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Reading Classics Together

December 02, 2010

Today we continue with our readings in R.C. Sproul’s classic work The Holiness of God. This week we come to chapter 8, “War and Peace with a Holy God.” I know that quite a few of you continue to read along; I trust you’re enjoying this rather amazing book.

Summary

As with last week, I think I’m going to focus on quotes from the chapter rather than writing out a summary of it (since that is meaningful even to people who aren’t involved in the project). I find that this is a very quotable book and that even the short quotes offer a lot to ponder.

The saints of Scripture were called saints not because they were already pure but because they were people who were set apart and called to purity.



My sins have not brought me happiness. But my sins have brought me pleasure. I like pleasure. I am still very much attracted to pleasure. Pleasure can be great fun. And not all pleasures are sins. There is much pleasure to be found in righteousness. But the difference is still there. Sin can be pleasurable, but it never brings happiness.



Our marks of piety can actually be evidences of impiety. When we major in minors and blow insignificant trifles out of proportion, we imitate the Pharisees. When we make dancing and movies the test of spirituality, we are guilty of substituting a cheap morality for a genuine one. We do these things to obscure the deeper issues of righteousness. Anyone can avoid dancing or going to movies. These require no great effort of moral courage. What is difficult is to control the tongue, to act with integrity, to reveal the fruit of the Spirit.



The key method Paul underscores as the means to the transformed life is by the “renewal of the mind.” This means nothing more and nothing less than education. Serious education. In-depth education. Disciplined education in the things of God. It calls for a mastery of the Word of God. We need to be people whose lives have changed because our minds have changed.



To be conformed to Jesus, we must first begin to think as Jesus did. We need the “mind of Christ.” We need to value the things He values and despise the things He despises. We need to have the same priorities He has. We need to consider weighty the things that He considers weighty. That cannot happen without a mastery of His Word. The key to spiritual growth is in-depth Christian education that requires a serious level of sacrifice.



If we say we have faith, but no works follow, that is clear evidence that our faith is not genuine. True faith always produces real conformity to Christ. If justification happens to us, then sanctification will surely follow. If there is no sanctification, it means that there never was any justification.

November 25, 2010

This will be an abbreviated Thanksgiving edition of Reading Classics Together (since, honestly, most people aren’t doing a lot of surfing today…so maybe if I keep it short, you’ll be able to read quickly and get back to the family!). This week I will simply share some of my favorite quotes from chapter 7 of The Holiness of God. The chapter is titled “War and Peace with a Holy God.”

Summary

People in awe never complain that church is boring.

The struggle we have with a holy God is rooted in the conflict between God’s righteousness and our unrighteousness. He is just, and we are unjust. This tension creates fear, hostility, and anger within us toward God. The unjust person does not desire the company of a just judge. We become fugitives, fleeing from the presence of One whose glory can blind us and whose justice can condemn us. We are at war with Him unless or until we are justified. Only the justified person can be comfortable in the presence of a holy God.

When God signs a peace treaty, it is signed for perpetuity. The war is over, forever and ever. Of course we still sin; we still rebel; we still commit acts of hostility toward God. But God is not a cobelligerent. He will not be drawn into warfare with us. We have an advocate with the Father. We have a mediator who keeps the peace. He rules over the peace because He is both the Prince of Peace and He is our peace.

November 18, 2010

If I were to tell someone to read just a single chapter of “The Holiness of God” I would probably recommend chapter 6, “Holy Justice.” More than any other, I think, this chapter displays the holiness of God using the testimony of Scripture. In this chapter Sproul looks to the Word and draws from it what God wants us to know about his holy justice.

Summary

I think I can best tell the story of this week’s chapter through a series of quotes. First, though, let me say that this is the chapter in which Dr. Sproul discusses Nadab and Abihu and then Uzzah—biblical characters who were struck down by God for not taking his holiness seriously. Sproul shows that these are not cases of God’s arbitrary nature or quick temper, but cases of God defending his own holiness. These are times in which God shows his holy justice.

God’s justice is never divorced from His righteousness. He never condemns the innocent. He never clears the guilty. He never punishes with undo severity. He never fails to reward righteousness. His justice is perfect justice.

We have a saying that “justice delayed is justice denied.” Not always. In the case of creation and mankind’s fall, the full measure of justice was delayed so grace would have time to work. Here the delay of justice was not the denial of justice but the establishing of mercy and grace.

Sin is cosmic treason. Sin is treason against a perfectly pure Sovereign. It is an act of supreme ingratitude toward the One to whom we owe everything, to the One who has given us life itself. Have you ever considered the deeper implications of the slightest sin, of the most minute peccadillo? What are we saying to our Creator when we disobey Him at the slightest point? We are saying no to the righteousness of God. We are saying, “God, Your law is not good. My judgement is better than Yours. Your authority does not apply to me. I am above and beyond Your jurisdiction. I have the right to do what I want to do, not what You command me to do.”

