September 30, 2009 by C.J. Mahaney
This is a question for Dr. J.I. Packer. And here is his answer:
That justification—by which we mean God’s forgiveness of the past together with his acceptance for the future—is the primary and fundamental blessing of the gospel is not in question. Justification is the primary blessing, because it meets our primary spiritual need. We all stand by nature under God's judgment; his law condemns us; guilt gnaws at us, making us restless, miserable, and in our lucid moments afraid; we have no peace in ourselves because we have no peace with our Maker. So we need the forgiveness of our sins, and assurance of a restored relationship with God, more than we need anything else in the world; and this the gospel offers us before it offers us anything else...
But contrast this, now, with adoption. Adoption is a family idea, conceived in terms of love, and viewing God as father. In adoption, God takes us into his family and fellowship—he establishes us as his children and heirs. Closeness, affection and generosity are at the heart of the relationship. To be right with the God the judge is a great thing, but to be loved and cared for by God the Father is greater.*
* J.I. Packer, Knowing God
(IVP, 1993), pp. 206–207.
September 24, 2009 by C.J. Mahaney
Understanding adopting grace will protect us from the enchantment of legalism. This is the lesson we learned from Paul
as he addressed the distortions of the gospel caused by false teaching in Galatia.
Paul responded to the error of legalism by reminding the Galatians of God’s gracious activity. Paul reminded them that their relationship with God was the result of God’s initiative.
Paul writes about this in Galatians 4:4–5:
But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.
In these words we encounter the most important point in redemptive history. Apart from these words and the saving events they describe there is no hope of reconciliation with God and no hope of adoption by God.
God has intervened. He has intervened to address our sinful condition and to provide us with the Savior we so desperately need. And if that wasn’t amazing enough, Paul tells us that this was all determined by God in eternity past.
While we were slaves to sin, God sent forth his Son. From heaven to earth, from Galilee to Jerusalem, from the manger to the cross—God sent forth his Son. Here we behold the love of God revealed through the initiative of God in sending forth his Son for those enslaved by sin.
Charles Spurgeon writes:
Observe, concerning the first advent, that the Lord was moving in it towards man. ‘When the fullness of time was come, God sent forth his Son.’ We moved not towards the Lord, but the Lord towards us. I do not find that the world in repentance sought after its Maker. No, but the offended God himself in infinite compassion broke the silence, and came forth to bless his enemies. See how spontaneous is the grace of God. All good things begin with him.*
Yes! When the fullness of time had come, God broke the silence and acted. He acted by sending his son.
The Suitable Mediator
Before God the Father adopted us we were not merely orphans, we were slaves. We were slaves to sin. We were captive to the power of sin. It was humanly impossible to be freed from sin or its penalty. And we all deserved the appropriate penalty for our sin. We were law-breakers living under the curse of the law and the wrath of God.
We needed a Savior. We needed a Redeemer. And in order to save us, our Savior must be like us (“born of woman”). But he also must be unlike us (God). He must be fully man and truly God. And he must give his life as a ransom for our sin. And that is what he did! God the Son, born of woman, perfectly kept the law and died a unique death as a substitute for sinners on the Cross. He liberated us from our sin. “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us” (3:13).
This is grace—amazing grace!
Yet as amazing as this is, if we stop at this point we miss something important. Because of our Savior we are not only redeemed, we are adopted.
Redeeming us out of our slavery to sin and from the penalty for sin would have been sufficiently astounding! But God’s purposes extend beyond the redemption of slaves and include the adoption of those slaves as sons.
Here we encounter what J.I. Packer calls “the deepest insight into the greatness of God’s love.”
And God initiated it all.
Justification and Adoption
Over the years I have become aware of how easy it is to focus on justification and fail to prioritize the doctrine of God’s adopting grace. Historically, in my own ministry, and in Sovereign Grace in general, we have tended to emphasize the doctrine of justification over adoption. Please don’t misunderstand; we must never teach less on justification. The doctrine of justification must always remain primary because all the saving benefits (including adoption) depend upon justification by faith alone through grace alone in Christ alone.
