo Paul’s words in 2 Timothy 1:12:  “But I am not ashamed, for I know whom I have believed, and I am convinced that he is able to guard until that Day what has been entrusted to me.
Hebrews 11:1 Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.
Once we’ve seen the beauty of Jesus in the gospel, and have grasped the truth of the gospel, it leads us to abandon all pursuits as “dung” for the surpassing joy of knowing Christ more deeply.
Philippians 3:7–9 7 But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. 8 Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ 9 and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith
Edwards says, “To have a conviction, so clear and evident and assuring, as to be sufficient to induce them, with boldness, to sell all, confidently and fearlessly to run the venture of the loss of all things, and of enduring the most exquisite and long-continued torments, and to trample the world under foot, and to count all things but dung, for Christ.”

One of the clearest proofs that you and I have been born again is that we see in Christ the greatest treasure worth pursuing and we not only believe the gospel to be historically true, but also worth giving up all as “dung” to gain Him as the greatest prize.

Non-believers may admire Christ and they may assent to the historical facts of the gospel, but they in no way can say that they would give up all for the surpassing worth of knowing Christ.

Have you given up all for Him? Do you desire Him? Is your righteousness found in yourself or only in Christ? Do you boldly, confidently, and fearlessly desire to lose all for the exquisite joy of knowing Christ more deeply?

If you have, then that is proof that you are a true Christian.

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Religious Affections Part FOUR

As we continue our study of Jonathan Edwards’ “Religious Affections” let us consider the fourth mark of authentic conversion: The regenerated person does not just gain new doctrinal knowledge about God, but his or her soul is awakened to have a new taste for the beauty and sweetness of Biblical truth which leads to experiential knowledge of God.

This is very similar to J.I. Packer’s argument in “Knowing God” where he asserts that there is a major difference between knowing “about” God and actually knowing God. He writes, “Our concern must be to enlarge our acquaintance, not simply with the doctrine of God’s attributes, but with the living God whose attributes they are.”

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Edwards calls this an “enlightened mind” to the truths of Scripture. A non-believer can read the Bible and understand its content and possibly assent with head knowledge to what the Scripture says. But a non-regenerate person cannot have an enlightened mind to truly both understand and love the Scriptures, nor does he or she have the capacity to obey.

1 Corinthians 2:14 14 The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned

On the other hand, a truly converted person doesn’t just cognitively understand the principles of the gospel, he or she relishes and savors them in Christ.  This is not just a new acquisition of Biblical knowledge or doctrinal truth (which is extremely important), but in regeneration, believers have a new taste to enjoy the beauty and sweetness of the truths of Scripture.  They don’t just agree with Scripture, but their souls have been awakened to love, obey, and cherish the truths of Scripture.

It is having the mind enlightened to truth through the powerful grace of the Holy Spirit invading our hearts to understand and delight in God’s Word especially as it reveals the glories of Christ.
Matthew 11:27–30 27 All things have been handed over to me by my Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him. 28 Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
Both the understanding of and the enjoyment in Biblical truth must be revealed to us in sovereign regeneration. Only a converted person truly understands, loves, and can obey the Scriptures because God alone has opened his or her mind to the truth.
On the road to Emmaus after His resurrection, Jesus spent some time teaching those two disciples how the entire Bible points to Him. He started back in Genesis and unfolded for them through Scripture how everything finds its ultimate culmination in Christ.  How did they respond when their minds were opened by Jesus?
Luke 24:32 32 They said to each other, “Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened to us the Scriptures?”
When God sovereignly converts a human soul, He opens the mind to truth so that we can now see the beauty of the Scriptures. Our hearts burn within us as we see how the entire Bible points to Jesus.
This is not something that comes naturally from within us, but has to be implanted within us from the Holy Spirit in regeneration.
Do you long for God’s Word? Has your mind been opened to the truth of His Scriptures? Do you have a hunger and thirst for the Bible? Do you yearn to obey what you read?
1 Peter 2:2–3  Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up into salvation— 3 if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good.
Have you tasted that the Lord is good? If so, this is evidence that God in His sovereign grace has caused you to be born again!

