Monthly Archives: October 2011

Uncovering What Only Christ Can Cover

Whoever conceals his transgressions will not prosper, 

 but he who confesses and forsakes them will obtain mercy.

Proverbs 28:13

This proverb is fragrant with the aroma of the Gospel.  Its two lines describe the two sides of a contrast.  That much is clear enough.  The question becomes how do we accurately describe that contrast?  Unless we do, the proverb’s power will elude us.

The different men in the two halves of the proverb share a common problem:  sin (“transgressions” in the 1st line; “them” in the 2nd).  The contrast comes in (1) the men’s very different responses to their sin (“conceals” vs. “confesses and forsakes”); and (2) the very different outcomes of their differing responses (“will not prosper” vs. “will obtain mercy”).

This proverb does not describe a contrast between a person who realizes he’s a sinner and someone who doesn’t.  Both men in this story realize they’re sinners.  The 2nd man obviously does because he “confesses and forsakes them.”  The 1st man is just as much aware of his sins because he “conceals his transgressions.”

Nor is this a contrast between greater and lesser sinners.  The punch this proverb packs has nothing to do with “degrees” of sin; it has to do with the fact that these two men start in an identical place:  each in crisis because of his sin.

The contrast is between a man who takes the problem of his sin into his own hands by covering it up (man #1) and a man who places the problem of his sin into God’s hands by uncovering it in confession (man #2).  The irony is that by hiding his sin from God, man #1 is denying himself mercy from God, something that man #2—no less a sinner than man #1—does receive.  Sin that man covers will be uncovered by God.  Sin that man uncovers in confession will be covered by God’s mercy.

All sin is covered sin.  The only question is by whom?  Will we be the coverers of our own sin (in concealment) and thus cut ourselves off from God’s mercy OR will we be the uncoverers (in confession) of our sin to God so that He will be the One who covers them in His mercy?

Jesus Christ is the Guarantor of this proverb’s promise.  Because He gave Himself to bear our sins in His body on the Cross (1 Peter 2:24); because He was literally made our sin on the Cross (2 Corinthians 5:21), and willingly left Himself uncovered as our Substitute against the full weight of God’s justice against our sins, we literally have nothing to hide that wasn’t already covered by God’s mercy in Christ at Calvary.

So, my friends, this proverb calls us to uncover what only Christ can cover.  Come with your sins (again!) to Christ by faith.  Listen to the Gospel-enriched wisdom of John Owen:

“Herein, then, I say, is Christ honored indeed, when we go to Him with our sins by faith, and say unto Him, ‘Lord, this is Thy work; this is that for which Thou camest into the world; this is that Thou hast undertaken to do.  Thou callest for my burden, which is too heavy for me to bear; take it, blessed Redeemer; Thou tenderest Thy righteousness; that is my portion.’  Then is Christ honored, then is the glory of mediation ascribed to Him, when we walk with Him in this communion.”  (Of Communion with God).

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Remarks Regarding Officer Nominations

We’re receiving nominations for the offices of elder and deacon during the month of October at our church.  Tomorrow, I’ll be addressing some remarks to our congregation seeking to assist them in understanding the Scriptural lists of officer qualifications (1 Timothy 3; Titus 1) in a Gospel-centered way.  I offer the following as the outline of my planned remarks, with apologies to all the non-Presbyterian geeks among you….

I.         Guiding Principles

In order to properly understand and apply the qualifications for office set forth in 1 Timothy 3 & Titus 1, we first need to have some foundational principles in place.

A.        Jesus Christ & His Gospel are the Greatest Things About These Lists!  This list of qualifications has been given by the Holy Spirit to us so that we will know how we ought to conduct ourselves in the household of God (1 Tim 3:15).  But that’s not the most important or greatest reason these lists exist.  Knowing who specifically our Lord may have set aside as elders and deacons in our congregation is a byproduct, but not the main point.  The most important reason these lists have been given to us is to showcase the SonThe Holy Spirit intends to reveal Jesus Christ and to teach us His Gospel from these lists!  The most wonderful feature of these lists is the way they lay bare the loveliness of the heart & intentions of Jesus Christ for all to view.

1.         Fruitfulness from Him (destiny).  The lists illustrate the effect Jesus Christ has on His people:  He changes us!  This is what happens to a life in union with Jesus Christ.  He bears this kind of fruit through His people.  He bestows life & fruitfulness.

2.         Usefulness to Him (deployment).  Jesus’ heart offers not only the promise of fruitfulness from Him to us, but the privilege of serving Him.  He’s the king of glory, and He puts sinners like us into His service!  What privilege!

B.        The Qualifications Describe EVERY Christian.  The qualifications describe what all Christians should be, and one day in glory will be, by God’s grace.  This is the first remarkable thing about this list.  With the exception of the requirement that the elder be “able to teach,” (1 Timothy 3:3; Titus 1:9), this list of attributes is one that ought to rightly describe every Christian.  All Christians are to be “free from the love of money” (cf. Hebrews 13:5—6); all Christians are to hold marriage in honor and keep the marriage bed undefiled (Hebrews 13:4); no Christian is to be “addicted to wine” or “pugnacious” or “quarrelsome” or “double-tongued”.  All Christian parents are called to manage their households well, and all Christians are called to be “gentle” (Galatians 5:23).  In fact, all Christians are even required to be “teachers”:  “Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God” (Colossians 3:16).

