Justification by Faith, its Heritage, its Necessity, and its Attackers

J.I. Packer: Martin Luther described the doctrine of justification by faith as articulus stantis vel cadentis ecclesiæ—the article of faith that decides whether the church is standing or falling. By this he meant that when this doctrine is understood, believed, and preached, as it was in New Testament times, the church stands in the grace of God and is alive; but where it is neglected, overlaid, or denied, as it was in mediaeval Catholicism, the church falls from grace and its life drains away, leaving it in a state of darkness and death. The reason why the Reformation happened, and Protestant churches came into being, was that Luther and his fellow Reformers believed that Papal Rome had apostatised from the gospel so completely in this respect that no faithful Christian could with a good conscience continue within her ranks. Justification by faith has traditionally, and rightly, been regarded as one of the two basic and controlling principles of Reformation theology.

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J. I. Packer: A Personal Appreciation from Ray Ortlund

Ray Ortlund: Our dear friend, James Innell Packer, has been released from this life. Many of us will feel, as I do, deep personal loss. We will miss him—and for good reason. Packer embodied the personal characteristics and ministry ideals we evangelicals most revere. He was saintly and sensible, brilliant and practical, faithful and peaceable, courageous and charitable, cheerful and serene, blunt and gentle, humble and bold, submissive to Scripture and sensitive to the Spirit. Above all, Packer was Christ-honoring. So my purpose here, as the Scripture says, is to “honor such men” (Phil. 2:29). After hearing Packer preach and teach and after reading his books and essays for more than 40 years, I gratefully remember five outstanding marks of his life and ministry. 1. Packer revered the Bible and helped a whole generation settle into the same confidence. In my dad’s copy of ‘Fundamentalism’ and the Word of God: Some Evangelical Principles, this sentence is underlined: “Scripture itself is alone

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Unpacking the Incarnation with J. I. Packer

Matt Boga: One of my personal traditions over the past few Advents has been to read J. I. Packer’s chapter on the incarnation in Knowing God. This is far and away my favorite chapter in my favorite extrabiblical book, and it’s my joy to revisit it often. Packer’s classic book is known for the simplicity and clarity with which he communicates profound and complex truths, and his exploration of the incarnation in chapter five (“God Incarnate”) is no exception. Making Sense of Faith Packer begins by stating the obvious: many thoughtful people find the gospel challenging to believe, but many also “make faith harder than it need be, by finding difficulties in the wrong places” (52). The atonement, the resurrection, the virgin birth, and miracles are all challenging to believe on face value, but they all pale in comparison to the Christian claim of the incarnation. “Nothing in fiction is so fantastic as is this truth of the incarnation,” Packer declares

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Should every Christian study theology?

J.I. Packer: Theology simply means the study of God. This is something that every Christian needs to realise. I think the way that the word has been used in the past has frightened many Christians away from it, even though they never stopped to consider what the word actually meant. People got the idea somewhere that theology is the business of the seminary professors and the clergy, but has very little to do with the day to day living of the Christian life. It’s something people seem to think you can get along without, provided that you read your Bible daily and think one or two guiding thoughts from your passage to keep you on the rails. I don’t believe it’s at all like that. But theology means the study of God, and if we are to love God, as we are commanded, with all our “minds” then we need to be in the business of theology. So when I speak

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J. I. Packer’s Thoughts on Holiness

A Habitual Attitude Sam Storms: There is no holiness or Christian life that does not have repentance at its core. Repentance is not merely one element in conversion, but a habitual attitude and action to which all Christians are called. It is, argues Packer, a spiritual discipline central to and inseparable from healthy holy living. But what is it? How should it be defined? What are its characteristic features? A close reading of Packer reveals that he understands repentance to entail a number of interrelated themes. The most important dimension in godly repentance is the fundamental alteration in one’s thinking with regard to what is sin and what God requires of us in terms both of our thoughts and actions. Repentance thus begins with a recognition of the multitude of ways in which our thinking and attitude and belief system are contrary to what is revealed in Scripture. We are by nature and choice misshapen and warped in the way

