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, November 27, 2017

Westminster Shorter Catechism Q87


We come to the second point drawn from the answer to WSC Q85, “What doth God require of us, that we may escape his wrath and curse, due to us for sin?” Repentance, like the faith we studied last time, is a gift from our Heavenly Father. It is not what we do, but what he does; it is not about us, but about him.  Even his commands should cause us to say, “God, command what you will, and give what you command!”
How does the hymn go? “Grace, grace, God’s grace, grace that greater than is all my sin.” What great reason we have to rejoice in every way. Let us both sing and pray our way through this lesson in the Shorter Catechism.
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WSC Q87. What is repentance unto life?
A.   Repentance unto life is a saving grace[a], whereby a sinner, out of a true sense of his sin, and apprehension of the mercy of God in Christ[b], doth, with grief and hatred of his sin, turn from it unto God[c], with full purpose of, and endeavour after, new obedience[d].
[a]  Acts 11:18; II Tim. 2:25
[b]  Ps. 51:1-4; Joel 2:13; Luke 15:7, 10; Acts 2:37
[c]  Jer. 31:18-19; Luke 1:16-17; I Thess. 1:9
[d]  II Chron. 7:14; Ps. 119:57-64; Matt. 3:8; II Cor. 7:10
Question 86 asks what repentance unto life is, and answers that repentance unto life is a saving grace, by which a sinner, being truly aware of his sinfulness, understands the mercy of God in Christ, grieves for and hates his sins, and turns from them to God, fully intending and striving for a new obedience.
Comments and considerations:
Did the hymn mentioned above strike you as out of place? What does grace have to do with this particular catechism question? Where is the cause for rejoicing? To begin, Repentance unto life is a saving grace: Just as the faith necessary for salvation is supplied by a loving and gracious God to the lost, dying, and bankrupt sinner, so repentance is also supplied by grace. I doubt the hymn writer intended the double mention of grace to point to the double gifts of faith and repentance, but these graces are certainly a reason to sing that hymn with joy! Our God supplies all our need according to his riches in glory by Christ Jesus (Phil. 4:19).
Repentance is in fact necessary in order for us to escape the wrath and curse of God, due to us for sin (WSC #85). Some might say that salvation is simply a matter of “believe and be saved,” but what is belief if it does not produce appropriate actions? Years ago, one of my sons, with me on a road trip through the Colorado Rockies, took a long look at the steel and wooden bridge that spans the very deep chasm at Pikes Peak; he wondered whether to trust his father to drive over the bridge to the main highway, or to insist upon a much longer route back down the mountain. You see, he had a fear of heights. When I challenged his faith to drive with his dad (who would let no harm come to him) over the bridge, he replied that he believed me, but… As the saying goes, his head said one thing, but his heart, the seat of the will and emotions, thoughts and intents (Heb. 4:12), said something else. Our actions will give evidence to our true heart attitude. As James says, we are not saved by works, but neither are we saved without them; they are the evidence (James 2:14). Our faith may be as small as a grain of mustard (Mk. 4:31), yet it will sprout with proof that life truly has been born; in time, it will grow as it is nurtured in the Lord.
So the Scriptures are quite clear that repentance is required, noting two of our supporting scriptures:
“When they heard these things they became silent; and they glorified God, saying, ‘Then God has also granted to the Gentiles repentance to life’” (Acts 11:18).
“...in humility correcting those who are in opposition, if God perhaps will grant them repentance, so that they may know the truth…” (II Tim. 2:25).
God commands repentance, but he also gives it. Again, “God, command what you will, and give what you command!” (Augustine) ...But now let us see what he gives, what it is that true repentance means.
First of all, repentance is a twofold act, a turning away from the wrong path and a turning towards the right.
“If My people who are called by My name will humble themselves, and pray and seek My face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land” (II Chron. 7:14).
Next, it is also godly recognition or sorrow for sin.
“For godly sorrow produces repentance leading to salvation, not to be regretted; but the sorrow of the world produces death” (II Cor. 7:10).
All of us know—from our own experience and from our children—that there is a far cry (pun intended) between being simply caught in a sin and actually owning the wrong and guilt of the transgression; godly sorrow isn’t easy for a sinful human heart.