Religious Affections PART THREE

religious_affections_banner_of_truth_coverAs we continue our examination of Jonathan Edwards’ Religious Affections, he sets forth evidences or proofs of genuine conversion. The first mark is that God sovereignly regenerates the sinner; and secondly, the believer, in turn, sees Jesus as absolutely worth treasuring. He or she desires Jesus simply for who He is above what Jesus gives.

Now let’s explore the third mark: The first and primary attribute or characteristic of God that the regenerated person savors and relishes is His absolute holiness. What truly melts the heart of a believer is a glimpse at the holiness of God in the person and work of Christ. Edwards calls this a taste or appetite for the moral excellency of divine things.

He writes this about Christians: “Their love to God for his holiness is what is most fundamental and essential in their love…A love to God for the beauty of His moral attributes, leads to and necessarily causes a delight in God in all His attributes.”

In other words, the overarching attribute of God is His holiness. Every other attribute flows from this.   God’s love is a holy love. God’s mercy is a holy mercy. God’s justice is a holy justice. God’s power is a holy power. God’s immensity is a holy immensity.

What does the Scripture say about God’s holiness?

Psalm 29:2 Ascribe to the LORD the glory due his name; worship the LORD in the splendor of holiness.

Psalm 77:13  Your way, O God, is holy. What god is great like our God?

Psalm 96:9  Worship the LORD in the splendor of holiness; tremble before him, all the earth!

Psalm 99:1–9 The LORD reigns; let the peoples tremble! He sits enthroned upon the cherubim; let the earth quake! 2  The LORD is great in Zion; he is exalted over all the peoples. 3  Let them praise your great and awesome name! Holy is he! 4  The King in his might loves justice. You have established equity; you have executed justice and righteousness in Jacob. 5  Exalt the LORD our God; worship at his footstool! Holy is he! 6  Moses and Aaron were among his priests, Samuel also was among those who called upon his name. They called to the LORD, and he answered them. 7  In the pillar of the cloud he spoke to them; they kept his testimonies and the statute that he gave them. 8  O LORD our God, you answered them; you were a forgiving God to them, but an avenger of their wrongdoings. 9  Exalt the LORD our God, and worship at his holy mountain; for the LORD our God is holy!

Isaiah 6:3 3 And one called to another and said: “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!”

Isaiah 47:4 4  Our Redeemer—the LORD of hosts is his name— is the Holy One of Israel.
Revelation 4:8 8 And the four living creatures, each of them with six wings, are full of eyes all around and within, and day and night they never cease to say, “Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come!”

Revelation 15:4 4  Who will not fear, O Lord, and glorify your name? For you alone are holy. All nations will come and worship you, for your righteous acts have been revealed.”

One of the best books on this subject is R.C. Sproul’s “The Holiness of God” which every Christian must read!

He writes, “When the Bible calls God holy, it means primarily that God is transcendentally separate. He is so far above and beyond us that He seems almost totally foreign to us…God is too great for us; He is too awesome. He makes difficult demands on us. He is the Mysterious Stranger who threatens our security. In His presence, we quake and tremble. Meeting Him personally may be our greatest trauma!

Is this the God you worship? Is this the God you love? Does this view of God enflame your heart?

Edwards says this: “What will melt and humble hearts of men, and wean them from the world, and draw them to God, and effectually change them” is relishing the sweetness of God in Christ in all His holy perfections.

LM_The_Holiness_of_God_largeOh, how we need to be weaned off this world! Oh, how we need our eyes opened to the glory of Christ. If you are a truly regenerated Christian, you long to see the beauty and holiness of Christ and it actually excites you!

May we desperately pray that the Holy Spirit melts our hearts with a love for the holiness of God and the sweetness of the beauty of Christ! May we truly be weaned off this world, so that we can find our greatest satisfaction in Jesus!

Jonathan Edwards’ “Religious Affections” Part TWO

religious_affections_banner_of_truth_coverWe are continuing this series of posts reflecting upon Jonathan Edwards’ “Religious Affections” and we saw last time that God sovereignly regenerates sinners by His grace alone. Now let’s consider his second proof or evidence of genuine conversion.

Number Two: A truly regenerated person loves God first and foremost for who He is, not primarily for the benefits or blessings that He may bring in salvation that we enjoy.  The converted soul enjoys the Giver of the gifts above the gifts themselves.

