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"...if anyone makes the assistance of grace depend on the humility or obedience of man and does not agree that it is a gift of grace itself that we are obedient and humble, he contradicts the Apostle who says, "What have you that you did not receive?" (1 Cor. 4:7), and, "But by the grace of God I am what I am" (1 Cor. 15:10). (Council of Orange: Canon 6)

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  • « An Evangelical Calvinism: Lessons From Iain Murray | Main | REFORMATION SUNDAY by Pastor John Samson »

    Paul’s Definition of a Christian

    "No Confidence in the Flesh” a Biblical Reflection by John Hendryx

    I often make it a practice to familiarize myself with a book of the Bible by reading and saturating myself in it for 30 days in a row. I find this incredibly helpful. If the book is too long to read in one sitting, then I divide it into sections, reading each for 30 days. Currently I am reading through the Paul’s Epistle to the Philippians and ran across some good material that I wanted to share with anyone who will listen.

    In chapter 3 of this book Paul gives us one of the best definitions of a Christian available in the Bible. He also contrasts this with the marks of false teachers.

    Paul begins the chapter with the wondrous gift of grace with the hopeless pit of sin. He warns the Philippians against false teachers; those, he says, who have confidence in themselves. That is, anyone who adds conditions for salvation in addition to the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. Paul likens to Gentile dogs, those who fail to recognize that salvation is wholly of Jesus.

    But then in stark contrast to false teaching, Paul defines what a Christian looks like. He calls true Christians “the real circumcision”, i.e. the true covenant people of God. There are three characteristics Paul gives of Christians found in verse 3. He says they are those who:

    1) Worship in the Spirit of God
    2) Glory in Christ
    3) And put no confidence in the flesh

    (1) The first mark of a Christian is that they are those who worship in the Spirit. They are the true circumcision, Paul says. They do not worship in the flesh. The “flesh” here is not referring to our physical bodies, for there is nothing inherently wrong with physicality. What Paul is referring to is human effort or trust in ancestry – trusting in it for our redemption. Worship in the Spirit of God also means that the source of our life and walk in Christ is the Holy Spirit who unites us to Jesus Christ. “It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh counts for nothing.” (John 6:63) Gal 5:25 likewise says, “If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit.” Thus both our conversion and our sanctification can be attributed to the work of Christ applied by the Spirit.

    (2) Christians are also defined as those who “glory in Christ” are those who have no hope save in Christ Jesus. The mark of a Christian here, Paul says, is that they glory in Christ, that is, give our weight to Him, not anything else. To glory in someone one must have affection, desire and are driven by that someone. Christ is the one they will cherish above all. Of course this is a constant struggle even for a Christian. There is a constant heavy pull in the world to glory in ourselves or in something else, but the Spirit who lives in us preserves us. We think we can find ourselves in something less than the real thing and so we disbelieve God’s promises. But the Holy Spirit uses such instances to discipline us as children to draw us nearer to Himself.

    (3) Lastly a true Christian is one who has “no confidence in the flesh”. This means they have utterly dispaired of themselves. When the Holy Spirit does a work of grace in someone, He convicts them of their sin. Not just sins, but convicts of the fact that they are sinners by nature and can do nothing to save themselves. There is no pride in physical decent or in natural abilities. This means one who is brought to faith, repents of both their good works and their evil works. Both are equally worthless to God. False teaching glories in something other than in Christ alone, always pointing to something that we can do; a resumé we can bring before God to curry His favor, not realizing that He has already adopted us as sons. Not unlike the older brother in the Prodigal son who glories that he has worked for his father all his life, not realizing that God does not first ask us to meet conditions to obtain his love. Those who have confidence in the flesh also tend to believe in Christ PLUS this or that. That Christ saved them, but they must maintain their justification before God. Glorying in Christ is the antithesis of glorying in the flesh. Pharisees boast before God of what they have done for him. The Christian is one who has empty hands every day and can only thank God for His mercy. He thus relies solely on the righteousness of Christ.

