Biblical Parenting: A Discussion of Ephesians 6:4

Fathers, don't provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.
Ephesians 6:4

These are the words of the apostle Paul directed especially to fathers, yet by extension and in principle to mothers concerning the children God has entrusted to them. The two commands contained in the verse seem simple enough, but parenting is hard, and every parent is a sinner themselves in need of grace. 

The link below opens a document that discusses in greater detail the meaning and implications of Ephesians 6:4. Our hope is that, while lengthier than a blog post, it'll challenge our parenting hearts to think deeply about what it means to "raise up a child" (Prov. 22:6).


(Note: This document originally contained discussion of the Greek text. If you'd like to receive a copy of that document, we'd be happy to send it to you.)

If you have any comments or questions concerning this topic, or if we can serve you in any way, feel free to contact us. We'd love to speak with you!

JW

Shame is Crouching at Your Door

There's a type of sadness that often lingers in the air in many counseling sessions. It isn't always easily identified, especially early on in a counseling relationship, but through the process of listening and peeling back the layers and years of a person's life story, it eventually rises to the surface. 

It tries to hide, but once you see it, it's presence in and influence over the heart is unmistakable. That it has to go is undeniable. We often confuse it with guilt, the legal term we assign to one adjudicated guilty of breaking the law. 

But we aren't dealing with guilt. That matter, for the follower of Christ Jesus, has been dealt with in the cross. For them, there is no condemnation (Rom. 8:1).

Instead, the ugly beast we're dealing with in this post is shame. One of the last vestiges and schemes of the devil in the life of a believer (Eph. 6:11).

A Wicked Scheme

Through the sinister and enslaving power of shame, Satan intends to impugn, slander, and silence the Christian by tempting them to doubt the manifold goodness and wisdom of God who has in fact cleansed them from all unrighteousness (1 Jn. 1:9).

Shame infects the lives of many who have been scarred by the effects of their own sin or the sins of others. It's like the voice of the enemy, Satan, who's not only the father of lies but who exists to accuse the saints before God (John 8:44; Rev. 12:10). 

Whether a person was the villain or the victim (and we've all been both), shame tempts the heart to disbelieve that they have been clothed in Christ's righteousness, but that they remain unclean and therefore unpresentable to God.

In his book "Shame Interrupted," Dr. Ed Welch of CCEF defines shame in this way: 

Shame is the deep sense that you are unacceptable because of something you did, something done to you, or something associated with you. You feel exposed and humiliated.

Unacceptable. Exposed. Humiliated. 

Each of these are indeed effects of the curse of sin and death, but they are effects that Christ suffered on our behalf and rescued us from once and for all, by grace alone through faith alone (Is. 53:5; Eph. 2:8-9).

The power of shame is found in its ability to lead the heart into hiding and isolation in darkness. We see its first handiwork when, rather than running to the Father in the garden at the first moment of rebellion, Adam and Eve hid themselves from God, and self-righteously attempted to cover their shame with leaves (Gen. 3:8).

But God, being rich in mercy, provided them with animal skins, and thus began the greatest story of redemption known to man (Gen. 3:21; Eph. 2:4). What began as a sacrificial system of the blood of bulls and goats would finally give way to the sacrifice of his own son, the sinless Lamb of God, Jesus Christ (Heb. 9:22; 10:4).

Clothed in Righteousness

For many, the experience of shame in the heart is debilitating. It's foundational to much depression and anxiety. It can't be treated medicinally because it's not a physical pathology, but a spiritual reality.

Shame is a great enemy of the soul, but the Gospel is its end. If you struggle with shame, sharing this with God through prayer and allowing another to bear your burden with you together carry the hope for freedom at last (Gal. 5:1; 6:2; Jm. 5:16).

Struggling sinner and suffering saint, in Christ, shame has no claim on you.