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J. I. Packer on the 6 Things You Should Tell Yourself Every Day

Justin Taylor: Spiritual adoption is a big deal for the practical theology of J. I. Packer. In Knowing God J. I. Packer writes: If you want to judge how well a person understands Christianity, find out how much he makes of the thought of being God’s child, and having God as his Father. If this is not the thought that prompts and controls his worship and prayers and his whole outlook on life, it means that he does not understand Christianity very well at all. He says that if he were to focus the New Testament message in three words, he would choose adoption through propitiation. “I do not expect,” he writes, “ever to meet a richer or more pregnant summary of the gospel than that.” How would Packer summarize the whole of New Testament teaching? a revelation of the Fatherhood of the holy Creator. He summarizes the whole of New Testament religion as the knowledge of God as one’s holy Father.

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The Distinction Between Free Will and Free Agency

BY J.I. PACKER The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it? – JEREMIAH 17:9 Clear thought about the fallen human condition requires a distinction between what for the past two centuries has been called free agency and what since the start of Christianity has been called free will. Augustine, Luther, Calvin, and others spoke of free will in two senses, the first trivial, the second important; but this was confusing, and it is better always to use free agency for their first sense. Free agency is a mark of human beings as such. All humans are free agents in the sense that they make their own decisions as to what they will do, choosing as they please in the light of their sense of right and wrong and the inclinations they feel. Thus they are moral agents, answerable to God and each other for their voluntary choices. So was Adam, both before and after

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Should every Christian study theology?

  J.I. Packer: Theology simply means the study of God. This is something that every Christian needs to realise. I think the way that the word has been used in the past has frightened many Christians away from it, even though they never stopped to consider what the word actually meant. People got the idea somewhere that theology is the business of the seminary professors and the clergy, but has very little to do with the day to day living of the Christian life. It’s something people seem to think you can get along without, provided that you read your Bible daily and think one or two guiding thoughts from your passage to keep you on the rails. I don’t believe it’s at all like that. But theology means the study of God, and if we are to love God, as we are commanded, with all our “minds” then we need to be in the business of theology. So when I

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Trinity – God Is One and Three

J.I. Packer: “This is what the LORD says—Israel’s King and Redeemer, the LORD Almighty: I am the first and I am the last; apart from me there is no God” (Isaiah 44:6). The Old Testament constantly insists that there is only one God, the self-revealed Creator, who must be worshipped and loved exclusively (Deut. 6:4-5; Isa. 44:6– 45:25). The New Testament agrees (Mark 12:29-30; 1 Cor. 8:4; Eph. 4:6; 1 Tim. 2:5) but speaks of three personal agents, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, working together in the manner of a team to bring about salvation (Rom. 8; Eph. 1:3-14; 2 Thess. 2:13-14; 1 Pet. 1:2). The historic formulation of the Trinity (derived from the Latin word trinitas, meaning “threeness”) seeks to circumscribe and safeguard this mystery (not explain it; that is beyond us), and it confronts us with perhaps the most difficult thought that the human mind has ever been asked to handle. It is not easy; but it is

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Ask J.I. Packer: What is Your Hope for the Church?

Adapted from “Interview with J.I. Packer,” Modern Reformation July/Aug 1993. I see evangelical strength in America needing desperately to be undergirded by Reformation convictions, otherwise, the numeric growth of evangelicals, which has been such a striking thing in our time, is likely never to become a real power, morally and spiritually, in the community that it ought to be. I mean by Reformation truth, a God-centered way of thinking, an appreciation of his sovereignty, an appreciation of how radical the damage of sin is to the human condition and community, and with that, an appreciation of just how radical and transforming is the power of the Lord Jesus Christ in his saving grace. If you don’t see deep into the problem, you don’t see deep into the solution. My fear is that a lot of evangelicals today are just not seeing deep enough in both the problem and the need. But Reformation theology takes you down to the very depth

