The holiness we need awaits us in Christ

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Christ is our holiness in the same sense in which he is our righteousness. He is a complete and all-sufficient Saviour. He does not accomplish his work halfway but saves us really and completely. He does not rest until, after pronouncing his acquittal in our conscience, he has also imparted full holiness and glory to us.

By his righteousness, accordingly, he does not just restore us to the state of the just who will go scot-free in the judgment of God, in order then to leave us to ourselves to reform ourselves after God’s image and to merit eternal life. But Christ has accomplished everything. He bore for us the guilt and punishment of sin, placed himself under the law to secure eternal life for us, and then arose from the grave to communicate himself to us in all his fullness for both our righteousness and sanctification (1 Cor. 1:30). The holiness that must completely become ours therefore fully awaits us in Christ.

— Herman Bavinck
Reformed Dogmatics
(Grand Rapids, Mi.: Baker Academic, 2008), 4:248

(HT: Of First Importance)

Laying A Gospel Foundation, But Not Building Anything

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Trevin Wax:

If you read books or go to conferences with the word “gospel” in them, you’re likely to hear phrases like this:

“The gospel is not the ABC’s, but the A to Z of salvation.”
“We never move beyond the gospel; we move deeper into the gospel.”
“The gospel is not just what we need at the beginning of the Christian life; it’s what we need to sustain our Christian life.”

I agree with each of these statements and have said similar things before. I believe you can back up these statements with Scripture, the manner in which the biblical authors seek to foster spiritual growth among the early Christians.

What About Hebrews and Leaving the Basic Gospel Message?

But if there’s one passage that should give the gospel-centered movement pause, it’s Hebrews 6:1-3. After challenging a lack of maturity on the part of his hearers (they want milk when they should be eating solid food), the author says this:

Therefore, leaving the elementary message about the Messiah, let us go on to maturity, not laying again the foundation of repentance from dead works, faith in God, teaching about ritual washings, laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment. And we will do this if God permits.

The logic of the passage seems to work against what the gospel-centered slogans say. The writer connects “going on to maturity” with “leaving the elementary message about the Messiah.”

What elementary message are we talking about? The author lists six fundamental doctrines of the Christian faith:

  • Repentance from dead works and faith in God is a good description of the conversion experience. We repent of sin and believe in Christ.
  • Ritual washings and laying on of hands probably refer to baptism and what it means to be empowered by the Holy Spirit to do good deeds.
  • Then there are the basic beliefs in eternal realities, bodily resurrection for the faithful and eternal judgment for the wicked.

To counter the idea that we should keep going back to the gospel, some might say: “See? These fundamental doctrines are just for the beginning of the Christian life. Once we get the basics down, we can move on. If we keep coming back to these, we will stunt our spiritual growth.”

Leaving and Building

There’s a legitimate concern here, but I don’t think this is what the author meant by the word “leaving.” Notice he uses the example of laying a foundation. If we’re going to follow the logic of his construction metaphor, we come to this conclusion: You don’t leave the foundation; you build on the foundation.

So, it’s not that the author sees these doctrines as something you move past. No, he sees them as the foundation of everything that follows.

God doesn’t intend for you to move past the gospel or the basics of Christianity; He intends you to build your life on the gospel and the basics of Christianity.

Furthermore, as Bobby Jamieson points out, if we are to take into consideration the author’s own example, this word about leaving behind “the elementary message” is immediately followed by several chapters where we wade in the deep pools of gospel truth regarding Christ’s identity as our High Priest and perfect sacrifice. Whatever “leaving behind the elementary message” means, it can’t mean moving past the good news of Christ’s work, or the author has contradicted himself.

A Warning To Be Heeded

There is, however, a warning for the gospel-centered movement here. It’s a warning against being so excited about the foundation of Christianity that we fail to do anything with the good news we’ve been given.

Imagine a congregation that is about to start a building program, but the people are so fascinated with the concrete slab that they never erect the walls and put the roof on. They just gather and sit on the concrete slab. That’s spiritual stuntedness. And that’s a good picture of what the Hebrew audience here is like. They’ve laid a good foundation, but they’re not building anything! They’re like construction workers who are having a coffee break that never ends, always admiring the foundation that’s been laid, but never getting on with the structure.

Gospel-Centered Talk and the Church’s Missional Actions

The gospel-centered movement will enter a Hebrews 6 phase of immaturity if all our talk about the rudimentary doctrines of the Christian faith becomes just that: talk. Gospel-centrality is not a simple rehearsal of basic facts week to week; it is seeing the gospel as central to everything else, and then moving on to maturity by building our lives, our ministries, our mission on it.

God’s people will never be missional if all we do is sit around and inspect the foundation. No, the mission requires people who are grounded in the truth, empowered by the Spirit, and who are fueled and shaped by the cruciform love of Christ.

Gospel-centrality is not sitting back and admiring what Christ has done. It’s building on His foundation with faith in God’s grace – past, present, and future.

