Can you imagine what it would be like if the God who ruled the world were not happy? What if God were given to grumbling and pouting and depression, like some Jack-and-the-beanstalk giant in the sky? What if God were frustrated and despondent and gloomy and dismal and discontented and dejected? Could we join David and say, “O God, you are my God; earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you; my flesh faints for you, as in a dry and weary land where there is no water” (Psalm 63:1)?
I don’t think so. We would all relate to God like little children who have a frustrated, gloomy, dismal, discontented father. They can’t enjoy him. They can only try not to bother him, or maybe try to work for him to earn some little favor.
Therefore if God is not a happy God, Christian Hedonism has no foundation. For the aim of the Christian Hedonist is to be happy in God, to delight in God, to cherish and enjoy His fellowship and favor. But children cannot enjoy the fellowship of their Father if He is unhappy. Therefore the foundation of Christian Hedonism is the happiness of God.
But the foundation of the happiness of God is the sovereignty of God: “Our God is in the heavens; he does all that he pleases” (Psalm 115:3). If God were not sovereign, if the world He made were out of control, frustrating His design again and again, God would not be happy.
Just as our joy is based on the promise that God is strong enough and wise enough to make all things work together for our good, so God’s joy is based on that same sovereign control: He makes all things work together for His glory.
Desiring God (Colorado Springs, CO; Multnomah Books; 2003) p. 32-33.
(HT: The Cross Quoter)
The “penal” in the doctrine of penal substitution, being tied to God’s wrath, has long been a source of controversy inside the church and out. It’s criticized as overly “legal” or “forensic.” People want to look to the cross and talk about Christ’s love, not his enduring the divine penalty.
But it’s worth stopping for a moment and meditating on what is behind a penalty. What is behind wrath? The answer is God’s worthiness or God’s worth. God’s wrath is equal to God’s worth, and that the “penal” in penal substitution therefore reveals this very worth.
Wrath and worth are perfectly matched together. The former takes the measure of the latter and expresses itself accordingly. One is as precious as the other.
So drop the “penal” from penal substitution and you diminish God dramatically. Despise his wrath and you despise his worth.
To see this, it’s worth meditating for a moment on what the purpose of law is. The Reformers talked about the law as restraining sin, condemning sin, and revealing God’s character. Political and legal philosophers will point to the law’s role in maintaining order, protecting the defenseless, or guaranteeing freedom. Each of these is helpful for its part.
But a theme that runs through all of these explanations is the idea of protecting something precious or worthy.
It’s against the law to murder because life is precious. It’s against the law to steal because property is precious. It’s against God’s law to lie because truth is precious. Every five year old who values his toys and every king who values his gold understands this much about law. That’s why both will declare, “Don’t touch these things, or else!” One might say that laws function like a castle wall or a security systems. People erect walls and install alarm systems when they want to guard something precious.
This is why breaking a law results in a penalty. Penalties are typically measured to match the significance of the violation, that is, the preciousness of the thing being protected by the law. The more precious the thing being protected, the severer the penalty. When no penalty follows a broken law, one assumes the matter must not be that important or precious.
Penalties teach. They declare the worth of something.
My siblings and I discovered at a young age that lying to our parents yielded a stronger penalty than squabbling over a toy. The lesson we learned from the difference? The truth is more precious than toys.
No one likes the idea of penalties, of course, but a penalty is the very thing that makes a law meaningful as a guardian of worth. If the law is the sentry guarding that which is precious, the penalty is the sentry’s pointy bayonet. It gives the law its prick, substance, meaning.
Looking at God’s law from this angle, we see that God’s law is the infinitely high wall that protects his infinite worthiness and glory. It’s the guardian and revealer of his glory. To contravene his law is to disregard his infinite worthiness. When you say “no” to God, you effetively say, “God, what you think doesn’t mean much to me, because you don’t mean much to me.”
