My name is Joseph Franks, and I serve at Horizon Presbyterian Church in Greenville, South Carolina.
Regarding my family, I have one wife and three children. To Laura, I have been married for 30 great years. She is my best friend, and we love living life and doing ministry together. My sons and daughter — Joseph, Ashlyn, and Andrew — are incredible gifts from the Lord. Everyday, I am reminded of God’s overruling, sovereign, and merciful love in regards to my clan. There is no doubt about it; I am a father reaping a much sharper harvest than I have sown. I am definitely enjoying the family which I do not deserve. I am humbled and thankful for God’s undeserved blessings in my household.
My formal education began with a B.S. in marketing from Bob Jones University. [There is no need to hold this against me. I have grown, and so too have they.] Later, I added an M. Div. from Knox Theological Seminary and a Th.M. from Westminster Theological Seminary. Courses have also been taken at Southern Evangelical Seminary, Reformed Theological Seminary, and London Theological Seminary.
For the past 28 years, I have labored in Christ’s church, and during these years I have ministered in Non-denominational, Baptist, and Presbyterian circles. North Carolina, South Carolina, Florida, and Alabama have been the states where I have served, and my experiences have included church planting, church revitalization, and two different opportunities to serve on very large staffs.
In regards to my spiritual journey, I like to tell people I have been “saved” or “reformed” four times. No, I haven’t loss my salvation three times. Perhaps I had better explain. Semper-reformanda is the story of my life.
At the age of 17, I was reformed from God’s holy, just, and deserved curse. I had received God’s Law, and it had adequately instructed me in the way I should go, However, I went astray and rebelled against God. Consequently, the Law found me guilty and condemned me. However, before I was born, the Son of God came to earth, lived for me, died for me, and called me to come follow. Consistently, I heard this truth in my home, church, school, and community. However, I was not so interested in having Jesus be my Lord and Savior. But then, at the appointed time, the sovereign Holy Spirit went to work within me. I was freshly convicted of my sin and enticed by God’s Spirit to repent, believe, and call out for reconciliation. I responded to the Spirit’s prompting with heartfelt repentance and faith, and from that point forward, I have never been the same. Instantaneously, perfectly, and eternally, I was regenerated, united, justified, adopted, filled, and forever made right in the eyes of my Heavenly Father. I became a child of God, a bride of Christ, a royal priest, and holy saint. I was reformed.
Later, at the age of 22, I was reformed from the rigors of the religious Fundamentalism that surrounded me. I had been schooled and molded in a very strict environment. Upon coming to Christ, I strove to do most of what I was taught. The consequence was that my conscience was held captive by both God’s transcultural commands and man’s cultural rules, and I did not know the difference. However, as I matured and grew in discernment, I also grew in freedom. Being schooled by the scriptures, my conscience was slowly released from needing to keep all the standards, preferences, and traditions of men. I learned that all of life is a “slippery slope.” I learned how to live in the world and not of it. I learned that nothing from without can defile a man; it was which proceeded from the heart that mattered most. I learned that change is not the same as compromise, and good Christians are free to have varying standards. Slowly, I was further reformed, and I found holiness and joy outside the tight, oppressive, subjective, superficial, and extra-biblical commandments of my well-intentioned friends.
Around the age of 27, I was reformed as I learned the correct way to hold the doctrines of scripture, God, man, salvation, the church, and many others. As I grew in the Christian faith, certain truths were understood with greater clarity. God’s revelation became more cohesive as the Old and New Testaments proved to be one great story about one great people. God’s sovereignty became larger as I learned it was his free-will that mattered most. Total depravity, as presented in the sacred text, meant that all men were dead in their sin; they were not merely sick. Man’s will was free to choose what it most desired, and this was man’s greatest problem. The sinner, left to himself, would never pursue reconciliation on God’s terms. God’s Gospel proved to be one-way or monergistic. He was the one who decreed justice to some and grace to others. He was the one who planned everything from the beginning and then providentially worked his own plan. He wrote names in his book before the beginning of time. He was the one who sent his Son. He was the one who sent his Spirit. He loved me before I loved him. He chose me before I chose him. God provided the salvation and the spiritual stimulus. All I provided was the sin and the Spirit-gifted response. In regards to Christ’s church, I began to see the wisdom of a plurality of leaders, who are connected to other churches, and built upon God’s work in the past. I guess you could say Presbyterianism was ruling the day.