The greatest personal question ever asked

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“Justification by faith is an answer to the greatest personal question ever asked by a human soul: ‘How shall I be right with God? How do I stand in God’s sight? With what favor does he look upon me?’ There are those, I admit, who never raise that question. There are those who are concerned with the question of their standing before men but never with the question of their standing before God. There are those who are interested in what ‘people say’ but not in the question of what God says. Such men, however, are not those who move the world. They are apt to go with the current. They are apt to do as others do. They are not the heroes who change the destinies of the race. The beginning of true nobility comes when a man ceases to be interested in the judgment of men and becomes interested in the judgment of God.”

J. Gresham Machen, in God Transcendent (Edinburgh, 1982), pages 89-90.

(HT: Ray Ortlund)

Three Ways Our Deeds Relate to Our Salvation

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John Piper:

One effect of close attention to Scripture is that sweeping generalizations become problematic. This is notably true of the way our works (including our attitudes and words and behavior) relate to our salvation.

The biblical texts relating to this issue are many and diverse, but not contradictory. If you take any one of them and treat it as the whole picture, you will almost surely lead people astray.

For example, Paul rejoices that we are “justified by faith apart from works of the law” (Romans 3:28). I take that to mean that anything we bring to Christ other than faith has no part in the ground (Christ) or the instrument (faith) of our justification. This is a glorious truth, and our life hangs on it.

But if we carelessly speak of justification as having no relationship to works, or if we generalize about salvation being apart from works of the law, we lead people away from the Scriptures.

Toward More Clarity

Justification does have a relationship with works. It secures the removal of God’s wrath so that his Spirit flows freely in a union where works are possible and necessary.

And salvation is a larger reality than justification. Justification is one aspect of salvation. There are other aspects of it that are not “apart from works” but are, in fact, dependent upon (though not merited by) works.

I invite you to ponder the following three ways to speak of our works in relationship to our salvation. And if you agree that these are biblical, let’s strive to speak with the kind of care that does not nullify one when affirming another.

1. Jesus Is Our Righteousness

When we are united to Christ by faith alone, God counts Christ’s perfect deeds as ours. He is our righteousness (1 Corinthians 1:30). Thus, in a real sense, we have performed perfectly in Christ the good deeds required of us (Matthew 5:48; James 2:10). Christ’s deeds are counted as ours. On this basis, God may be trusted, from the point of faith forward, as 100% for us.

  • For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. (2 Corinthians 5:21)
  • Because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption. (1 Corinthians 1:30)
  • That I may be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith. (Philippians 3:9)

2. We Work Out Our Salvation

In union with Christ by faith alone, as we enjoy God’s being 100% for us, we now, by the power of the Holy Spirit (Romans 8:13), through faith in God’s future grace (2 Thessalonians 1:11–12; 1 Corinthians 15:10), “work out our salvation” (Philippians 2:13), bearing “the fruit of the Spirit” (Galatians 5:22), in a life of practical righteousness, and we thus confirm our saving faith, and our union with Christ, and in this way obtain the inheritance of salvation. Our inheritance is not earned by our lived-out righteousness (Romans 8:15–17; Galatians 4:7), but belonging to the family and being an heir is confirmed by it.

  • If by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. (Romans 8:13)
  • God will render to each one according to his works: to those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life. (Romans 2:6–7)
  • Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life. (Galatians 6:7–8)
  • I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things [the works of the flesh] will not inherit the kingdom of God. (Galatians 5:21)
  • Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. (1 Corinthians 6:9–10)

3. God Will Reward Our Good Works

United to Christ by faith alone, enjoying God’s being 100% for us, and walking in practical obedience by faith in his future grace (2 Corinthians 9:8), not self-reliance (Hebrews 13:21; Philippians 2:12–13), we “serve the Lord Christ” (Colossians 3:24), and “make it our aim to please the Lord” (2 Corinthians 5:9; Philippians 4:18; Colossians 1:10; 1 Thessalonians 4:1), “not by the way of eye-service, as people-pleasers, but . . . doing the will of God from the heart,” so that we will receive back from the Lord varying degrees of reward corresponding to the good we have done. These rewards are not earned, but freely given in response to our “works of faith” (1 Thessalonians 1:3; 2 Thessalonians 1:11), that is, works that rely on God’s grace so that, when we are done, we say, “I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me” (1 Corinthians 15:10). Thus God rewards the kinds of works that call attention to his all-sufficiency (2 Corinthians 9:8).

  • For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil. (2 Corinthians 5:10)
  • I will give to each of you according to your works. (Revelation 2:23)
  • For the Son of Man is going to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay each person according to what he has done. (Matthew 16:27)
  • Bondservants, do the will of God from the heart, rendering service with a good will as to the Lord and not to man, knowing that whatever good anyone does, this he will receive back from the Lord. (Ephesians 6:5–8)
  • There is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars; for star differs from star in glory. So is it with the resurrection of the dead. (1 Corinthians 15:41–42)
  • Well done, good servant! Because you have been faithful in a very little, you shall have authority over ten cities [and another over five]. (Luke 19:17)
  • The one who receives a prophet because he is a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward, and the one who receives a righteous person because he is a righteous person will receive a righteous person’s reward. And whoever gives one of these little ones even a cup of cold water because he is a disciple, truly, I say to you, he will by no means lose his reward. (Matthew 10:41–42)
  • Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance. You are serving the Lord Christ. (Colossians 3:23–24)

If this thought of varying degrees of reward and happiness in the age to come is new to you, and you would like to hear one of the most profound descriptions of it, I once recorded a section from Jonathan Edwards who explains it beautifully.