Though Anselm’s satisfaction theory of the atonement didn’t say everything that should be said about what happened at the cross, what he said, I think, captures an element of Christ’s work that formulations of penal substitution sometimes forget to mention: God’s honor is impugned by sin. And that honor must be vindicated, or satisfied. And that satisfaction must be infinite. The doctrine of penal substitution fills out the details of Anselm’s theory by observing that the offense against his honor is made manifest, as it were, through the transgression of God’s law. The law requires a penalty. The penalty is God’s wrath. God’s wrath, after all, is the jealous guardian of God’s glory. God’s glory was then demonstrated at the cross—among other ways—by showing that God’s law really did require a penalty for transgressions against it (Rom. 3:25-26).
Why do we want to preserve a “legal” or “forensic” understanding of the atonement and a strong concept of wrath? Because, unless we want to be idolaters, we must concede that the most precious thing in the universe is God and his glory. God’s infinite worthiness and preciousness will, intrinsically to itself, yield a counterpart—God’s law. God’s law is the fitting and perfectly matched protector of God’s infinite worthiness. To depreciate God’s law is to depreciate God’s worthiness, plain and simple.
The penal in penal substitution, likewise, is matched to the infinite preciousness and worthiness of God. His wrath is an indication of how infinitely glorious and precious he is.
To say that Adam’s sin should not have resulted in death; to say that our sins do not result in God’s wrath; to shy away from mentioning God’s wrath in private or public; to say that penal substitution is overly obsessed with legal categories or overemphasizes the role of God’s law; to say that the significance of Christ’s death is diminished by bringing it into the realm of the law court; to say that the demands of God’s law do not have to be satisfied; to declare a forensic declaration of “righteous” merely a “legal fiction”; to caricature the Son’s propitiation of the Father’s wrath as “divine child abuse”—all this is to miss the role of God’s law in protecting and declaring the worthiness of God; and therefore it is to belittle his ineffable worthiness and glory, like trampling on a precious flower times infinity.
Let me ratchet it up one more notch: if the world, the flesh, and the devil desire, above all else, to diminish the godness of God, and to deceive us into thinking we can be “like God,” there can be no more dangerous lie in the universe than to deny God’s wrath and to redefine the gospel in a way that subtly massages the penal out of penal substitution—kind of like when someone said to Eve, “You will not surely die.”
But in a world of self-justifiers and wannabe gods, the idea of God’s wrath will always be the first domino the devil tries to topple. “You surely won’t die. Nah, you are worth far too much!”
Jonathan Leeman (@JonathanDLeeman) is the editoral director at 9Marks, an elder at the Capitol Hill Baptist Church, and the author of several books on the church.
From a recent interview with Tom Schreiner about his new book, The king in His Beauty.
Why is understanding the tension of the “already but not yet” so crucial to rightly understanding the Bible? How might grasping this practically help a Christian struggling with sin?
If we don’t understand the already but not yet, then we simply won’t and can’t understand the Scriptures. For example, when the kingdom comes in Jesus’ ministry, the dead are raised, demons are cast out, and the sick are healed. Satan’s kingdom is overthrown! The Gospel writers clarify that victory over sin and Satan are due to Christ’s death and resurrection.
But what does this mean for us today if the kingdom has come? After all, sickness is rampant, death seems to reign over all, and Satan is alive and well. The answer is the already but not yet. The kingdom has arrived in Jesus and, among other things, the gift of the Spirit demonstrates that the kingdom has come. And yet there’s an eschatological proviso. Christ is risen, but we await the day of our resurrection—the final day when disease, demons, and death are no more.
How does this perspective relate to our continuing struggle with sin? The already/not yet teaches us that we won’t obtain complete and final victory over sin during this life. Perfection won’t be ours until the day of resurrection, and so we’re called during this present evil age to wage war against sin, realizing at the same time we won’t be entirely free from it. The “already” warns us against passivity: we have the gift of the Spirit and therefore must walk in the Spirit, be led by the Spirit, march in step with the Spirit, sow to the Spirit, and be filled with the Spirit. The “not yet” reminds us we are not all that we want to or will be.