But see how our catechism describes this true repentance: A sinner out of a true sense of his sin, and apprehension of the mercy of God in Christ, doth, with grief and hatred of his sin, turn from it unto God, with full purpose of, and endeavour after, new obedience. In the Bible verses our fathers used to build this catechism teaching, there is much instruction; but there is also a verse of tender mercies:
“‘Now, therefore,’ says the LORD, ‘Turn to Me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning.’ So rend your heart, and not your garments; return to the LORD your God, for He is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness; and He relents from doing harm” (Joel 2:12-13).
Some would see repentance as a hard demand, and at best, a possible hindrance to faith. But it is the true imprint of a two-sided coin: believe and obey! And, it is a saving grace (II Tim. 2:25) whereby God commands what he wills, and gives what he commands!
Training Hearts and Teaching Minds Questions:
1.        What is repentance? Read II Cor. 7:9-10. What does verse 10 say that “godly sorrow” for sin produces? How do repentance for sin and faith in Christ as a Savior from sin fit together? Is there a distinction between mere repentance and “repentance unto life”?
2.        As we have seen, it is God who grants us faith. In what way is repentance unto life similar to faith? See Acts 11:18 (also Ezek. 36:26-27).
3.        One measure of true repentance is our attitude toward our sins. We might feel embarrassed or even guilty about our sin, but how do Is. 64: 5-7 and Ps. 51:1-2 describe a godly perspective on sin?
4.        We must understand the definition of repentance in order to follow through with our actions. How does Is. 55: 6-7 describe repentance? What two things are central in this text? (1)
5.        Read I John 2:3-6. What phrase in WSC Q87 does this describe?
1) Turning away from sin, and turning to God for mercy.
Harmony of the Standards: WSC Q87, WLC 76, and WFC XV
Q.  87. What is repentance unto life?
A.  Repentance unto life is a saving grace[a], whereby a sinner, out of a true sense of his sin, and apprehension of the mercy of God in Christ[b], doth, with grief and hatred of his sin, turn from it unto God[c], with full purpose of, and endeavour after, new obedience[d].
[a]  Acts 11:18; IITim. 2:25
[b]  Ps. 51:1-4; Joel 2:13; Luke 15:7, 10; Acts 2:37
[c]  Jer. 31:18-19; Luke 1:16-17; IThess. 1:9
[d]  IIChron. 7:14; Ps. 119:57-64; Matt. 3:8; IICor. 7:10
WLC Q76. What is repentance unto life?
A.  Repentance unto life is a saving grace[a], wrought in the heart of a sinner by the Spirit[b] and Word of God[c], whereby, out of the sight and sense, not only of the danger[d], but also of the filthiness and odiousness of his sins[e], and upon the apprehension of God's mercy in Christ to such as are penitent[f], he so grieves for[g] and hates his sins[h], as that he turns from them all to God[i], purposing and endeavouring constantly to walk with him in all the ways of new obedience[j].
[a]   2Tim. 2:25
[b]   Zech. 12:10
[c]   Acts 11:18, 20-21
[d]   Ezek. 18:28, 30, 32; Luke 15:17-18; Hos. 2:6-7
[e]   Ezek. 36:31; Isa. 30:22
[f]   Joel 2:12-13
[g]   Jer. 31:18-19
[h]  2Cor. 7:11
[i]    Acts 26:18; Ezek. 14:6; 1Kng. 8:47-48
[j]    Ps. 119:6, 59, 128; Luke 1:6; 2Kng. 23:25
THE WESTMINSTER CONFESSION OF FAITH
CHAPTER. XV.
Of Repentance unto Life.
I.    Repentance unto life is an evangelical grace[a], the doctrine whereof is to be preached by every minister of the gospel, as well as that of faith in Christ[b].
      [a]  Acts 11:18; II Cor. 7:10; Zech. 12:10
      [b]  Luke 24:47; Mark 1:15; Acts 20:21
II.  By it, a sinner, out of the sight and sense not only of the danger, but also of the filthiness and odiousness of his sins, as contrary to the holy nature, and righteous law of God; and upon the apprehension of his mercy in Christ to such as are penitent, so grieves for, and hates his sins, as to turn from them all unto God[c], purposing and endeavouring to walk with him in all the ways of His commandments[d].
[c]  Ezek. 18:30-31; Ezek. 36:31; Isa. 30:22; Ps. 51:4; Jer. 31:18-19; Joel 2:12-13; Amos 5:15; Ps. 119:128; II Cor. 7:11; I Thess. 1:9
[d]  Ps. 119:6, 59, 106; II Kings 23:25; see Luke 1:6
III. Although repentance be not to be rested in, as any satisfaction for sin, or any cause of the pardon thereof[e], which is the act of God's free grace in Christ[f]; yet it is of such necessity to all sinners, that none may expect pardon without it[g].