For encouragement, consider the words of the following great hymn produced by Ligonier Ministries, "Clothed in Righteousness":

Fallen race in Eden fair
Exposed and full of shame
Fled we naked from Thy sight
Far from Thy holy Name

Refrain
Clothe us in Your righteousness
Hide filthy rags of sin
Dress us in Your perfect garb
Both outside and within

Sent from the garden in the east
Outside of Eden’s gate
Banished there from Thy pure light
Were Adam and his mate

Scarlet souls are now like snow
By Thy atoning grace
Crimson hearts become like wool
For Adam’s fallen race

Refrain
No work of ours is good enough
For evil to atone
Your merit, Lord, is all we have
It saves, and it alone

~ JW




Book Review: The Meaning of Marriage by Tim Keller

The following book review was prepared in partial fulfillment of reading requirements in the D.Min. program at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, Advanced Marriage and Family Issues. Beginning September 11, 2016, at 9:15 AM, I'll be leading a class for married and soon-to-be-married couples on Sunday mornings at 9:15 am at Calvary Church in Clearwater, Fl (HS-220). We'll be utilizing this book as a platform for our discussions. I post the review here for those who may have interest in the book, the class, or both. The class is open to all at no cost (participants will be encouraged to order their own copy of the book and study guide). Feel free to contact me with any questions. ~ Josh Waulk


Click to Order




Introduction

According to Dr. Timothy Keller, senior pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City, “God devised marriage to reflect his saving love for us in Christ, to refine our character, to create stable human community for the birth and nurture of children, and to accomplish all this by bringing the complementary sexes into an enduring whole-life union” (Keller 7). This holistic and introductory statement on marriage reflects the biblical-theological tone that Keller strikes throughout the book. Likely perceived as counter-cultural to many readers, Keller wrote that, “The teachings of Scripture challenge our contemporary Western culture’s narrative of individual freedom as the only way to be happy” (Keller 8). With a word of caution, Keller warns that, “Unless you’re able to look at marriage through the lens of Scripture instead of through your own fears or romanticism, through your particular experience, or through your culture’s narrow perspectives, you won’t be able to make intelligent decisions about your own marital future” (Keller 8).

This book then is about understanding marriage as defined by God’s Word. Keller wrote as much when, in his Introduction, he offered three “deep roots” for the book as a whole (Keller 1). Keller wrote that this book is for married people, unmarried people, and finally, that the book is about the Bible, both Old and New Testaments alike (Keller 4). Writing with an apparent high view of the authority of Scripture, Keller asserts God’s right to both define and regulate human marriage. Keller wrote, “What God institutes he also regulates. If God invented marriage, then those who enter it should make every effort to understand and submit to his purposes for it” (Keller 5). To this end, this book serves as an extra-biblical high-water mark for getting marriage right. My reading of it was encouraging for personal and biblical counseling ministry.

1.     Key Principles

The following are eight key principles with comment, one taken from each of the book’s eight chapters:

1.     “Everything in the text [of Scripture] proclaims that marriage, next to our relationship to God, is the most profound relationship there is” (Keller 13). It has been said that the church spends an inordinate amount of time on marriage, but if Keller’s proposition in his Introduction holds, then this criticism may not be valid.
2.     “Whether we are husband or wife, we are not to live for ourselves but for the other” (Keller 45). In keeping with a Gospel ethic of servanthood, Keller points the reader to the selfless manner in which Jesus modeled love for one another.
3.      “At the heart of the Biblical idea of marriage is the covenant” (Keller 73). Of all that the church has lost in the pulpit and popular writing on marriage in the last thirty or so years, this may be one of the most significant pieces.
4.     “If you marry mainly a sexual partner, or mainly a financial partner, you are going nowhere together, really” (Keller 112). Now, perhaps more than ever, people increasingly marry for reasons foreign to a biblical worldview. This results in marriage relationships that cannot weather the storms of life.
5.     “We never know whom we marry; we just think we do. Or even if we first marry the right person, just give it a while and he or she will change. For marriage, being [the enormous thing it is] means we are not the same person after we have entered it. The primary problem is . . . learning how to love and care for the stranger to whom you find yourself married” (Keller 126 [quoting Hauerwas]). When two people enter into a marriage focused only upon their changing selves, rather than the changeless Christ, they are set up for the real possibility of disappointment and ultimate failure.
6.     “The easiest thing is to leave. But Jesus did not do that” (Keller 175). Over and over, couples come to counseling having forgotten (or not having ever realized) that His grace toward us is unending out of necessity. He never leaves us; why do we leave one another?
7.     “Christ is the only spouse that can truly fulfill us” (Keller 186). Expectations placed upon the shoulders of spouses are often unreasonable at best, unbiblical at worst. We say “Christ is all,” but do we mean it?
8.     “Sex is God’s appointed way for two people to reciprocally say to one another, “I belong completely, permanently, and exclusively to you.” You must not use sex to say anything less” (Keller 215). Increasingly, we see that many Christians have either a deficient theology of sex, or none at all. The church, in preaching and teaching on sex, must do better than a list of rules.