    It is the new Covenant in Christ’s blood which “reminds God” not to treat us as our sins deserve. True Christians flee to Christ as their only hope. A mark of maturity is that we no longer are constantly worrying about our own spirituality but rather our focus is on Christ and His accomplishments. Those who are glorying the flesh will exhaust themselves because they are looking to their own resources. The cross is where we find sanctification. Christians flee to Christ as their only hope casting aside all self-confidence and autonomy. Paul calls everything other than Christ “rubbish”. Are we trusting in rubbish or in Christ? A.W. Pink, I believe captures the point in a sentence:

    “Just as the sinner's despair of any hope from himself is the first prerequisite of a sound conversion, so the loss of all confidence in himself is the first essential in the believer's growth in grace.”

    Posted by John on October 20, 2005 11:54 AM

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    Comments

    Along with no confidence in the flesh, we should not retain any hope for our flesh, that it would be somehow reformed. Paul always speaks of the flesh, the old man, the sinful nature as DYING rather than changing. If we are to progress in holiness, it's not by cleaning up or retraining our flesh, but by being renewed and enlivened in spirit, which happens by believing the Gospel.

    I am struggling with the Calvinism vs. Free Will debate. Why, when one "flees to Christ" as you say is there not the possibility of NOT fleeing to Christ. Is there not a choice involved here? Fleeing to Christ is not a work is it? Turning to Christ is not a work is it? Why is choosing to believe in Christ considered a work by so many Calvinists? When I believed in Christ I gave Him ALL the glory as I then understood that NOTHING I can do would satisfy God. ONLY what Christ did saves me! But I must choose to believe, trust, follow, Flee to Him! Where am I going wrong?

    Dear Glenn:

    Thanks for writing. That is a great question and hits directly at the crux of the matter. This is the very issue that Martin Luther battled the most with Erasmus and the Roman Catholic Church in the Sixteenth Century. His book Bondage of the Will is considered to be the manifesto of the Reformation and he himself said that it was his most important work.

    What is this issue of the bondage of the will all about? It points to what the Bible says is the real condition of the natural man. If you set aside your church traditions for a moment go through what the Bible asserts about fallen man it may be surprising to you. First we need to establish whether or not man has a free will, according to Scripture. Would you agree that this is important at the outset? But how do we do this?

    The Text not only says that man is a sinner, but that he does not have the Spirit of God. He is not born of the Spirit. Agreed? Jesus says, Flesh gives birth to flesh and the Spirit gives birth to spirit (John 3:3,6) and "It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is of no avail.”" (john 6:63) & Paul says that “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. (1 Cor 2:14). We do not receive things we think are foolish and that we do not understand. The natural man does not have the mind of Christ so even if someone preaches to him until he is blue in the face, man will not respond to the gospel unless God grants belief and repentance (see John 6:65 & 2 Tim 2:25, Eph 2:8). The Bible indeed declares that no one can believe without a preacher but this is not enough by itself …. the seed of the gospel that is cast forth from the preacher must be germinated, so to speak, by the Holy Spirit if a person is to come to Christ. Paul explains how he knows some were chosen of God, He says, “For we know, brothers loved by God, that he has chosen you, because our gospel came to you not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction.” (1 Thess 1:4, 5) Here is another evidence the Spirit is necessary, not optional ..without which man would remain dead to the things of Christ.

    So the Holy Spirit is critical for salvation, so critical that without Him, no one would ever willingly come to Jesus Christ. Agreed? Or do you believe a man can come to faith apart from the Holy Spirit? All true Christians affirm the necessity of the Spirit. So we have established therefore, that man has no free will. Again, what is meant when we say no free will? We are not speaking of someone coercing us from the outside. No. It means that we are in bondage to a corruption of nature, out of which we cannot free ourselves BECAUSE WE DO NOT HAVE THE SPIRIT and hate God by nature (John 3:19). Jesus says somewhere to the Jews that only the Son can set them free, but they are now children of the Devil the father of lies, who lies becuase it is in his nature. In Rom 6 is says that natural men are slaves to sin, that Satan has taken men captive to do his will. If Christ is to set us free then it means we were not free and in bondage.

