For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh for the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh, but mighty before God to the casting down of strongholds, casting down imaginations, and every high thing that is exalted against the knowledge of God, and bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ; and being in readiness to avenge all disobedience, when your obedience shall be made full (II Cor. 10:3-6).

Captive Thoughts” is dedicated to bringing every thought captive to Christ through the study of the Westminster Confession of Faith and Catechisms, with primary focus on the Westminster Shorter Catechism. This effort is a compilation of several years of catechetical study conducted at Westminster Orthodox Presbyterian Church, Westminster, California, by its Christian Education Committee and the author of this site.

Monday, December 11, 2017

Westminster Shorter Catechism Q89


Life imitates art: that well-known phrase does contain an element of truth. An author carefully drafts a tale that outlines events that occur in our personal lives; the specific events may vary, but the pattern of change is fairly consistent. We might call it “coming to ourselves,” or just plain growing up; either way, growth toward maturity, or learning new things, is marked by steps of change. Sometimes dramatic change occurs, but most often the steps are gradual and not immediately noticeable.
What does this have to do with our catechism question? Well, notice the answer to Question 89. It contains all four elements that define and contribute to change: 1) convicting or convincing of an imperative for change; 2) converting or redirecting; 3) establishing or determining of a new course; and finally 4) settling into the new. This is consistent with Paul’s definition of the four elements leading to godly change in behavior (II Tim. 3:16). God uses these means to effect salvation and bring his beloved children to holiness and comfort.
From of old, the message has been, “Hear therefore, O Israel, and observe to do it; that it may be well with thee, and that you may increase mightily, as the Lord God of thy fathers hath promised thee (Deut. 6:3). Life does imitate art, and throughout the ages, artists have portrayed the outcome for those who embrace the process of change, as well as for those who ignore that message. May we be hearers and doers of the Word.
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WSC Q89. How is the Word made effectual to salvation?
A.   The Spirit of God maketh the reading, but especially the preaching of the Word, an effectual means of convincing and converting sinners, and of building them up in holiness and comfort, through faith, unto salvation[a].
[a]   Neh. 8:8-9; Acts 20:32; Rom. 10:14-17; II Tim. 3:15-17
Question 89 asks what makes the Word effective for salvation, and answers that the Spirit of God causes the reading and especially the preaching of the Word to convince and convert sinners and to build them up in holiness and comfort through faith to salvation.
Comments and considerations:
Early in my Christian experience, I was a little dull of hearing; through the faithful and patient witnessing and examples of godly men, I was set upon the right course. I began to understand that the Word is indeed made effectual to salvation; the Spirit of God makes the reading, but especially the preaching of the Word, an effectual means of convincing and converting sinners, and of building them up in holiness and comfort, through faith, unto salvation. That’s clear, isn’t it? As an elder in Christ’s church, I admit I get a little edgy, and my jaw sets in a somewhat unsanctified way when I see Christians who are walking in discomfort, apart from the joy of the Lord. What part of II Tim. 2:15—“Be diligent (study) to present yourself approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing (understanding) the word of truth” - doesn’t the average Christian comprehend? (Sarcasm intended!)
Those joyless believers are like a child who complains of hunger at bedtime, an hour after loving parents offered a wonderful meal which the child refused to eat. Yes, our Lord promises, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be filled” (Matt. 5:6). But how foolish are the ones who refuse to “take and eat,” though they are half-starved. I am impatient with those who are sleepwalking the Christian experience - confused, discouraged, unenthusiastic, not tasting the joy of the Lord that [could be their] strength (Neh. 8:10). I am impatient unlike those who were patient with me; forgive me, Lord.
Impatience is wrong; but no-nonsense instruction might help. The simple fact is that if you want to grow in grace and in knowledge of the Lord, God’s Word is the means. If you are not growing, if you’ve reached a plateau, if your Christian life is stagnate - you have most likely been ignoring this vital means of God’s grace.
A preacher once told tell me he refused to do counseling and personal mentoring. He believed it was his job to prepare and preach the Word of God so that the Spirit might use it effectually. It was his job to prepare the meal, and the congregation’s task to come, partake, and be instructed. If they were malnourished, he said, it would not be because of a lack of available wholesome instruction. I questioned that comment at the time, but over the years I’ve thought much about what he said; I’ve seen how ineffectual counseling can sometimes be. Like the medical industry has discovered, if you want to be healthy you need to stay healthy. The people who do not take care of their physical condition are the ones most often found in the doctor’s office; it requires much more effort to reverse a malady and illness than to keep the immune system healthy from the start. This is true of the spiritual life as well!
