Jellyfish Christianity

One plague of our age is the widespread dislike to what men are pleased to call dogmatic theology. In the place of it, the idol of the day is a kind of jellyfish Christianity – a Christianity without bone, or muscle, or sinew, – without any distinct teaching about the atonement or the work of the Spirit, or justification, or the way of peace with God – a vague, foggy, misty Christianity, of which the only watchwords seem to be, ‘You must be..liberal and kind. You must condemn no man’s doctrinal views. You must consider everybody is right and nobody is wrong.’

—J.C. Ryle
The Upper Room

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Thanksgiving for the Grace of Election

I have so much to be thankful for: a wonderful, loving, supportive wife and family, my health, good friends, a warm home, a good job. My cup certainly overflows. More than anything though, I am thankful for a loving, sovereign God that chose me before the foundation of the world. A God that chose me according to the riches of his grace – for his own pleasure – not because of any merit in me. A God that chose me despite my proud and sinful heart, despite my fickleness, despite my arrogance, and despite my sometimes fearful and thankless heart.

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.

In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will, so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory. In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory.

—Ephesians 1:3-14

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.

—Ephesians 2:8-10

If I thought that my salvation rested on or depended on my choice, or any merit or goodness in me, I would certainly despair. But it doesn’t – it is all of grace. Our salvation was arranged before the foundation of the universe and brought about by all three members of the Godhead working in concert: the Father planned it, the Son accomplished it, and the Spirit opens our eyes and our hearts to receive the promised blessing. How could one not give thanks for such a loving Savior?

True Gratitude

One of the grand traditions of America is our tradition of taking one day out of the year and setting it apart as a special holiday–a holy day–a day to commemorate the benevolent providence of God. It was originally called Thanksgiving. The idea of Thanksgiving day has its roots in our own history, in the bitter struggle that the original founding fathers of this country had with the elements.

The pilgrims who came to these shores in 1620 had their ranks depleted by almost fifty percent in the first year of their struggle in the new world. They lacked the shelter, food, and supplies that they needed to endure. But instead of being bitter at the severe losses that they experienced, as people and as Christians they were grateful to God for His kindness. And it was in their culture that the first Thanksgiving took place. It was then given new impetus during the presidency of Abraham Lincoln, who made a national proclamation to restore this time of reflection and celebration of the goodness of God.

But we live in an age in which the culture has changed dramatically. It is now called the “secular age,” but we still have the tradition. Do you notice the subtly in which the meaning of this tradition has gradually eroded? Now it is almost as commonplace to hear this particular Thursday in the month of November being described as “Turkey Day” as it is to be described as “Thanksgiving.”

Thanksgiving is a moment to express profound, deep, sincere and genuine gratitude to the providence of God for a year’s worth of tender mercies that we have received from the hand of His benevolence. From his care, from His comfort, from His guidance, from His government of our lives, we are to take time to be grateful.

I think the resistance to that spiritual dimension of Thanksgiving is not something that is particularly symptomatic of our generation or culture. The resistance to authentic Thanksgiving is inherent to fallen humanity. It is not inherent to humanity as such because when we were created originally in the image and the likeness of God, in the pre-fall Garden of Eden, every day was Thanksgiving day. Every day was a day of feasting upon the fruit that God had made available for His creatures. And every moment God came into the garden He was greeted by loving, adoring creatures whose hearts were filled with gratitude to even be in the presence of God.

But with the fall something serious happened. Something penetrated the very soul of our humanity that still persists to this day. And that is a deep rooted reluctance toward gratitude before God.

—R.C. Sproul

Via: Ligonier Ministries Blog

Reading the Bible Diligently

Let us arm ourselves with a thorough knowledge of the Word of God. Let us read our Bibles more diligently than ever, and become familiar with every part of them. Let the Word dwell in us richly. Let us beware of anything which would make us give less time and less heart to the perusal of its sacred pages. The Bible is the sword of the Spirit – let it never be laid aside. The Bible is the true lantern for a dark and cloudy time – let us beware of traveling without its light.