Sam Storms posts:
What comes to mind when you hear someone refer to the “sovereignty” of God? Here is J. I. Packer’s answer to that question. As you read and reflect upon it, observe the beautiful harmony that exists between God’s causal priority in all things (as stated in the first paragraph) and human responsibility and moral accountability (as found in the second). They are gloriously compatible!
The sovereignty of God, writes Packer, means that,
“the living God, who created the entire universe and actively upholds it in being (otherwise it would vanish away, and so would we as part of it), knows everything that has been and now is and foreknows everything that will be just because, in a way that totally passes our understanding, he plans and decides and controls everything that takes place. From inside (and we are all insiders at this point) the cosmos appears as a huge interlocking system of cause and effect, the working of which scientists can examine, map out, and within limits predict because the processes all operate with what appears as built-in regularity. But Christians know what science can never find out, namely, that all the processes of nature are willed and sustained directly by the Creator, every moment, down to the smallest detail, as also are the free-flowing thoughts that run through our minds, and the dreams that befuddle us while we sleep, and the self-determined, accountable decisions about what we will and will not do that we make in a steady stream throughout our waking hours. Let us say it clearly: all the regularities of nature, including the functioning of our own minds and bodies, are as they are because God wills and keeps them so. Nothing would be as it is – nothing, indeed, would exist at all – were it not for the active will of God. . . .
To affirm God’s sovereignty over everything around us, within us, happening to us, and issuing from us takes nothing from our certainty (which Scripture confirms) that all our thoughts, words, and deeds, including all our motives, purposes, attitudes, and reactions, are truly our own, not forced upon us from outside but coming out from within us, so that we are in truth responsible subjects, open to assessment both by other people and by our own consciences, and finally by God himself. Rather it adds to our certainty that, as our continued existence and all our living really involve God, so God really involves himself in an overruling way, somehow (just how, no creature can conceive), in all our circumstances, motives, actions, relationships, experiences, joys, pains, pleasures, griefs, and ventures, which form the situational reality of our daily lives.”
J. I. Packer and Carolyn Nystrom, Guard Us, Guide Us: Divine Leading in Life’s Decisions (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2008), 199-200.
D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones:
My advice to you is: Read Jonathan Edwards. Stop going to so many meetings; stop craving for the various forms of entertainment which are so popular in evangelical circles at the present time. Learn to stay at home. Learn to read again, and do not merely read the exciting stories of certain modern people. Go back to something solid and deep and real.
Are we losing the art of reading? Revivals have often started as the result of people reading volumes such as these two volumes of Edwards’ works. So read this man. Decide to do so. Read his sermons; read his practical treatises, and then go on to the great discourses on theological subjects.
—D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, “Jonathan Edwards and the Crucial Importance of Revival,”Puritans: Their
Origins and Successors (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1987), 369-370.
Lloyd-Jones elsewhere explained the importance of this practice in his own ministry:
In my early days in the ministry there were no books which helped me more, both personally and in respect of my preaching, than the two-volume edition of the Works of Jonathan Edwards. . . . I devoured these volumes and literally just read and reread them. It is certainly true that they helped me more than anything else. . . . If I had the power I would make these two volumes compulsory reading for all ministers!
(HT: Justin Taylor)
By Trevin Wax:
No pastor wants his preaching to be considered “Christ-less” or something other than “Christ-centered.” Still, it is sometimes difficult to understand what exactly is meant by this kind of terminology. Likewise, no pastor wants to “read into” the text something that is not there.
In the initial chapter of his book,Preaching Christ from Genesis,Sidney Griedanus lays out seven ways that a preacher can legitimately preach Christ from the Old Testament. I’ve adapted the examples for each category in order to keep the focus on how there are multiple ways to preach Christ from an Old Testament account (such as Noah).
1. Redemptive-Historical Progression
The redemptive-historical road to Christ is the “broadest and foundational path from an Old Testament text to Jesus Christ” (3). It takes into consideration the history of redemption which begins with the opening chapters of Genesis and culminates in the vision of a restored paradise in Revelation. This journey from creation to new creation takes us down a path of redemptive history in God’s acts in Israel, through Christ, and then through the church. We take into consideration the place we are in the biblical storyline and then look forward to the climax of Christ’s death and resurrection.