November 11, 2010

I mentioned in this morning’s A La Carte that my youngest daughter had learned how to sleep (or had taught herself, more properly). Last night she had a nightmare, the first in probably six months, and was wide awake in terror for a long, long time. That meant I was also wide awake (though not in terror). So I am going to use the little bit of awareness I have to share just a few of my favorite moments from this week’s chapter of The Holiness of God as we continue to read the classics together.

Summary

This week’s reading was quite a bit different from the ones before it. Chapter 5, “The Insanity of Luther,” is almost a biographical chapter that looks at the struggles of Martin Luther as he came face-to-face with the holiness of God. Luther, even before he came to understand what would be known as Protestant theology, had a profound sense of God’s holiness. And that holiness very nearly drove him crazy. He had a clear assessment of the infinite gap in holiness that existed between himself and his Maker. Sproul points out, “Whatever defense mechanisms normal people have to mute the accusing voice of conscience, Luther was lacking.” He was devastated by every little sin, knowing that each one of them was sufficient to condemn him to hell.

It has been said many times that there is a fine line between genius and insanity and that some people move back and forth across it. Perhaps that was the problem Luther had. He was not crazy. He was a genius. He had a superior understanding of law. Once he applied his astute legal mind to the law of God, he saw things that many people miss.

Luther simply looked to the laws of God, saw how he fell short, and knew that he was a condemned man. This was far more genius than insanity, far more light than darkness.

Luther “realized that if God graded on a curve, He would have to compromise His own holiness. To count on God doing so is supreme arrogance and supreme foolishness as well. God does not lower His own standards to accommodate us.” Luther realized that even our good deeds are none too good.

November 04, 2010

This week’s chapter of The Holiness of God is titled “The Trauma of Holiness.” I love the title; it introduces an immediate question that just begs for an answer: If holiness is so good, how could it be in any way traumatic? It’s a clever little hook.

Summary

Sproul begins with the story of Jesus calming the storm on the Sea of Galilee. At the conclusion of the story he points to the disciples’ reaction to the fact that Jesus could simply speak and calm the storm: they were terrified. And here he makes an application that really struck me. “Now that the sea was calm, the fear of the disciples increased.” Sproul answers, “In the power of Christ they met something more frightening than they had ever met in nature. They were in the presence of the holy. … It is one thing to fall victim to the flood or to fall prey to cancer; it is another thing to fall into the hands of the living God.” He points as well to a rather interesting little point. “The words the disciples spoke after Jesus calmed the sea are very revealing. They cried out, ‘Who is this?’ The King James Version expresses the question like this: ‘What manner of man is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?’ The question was ‘What manner of man is this?’ They were asking a question of kind.” In other words, they were looking to put Jesus in a category, realizing that he was in a class all by himself. They saw that he was holy. And this holiness traumatized them.

A little later in the chapter Sproul looks to the Pharisees, the religious leaders who were regarded as the holiest of the holy. They were revered as men who were singularly pure, as men who drew near to God by their fastidious obedience to his every law.

Through their singular devotion to the pursuit of holiness, the Pharisees achieved a level of popular respect for piety and righteousness that was without parallel. They had no peers. They were accorded lofty human praise. They were welcomed to privileged seats in the banquet halls. They were admired as experts in religion. Their uniforms were decorated with the tassels of their exalted ranks. They could be seen practicing their virtue in public places. They fasted where everyone could see them. They bowed their heads in solemn prayer on the street corners and restaurants. No one missed the clang of the coin in the beggar’s cup when the Pharisees game alms. Their “holiness” was plain for everyone to see. Jesus called them hypocrites.

But then there was Jesus, who was so different from the Pharisees.

October 28, 2010

Today, in this effort to read some of the classic works of the Christian faith, we come to chapter three of R.C. Sproul’s The Holiness of God. Sproul introduces the chapter this way: “Here we are, already in the third chapter of this book, and I still have not defined what it means to be holy.” So in this week’s reading he tries to move us toward a definition.

Summary

But that is not an easy task. In fact, he says:

I wish I could postpone the task even further. The difficulties involved in defining holiness are vast. There is so much to holiness, and it is so foreign to us that the task seems almost impossible. In a very real sense, the word holy is a foreign word. But even when we run up against foreign words, we hope that a foreign language dictionary can rescue us by providing a clear translation. The problem we face, however, is that the word holy is foreign to all languages. No dictionary is adequate to the task.

