The Word became flesh

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David Mathis:

What Is the Incarnation?

The incarnation refers literally to the in-fleshing of the eternal Son of God—Jesus becoming human. The doctrine of the incarnation says that the eternal second person of the Trinity took on humanity in the person of Jesus of Nazareth. A helpful way to remember the key aspects of the incarnation is John 1:14: “The Word became flesh.”

The Word…

The Word refers to the eternal Son of God who was “in the beginning with God” and who himself is God (John 1:1). From eternity past until he took on humanity, the Son of God existed in perfect love, joy, and harmony in the fellowship of the Trinity. Like the Father and the Spirit, he was spirit and had no material substance. But at the incarnation, the eternal Word entered into creation as human. He became a first-century Jew.

…became…

Became does not mean that he ceased to be God. In becoming man, he did not forsake his divine nature. It means that he became man by taking on human nature in addition to his divine nature. It is essential to the incarnation—and very helpful throughout all theology—to recognize that divinity and humanity are not mutually exclusive. The Son of God didn’t have to pick between being God and being man. He could be both at the same time. The eternal Word became human.

…flesh.

Flesh isn’t merely a reference to the human body but the entirety of what makes up humanity—body, mind, emotions, and will. Hebrews 2:17 and 4:15 teach that to save human beings Jesus had to be made like us “in every respect” except our sin. In the incarnation, everything proper to humanity was united to the Son of God. The Son of God didn’t only become like man; he actually became truly and fully human.

The Word Became Flesh

So the eternal Son of God, without ceasing to be God, took on a fully human nature. This is the incarnation.

And what a magnificent doctrine and fuel for worship this is! Jesus didn’t just become man because he could. This was no circus stunt, just for show. He became man “for us and for our salvation” (in the words of the old creed). The Word became flesh to save us from our sin and to free us to marvel at and enjoy the unique union of divinity and humanity in his one spectacular person.

The incarnation is not only the way in which Jesus became Immanuel—God with us—but it’s an eternal testimony that he and his Father are unswervingly for us.

The incarnation of Jesus

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Joseph Scheumann:

Christmas is about the incarnation of Jesus. Strip away the season’s hustle and bustle, the trees, the cookies, the extra pounds, and what remains is a humble birth story and a simultaneously stunning reality — the incarnation of the eternal Son of God.

This incarnation, God himself becoming human, is a glorious fact that is too often neglected, or forgotten, amidst all the gifts, get-togethers, pageants, and presents. Therefore, we would do well to think deeply about the incarnation, especially on this day.

Here are five biblical truths of the incarnation.

1. The Incarnation Was Not the Divine Son’s Beginning

The virgin conception and birth in Bethlehem does not mark the beginning of the Son of God. Rather, it marks the eternal Son entering physically into our world and becoming one of us. John Murray writes, “The doctrine of the incarnation is vitiated if it is conceived of as the beginning to be of the person of Christ. The incarnation means that he who never began to be in his specific identity as Son of God, began to be what he eternally was not” (quoted in John Frame, Systematic Theology, 883).

2. The Incarnation Shows Jesus’s Humility

Jesus is no typical king. Jesus didn’t come to be served. Instead, Jesus came to serve (Mark 10:45). His humility was on full display from the beginning to the end, from Bethlehem to Golgotha. Paul glories in the humility of Christ when he writes that, “though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking on the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:6–8).

3. The Incarnation Fulfills Prophecy

The incarnation wasn’t random or accidental. It was predicted in the Old Testament and in accordance with God’s eternal plan. Perhaps the clearest text predicting the Messiah would be both human and God is Isaiah 9:6: “To us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”

In this verse, Isaiah sees a son that is to be born, and yet he is no ordinary son. His extraordinary names — Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace — point to his deity. And taken together — the son being born and his names — point to him being the God-man, Jesus Christ.

4. The Incarnation Is Mysterious

The Scriptures do not give us answers to all of our questions. Some things remain mysterious. “The secret things belong to the Lord our God,” Moses wrote, “but the things revealed belong to us and to our children forever” (Deuteronomy 29:29).

