Category Archives: Christian living

Do You Have Job’s Fainting Heart? Should You?

In my corner of Reformed Christianity we’re not particularly adept at expressing our emotions.  Perhaps it can be chalked up to our Dutch immigrant roots; maybe to our ecclesiastical sub-culture.  Whatever the case may be, we’re not given to putting ourselves out there emotionally.  This certainly guards us against the sentimental excesses seen in some circles.  But does this steely stoicism line us up completely with Scripture?

Job 19:25-27 is one passage which might suggest otherwise.  Many people are familiar with this passage because it’s used in Handel’s Messiah.  Oftentimes you’ll hear it at funerals.  I always read it at graveside services and it provides a lot of comfort.  It does so because it confidently speaks of the hope of the resurrection: 

As you believe this resurrection gospel, which is fulfilled in Jesus, it shouldn’t leave you unaffected.  It deeply impacted Job and that’s evident from the last line:  “My heart faints within me!”  Those words are pregnant with emotion.  Job had a deep yearning to see God with his own eyes in his glorified resurrection body.

Can you relate to that?  Does your heart “faint within you” when you hear about what the gospel promises in the resurrection of the dead?  One could reasonably expect such a response, because of the nature of these truths.  God gives us profoundly encouraging news here.  But what if you can’t relate?  What if these kinds of truths don’t touch your heart like they did Job?  I have more good news for you. 

First, our salvation doesn’t depend on our emotions and what the gospel does to us emotionally.  Our salvation entirely depends on God’s free grace in Christ.  So don’t be discouraged if for whatever reason you have a hard time relating to the type of heart-felt longing expressed by Job.  The most important thing is:  do you believe what God is promising us in Christ?  Do you believe you have a Redeemer whom you will see with your own eyes after having been raised up from the dead?

Second, you can and should pray for the Holy Spirit to help you grow in your emotional response to the gospel.  What we see with Job is an emotionally rich hope.  Where does the believer’s hope come from?  Here I’m not asking about the objective basis in the gospel, but how it is subjectively worked in the believer.  Romans 15:13 tells us that we abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.  The Holy Spirit comes to believers and he works this deeply felt hope in their hearts. 

It’s Paul’s prayer in Romans 15:13 that the Holy Spirit would help believers to abound in that hope.  There are at least two important things to take from that.  Abounding in hope is desirable – it’s something worth praying for.  You shouldn’t be content with a flagging heart.  The other thing is in the fact that Paul had to pray about it.  That tells us that believers don’t always abound in hope.  Just look at Job again.  As you read further beyond chapter 19, you see Job struggling again.  He’s lamenting, wondering, and doubting.  Job vacillates wildly.  Here he’s on the peak; soon he’s again in the sodden valley.  We’re no different.  So abounding in hope is something for which we need to pray.  We can and we should pray for the Holy Spirit to help us abound in the hope of the resurrection that we have in Jesus Christ. 

But why does all this matter?  Why give any attention to our emotional response to the gospel?  You could simply answer:  because Scripture does.  But that just changes the question:  why does Scripture give attention to this?  Because the positive emotions we’re talking about show the worth of God.  When a believer has the profound, heart-felt desire to see God, like Job did, it demonstrates how valuable God is.  People and things that matter to us make an emotional impression on us.  And who is of more worth, objectively speaking, than God?  What is of more worth, objectively speaking, than the gospel?


How to Love the Unloveable

It isn’t easy to love a jerk.  Someone who’s quiet, meek, and kind – no problem.  But the person who annoys us, whether through habit or personality?  The person who pushes all our buttons, perhaps even intentionally?   The selfish and insensitive clod?   

Yet the Lord commands us to love our neighbour as we do ourselves (Mt.22:39).  That Christian love is “not irritable or resentful.”  Instead, it “bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things” (1 Cor. 13:5-7).  This is the love that leads us to “do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith” (Gal. 6:10).

But how do we do that with someone we might think to be unworthy of our love and good deeds?  How do you love a jerk?  You might say take a look in the mirror.  Humbly realizing that we’re all unworthy jerks could indeed be a good place to start.  However, in his epic Institutes of the Christian Religion, John Calvin explored this practical issue in the Christian life from a different angle.  His advice, drawn on sound biblical teaching, is worth a listen.  If you want to look it up and read the whole section for yourself, it’s in Institutes 3.7.6.  I’ll be quoting from the Lewis-Battles edition. 