Concluding Takeaways

The upshot of this is:

1. Let us speak with the same degree of differentiation that the Bible does about our works and our justification and our entrance into the final kingdom and our rewards there.

2. Let us glory in the gospel that no works we perform are the ground of our justification.

3. Let us be “diligent to confirm our calling and election” (2 Peter 1:10) by the love we show in the power of the Spirit.

4. In all our vocations, let us work heartily as to the Lord, knowing that “whatever good anyone does, this he will receive back from the Lord.”

Israel, Gaza, ‘divine right’, and John Piper

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Matt Smethurst:

The Story: Palestinian leaders have called for a “day of rage” in the West Bank today after a Gaza school being used as a United Nations shelter was hit. The Palestinian government claims the Israeli strike killed 16 people and injured more than 200. This marks the 18th consecutive day of back-and-forth violence between Israelis and Hamas militants in the Middle East, a seemingly intractable wave of conflict that has already claimed more than 800 (mostly civilian) lives.

Meanwhile, thousands of evangelical Christians flocked to Washington, D.C., for a Christians United for Israel (CUFI) summit earlier this week. “When you turn against Israel you have lost your moral compass,” founder John Hagee told the gathered crowd. Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu (in a recorded video message) and Israeli ambassador to the United States Ron Dermer also addressed the summit. With nearly 1.75 million members, CUFI claims to be the largest pro-Israel organization in the United States.

Such events in the Middle East and in America raise typical and vital questions. Does Israel possess a “divine right” to the Promised Land? What is the “Promised Land,” anyway? The interminable Israeli–Palestinian conflict has always been freighted with biblical significance; Israel, after all, didn’t dub a former anti-Hamas campaign “Operation Pillar of Cloud” for nothing.

The Background: Ten years ago John Piper, then pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis, delivered a sermon from Romans 11:25–32 titled “Israel, Palestine, and the Middle East.” In it, he offered seven principles concerning the ever-contentious issue of “the Land”:

1. God chose Israel from all the peoples of the world to be his own possession.

2. The Land was part of the inheritance he promised to Abraham and his descendants forever.

3. The promises made to Abraham, including the promise of the Land, will be inherited as an everlasting gift only by true, spiritual Israel, not disobedient, unbelieving Israel.

4. Jesus Christ has come into the world as the Jewish Messiah, and his own people rejected him and broke covenant with their God.

5. Therefore, the secular state of Israel today may not claim a present divine right to the Land, but they and we should seek a peaceful settlement not based on present divine rights, but on international principles of justice, mercy, and practical feasibility.

6. By faith in Jesus Christ, the Jewish Messiah, Gentiles become heirs of the promise of Abraham, including the promise of the Land.

7. Finally, this inheritance of Christ’s people will happen at the Second Coming of Christ to establish his kingdom, not before; and till then, we Christians must not take up arms to claim our inheritance; but rather lay down our lives to share our inheritance with as many as we can.

Why It Matters: Regardless of where you land theologically or politically, the events of the past two weeks mark yet another distressing development in the Israeli–Palestinian saga. This is a prime opportunity to pray. Pray for the Israelis, image-bearers of God, that they’d search the Scriptures and find life in the Savior (John 5:39–40, 46). May they discover that the meeting point between God and man is no longer a place—whether reconstructed temple or geographical acreage—but a risen and reigning and soon returning Person (John 4:21–26).

Pray too for the Palestinians, image-bearers of God, that they’d turn in droves to Jesus the King. Pray particularly for our Palestinian brothers and sisters in the faith; there are, after all, far more Palestinian Christians in the Middle East than the news headlines imply.

May the Prince of Peace reveal what’s been hidden (Luke 19:41–42) and bring everlasting shalom to a Land flowing with blood and hate—with little milk and honey to be found.

Living in the light of the end of all things

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Sam Storms:

It is widely reported (but may not be true) that the great 16th century Protestant reformer, Martin Luther, once said: “If I knew for sure that Jesus was coming back tomorrow, I’d plant a tree today.”

Luther wasn’t trying to be cute, nor did he think that his words were contradictory. He was simply pointing out that no amount of speculation or confidence or doubt or belief about when Jesus might return should ever undermine the fulfillment of our basic ethical obligations or lead us to abandon the routine responsibilities set forth for us in Scripture.

Sadly, many Christians through the centuries have taken an altogether different and unbiblical approach to this problem. Convinced that Christ was to return very, very soon, they abandoned their daily tasks and embraced a form of hyper spirituality that served only to bring reproach on the name of Christ and disaster to their own lives.