In our consumeristic evangelical subculture, we have been trained to think that loving Jesus is all about what Jesus can give me and how He can bless me. Don’t get me wrong. We receive tremendous blessings from Christ, but that should not be the motivation for us to love Him. We love Jesus because of who He intrinsically is regardless of whether we ever get blessed by Him.

Listen to how Edwards describes this: “Christians don’t first see that God loves them and then see that he is lovely; but they first see that God is lovely and that Christ is excellent and glorious, and their hearts are first captivated with this view…Love for self and what happiness they may attain in this glorious God is secondary and consequential to their recognition of his intrinsic beauty.”

In other words, the truly regenerated person comes to faith in Christ not primarily for the benefits that Christ gives, but simply because in coming to Christ, we find the greatest treasure in Him alone. He is enough in and of Himself.

Often times in evangelism, we try to appeal to the benefits of coming to Christ as the motivation to see sinners repent and believe instead of showing them the intrinsic worth of Christ Himself.  We tell sinners that they can “have their best life now” or that they will “have peace, joy and love and a better life” or that Jesus will “improve your life”. The Word faith prosperity false gospel promises no sickness, unlimited wealth, and no suffering as long as you sow your seed into some charlatan televangelist’s ministry.

Why does a sinner come to Christ? To “get stuff” from Jesus or to “get Jesus”!  Edwards argues that a truly converted person comes to Christ simply because he or she sees the infinite worth and beauty of Jesus as altogether lovely and that He is supremely to be treasured.  They don’t elevate the gifts above the Giver.

A few years back I read a powerful statement by John Piper in his book “God is the Gospel” that has haunted me ever since. I think his words capture Edwards’ sentiment.

Listen to Piper: “If you could have heaven, with no sickness, and with all the friends you ever had on earth, and all the food you ever liked, and all the leisure activities you ever enjoyed, and all the natural beauty you ever saw, all the physical pleasures you ever tasted, and no human conflict or any natural disasters, could you be satisfied with heaven, if Christ was not there.”

Ponder this truth. Do you love Jesus because of what you get from Jesus, or do you love Jesus simply because you get Jesus.

god-is-the-gospel2Matthew 13:44–46 44 “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field. 45 “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls, 46 who, on finding one pearl of great value, went and sold all that he had and bought it.

Jesus is the treasure! Jesus is the pearl of great value! Do you in JOY leave everything else behind to GET JESUS as your ultimate satisfaction?

If you have, then this is strong evidence that you have been genuinely converted by God’s sovereign grace.

 

Jonathan Edwards Religious Affections Part ONE

Over the past ten years, I have attempted to read Jonathan Edwards’ Treatise on the Religious Affections because it is widely regarded as one of the most profound and influential works on true Biblical spirituality. Yet, as other have experienced, I found it very difficult to muddle through as it takes hours to read just a few small paragraphs. The beauty of his arguments was lost in the cumbersome nature of his writing.

Sam Storms, a pastor and theologian who I greatly admire, wrote his interpretation of the Religious Affections called “Signs of the Spirit”. I am indebted to him for clearly showing me just how profound Edwards’ work truly is.

Over the next few weeks, I will be posting my thoughts and meditations upon this work.

Edwards wrote this treatise in response to those who questioned the validity of revival during the First Great Awakening in New England in the 1740’s.  Opponents protested that this so called “revival” ushered in spurious activities, false conversions, and other unusual manifestations, which often make it difficult to tell if a person has been genuinely converted.  Edwards does a masterful job in showing just exactly what true conversion is.

He proposes TWELVE evidences or proofs of authentic regeneration and genuine conversion in the heart of a sinner through the power of the Gospel. In other words, how do we know that a sinner has truly been saved? What differentiates a true conversion from a false conversion?

His foundational passage is 1 Peter 1:3-9:
1 Peter 1:3–9 (ESV) Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.

From this passage, we see that authentic Christian spirituality is evidenced in two things: a love for Jesus and joy in Jesus.

In today’s blog post, I am going to address his first mark of genuine conversion.