Answering how it could be that one person could be both fully God and fully man is not a question that the Scriptures focus on. The early church fathers preserved this mystery at the Council of Chalcedon (451 A.D.) when they wrote that Jesus is “recognized in two natures [God and man], without confusion, without change, without division, without separation; the distinction of natures being in no way annulled by union, but rather the characteristics of each nature being preserved and coming together to form one person and subsistence, not as parted or separated into two persons but one and the same Son and Only-begotten God the Word, Lord Jesus Christ.”

5. The Incarnation Is Necessary for Salvation

The incarnation of Jesus does not save by itself, but it is an essential link in God’s plan of redemption. John Murray explains: “[T]he blood of Jesus is blood that has the requisite efficacy and virtue only by reason of the fact that he who is the Son, the effulgence of the Father’s glory and the express image of his substance, became himself also partaker of flesh and blood and thus was able by one sacrifice to perfect all those who are sanctified” (Redemption Accomplished and Applied, 14).

And the author to the Hebrews likewise writes that Jesus “had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people” (Hebrews 2:17).

The incarnation displays the greatness of God. Our God is the eternal God who was born in a stable, not a distant, withdrawn God; our God is a humble, giving God, not a selfish, grabbing God; our God is a purposeful, planning God, not a random, reactionary God; our God is a God who is far above us and whose ways are not our ways, not a God we can put in a box and control; and our God is a God who redeems us by his blood, not a God who leaves us in our sin. Our God is great indeed!

Jesus is the Fulfillment and the Fulfiller

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“The Old Testament is an incomplete book; it is revelation developing towards a climax.  There is the constant prediction of a ‘day of the Lord,’ a consummation, a unique revelation of the power and glory of God. . . . This hope is expressed in terms of the past, yet exceeds anything experienced in the past.  There is to be a new David, but a greater than David; a new Moses but a greater than Moses; a new Elijah or Melchizedek, but one greater than those who stand out from the pages of the old records.  There is to be a greater and more wonderful tabernacling of God, as his presence comes to dwell in a new temple.  There is to be a new creation, a new Israel, redeemed, revived, a people made up of those to whom a new heart and a new spirit are given that they may love and obey their Lord.

Old Testament prophecy . . . needed only the coming of the One in whom all the prophecies of the Old Testament would be fulfilled, in whom all those themes of hope in the Old Testament would be gathered up and realized, the Fulfillment and the Fulfiller. . . .”

Francis Foulkes, “The Acts of God,” in G. K. Beale, editor, The Right Doctrine from the Wrong Texts? (Grand Rapids, 1994), pages 364-365.

(HT: Ray Ortlund)

Boss or father?

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How can the inner workings of the heart be changed from a dynamic of fear and anger to that of love, joy, and gratitude? Here is how. You need to be moved by the sight of what it cost to bring you home. The key difference between a Pharisee and a believer in Jesus is inner-heart motivation. Pharisees are being good but out of a fear-fueled need to control God. They don’t really trust him or love him. To them God is an exacting boss, not a loving father. Christians have seen something that has transformed their hearts toward God so they can finally love and rest in the Father.

— Tim Keller The Prodigal God (New York, NY: Dutton, 2008), 86

(HT: Of First Importance)

Jesus is the Key to the Bible

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J. C. Ryle:

In every part of both Testaments, Christ is to be found – dimly and indistinctly at the beginning – more clearly and plainly in the middle – fully and completely at the end – but really and substantially everywhere.

Christ’s sacrifice and death for sinners, and Christ’s kingdom and future glory, are the light we must bring to bear on any book of Scripture we read…

Some people complain that they do not understand the Bible. And the reason is very simple. They do not use the key. To them the Bible is like the hieroglyphics in Egypt. It is a mystery, just because they do not know and employ the key.

In the last place, read the Bible with Christ continually in view. The grand primary object of all Scripture is to testify to Jesus.

  • Old Testament ceremonies are shadows of Christ.
  • Old Testament judges and deliverers are types of Christ.
  • Old Testament history shows the world’s need of Christ.
  • Old Testament prophecies are full of Christ’s sufferings, and of Christ’s glory yet to come.

The first advent and the second, the Lord’s humiliation and the Lord’s kingdom, the cross and the crown, shine forth everywhere in the Bible. Keep fast hold on this clue, if you would read the Bible aright.