How often have we heard and seen something like this:

“The end of all things is at hand! Therefore, let’s shave our heads, adorn ourselves in white robes, and run to the hills!”

“Christ is coming back soon! Therefore, let’s sell our possessions, quit our jobs, and turn our backs on a culture that is hell-bound!”

“The end of human history is just around the corner! Therefore, let’s refuse to bathe, learn how to cry on cue, and contort our faces in a show of deep concern for the plight of all lost souls!”

“We are certain that Jesus is coming back before we die! Therefore, let’s set a specific date for Jesus’ return, write it up in a best-selling book, and then make sure we’ve got an excuse for why he doesn’t return on the day we said he would, in order to protect our reputations!”

“The end of all things is at hand! Therefore, let’s abandon the local church, launch a para-church movement that will gather thousands of followers, and forget about higher education, paying our taxes, getting married, having children, and mowing the grass!”

“The second coming is surely on the horizon! Therefore, let’s host a seminar and work hard at identifying the Antichrist and figure out ways that 666 applies to all the people we don’t like!”

Well, not exactly. The Apostle Peter’s advice is of a different spirit. “Yes,” said Peter. “The end of all things is at hand! Therefore, be level-headed and sober-minded as you pray for one another. The end of all things is at hand! Therefore, love one another, and be hospitable to one another without grumbling about it, and use your spiritual gifts to serve and minister to one another, always seeking the fame of God’s name, not your own.” Look again at the passage itself.

“The end of all things is at hand; therefore be self-controlled and sober-minded for the sake of your prayers. Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins. Show hospitality to one another without grumbling. As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace: whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies—in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen” (1 Peter 4.7-11).

Eschatology is one of those technical, ten-dollar terms that theologians like to toss around to impress people with their intelligence. But it’s really a very simple and very important word. The Greek word eschatos simply means “last” or “final,” and thus Eschatology is the study of last things, final things; it is the study of events leading up to and including the second coming of Christ and the end of human history as we know it.

What most Christians don’t grasp, however, is that the primary purpose of eschatology is two-fold. First, it is designed to deepen our confidence and faith in God as the sovereign Lord over history who will bring his purposes to their proper consummation in such a way that righteousness will prevail and evil will be defeated and Jesus Christ will be glorified. Eschatology is important because it tell us that God wins! And because he wins, he is to be worshipped.

But eschatology has a secondary purpose as well. It is also designed to encourage and sustain us in practical righteousness. It is precisely because we know that Christ will return and put the world to rights that we are to be obedient to the Word of God.

Did you see the word “therefore” in v. 7? It is because the end of all things is at hand that we are to pray for one another and love one another and be hospitable to one another and to serve one another. Countless other texts affirm the same thing. Here are a few:

“Besides this you know the time, that the hour has come for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed. The night is far gone; the day is at hand. So then let us cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light. Let us walk properly as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and sensuality, not in quarreling and jealousy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires” (Rom. 13:11-14).
After describing the return of Christ and how our bodies will be gloriously transformed, Paul says:
“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 Cor. 15:58).

“Since all these things are thus to be dissolved, what sort of people ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness, waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be set on fire and dissolved, and the heavenly bodies will melt as they burn! But according to his promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells” (2 Pet. 3:11-13).

“Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure” (1 John 3:2-3).

So that is what I want to address in this article and in a few that will follow. I want you to think about how you should react to the reality of Christ’s impending return. I want you to think about what kind of person God wants you to be in view of the end of all things. As Peter put it in his second epistle, chapter three, I want to focus on “what sort of people ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness.”

Follow up posts here and here.

Before we preach tomorrow

j_kennedy_dingwall“There are some who preach before their people, like actors on the stage, to display themselves and to please their audience.  Not such were the self-denied preachers of Ross-shire.

There are others who preach over their people.  Studying for the highest, instead of doing so for the lowest, in intelligence, they elaborate learned treatises, which float like mist, when delivered, over the heads of their hearers.  Not such were the earnest preachers of Ross-shire.

There are some who preach past their people.  Directing their praise or their censure to intangible abstractions, they never take aim at the views and the conduct of the individuals before them.  They step carefully aside, lest their hearers should be struck by their shafts, and aim them at phantoms beyond them.  Not such were the faithful preachers of Ross-shire.

There are others who preach at their people, serving out in a sermon the gossip of the week, and seemingly possessed with the idea that the transgressor can be scolded out of the ways of iniquity.  Not such were the wise preachers of Ross-shire.

There are some who preach towards their people.  They aim well, but they are weak.  Their eye is along the arrow towards the hearts of their hearers, but their arm is too feeble for sending it on to the mark.  Superficial in their experience and in their knowledge, they reach not the cases of God’s people by their doctrine, and they strike with no vigor at the consciences of the ungodly.  Not such were the powerful preachers of Ross-shire.

There are others still who preach along their congregation.  Instead of standing with their bow in front of the ranks, these archers take aim in line and, reducing their mark to an individual, never change the direction of their aim.  Not such were the discriminating preachers of Ross-shire.