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J. I. Packer on Something More Important Than Knowing God

  J.I. Packer: What matters supremely, therefore, is not, in the last analysis, the fact that I know God, but the larger fact which underlies it—the fact that he knows me. I am graven on the palms of his hands [Isa. 49:16]. I am never out of his mind. All my knowledge of him depends on his sustained initiative in knowing me. I know him because he first knew me, and continues to know me. He knows me as a friend, one who loves me; and there is no moment when his eye is off me, or his attention distracted from me, and no moment, therefore, when his care falters. This is momentous knowledge. There is unspeakable comfort—the sort of comfort that energizes, be it said, not enervates—in knowing that God is constantly taking knowledge of me in love and watching over me for my good. There is tremendous relief in knowing that his love to me is utterly realistic,

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The Fuzzification of Faith

This post is adapted from Taking God Seriously: Vital Things We Need to Know by J. I. Packer. Watch a series of videos in which Dr. Packer reflects on his life, ministry, and key doctrines for the church today at JIPacker.com. J.I. Packer: What Is Faith? The word faith is used elusively and does in truth mean different things to different people, though this fact often goes unrecognized. Some churches—in an effort to be unitive—constantly refer to the faith as a common property held by all who worship, without defining or analyzing its substance, so that worshippers can go for years without any clear notion of what their church stands for. Theologians rise up to affirm that, in idea at least, faith goes beyond mere orthodoxy (belief of truth) to orthopraxy (living out that truth in worship and service, love to God and man)—and in saying this they are right so far. But when some think orthodoxy sanctions behavior that

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Five marks of revived churches

Ray Ortlund: J. I. Packer, writing in God in our Midst (Ann Arbor, 1987), pages 24-35, proposes that, among the variety of God’s ways, five constants appear in biblical revivals: 1.  Awareness of God’s presence: “The first and fundamental feature in renewal is the sense that God has drawn awesomely near in his holiness, mercy and might.” 2.  Responsiveness to God’s Word: “The message of Scripture which previously was making only a superficial impact, if that, now searches its hearers and readers to the depth of their being.” 3.  Sensitiveness to sin: “Consciences become tender and a profound humbling takes place.” 4.  Liveliness in community: “Love and generosity, unity and joy, assurance and boldness, a spirit of praise and prayer, and a passion to reach out to win others, are recurring marks of renewed communities.” 5.  Fruitfulness in testimony: “Christians proclaim by word and deed the power of the new life, souls are won, and a community conscience informed by

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Why You Should Not Wear a Crucifix

Tim Challies: Crucifixes have long been a fixture in Roman Catholic worship. But in the past few years I have begun to see more and more Protestants wearing them as well, exchanging their empty cross for one that contains an image of the suffering Savior. J.I. Packer once addressed the issue of the crucifix, and addressed it well. What harm is there, we ask, in the worshipper surrounding himself with statues and pictures, if they help him to lift his heart to God? We are accustomed to treat the question of whether these things should be used or not as a matter of temperament and personal taste. We know that some people have crucifixes and pictures of Christ in their rooms, and they tell us that looking at these objects helps them to focus their thoughts on Christ when they pray. We know that many claim to be able to worship more freely and easily in churches that are filled with such

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He Knows Me

  What matters supremely is not, in the last analysis, the fact that I know God, but the larger fact which underlies it–the fact that he knows me. I am graven on the palms of his hands. I am never out of his mind. All my knowledge of him depends on his sustained initiative in knowing me. I know him because he first knew me, and continues to know me. He knows me as a friend, one who loves me; and there is not a moment when his eye is off me, or his attention distracted from me, and no moment, therefore, when his care falters. This is momentous knowledge. There is unspeakable comfort–the sort of comfort that energizes, be it said, not enervates–in knowing that God is constantly taking knowledge of me in love and watching over me for my good. There is tremendous relief in knowing that his love to me is utterly realistic, based at every point

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Our representative and our substitute