(HT: Trevin Wax)

The Grand Secret of Becoming “Thoroughly Christian”

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Tony Reinke:

Whether it’s getting free from our worldly sin, or getting free from the shackles of self-righteousness, our solution is found in one “grand secret,” writes Jonathan Edwards (Works, 20:90–91):

There is a twofold weanedness from the world. One is a having the heart beat off or forced off from the world by affliction, and especially by spiritual distresses and disquietudes of conscience that the world can’t quiet; this may be in men, while natural men. The other is a having the heart drawn off by being shown something better, whereby the heart is really turned from it.

So in like manner, there is a twofold bringing a man off from his own righteousness: one is a being beat or forced off by convictions of conscience, the other is a being drawn off by the sight of something better, whereby the heart is turned from that way of salvation by our own righteousness. . . .

In these things, in renouncing the world to trust in Christ only as the means and fountain of our happiness, and in renouncing our own righteousness to trust alone in his righteousness, lies the grand secret of being thorough Christians.

Stirring up delight in God

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Tim Challies:

I continue to enjoy and benefit from Prone to Wander, a new book of prayers that was inspired by The Valley of Vision. This week I found a prayer meant to stir up delight in God, and to seek forgiveness for when we did not delight in him. Here it is.

Almighty Lord,

We find great delight in your creation and the good things you have given us to enjoy, but we rarely spend time delighting in you. We tend to enjoy you when you give us what we want, but we become anxious, fretful, and angry when life is hard and you seem unwilling to rescue us from uncomfortable or painful circumstances. We spend many days haunted by guilty fears over the sins that we have committed, forgetting the wounds that will forever scar the hands of your Son, and that plead forgiveness for us every moment of every day. We fail to bear grief and shame patiently, because we forget that you alone are our stronghold in times of trouble, and you are working all things together for our good. Father, forgive us.

We thank you for your radiant and beautiful Son, who delighted in you above all else and perfectly committed all his ways to your sovereign will. We praise you that his flawless obedience is ours through faith, and we are forever reconciled to you as your beloved children. Instead of trying to escape discomfort, Jesus chose the pathway of excruciating pain in order to purchase us. In the tomb he waited patiently for you, trusting in you for his salvation. You delivered him from death, making a showcase of his righteousness and your justice, investing him with great honor and glory. He took refuge in you, and you exalted his name above every other name. Thank you for uniting us to Christ and for loving us in the very same way that you love him.

Father, cause us to find overwhelming delight in the salvation you have given us through Christ. Stir our weak souls to arise and shake off the fearful guilt we cling to with stubborn pride. Open our eyes more and more to see our great High Priest, crushed for us, and now pleading for us before your throne. May we treasure his love and believe with all our hearts that nothing can separate us from it, not even the sin with which we continue to struggle. Give us such great confidence in the gospel that we run joyfully to you in the midst of our weakness, to hear your pardoning voice and feel the ardent and passionate embrace of our true Father. Amen.

The gospel will always remain strange to us

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To the extent that we remains pilgrims in this life, the gospel will remain strange even to us. Until the day we die, we will struggle to believe the bad news and Good News that God announces to us. We do not just naturally think that we are born in sin, spiritually dead, helpless, and unable to lift a finger to save ourselves or impress a holy God. As a result, it does not just occur to us that our greatest need is to be redeemed, justified, regenerated, sanctified, and glorified by God’s saving work in his Son and by his Spirit.

If the ‘Good News’ that we proclaim is determined by what we already know—or think we know—it isn’t really news. Limited to whatever we already think is relevant, practical, and useful, the message will never be surprising, disorienting, and troubling. It can never throw us off balance or cause us reevaluate our priorities and interpretations of reality.

— Michael Horton The Gospel-Driven Life (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2009), 19

(HT: Of First Importance)

A “Dull Preacher” is a Contradiction

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D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones:

The preacher must never be dull, and he must never be boring; he should never be what is called ‘heavy’… Thisi s to me a very serious matter; there is something radically wrong with dull and boring preachers.

How can a man be dull when he is handling such themes? I would say that a “dull preacher” is a contradiction in terms; if he is dull he is not a preacher. He may stand in a pulpit and talk, but he is certainly not a preacher.