Therefore, with radical zeal, I pursued becoming the ultimate churchman. I labored hard and sought to master the Bible, the original languages, the creeds, the confessions, the catechisms, Puritan writings, Reformed history, and various systematic theologies. I went to conference after conference, school after school, and accumulated degree after degree. And over the years, as my library grew, so too did my ecclesiastical ego. I think it is fair to say I thought I was advancing in orthodoxy and orthopraxy faster than many of my brothers. I was puffed up with knowledge. I was proud of my “Reformedness.” I loved being known as a Totally Reformed, Calvinistic, Westminsterian, Puritanical, Presbyterian minster. This was my glory. This was my boast.
Before this fourth reformation, I clearly understood the distinction and connection between justification and sanctification. With my evangelical brothers, I declared justification to be an instantaneous act while seeing sanctification as a progressive process. However, in my way of thinking, living, and ministering, I seemed to be missing the joy, confidence, contentment, and sabbath rest enjoyed by others. In a very real way, to myself and to others, I seemed to be giving Gospel-freedom with one hand while taking it back with the other. You see, I had grown to base my relationship with God on the quantity and quality of my covenantal performance. It was my belief that my Heavenly Father would only like me, and I could only enjoy him, as I long as I performed acceptably. Somehow, my covenant keeping with Jesus had snuck its way into Jesus’ covenant keeping for me. My good works for God had become merged with God’s’ good works for me. Legalism had snuck its way into the Gospel, and I was practicing a distorted Gospel or a non-Gospel. (Galatians 1). That being said, I highlighted certain portions of God’s Law, lessened his standard of acceptability, and embellished my practice so I could pretend to be holy, better than others, and not harmed by my very loving, very strict, always judgmental, and ever watching Heavenly Father. Yes, I was on who overestimated his righteousness, underestimated God’s Law, underestimated God’s Gospel, and was regularly missing God’s sabbath rest.
However, throughout my mid-forties, I was further reformed from my relational legalism. Some concluded I was burned out. Some assumed I was having a mid-life crisis of sorts. Some were concerned I was backsliding, slipping into error, and presenting cheap grace. However, the truth was, I was learning to love God more. I was beginning to love my neighbor in a more Christ-honoring way. Holiness was being experienced more and more, and the joy of my salvation was coming back. My friends saw my transformation. My family saw the gleam in my eye and tenderness in my voice again. I was becoming reacquainted with the Gospel of Grace. I was becoming a “Totally Reformed Grace Boy,” and it was a painfully thrilling process.
During these years, I began to better understand God’s Law. I began to stop discounting his standard of righteousness. God’s Law was holy, wise, and beautiful. However, it was also incredibly high and intensely serious. With perfect obedience of every jot and tittle, blessings were promised. However, with imperfect obedience or insolent disobedience, condemnation and curse were promised. As I began to look properly at God’s strict ordinances, they proved to be unattainable, inflexible, and unrelenting in their declaration of my sin.
It hit me, even though I was a born-again Christian, I was still totally depraved in my flesh. This sad fact would go away at my glorification, but it had not changed with my conversion. My flesh was still rank. My head was double-minded. My heart was prone to wander. Like Paul, I was a new creature who was also a wretched chief of sinners. I recognized there was no part of my natural being still unaffected by sin. Devilish tendencies still plagued my affections, thoughts, words, and deeds.
Therefore, instead of being arrogant, ignorant, self-righteous, and dismissive of my corruption, and instead thinking and praying, “God, I thank you I am not like my swindling, hedonistic, adulterous, pornographic, homosexual, alcoholic, drug-addicted, abortion-promoting, church-skipping neighbor.” I more and more cried out, “God have mercy on me a religious and moralistic sinner.” The Holy Spirit began to work greater humility into the process of my own self-assessment. It mattered not how I compared to others. It mattered not how well I was keeping my own subjective standards of righteousness. It mattered not how well I partially kept a part of God’s laws. The entirety of God’s Law was all that mattered to God, and I saw that I was perpetually guilty. As I matured in my understanding of God’s Word, I saw more sins than ever before. It seemed that for every step I grew in holiness, I grew two steps as a sinner. I wanted to sin less, but I found there was no part of me that was sinless. I could no longer see the sins of my neighbors as clearly as I once did. This was largely due to the great beam of sin found in my own eye. Prayers of repentance became deeper, longer, more frequent, and more joyful.
Then, I began to better realize God’s Gospel performance on my behalf. I was freshly reminded of his undeserved, ancient, and monergistic compassion. He wrote my name in his book before the foundation of the world, and his ink is permanent,
God’s Gospel performance included his passive atonement — he died for my sins, past, present, future, unintentional, intentional, seemingly small, or monstrously large.
His Gospel also came with his active atonement– he earned all the righteousness needed by Holy Judge and Heavenly Father. So complete and finished was his work that nothing else was required.