Justification provides the foundation for adoption. And, rightly understood, justification positions us to fully appreciate adoption. We cannot speak of the Fatherhood of God apart from the cross.
But adoption is also distinct from justification. Without separating them, we need to distinguish between them.
So you may be asking yourself, so what is the difference between justification and adoption? And why is understanding this difference of such critical importance?
I’ll allow J.I. Packer to answer this question for us in the next post.
* Charles Spurgeon, sermon: “The Great Birthday and our Coming of Age” (sermon No. 1815).
September 22, 2009 by C.J. Mahaney
Every time I read about
Russ and Maria Moore’s adopted boys reaching back to their squalid orphanage home, I am moved. That orphanage was the only home they knew and those boys could not imagine the home that was prepared for them.
Like those little boys, we can tend to reach back to what is familiar rather than reaching toward what we are promised in Scripture. We are vulnerable to the subtle temptation of legalism. And this temptation has everything to do with our spiritual adoption.
One group that needed clarity on the dangers of legalism was the Galatians. They were returning to a pre-conversion lifestyle. They were seduced by legalism and failing to appreciate the good of the gospel. They were reaching back to the squalor.
We need to hear their story.
The book of Galatians was written to Christians in Galatia, a Roman province in what is now Turkey. The Galatian churches were composed of Gentile Christians in the process of deserting the gospel. False teachers and false teaching had infiltrated the region and begun influencing the Christians there. The result was the Galatians’ failure to understand and appreciate the doctrine of God’s adopting grace (Galatians 4:1-7). It was if a spell had been cast over them (3:1). And that spell was the subtle and serious error of legalism.
To better understand legalism, and the path taken by the Galatians into legalism, it’s helpful to watch how this unfolded.
The Path into Legalism
Although they had received the grace of God through the proclamation of the gospel (3:1), the Galatians were now in the process of abandoning the gospel of grace and adopting the Mosaic Law as their means of salvation. Through their obedience to the law, the Galatians were seeking to earn God’s forgiveness, God’s justification, and God’s acceptance.
This couldn’t be more serious. For the Galatians, the person and work of Christ was no longer sufficient. As a result of the false teaching, the Galatians erroneously assumed that atonement for their sins required adding their own obedience to the work of Christ. And this was a complete misunderstanding and misapplication of the law. It was a distortion of the law! It was a desertion of the gospel!
And it demanded a passionate response from Paul. Here’s why.
The law was never meant to save from sin. The law was meant to reveal God’s character, our sin, and our need for a Savior. And so Paul surveys the history of the law in order to inform the Galatians about its divine purpose and to protect them from misunderstanding and misusing it.
In Galatians 3:19-26 Paul explains their situation by building up to a metaphor (4:1-2). He writes that Israel under the law was like a child waiting for his inheritance. As a “minor” this child had no access to the inheritance, so his status was not unlike that of a household slave. The law was given by God for a specific purpose: it was preparatory for the coming of Jesus Christ and his death on the cross. For the Jews, God gave the law as preparation. “Now before faith came, we were held captive under the law, imprisoned until the coming faith would be revealed. So then, the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith” (vv. 23-24).
Of course the recipients of this letter, the Galatians, were Gentiles, not Jews. Before their conversion, they were largely ignorant of the law—but they were nevertheless enslaved. They were enslaved to the idols of their own imagination and creation, enslaved to false gods, enslaved to demons (4:8-9). And they were accountable for their sin.
The pagan Gentiles were not enslaved to the Jewish law. The Jews were not enslaved to pagan idolatry. But both Gentile and Jew were enslaved because of their sin.
By abandoning the gospel and subjecting themselves to the Mosaic Law as a means of salvation, the Gentiles were returning to their pre-conversion state as slaves. This was a different form of slavery, but slavery nonetheless.
They were like orphans reaching back.
Legalism is slavery. Why, Paul asks, do you want to return to this slavery? “But now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, how can you turn back again to the weak and worthless elementary principles of the world, whose slaves you want to be once more?” (v. 9).