2.     Questions and/or Disagreements

Keller’s book ranks as one of my top three in the marriage category for biblical counseling, along with John Piper’s “This Momentary Marriage,”[1] and Winston Smith’s “Marriage Matters.”[2] The tone of Keller’s writing is winsome and accessible, yet serious enough for the weight of the issues discussed. I also find that Keller gives preeminence in his writing to the place of Scripture in understanding biblical-covenantal marriage. This is a significant factor for my assessment of any marriage book. It stands to reason, then, that if I have one question, it comes from chapter six, “Embracing the Other,” under the heading of “The Dance of the Trinity.”

Trinitarian theology is central to orthodoxy, and we have much to learn about the faith, life, and marriage in a study of it. My question is one of a technical nature concerning Keller’s complementarianism and its connection to the view which holds that Jesus, as the Son of God, is eternally subordinate to God the Father. Keller is not clear in the book as to whether this is the position he is holding, but my reading of the chapter indicates this as a possibility. If so, in keeping with a number of biblical scholars and theologians, I have concerns about the ramifications of such position, which is sometimes held in order to bolster the biblical case for complementarianism. I do not think it is necessary or in keeping with the Nicene Creed.

3.     Personal Challenges and Lessons

I would be remiss if I did not confess that the first challenge for me is implementing and living out the biblical truths that Keller outlines in this book. Sin is always crouching at my door, and grace is an ever-present need. Further, in my role as a biblical counselor, I consider that I will only be able to properly teach these truths and lead other couples toward Christ as I am myself consumed by them. 

Marriage is a tremendous blessing and means of experiencing His grace in this life. Feelings of inadequacy and hypocrisy have always been pressures that I feel at the counseling table, and as this book brings the spiritual weight of marriage to bear, the responsibilities are made clear. In my three years of counseling ministry, I have concluded that far too many couples have either lost sight of or have never known the biblical meaning of marriage. 

Keller wrote that in writing this book, he wanted to, “… give both married and unmarried people a vision for what marriage is according to the Bible.” This is my challenge.




[1] John Piper, This Momentary Marriage: a Parable of Permanence, Reprint ed. (Wheaton: Crossway, 2012), 1.

[2] Winston T. Smith, Marriage Matters: Extraordinary Change through Ordinary Moments (Greensboro, NC: New Growth Press, 2010), 1.

Grace-Driven Change in Biblical Counseling

If the apostle Paul was clear on just one thing in all of his New Testament writing, it would have to include that the Christian life, from first to last, is by grace alone (Rom. 3:20; Gal. 2:16).

This post, I must admit, is woefully insufficient to address one of the most complex, hotly debated, yet theologically critical issues of the Christian life in the church today (or for all of church history for that matter).

I don't intend in any way to pretend that it's even scarcely adequate for exhaustive understanding, but want only to call attention to the issue, and perhaps posit a few relevant thoughts for the task of biblical counseling and discipleship.

The topic? 

Sanctification by grace alone.

In the age of "radical Christianity," I consider the misunderstanding of this doctrine to be one of the greatest threats to true biblical counseling and discipleship today. Whether it's misunderstood by intention or ignorance, it's too important to be ignored.

Fruit and Consequences

The threat we're facing can be summed in this way: 

That the insertion of a requirement for good works into the process of sanctification as a condition for, rather than the proper fruit or consequence of ongoing sanctification obscures the gospel message, namely, that we are saved, from first to last, by grace alone.

Theologians call this threat, neonomianism (new law). A simple way to understand this significant doctrinal error is to say that while we may enter the kingdom of God by grace alone, we stay in the kingdom of God by grace and works.