This question covers all three aspects (or phases) of salvation. We often think of salvation in terms of our final destination, our deliverance from God’s ultimate wrath and curse for sin. As important as that is, it is only one aspect of our deliverance from sin. When Scripture says, “You shall call His name JESUS, for He will save His people from their sins,” it is a total deliverance. He saves us from the condemnation and final judgment due to sin; from the power and love of sin; and from the stain and defilement of sin. As the catechism explains, the Word (by the Spirit’s enabling) is effectual to overcome the sinner’s love of sin and its hold on him, and to cleanse and renew, making the sinner whole in every aspect of the faith and practice (II Pet. 2:3).
But how do we know these things, if we do not study them? The writer of Hebrews rebukes his audience for becoming dull of hearing, for needing to be taught again “the first principles of the oracles of God.” They “have come to need milk and not solid food. For everyone who partakes only of milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, for he is a babe. But solid food belongs to those who are of full age, that is, those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil” (Heb. 5:12-14). Many are ignorant of the truths of God’s Word by their own choice. The solution is the ABCs - learning the basics and adding to them line upon line until one is able to take “solid food” and “by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil.” There are no shortcuts, no silver bullets. Adam and Eve were tempted to use a shortcut to supposed wisdom in the Garden, and we see where it got them and their prodigy for all time. In the desert the Second Adam was likewise tempted to take alternative routes, yet his response was “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God” (Matt 4:4).
The reading - your own personal daily devotion and meditation upon the Word (Ps. 1) - but especially the preaching of the Word - the faithful, studied exposition by gifted and called men of God (Eph. 4:7-16) are the means God uses to save and sanctify his people. Read this catechism question’s associated Scriptures carefully, and add to them:
“For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart” (Heb. 4:12).
For years, I have had a cartoon over my desk. It is of a preacher who finds a very worn and tattered Bible in a pew after a morning worship service. It is underlined, highlighted, dog-eared with frayed edges and weakened binder, but no name written inside. As dear saints are walking out, he hands the Bible to Eula, who wonders how he knew it was hers. In the last frame the preacher is smiling, thinking to himself, “A Bible that’s falling apart often belongs to someone who isn’t.”
Training Hearts and Teaching Minds Questions:
1.            Jesus promised that He would send the Holy Spirit, who would convince people that they were sinners in need of salvation. The Holy Spirit converts, changes, or redirects lives in faith and focus. The Word is his tool to bring non-Christians to faith in Christ, and to cause Christians to grow in holiness. How does the Apostle Paul describe that tool in II Tim. 3:14-15?
2.            Besides the written Word, what else does God use to communicate our salvation? (See I Cor. 1:21).
3.            Once we have come to saving faith through the ministry of the Word, we still need to examine ourselves daily, even moment by moment, to see if we are living a life pleasing to God, separating ourselves from sin and ungodly behaviors. How is the Word used to that end? See Heb. 4:12 and Acts 20:32.
4.            The goal in our Christian life is to see greater conformity to Christ in thought, speech, and action. What four aspects of the Word are needed and used to make us complete and equipped to serve our God in Christ? See II Tim. 3:16-17.
Harmony of the Standards: WSC Q89, WLC Q155 and Q156
WSC Q89. How is the Word made effectual to salvation?
A.  The Spirit of God maketh the reading, but especially the preaching of the Word, an effectual means of convincing and converting sinners, and of building them up in holiness and comfort, through faith, unto salvation[a].
[a]   Neh. 8:8-9; Acts 20:32; Rom. 10:14-17; IITim. 3:15- 17
WLC Q155. How is the Word made effectual to salvation?
A.  The Spirit of God maketh the reading, but especially the preaching of the Word, an effectual means of enlightening[a], convincing, and humbling sinners[b]; of driving them out of themselves, and drawing them unto Christ[c]; of conforming them to his image[d], and subduing them to his will[e]; of strengthening them against temptations and corruptions[f]; of building them up in grace[g], and establishing their hearts in holiness and comfort through faith unto salvation[h].
[a]    Neh. 8:8; Acts 26:18; Ps. 19:8
[b]    1Cor. 14:24-25; 2Chro. 34;18, 19, 26-28
[c]    Acts 2:37, 41; 8:27-38
[d]    2Cor. 3:18
[e]    2Cor. 10:4-6; Rom. 6:17
[f]     Mat. 4:4, 7, 10; Eph. 6:16-17; Ps. 19:11; 1Cor. 10:11
[g]    Acts 20:32; 2Tim. 3:15-17
[h]    Rom. 16:25; 1Thes. 3:2, 10-11, 13; Rom. 15:4; 10:13-17; 1:16
WLC Q156. Is the Word of God to be read by all?
A.  Although all are not to be permitted to read the Word publicly to the congregation[a], yet all sorts of people are bound to read it apart by themselves[b], and with their families[c]: to which end, the holy scriptures are to be translated out of the original into vulgar languages[d].
       [a]    Deut. 31:9, 11-13; Neh. 8:2-3; 9:3-5
        [b]    Deut. 17:19; Rev. 1:8; John 5:39; Isa. 34:16
        [c]    Deut. 6:6-9; Gen. 18:17, 19; Ps. 78:5-7
        [d]    1Cor. 14:6, 9, 11-12, 15-16, 24, 27-28
Question(s) for further study:
Though exactly same in the asking, how do the answers to WSC Q 89 and WLC 155 differ?  What additional element(s) may be evident in the more expanded answer of the Larger Catechism? 

What underlying point or particular issue might our father’s have wanted to stress in WLC Q156?

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