Calvin begins by acknowledging that most people would be unworthy of our love if they were judged according to merit.  But that isn’t how Christians are to think.  Says Calvin, “But here Scripture helps in the best way when it teaches that we are not to consider that men merit of themselves but to look upon the image of God in all men, to which we owe all honor and love.”  He goes on to affirm that with members of the household of faith this obligation is intensified by virtue of the fact that God’s image has been renewed and restored in them by the Holy Spirit.  Nevertheless, what remains of the image of God after the fall into sin and before regeneration is itself reason enough to show love to all by doing good.  Calvin concludes, “Therefore, whatever man you meet who needs your aid, you have no reason to refuse to help him.”       

Calvin then anticipates a series of objections.  Someone might say, “But he’s a stranger!”  To which Calvin would reply that this is irrelevant.  With the image of God, you have something in common which instantly binds you together.  Or someone might say, “But he’s loathsome and a good-for-nothing!”  Calvin replies, “…but the Lord shows him to be one whom he has deigned to give the beauty of his image.”  You might say that this person doesn’t deserve any of your effort.  But, says Calvin, “the image of God, which recommends him to you, is worthy of your giving yourself and all your possessions.” 

Then last of all, what if the other person is a jerk?  You’re thinking that he does deserve something from you, but it’s definitely not a demonstration of love.  Calvin says, “Yet what has the Lord deserved?  While he bids you forgive this man for all sins he has committed against you, he would truly have them charged against himself.”  The connection with Calvin’s answers to what precedes has to do with the fact that he is telling us that when it comes to loving our neighbour, we have to look to God.  If we focus all our attention on people and who they are and what they do or don’t deserve, we’ll never love our neighbour.  True Christian love is only possible as we think about our existence before the face of God and the grace we have received from him through Christ.

At the end of this section, Calvin circles back to the image of God.  This is brilliant:

Assuredly there is but one way in which to achieve what is not merely difficult but utterly against human nature:  to love those who hate us, to repay their evil deeds with benefits, to return blessings for reproaches.  It is that we remember not to consider men’s evil intention but to look upon the image of God in them, which cancels and effaces their transgressions, and with its beauty and dignity allures us to love and embrace them.          

I remind you that Calvin is speaking here not only about the image of God as it exists restored in Christians, but even the image as it exists spoiled by sin in unbelievers.

Essentially what Calvin is saying is that we ought to love all people on the same basis that God does.  Earlier in the Institutes (2.16.3) Calvin states that God’s hatred finds a deserving object in each one of us because of our sin.  But then he says something surprising:  “But because the Lord wills not to lose what is his in us, out of his own kindness he still finds something to love.”  No matter what sin we have committed, we remain his creatures.  As his creatures, we bear his image.  According to Calvin, image-bearing is what leads God to love and it’s also what should lead us to love.

That has implications and not only for dealing with garden-variety jerks.  In our current climate where the church is facing so much hostility from the world, we need this teaching more than ever.  If we would only look around us and see ALL other people as God’s image-bearers, we would find something to love.  Perhaps better said:  at least we would know that there is something to love even if we can’t readily see it.  As Calvin notes, this is utterly against our human nature.  Our hearts resist it.  Yet remember how God is sovereign over our hearts.  We can and should pray for him to keep changing our hearts so they become more like his, reflecting the image of him and his wondrous love.


Letter to the Editor

In response to this story in today’s Examiner, I’ve sent the following letter to the editor. If you’re interested in reading my full submission to the Tasmania Law Reform Institute, you can find it here.

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Dear editor,

In the August 30 article, “No apologies for conversion therapy,” our church was referenced as a body that admits to having “carried out SOGI conversion practices.”  I want to emphasise: our church does not provide exorcisms, electroshock therapy, psychoanalysis, reconditioning, or aversion therapy. We simply hold out the same hope God offers to all people:  forgiveness through Jesus Christ and grace to change.  However, by simply praying and preaching the Bible, the Issues Paper prepared by the Tasmania Law Reform Institute would have you believe that we are engaged in “SOGI conversion practices.”  The reality is that we simply carry out Christian ministry as it has historically been done.  Finally, the article states that we were contacted for comment.  Yet when I responded your reporter did not return my e-mail.        

