26 March 2010

Stand Firm

by Phil Johnson


Series Guide
(This post is part of a series, taken from the transcript of a message on 1 Corinthians 16:13 given at the 2010 Shepherds' Conference.)

Intro: "The church militant?"
1. "Watch Out"
2. "Stand Firm"
3. "Man Up"
4. "Be Strong"


"Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain" (1 Corinthians 15:58).

"Stand firm in the faith" (16:13).


et's face it: steadfast immovability is one of those virtues that has lost its luster in these postmodern times. "Epistemological humility" is the new supreme and cardinal virtue. We're supposed to refuse to be certain or dogmatic about anything.

Our culture thinks rank skepticism (or even spiritual nihilism) is humility, and hipster Christians have overcontextualized themselves to the point where they seem to think that's true. Strong convictions—the very thing Paul calls for here—are out. If you don't undergo some kind of major paradigm shift in your theology and your worldview every few years or so, you are not only hopelessly behind the times, you are incurably arrogant, too.

That's why, according to any postmodern way of thinking, dogmatism is to be avoided at all costs, diversity is to be cultivated no matter what, and tolerance means never having to say "You're wrong."

That's not "humility"; that's unbelief.

It's not arrogant to have firm, immovable biblical convictions. In fact, it is our duty to be precise and thorough in our doctrine, and to come to strong, mature, biblically-informed convictions. Paul even named this as one of the necessary evidences of authentic faith: "If indeed you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel that you heard" (Colossians 1:23). We are not to be "children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine" (Ephesians 4:14). Stability is a good and precious virtue—a necessary virtue for church leaders especially. Peter wrote, "Take care that you are not carried away with the error of lawless people and lose your own stability" (2 Peter 3:17).

Watch out for those who undergo regular, major paradigm shifts in their thinking or revamp their whole theology every few years—avoid them. Double-minded men are unstable in all their ways.

Yeah, but isn't it wrong to be obstinate and inflexible?

Well, it certainly can be, but do you know what the Bible identifies as the very worst kind of stubbornness? It's the obstinacy of refusing to be steadfast in our conviction that the Word of the Lord is true. Scripture condemns such people as "a stubborn and rebellious generation, a generation whose heart was not steadfast" (Psalm 78:8). How were they "stubborn" without being steadfast? "Their heart was not steadfast toward him; they were not faithful to his covenant" (v. 37). That's the very height of arrogance.

"Stand firm." That's a command. "Stand firm in the faith." The definite article is significant. There is only one true faith, and if your faith in Scripture isn't strong enough to affirm even that fact without equivocation, you really need to ponder very carefully what Paul is saying here. Because in all likelihood, that question will be put to you by an unbeliever ("Is conscious faith in Jesus really the only way to heaven?"), and you need to be ready to give an answer. I'm amazed and appalled at the parade of evangelical celebrities who have flubbed that question on Larry King Live or other national platforms.

If you are someone who undergoes regular worldview-sized shifts in your thinking; if your worldview changes every time a new fad or bestselling book comes along; if you are by nature fascinated with new perspectives and radical doctrines—don't become a blogger or use the Internet as a place to do your thinking out loud. Please. People like that only sow doubt and confusion. The Christian is supposed to be like a tree, planted by rivers of water—steadfast, immovable, growing in a steady, constant fashion rather than lurching wildly from one point of view to another all the time. He should be full of life and energy, but staunch and unwavering in his faith.

Of course I'm not suggesting that it's always inappropriate to change your mind—even on the big issues. You may have heard me making the case somewhere that if you're an Arminian, you ought to rethink your soteriology and adopt a more biblical view. I personally experienced precisely that kind of large-scale theological shift several years ago, and a few years before that, while reading Warfield's Studies in Perfectionism and comparing it with Scripture, my whole understanding of sanctification got an overhaul.

There's nothing wrong with that, as long as you don't become addicted to the idea of remodeling your doctrine just for the sake of having something new to play with. Bible doctrines are not Lego bricks—toys you can tear apart and put them back together in any shape you want whenever you tire of your most recent plaything. We're not supposed to be like the Athenian Philosophers in Acts 17:21, who "would spend their time in nothing except telling or hearing something new." The goal of our study should not be the constant shifting of our beliefs—but Christlike steadfastness—solid, settled, mature convictions.

