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Friday, June 08, 2007

Can't I Do Anything Right?

In my previous post, I stated: If we want to lift Jesus high by exalting the glory of grace, then we must not be afraid to plunge to the depths of our depravity. My point being that grace is diminished if I fail to see the severity of my depravity. I used a John Piper quote, explaining depravity as our undervaluing God to what He is worth. If I follow his definition (which I do), then I realize I sin regularly. The idea of a believer going a day without sin is impossible. (I'd say laughable, except such a concept is tragic.)

In that post, I even state that our righteous works are like filthy rags.

Does this mean the believer is incapable of good works?

Before we answer that question, let's ask a few more.

Who requires good works?

As obedient children, do not be conformed to the former lusts which were yours in your ignorance, but like the Holy One who called you, be holy yourselves also in all your behavior; because it is written, "YOU SHALL BE HOLY, FOR I AM HOLY."--1 Peter 1:14-16

Who established our good works beforehand?

For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.--Ephesians 2:10

Who began, continues and will complete the good work?

For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus.--Philippians 1:6

Who should get credit for our works?

Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.--Matthew 5:16

Who is really at work when we do good?

For this purpose also I labor, striving according to His power, which mightily works within me.--Colossians 1:29.

Now, before we look at another text, let's consider an illustration.

Hal the pizza chef.

Hal doesn't make just any pizza, he makes the best pizza. Hal uses Lou's oven, Lou's tools, Lou's recipe, Lou's ingredients and Lou's facility. Should we really credit Hal for the pizza?

Consider finding Hal standing at the corner of Schaumburg and Roselle, just after his shift has ended. You ask Hal to make you a pizza. He may know the ingredients necessary, and be able to obtain them at a store. He may know the proper oven settings and could take you back to his house to prepare it. He may be able to make you something just like a Lou Malnati's pizza, but he can't actually make one of Lou's pies.

Not sure? Check your visa bill. Your transaction was not received by Hal, but rather by Lou Malnati. Just imagine that while on the job, Hal makes the perfect creation. The cheese (both layers) are perfectly cooked. The pepperoni is perfectly placed. Even the sauce is to a ideal proportion. Hal may be staring down at the perfect pie, yet he must ring the bell and call out, "Order up!" Hal cannot set that pie aside and prepare another for the customer. It is not his, it is Lou's, soon to become a specific customer's.

Delicious illustration, but does the Word of God say anything? Consider:
Sanctify them in the truth; Your word is truth.--John 17:17
Sanctify--2nd Person/Singular/Aorist/Imperative. Jesus calls upon God to do the sanctifying work. It is His Father's task to accomplish.

Them--Pronoun/Personal/Plural. Jesus has a specific recipient in mind. He is calling upon the Father to sanctify His disciples. Christ has trained them, lived with them and discipled them. Yet He places them in the Father's hands to do His sanctifying work.

Word--Noun/Nominative/Singular. Jesus states that God will use a change agent in the process. He calls upon God to sanctify His disciples by the Word of God (truth).

Notice: The disciple does not sanctify himself.
Notice: The Word does not sanctify.

God sanctifies the disciple through the Word of God.

One man may claim, See, I pick up the Book and read it to be sanctified. But we cannot produce our own sanctification. An atheist can pick up the Scriptures daily, parsing the greek and researching the context, yet it does not produce a fruit to righteousness.

Yet another man will protest, But if God is the One who is doing the work, why bother reading my Bible? But God has decreed that He will sanctify through His Word. If we do not pick up the Book, by what right can we ask for His sanctification?

And so we return:
Does this mean the believer is incapable of good works?

By myself? Absolutely. In my own power? Without a doubt. Responsible for the results? Then I don't stand a chance.

I don't own my good works. I do not supply my good works. I can't accomplish my good works. I'm not responsible for the result of good works. And I wouldn't want it any other way. For His name is then attached to the product, not mine.
Cultural Reference Warning:
(Albeit, Christian culture)

I'm so thankful
That I'm incapable
Of doing any good on my own!


  • At 5:27 AM, Blogger Brad said…

    Does God merely do good works through us? Or does He actually enable us to do good works?

    Truly, it is God who deserves all the glory for our sanctification. But isn't the glory of God's sanctifying work found in the fact that it truly is effective?

    At what point does an emphasis upon our continuing unworthiness turn into a denial of God's sanctifying power?

  • At 8:15 AM, Blogger danny2 said…

    can we make such a clear distinction between doing and enabling?

    if i am incapable without His enabling, then isn't it He who initiates the doing?

    i'm pressing this issue pretty hard, so we probably find ourselves on the same page. for instance, i totally agree that God is glorified in our effective sanctification. we do conform to the image of His Son, by His gracious working.

    yikes, i'd never want to deny God's sanctifying power! but isn't that the point of glorification....i'm never going to fully get there on this side of eternity.

    therefore, i may be looking more like Christ, but apart from the righteousness of Christ imputed to me, i still fall drastically short of God's standard.

  • At 10:56 AM, Blogger fisher said…

    mmm, pizza.

    can't we just rest on God's words and explanation of it and leave it at that?

    work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure. - Philippians 2:12-13

  • At 6:28 AM, Blogger Brad said…

    Wow. Just happened to look back at the previous comment thread. Looks like Eeyore had already made my point- and that so much better than I ever could have.

    No! No! Don't delete me! Ahhhh...