Rev. Dr. Wes Bredenhof

Free Reformed Church of Launceston


Know Your Enemy — and Your Father

The earth can be a dangerous place.  In some places there are animals that will eat people, for example.   One such place is Africa.  In Tanzania people are still regularly attacked and killed by lions.  Some wildlife researchers recently looked into this.  They wanted to see if there were patterns in lion attacks on humans.  Were there more attacks at certain times than others?  They already knew that lions attack mostly at night, but were there times of the month where lions attacked more?  The research showed that most lion attacks on humans occur in the first week following a full moon.  This was important for two reasons. 

First, it demonstrated that the full moon is a reliable indicator of impending danger for people living in close proximity to lions.  It partly explains why there are so many superstitions and customs in connection with a full moon.  But it also and more importantly teaches people who live near lions to take extra pre-cautions right after a full moon.  You don’t let your kids wander outside in the dark after a full moon, for instance.  People are getting educated about how lions behave and, knowing their tactics and typical behaviours, they’re better protected.  Lives will be saved.    

The Bible teaches that Christians have sworn enemies who don’t stop attacking.  One of those enemies is the devil.  We ought never to forget what 1 Peter 5:8 says about this enemy:  he “prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.”  He sneaks around and he attempts to frighten us.  He wants to kill us.  Literally 1 Peter 5:8 says that he wants to drink us up.  He wants our blood.  He wants us dead.  Furthermore, Scripture teaches us that he has tactics and typical behaviours.  Just like rural Tanzanians benefit from knowing the behaviour of the lions threatening them, Christians benefit from researching and being aware of Satan’s ways.

Consider the ways in which he tempted our Saviour in Matthew 4.  Jesus was hungry after fasting for forty days.  Satan had a trick in his bag from way back.  Back in the Garden already, he had used food to destroy God’s creature.  He thought this might work again.  He appealed to the appetite of Jesus and urged him to abuse his divine powers to feed himself.  That tactic worked in the Garden, but it failed in the wilderness. 

His next temptation involved the use of the Word of God.  Here again we find a recycled tactic.  Satan had said to Eve, “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?”  Satan perverted God’s Word and turned it against God’s creature and against God himself.  That tactic worked in the Garden, but it failed in the wilderness. 

The third temptation involved power and the lies it often involves.  Once again, we need to see how Satan isn’t really creative when it comes to his tactics.  He told our first parents that if they would listen, they would be like God.  In the wilderness, Satan attempts a similar lie with Jesus.  He told him he could have power, he could have everything, if only he’d bow the knee and worship Satan.  Again, that lie worked in Eden, but in the Judean desert, the Second Adam stood firm.  He was aware of the lion’s ways. 

This lion is still prowling around today and he still throws the same kinds of temptations at us.  He tells the same kinds of lies.  He knows all our weak spots.  He’s had thousands of years of practice at tempting and turning people against God.  We should not underestimate the deceitfulness of this enemy and his vicious intent on getting his bloody paws on us to finish us off. 

Being aware of him and his ways is only one part of our survival plan here.  We need to cry for help.  Satan is a strong enemy.  And who are we?  We’re weak.  With our own resources, we can’t stand even for a moment against Satan or any other enemy.  We’re like a little child in a Tanzanian village.  Our father has told us to stay inside because it’s just after a full moon.  But we wander out anyway.  The lions are prowling around and they’re looking for some human tenderloin.  A little child is helpless and weak against these lions.  But if he calls for the help of his father, his father will come running with a large calibre rifle and fend off the lions and save his child.  The child can do nothing but call for help.  The powerful father, however, will hear and answer.  He’ll act. 

So it is with us.  Surrounded by enemies bent on our destruction, we need repeatedly to call to our Father God for help.  Without him, we’d invariably go down to defeat.  But when we humbly pray to him, he’ll hear and he’ll uphold and strengthen us by the power of his Holy Spirit.           

In the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus teaches us to make it our practice regularly to acknowledge our weakness and our need when we pray.  It’s in the sixth petition:  “And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.”  God wants to hear his children humbly admitting that they are but children, weak and powerless of themselves.  He wants to hear his children praying and asking for the strength to go on to victory in Christ.  We can and should pray frequently in this manner.  I assure you, God will hear your prayer and he’ll give you the help you need.  Your Father will come to your aid and fend off the lions.  The Word of God guarantees and promises us this:  “When he calls to me, I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble; I will rescue him and honour him” (Ps. 91:15). 