[e]  Ezek. 36:31-32; Ezek. 16:61-63; Isa. 43:25
[f]  Hos. 14:2, 4; Rom. 3:24; Eph. 1:7
[g]  Luke 13:3, 5; Mark 1:4; Acts 17:30-31
IV. As there is no sin so small, but it deserves damnation[h]; so there is no sin so great, that it can bring damnation upon those who truly repent[i].
[h] Rom. 6:23; Gal. 3:10; Matt. 12:36
[i]  Isa. 55:7; Rom. 8:1; Isa. 1:16-18
V.  Men ought not to content themselves with a general repentance, but it is every man's duty to endeavour to repent of his particular sins, particularly[k].
      [k] Ps. 19:13; Matt. 26:75; Luke 19:8; I Tim. 1:13, 15
VI. As every man is bound to make private confession of his sins to God, praying for the pardon thereof [l]; upon which, and the forsaking of them, he shall find mercy[m]; so, he that scandalizeth his brother, or the church of Christ, ought to be willing, by a private or public confession, and sorrow for his sin, to declare his repentance to those that are offended[n], who are thereupon to be reconciled to him, and in love to receive him[o].
[l]  Ps. 32:5-6; Ps. 51:1-14
[m] Prov. 28:13; Isa. 55:7; I John 1:9
[n] James 5:16; Luke 17:3-4; Josh. 7:19; see Matt. 18:15- 18
[o] II Cor. 2:7-8; see Gal. 6:1-2
Question(s) for further study:

The Larger Catechism and Confession of Faith expand greatly upon our instruction and understanding of the question at hand. But here is a simple question to consider and ponder, how is repentance unto life is an evangelical grace, and how far does it extend; is it private only?  What implications may be drawn from this for the Christian’s life?

Monday, November 20, 2017

Westminster Shorter Catechism Q86


This and the next several catechism questions flesh out what was outlined in the previous question regarding what is needed to address the problem and effect of sin—that is, God’s wrath and curse due to us for sin. As a reminder from our last study, in order to escape that wrath and curse, we need the right information, along with the ability to understand and take the right actions. The information the fathers of our faith gave to us in our Confessions are singularly important to our present and future hope.
Let us consider these things carefully and by the Holy Spirit embrace the truth as our own. May God grant us grace and faith unto that end.
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WSC Q86. What is faith in Jesus Christ?
A. Faith in Jesus Christ is a saving grace[a], whereby we receive and rest upon him alone for salvation, as he is offered to us in the gospel[b].
[a] Eph. 2:8-9; cf. Rom. 4:16
[b] John 20:30-31; Gal. 2:15-16; Phil. 3:3-11
Question 86 asks what faith in Jesus Christ is, and answers that faith in Jesus Christ is a saving grace, by which we receive and rest on him alone for salvation, as he is offered to us in the gospel.
Comments and considerations:
In the Garden of Eden, hostilities broke out due to man’s disobedience. God made a promise (Gen 3:15ff) that all would be made right through another man’s obedience and atonement for sin (Rom 5:10-19); Christ would come at the appointed time so that we might be redeemed and restored from our lost and hopeless estate:
“Jesus spoke these words, lifted up His eyes to heaven, and said: ‘Father, the hour has come. Glorify Your Son, that Your Son also may glorify You, as You have given Him authority over all flesh, that He should give eternal life to as many as You have given Him. And this is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent’” (John 17:1-3).
So, what is faith in Jesus Christ? The answer is of such critical importance that we must not get it wrong. Recently, I happened upon an account of the trial and death of the early reformer John Huss, in Schaff’s History of the Christian Church. As I read, I wondered, how could the Church, at one time entrusted with the treasures of Christ and the gospel of truth, have fallen so far from the light and simplicity of God’s saving grace? Then I recalled Jesus’ words to Nicodemus: “Are you the teacher of Israel, and do not know these things?” (John 3:10) There are none so blind as those who do not see that “faith in Jesus Christ is a saving grace, whereby we receive and rest upon him alone for salvation, as he is offered to us in the gospel.”
