Sunday, February 7, 2010

A Brief Reflection on WCF 5.5

"The most wise, righteous, and gracious God does oftentimes leave, for a season, His own children to manifold temptations, and the corruption of their own hearts, to chastise them for their former sins, or to discover unto them the hidden strength of corruption and deceitfulness of their hearts, that they may be humbled; and, to raise them to a more close and constant dependence for their support upon Himself, and to make them more watchful against all future occasions of sin, and for sundry other just and holy ends" (WCF 5.5).

Pietism and Wesleyan perfectionism would have you either feeling guilt-ridden all the time, or smug in self-righteous pride through a diminishing of what biblically counts for sin. They argue that sinless perfection is the norm of the Christian life and that something must be terribly wrong if sin is still being committed. In fact, given this scenario, if a Christian dies with at least a single "unconfessed" sin, that's it! It's hell for him, and make no qualms about it.

This view finds no warrant in Scripture and actually robs Christ of the glory due His Name for the utter perfection and sufficiency of His life and death. In fact, as the passage from the WCF above stipulates, sin is sometimes an agent of sanctification in God's wise, loving, and providential hands.

The new birth did not strip off the Adamic nature which every man possesses by virtue of being human. No, we as Christians, enabled by the Spirit, are still left to wrestle with the old man, to continually be putting it to death. But then, this process of mortification is not carried out pietistically as well, as if a set of rigorous "spiritual disciplines" is the key to victory. It is through the Gospel of Jesus Christ that the subjugation of sin is had, and the lingering presence of sin in our lives is cause for us to ever be humbling ourselves before a holy God, in submission to the Hope that He has set before us. We cannot reform ourselves by a gritting of our teeth in willful resolution—the radical depravity of man, the onslaught of the world, and the minions of Satan make that a certainty.

If we attend to the means of grace (Word and Sacrament), God's ordained vehicles of imparting the benefits of the Gospel to us, then we are truly conforming to the nature of Christ that has been wrought by the Spirit, desiring Him above all, and progressing steadily along the pilgrim path.

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