    So it is important to ask, can a person without the intervention of the Holy Spirit believe the gospel? Does the natural person have the capacity to understand spiritual things? According to the above passages the answer is clearly no. No one says “Jesus is Lord” apart from the Holy Spirit. So the unbeliever is void of the Spirit which is another way of saying that he has no free will. His condition, if left to himself, is hopeless. God must intervene to illumine his mind, open blind eyes, unplug deaf ears, disarm our natural hostility, change our disposition and turn our heart of stone to a heart of flesh.

    So if we can agree that a man will not come to Christ apart from the Holy Spirit then we agree man has no free will. God must act if we are to do anything toward our redemption.

    Now that we have established this, lets take the other part of your great question.

    >>>>Why, when one "flees to Christ" as you say is there not the possibility of NOT fleeing to Christ. Is there not a choice involved here? Fleeing to Christ is not a work is it? Turning to Christ is not a work is it? Why is choosing to believe in Christ considered a work by so many Calvinists?

    Fleeing to Christ only becomes a work when we think we did this apart from God’s grace. If faith is a product of our unregenerate human nature then we could boast like this:

    "Thank you Lord I am not like other men who do not have faith. They did not make use of the grace you gave all men, BUT I DID."

    What makes them to differ from other men then was thier ability to have faith, not grace. But the Sctipture says the grace of God makes us differ from others, not something we had by nature that our neighbor did not.

    Even when you think that the assistance of grace depends on your own humility and that is was not grace itself that made you humble then you no longer believe in grace alone but that you came to Christ due to your own great humility. You are establishing a religion of grace PLUS this and that. But when we recognize our faith in Christ is due to the fact that God has changed our heart so that we may see and understand his beauty and excellence, then we give all glory to God for all our salvation. Can you thank God for your faith? or is this the one thing that you can boast of contributing to the price of your salvation?

    If all men have equal grace, as you seem to be suggesting, an important question to ask is why does one man believe the gospel and not another? Is one smarter, or have more natural sensitivity than others to spiritual things? Jesus says, My sheep hear my voice but some “do not believe BECAUSE [they] are not his sheep.” He does not say they are not his sheep because they do not believe (See John 10). So he reveals that the nature of the person determines the choice they will make. An unregenerate man will not exercise faith in a holy God. Jesus says a bad tree does not bear good fruit … but MAKE the tree good and its fruit will be good. …. The seed of the gospel which falls on our soil … Is this soil good by NATURE or by grace? God must first plow up the fallow ground of our hearts. That is why Jeremiah says that he will turn our heart of stone to a heart of flesh THAT we might obey. No one believes or obeys while his heart is still stone. A blind man cannot see unless given new eyes. Shining a light into his eyes will not help.

    It is not the man who wills or runs but God who has mercy (Rom 9:16) John 1:13 says it is not the will nof man that causes us to believe but the new birth.

    If God extends His grace to all men, as you claim.... then why do some reject him? Is it grace that makes men to differ or the faith of the natural man? How does one, who the Scriputre says, is hostile by nature to God, have his nature changed so that he loves God? Does grace change him or is it self, pulling oneself up by ones own bootstraps? Otherwise why does not everyone believe?

    Romans 8:30 says, “those who were called were justified” According to this verse, I ask you, how many of those God called were justified? The answer to this question is why no one resists God’s call.

    And Jesus himself said, “ALL that the Father gives to me WILL come to me…”(John 6:37) Not some, Jesus says, but ALL that God the Father gives the SON will believe on him. We believe that grace is invincible because this is what the Bible teaches … and without which no man would willingly come. When your child runs out in the street and a car is coming, do you wait to see what he will do with his free will, or do you run to scoop him out of danger. Love doesn’t just wring hands and hope but it gets the job done and, in God's case saves the ones He came for. (See John 6:39)
    Jesus says he will lose NONE OF ALL THAT THE FATHER HAS GIVEN HIM - John 6:39

    Hope this helps.

    Dear John,

    I agree wholeheartedly with your reply to Glenn. However, you state that "man has no free will". Would it not be more correct to say that man's will is very free and very active, but that this freedom is in no way inclined toward God.

    Traditionally, Calvinists have affirmed the freedom of man's will. But they have believed that left to his own devices man will never freely come to Christ without the direct intervention of the Holy Spirit. In fact, he cannot come in the corruption of his flesh as he is actually at enmity with God.