I began to better understand my redeemed position. I re-learned the distinction between positional sanctification, progressive sanctification, and perfect sanctification.
Perfect Sanctification: I kept before me the truth that one day I would be perfectly holy in spirit, soul, and body.
Progressive Sanctification: I recognized that until that glorious day, I was called to live in the Spirit, walk in the Spirit, keep step with the Spirit, and pray through the Spirit. Every day I was summoned and privileged to walk in accordance with the Gospel. I was a child of the King, and I was to walk with his royal swagger. Daily, I got to worship my Lover and Lord by putting sin to death and co-laboring with his Spirit who was at work in me.
Positional Sanctification: However, as I put on, put off, killed sin, stood against the devil, fled temptation, labored hard, strove with all my might, put on my armor, fought the good fight, and ran the race, I learned to daily comfort myself with God’s Gospel truth …
Regardless of my success, regardless of my day, regardless of my righteousness, regardless of my in, each and every day, I was immutably declared a “saint” by my satisfied Father in heaven. He saw not my sins, for they had all been placed on my Savior. He saw not my righteousness deficit, for Christ’s righteousness had become mine. He kept no record of my wrongs, He cast my sins into his sea of forgetfulness. United with Christ, his holiness was mine. Therefore, I could hear him say every morning, every night, and every hour of the day, “You are my Son and in you – because of Christ – I am well pleased.”
Oh, God hates sin. My sin still makes him angry. However, I learned that he will never pour out his wrath on me. Why? It is because all his disciplinary wrath was already poured out upon his own Son. Yes, my sin is still foolish, wicked, blasphemous, tragic, and very dangerous. And yes, the consequences of sinning and living foolishly are often painfully applied. And yes, my Heavenly Father has promised to disciple and discipline me because he loves me too much not to do so. However, his training is never-ever out of wrath and condemnation. Why? It is because I am his bride. I am his child. I am his righteous saint. I am his holy priest … and this has absolutely nothing to do with my sanctified performance or covenantal law-keeping. I have learned to pursue holiness, not as the grounds of keeping the relationship with him, but as a result of his relationship with me. I am learning to be saintly because I am a saint.
This reformation had ramifications for worship. I learned how to better minister, counsel, conduct services, invite to the table, and preach. Moralistic counseling and sermons, that used to be the norm for me, gave way to instruction pointing unbelievers to the Savior and believers to their affectionate Father. Sermons focused more on motivation, repentance, and inward worship than external adjustments and performance. Condemnatory and Law-laden lectures began to give way to instructions in how to enjoy and glorify the God who is filled with radical love for them. As I began to live in the indicative while praying for more success with the imperatives, I passed this along to people. And this changed the way I led God’s people in the corporate assembly. Worship became less and less about doing regulated things right that we might earn more grace. [You can’t earn grace] Instead, God’s worship service became more and more a celebration of his goodness and mercy that freely flowed to all who approached the throne and table with confidence. The worship hour became one, not when we graced God, but when he graced us. It was not the time when we benefited him, but the time when he benefited us. God’s worship service became less of a traditional ceremony and more of a celebratory means of grace. He was still high and holy. He was still to honored and reverenced. But he was the Good Father coming out to get his sons — moral and immoral — and bring them into his festive house.
Well my friends, that was long, but now you know me better. Now you understand what makes me tick and what make me write. Perhaps now you can better understand why I call myself a “Totally Reformed Grace Boy.”
Totally Reformed: I have been reformed. — again and again and again. Today, I am still being reformed. It is God’s work and my tradition. I am not afraid of this badge, and I will not allow tighter legalists to steal a good title. God is at work in my life. I have been totally reformed. I am being totally reformed. And one day, I will be totally reformed. The same is true for you if you are a brother or sister in the household of faith. And if you are not being reformed, the time has come for you to join the journey. Perhaps God might use this blog and others to transform your affections, thinking, words, and deeds. Oh friends, come join the ranks of the reformed and reforming group. Semper-reformanda needs to be your creed as well.
Grace Boy: Friends, if you have been reformed and find yourself not a Grace Boy, it is time for you to come into the Father’s house, grab the cup, and join the dance. He has sandals for your feet, rings for your fingers, clothes for your body, and food for your soul … and none of it you deserve. This is grace. This is radical grace. This is hyper-grace. It is not cheap, but it is free and abundant and without strings attached. Therefore, recognize his affection and do not let a few licentious brothers steal another good title. Come and join the celebration; drink freely of his grace and watch him finish in you that which he first began.
Facebook: Joseph A. Franks IV
Phone: (864) 286-9911