An example would be the story of Noah. More than a simple story of warning against judgment, it is also a continuation of the Genesis plotline, where the seed of the woman must avenge the heel of the serpent. God’s preservation of Noah is the way He keeps His promises, and we anticipate the coming of the Seed – Jesus Christ in His first coming and then His second.
The “promise-fulfillment” motif is a direct road to Christ from an Old Testament text. The New Testament reveals hundreds of passages that promise the coming Messiah. A preacher who utilizes this approach will take a direct road from the Old Testament promise to the New Testament’s fulfillment.
An example is Genesis 3:15, where God promises that one of Eve’s offspring will crush the head of the serpent. Another example is Isaiah 9:6, where God promises that a virgin will bring forth a son whose name will be called Emmanuel. From the New Testament, we recognize this as being ultimately fulfilled in Christ.
Another way of preaching Christ from the Old Testament is through the careful use of typology, seeing Old Testament events, persons, or institutions as foreshadowing Jesus Christ and His redemptive work.
For example, one finds parallels with the story of Noah. Here, we have a righteous man whose family is saved due to his standing with God. In a similar manner, Jesus Christ is the righteous One whose family is saved due to His obedience.
One must take care to not flatten the Old Testament stories that foreshadow Christ by making all details align. But there are indeed hints and foretastes of Christ in the Old Testament, and a wise preacher will make use of them in his preaching. (Here are some examples of how famous Southern Baptist pastor W. A. Criswell and others have done this with the story of Joseph.)
Another road to Christ from the Old Testament is by analogy. According to Griedanus, “analogy exposes parallels between what God taught Israel and what Christ teaches the church; what God promised Israel and what Christ promises the church; what God demanded of Israel (the law) and what Christ demands of his church” (5).
This approach uses God’s interactions in the Old Testament as a picture that has further application for us today. Jesus used this method when He told the story of Noah as an analogy (Matthew 24:37-41), urging people to repent and thereby escape the coming judgment.
5. Longitudinal Themes
A fifth road to Christ from the Old Testament is similar to the “redemptive-historical” method, but it focuses mainly on the development of theological ideas. These are “longitudinal themes” because they can be traced throughout the biblical storyline, and they develop over time as they culminate in Christ.
Examples of these themes would be God’s kingdom (brought ultimately by Jesus Christ the King), God’s presence (foreshadowed in the Temple but fulfilled in Christ’s incarnation), and God’s judgment (seen in God’s actions against sin, but also His willingness to bring salvation through judgment).
Returning to the story of Noah, we can trace the theme of God’s judgment, understanding that the judgment that falls on the wicked (the flood) is the means of salvation for Noah and his family (1 Peter 3:21). This theme is most clearly seen in the cross, when salvation comes to us through the judgment of God that falls upon Christ.
6. New Testament references
Another road to Christ is found in New Testament references or allusions from the Old Testament. Most often, these references can be used as further evidence of the other ways of pointing to Christ.
Going back to the story of Noah, we could see an allusion to Noah’s faith as referenced inHebrews 11:7. This reference gives us insight into the nature of true faith in the face of judgment, reminding us of the faith we are to have in Christ for salvation.
The last road in Griedanus’ taxonomy of ways to preach Christ from the Old Testament is the way of contrast. There are aspects of biblical teaching that are quite different today as a result of Christ’s coming. Griedanus uses the example of circumcision. In the Old Testament, circumcision was required of every adult male. In the New Testament, baptism has become the sign of covenant membership. What is now required is “circumcision of the heart” which is brought about through Christ’s death and resurrection and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.
Check out three great current series from Sam Storms on:
- What it means to be Reformed
- Some peculiarities of Revival, and
- Spiritual Gifts in church history
Access Sam’s blog, and many other helpful resources HERE.