But there are a few who preach to the people directly and seasonably the mind of God in His Word with authority, unction, wisdom, fervor and love.  Such as these last were the eminent preachers of Ross-shire.”

Revd. John Kennedy, The Days of the Fathers in Ross-shire (Inverness, 1895), pages 22-23.

(HT: Ray Ortlund)

Questioning God

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We cannot remain faithful and question God’s own faithfulness. His love for those who are in Christ is beyond question. His character is a constant and his love never fails. He is not loving and gracious toward believers at one moment, only to turn into a malevolent deity the next. He never changes.

In this light, it would be sin to question whether God really loves us, or if He is really faithful to his promises. This is not the questioning worthy of a believer, but of an unbeliever.

— Albert Mohler
“Is it Legitimate to Question God?”

(HT: Of First Importance)

Instead of Building Your Platform, Build Your Character

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Derwin Gray:

Pastor, words like “platform” and “influence” are important.

But if we aren’t careful, in our desire to build our platform and influence, we can end up building our EGO.

As leadership gurus Ken Blanchard and Phil Hodges say, “EGO stands for ‘Edging God Out’.”

BUILD YOUR CHARACTER

Instead of building your platform, focus more on building your character.

According to the Apostle Paul, the qualifications to be an elder-pastor are about character, not gifting.

The saying is trustworthy: If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task. Therefore an overseer must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive, for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God’s church? He must not be a recent convert, or he may become puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil. Moreover, he must be well thought of by outsiders, so that he may not fall into disgrace, into a snare of the devil. 1 Timothy 3:1-7 ESV

HOW DO YOU BUILD YOUR CHARACTER?

I want to share 3 practices (other than classical spiritual disciplines) that challenge and encourage my character development.

Practice the Presence of People:

Treat every person you come in contact with as though Jesus died for them.
Treat every person as if Jesus left heaven to rescue them.
Treat every person as if they are made in the image of God and really matter to Him.
This will keep you from treating people as though they are less than made in the image of God.
Practice Being a Servant:

People do not exist to serve you, you exist to serve them.
Look for ways to serve people besides preaching a sermon.
Jesus washed His disciples’ feet. Whose feet are we washing?
This will keep you humble and accessible.
Practice the Presence of Christ:

Abide in Christ. Revel in Christ. Enjoy Christ. Make much of Christ. Live in constant dependency on Christ.
This will keep you relying on Jesus as your source of power.
You build your character, and let God build your platform and influence.

Jesus Repulses, Jesus Draws

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I Think we all love the story of the Garasene Demonaic, don’t we? It is the story of a poor, pathetic, hopeless, demon-oppressed man and his life-changing encounter with Jesus Christ. And there is something in the story I find particularly fascinating.

Though at one time in his life this man had been a normal person with a normal life, at some point demons had begun to oppress him. Maybe he was a young man still living in his parents’ home when something about him began to change. Over time his parents and family saw him start to exhibit erratic and downright scary behavior. Or maybe he was a married man and it was his wife who first began to notice that strange behavior. He began to act in ways that were out of character. He began to cry out in weird ways. Though he used to love his kids and cuddle them and tell them stories and play with them, over time he became distant, then even dangerous. Soon she had to protect the kids from their own father.

Eventually his behavior became so outrageous that the people around him acted in the only way they knew how—they chained him and locked him up. But then he grew so strong that he could break those chains and attack anyone who approached him. So they did the only thing left to do and drove him away. By the time we meet him in Mark 5 (and parallel accounts in Matthew and Luke), he is living in the tombs, roaming the hills naked, cutting and brusing himself, crying out in agony of body, soul and spirit. He can go no lower.

And then Jesus meets him. And then Jesus frees him. Jesus sends that horde of demons into a herd of pigs which immediately rushes into the sea and drowns. And then we come to a part of the story I find absolutely fascinating. The nearby townsfolk come running to see what has happened, to see this oppressed man in his right mind, to see thousands of dead pigs floating in the water. And we see two very different reactions to this encounter with Jesus Christ.

When this man has been freed by Jesus, he begs Jesus to be able to go with him. Please let me remain with you, let me learn from you, let me serve you. Where you go I will go. This man saw Jesus and wanted Jesus more than anything.

When this crowd of villagers saw this man freed by Jesus, they had a reaction that was exactly opposite. They begged Jesus to leave. Please go. Get back in your boat and leave and don’t come back. They saw Jesus and wanted Jesus less than anything.

The people wanted Jesus as far as possible, this man wanted Jesus as close as possible. And in those two reactions we see something fascinating: Jesus repulses and Jesus draws. Some people encounter Jesus and find him the most dreadful thing in the world; some people encounter Jesus and find him the most desirable thing in the world. Some beg him to leave and some beg to follow.

When we preach Jesus today, we preach for a response. And there is always a response. Jesus repulses and Jesus draws. But an encounter with Jesus never accomplishes nothing.