With the grand theme and message of the Bible dullness is impossible. This is the most interesting, the most thrilling, the most absorbing subject in the universe; and the idea that this can be presented in a dull manner makes me seriously doubt whether the men who are guilty of this dullness have ever really understood the doctrine they claim to believe, and which they advocate.

We often betray ourselves by our manner.

– from Preachers and Preaching100-101.

(HT: Trevin Wax)

Chosen, holy, loved

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The gospel of Christ’s painful death on our behalf has a way of breaking our pride and our sense of rightful demands and our frustration at not getting our way. It works lowliness into our souls. Then we treat each other with meekness flowing out of that lowliness.

The battle is with our own proud, self-centered inner person. Fight that battle by faith, through the gospel, in prayer. Be stunned and broken and built up and made glad and humble because you are chosen, holy, loved.

— John Piper This Momentary Marriage (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2009), 56

(HT: Of First Importance)

Should a Christian Pray in Tongues?

 

5 Ugly Qualities of the Anti-Elder

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Tim Challies:

It is tragic but undeniable: There are many, many people in positions of church leadership who should not be in positions of church leadership. There are many pastors who should not be pastors, many elders who have no business being elders.

This is not a new problem. In the pages of the New Testament both Paul and Peter labor to describe the man who is qualified to the office of elder. It is noteworthy that almost all of these qualifications are related to character. Where we are drawn to outward skill, God cares far more for inward character. There are millions of men who are great teachers and great leaders and great C.E.O.’s, but still completely unsuited to leadership in the church. God’s standards are very, very different.

In the book of Titus, Paul writes to a young man and charges him to appoint elders in every church in Crete. He tells him what kind of man to look for and as he does this he gives a glimpse of the anti-elder, the kind of man who may seek the office but who is absolutely unsuited to it. Paul offers 5 anti-qualifications, 5 things an elder must not be. He may not display all of these traits, but he will display at least some of them.

Here are the 5 qualities of the anti-elder:

The anti-elder is a dictator. Paul says, “He must not be arrogant.” The anti-elder is marked by arrogance and aggression, and therefore he makes decisions that are to his own advantage rather than to the advantage of the people in his care. He has a kind of unrestrained ambition that causes him to run over people rather than care for them. Instead of listening carefully and leading gently, he cuts people off and demands that he have his own way. The anti-elder is a dictator over his own little dominion.

The anti-elder is short-fused. “He must not be … quick-tempered.” The anti-elder has a hot temper and a quick temper. He lives by his passions, and refuses to exhibit any kind of mastery over his anger. Instead of leading in love, he leads through fear and when people get in his way, he explodes at them. All the while he justifies his anger by his ambition or his sense of calling, convincing himself that anyone who hinders him is actually hindering the Lord.

The anti-elder is an addict. “He must not be … a drunkard.” The anti-elder is addicted to alcohol or other addicting substances. He has surrendered control of his life to some kind of substance, over-using it, and eventually becoming dependent upon it. But as an arrogant and quick-tempered man, he will not allow others to speak to his sin or curb him from his sin. He is addicted, but still considers himself suited to ministry.

The anti-elder is a bully. “He must not be … violent.” The anti-elder bullies and abuses other people in order to get his way. He is a brawler, a man who is itching for a fight, willing to use force to get his own way. He will bully people with his words or even his fists. He will use force of personality or the strength of his position to coerce people to do his will, and to be domineering over them. Rather than using the Word to gently lead and guide people, he uses the Bible to bully them and to force them to do his bidding. He is an abuser.

The anti-elder is greedy. “He must not be … greedy for gain.” The anti-elder is greedy for financial gain. For this man pastoral ministry is not a calling and not a means through which he can serve God by serving God’s people; rather, ministry is a means to personal enrichment. He demands an exorbitant salary, and hops from church-to-church to climb the financial ladder. He does not regard his congregation as people God has entrusted to his care, but as marks through which he can enrich himself. The anti-elder loves his paycheck more than his people.

Alongside this anti-elder Paul holds up the elder, the real elder, the called and qualified elder who is different in every way. He is a man who is above reproach, who loves to extend generous hospitality, who loves what is good, who exhibits self-control, who is upright, and holy, and disciplined, and who holds fast to the truth revealed to us by God. He is a man who subjects his entire life to God and who serves him humbly and faithfully.