We cannot do justice to the wealth of writings on this topic, but here are a few things to note in summary:
Faith in Jesus Christ is first and foremost faith in a person. It is not a work that we do, but a work that he did. We are to place our faith and confidence in him alone. As the old hymn says, “Just as I am without one plea, but that thy blood was shed for me, and that thou bidd’st me come to thee, O Lamb of God I come, I come.” It must be faith in a particular person, the Son of God who died and gave himself to save his people (Matt 1:21).
Faith is a saving grace, an unmerited favor—God’s Riches At Christ’s Expense. “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast” (Eph. 2:8-9).
In faith, we receive and rest upon him alone for salvation, as he is offered to us in the gospel. Try this exercise to understand what our fathers intended to convey: consider the meaning and implication of each word, using a dictionary or asking a friend to get at the meaning of each one. What does it mean to receive, to truly rest, to rest upon Christ alone and nothing else? What is salvation? Try a synonym: what does deliverance bring to mind? Finally, what is the gospel, and what does it mean that it is offered?
It is said that the best commentary on the Bible is the Bible itself; we are to compare Scripture with Scripture. We should marvel at our secondary standards as well, how our fathers artfully pulled from the Scripture its themes and teachings, weaving together our Confessions of Faith. Here we have a definition of faith in Jesus Christ. But look further at how the Larger Catechism crafts two important questions and answers from this one.
WLC Q72. What is justifying faith?
A. Justifying faith is a saving grace, wrought in the heart of a sinner by the Spirit and Word of God, whereby he, being convinced of his sin and misery, and of the disability in himself and all other creatures to recover him out of his lost condition, not only assenteth to the truth of the promise of the gospel, but receiveth and resteth upon Christ and his righteousness, therein held forth, for pardon of sin, and for the accepting and accounting of his person righteous in the sight of God for salvation.
WLC Q73. How doth faith justify a sinner in the sight of God?
A. Faith justifies a sinner in the sight of God, not because of those other graces which do always accompany it, or of good works that are the fruits of it, nor as if the grace of faith, or any act thereof, were imputed to him for his justification; but only as it is an instrument by which he receiveth and applieth Christ and his righteousness.
From here you could look up the supporting verses for each of the statements above, or go down the confessional path to see what is to be learned in the Westminster Confession. It is worthwhile to follow Paul’s exhortation in II Tim. 2:15—“Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing [understanding] the word of truth” (KJV).
Training Hearts and Teaching Minds Questions:
1.        Read Rom. 3:20-24. Outline or rephrase in simple terms what is said in these five verses, particularly focusing upon verses 22-24. What illustration does Starr Meade use in her book to describe the act of faith in securing Christ’s saving work? What other illustrations might we use to explain the role of our faith in obtaining salvation?
2.        Faith does not save; it is rather the means by which we lay hold of the saving work of Christ on our behalf. Is the act of faith something we do for ourselves, or is it a gift from God as well? See Eph. 2:8-9 and John 1:10-13.
3.        Because of our very nature, we are tempted to believe that there are things we can do to merit God’s favor and forgiveness. Yet how does the Apostle Paul describe what he learned in coming to the understanding that we are saved by Christ alone, apart from anything we think we can do? See Phil. 3:4-9.
4.        We might face many difficulties in our lives; God is certainly able to remove them. Yet the needs we face are meant to drive us to put faith and trust in Jesus. As hard as these things might be, they are not the central problem Jesus came to earth to deal with. According to Acts 2:38; 3:19-20; 10:42-43, what is the central problem that is resolved by Christ?
Harmony of the Standards: WSC Q86, WLC 72 – 73, WFC XIV and IX
WSC Q86. What is faith in Jesus Christ?
A.  Faith in Jesus Christ is a saving grace[a], whereby we receive and rest upon him alone for salvation, as he is offered to us in the gospel[b].
      [a]  Eph. 2:8-9; cf. Rom. 4:16
[b]  John 20:30-31; Gal. 2:15-16; Phil. 3:3-11
WLC Q72 What is justifying faith?
A.  Justifying faith is a saving grace[a], wrought in the heart of a sinner by the Spirit[b]  and Word of God[c], whereby he, being convinced of his sin and misery, and of the disability in himself and all other creatures to recover him out of his lost condition[d], not only assenteth to the truth of the promise of the gospel[e], but receiveth and resteth upon Christ and his righteousness, therein held forth, for pardon of sin[f], and for the accepting and accounting of his person righteous in the sight of God for salvation[g].