  God displays his righteousness by judging sin as sin deserves, but the judgment is diverted from the guilty and put on to the shoulders of Jesus Christ, the sinless Son of God acting as wrath absorber. The atonement had to be costly because it was necessary in light of the nature of God, which must inflict retributive punishment on sin. A marvelous wisdom of God consists in his establishing the Lord Jesus as our representative and our substitute because only he could bear and absorb the judgment due to us. Being our representative makes him our substitute, and so he suffers and we go free. — J. I. Packer “The Necessity of the Atonement” in Atonement, ed. Gabriel N. E. Fluhrer (Phillipsburg, NJ: P & R Publishing, 2010), 15-16 (HT: Of First Importance)

Wisdom from Luther on doing theology

  J. I. Packer on Martin Luther’s approach to doing theology: When Martin Luther wrote the Preface to the first collected edition of his many and various writings, he went to town explaining in detail that theology, which should always be based on the Scriptures, should be done according to the pattern modelled in Psalm 119. There, Luther declared, we see three forms of activity and experience make the theologian. The first is prayer for light and understanding. The second is reflective thought (meditatio), meaning sustained study of the substance, thrust, and flow of the biblical text. The third is standing firm under pressure of various kinds (external opposition, inward conflict, and whatever else Satan can muster: pressures, that is, to abandon, suppress, recant, or otherwise decide not to live by, the truth God has shown from his Word. Luther expounded this point as one who knew what he was talking about, and his affirmation that sustained prayer, thought, and

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Sam Storms on J.I. Packer’s New Book

J. I. Packer. Weakness Is the Way: Life with Christ Our Strength. Wheaton: Crossway, 2013. 125 pp. Sam Storms: This comparatively short book with its strange title delivers a powerful blow to the rampant triumphalism that has infected much of the Bible-believing world. Using Paul’s second epistle to the Corinthians as his principal resource, J. I. Packer has once again provided us with both the theological depth and practical wisdom necessary to live in a way that pleases and honors Christ. The reader should not draw false conclusions from the title. Whereas Packer advocates a form of “weakness” as the only way in which to live to the glory of God, he does not deny the proper place of spiritual strength. The subtitle reminds us that it is in and through our weakness that Christ’s powerful presence is made known. Packer’s decision “to take soundings in Second Corinthians” (p. 16) is a wise and helpful one, as it is in

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Penal Substitution, Central and Controlling

Sam Storms: In the on-going debate about the nature of Christ’s atoning death, some have insisted that penal substitution is only one model among many others. My contention has always been that it is more than one of many models and is in fact the central and controlling foundation for everything the atonement accomplished on behalf of sinners. Without it, there is no gospel and there is no salvation. I was pleased to come across this statement by J. I. Packer in which he affirms precisely the same point. Packer proceeds to explain how penal substitution theologically explains everything else regarding the saving efficacy of Christ’s death. Note the following sequence. “What did Christ’s death accomplish? It redeemed us to God – purchased us at a price, that is, from captivity to sin for the freedom of life with God (Tit 2:14; Rev 5:9). How did it do that? By being a blood-sacrifice for our sins (Eph 1:7; Heb 9:11-15). How did that sacrifice

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Union with Christ – the taproot of our entire salvation

J.I. Packer: “But the taproot of our entire salvation, and the true NT frame for cataloguing its ingredients, is our union with Christ himself by the Holy Spirit. That is, to be more precise, our implantation, symbolized by the under-and-up-from-under of water baptism, into the twin realities of Christ’s own dying and rising (see Rom 6:1-11; Col 2:9-12). In this union we have a salvation that is not only positional through the cross in the terms just stated, and relational through our sustained faith-communion with our Lord, but is also transformational through the regenerating and indwelling Spirit, who stirs and motivates and empowers us to express our new hearts’ desires in new habits of action and reaction constituting Christlike character (‘the fruit of the Spirit’ in Gal 5:22-23). ”Atonement in the Life of the Christian,” in The Glory of the Atonement, 417 (HT: Sam Storms)