—J.C. Ryle
Warnings to the Churches

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Not Faith but Christ

Our justification is the direct result of our believing the gospel; our knowledge of our own justification comes from believing God’s promise of justification to every one who believes these glad tidings. For there is not only the divine testimony, but there is the promise annexed to it, assuring eternal life to every one who receives that testimony. There is first, then, a believed gospel, and then there is a believed promise. The latter is the “appropriation,” as it is called; which, after all, is nothing but the acceptance of the promise which is everywhere coupled with the gospel message. The believed gospel saves; but it is the believed promise that assures us of this salvation.

Faith is not Christ, nor the cross of Christ. Faith is not the blood, nor the sacrifice; it is not the altar, nor the laver, nor the mercy-seat, nor the incense. It does not work, but accepts a work done ages ago; it does not wash, but leads us to the fountain opened for sin and uncleanness. It does not create; it merely links us to that new thing which was created when the “everlasting righteousness” was brought in (Daniel 9:24).

Though faith is not “the righteousness,” it is the tie between it and us. It realizes our present standing before God in the excellency of His own Son; and it tells us that our eternal standing, in the ages to come, is in the same excellency, and depends on the perpetuity of that righteousness which can never change. For never shall we put off that Christ whom we put on when we believed (Romans 12:14; Galatians 3:27). This divine raiment is “to everlasting.” It waxes not old, it cannot be rent, and its beauty fadeth not away.

—Horatius Bonar
The Everlasting Righteousness, Chapter 7

Freedom from Self-Preservation

Peter denied Jesus, to preserve himself physically (Mark 14:66-72). Later he denied the gospel, to preserve himself socially (Galatians 2:11-21). But by the time he wrote his first letter, his heart had been set free: “I have written briefly to you, exhorting and declaring that this is the true grace of God. Stand firm in it” (1 Peter 5:12).

What is “the true grace of God”? Not survival, physical or social, but the privilege of sharing in Christ’s sufferings that we may also rejoice when his glory is revealed (1 Peter 4:13).  Whatever life thrusts upon us, the true grace of God is to stand firm in that hard place and embrace identification with Jesus.

—Ray Ortlund

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The Mighty Cost of Our Freedom

The freedom of Christ’s people has been procured, like all other freedom, at a mighty cost and by a mighty sacrifice. Great was the bondage in which they were naturally held, and great was the price necessary to be paid to set them free. Mighty was the enemy who claimed them as his captives, and it needed mighty power to release them out of his hands.

But, blessed be God, there was grace enough, and power enough ready in Jesus Christ. He provided to the uttermost everything that was required to set His people free. The price that Christ paid for His people was nothing less than His own life-blood.

—J.C. Ryle
Practical Religion

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Doctrine Applied

On a dark Friday afternoon two thousand years ago, an itinerant preacher and miracle worker hung on a Roman cross just outside the ancient city of Jerusalem. A small crowd gathered to observe the agonizing death of this man who, with His claim to be the very Lord of the universe, had aroused the ire of the temple authorities. Many in this crowd believed that they were doing a service to God and country by executing this popular teacher. Others remained bewildered that the one they called Messiah was suffering a death reserved only for the worst of criminals.

Neither friend nor foe understood exactly what was going on that day. Though many strange things happened at the moment of His death, few realized that in Jesus, God was fulfilling His plan of redemption. Scarcely any knew that when He cried out “It is finished!” (John 19:30), Jesus fulfilled the will of His Father and brought satisfaction to Israel’s longing for salvation.

If there is one theme that underlies the entire book of Hebrews, it is that of accomplished redemption. In conjunction with the author of Hebrews, we could approach this theme from a variety of different angles. We could emphasize Jesus as the final revelation from the Father (Heb. 1:1-4). We could point out the truth that Jesus alone brings His people into their eternal Sabbath rest (3:7-4:13) because He alone brings us rest from sin. We can highlight Jesus’ role as the perfect High Priest who satisfies the wrath of God once-for-all for His people (9:12-14). From beginning to end, Jesus’ cry of “It is finished!” reverberates in the epistle to the Hebrews.