And let me add this: if you do abandon Arminianism and become a Calvinist; if you leave one eschatalogical position and take up another one; if you undergo any major doctrinal shift—don't suddenly act like that one point of doctrine is more important than all others. Don't blog or talk about it constantly to the exclusion of everything else. Spend some time settling into your new convictions before you pretend to have expertise you frankly haven't had time to develop.

I think the tendency of fresh Calvinists to become cocky and obsessive about the fine points of predestination is one of the things that makes Calvinism most odious to non-Calvinists. Don't do that. It's not a sign of maturity, and you're not truly steadfast in the faith unless you are truly mature.

That is what Paul is calling for here: maturity, groundedness, stability. That's the heart of legitimate Christian conviction.

In fact, let's be clear about this: What Paul wanted to see in the Corinthians was not the ability to argue with zeal and vigor in favor of a particular point of view. Immature college kids can do that better than anyone else. What Paul was calling for is firm belief, settled assurance, confidence in the truth of God's Word, and an unwavering heart. In short, spiritual maturity. And that's not an easy thing to come by in a culture like Corinth, where the fads and fashions of this world seem to have more appeal than the eternal word of God.

Listen to what Charles Hodge said about this command:
Do not consider every point of doctrine an open question. Matters of faith, doctrines for which you have a clear revelation of God, such for example as the doctrine of the resurrection, are to be considered settled, and, as among Christians, no longer matters of dispute. There are doctrines embraced in the creeds of all orthodox churches, so clearly taught in Scripture, that it is not only useless, but hurtful, to be always calling them into question.

"Stand firm in the faith," Paul says, and if you are tempted to tone that down, apologize for it, or explain it away because it conflicts so dramatically with the spirit of this age, then you need to repent of that attitude and ask God to give you more conviction and more courage.
Phil's signature

34 comments:

Eddie Eddings said...

This makes me want to shout "AMEN!" on my roof here in Kuwait! Thanks brother, we all need to hear that message. So many are easily fooled into accepting a false humility.

Zaphon said...

I have a friend, a sister in Christ, who I 've seen shift from "Christian" feminism, to Charasmatism, to Emergent Churchism, to now....Skepticism of all things Biblical. Bill Maher is her "guide" in this strange new journey. She is parroting the same old "redneck atheism" arguments we so often hear about now.

When I look at her life, I can see that she has been in a state of rebellion and confusion, blown about by evry wind of new teaching.

I think I'll send her this post to help remind her from when she has fallen.

Always great work brother Phil.

olan strickland said...

Amen Phil!

I've been teaching on ecclesiology from Ephesians on Wednesday nights and hammering this truth home as God's purpose for His Church. Equipped Christians will be able to stand firm if the church is doing its God-given task of equipping them to do it.

The word pictures in the Bible for the church all reiterate this point. Oaks don't move - they stand firm (Isaiah 61:3); and pillars don't move - they stand firm, immovable (1 Timothy 3:15).

It is the standing firm, immovable part, that brings the charge of arrogance from the enemies of truth.

Mary Elizabeth Tyler said...

I know a few liberal Christians who will get a big dose of this article, in BOLD type; even then they may not SEE it. People who stand firm in the faith are always called arrogant. How sad!

AWESOME article, Phil.

donsands said...

"..according to any postmodern way of thinking, dogmatism is to be avoided at all costs, diversity is to be cultivated no matter what, and tolerance means never having to say "You're wrong."

That's not "humility"; that's unbelief."

Amen.

Excellent words and post. Appreciate your taking time to share.

The PoMo church has a mind set: "God loves people, and this love doesn't care so much about your sin, and so it's all about God loving you no matter what."

Like you say, it is unbelief: Unbelief in the Bible. That is a shipwrecked faith.

"..wage the good warfare, holding faith and a good conscience. By rejecting this, some have made shipwreck of their faith, among whom are Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom I have handed over to Satan that they may learn not to blaspheme."

round.tuit said...

Well said, Phil.

stratagem said...

Wow, an entire high-quality sermon in one blogpost. What're you gonna do with the rest of your week?

EXCELLENT message.

stratagem said...

Oh never mind that last post... just realized that there isn't much of the week left!

Christopher said...