My concern is not so much to thoroughly define the problem, which is extensive and multifaceted (impossible, even, for a mere blog post), but to call to our attention the possibility that this error has infiltrated parts of biblical counseling precisely because it has penetrated parts modern evangelicalism.

Principally, then, the wise biblical counselor is always examining their counsel to make certain that it remains in the faith (2 Cor. 13:5).

Biblical counselors must be certain that as they call counselees to repentance, faith, and the proper manifestation of the fruit of faith in their lives, that they do not commit the neonomian error of mixing law and gospel.

Dr. John Fonville, writing in Modern Reformation, observed that, "Whenever the law is confused with the gospel, the remedy is always wrong." Biblical counselors must always be concerned with Gospel remedies to sin and suffering.

Before you allow your eyes to roll into the back of your head, assuming that this topic is for theologians only, let me remind you, whether you're a counselor or counselee, that you are, in fact, a theologian. The only question is, are you a good one or a bad one?

Further, allow me to submit that you already carry an opinion on this topic, whether you know it or not. The only question is, is it a right one or a wrong one?

Finally, allow me to suggest that doctrinal error concerning this topic isn't rightly handled by a shrug of the shoulders, but a pouring over Scripture, and even the great creeds and confessions, so that we might rightly handle the word of truth (2 Tim. 2:15). 

Sola Gratia: By Grace Alone

Sanctification, for the Christian, is the lifelong process that, according to a Reformed understanding of the Ordo Salutis, follows justification. By it, they are progressively fashioned into the likeness of Christ by the work of God, the result of which is works.

The authors of the Westminster Shorter Catechism help us understand:

Q.35: What is sanctification?
Sanctification is the work of God's free grace, whereby we are renewed in the whole man after the image of God, and are enabled more and more to die unto sin, and live unto righteousness.

Likewise, the authors of the 1689 London Baptist Confession, influenced greatly by Westminster, wrote in their Chapter 13 on Sanctification:

They who are united to Christ, effectually called, and regenerated, having a new heart and a new spirit created in them through the virtue of Christ's death and resurrection, are also farther sanctified, really and personally, through the same virtue, by His Word and Spirit dwelling in them.

What Scripture makes unmistakably plain, and the great Protestant creeds and confessions make clear, is that sanctification, like justification, is by grace alone.

We are not sanctified in any way by our works, rather, our good deeds provide testimony for and evidence of the work of God in us. They glorify God's name and produce joy in our hearts, but they are not ever the basis of our salvation, to which the work of sanctification belongs.

The concern then is that it's a significant and increasingly common error to insert, whether intentionally or by ignorance, the necessity of works into sanctification, even as we hold to justification by grace and faith alone. 

Some potential aftershocks of this neonomian error are:

1) The immediate erosion of the doctrine of justification by grace alone through faith alone,

2) Doubt concerning whether the amount of good works produced warrant any assurance of salvation whatsoever, and

3) Doubt concerning how our good deeds could ever be the basis for salvation, even if surreptitiously inserted into sanctification, when even as believers our best works are left wanting by the remaining stain of sin (Isaiah 64:6).

For the biblical counselor or anyone involved in discipleship, the neonomian error threatens to derail the work of the Gospel by turning the glorious truths of the cross into a new law, a new duty that must be performed by the believer, rather than in the believer.

Rest for the Weary

Even if inadvertent, there is great risk for biblical counselors that we not turn the heart of the counselee away from trust in the active obedience of Christ, and toward any reliance on the production of works in sanctification.

As Dr. R. Scott Clark wrote at The Heidelblog, "The law says 'do and live' (Luke 10:28) but grace says: Christ has fulfilled the law for you, as your substitute. Believe and be saved. The moralist cannot have such a clear distinction. He quickly reaches for a handful of mud to obscure the distinction and to make the one look like the other."

For those involved in biblical counseling, the answer to a counselee whose life fails to evidence the fruit of salvation is not "try harder," but, "Come to me all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest" (Matt. 11:28).

(There are many other related issues concerning this topic and biblical counseling. This is an introductory discussion that may be followed by other posts.)

JW