Sunday, September 07, 2008

Jerry Bridges on The Pursuit of Holiness and the Discipline of Grace

The Saturday afternoon before last, 30th Aug 2008, I went for a talk by Jerry Bridges organized by the Navigators held at True Way Presbyterian Church, which my friend Huaizhi whom I providentially met there has posted on also. Anyway, here are just some personal thoughts on the talk.

Jerry Bridges gave two short talks based upon two of his books, The bestselling Pursuit of Holiness and the Discipline of Grace, of which those of us who registered (with payment) receive copies of both of them (the books that is). The talks were simple yet profound in depth, which shows his skill in communication. Yet what is most impressive is his grasp of the relation between striving and grace, which we shall now look at.

In the first talk entitled The Pursuit of Holiness, based upon his first and bestselling book, Dr. Bridges exposited from Eph. 4:17- 5:5. Before going into the text, he places the passage in its context of the entire book of Ephesians, and thus show us that the practical teachings in this passage is based upon the deep and glorious doctrinal teachings of Eph. 1-3 — of election, predestination, adoption, of salvation by faith through grace apart from works (Eph. 2:8-9), etc. Dr. Bridges didn't go in detail into these doctrinal teachings, which I think is necessary for the average Singaporean Christian, but it's good he mentioned them at all (Btw, Dr. Bridges is a Calvinist). The key teaching for this talk in my opinion is the idea of the symmetry between putting off and putting on, referencing Eph., 4:22-24, which reads as follows in the ESV (which incidentally is Dr. Bridges' normal usage bible version after switching over from the NIV)

to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness. (Eph. 4:22-24)

Dr. Bridges focuses on the putting on and the putting off, telling and reminding us that the two are placed here side by side and meant to be done as side of the same coin. It is thus not helpful to "put off" without "putting on" the new self; thus it is no point putting off the old self by trying NOT to sin and placing prohibitive measures in place WITHOUT putting on the new self simultaneously in pursuing after God and godly disciplines in holiness in all we do; in progressive sanctification. Dead moralism is furthest from his mind, and should be furthest from ours too. Telling people NOT to do something is by far the worst thing we can do to help a person, short of condoning the sin itself. Rather, we must replace the sinful desires with something else of equal or greater value, and God alone can and must satisfy. For God alone can satisfy the unquenchable thirst of the soul of Man for love, significance and worth.

Dr. Bridges finishes off this talk by reminding us that all of this is to be done by God's power, and that alone, referencing Phil. 4:13 to that effect. As the next talk begins, after a good 30 minutes break, Dr. Bridges focuses on this in the talk about the Discipline of Grace. Focusing now on the text of Titus 2:11-12, Dr. Bridges talks about the necessity of training in grace. As it is written

For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age (Titus 2:11-12)

Note here that the grace of God has appeared already among us all as stated in verse 11. This grace is a free gift of God apart from works, which Dr. Bridges similarly emphasized. Therefore, we are not striving for salvation or for God's grace, but whatever we do must start from a foundation of perfect salvation secured by the blood of the Lamb on our behalf (NOTHING whatsoever of our works can even come close to pay for it; and in fact it subtracts from it). Yet, this grace is not something passive, but it is something which trains us in godliness (v. 12). Here Dr. Bridges applies the "put on/ put off" concept in Paul's epistle to Titus; we are to put off "ungodliness and worldly passions", and put on "self-control, uprightness, and godliness". Furthermore, noting that the same Greek root word is used in 1 Tim. 4:7 and 2 Peter 2:14 for train (Gumnazo - γυμναζω), of which the former is "train ourselves for godliness" while the latter is "trained in greed", Dr. Bridges teach us that we are always in training, either towards godliness or ungodliness, so it is not a matter of whether we train, but what are we training towards.

And this ends the two short talks by Dr. Jerry Bridges. Here are some good one-liners from Dr. Bridges:

The keeping of the Law only when based upon what Christ has [already] done is pleasing to Christ

Grace is God's blessings through Christ to people who justly deserve His curse

Those whom God saves He always train

We are always in training — either towards godliness or ungodliness.

4 comments:

thetruthsetsyoufree said...

Daniel

I am a 23 year old Reformed Presbyterian in Singapore.

I set up a blog The Truth Sets You Free http://thetruthsetsyoufree.wordpress.com/ for struggling homosexuals with their unwanted homosexual thoughts, feelings and desires. However, the content on my blog is not written by me. They are research that I have done for the past one year.

My position is that homosexuality is a developmental disorder, or what some psychologists and psychiatrists would deem as "gender identity disorder." Due to lack of gender affirmation when the homosexuals were young, their emotional needs became eroticised after puberty and their sexual attraction to males is a drive to fill in the void within themselves. Homosexuals fill incomplete about their masculinity and thus seek union with another male to complete themselves. This import of masculinity from other males is driven by the homosexual's fantasy and self-pity.

And of course, homosexuality is a sin in the eyes of God. However, I adopt the ethic of loving the sinner and hate the sin. So my blog is primarily targeted for repentant homosexuals, probably Christians. But I also hope that my blog can convince unrepentant homosexuals that homosexuality is indeed wrong and bad because it is unnatural, biologically and psychologically incompatible. As for the general public, maybe for those who are either ignorant, curious or apathetic about homosexuality may find the blog useful too, particularly homosexuality is a taboo topic which not many are willing to discuss openly and freely.