“The Galatians,” Trevor Burke writes, “have singularly failed to grasp the fact that there is no higher honor than belonging to the household of their Father God.”*
And when we miss this supreme honor, we fail to comprehend and enjoy the gift of adoption. When we miss this supreme honor, we are susceptible to legalism’s enchantment. We are tempted to reach back.
Adopting grace will protect us from the spell of legalism.
* Trevor J. Burke, Adopted Into God's Family: Exploring a Pauline Metaphor
(IVP Academic, 2006).
September 18, 2009 by C.J. Mahaney
As I mentioned in the last post, one way to appreciate the doctrine of God’s adopting love is to read stories of sacrifice and love displayed in human adoption. One of the most compelling adoption stories I have read was written by my friend Russell Moore in his new book, Adopted for Life: The Priority of Adoption for Christian Families & Churches (Crossway, 2009).
Listen to their moving story in Moore’s own words (pp. 25–26, 43–44):
“So, are they brothers?” the woman asked. My wife Maria and I, jet-lagged from just returning from Russia, looked at each other wearily. This was the twelfth time since we returned that we’d been asked this question. When I looked back at the woman’s face, she had her eyebrows raised. “Are they?” she repeated. “Are they brothers?”
This lady was looking at some pictures, printed off a computer, of two one-year-old boys in a Russian orphanage, boys who had only days earlier been pronounced by a Russian court to be our children, after the legally mandated waiting period had elapsed for the paperwork to go through. Maria and I had returned to Kentucky to wait for the call to return to pick up our children and had only these pictures of young Maxim and Sergei, our equivalent of a prenatal sonogram, to show to our friends and relatives back home. But people kept asking, “Are they brothers?”
“They are now,” I replied. “Yes,” the woman said. “I know. But are they really brothers?” Clenching my jaw, and repeating Beatitudes to myself silently in my mind, I coolly responded, “Yes, now they are both our children, so they are now really brothers.” The woman sighed, rolled her eyes, and said, “Well, you know what I mean.”
Of course, we did know what she meant. What she wondered was whether these two boys, born three weeks apart, share a common biological ancestry, a common bloodline, some common DNA. It struck me that this question betrayed what most of us tend to view as really important when it comes to sonship: traceable genetic material.
This is the reason people would also ask us, “Now, do you have any children of your own?” And it is the reason newspaper obituaries will often refer to the deceased’s “adopted child,” as though this were the equivalent of a stepchild or a protégé rather than a real offspring.
During the weeks that Maria and I waited anxiously for the call to return to Russia to receive our children, I pondered this series of questions. As I read through the books of Ephesians and Galatians and Romans, it occurred to me that this is precisely the question that was faced by the apostle Paul and the first-century Christian churches. …
When Maria and I at long last received the call that the legal process was over, and we returned to Russia to pick up our new sons, we found that their transition from orphanage to family was more difficult than we had supposed. We dressed the boys in outfits our parents had bought for them. We nodded our thanks to the orphanage personnel and walked out into the sunlight, to the terror of the two boys.
They’d never seen the sun, and they’d never felt the wind. They had never heard the sound of a car door slamming or felt like they were being carried along a road at 100 miles an hour. I noticed that they were shaking and reaching back to the orphanage in the distance. Suddenly it wasn’t a stranger asking, “Are they brothers?” They seemed to be asking it, nonverbally but emphatically, about themselves.
I whispered to Sergei, now Timothy, “That place is a pit! If only you knew what’s waiting for you—a home with a mommy and a daddy who love you, grandparents and great-grandparents and cousins and playmates and McDonald’s Happy Meals!”
But all they knew was the orphanage. It was squalid, but they had no other reference point. It was home.
We knew the boys had acclimated to our home, that they trusted us, when they stopped hiding food in their high chairs. They knew there would be another meal coming, and they wouldn’t have to fight for the scraps. This was the new normal.