A real coronation

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“When Christ uttered, in the judgment hall of Pilate, the remarkable words – ‘I am a king,’ he pronounced a sentiment fraught with unspeakable dignity and power.  His enemies might deride his pretensions and express their mockery of his claim by presenting him with a crown of thorns, a reed and a purple robe, and nailing him to the cross; but in the eyes of unfallen intelligences, he was a king.  A higher power presided over that derisive ceremony and converted it into a real coronation.  That crown of thorns was indeed the diadem of empire; that purple robe was the badge of royalty; that fragile reed was the symbol of unbounded power; and that cross the throne of dominion which shall never end.”

J. L. Reynolds, quoted in Mark Dever, The Church: The Gospel Made Visible (Nashville, 2012), page 77, footnote 33.

(HT: Ray Ortlund)

What Is the Heartbeat of Reformed Theology?

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Jason Helopoulos:

What is the heartbeat of Reformed Theology? Some would point to the Doctrines of Grace (Five Points of Calvinism) and others to the Solas of the Reformation. Still others may be inclined to assert that it is the sovereignty of God or union with Christ. All of these are good answers, but if I was pressed to articulate the one thing that drives Reformed Theology, I would reply that it is the glory of God as revealed in the Scriptures:

  • We emphasize reliance upon the Scriptures because observing the rule He has given for faith and practice ascribes glory to God.
  • We emphasize the sovereignty of God because a theology rooted in His supremacy ascribes glory to God.
  • We emphasize the distinction between Creator and creature because a right understanding of His “otherness” ascribes glory to God.
  • We emphasize the sinfulness of man because recognizing His unfathomable grace ascribes glory to God.
  • We emphasize the inability of man in salvation because accentuating His mercy ascribes glory to God.
  • We emphasize predestination and election because distinguishing He is a God who freely chooses ascribes glory to God.
  • We emphasize prayer because faithful dependence ascribes glory to God.
  • We emphasize the preached Word because listening to His voice ascribes glory God.
  • We emphasize the sacraments because participating in these gifts to the church ascribes glory to God.
  • We emphasize holiness in the Christian life because being conformed to the likeness of Christ ascribes glory to God.
  • We emphasize daily quiet times because seeking Him in private worship ascribes glory to God.
  • We emphasize worship in our homes, because centering our homes upon Christ ascribes glory to God.
  • We emphasize Lord’s Day corporate worship, because gathering with the bride of Christ ascribes glory to God.
  • We emphasize preaching Christ from all the Scriptures because maintaining the centrality of Christ ascribes glory to God.
  • We emphasize providence because trusting in Him for all things ascribes glory to God.
  • We emphasize missions because spreading His fame throughout all the earth ascribes glory to God.
  • We emphasize theological rigor because worshipping God with all our mind, heart, and soul ascribes glory to God.
  • We emphasize the covenants because treasuring God’s faithfulness ascribes glory to God.
  • We emphasize the pilgrimage of the Christian life because seeking Christ above beauty ascribes glory to God.
  • We emphasize that the treasure of heaven is Christ because observing there is nothing better ascribes glory to God.
  • We emphasize conversion because calling men, women, and children to faith in Christ ascribes glory to God.
  • We emphasize common grace because recognizing that all good things come from above ascribes glory to God.
  • We emphasize the local church, because as the appointed bride of the Son ascribes glory to God.
  • We emphasize union with Christ in salvation because seeing every aspect of our salvation in relation to Christ (as the Scriptures do) ascribes glory to God.

What is the heartbeat of Reformed Theology? I wouldn’t feel the need to argue with someone who would suggest it is the Doctrines of Grace, union with Christ, or even the Solas of the Reformation. Yet, I think it is more accurate to say that Reformed theology is a system of doctrine that seeks to rightly articulate the teaching of the Scriptures for the glory of God. It is His glory that is our heartbeat, propels us to action, and the reward that we seek after.

Which is better: Justification or Sanctification?

