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My office is that of a pastor. That is a functionary position that need not indicate that I am a superior in any way over others in the flock of our Savior. Paul’s self-designation of being the chief of sinners should humble any pastor with the realization that he may well be in the pastoral office, where he spends so much of his time in the Word and prayer, not because he is a great saint but because he is a great sinner whom the Lord mercifully keeps close to Himself lest he grow in sinfulness more than righteousness. If I welcome any title it is that of Christian and brother to my fellow Christians. Anything more than that seems to me to be a lessening of the precious ties of love that alone bind us together in the body of Christ.
Your pastoral servant and brother,
Beloved brethren, Why are we justified by faith alone? It is because faith alone unites us to Christ who has accomplished our salvation on every level. Christ has made atonement to God for our sins. The holy wrath of God that even the least of our sins deserves has been fully expended on the Savior.
For those who are in Christ, there is no divine condemnation or wrath now or forever. Christ has paid the debt our disobedience has incurred and He has taken away all of our sin by taking it all to Himself (2 Cor. 5:21). We are justified by faith because we are united by faith to our perfect Redeemer who has accomplished for us a perfect redemption.
There is therefore now for all who are by faith in Christ Jesus no condemnation (Rom.
8:1)…at least no condemnation from our God. The world, the remnants of our old natures, and the devil work individually and conspire together to accuse us of sins. We are not accused of imaginary sins, but rather of sins we know that we, even as believers and justified children of God in Christ, still commit. The insidious nature of these accusations is evident when we realize that in all cases to some degree the holy law of God is used as the cudgel to beat us into doubting thoughts, fearful emotions, and desperate actions, so that we move away from our God, due to our sense of personal unworthiness.
We all experience these painful and grievous seasons in our walk by faith. How are we to respond to them? There are two false ways of response. The first way is that of the legalist (who makes too much of the law); the second is the way of the antinomian (who makes too little of the law).
The legalist thinks of himself as a disappointing loser who is never good enough to approach God. He confuses this feeling with such virtues as reverence and humility, but he is really a frightened soul who regards God as a harsh Master who is perpetually grieved, disappointed, and angry with him due to his poor performance. The essence of the Christian life for the legalist is that he must always try harder not to sin.
Now it is true that God does not want us to sin. Our deliverance from sin is an essential dimension of our salvation. A legitimate use that God makes of His holy law is in His defining sin and commanding us not to let it reign over us (Rom. 6: 12). But the legalist believes that when we do sin, God is offended by us and angry with us, and we have cause to stay away from him due to our unworthiness. This belief is logical but not theological. For God tells us in His Word that although the Bible has been written so that we might not sin, when we do sin there is divine provision for us in Christ who is our Advocate (He merits our forgiveness), and our propitiation (He has borne God’s holy wrath).
These are positive truths that liberate us from our sins and prompt us toward the God against whom we have sinned, not away from Him, as Adam in his fall moved away from God, even as God was approaching him not to punish him but to promise him salvation! The focus of the legalist becomes increasingly negative for himself and others. He tries not to sin by keeping the law as a duteous way to stay out of trouble, and he resents any brethren who appear to be less committed to such an endeavor than he is. The legalist is, however, faking a friendship with the law in a vain endeavor to persuade God, whom he thinks wields the cudgel that is ever pounding him, to lessen and lighten some of the blows.
The other false way is that of the antinomian. His attitude is that it is not so much sin that is our problem, as it is the law. Therefore, the antinomian conceives of his salvation in terms of his having won a divine lottery that gives him free license to sin. The antinomian fails to understand that Christ died to save us from sin, not to indulge and confirm us in it (Rom. 6:1,2). He also fails to realize that the very essence of sin is that it is not only incompatible with the believer’s new nature in Christ, but its effect is always that it will separate us from God, not draw us to Him. The essence of eternal life is that we should intimately know God (Jn. 17:3).
The antinomian thinks he is ever in a perfect relationship with God because he equates the no condemnation of justification with a sinless perfection in sanctification. For the antinomian, the Christian life is lived with the false assumption of divine indulgence that treats his sins as though they do not matter. The legalist hates his sins and believes that he is responsible to work his way out of them by his own obedience; the antinomian loves his sins and will not tolerate the Lord or His holy law condemning them. Although these two views seem extremely diverse, they are essentially the same in their pathologies. Both focus excessively on sin and law and both focus too little on the person and work of Christ for us as well as in us.
The focus of those having and exercising faith is upon Christ. They delight in His person and love His law precisely because it is the reflection of the character of Him whom they love.
The faithful delight in the saving work of Christ because it is the one thing necessary for our peaceful and joyful reconciliation with God. The faithful focus upon the work of Christ in us, by His Spirit nurturing our new natures, as well as His work for us on the cross. The faithful focus upon the name of the Lord, meaning the Lord as He has revealed Himself in the whole counsel of God contained in Scripture. That revelation teaches us that the law of God is essentially good and holy (Rom. 7:12), but that the Lord has given it to us neither as a means of our salvation nor as a requirement of our sanctification. The law can only condemn us. It cannot change us into the likeness of Christ. The law rightly guides us in our sanctification, while the grace of Christ, the love of God, and the comforting power of the Holy Spirit prompt our new natures to grow in the knowledge of the Lord, whom to know is eternal life (Jn. 17:3). It is when we fix our hope on our triune God that we thereby grow into His likeness (1 Jn. 3:3).
Legalism promises purity and provides only sinful pride that separates us from God.
Antinomianism promises love and provides only a license for sinful indulgence that leads us into separation from the face of our Lord (Isa. 59:1,2). Faith in Christ unites us in holy love to our Lord because by faith we know that He has first, last, always, immeasurably, and unchangeably loved us (Rom. 8: 38,39; Eph. 3: 17-19; 1 Jn. 4: 19).