No automatic advantage

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Not everyone recognizes Jesus’ authority; others sense the power but do not respond with faith. Even some who naturally belong to the kingdom, that is, the Jews who had lived under the old covenant and had been the heirs of the promises, turn out to be rejected. They too approach the great hall of the messianic banquet, lit up with a thousand lamps in joyous festivity; but they are refused admission, they are thrown outside into the blackness of night, “where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (8:12). The idea is not that there will be no Jews at the messianic banquet. After all, the patriarchs themselves are Jews, and all of Jesus’ earliest followers were Jews. But Jesus insists that there is no automatic advantage to being a Jew. As he later says to those of his own race, “Therefore I tell you that the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people who will produce its fruit” (21:43). An individual’s faith, his or her response to the authority claims of Jesus, will prove decisive. The alternative to entrance into the kingdom is painted in horrible colors: literally the weeping and the gnashing of teeth, to emphasize the horror of the scene, the former suggesting suffering and the latter despair. The same authority of Jesus that proves such a great comfort to the eyes of faith now engenders terror in the merely religious.

This is not a teaching that is very acceptable to vast numbers in western Christendom today. It flies in the face of the great god Pluralism who holds much more of our allegiance than we are prone to admit. The test for religious validity in this environment is no longer truth but sincerity—as if sincerity were a virtue even when the beliefs underlying it are entirely mistaken.

- D.A. Carson, Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount and His Confrontation with the World, 166

(HT: Zach Nielsen)

Christ’s resurrection bestows the benefits of his death on us

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By his death sin was taken away, by his resurrection righteousness was renewed and restored.

For how could he by dying have freed us from death, if he had yielded to its power? How could he have obtained the victory for us, if he had fallen in the contest?

Our salvation may be thus divided between the death and the resurrection of Christ: by the former sin was abolished and death annihilated; by the latter righteousness was restored and life revived, the power and efficacy of the former being still bestowed upon us by means of the latter.

— John Calvin, quoted by Adrian Warnock in
Raised with Christ
(Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2010), 118

(HT: Of First Importance)

So Heavenly Minded You’re No Earthly Good?

 

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C. S. Lewis, in Mere Christianity:

A continual looking forward to the eternal world is not (as some modern people think) a form of escapism or wishful thinking, but one of the things a Christian is meant to do.

It does not mean that we are to leave the present world as it is.

If you read history you will find that the Christians who did most for the present world were just those who thought most of the next.

The Apostles themselves, who set on foot the conversion of the Roman Empire, the great men who built up the Middle Ages, the English Evangelicals who abolished the Slave Trade, all left their mark on Earth, precisely because their minds were occupied with Heaven.

It is since Christians have largely ceased to think of the other world that they have become so ineffective in this.

Aim at Heaven and you will get earth ‘thrown in’: aim at earth and you will get neither.”

 

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John Piper:

Yes, I know. It is possible to be so heavenly minded that we are of no earthly use. My problem is: I’ve never met one of those people. And I suspect, if I met one, the problem would not be that his mind is full of the glories of heaven, but that his mind is empty and his mouth is full of platitudes.

I suspect that for every professing believer who is useless in this world because of other-worldliness, there are a hundred who are useless because of this-worldliness.

(HT: Justin Taylor)

Church Leadership – is the ‘Moses model’ a recipe for disaster?

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Sam Storms:

What accounts for the relational disasters, financial corruption, and moral failures that continue to erupt in our local churches? There are undoubtedly numerous explanations that could be cited, but I want to focus on one that most people typically ignore: bad and unbiblical ecclesiology. I have in mind those churches in which the senior pastor is given excessive and often unbridled authority and remains largely unaccountable for his decisions. This is often the result of an appeal to the Old Testament as a model for local church government.

Joshua 3:7 comes immediately to mind. There God said to Joshua: “Today I will begin to exalt you in the sight of all Israel, that they may know that, as I was with Moses, so I will be with you.” Some refer to this as the “Moses Model” of local church government. The almost unilateral authority that God invested in Moses, and in his successor, Joshua, is embraced and applied to local church leadership today.

We need to be extraordinarily careful about the way we apply Old Testament passages such as this to us today. Many make the mistake of trying to take an OT model for leadership and applying it to the NT church. They assume that the kind of authority and prominence given to men such as Moses and Joshua should also be extended to pastors today. But nowhere in the NT is any single individual elevated in the way Joshua was. The church is not a geo-political nation as was Israel.

Leadership in the church is always and only granted to a plurality of men called Elders. I don’t find any indication that a local church was to be governed by a single elder or pastor. The consistent NT witness is that each church was under the oversight of a plurality of elders/bishops, as the following texts confirm: see Acts 11:29-30; 14:23; 15:1-6, 22-23; 16:4; 20:17; 21:17-18; 1 Tim. 4:14; 5:17, 19; Titus 1:5; James 5:14; 1 Peter 5:1, 5. So let’s be careful how we use the OT.

