Julian Freeman

Freed to live through the death of another.

Tag: JI Packer

Why the Bible Doesn’t Make Sense

It can be both startling and surprising when I meet Christians (or engage with Christians online) who, for all their talk of Christianity, can’t seem to make sense of the Bible. How could this be?

How could it be that we would become so disoriented in our own worldview that our own book wouldn’t make sense to us?

JI Packer describes one prominent reason one reason why the Bible doesn’t make sense to people: they don’t understand sin.

iSINThe subject of sin is vital knowledge. To say that our first need in life is to learn about sin may sound strange, but in the sense intended it is profoundly true. If you have not learned about sin, you cannot understand yourself, or your fellowmen, or the world you live in, or the Christian faith. And you will not be able to make head or tail of the Bible. For the Bible is an exposition God’s answer to the problem of human sin, and unless you have that problem clearly before you, you will keep missing the point of what it says. Apart from the first two chapters of Genesis, which set the stage, the real subject of every chapter of the Bible is what God does about our sins. Lose sight of this theme, and you lose your way in the Bible at once. With that, the love of God, the meaning of salvation, and the message of the gospel will all become closed books to you; you may still these talk of things, but you will no longer know what you are talking about. It is clear, therefore, that we need to fix in our minds what our ancestors would have called “clear views of sin.” 1

‘The subject of sin is vital knowledge’ indeed. May God make us faithful to study it, know it, read the Bible, and relate to our God in light of all that he has shown us about our sin.

Notes:

  1. JI Packer, God’s Words, 70.

Faith, Justification, Gratitude, and Action

In his excellent teaching on the meaning of faith, J.I. Packer tackles the age-old question of how justification by faith alone results in anything other than spiritual sloth and antinomianism. He writes the following:

ji-packerFaith abandons hope in man’s own accomplishments, leaves all works behind, and comes to Christ alone and empty-handed, to cast itself on mercy. Such is the faith that saves.

But does this mean that saving faith throws a halo over idleness, and that the gospel of justification by faith only is really hostile to moral endeavour? Indeed not. ‘Faith is a lively thing,’ wrote Luther, ‘mighty in working, valiant and strong, ever doing, ever fruitful; so that it is impossible that he who is endued therewith should not work always good works without ceasing … for such is his nature.’

What saves is faith alone, but the faith that saves is never alone; it is always ‘working through love (Gal. 5:6), becoming a moral dynamic of unparalleled power in the believer’s life. The proof that a man’s faith is real is precisely this — that it makes him work. How does it do this? By making him feel the constraint of Christ’s love for him, and the greatness of the debt of gratitude which he owes to his God. As we said once before, Christian doctrine is grace, and Christian conduct is gratitude. The believer does not do what he does as a means to being justified, but there are no limits to what he will do for his Lord out of gratitude for the justification that he has received.

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Quick Defence of the Trinity

The Holy TrinityIn his book, God’s Words, JI Packer recounts a time when he was provoked by a Jehovah’s Witness ‘heckler’ to defend the notion of the Trinity from the New Testament. Apparently the ‘heckler’ didn’t know who he was heckling.

Packer, in the moment, decided to follow a specific line of argumentation that is quick, and I believe, helpful. Even if it’s not an exhaustive defence, I believe it’s a faithful one that many could benefit from meditating on. Here it is:
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Patience Compels Patience

A baby me

Writing this series and looking back over many of the things I’ve learned has made me realize something: I am a slow learner. I simply, truly, honestly cannot believe that even knowing the grace of God, it has taken me so long to know such small growth.

When I speak of being a slow learner, I don’t mean that I’m unintelligent, I mean that even what I do know I often have yet to learn in the sense of applying truth and being changed by it.

That, it seems, is impossible to rush. Yet this questions plagues me: How could it be that I still live the way I do when I know the things I know?

How long will God be patient with me? Will his patience eventually, finally, just give out?

As always, the gospel speaks comfort. The gospel takes this truth and gives me positive direction moving forward so that I am not left in despair. CJ Mahaney, in a message to pastors, recently quoted JI Packer:

Appreciate the patience of God. Think how he has borne with you, and still bears with you, when so much in your life is unworthy of him and you have so richly deserved his rejection. Learn to marvel at his patience, and seek grace to imitate it in your dealings with others; and try not to try his patience any more.

To this, CJ adds:

“Think how has borne with you, and still bears with you, when so much in your life is unworthy of him.” When you’re 56, you appreciate a statement like this more than when you were 25. I appreciated God’s patience then; I just appreciate it more now. He has patiently borne with me for 31 more years. My wife, my children, and the men I serve with in ministry know how true it is: there is so much of my life that is unworthy of him.

That rings true for me. I’ve seen that. I’ve seen the patience of God. I’ve gloried in it. My life, literally, depends on it. Now, heaven forbid, that I would ever be impatient with others. I need to hear what CJ says:

When I am impatient with others, I have temporarily lost sight of God’s patience with me. At the root of my impatience is self-righteousness and pride. Daily remembering God’s patience with me protects my soul from sinful impatience with others.

Having had this season to reflect on God’s grace in my life and his patience with me in protecting me and keeping me and bearing with me these 30 years, I pray that I would be patient with others. I pray that I would never for a moment be impatient at the slow growth of those around me. I pray that I would never be frustrated with them more than I’m frustrated at myself. I pray that I would love with a longsuffering love that hopes all things and patiently waits for God’s power to bring change.

But I know I’ll fail. I’m a slow learner. I’ll forget his patience with me and I’ll get impatient with you. And when I do I’ll need to experience his patience with me again. I’m so thankful for his gospel-patience. It’s my only hope.

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** This concludes the series 30 for 30: Reflections on Life at My 30th Birthday. Thanks for joining on the journey! **

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