C.        The Qualifications Do Not Describe ANY ChristianThe qualifications describe what no Christian always is.  In other words, while the standards reflect what ought to be common to all Christians, and will be one day in glory, we must also admit that none of us is always or will be all these things until glorification.  For 100% of Christians, 100% of these qualifications are 100% of the time works in progress; in no respect is any of these qualifications 100% finished.  An obvious point?  Yes, but worth emphasizing because it has many important implications, as we begin to hold these imposing qualifications up against what we know and have experienced of our Lord’s work in the lives of concrete, particular men in our congregation.

1.         The Pool of Candidates & the StandardsBy definition, 100% of the men called by Jesus Christ to these offices in His Church are justified sinners, with emphasis for present purposes on the “sinner” half of that description.  This means that, in the best of men, there will be blindspots, inconsistencies, failures and weaknesses.  Thus, the requisite standard is not perfection, but a Gospel-centered maturity, the real measure of which is how he deals with his weaknesses and failures in light of the Gospel.

2.         Humble Trembling in the Man a Non-Negotiable.  If a man, already serving or just nominated, does not tremble under the weight, urgency, and importance of these standards, then this much is clear:  he understands NEITHER the standards, nor the truth about himself.  If he does not seriously and with authentic humility see and confess the gaps & lapses between his own life and these standards; if he does not genuinely grieve (repent over) those lapses and pursue growth in those areas, then he is not ready or qualified to serve as an officer.  For there has only ever been one Elder, and only one Deacon, in the Church who could look at these standards and His own life and not have anything to repent of or to mourn; His name is Jesus Christ.  But He, of course, is the Great and Only Exception.  For the rest of us, no one can look at these standards and his own life simultaneously in light of them and not cry out for God’s grace.

This is why the “voice” of the church (cf. Colossians 4:17) is so vital here.  The voice of the church needs to speak loudly here in evidencing the call of Christ upon a man’s life.  Why it must never be left to the man alone to discern.

3.         Gospel Maturity & Progress: How he responds to reality.  Growing edges are living edges!

(a)        He admits.  Does the man see & admit his need for progress?

(b)       He is pursuing progress.  Humbly & Gospel-centered

(c)        There is evidence of progress.  Is this a man who is growing? Have you witnessed—and experienced—                                           progress in him?  Growing edges = living edges.

4.         The Ultimate Stakes:  what the Gospel is & isn’t.  The reason I have labored this point is because there is something infinitely precious at stake in the discussion:  the Gospel—what it is and what it isn’t.  Until the sooner of (i) our death; or (ii) the Lord’s return, all Christian maturity will necessarily be a fruitfulness that is incomplete and borne in a field full of thorns and thistles.  And this is by God’s design.  The greatest hero and weakest saint in the Church of Jesus Christ have this in common: each enter God’s kingdom in the same way, through forgiveness purchased by Jesus Christ.  There is no distinction between them.  And one of the dangers of a list like 1 Timothy 3 is that we would misread it and come away with the “understanding” that maturity means “flawless.”  The Gospel reminds us that it doesn’t.  Hallelujah!

Identity

Where I am does not determine who I am.

Whose I am determines who I am.

The truest things about me are the things that God says about me.

John Owen on Offenses & Forgiveness Between Christians

I’ve been helped and challenged by the following encouragements from John Owen:

“Freedom from failings is a fruit of glory.  We see here darkly, as in a glass,–know but in part.  In many things we offend all; who knoweth how often?  Mutual failings to be borne with, offences to be pardoned, weakness to be supported, may mind us in these pence of talents forgiven us.  Let him that is without fault throw stones at others.

“Some men rejoice in others’ failings; they are malicious, and fail more in that sinful joy than their brethren in that which they rejoice at.  Some are angry at weaknesses and infirmities; they are proud and conceited, not considering that they themselves also are in the flesh.  Some delight to dwell always upon a frailty; they deserve to find no charity in the like kind.  For injuries, who almost can bear until seven times?  Peter thought it much.  Some more study revenge than pardon.  Some pretend to forgive, but yet every slight offence makes a continued alienation of the affections and separation of converse.  Some will carry a smooth face over a rough heart. Christ is in none of these ways.  They have no savour of the Gospel.  Meekness, patience, forbearance, and forgiveness, hiding, covering, removing of offences, are the footsteps of Christ.

“Seest thou thy brother fail?  Pity him.  Doth he continue in it?  Earnestly pray for him, admonish him.  Cannot another sin but you must sin too?  If you be angry, vexed, rejoiced, alienated from, you are partner with him in evil, instead of helping him.  Suppose thy God should be angry every time thou givest cause, and strike every time thou provokest him.  When thy brother offendeth thee, do but stay thy heart until thou takest a faithful view of the patience and forbearance of God towards thee, and then consider his command to thee to go and do likewise.  Let, then, all tenderness of affection and bowels of compassion towards one another be put on amongst us, as becometh saints.  Let pity, not envy; mercy, not malice; patience, not passion; Christ, not flesh; grace, not nature; pardon, not spite or revenge—be our guides and companions in our conversations.”

John Owen

Mutual Duties in Church-Fellowship (Explication VII), 71—72.