Because of the clear emphasis on the work of Christ found therein, Hebrews is a book well-loved by systematic theologians. The doctrines of substitutionary atonement, Christ’s humiliation and exaltation, faith, perseverance, and the deity of Jesus are all so clearly presented, and they provide rich material for our understanding of the nature of God and His plan.

Perhaps James has been less used than Hebrews in the formulation of systematic theology. Nevertheless, James has also been a well-loved book in the church. The brother of our Lord is so intensely practical in His work that his epistle is mined to answer the question: “How am I to live as a Christian?”

This is a question that we all must ask because the gospel not only puts us into right standing with God, it also transforms our daily lives. Paul and the author of Hebrews recognize this, placing the practical applications of the gospel near the end of their epistles. James, however, stands out in that his practical admonishments are found so clearly enumerated and highlighted throughout His epistle. His teachings regarding systematic doctrine are somewhat less obvious, and so James is sometimes ignored when Christians pursue the study of theology.

Unfortunately, it is far too common to separate the study of doctrine from the pursuit of holy living. Many people study theology without asking questions like: How does a right understanding of God instruct me regarding my treatment of other people? Others focus rigidly on living moral lives without asking, How do the commands of Christ reveal the gracious and forgiving nature of God? However, as James shows us, if we do not ask such questions, we have not really understood doctrine at all.

The practical ways to live out the gospel are clear throughout James. The doctrinal assumptions that underlie this instruction, though no less important, are somewhat less clear at first glance. But James does in fact have a rich understanding of Christian theology. That he is sometimes ignored when we are systematizing the teaching of Scripture points more to our inadequate understanding of the nature of theology than to James’ supposed lack of doctrinal instruction.

James has a thorough knowledge of the character of God. We see this mainly in his use of the names of God. God is Father (James 1:27) and therefore loves His children deeply. Yet God is Judge (5:9) and thus is required to punish sin. God’s love and righteousness, we know, motivated Him to accomplish redemption for us based on the sacrifice of His perfect Son who suffered the punishment we all deserve.

James also clearly understands that God is sovereign, in control of all things, bringing all creation to glorify Him. God’s providence necessitates that we recognize that only those things that He has decreed will come to pass (4:14-15). God is called “Lord” (3:9), emphasizing His rule over all things. This sovereignty works itself out in election. By His will alone God has called out those whom He has saved (1:18). It is God who sovereignly implants His Word in those whom He has chosen to receive Christ (v. 21). And if James understands election, He understands that redemption was accomplished for the sake of these elect.

James wants us to apply the gospel even to the most “ordinary” circumstances in life. But make no mistake, the gospel he knows is based upon the perfect merit of Christ and His redemption fully accomplished more than two thousand years ago. Even in James, the cry “It is finished!” is heard loud and clear.

—Robert Rothwell

Via: Ligonier Ministries Blog

The Courage to Confess Christ

Let us all pray daily for faith and courage to confess Christ before all men. Of sin, or worldliness, or unbelief, we may well be ashamed. We ought never to be ashamed of Him who died for us on the cross. In spite of laughter, mockery, and hard words, let us boldly avow that we serve Christ. Better a thousand times confess Christ now, and be despised by man, than be disowned by Christ before His Father in the day of judgment.

—J.C. Ryle
Expository Thoughts on the Gospels: Mark

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Your Private World Exposed

Men entertain thoughts in private, and say words in private, and do acts in private, which they would be ashamed and blush to have exposed before the world. There is an all-seeing Witness with us wherever we go. Lock the door, draw down the blind, shut the shutters, put out the candle; it matters not, it makes no difference; God is everywhere, you cannot shut Him out or prevent His seeing.

—J.C. Ryle
Thoughts For Young Men

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