One of the great tragedies in our day is the repeated occurrence of popular and powerful Christian leaders falling into sexual sin or financial scandal or, through the exercise of excessive and unchallenged authority, being the cause of church splits and relational ruptures. All too often this comes as a result of investing in one person a governing authority that the Bible nowhere endorses. Such “leaders” are accountable to no one, or at most to an inner circle of “yes” men who serve only to insulate and guard the leader from outside influence or criticism.

Such “leaders” are thought to possess the Holy Spirit in a heightened degree. They are especially, uniquely, and extraordinarily “anointed” to a degree beyond that which is available to the ordinary Christian and in such a way as to put them beyond evaluation or critique. The result is that what they say or do is regarded as inviolable. They speak with the authority of God himself and cannot be questioned. Or if you do challenge them, you quickly find yourself out of a job or demoted or relegated to the margins of church life. Such “leaders” begin to think of themselves as exempt from routine biblical standards of conduct when it comes to sexuality or money.

Let me say this as clearly and forcefully as I can. If you ever find yourself in a church or ministry or situation in which the leader or pastor is beyond criticism and answers to no one but himself, run away! If you find yourself in a church where the senior or lead pastor cannot be disciplined or removed from his role in the church, run away! If you find yourself in a situation where the leader has arbitrary and ultimate authority over every decision, run away!

I’m not saying that pastors who are accountable to a Board of Elders cannot sin and fall. Sadly, they do. But it is decidedly more difficult for them than it is for those who ground their authority in an unbiblical appeal to the example of OT figures such as Moses or Joshua.

I’m not saying we can’t learn from the lives and ministries of Moses and Joshua and David in the OT. Of course we can. But that doesn’t mean that the structures of spiritual authority operative in the Old Covenant are to be applied to the life of the church in the New Covenant.

Who God says I am in Christ

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Scott Thomas and Tom Wood:

“I keep a list of these positional promises on my desk to remind me who I am declared to be in the Word of God. Even though I do not always feel this way, these Scriptures remind me of who I am in Christ.”

Through Christ, I am dead to sin (Romans 6:11).
Through Christ, I am spiritually alive (Romans 6:11; 1 Corinthians 15:22).
Through Christ, I am forgiven (Colossians 2:13; 1 John 2:12).
Through Christ, I am declared righteous (1 Corinthians 1:30; 2 Corinthians 5:21).
Through Christ, I am God’s possession (Titus 2:14).
Through Christ, I am an heir of God (Romans 8:17).
Through Christ, I am blessed with all spiritual blessing (Ephesians 1:3).
Through Christ, I am a citizen of heaven (Philippians 3:20).
Through Christ, I am free from the law (Romans 8:2).
Through Christ, I am crucified with him (Galatians 2:20).
Through Christ, I am free from the desires of the flesh (Galatians 5:24).
Through Christ, I am declared blameless and innocent (Philippians 2:15).
Through Christ, I am a light in the world (Matthew 5:14-15; Philippians 2:15).
Through Christ, I am victorious over Satan (Luke 10:19).
Through Christ, I am cleansed from sin (1 John 1:7).
Through Christ, I am set free in Christ from the power of sin (Colossians 2:11-15).
Through Christ, I am secure in him (1 Peter 1:3-5).
Through Christ, I am at peace with God (Romans 5:1; Philippians 4:6-9).
Through Christ, I am loved by God (1 John 4:10).

- from: Gospel Coach: Shepherding Leaders to Glorify God (71-72)

(HT: Trevin Wax)

Messages that are falsely claimed to be the gospel

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From IX Marks:

  1. God wants to make us rich. Some preachers today say that the good news is that God wants to bless us with loads of money and possessions—all we need to do is ask! But the gospel is a message about spiritual blessings (Eph. 1:3): God sent Jesus Christ to die and rise again for us so that we would be justified, reconciled to God, and given eternal life with God (Rom. 3:25-26, 6:23; 2 Cor. 5:18-21). Moreover, the Bible promises that Christians will not have material prosperity in this life, but tribulation (Acts 14:22), persecution (2 Tim 3:12), and suffering (Rom. 8:17), all of which will one day give way to unspeakable glory (2 Cor. 4:17; Rom. 8:18).
  2. God is love and we’re okay. Some people think the gospel is that God loves us and accepts us just as we are. But the biblical gospel confronts people as sinners facing the wrath of God (Rom. 3:23, John 3:36) and tells people about God’s radical solution: Jesus’ sin-bearing death on the cross. This gospel calls people to an equally radical response: to repent of their sins and trust in Christ for salvation.
  3. We should live right. The gospel is not a message that tells us a live a better life and so make ourselves right with God. In fact the gospel tells us exactly the opposite: we can’t do what pleases God and we can never make ourselves acceptable to him (Rom. 8:5-8). But the good news is that Jesus has done for us what we could never do for ourselves: by living a perfect life and bearing God’s wrath on the cross he has secured the salvation of all those who turn from their sin and trust in him (Rom. 5:6-11, 8:31-34).
  4. Jesus came to transform society. Some people believe that Jesus’ mission was to transform society and bring justice to the oppressed through a political revolution. But the Bible teaches that this world will only be made right when Jesus comes again and ushers in a new heaven and new earth (2 Thess. 2:9-10, Rev. 21:1-5). The gospel is fundamentally a message about salvation from the wrath of God through faith in Christ, not the transformation of society in this present age.