They are now thoroughly Americanized, perhaps too much so, able to recognize the sound of a microwave ding from forty yards away. I still remember, though, those little hands reaching for the orphanage. And I see myself there.
September 15, 2009 by C.J. Mahaney
My 27 years as the senior pastor of Covenant Life Church were filled with countless joys. Among my happiest memories are the times parents introduced me to their newly adopted children.
Covenant Life, like so many churches, is filled with stories of parents willing to travel to distant lands, to invest thousands of dollars, and sometimes to enter dangerous and impoverished countries with one purpose in mind: to adopt a child.
Meeting these children was a unique joy. Each time I met these adopted children, I felt God’s pleasure. Each time I admired the selflessness and compassion of these parents. And each time I was reminded of the Savior “who loved me and gave himself for me” (Galatians 2:20).
In each of these instances I was reminded of God’s love—for me!
Just as human adoption is deeply personal, the doctrine of God’s adopting grace is deeply personal. It is assuring. It reminds me that God loves me
. “Adoption is a family
idea,” wrote J.I. Packer, “conceived in terms of love
, and viewing God as father
. In adoption, God takes us into his family and fellowship—he establishes us as his children and heirs. Closeness, affection, and generosity are at the heart of the relationship.” *
Do the words closeness, affection,
describe your experience of God? If not, perhaps you are more aware of your sin than of the adopting grace of God. If not, perhaps you are more aware of justifying grace than of adopting grace.
In order to experience more of the affection of God, the closeness of God, the generosity of God, I recommend you study the doctrine of adoption until you are assured of and secure in the love of God.
And for the next few weeks we will study this topic on the blog in order to experience the affection and closeness of God.
That God is my Father and has welcomed me into his home is a truth so profound and awe-inspiring that I cannot help but be moved when I meet a child who was once an orphan but has now been transferred into a warm and loving home. Human adoption reminds me of God’s adopting grace. And perhaps the best place to begin our study of this doctrine is to hear the story of one couple’s journey to adopt two Russian orphans. Next time we will.
* J.I. Packer, Knowing God
(IVP, 1973), p. 207
September 11, 2009 by C.J. Mahaney
Categories: Adoption | Corporate Worship
Over the years I have talked with many genuine Christians with a similar problem: they are uncertain of God’s love for them. They simply aren’t sure. Often these individuals are very aware of their own sin and failures. But at the same time they are very unaware of God’s love for them. They view God as simply tolerating them, frustrated with them, even eager to punish them. In light of God’s holiness and their sinfulness, they ask: How can he love me?
Perhaps this describes you?
Yet Scripture tells us that God’s love for sinners like you and me is passionate and personal. It is an initiating love, a love that moved God to send his Son to the cross as a substitute for our sins. And now, by trusting in Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of our sins, we become children of God. God has become our Father! This is stunning! And we will spend the rest of our lives (and eternity) seeking to comprehend the breadth and length and height and depth of God’s love. And this love is uniquely revealed in his adoption of sinners into his family.
Any resource that will focus our attention and our affections upon the doctrine of God’s adopting grace is much needed. And while there are a few excellent books on the topic, something has been missing. We need appropriate worship songs on this topic for use in our corporate gatherings and for our personal devotional worship.
That is why I asked my good friend Bob Kauflin and his team of Sovereign Grace songwriters to write songs on this important topic. And they came through big time with a new twelve-track album called Sons and Daughters
You can download one of the songs for free (“Completely Done
I highly recommend this album. This album is a means of preaching the gospel to yourself. It is a tool to remind yourself of God’s adopting grace. It will help convince you of God’s passionate and personal love for you. Listening to the truths of these songs will help clear away any suspicions you have of God, and help you to contemplate his love for you, evidenced nowhere more clearly than in the death of his beloved Son.
