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Doctrine Illuminated: God's Purpose of Grace (9 min read)

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In these Doctrine Illuminated articles, the core beliefs of Addison Street Community Church are fleshed out in more detail. Begin by examining the section of the Doctrinal Confession, found at the top, and then discover an explanation of each of its lines below.


 
Section 11. God’s Purpose of Grace. 
We believe that God, in his grace, chooses to save sinners and to keep them to the end. Divine election is consistent with human free will. It excludes boasting and promotes humility. All true believers will be kept by God’s grace and will persevere to the end. Perseverance is the mark, which distinguishes true believers from professing Christians. 

How is it that God saves people who are totally unworthy of his love? This question is relevant to all of us since we’re all sinners who have all sinned and fallen short of his perfect glory. The answer is found in one single word. This word does several things: it brings us the hope that God has a purpose in our lives and gives us a blessed assurance that despite our responsibility for our sins, the work he began in us will be completed. This word is grace.  


“We believe that God, in his grace, chooses to save sinners and to keep them to the end.”

Salvation is an act of the grace of God through election. God chooses, God saves, God keeps. This dynamic is seen throughout the entirety of the Bible. It’s the Lord who chose and called Abraham to go to a land yet unknown to him, and it’s the Lord who promised to bless him and make him a great nation. His descendants are the nation who came to be known as the chosen people, the Israelites. David is the king chosen by God, according to His own heart—not by the will of the people—to reign over Israel and to be the one through whom the Eternal King would come, Jesus Christ. The New Testament affirms this reality when it says, “We love because he first loved us.” (John 4:19), and that “He chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight.” (Ephesians 1.4) What great news the gospel delivers: we have been loved before the world even existed! Jesus also said that “all that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out.”  (John 6:37). So, it is sure: God will keep us to the end!


“Divine election is consistent with human free will.”

Human free will is not canceled by God’s sovereign election of the ones he saves. Actually, the Lord never acts against our will but gives us a new heart so that we’re able to freely follow him. In Ezekiel 36:26 the Lord says, “And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.” This is a description of the effects of the New Covenant which God fulfilled by the coming of Jesus Christ who shed His blood for us. Instead of leaving his people with a heart of stone, incapable to respond to him with love, he gives his chosen a new heart that is soft and teachable, washed and transformed by his Holy Spirit. Notice that this is God’s initiative: he grants the new heart and a new spirit. And he does this so we can respond to him according to a new nature that isn’t set against him anymore. Inside the true believer—born again with a new heart he or she received from God—divine election and free will work consistently together.


“[Divine election] excludes boasting and promotes humility.”

Ephesians 2:8-9 says, “By grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” This passage clearly teaches us that it is God’s grace that saves us. Grace is an undeserved gift. And there’s more. Even the faith we need to possesses for grace to be applied to us is a gift of God! How humbling it is to be reminded that there’s nothing we can do to earn salvation. It’s not through our work, resulting in the inability for anyone to boast. It promotes humility indeed! Reminding ourselves that even the faith through which we are saved is freely given, not produced by us, breaks all the pride that could still remain in our deceptive hearts.


“All true believers will be kept by God’s grace and will persevere to the end. Perseverance is the mark, which distinguishes true believers from professing Christians.”

Have you ever witnessed the dangerous scene of a child letting go of their parent’s hand to finish crossing a street? Isn’t it a scary scene? And how does this happen? We all know that it’s usually because of either the child’s ambition or the parent’s lapse of attention. It’s the parent’s responsibility to hold their child strong by the hand while crossing the street. When children are led by negligent hands, they tend to get distracted and run from real protection. In our spiritual lives, we’re like children. But God is never weak and never lacks attention and care. Jesus promised that he would never let us go. True Christians can have serious falls but never falls from grace. The Holy Spirit, whom they are sealed with, won’t let them. Those who fall away from Christ, as 1 John 2:19 says, “were never really with us.” Jesus himself warned against professing followers who are not his true disciples. “This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me” (Matt. 15:8). And Philippians 1:6 reminds all the true believers to be “confident of this, that he [God] who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.”  What a blessed assurance it is that the Lord holds his children fast, and those who are truly his will persevere by his grace. It’s through grace that we’re saved. It’s through grace that the Lord holds us and keeps us in the path of perseverance. 


We believe in the doctrines of grace because we are totally depraved, meaning that all our being is infected by sin, and by our unregenerate nature we would never be able to respond faithfully to the gospel. Then God, unconditionally, chooses and calls some to be part of his people. This call is done through such irresistible grace to those to whom he gives a new heart. So, all those who are truly born again were not just saved by grace, but are also kept by grace to persevere to the end. The fact that the work of salvation belongs to the Lord from beginning to the end puts us in a position of total humility and gratitude before him. It all resounds to the praise of his glorious grace!