Faithfully yours, William Harrell
The Fruit of the Spirit: Love
My brethren, When I was preaching through Galatians several months ago, some of you asked me to write from my sermon notes a booklet on the topic of the fruit of the Spirit. I do not feel led or inclined at this time to produce such a work, but I can use these monthly letters in our Record to set down in writing at least a summary of what the Lord showed us through those sermons. I begin to do so with this month’s letter, starting with an introduction to the aspects that compose the fruit of the Spirit as a whole, then sharing some observations on the first aspect: love.
We begin by noting in contrast to the assorted works of the flesh that we who are in Christ have the fruit of the Spirit. Paul writes of the flesh of the natural man producing works (plural), while he writes of the Spirit producing fruit (singular). There is significance to this difference.
The works of the flesh consist of an assortment of fearful attitudes and actions that show the sinner’s futile attempts to promote himself. In contrast, the nine aspects that Paul lists in Galatians 5:22,23 are not components of a random assortment but are, instead, distinct but inseparable facets of a coherent whole. We who are believers grow by the sanctifying work of the one Holy Spirit, so that we manifest all of these beautiful facets. We do this not as puppets, lifelessly animated by the Spirit of God. Instead, we do this as ones regenerated by God and growing in our new natures into His likeness.
The fruit of the Spirit is actually the character of the Savior imparted to all believers. That character is singular but richly faceted. We do well to meditate regularly upon this character as a whole and the distinctive characteristics, singularly and in relation to each other, because it is God’s will that we should be formed into this image. When the Lord spoke through Jeremiah, telling His people of His plans to give them a future and a hope, their having this Christ-like character was ultimately what He meant (Jer. 29:11).
Love is the first and leading aspect of the fruit of the Spirit. The primary position of love indicates its foundational and supreme importance in relation to all other aspects of the fruit of the Spirit. God Himself is love (1 Jn. 4:8), and He has demonstrated His holy and sacrificial love by giving His Son to die for us while we were at our sinful worst (Rom. 5:8).
Because God has so sincerely and sacrificially loved us, and because His Son has freely loved us and given Himself for us (Gal. 2:20), the divinely given Ten Commandments tell us to love God and to love our fellow man (Mt. 22: 34-40). What God commands, He also graciously gives by His Holy Spirit, who guides us into the knowledge of what holy love is and enables us increasingly to become loving in our thoughts, emotions, words, and works.
Jesus prayed for such love to be in His people, saying: I have made Thy name known to them, and will make it known; that the love with which You have loved Me may be in them, and I in them (Jn. 17:26). For this love Jesus prayed, and died, and sent His Holy Spirit to indwell us.
By God’s making His love to become our love, He begins the work that His grace will perfect in the final day. That work is one of nourishing our growth into His likeness to the point that we perfectly, personal, and perpetually love Him entirely and our neighbors as ourselves. And because it is God who has planted His love within us, we will grow increasingly to love as He loves.
This means that our love will be self-determined. It will be self-determined not by our old, sinful and self-regarding corruption that is antithetical the love that seeks to embrace others in holy and intimate relationships. Our love is a fruit that develops within our new natures and issues from our new life in Christ. Our God determined to love us. Nothing that is within us or that pertains to us drew the divine love to us. God took the initiative to love us from the foundation of the world (Eph. 1:4,5). Christ determined to love us and to give Himself for us, even when we were sinfully unlovely. Therefore, the love that the Spirit is forming in us will not let us wait to discover loveable features in others before we begin to love them. Instead, the Spirit will prompt us and our new natures will impel us to take the initiative to love others, no matter how unlovely they may be. By our doing so, we, like our God, deposit love in others whereby loveliness within them can and will grow.
Because we are growing to love as our God loves, our love will be sacrificial, as His love was, is, and forever will be sacrificial. Love will orient us not primarily toward our deriving satisfaction and pleasure from those we love. That desire to be loved is legitimate, but we will sacrifice it as a primary intention and take up the matter of our loving God and others as our singular aim. Love prompts us to give ourselves in love to our God who has first loved us; then it prompts and empowers us to give ourselves to others no matter the cost, difficulty, or suffering we endure.
We often confuse love with our strong desire for someone or something and the intense delight we find in our having them in our lives. The truth is that love is primarily about our giving, rather than our receiving. The loving person desires the holy happiness of the beloved, and derives his own highest pleasure through his knowing that his love has brought such happiness to the beloved. Such desire to give love, however, does not ruin our capacity to receive and rejoice in the love that God and others give to us. It actually expands our capacity to receive love because we do not become obsessed with and disappointed by the imperfect love others offer to us. We can receive and sincerely rejoice in what love they may give to us because we are focused upon our God, who is the source of love and whose perfect and immeasurable love satisfies our hunger for love while making us capable of covering the faults and sins of others by our loving them as He has loved us. The love that we have growing within us by the nurturing ministry of the Holy Spirit in combination with the growth of our new natures is an effectual power. By it, we establish and nourish relationships of mutually and increasingly satisfying benefit and delight. These relationships, established and maintained by love, are the sweetest fruits of God’s redeeming love for us in Christ that has reconciled us to Him and to one another in Him.
Dear Brethren, In last month’s Record I began what I plan to make into a series of letters dealing with the fruit of the Spirit. In that first letter, I noted some introductory matters about the fruit of the Spirit as a whole and then wrote about the first aspect of the fruit of the Spirit: love. With this month’s letter I move to a consideration of the second aspect: joy.
We have seen how love, due to its nature and primary placement in the nine facets of the fruit of the Spirit, is to be considered as the foundation for the eight following virtues in that list (Gal.