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Why do we love justification and sanctification? And do we love one more than the other?
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If you’ve ever been in a position where you think you might die, your theology really begins to matter, and you learn a great deal about yourself and what you believe.
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A legalistic type of Christian probably needs to be confronted with the reality that he or she will die. When that reality hits, Christ’s righteousness and God’s mercy are no longer just doctrines to live by, but truths to die by. That is why justification by faith alone is a doctrine worth dying for: people need to die believing that truth.
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The Puritan (ahem), Anthony Burgess, while vigorously opposing antinomianism, nevertheless suggested that the doctrine of justification, unlike any other, inclines God’s people to increased humility and self-emptiness, “for by this we are taught even in the highest degree of our sanctification, to look out of ourselves for a better righteousness.”
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We are never so holy as to think that there isn’t a better righteousness than our own. If we did not possess an “alien” righteousness, that perfectly answers to the demands of God’s law, the Christian life would be pure misery.
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Nonetheless, Robert Murray M’Cheyne – a particularly godly person – made the comment that sanctification is “the better half of salvation.”
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He is echoing a point made by another Scot, Samuel Rutherford.
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Rutherford asks the question, whether Christ should be more loved for justification or sanctification? Rutherford claimed to love Christ more for the latter, because “it is greater love in him to sanctify than to justify.” For in sanctification we are made like Jesus, i.e., conformed to his image (Rom. 8:29).
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In his provocative way of writing, Rutherford asserts:
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Let a sinner, if possible, lie in hell for ever. If God makes him truly holy, and lets him stay there burning in love to God, rejoicing in the Holy Spirit, hanging on to Christ by faith and hope, then that is Heaven to that saint in the bottom of hell.
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Such is the blessing of Christ-likeness, according to Rutherford. But I’m not quite with M’Cheyne and Rutherford. Perhaps their godliness – and the fact they were Scots – explains their view.
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Personally, I am so thankful for my right standing with God because, after all, my sanctification is more imagined than real. But my justification is more real than imagined.
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And if you ask me which blessing I love most right now, the answer is easy: union with Christ. For, in him, I have everything, so that I don’t really need to decide whether I love justification or sanctification more than another. I’m comforted, primarily, by the fact that I belong to Christ and his work for me and in me will not fail.
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When it comes to Christ himself, we may ask, which is more present in him? The truth is, he is both – and always has been – perfectly justified and sanctified, even now in Heaven. The Father declares him righteous (Matt. 3:17; 1 Tim. 3:16; Rom. 1:4), the Spirit makes him righteous (Gal. 5:22). And that is my hope: that one day I will be like him: perfect in every way (i.e., glorified).

The Holy Spirit in Your Marriage

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Tim & Kathy Keller:

Without the help of the Spirit, without a continual refilling of your soul’s tank with the glory and love of the Lord, such submission to the interests of the other is virtually impossible to accomplish for any length of time without becoming resentful. I call this “love economics.” You can only afford to be generous if you actually have some money in the bank to give. In the same way, if your only source of love and meaning is your spouse, then anytime he or she fails you, it will not just cause grief but a psychological cataclysm.

If, however, you know something of the work of the Spirit in your life, you have enough love “in the bank” to be generous to your spouse even when you are not getting much affection or kindness at the moment.

To have a marriage that sings requires a Spirit-created ability to serve, to take yourself out of the center, to put the needs of others ahead of your own. The Spirit’s work of making the gospel real to the heart weakens the self-centeredness in the soul. It is impossible for us to make major headway against self-centeredness and move into a stance of service without some kind of supernatural help.

The deep happiness that marriage can bring, then, lies on the far side of sacrificial service in the power of the Spirit. That is, you only discover your own happiness after each of you has put the happiness of your spouse ahead of your own, in a sustained way, in response to what Jesus has done for you.

– from The Meaning of Marriage

(HT: Trevin Wax)

The way to a satisfying knowledge of God

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“Sound Bible exposition is an imperative ‘must’ in the church of the living God.  Without it no church can be a New Testament church in any strict meaning of that term.  But exposition may be carried on in such way as to leave the hearers devoid of any true spiritual nourishment whatever.  For it is not mere words that nourish the soul, but God himself, and unless and until the hearers find God in personal experience they are not the better for having heard the truth.  The Bible is not an end in itself, but a means to bring men to an intimate and satisfying knowledge of God.”