1.    God alone must sovereignly regenerate the sinner.  Conversion does not come about by human nature, emotionalism, or even an understanding of Biblical knowledge, but by the monergistic work of God.

In other words, as those who are dead in sin (Ephesians 2:1-3), we cannot in and of ourselves cause ourselves to be born again. As enslaved sinners, we cannot produce the new birth through our will or some decision we make to repent and believe. God’s work in our conversion is what we call “monergistic”.  This word comes from two words “mono” (one or alone) and “ergon” (Greek for “working”). Monergistic regeneration means that God alone does the work in causing us to be born again. We do not cooperate with His grace or produce the new birth through our free will choice.

The Bible is very clear that our regeneration is the sovereign working of God alone.

Ezekiel 36:25-27  25 I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you.  26 And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.  27 And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.

In this passage, notice who is doing all of the work–God! We do not cleanse ourselves. We do not take our stoney hearts out and replace them with hearts of flesh. We do not cause the Holy Spirit to indwell us. God alone does this wonderful work in our lives.

John 1:12-13  But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God,  13 who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.

How does John say we are born of God? Not by natural birth or by our own free will choice, but by the sovereign grace of God.

Ephesians 2:4-5   But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us,  5 even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ- by grace you have been saved

As spiritually dead sinners, do we make ourselves alive with Christ? Or does God make us alive in the new birth? God alone is the ONE who causes us to be born again.

Titus 3:4-6  4 But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared,  5 he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit,  6 whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior.

God saved us by His sheer grace alone through the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit. We don’t add one iota to our salvation.

This first principle from Edwards is crucial in understanding true Biblical spirituality because we must have a clear understanding of God’s sovereign work in causing spiritually dead sinners to come to life in Christ. All other arguments or principles flow from this first assertion that true conversion is supernatural in nature and that God alone does the work in His grace.

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What is True Freedom?

What is true freedom? Is it living in America as we celebrate Independence Day every 4th of July? Is it having a document like the Constitution, which guarantees our civil liberties such as freedom to practice religion and freedom of speech?  Is true freedom living without any responsibilities in a world of chaos where everyone just does what seems right in their own eyes? What is true freedom?

If there is one passage of Scripture that we as Americans need to hear it is the words of 1 Peter 2:16: “Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God.”  True freedom comes in the assurance that our sins have been forgiven by the sacrifice of Jesus Christ and that we are no longer objects of God’s justice because of our rebellion against Him.  Anyone who does not submit to Christ alone as Savior and Lord is in spiritual bondage and will die without the hope of eternal life with Him in heaven.  Jesus said this in John 8:34, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin.” True freedom comes when Christ liberates you from your slavery to sin and grants you amazing grace and life with Him.    

At one on point in our lives before Christ, we were in Satan’s kingdom of darkness, but through salvation, we experience a new birth.  Colossians 1:13–14 says, “He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. “ Again, true freedom is being delivered from bondage to redemption through Christ.

Therefore, as those who have experienced this freedom, how should we live our lives? Should we just bank on God’s forgiveness and keep sinning our hearts out because after all, “I love sinning and God loves forgiving, so this is a wonderful arrangement?” Do we use our freedom as Christians who have forgiveness as an excuse to engage in evil? Absolutely not! Romans 6:1–2 answers this question with these words: “What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it?”    

As those liberated from spiritual bondage, we have died to sin and we are no longer its slave. Through the power of the Holy Spirit in our lives, we can now be empowered to say “no” to ungodliness and not abuse the freedom we have in Christ as a “cover-up for evil”.  Titus 2:11-12 says, “For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people.  It (God’s grace) teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age.”

So true freedom is living a life of holiness and godliness in where we passionately obey Jesus as our Sovereign Lord. We submit to His leadership in our lives and we know that we are His unique possession. We don’t use our freedom as a cover-up for evil, but as a way to gladly respond back to God with joyful obedience.  As we think about freedom this Fourth of July, let us thank God that we still live in a free country and that we experience many tremendous blessings as Americans. Let us also thank God that He has given us true freedom through Christ and that we have our sins forgiven, a new identity, the joy of the Lord, and a home in heaven. May we get more excited about these truths than we do about fireworks, hotdogs, and even, dare I say, the American Constitution?