One of the difficulties is that the word holy is used in different ways throughout Scripture. At times it points toward pure, at other times it points toward separate and at other times it points toward transcendent. “When the Bible calls God holy, it means primarily that God is transcendentally separate. He is so far above and beyond us that He seems almost totally foreign to us. To be holy is to be ‘other,’ to be different in a special way.” All of which is to say that there is a mystery to holiness. It is so foreign to us that we cannot fully understand it. We can see glimpses of it, but we cannot wrap our minds around it.

I could not adequately summarize all Sproul says about the deeper meanings of the word, so I will leave you to read that on your own. And seriously, if you aren’t reading the book with us, you should at least pick it up and read it on your own.

October 21, 2010

This is now week 2 of this project in which we are reading together through R.C. Sproul’s The Holiness of God. Before we discuss this week’s chapter, I wanted to make you aware of an interesting interview with Sproul on this very subject. It comes from a 1990 issue of Tabletalk magazine and, if you are interested, you can read it here: Striking a Chord in the Heart of of the Believer.

Summary

This week’s chapter is titled “Holy, Holy, Holy” and in it Sproul turns to the pages of Isaiah (Isaiah 6 in particular) and the prophet’s experience with coming into the presence of God. He looks first to those seraphim in God’s presence who continually cry out “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts;the whole earth is full of his glory!”

Only once in sacred Scripture is an attribute of God elevated to the third degree. Only once is a characteristic of God mentioned three times in succession. The Bible says that God is holy, holy, holy. Not that He is merely holy, or even holy, holy. He is holy, holy, holy. The Bible never says that God is love, love, love; or mercy, mercy, mercy; or wrath, wrath, wrath; or justice, justice, justice. It does say that he is holy, holy, holy that the whole earth is full of His glory.

God is not just holy, but holy, holy, holy. Using a rhetorical device of the Hebrew language, the Bible expresses the extent of God’s holiness by emphasizing it through repetition.

Isaiah was a good man, it seems, a noble one. And yet before the presence of God he was completely undone.

If ever there was a man if integrity, it was Isaiah ben Amoz. He was a whole man, a together type of a fellow. He was considered by his contemporaries as the most righteous man in the nation. He was respected as a paragon of virtue. Then he caught one sudden glimpse of a holy God. In that single moment, all of his self-esteem was shattered. In a brief second he was exposed, made naked beneath the gaze of the absolute standard of holiness. As long as Isaiah could compare himself to other mortals, he was able to sustain a lofty opinion of his own character. The instant he measured himself by the ultimate standard, he was destroyed- morally and spiritually annihilated. He was undone. He came apart. His sense of integrity collapsed.

Called by God in dramatic fashion, Isaiah was set apart for his task despite being a sinful man, a man who had a filthy mouth. And yet God chose to cleanse him and to set him apart to this most difficult, thankless ministry. A seraph pressed a hot coal to Isaiah’s lips. “His was no cruel and unusual punishment. A second of burning flesh on the lips brought a healing that would extend to eternity. In a moment, the disintegrated prophet was whole again. His mouth was purged. He was clean.”

October 14, 2010

At long last it is time to read another classic work of the Christian faith, and to read it together. This time around we are reading R.C. Sproul’s book The Holiness of God. Of all the books we’ve read in this Reading Classics program, this is the one that has been written most recently (1985). And yet there is little doubt that it is a classic, even if we must add the word “modern” to the monicker. It’s a modern classic and one destined to stand the test of time, I’m sure.

Over the next 11 weeks we are going to be reading this book together. If you are interested in participating, you are free to do so. All you need to do is find a copy of the book and read (or listen—use coupon code CHALLIES10 to get the audio book for just $2.98) along with us. Check in here every Thursday for your chance to reflect on the book or simply to read the reflections of other participants. It’s that simple.

And away we go…

Summary

This week’s reading was chapter 1 which is titled “The Holy Grail.” Sproul begins with a little biographical snippet in which he relates a time in his Christian life when he became aware of God’s holiness. He says that until this time he was a Unitarian of sorts, someone who loved Jesus but who had not yet come to love or appreciate the Father. And yet in a moment he was given a sense of the majestic holiness of God. And his life was forever changed.

In this initial chapter Sproul starts to introduce this God, this Father. He first introduces him as the creator, as the one who existed before anything else existed. He contrasts the beauty and power of God’s creative act with the folly of believing that all that is came out of nothing. “Some modern theorists believe that the world was created by nothing. Note the difference between saying that the world was created from nothing and saying that the universe was created by nothing. In this modern view the rabbit comes out of the hat without a rabbit, a hat, or even a magician. The modern view is far more miraculous than the biblical view. It suggests that nothing created something. More than that, it holds that nothing created everything—quite a feat indeed!”

October 02, 2010

Last week I told you about the next classic work of the Christian faith that I’d like to read along with you. You can see that post here. Today I simply want to remind you about this, to see who else would like to participate (Thanks to the 100+ who already siad they’re interested!) and to remind all of you to go out and buy the book.