A. W. Tozer, The Pursuit of God (London, 1967), pages 9-10.

(HT: Ray Ortlund)

In the world, but not of it

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Taken from John Piper’s post on voting. I have reproduced the teaching from 1Corinthians only. You can read the whole post here, including his topical application.

What kind of attitude we are to have as Christians, living in this world, because “the present form of this world is passing away” and, in God’s eyes, “the time has grown very short.” Here’s the way Paul puts it:

The appointed time has grown very short. From now on, let those who have wives live as though they had none, and those who mourn as though they were not mourning, and those who rejoice as though they were not rejoicing, and those who buy as though they had no goods, and those who deal with the world as though they had no dealings with it. For the present form of this world is passing away. (1 Corinthians 7:29–31)

1. “Let those who have wives live as though they had none.”

This doesn’t mean move out of the house, don’t have sex, and don’t call herHoney. Earlier in this chapter Paul says, “The husband should give to his wife her conjugal rights” (1 Corinthians 7:3). He also says to love her the way Christ loved the church, leading and providing and protecting (Ephesians 5:25–30). It means this: Marriage is momentary. It’s over at death, and there is no marriage in the resurrection. Wives and husbands are second priorities, not first. Christ is first. Marriage is for making much of him.

It means: If she is exquisitely desirable, beware of desiring her more than Christ. And if she is deeply disappointing, beware of being hurt too much. This is temporary—only a brief lifetime. Then comes the never-disappointing life which is life indeed.

2. “Let those who mourn [do so] as though they were not mourning.”

Christians mourn with real, deep, painful mourning, especially over losses—loss of those we love, loss of health, loss of a dream. These losses hurt. We cry when we are hurt. But we cry as though not crying. We mourn knowing we have not lost something so valuable we cannot rejoice in our mourning. Our losses do not incapacitate us. They do not blind us to the possibility of a fruitful future serving Christ. The Lord gives and takes away. But he remains blessed. And we remain hopeful in our mourning.

3. “Let those who rejoice [do so] as though they were not rejoicing.”

Christians rejoice in health (James 5:13) and in sickness (James 1:2). There are a thousand good and perfect things that come down from God that call forth the feeling of happiness. Beautiful weather. Good friends who want to spend time with us. Delicious food and someone to share it with. A successful plan. A person helped by our efforts.

But none of these good and beautiful things can satisfy our soul. Even the best cannot replace what we were made for, namely, the full experience of the risen Christ (John 17:24). Even fellowship with him here is not the final and best gift. There is more of him to have after we die (Philippians 1:21–23)—and even more after the resurrection. The best experiences here are foretastes. The best sights of glory are through a mirror dimly. The joy that rises from these previews does not and should not rise to the level of the hope of glory. These pleasures will one day be as though they were not. So we rejoice remembering this joy is a foretaste, and will be replaced by a vastly better joy.

4. “Let those who buy [do so] as though they had no goods.”

Let Christians keep on buying while this age lasts. Christianity is not withdrawal from business. We are involved, but as though not involved. Business simply does not have the weight in our hearts that it has for many. All our getting and all our having in this world is getting and having things that are not ultimately important. Our car, our house, our books, our computers, our heirlooms—we possess them with a loose grip. If they are taken away, we say that in a sense we did not have them. We are not here to possess. We are here to lay up treasures in heaven.

This world matters. But it is not ultimate. It is the stage for living in such a way to show that this world is not our God, but that Christ is our God. It is the stage for using the world to show that Christ is more precious than the world.

5. “Let those who deal with the world [do so] as though they had no dealings with it.”

Christians should deal with the world. This world is here to be used. Dealt with. There is no avoiding it. Not to deal with it is to deal with it that way. Not to weed your garden is to cultivate a weedy garden. Not to wear a coat in Minnesota is to freeze—to deal with the cold that way. Not to stop when the light is red is to spend your money on fines or hospital bills and deal with the world that way. We must deal with the world.

But as we deal with it, we don’t give it our fullest attention. We don’t ascribe to the world the greatest status. There are unseen things that are vastly more precious than the world. We use the world without offering it our whole soul. We may work with all our might when dealing with the world, but the full passions of our heart will be attached to something higher—Godward purposes. We use the world, but not as an end in itself. It is a means. We deal with the world in order to make much of Christ.