Justin Taylor also points us to Sam Storms’ new book called Tough Topics: Biblical Answers to 25 Challenging Questions. Here they are:
1 Is the Bible Inerrant?
2 What Is Open Theism?
3 Does God Ever Change His Mind?
4 Could Jesus Have Sinned?
5 What Did Jesus Mean When He Said, “Judge Not, that You Be Not Judged”?
6 What Is Blasphemy of the Holy Spirit?
7 Does the Bible Teach the Doctrine of Original Sin?
8 Are Those Who Die in Infancy Saved?
9 Will People Be Condemned for Not Believing in Jesus though They’ve Never Heard His Name?
10 What Can We Know about Angels?
11 What Can We Know about Satan?
12 What Can We Know about Demons?
13 Can a Christian Be Demonized?
14 Does Satan Assign Demons to Specific Geopolitical Regions?
Are There Territorial Spirits?
15 Can Christians Lose Their Salvation?
16 Does Hebrews Teach that Christians Can Apostatize?
17 Will There Be Sex in Heaven?
18 Are Miraculous Gifts for Today?
19 What Is Baptism in the Spirit, and When Does It Happen?
20 Should All Christians Speak in Tongues?
21 What Was Paul’s Thorn in the Flesh?
22 Is There Healing in the Atonement?
23 Why Doesn’t God Always Heal the Sick?
24 What Is Legalism?
25 Are Christians Obligated to Tithe?
One distinctive of the book is that the answers are not short, pithy summaries. Storms treats the questions with respect and gives in-depth answers based upon God’s Word.
By the way, don’t feel badly if you turn to chapter 17 first. Storms writes:
My guess is that when you first picked up this book, scanned the table of contents to see what tough topics I planned on addressing, and saw the title to this chapter, you turned here first, ignoring questions about blasphemy of the Holy Spirit and whether you should tithe! I know human nature well enough (including myself!) to realize that the question of whether there will be sex in heaven is of far more interest than any or all of the other topics this book examines. So don’t feel bad or guilty if this is the first chapter you read. Trust me, you’re in good company!
Gregg Allison of Southern Seminary writes about the book:
Let’s face it, the church has not always done the best possible job at fielding the hard questions posed to it by both skeptics and members.
In the case of the first group, skeptics end up discounting Christianity, dismissing it as irrational, head-in-the-sand religious fanaticism.
In the case of the second group, members become frustrated with the Christian faith and often drift away from what they have found to be a shallow, inconsistent, and quite unsatisfying worldview.
Sam Storms is a leader whom the Lord has wonderfully gifted not only to answer the tough questions, but also to provide an accessible resource for Christian leaders to be better prepared to engage skeptics and church members who wrestle with these issues rather than to rebuff them and discount their difficulties.
Sam’s passion is to deal with twenty-five of the most challenging questions you will ever face, and to do it in such a way that you become convinced of the answers and are prepared to offer help to others who face them as well.
He accomplishes this goal, not by offering his own good ideas and the best of human counsel, but by relying on the wisdom of God as found in Scripture.
You can download an excerpt of the book.
Here are some ways to know if you are a theological legalist:
- You don’t think there are “minor theological issues”
- You always define yourself with the word “true” in front of it (e.g. “I am a ‘true’ Calvinist,” “I am a ‘true’ Baptist,” “I am a ‘true’ Christian).
- Your statement of faith or catechism is so detailed that no one but your particular tradition can sign it.
- Your passions focus on the small issues and this finds expression in your personality.
- Most of your theological writing and/or discussion focuses on where other Christians have gone wrong.
- You have a bulldog mentality with regard to your “pet” issues; you cannot let things go emotionally. You have to leave the room.
- When one disagrees with you they are forever defined by that disagreement (“There goes Joe the Arminian” or “I would like to introduce you to Katie the complementarian.”
- You think belief is either black or white, you either have it or you don’t; there is no in-between and certainly no room for doubt.
- You think all those outside of your tradition are either going to hell or are less spiritual than you are (i.e. all Catholics are going to hell, all Protestants are going to hell, all those who suggest otherwise are going to hell, etc.)