Video of C.J.’s conversation with Bob Kauflin and Jeff Purswell, recorded at our WorshipGod09 conference, is now online. To watch the 70-minute video, click here: “Lessons Learned from Three Decades of Leading.” Or watch it here:
At the WorshipGod09 conference, my friend Jeff Purswell asked Bob and me the following question:
Many of the songs we sing here, and many of the songs written by people in Sovereign Grace, have the gospel as a key component to them. There are all kinds of themes in Scripture, and there are all kinds of songs in Scripture. Why should we have so many songs about the cross? Why should the cross play such a central role in our singing when there are so many other things we can sing about?
This is an important question. Here was the essence of my answer:
First, since the cross is the storyline of Scripture, it should be the storyline of our corporate worship. The cross is the matter of “first importance” and it should be reflected in our singing on a weekly basis (1 Corinthians 15:3).
Second, we must never leave the impression during corporate worship that we do not need a mediator. There isn’t a moment where I don’t need a mediator. In light of the Father’s holiness and my sinfulness, I cannot approach him directly apart from Christ. It is quite possible for us to sing songs that are accurately extolling the attributes of God. But if the cross is absent, we leave the unintended impression that somehow I can approach the Father apart from a mediator—that I can experience intimacy with God apart from the One who died for my many sins.
Third, cross-centered songs imitate the heavenly model. In Revelation 5:1-14, for example, we catch a glimpse of eternal worship and our heavenly future. Jim Elliff has written, “One is taken aback by the emphasis upon the Cross in Revelation. Heaven does not ‘get over’ the cross, as if there are better things to think about; heaven is not only Christ-centered, but cross-centered, and quite blaring about it.” Amen! Every Sunday should be a heavenly preview as we survey the wondrous cross and as we sing of the Lamb who is worthy of our praise.
Forth, cross-centered songs affect our souls. You’ve heard the Martyn Lloyd-Jones quote about how most of our unhappiness comes from listening to ourselves more than we talk to ourselves. In light of this, corporate worship is a serious gift! Singing in corporate worship is a means of talking to yourself. This provides us an opportunity to stop listening to ourselves, to stop listening to sin, legalism, condemnation, and to begin singing and talking to ourselves. And by the end of corporate worship there is a good chance that we will experience the joy of the gospel. Not very often in our noisy world do we have such an opportunity to talk to ourselves. So what your church is saying in these moments of corporate singing is very important. And what a unique opportunity worship leaders have to transfer the hope of the gospel to people in corporate worship. And to think, you can do this each and every Sunday!
Cross-centered worship songs are vital to the life of the church.
I am so grateful to God that Bob has led Sovereign Grace Ministries into gospel-centered worship music, and has served the church with the writing and producing of many such songs and albums.
You can listen to the full audio recording of our discussion on this and other topics at the WorshipGod09 conference here.
We recently hosted the WorshipGod09 conference at Covenant Life Church. The conference was once again planned and led with great care and effectiveness by my good friend Bob Kauflin.
At the conference, Bob asked me to participate in a Q+A with him and to answer questions from Jeff Purswell on the relationship between the pastor and his worship leader. Bob and I have served together for many years, and it was a great opportunity to honor my friend and relive memories (both the successes and failures). You can hear the audio recording of the session here.
The questions allowed us to explore many areas related to worship. One of the questions was on this topic:
What role do tuneless senior pastors play in the direction of corporate worship?
As a pastor with limited or no musical gifting myself, I can speak for the tuneless pastor. The whole area of corporate worship can be very intimidating for a pastor with little musical gifting. And it can be easy to defer leadership of the corporate worship to the more gifted musicians.
But actually, I argued that a senior pastor plays a very important and strategic role regardless of his musical gifting (or in my case, lack thereof). And the reason for this is very simple: Corporate worship in the church is not music driven, it’s theology driven. Musical skill and style are both important, but they are clearly of secondary importance. The priority in corporate worship is the theological content of the songs.
Emphasizing the theological accuracy of the songs is not only the right ordering of priorities. It also reminds the pastor/pastoral team that he/they play an important role in determining the content and direction of the worship ministry in general, and corporate worship on a Sunday morning in particular.
Even tuneless pastors cannot delegate this responsibility.
In the conference interview, Bob and I talk about how we have worked together over the years in planning and leading corporate worship.