I believe that change is possible so I wish to encourage homosexuals that they ought to persevere with the strength of God. I want to offer struggling homosexuals that there is help and there is hope. I have spoken to many homosexuals online and some of them are silently, privately battling for fear of societal/cultural stigma once their identities and troubles are disclosed. They cry day and night for deliverance --- they want to change, but do not know how to. These homosexuals may even know that homosexuality is a sin. When a few brave ones approach their pastors, their pastors may not necessarily understand how they could help these homosexuals. So sometimes I feel that homosexuals are "stuck" not because they fail to acknowledge their guilt. On the contrary, many of them are depressed because they are too aware of their transgressions against God. What matters is that these penitent homosexuals are told what they can do to change. Sometimes the desire to change may be undermined because they have struggled for so many years and thus lost all hope of recovery, and that may either lead to resignation or worse, apostasy.

My blog proposes that a homosexual will do well if he undergoes both Christian pastoral care and counselling, as well as secular psychotherapy (of course it helps if the psychotherapist is Christian). And environmental factors such as healthy male bonding and mentorship, as well as active participation in church, will aid in the recovery process.

As my blog is quite messy, I suggest you can read the following introductory articles and essays to get a vague idea of what homosexuality is about:

I'm Not Gay
http://thetruthsetsyoufree.wordpress.com/im-not-gay/

How Might Homosexuality Develop?
http://thetruthsetsyoufree.wordpress.com/how-might-homosexuality-develop/

Why Me?
http://thetruthsetsyoufree.wordpress.com/why-me/

Sexualization of Emotional Needs
http://thetruthsetsyoufree.wordpress.com/sexualization-of-emotional-needs/

Atypical Cases of Development to Homosexuality
http://thetruthsetsyoufree.wordpress.com/atypical-cases-to-development-of-homosexuality/

Can Homosexuals Change?
http://thetruthsetsyoufree.wordpress.com/can-homosexuals-change/

Motivations and Expectations
http://thetruthsetsyoufree.wordpress.com/motivation-and-expectations/

Here are more scientific articles and essays:

A Scientific Examination of Homosexuality and the "Gay Gene"
http://thetruthsetsyoufree.wordpress.com/this-is-the-way-god-made-me-a-scientific-examination-of-homosexuality-and-the-gay-gene/

Is Homosexuality Really Unnatural?
http://thetruthsetsyoufree.wordpress.com/gay-birds-and-bees-is-homosexuality-really-unnatural/

Is Human Sexuality a Reflection of Design and Purpose?
http://thetruthsetsyoufree.wordpress.com/is-human-sexuality-a-reflection-of-design-and-purpose/

Here are some psychoanalytical articles and essays:

Can You Change Your Sexual Orientation?
http://thetruthsetsyoufree.wordpress.com/can-you-change-your-sexual-orientation/

Homosexuality: An Overview
http://thetruthsetsyoufree.wordpress.com/homosexuality-an-overview/

The Meaning of Same Sex Attraction
http://thetruthsetsyoufree.wordpress.com/the-meaning-of-same-sex-attraction/

The Role of Free Agency in Sexual Identity Development
http://thetruthsetsyoufree.wordpress.com/the-role-of-free-agency-in-sexual-identity-development/

Homosexual Drives
http://thetruthsetsyoufree.wordpress.com/homosexual-drives/

Homosexuality: The Untold Story
http://thetruthsetsyoufree.wordpress.com/homosexuality-the-untold-story/

For the Christian who is struggling with homosexuality, he may be interested to read the following and find them helpful:

Answers to the 20 Most Important Questions About Homosexuality
http://thetruthsetsyoufree.wordpress.com/answers-to-the-20-most-important-questions-about-homosexuality/

Linguistic Grounds for Translating Arsenokoitai as "Homosexuals"
http://thetruthsetsyoufree.wordpress.com/2008/08/04/linguistic-grounds-for-translating-arsenokoitai-as-homosexuals/

Historical Grounds for Translating Arsenokoitai as "Homosexuals"
http://thetruthsetsyoufree.wordpress.com/2008/08/04/historical-grounds-for-translating-arsenokoitai-as-homosexuals/

PuritanReformed said...

ttsyf:

Interesting site. May I know more of who you are (ie your name).

Also, have you heard of Robert Gagnon (http://www.robgagnon.net/) or GCM-Watch? May be good websites to look at and link to.

Chris said...

Daniel,

Greetings! I found your blog some months ago and have periodically been following it. I am a hardcore Presbyterian Reformed Christian (and former baptist, go-figure). My Prebyterian Church is the Prebyterian Church in America (PCA); one of the conservative strands. Anyway, I was curious about the issue of PaedoCommunion....it is a big debate going on here in America...is that the case in Singapore also?

I would love to strike up a conversation on that issue.

Grace be with you brother,

Chris Myers

PuritanReformed said...

Chris:

I think the debate over pedocommunion is an exclusively Western phenomenum within conservative Presbyterian and Reformed circles. In Singapore, it is virtually non-existent. Reformed churches here are very recent on the scene and small, while the mainstream Presbyterian denomination which I was formerlly from is half liberal, half Charismatic and half Arminian.

I guess the issue of Pedo-communion only comes about when a person at least embraces Covenantal Theology. Most non-reformed evangelical churches in Singapore (probably all) embrace Dispensational Premillenialism, so I guess the issue would not suffice here.

So what is your position on the issue? You can email me if you want to discuss this further.