I tend to think it is funny (read: sad) how Christian Theology is always questioned in certain areas. God's holiness, hatred of sin, etc...are always the doctrines in question. Anyone every hear of someone "emerging" into new understanding of Scripture and questioning whether God is love? It is amazing how for the last 2,000 years the Church has only gotten the "bad stuff" wrong.

David Rudd said...

Phil,

Did you see Mike Wittmer's "belief chart" (here) that Justin Taylor posted (here)?

Would you suggest "standing firm", even to the point of being obstinate (in a good way) for all three levels of these circles? Or would you suggest a lessening of conviction as you move out?

stratagem said...

That chart is pretty dumb. Believing that the Bible is God's word is something "not worth dividing over?"

Wow.

Lynda O said...

Amen, and well said, Phil.

Sir Brass said...

"And let me add this: if you do abandon Arminianism and become a Calvinist; if you leave one eschatalogical position and take up another one; if you undergo any major doctrinal shift—don't suddenly act like that one point of doctrine is more important than all others. Don't blog or talk about it constantly to the exclusion of everything else. Spend some time settling into your new convictions before you pretend to have expertise you frankly haven't had time to develop."

Cage-stage. Been there, don't want to be that. Lord help me.

misty said...

In so many ways, the church (the visible church, that is) has been influenced by the world. We have let the world define what Christianity should be.

The world is fine with us feeding the hungry, but they don't want us to talk about sin, so we oblige. The world thinks standing on Biblical precepts and promises is closed-minded and arrogant, so we back down. The world thinks Jesus was just some nice, namby pamby, weak-willed guy who never argued doctrine and just wanted us all to have a big group hug and get along, so we redefine ourselves to match the world's completely unbiblical view of Jesus.

But like Olan said, the church is the pillar and foundation of the church. We know the truth because God has revealed it to us in His Word, therefore we are obligated to stand firm in it. The world should NEVER influence us. It should be the other way around (that's why we are called salt and light).

God bless you, Phil! I so appreciate you!

misty said...

Oops! I meant "foundation of the truth" in that last paragraph.

Brad Williams said...

Just yesterday, Dan told me I was wrong, and I managed not to die. He even told me my exegesis was lousy. It was, actually, his willingness to be blunt with me that encouraged me to start the conversation in the first place. I didn't have to wade through twelve stages of apologies before the conversation could move forward.

stratagem said...

"During times of universal deceit, telling the truth is a revolutionary act." - George Orwell

Mike Erich the Mad Theologian said...

Moving with the doctrine of the times and not being dogmatic is not humility it is conceit. It in putting my latest inclination and idea over the word of God and even what godly Christians have believed down through the ages. It is self conceit (1 Corinthians 3:18)that causes us to be always seeking some new thing (Acts 17:21)

Sam said...

"We're supposed to refuse to be certain or dogmatic about anything."

Like genocide. Some people would have you think it is occasionally acceptable.

" It's the obstinacy of refusing to be steadfast in our conviction that the Word of the Lord is true."

Loyalty is only a good trait when our side is doing it.

"Our culture thinks rank skepticism (or even spiritual nihilism) is humility, and hipster Christians have overcontextualized themselves to the point where they seem to think that's true. "

Because human senses and human minds are not perfect. To claim that you are absolutely positive is to declare personal infallibility. Only the pope gets to do that and only about Mary.

"your worldview every few years or so"

The world is massively different than it was 100 years ago and the changes accelerate. Leaving out the moral differences, technology alone would necesitate a change in worldview.

"diversity is to be cultivated no matter what, and tolerance means never having to say "You're wrong.""

I agree with you that these are stupid. Diversity is bad when it occurs in things that have a factual basis- there is only one reality and people disagreeing means something is wrong.

As for tolerance... some cultural practices just deserve to be eradicate- widow burning conflicts with the traditional British practice of executing widow burners for example.

"There is only one true faith"

I think you mean religion (and I agree- religions are mutually exclusive).

"People like that only sow doubt and confusion"

If you have doubt, your faith is false. It does not mean your beliefs aren't true, only that the reasons you hold them are inadequate.

So those who truely understand what they believe have nothing to fear from inquisitive minds- and those who don't have everything to gain. After all, if your beliefs are true, shouldn't curiosity support them?