- These are the only three reasons why people disagree with you: 1) they don’t have enough or the right knowledge, 2) they have compromised, and/or 3) they are justifying in some sin.
- No one outside of your tradition wants to talk theology with you (and you take it as a badge of honor).
- When you write about other Christians, you continually find yourself putting the word “Christian” in quotes.
- Your statement of faith is so qualified no one can understand it.
- You are always shutting conversation down by accusations of logical fallacies ad absurdum.
Of course we all have these problems from time to time. And I am not saying that the word “Christian” should not be place in italics for some people. But if you find yourself identifying with many on this list too often, you may have the problem of doctrinal legalism which, in my opinion, is the most dangerous trap out there for those of us who love theology. I have been there and still wrestle with my own theological legalism. But this is something we all need to repent of and teach our students and children about its dangers.
If you love theology, please be the first to put on the attitude of humility. When someone speaks about you in this regard, don’t have your goal for others to think you are smart or right, but humble and meek. When others talk about your personality with regard to theological discourse, would they say you are arrogant and legalistic, or gracious and meek? This does not mean we sacrifice our passions or beliefs, it just means we temper ourselves for the sake of the Gospel. The truth is too important for us to lose our witness due to theological legalism.
[Instruct them] to malign no one, to be peaceable, gentle, showing every consideration for all men.
Let your gentle spirit be known to all men. The Lord is near.
2 Tim 2:25-26
With gentleness correcting those who are in opposition, if perhaps God may grant them repentance leading to the knowledge of the truth, 26 and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, having been held captive by him to do his will.
Gospel doctrine creates a gospel culture. The doctrines of grace create a culture of grace, as Jesus himself touches us through his truths. Without the doctrines, the culture alone is fragile. Without the culture, the doctrines alone appear pointless. For example:
The doctrine of regeneration creates a culture of humility (Ephesians 2:1-9).
The doctrine of justification creates a culture of inclusion (Galatians 2:11-16).
The doctrine of reconciliation creates a culture of peace (Ephesians 2:14-16).
The doctrine of sanctification creates a culture of life (Romans 6:20-23).
The doctrine of glorification creates a culture of hope (Romans 5:2).
The doctrine of God creates a culture of honesty (1 John 1:5-10). And what could be more basic than that?
If we want this culture to thrive, we can’t take doctrinal short cuts. If we want this doctrine to be credible, we can’t disregard the culture. But churches where the doctrine and culture converge bear living witness to the power of Jesus.
Churches that do not exude humility, inclusion, peace, life, hope and honesty — even if they have gospel doctrine on paper, they lack that doctrine at a functional level, where it counts in the lives of actual people. Churches that are haughty, exclusivistic, contentious, exhausted, past-oriented and in denial are revealing a gospel deficit.
The current rediscovery of the gospel as doctrine is good, very good. But a completely new discovery of the gospel as culture — the gospel embodied in community — will be infinitely better, filled with a divine power such as we have not yet seen.
Is there any reason not to go there? Is the status quo all that great? Doesn’t the gospel itself call for a new kind of community?
How do we become holy without becoming ‘holier than thou’?
By actually becoming actually holy.
Holiness and holier-than-thou-ness aren’t parallel phenomena. They run on different tracks. If someone is growing in arrogance, pride, and self-righteousness, by definition they are not growing in holiness.
The problem arises in equating holiness with religious behavior. Holy people do obey God, of course. But the character of holiness, in which the Spirit does his progressive sanctifying work in our hearts (and therefore in our thoughts, speech, and actions), produces qualities of humility, gentleness, kindness, and self-control. Any arrogant fool can abstain from certain sins or give to charity and what-not. The Pharisees certainly did that, and all our legalistic contemporaries do too. But that is not real holiness. That is moralistic separatism or some such thing.
Therefore, it is impossible to become both holy and holier-than-thou. To grow in one, is to atrophy in the other.
