Irish Biblical Reformation Conference
The Irish Biblical Reformation Conference was held on Saturday 23 October, in Edenmore Golf Club, near Belfast. A record attendance heard Bible teacher and author Jerry Bridges speak on ‘The righteousness of Christ’ and ‘The work and power of the Holy Spirit’.
Jerry Bridges has authored several books, including The pursuit of holiness. During his presentation, he acknowledged his indebtedness to the Puritans for much of his thinking.
His first address, ‘The righteousness of Christ’, drew on Galatians 2. He reminded us that verse 16 states three times that no one is justified by good works, but only by the righteousness of Christ.
In justification we are counted as righteous for the sake of Christ, the righteous one (2 Corinthians 5:21). Christ took responsibility for our unrighteousness and we are made the righteousness of God in him. In the gospel, the perfect righteousness of the perfect man is credited to us. Any attempt to import the slightest dependence on our own righteousness into this arrangement destroys its efficacy.
The problem, Mr Bridges stated, is that many try to move beyond justification by faith in their experience. He reminded his audience of Robert Haldane’s teaching on Romans 5: ‘to that righteousness is the eye of the believer ever to be directed; on that righteousness must he rest … live… die, appear before judgment seat. In that righteousness must he stand forever in the presence of God’.
In Galatians 2:20 Paul reminds us that his identity is now in Christ; ‘the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God’. For Paul, justification was a present reality. He consciously stood justified before God.
B. B. Warfield stated that, ‘there is nothing in us, or done by us at any stage of our earthly development that makes us acceptable to God … this is just as true after we believe as it is when we believe’.
Jerry Bridges challenged his audience with this question – what are you looking to as the source of your acceptance with God today? We live in a performance-orientated world, which inevitably affects our thinking.
God too is performance-orientated, for ‘Cursed is everyone who does not continue in all things which are written in the book of the law, to do them’ (Galatians 3:10). But the good news is that Jesus has perfectly performed on behalf of his people!
When his book Pursuit of holiness had been published, Mr Bridges was asked to teach in a large Bible study class. During ten weeks of this, it occurred to him that ‘there was not enough gospel in this book’.
Aware that, as people pursue holiness, the Holy Spirit reveals their sin, he realised that this revelation can lead to discouragement. ‘Any pursuit of holiness’, he said, ‘must include fresh, ongoing realisation of the righteousness of Christ’. Since the awareness of guilt is an ongoing reality, only knowledge of the righteousness of Christ can defeat discouragement.
Our worship should reflect the consciousness of forgiveness. The key to the pursuit of holiness is, ‘We love him because he first loved us’. God is pleased with a ‘want to-‘, as opposed to a mere ‘ought to-‘, obedience.
In the second session, Mr Bridges spoke on ‘The work and power of the Holy Spirit’, from 2 Timothy 2:1: ‘You therefore, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus’. The verb here is present passive – ‘be continually strengthened’ – as the source of strength is from outside us. It is the power of God through Christ being applied to us by the Holy Spirit.
John Owen, in his treatise on theHoly Spirit said that everything God does, he does as the triune God. The Father purposes; the Son accomplishes; the Spirit applies. ‘The Spirit applies what Christ bestows’.
The application of the Word to us is through its author, the Holy Spirit. He works in us for holiness, first, by direct action (monergistic) apart from our conscious involvement (Hebrews 13:20-21; Psalm 119:33-37). Second, he enables us in conscious efforts (synergistic) after holiness (John 15:3-10). We must depend on the Holy Spirit, even while we must obey; we are to be both dependent and responsible.
The conference was acknowledged to be a real blessing by the many who attended. Next year’s speaker is Brian Edwards.
Dundalk Baptist Church