i don’t know about others, but i find myself again and again concerned with the process of salvation and sanctification and how it must be worked out with fear and trembling. i think of those i know who fall away, who receive god’s great mercy and yet continue in their own way; and of those, a little older, who have told me recently that they are only now coming to understand why paul was so concerned with finishing the race well– because it’s really difficult to do. i can’t escape brokenness in this world. it’s all around us and all over us. it’s the state of man. james innell packer writes eloquently about the need to consider god’s goodness and his severity together if we wish to counter the impact of sin in our world and our lives:
“the santa claus theology [god is only benevolent, not severe] carries within itself the seeds of its own collapse, for it cannot cope with the fact of evil… the only way to save the liberal view of god is to dissociate him from [evil] things and to deny that he has any direct relation to them or control over them; in other words, to deny his omnipotence and lordship over his world… thus [the man on the street] is left with a kind of God who means well but cannot always insulate his children from trouble and grief. when trouble comes, therefore, there is nothing to do but grin and bear it. in this way, by an ironic paradox, faith in a god who is all goodness and no severity tends to confirm men in a fatalistic and pessimistic attitude to life.” Packer, J. I. Knowing God. Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity Press, 1993. (p. 160)
and in his recent explanation for walking out of the Anglican Communion:
“In 1 Corinthians we find the following, addressed it seems to exponents of some kind of antinomian spirituality:
Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God (6:9-11, ESV).
To make sure we grasp what Paul is saying here, I pose some questions.
First: What is Paul talking about in this vice list? Answer: Lifestyles, regular behavior patterns, habits of mind and action. He has in view not single lapses followed by repentance, forgiveness, and greater watchfulness (with God’s help) against recurrence, but ways of life in which some of his readers were set, believing that for Christians there was no harm in them. [emphasis mine]
Second: What is Paul saying about these habits? Answer: They are ways of sin that, if not repented of and forsaken, will keep people out of God’s kingdom of salvation. Clearly, self-indulgence and self-service, free from self-discipline and self-denial, is the attitude they express, and a lack of moral discernment lies at their heart.“
packer’s chapter on goodness and severity was corrective to me this morning. it ends like this:
“appreciate the discipline of god. he is both your upholder and, in the last analysis, your environment. all things come of him, and you have tasted his goodness every day of your life. has this experience led you to repentance and faith in christ? if not, you are trifling with god and stand under threat of his severity. but if, now, he (in whitefield’s phrase) puts thorns in your bed, it is only to awaken you from the sleep of spiritual death– and to make you rise up to seek his mercy.
or if you are a true believer, and he still puts thorns in your bed, it is only to keep you from falling into the somnolence of complacency and to ensure that you ‘continue in his goodness’ by letting your sense of need bring you back constantly in self-abasement and faith to seek his face. this kindly discipline, in which god’s severity touches us for a moment in the context of his goodness, is meant to keep us from having to bear the full brunt of that severity apart from that context. it is a discipline of love, and it must be received accordingly. ‘my son, do not make light of the lord’s discipline’ (heb 12:5) ‘it was good for me to be afflicted so that i might learn your decrees’ (ps 119:71).” (packer, 1993, p. 166)
what shall i render to the lord for all his bounty to me? i will lift up the cup of salvation and call on the name of the lord, i will pay my vows to the lord in the presence of all his people. (ps 116:12-14).