Living Sola Scripturally

There are differences between the way houses are often built in Australia and the way they’re built in Canada.  I’m not a builder but even I can see some of these differences.  In many areas of Canada, a house will be built with a basement as the foundation.  However, at least where I live in Australia, most houses are built on top of a flat concrete slab.  But either way they have a solid foundation.  You wouldn’t dream of building without one.

The Protestant Reformation was about getting the church back on a solid foundation.  For the Protestant Reformers there was but one such foundation:  God’s Word.  From that we receive one of the key tenets of the Reformation:  sola Scriptura.   The Bible alone is our foundation.  As the Belgic Confession states in article 7, “Since it is forbidden to add to or take away anything from the Word of God (Deut. 12:32), it is evident that the doctrine thereof is most perfect and complete in all respects.” 

It’s quite easy to maintain this principle merely in an abstract fashion.  However, sola Scriptura is meant to be lived.  The Bible is not only the foundation for theology in the academic sense, it’s also meant to be the foundation for the life of the church and the life of every Christian.  Let’s briefly explore two ways of living “sola Scripturally.”

Worship

A moment ago I mentioned the Belgic Confession and what it says about the sufficiency of Scripture.  Interestingly, earlier in article 7, the Confession connects the sufficiency of Scripture to public worship:  “The whole manner of worship which God requires of us is written in it at length.”  It’s in the Belgic Confession because it was a contentious issue in the Reformation.  The Roman Catholic Church didn’t maintain the sufficiency of Scripture and that was reflected in how it approached public worship.  Many practices were introduced into the worship of God which had no warrant from God in his Word.

Contrary to that, the Reformers insisted that God’s Word alone can determine the elements of our public worship.  This eventually came to be known as the Regulative Principle of Worship.  As the Heidelberg Catechism expresses it in QA 96, “We are not…to worship him [God] in any other manner than he has commanded in his Word.”  Scripture alone is the foundation for Reformed worship.       

So one of the ways we live “sola Scripturally” is that we aim to worship God only in his ways.  For example, the church can never substitute anything for the preaching of God’s Word.  Scripture commands (2 Tim. 4:2) that we must have preaching – authoritative proclamation by a man ordained for that task.  And Scripture also commands that it be the preaching only of God’s Word.  It can’t be human opinions, nor can it be “preaching” based on what God is supposedly revealing in a TV show or movie.  Perhaps that seems obvious, but sadly, it’s not so obvious to many churches not upholding the Regulative Principle of Worship.    

Apologetics

Over the course of my 20-plus year ministry so far, there’s been a surge of interest in learning how to defend and promote the Christian faith.  Back in my seminary training, apologetics wasn’t even taught and there was a level of suspicion attached to it.  Today that’s changed and it’s all for the better.

However, the Reformed approach to apologetics (pioneered by Cornelius Van Til) is still very much the minority opinion, especially in your vanilla Christian bookstore.  Why this matters has to do with foundations.  Non-Reformed apologetics builds on something other than the Scriptures.  Sometimes it’s human rationality and our ability to evaluate arguments or evidence; at other times it might be our sense perception.  Regardless of the details, we’re looking at an approach that’s building on a foundation of sand.

What distinguishes Reformed apologetics is a commitment to sola Scriptura.  This commitment isn’t just lip service.  We actually go to what God says to find out how to defend and promote what God says.  The Bible holds the content of our apologetics, but it also determines our method.

1 Peter 3:15 is often referred to as the “Magna Carta” of apologetics.  Here the Holy Spirit tells us that we’re always to be prepared to offer a reasoned defence of our faith.  However, the first part of the verse is sometimes overlooked:  “…but in your hearts honour Christ the Lord as holy.”  One of the best ways we can do that in apologetics is by building on the foundation Christ gives in his Word.  We need an apologetical method which is determined by Scripture alone.  Reformed apologetics supplies that method.

Conclusion

The word “Reformed” is often reckoned as short-hand for “Re-formed according to the Bible.”  While true enough, we could improve it by adding one little word: “alone.”  To be Reformed is to be constantly going back to the Bible alone.  The reason we do that is because it’s the only sure foundation for our lives as individuals and collectively as the people of God.  It’s been said that you have to stand somewhere in order to get anywhere.  If the place you’re standing is sinking sand, you’re going nowhere.  But if you’re on solid rock, you’ve got the traction you need.  Only the Word of God provides that.