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Thankful

  Today I woke up, knowing that I am supposed to be feeling thankful, but mostly feeling put out. It was quite early, everything was still dark, and so I laid in bed for a long time replaying in my mind why I am right and others are wrong, why I'm justified in my irritation, why pastoring is so tough. Those words that were said, they hurt. Besides, it's my birthday, and I can cry if I want to - or something like that. We are only four days out from Thanksgiving, and I'm sure I should be thanking God for something. But this morning, I'm an Israelite. I'm a grumbler. It is cold outside, but warm under these covers, and just as I am cozying up to my own self-righteousness, Dietrich Bonhoeffer begins to intrude on my lonely, early birthday morning pity party: Only those who are thankful for small things also receive...

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How Good of God

A few years ago I received an anonymous card that instructed me to go to a nearby bicycle shop to pick up a gift. It felt a little strange, but I followed the instructions and went to the shop. Fortunately, the man knew what I was talking about, and he instructed me to wait and told me that he would be right back. In a few minutes, he brought out a beautiful new road bike. It was far nicer than any bike I had ever owned. I was stunned. I didn’t know what to say. I also didn’t know whom to thank, so I tried to get the man to give me a hint of who had purchased the bike. He wasn’t willing to share that with me, so I headed home with this amazing gift. As I headed home with this new bicycle, I had an interesting mixture of thoughts...

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Psalm 46 in a World Gone Mad

There is a place in Acadia National Park, in Maine, where you can see the ocean’s strength displayed, see the forces that batter and smash. It is called Thunder Hole, and is so dramatic that visitors to the park flock dutifully to stand a moment and watch. Dark water, surging into a hidden cave, collides with a pocket of air, creating a roar like thunder, splashing as high as 40 feet into the air. We visited Acadia, paused there and watched the waves crash angrily against the rock. Who is mightier than the thunder of the sea? Who is mightier than the raging nations? God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way, though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble at its swelling...

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A Primer on Justification: Part 10

This article is the tenth in a ten-part series by Dr. Ryken that we have gradually made available. Find the other articles: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, Part 7, Part 8, and Part 9.   Our Response One of the most beautiful affirmations of the biblical doctrine of justification comes from the Heidelberg Catechism, which asks, “How are you righteous before God?” (Q. 60). The answer is: Only by true faith in Jesus Christ. In spite of the fact that my conscience accuses me that I have grievously sinned against all the commandments of God, and have not kept any one of them, and that I am still ever prone to all that is evil, nevertheless, God, without any merit of my own, out of pure grace, grants me the benefits of the perfect expiation of Christ, imputing to me his righteousness and holiness as if I had never committed a single sin or had ever...

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A Primer on Justification: Part 9

This article is the ninth in a ten-part series by Dr. Ryken that we are gradually making available. Find the other articles: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, Part. 7 and Part 8.   The Goal of Justification It is sometimes thought that the doctrine of justification by faith alone is contradicted by the apostle James. After all, James contended that “a person is justified by what he does and not by faith alone” (Jas. 2:24). What James is really saying, however, is something like this: “A person is proven to be justified by his works, and not merely by his faith.” Unlike Paul—who needed to oppose the popular notion that sinners can be saved by good works—James was combating the misconception that believers can dispense with works altogether. To put the difference between them in theological terms, Paul was dealing with people who wanted to make sanctification part of the basis for their justification, whereas James...

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A Primer on Justification: Part 8

This article is the eighth in a ten-part series by Dr. Ryken that we are gradually making available. Find the other articles: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6 and Part 7.   Faith, and Faith Alone When Jesus explained the true way of justification to his disciples, he was careful to distinguish between faith and obedience. The disciples asked, “What must we do to do the works God requires?” Jesus answered, “The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent” (John 6:28-29). The Philippian jailor put the same basic question to the apostle Paul: “What must I do to be saved?” Paul gave the same answer Jesus gave: “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved” (Acts 16:30-31). In other words, there is nothing we can do to justify ourselves to God. The only righteousness he accepts comes “apart from law” (Rom. 3:21). Thus the only thing we...

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A Primer on Justification: Part 7

This article is the seventh in a ten-part series by Dr. Ryken that we are gradually making available. Find the other articles: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5,  and Part 6.   The Means of Justification Earlier we defined justification both legally and biblically. Now we are in a position to clarify justification theologically: “Justification means a permanent change in our judicial relation to God whereby we are absolved from the charge of guilt, and whereby God forgives all our sins on the basis of the finished work of Jesus Christ. Apart from Christ, our judicial relation to God is one of condemnation—we stand condemned on account of our sins, both original and actual. When we are justified, our judicial relation to God is changed from one of condemnation to one of acquittal.”1 The Westminster Shorter Catechism offers a more concise definition: “Justification is an act of God’s free grace, wherein he pardoneth all our sins,...

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A Primer on Justification: Part 6

This article is the sixth in a ten-part series by Dr. Ryken that we are gradually making available. Find the other articles: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, and Part 5.   The Righteousness of Justification When Jesus died on the cross he was treated like a condemned criminal. The Romans reserved crucifixion for the lowest of the low—for traitors, murderers, and other despicable malefactors. Jesus was neither a traitor nor a murderer; in fact, as we have seen, he never committed a single sin (cf. Heb. 4:15). Yet God permitted him to be crucified in order to take away our sin. To use the technical term for it, God imputed our sin to Christ. To impute is to credit something to someone’s account, which is precisely how we became sinners in the first place: Adam’s sin was charged to our account (see Rom. 5:12-19). By the imputation of Adam’s sin, we are reckoned to be...

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A Primer on Justification: Part 5

This article is the fifth in a ten-part series by Dr. Ryken that we will gradually make available in the coming weeks. Find the other articles: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4.    The Basis for Justification On what legal basis does God grant the gift of his righteousness? The Bible teaches that God “justifies the wicked” (Rom. 4:5). But if we are in fact wicked, how can he declare us to be what we are not? And how can he justify the wicked without being considered wicked himself? It would be an outrage for a righteous God simply to overlook or to excuse sin. If he intends to justify sinners, therefore, he must have some legitimate judicial basis for doing so. “Justification is not a synonym for amnesty,” writes John Stott, "which strictly is pardon without principle, a forgiveness that overlooks—even forgets—wrongdoing and declines to bring it to justice. No, justification is an act of justice, of gracious justice....

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