But I am grateful that while I still struggle with a variety of sins, most especially the root sin of pride, I have God’s promise that he will complete the work he began in me, and that Jesus is both the author and the perfecter of my faith.
By Mitch Chase:
Have you ever explored underground caverns? The natural light is dim, so limited sight is a problem, if you can see at all. The more openings you go through and the deeper you descend, the greater the probability you’ll be confused, turned around, and lost. Even when your eyes adjust to the darkness, you may still not see the intricate beauty of the natural architecture.
Some Christians read the Old Testament only in dim light. They enter one chapter after another like exploring a cavern, yet they squint and strain their eyes to answer questions. Why is this episode here? Why has the narrator told the scene from this angle? Where is this storyline heading? Why should I care about this long genealogy? How does this prophecy reach fulfilment How do this character’s actions contribute to the plot, to the book, to the canon? Is this text built on earlier ones?
Such interpretive questions (and more) arise for every text, but after certain first-century events something became crystal clear: Jesus is the blazing torch for these caverns. The gospel message, the New Testament from beginning to end, is the light needed to see the glories of what has been there all along in ancient words.
Old Testament as Christian Scripture
Jesus discussed these ancient words with two men on a road outside Jerusalem. “And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself” (Luke 24:27). Wouldn’t you like to have the audio of that sermon? Though we don’t know exactly what Jesus said, we eagerly agree that he is the goal of the Old Testament.
Where, then, does the Christian faith begin? If you said Matthew, then you missed it by only 39 books. The Christian faith begins where the Bible does, in the beginning. We have 66 books of Christian Scripture that tell the grand story of God’s redemption from Genesis to Revelation.
When I first started preaching 14 years ago, most of my sermons showed a severe disregard for the Old Testament. And even when I crafted a message from one of those books, I was not trying to see the passage post-Easter. I handled the Old Testament as if Jesus hadn’t come.
Don’t read the Old Testament pretending Jesus didn’t happen. After Jesus died and rose from the dead, his disciples saw the ancient promises differently. Those promises were no longer suspended in mid-air but became yes in Jesus. The types had found their antitype, the arrows their target, the shadows their Light.
In light of the resurrection, people began to read the Old Testament through a Jesus lens. More precisely, Jesus taught the disciples how to see the Scriptures this way. The Law, Prophets, and Writings spoke about him, so “he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures” (Luke 24:44-45). The disciples needed a resurrection hermeneutic, so Jesus gave them one. The opening of the tomb meant the opening of the Scriptures.
Did people understand the Old Testament before Jesus? Yes and no. Yes, inasmuch as their eyes could see in the dim cavern. But no, for Jesus revealed to his disciples that he is the key to clarity, the piece of the puzzle that sets all the pieces in the right perspective. When the books are played together, they make messianic music.
Do the bloody cross and empty tomb affect how you read the Old Testament? If your hermeneutic is grammatical-historical but not christological, you’re not reading the Old Testament as the apostles did, as Jesus taught them to read it.
Shadows and Gospel Light
How does the gospel shine light on the Old Testament?
Jesus is the last Adam, the seed of the woman, the first-fruits of new creation, the obedient son, the one whose blood speaks a better word than Abel’s, the mighty ark that delivers from judgement the offspring of Abraham to bless the nations, the fountain of living water greater than Jacob’s well, the mediator of a new covenant that surpasses all previous ones, the redeemer who leads the greatest exodus, the bread that satisfies more than manna, the sacrifice that puts an end to all others, the prophet who says what God says, the suffering servant who bears our transgressions, the high priest who lives forever, the king who rules righteously and wisely, the temple where the fullness of God dwells, the good shepherd who guides and guards the sheep, the light that dispels the shadows, and the life that swallows death.
When we read the Old Testament—which is Christian literature—let us explore its caverns with the torch of the New, with the message of the gospel. Read those ancient words through this lens because Jesus lights the whole thing up.