"What Paul was calling for is firm belief, settled assurance, confidence in the truth of God's Word, and an unwavering heart. In short, spiritual maturity. And that's not an easy thing to come by in a culture like Corinth, where the fads and fashions of this world seem to have more appeal than the eternal word of God."

That sounds alot like the reasoning behind Leninism. The need for a revolutionary vanguard that was steadfast in their belief and capable of carrying out the revolution.

Sam said...

"Bill Maher is her "guide" in this strange new journey."

Tell her to get someone who doesn't believe in the nonsense about vaccines are dangerous. It may sound innocuous, but if enough people accept it, they can get exemptions and the herd effect will be lost. Not just the kids of idiots will be affected, but those who are allergic to some of the vaccines (like I was).

Tell her Randi is a better example for learning skepticism.

"God's holiness, hatred of sin, etc...are always the doctrines in question."

Because they have the most unfortunate implications.

"The world thinks Jesus was just some nice, namby pamby, weak-willed guy who never argued doctrine"

Of course he didn't- doctrine didn't exist yet. He had to make his body of teachings first.

""During times of universal deceit, telling the truth is a revolutionary act." - George Orwell"

Deceit is never universal. What is done is telling part of the truth in such a way that the individual thinks they are being told all of it.

stratagem said...

I was having a hard time understanding the incoherent rambling until I got to the part about the vaccine allergy. Now I understand. Whew! for a second there I thought it was just me.

DJP said...

No: it is the terminally self-referential echo-chamber that is Sam Skinner's world.

Merrilee Stevenson said...

My only complaint about this post is the missing TeamPyro logo on the ice skating rink in the first picture. Did anybody else notice it's absence? Somebody must have been on vacation.

Sam said...

To stratagem and DJP (the mockery- the questions are answerable by anyone)

So witty. Are your beliefs so hollow you cannot be bothered to defend them lest they fall like a house of cards?

Are you so blind that when you hear a post declaring that self censorship is a virtue you applaud? Are you so vile you defend genocide? Are you so stupid you fail to see why saying people who kill in God's name are holy? Are you so arrogant you believe you have all the answers? And don't say "the bible provides it"- how do you know the bible is correct in the first place?

I give you a chance to deny such things and you merely claim that I am in an echo chamber- the one who bothers to go to people who are different and ask questions!

DJP said...

Touched a nerve? Excellent.

The questions themselves are actually not particularly difficult to respond to sufficiently.

Answering you in a way you will accept is impossible.

Why? The problem isn't in the answer.

It's in you: Proverbs 1:7; 14:6.

Sam said...

"Touched a nerve? Excellent."

Willful ignorance and cruelty are the two failings that are simply unforgivable.

"Answering you in a way you will accept is impossible."

"The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge: but fools despise wisdom and instruction."

"The mocker seeks wisdom and finds none, but knowledge comes easily to the discerning."

You are declaring I won't understand the bible... because the bible says I won't understand it. And how does the bible find individuals who do not understand it? Because... they don't understand it.

DJP said...

Yeah, nice try, Skinner. When you feel you're on the offensive, it's all braggadocio and chest-beating, but if someone doesn't play your game your way, you're the poor little victim. Wahh. Rough, isn't it, getting a taste of the fact that you actually aren't God?

And what a surprise, you think you alone are without unspoken presuppositions.

Tell you what, Sam. I think you've done enough self-indulgent heckling. Get serious, or bother someone else until you do.

Not a suggestion.

Sam said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
DJP said...

Sometime, it just doesn't seem to matter how brief, pointed and blunt one is.

Sam said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
DJP said...

That's right, Sam. You need to satisfy me that you are done heckling, and are about to begin something new: interaction that isn't a complete waste of our readers' time wading through inches and inches of sheer heckling.

If that doesn't suit you, there are 10,000+ sites where you can go on and on and on and on, any way you like. Pick one.

Sam said...

Than say exactly what that entails. I have honestly tried to contribute and you consider that heckling. What is not considered heckling?

DJP said...

Clever, and I admit I almost went for it. By any means, the thread stops, so we can talk about you. Not again.

You want to discuss meta manners, take it offline: filops@yahoo.com.

Now, back to the topic of Phil's post. Also not a suggestion.

Sam said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.