 

Doctrine Illuminated: Regeneration (7min read)

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In these Doctrine Illuminated articles, the core beliefs of Addison Street Community Church are fleshed out in more detail. Begin by examining the section of the Doctrinal Confession, found at the top, and then discover an explanation of each of its lines below.


 
Section 10. Regeneration
"We believe that one must be regenerated or born again in order to be saved. Regeneration is the changing of the human heart by the power of the Holy Spirit, through the truth of the gospel, in a way that is above our comprehension. The necessary evidence of regeneration is a progressive growth in holy living and obedience for the glory of God."

The starfish is a most fascinating sea creature. While technically not a “fish,” it has eyes, feet, mouth, and a stomach and can reproduce. But, perhaps one of the most amazing features of a starfish is its ability to regenerate limbs and occasionally spawn a new starfish from a single arm or its central disc. Did you lose one of your five-plus arms in a fight with a predator? No problem. Just wait a bit, and it’ll grow back! What happens in this part of marine life might be nice for those who are missing some of their appendages, but what the starfish can do biologically the human cannot do spiritually. The human condition—no matter how pleasing to behold on the outside—is shot through with rot and death. This permeates to the core of our being and infects all our thoughts and intents. We are born suffering from a fatal case of hardened heart and desperately need a transplant (Ezekiel 36:26).

Regeneration is the technical/biblical term for new birth (see Titus 3:5). This doctrine nests under the broader doctrine of salvation (which theologians call soteriology). Its significance is vividly captured in both the Old and New Testaments (Ezekiel 37). Some enjoy a good debate about whether this happens before or after conversion. But, just be careful not to let water baptism become a necessary or simultaneous condition for salvation.
 

“We believe that one must be regenerated or born again in order to be saved.”

Jesus used a familiar phrase that the religious leader, Nicodemus, would understand as a shorthand for salvation— “enter God’s kingdom” (John 3:3, 5). In the same way that physical re-entry into a mother’s womb is biologically impossible (John 3:4), so also is any kind of altruism, self-reinvention, or rule-keeping spiritually impossible (Titus 3:5). This is a passive, “outside-of-you” work that happens in you.


“Regeneration is the changing of the human heart…”

This is supernatural, meaning God does it through God by a special message in a way that bypasses intellectual grasp to the very clutches of the heart, where the most profound transformation occurs. Whether the believer’s experience of regeneration is perceived as a process over time (God’s effectual call) or instantaneous, the fact is that she can look back to the past when she went from being “dead in trespasses and sins” to being “made alive and raised up with Christ” (Ephesians 2:1-6).

•   “…by the power of the Holy Spirit”

In spite of us and based on his mercy, God the Father, in his eternal decree, planned specifically for God the Holy Spirit to perform this work of renovation (Romans 12:1; Titus 3:5). In other words, as J.I. Packer says “regeneration is monergistic: that is, entirely the work of God the Holy Spirit” (Concise Theology, 172).

•   “…through the truth of the gospel”

The miraculous work of the Holy Spirit regenerating a person is always done through an encounter with God’s Gospel word that is contained in the Bible. Though God can use dreams and nature to stimulate a spiritual search, genuine regeneration is willed by God through “the word of truth” (James 1:18). In turn, the salvific (human) response to the Gospel truth proclaimed is conversion. Conversion is like a coin. On one side is trusting God, and on the other side is repentance toward God. You can’t have one without the other. Both alike are gifts of God (Ephesians 2:9; 2 Timothy 2:25).

•   “… in a way that is above our comprehension”

This is the thing: to be regenerated is to be born from above (heaven). In that sense, it is literally beyond us. But it is also incomprehensible in that we don’t know when it exactly happens and to whom it’ll happen. We can’t see the wind, but we can see the effects of it. And “so it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit” (John 3:8).
 

“The necessary evidence of regeneration is a progressive growth in holy living and obedience for the glory of God.

Not only is the Holy Spirit the primary actor in giving new life, but he is also implanted in each true Christian and becomes the new owner; the new principle within; the new fruit-bearing disposition (Galatians 5:25-27). Regeneration is not merely a “new you” but a new you in Jesus Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17; Colossians 1:27). This new creation is meant to produce in us “good works” (Ephesians 2:10; Romans 12:2). Growth in holy, obedient living toward God is hardly easy. It must be the Christian’s constant practice to reject temptations to do things the old way and make war with the trinity of evil: the world, the flesh, and the devil (Romans 7:21-25; Ephesians 4:22-32; 6:10-18; 1 John 2:15-17).

 
There is no such thing as a Christian who is unregenerate. You cannot give yourself life spiritually any more than you could have given yourself life physically. You can grow in grace. It’s the natural bent of a Christian who is always being made new!


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