The format of this program is simple: every week we read a chapter or a section of a classic of the Christian faith and then on Thursday we check in at my blog to discuss it. It’s that easy: one chapter per week.

The Holiness of GodThe next book I want to read with you is R.C. Sproul’s The Holiness of God. I am convinced that this is destined to be a classic in its own right—one that will be read 50 and 100 years from now. James Montgomery Boice agreed saying, “It may be a bit early to call R.C. Sproul’s The Holiness of God one of the classic theological works of our time. But if it does not have that status yet, it is well on the way to achieving it.”

Now celebrating 25 years of publication, this classic can help you better understand the biblical picture of God’s awesome holiness and why it is so foundational to God-centered, God-honoring theology and Christian living. In The Holiness of God , R.C. Sproul demonstrates that encountering God’s holy presence is a terrifying experience. Dr. Sproul argues that this struggle is nonetheless necessary because it is the only way to cure our propensity to trust in ourselves and our own righteousness for salvation.

This is the kind of book that every Christian should read and the kind that is ideally suited for reading more than once. So if you have read it before, don’t think that means you can’t read it with us again.

Let’s start reading together on October 14. That gives you just about two more weeks to find a copy of the book, something that will not prove difficult since it is very widely available. For October 14 please get ahold of a copy of the book and read the first chapter. And then simply return to the blog on that day and we can compare notes.

Now, you need to get a copy. Westminster Books has it at $9.09. Amazon has it at $10.07 or $9.57 for the Kindle. And if you’d like to go straight to the source, to Ligonier Ministries, you can find it there for $8.40 or in the exclusive pocket-size edition for just $4.00 (It is also avaiable in Spanish, if you prefer).

So go ahead and get yourself a copy. And then let me know if you intend to read along with us. Just leave a comment…

September 23, 2010

Several years ago I introduced a program called Reading Classics Together. The impetus for this project was the simple realization that, though many Christians want to read through the classics of the faith, few of us have the motivation to actually make it happen. I know this was long the case for me. This program allows us to read such classic works together, providing both a level of accountability and the added interest of comparing notes as we read in community. Those who have participated in each of the programs will now have read Holiness by J.C. Ryle, Overcoming Sin and Temptation by John Owen, The Seven Sayings of the Savior on the Cross by A.W. Pink, The Religious Affections by Jonathan Edwards, Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis, Real Christianity by William Wilberforce, The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment by Jeremiah Burroughs, Redemption Accomplished and Applied by John Murray, The Bruised Reed by Richard Sibbes and, most recently, in trying something a little bit different, Spurgeon by Arnold Dallimore. That is quite a solid collection of classics! I have benefited immensely from reading these books and know that others have, too.

The format is simple: every week we read a chapter or a section of a classic of the Christian faith and then on Thursday we check in at my blog to discuss it. It’s that easy: one chapter per week.

The Holiness of GodIt has been a few weeks now since we finished reading the last classic together and that makes it time to announce the next book we’ll be reading. Ignoring the brief break we took to read a biography, the last classic we read together was from the Puritan era. I thought it would make sense to zoom forward in history to almost the present day. The next book I want to read with you is R.C. Sproul’s The Holiness of God. I am convinced that this is destined to be a classic in its own right—one that will be read 50 and 100 years from now. James Montgomery Boice agreed saying, “It may be a bit early to call R.C. Sproul’s The Holiness of God one of the classic theological works of our time. But if it does not have that status yet, it is well on the way to achieving it.”

Now celebrating 25 years of publication, this classic can help you better understand the biblical picture of God’s awesome holiness and why it is so foundational to God-centered, God-honoring theology and Christian living. In The Holiness of God , R.C. Sproul demonstrates that encountering God’s holy presence is a terrifying experience. Dr. Sproul argues that this struggle is nonetheless necessary because it is the only way to cure our propensity to trust in ourselves and our own righteousness for salvation.

This is the kind of book that every Christian should read and the kind that is ideally suited for reading more than once. So if you have read it before, don’t think that means you can’t read it with us again.

Let’s start reading together on October 14. That gives you three weeks to find a copy of the book, something that will not prove difficult since it is very widely available. For October 14 please get ahold of a copy of the book and read the first chapter. And then simply return to the blog on that day and we can compare notes.

Now, you need to get a copy. Westminster Books has it at $13.99. Amazon has it at $10.07 or $9.57 for the Kindle. And if you’d like to go straight to the source, to Ligonier Ministries, you can find it there for $8.40 or in the exclusive pocket-size edition for just $4.00 (It is also avaiable in Spanish, if you prefer).

So go ahead and get yourself a copy. And then let me know if you intend to read along with us. Just leave a comment…

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