(Some of this material has been adapted from Nine Marks of a Healthy Church by Mark Dever,
pages 80-90)

Truth grounded in revelation

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D.A. Carson:

The revelation has come to us in the natural world, in great events of miraculous power attested by witnesses, in the personal work of the Spirit of God, in the enormously rich variety of writings that make up the Bible, and supremely in the person of Jesus Christ. These are not mutually exclusive channels. For instance, most of what we know propositionally about Jesus is found in the Bible, including those parts that preserve the testimony of witnesses – so here we have Jesus himself, witnesses who have left words about him, and the Bible that preserves them and conveys them.

First, the content can be indeed, has been- put into propositions, creeds, catechisms, statements of faith. It has substance. Of course there is an interpretive element in all our confessions, for finite beings cannot know anything without interpreting it. Only omniscience can escape the limitations of perspectivalism – of looking at things form a limited perspective. But that does not mean that all perspectives are equally valid, or that there is no truth in any particular interpretation.

As Christians band together to study the Bible, they come to convictions about what the Bible is saying – and that leads, rightly, to shared creeds that are modifiable only by more light from the Bible itself. Our confession of such truth cannot participate in the perfection of omniscience, but it is nonetheless valid and appropriate to the limitations of our finitude and our fallenness. Better yet, it is made possible by a gracious god who condescends to disclose himself in human words, and by the Spirit who convicts rebels of sin and illumines darkened minds.

The Intolerance of Tolerance, pg. 111-112

(HT: Marco Gonzalez)

Faithful bible translations should reproduce the theological depth and grandure of the original text

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Ray Van Neste posts on Richard Hays’ Critique of the Common English Bible Translation:

There seems to be a growing discussion amongst Bible scholars about the shortcomings of Bible translations which try too hard to sound contemporary (See for example Bob Gundry’s critique of Tom Wright’s NT translation from 2 years ago).

This week I came across this essay:

Richard Hays, “Lost in Translation: A Reflection on Romans in the Common English Bible,” in The Unrelenting God: God’s Action in Scripture: Essays in Honor of Beverly Roberts Gaventa (Eerdmans, 2013)

The Common English Bible came out a couple of years ago having been overseen by a more mainline group. In this essay Hays reveals that he and Beverly Gaventa were given the task of writing the first draft of the translation of Romans. However, Hays was particularly disappointed in the translation which was finally published, after being altered by “readability experts.” The rest of his essay is an investigation of what happens when the laudable goal of clarity is reduced to “easy reading” and is not tethered to theological care. There is a warning here for any translation project.

As Hays states, “to turn a magisterial theological reflection such as Romans into an easy-reading text for the average American seventh-grader entails certain modifications, tradeoffs, and sacrifices” (84). I think this is an all too common mistake when the goal is for the “man on the street” to be able to understand the text on his own. As I have argued before, this completely misses the need for the teaching function of the church. There is a basic level of understanding, but we ought to expect any translation of the Bible to have rough edges, difficult portions- precisely because the original has these!- which will require much thought and should drive us to the teachers God has given to the church (Eph 4:11-12).

Hays makes his case with specific examples and pointed, punchy writing.

He states, “The repeated use of contractions and low-intensity everyday diction creates a relaxed conversational tone that lowers the temperature of the discourse.” (85) This is a valuable point because certain texts, like Romans, are not supposed to be breezy. Casual may be the rage in our conversations (as practically all else) today, but that does not mean it is the ideal or that it matches the text we are trying to translate.

Hays critiques the translation of Rom 16:25-27, where “revelation of the mystery” has become “announcement of the secret”, saying, “The CEB’s language would be more fitting to describe, say, a delayed wedding announcement than to designate the apostolic unveiling of the hidden mystery of God’s eternal design for saving the world.” (85)

Romans 1:22 states “they were made fools”, with God as the implied actor, but the CEB says “they made fools of themselves.” Hays notes, “The translation sounds clever, and it is certainly idiomatic English; unfortunately, it obscures Paul’s theological point.” (86)

In Romans 16:13, “Greet Rufus, the one chosen/elect in the Lord” becomes “Say hello to Rufus, who is an outstanding believer”!

Hays is clear that he is not simply annoyed with how his draft was handled but concerned about a trend in translations.

“I am drawing attention to this particular translational decision in order to illustrate how the process of translation entails judgments that are deeply theological in character.” (88)

“In an effort to achieve readability, it has not only sacrificed Paul’s stylistic elegance but also subtly obscured the letter’s theological coherence on key points. It has domesticated Paul’s gospel by muting its apocalyptic notes, dulling its sharp emphasis on the priority of God’s action in Christ to effect the justification of humanity, and reducing its rhetorical grandeur to a casual, plodding discourse.” (101)

These are important points to consider.