[a]   Heb. 10:39
[b]   2Cor. 4:13; Eph. 1:17-19
[c]   Rom. 10:14-17
[d]   Acts 2:37; 16:30; John 16:8-9; Rom. 5:6; Eph. 2:1; Acts 4:12
[e]   Eph. 1:13
[f]   John 1:12; Acts 10:43; 16:31
[g]   Phil. 3:9; Acts 15:11
WLC Q73. How doth faith justify a sinner in the sight of God?
A.  Faith justifies a sinner in the sight of God, not because of those other graces which do always accompany it, or of good works that are the fruits of it[a], nor as if the grace of faith, or any act thereof, were imputed to him for his justification[b]; but only as it is an instrument by which he receiveth and applieth Christ and his righteousness[c].
[a]   Gal. 3:11; Rom.3:28
[b]   Rom. 4:5; 10:10
[c]   John 1:12; Phil. 3:9; Gal. 2:16
THE WESTMINSTER CONFESSION OF FAITH
CHAPTER. XIV
Of Saving Faith.
I.    The grace of faith, whereby the elect are enabled to believe to the saving of their souls[a], is the work of the Spirit of Christ in their hearts[b], and is ordinarily wrought by the ministry of the Word[c], by which also, and by the administration of the sacraments, and prayer, it is increased and strengthened[d].
[a]  Titus 1:1; Heb. 10:39
[b]  I Cor. 12:3; John 3:5; Titus 3:5; John 6:44-45, 65; Eph. 2:8; Phil. 1:29; II Pet. 1:1; see I Pet. 1:2
[c]  Matt. 28:19-20; Rom. 10:14, 17; I Cor. 1:21
[d]  I Pet. 2:2; Acts 20:32; Rom. 1:16-17; Matt. 28:19; see Acts 2:38; I Cor. 10:16; I Cor. 11:23-29; Luke 17:5; Phil. 4:6-7
II.  By this faith, a Christian believeth to be true whatsoever is revealed in the Word, for the authority of God himself speaking therein[e]; and acteth differently upon that which each particular passage thereof containeth; yielding obedience to the commands[f], trembling at the threatenings[g], and embracing the promises of God for this life, and that which is to come[h].  But the principal acts of saving faith are accepting, receiving, and resting upon Christ alone for justification, sanctification, and eternal life, by virtue of the covenant of grace[i].
[a]   II Pet. 1:20-21; John 4:42; I Thess. 2:13; I John 5:9- 10; Acts 24:14
[b]  Ps. 119:10-11; 48, 97-98, 167-168; John 14:15
[c]   Ezra 9:4; Isa. 66:2; Heb. 4:1
[d]  Heb. 11:13; I Tim. 4:8
[e]   John 1:12; Acts 16:31; Gal. 2:20; Acts 15:11; II Tim. 1:9-10
III. This faith is different in degrees, weak or strong[k]; may be often and many ways assailed, and weakened, but gets the victory[l]: growing up in many to the attainment of a full assurance, through Christ[m], who is both the author and finisher of our faith[n].
[k] Heb. 5:13-14; Rom. 14:1-2; Matt. 6:30; Rom. 4:19- 20; Matt. 8:10
[l]  Luke 22:31-32; Eph. 6:16; I John 5:4-5
[m]            Heb. 6:11-12; Heb. 10:22; Col. 2:2
[n] Heb. 12:2
CHAPTER. IX.
Of Free-Will.
IV. When God converts a sinner, and translates him into the state of grace, he freeth him from his natural bondage under sin[h]; and, by his grace alone, enables him freely to will and to do that which is spiritually good[i]; yet so, that by reason of his remaining corruption, he doth not perfectly, nor only, will that which is good, but doth also will that which is evil[k].
[h] Col. 1:13; John 8:34, 36; Rom. 6:6-7
[i]  Phil. 2:13; Rom. 6:14, 17-19, 22
[k] Gal. 5:17; Rom. 7:14-25; I John 1:8, 10
V.  The will of man is made perfectly and immutably free to do good alone in the state of glory only[l].
      [l]  Heb. 12:23; I John 3:2; Jude 24; Rev. 21:27
Question(s) for further study:

Here the Larger Catechism and Confession of Faith expand greatly upon our instruction and understanding of the question at hand. How does “Justifying Faith” (WLC 72) enhance our approach of the question, adding to the depth of our knowledge and understanding of the work of saving grace?  Why is it important to know and understand that faith differs in degree in our acquiring and attainment?