  • At 2:25 PM, Blogger fisher said…

    Is the new creature still depraved? Is he not dead to sin? It seems Paul over and again reminds his readers, "remember that you WERE ... BUT NOW ... THEREFORE ...", as to say the reality of our depravity and justification enables and demands your sanctification.
    Someone may have said it already - "forgetting those things which are behind, I press on toward the mark ..."
    What also about being blessed with EVERY spiritual blessing in the heavenly places (Eph 1:3) and being COMPLETE in Him (Col 2:9-10)?
    Does this speak to position only and not also experience?

  • At 3:25 PM, Blogger danny2 said…

    i think martin luther would say, "simul iustus et peccator."

    we've acknowledged the difference between sanctification and justification, but maybe we really need to make sure sanctification and glorification are kept distinct.

    is He doing a work in me? absolutely.
    is He continuing that work in me? praise God!
    Has He ever come close to finishing that work in my on this side of eternity? not by a long shot.

    romans 6 says we're dead to sin.
    romans 7 says paul is still waging war.

  • At 9:01 PM, Blogger fisher said…

    Ich verstehe Sie nicht. Sprechen Sie Englische, bitte.

    All I'm saying is that we could use a little more of the Pigletian mindset.

  • At 9:17 PM, Blogger danny2 said…

    you got me. i have no idea what you said.

    luther's quote was actually latin, "simultaneous just and sinner."

    i could probably be a bit more of a piglet (though that would create great problems for my diet).

  • At 12:04 AM, Blogger BReformed said…

    This week has been such a mess, I can't even get ample time to participate in a dialogue about one of my favorite doctrinal subjects. I am not sure my brain is working right tonght...

    I think we can make a distinction between "doing" and "enabling". One who is enabled does the thing he is enabled to do. One who is not enabled, can only do that which he is capable of doing. That is essentially Romans 8 which, I think, provides the crucial data to explain Romans 6 & 7.

    The question about whether we can just rest on God's words and explanation of it is and interesting point. I believe God uses preachers to explain His words (Eccl. 12:10; Matt. 13:51-52; Acts 8:29-35; Rom. 10:14.) The Holy Spirit is the enabler of the man of God so that he preaches, "Thus saith the Lord." The Words given to the preacher do not originate with him, but with God.

    So, using preaching instead of pizza as the example, preaching can only be done through Holy Spirit enabling. Yet it is the preacher who does it. Ezekiel 33 enunciates the enormous weight of obediently executing God's directive to "preach" (Mark 16:15.) He either does it in the fear of God, or he does not at his own peril.

    Let's review the pizza analogy again. The analogy really only considers Lou and Hal: Lou as the owner of the pizza parlor, and Hal as the trustworthy chef. The analogy attempts to explain ownership of the "work" in making a pizza pie.

    But is the ownership in the work of making the pizza, or is there a third component that was mentioned in passing, which is critical: the recipe.

    The recipe is owned by Lou. Without the recipe, Hal is powerless. Hal must make pizzas according to Lou's recipe, or it is not "Lou's pizza". But the work of making the pizza is not really Lou's - it is Hal's, and Hal is blessed with a reward for his faithful servanthood. He makes the pizza according to the recipe whether the client likes it or not, in season and out of season. Hal also credits Lou with the recipe, and even with the training to do so. Hal is thankful for the opportuntity to serve Lou, and recognizes that the recipe and the parlor were not of his making. But he did make the pizzas.

    Hal could suppose that Lou would just make pizzas himself since he is the recipe owner, and certainly the best at handling his own recipe in his own kitchen. But then he would be a slothful servant and good for nothing; why would Lou need Hal? In reality, Lou is relying on the works of Hal because that's they way Lou designed his parlor to operate, and Lou has given Hal everything he needs to accomplish his will in that regard.

    Now, before Deacon Upward tells me I am trying to be relevant by devising an understandable illustration of human imagination, let me suggest that Jesus already made this point 2,000 years ago in His parable of the talents. The talents are given to men "according to his ability" (Matt. 25:15.) Obviously, we understand that the ability is of God. The crucial character in the parable is the third man who buries his talent out of fear, and even believes in sincerity that the Master would "reap where He does not sow." This infuriates the
    Master, that his servant would not act upon the enablement graciously given to him. Therein, I think, is a clear indication that God really does enable us to do works, that those works are ours to do, that we are responsible for those works (such that the failure of the third man benefited the first man), and those works must be done according to the instructions given by the Master. In that parable, the servants got credit for their works - whether faithfully or slothfully executed.

    But I really wanted to discuss "simul iustus et peccator" and James 3:11-12.

  • At 12:05 PM, Blogger fisher said…

    "I don't understand You. Speak English, please." Just so we are not guilty of speaking in tongues without intrepretation.

    I'll borrow Lawson's words, (thanks Matt) - the preacher is to proclaim the Word, explain, synthesize and apply the Word by means of cross referencing the Word with the Word. And I would add that only the Holy Spirit teaches the Word to us. I am OFTEN guilty of going outside of the Word in attempting to make profound truth and mystery understandable. The Word is alive and active and does penetrate.

    I'm not sure we can honestly blame our "Relevant Brethren" if we do the same, only to a lesser degree. Movies=Pizza. I'm talking to myself at this point.

    As someone recently told me, "Sanctify them by Your truth, Your Word is truth." My words alone mean nothing and have no power to do such a miracle of sanctification. It's not just holding the book in our hands and talking about the book. We speak the Words and the Words actually do something in us.

    Isn't Luther is credited with saying James is an "epistle of straw"?

  • At 8:26 AM, Blogger danny2 said…


    i'll generate some posts on the role of illustrations. i've never claimed they shouldn't exist and i think they can be biblically validated...provided the remain illustrative and not the foundation for your argument.


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