    I simply post this as your statement "man has no free will" is not a very precise statement of the biblical teaching on man.

    In Christ,

    Tony

    Tony:

    Actually that the natural man has no free will is a very precise statement of the biblical teaching. The Bible teaches that man is in bondage to the corruption of nature. "Bondage" means a lack of freedom. His affections and will are not free. The Scripture says that Satan has taken men captive to do his will (2 Tim 2:26) until God grants repentance (2 Tim 2:25). i.e. until Christ sets them free.
    "So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed." John 8:36

    "For one who has died has been set free from sin." Rom 8:6

    "and, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness." (Rom 6:18)

    "But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the fruit you get leads to sanctification and its end, eternal life." Rom 6:22

    "For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery." Gal 5:1

    Christ need not set people free unless they are in bondage, i.e. not free. And that bondage, according to Scripture is bondage to sin. Bondage to sin is what I refer to when I say and what the Reformers have taught about bondage of the will. Both Luther and Calvin have an entire work dedicated to this which are available under the free will section of MonergismBooks.com

    When we speak of man not having a free will we do not mean that he is coerced from outside, but we mean what the Bible says about it, that he will not go into the light because he hates darkness.

    "It is not the man who wills but God who has mercy" (Rom 9:16)

    What this all really refers to is ma'n affections. Our affections drive our wills. Our affections are corrupted and thus our we are unable to exercise our wills to do ourselves any redemptive good.

    Hope this helps
    John

    Hi John,
    Great blog entry! It seems that even monergists (maybe I should speak for myself here)at times forget that it's not something we bring which makes us right with God, it's what Jesus did.

    Meg:

    What a great delight to have you stop by. Thank you for your comment -- right on target!!!!


    Not what my hands have done can save my guilty soul;
    Not what my toiling flesh has borne can make my spirit whole.
    Not what I feel or do can give me peace with God;
    Not all my prayers and sighs and tears can bear my awful load.

    Your voice alone, O Lord, can speak to me of grace;
    Your power alone, O Son of God, can all my sin erase.
    No other work but Yours, no other blood will do;
    No strength but that which is divine can bear me safely through.

    Thy work alone, O Christ, can ease this weight of sin;
    Thy blood alone, O Lamb of God, can give me peace within.
    Thy love to me, O God, not mine, O Lord, to Thee,
    Can rid me of this dark unrest, And set my spirit free.

    I bless the Christ of God; I rest on love divine;
    And with unfaltering lip and heart I call this Savior mine.
    His cross dispels each doubt; I bury in His tomb
    Each thought of unbelief and fear, each lingering shade of gloom.

    I praise the God of grace; I trust His truth and might;
    He calls me His, I call Him mine, My God, my joy and light.
    ’Tis He Who saveth me, and freely pardon gives;
    I love because He loveth me, I live because He lives.

    H. Bonar

    John,

    Very helpful. Thanks for your time and effort.

    Those who add conditions, faith PLUS this and that, do always seem to add a 'this and that' which they feel sure (confident) they can supply. Never do they add something they feel uncertain they can supply. So, no confidence in the flesh would mean rejecting any added 'this and that' which you would hope to supply, by your own efforts, to attain justification.

    Don

    I heard this in a piper sermon: "What we need is not "free will" we need our will's made free!" thanks be to God who is rich in mercy and has purposed to demonstrate the riches of the glory of His grace in the salvation of His people by the finished works of the cross! I was once a hard nosed free willer. It is the air we breathe in the american evangelical church. Im sure many of you remember the devestation when upon many hours of laboring to prove this premise you found no ground by which to stand on biblically. It devistated me to tears.....but when the dust setteled and the wonderful doctrines of grace exploded in my heart I had the most overwhelming sense of treasuring Christ and His work salvation in a way I had never done before and it became the very fabric of my entire life!!! sola gratia

    I've been a believer for almost 10 years, I remember growing in the faith and thinking that I would become more righteous as I went along , that self was getting better. It wasn't until the past year or two that i realized self needs to die, unless a seed is planted and dies it cannot bear fruit. Death is an ugly process,but unless it takes place, there can be no real beauty. Only when the life of christ is being lived thru us can we claim any beauty & righteousness.

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