Mitch Chase is a doctoral student at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and preaching pastor of Kosmosdale Baptist Church in Louisville, Kentucky. He is a blessed husband of Stacie and the father of Jensen and Logan. He is also the author of The Gospel Is for Christians and Behold Our Sovereign God.
By virtue of the believer’s union with Christ, he doth really possess all things. That we know plainly from Scripture. But it may be asked, how doth he possess all things? What is he the better for it? How is a true Christian so much richer than other men?
To answer this, I’ll tell you what I mean by “possessing all things.” I mean that God three in one, all that he is, and all that he has, and all that he does, all that he has made or done–the whole universe, bodies and spirits, earth and heaven, angels, men and devils, sun, moon and stars, land and sea, fish and fowls, all the silver and gold, kings and potentates as well as mean men–are as much the Christian’s as the money in his pocket, the clothes he wears, the house he dwells in, or the victuals he eats; yea more properly his, more advantageously his, than if he could command all those things mentioned to be just in all respects as he pleased at any time, by virtue of the union with Christ; because Christ, who certainly doth thus possess all things, is entirely his: so that he possesses it all, more than a wife the share of the best and dearest husband, more than the hand possesses what the head doth; it is all his. . . .
Every atom in the universe is managed by Christ so as to be most to the advantage of the Christian, every particle of air or every ray of the sun; so that he in the other world, when he comes to see it, shall sit and enjoy all this vast inheritance with surprising, amazing joy.
- Jonathan Edwards, Miscellany ff.
(HT: Dane Ortlund)
“So, then, what is this effectual, internal call that we are speaking about? Well, the most we can say about it is — and this must of necessity be true in the light of these scriptures — that it is the exercise of the power of the Holy Spirit in the soul. It is a direct operation of the Holy Spirit within us. It is immediate, it is spiritual, it is supernatural, miraculous. And what it does is to make a new mode of spiritual activity possible within us. Without this operation we are incapable of any true spiritual activity but as the result of this operation of the Holy Spirit upon us, we are rendered capable, for the first time, of spiritual activity and that is how this call now becomes effectual, that is what enables us to receive it.
“Now this is very important and I want to emphasise the immediacy, the direct action. You see, what happens when the call comes to men and women effectually is not simply that the moral influence of the truth is exercised upon them. Some people have thought that; they have said that the gospel is preached and that the truth has a kind of general moral effect upon people. For instance, to take a human theme, a capable orator, a man wanting to persuade men and women to vote at an election for a given party, can put the case so well that he can exercise a moral influence upon his listeners. But it is not that. It is an operation of the Spirit upon the men and women themselves, in the depths. It is not merely that the Holy Spirit heightens our natural faculties and powers, it is more than that. It is the Spirit acting upon the soul from within and producing within us a new principle of spiritual action.
“Now it must be that; it cannot be less than that. Because these things, says Paul, are all spiritual. And that is why the natural man does not understand them; and that is why, as I have often reminded you, we should never be surprised, or to the slightest extent disappointed or put out, when somebody brings us the argument that ‘Christianity cannot be right because look at this great man and he doesn’t believe it!’ How often have you heard that argument! Someone says, ‘You know, I cannot believe this, because if Christianity were true, it could not be possible that all these philosophers and scientists and all these great statesmen and other men do not believe it.’
“In the light of these things, it is very natural and we can understand it perfectly well. The greatest natural intellect cannot receive this, he is ‘a natural man’. And you need a spiritual faculty to receive the wonderful truth about the two natures in the one Person; the outstanding doctrine about the Trinity; the whole doctrine of the incarnation and the atonement, and so on. This is spiritual truth and to the natural person it is utter folly, it is foolishness, as Paul says. So when the Holy Spirit does enable us to believe it, it must be something beyond the heightening of our natural faculties. It is not simply that He brings the truth of His great moral suasion to us. No, no. We need some new faculty, some new principle, and that is the very work that He does. He implants within us this new spiritual principle, this principle of spiritual vitality and activity, and it is as the result of this that the general call of the gospel comes to us in an effectual manner.”
– Martyn Lloyd-Jones, “Effectual Calling and Regeneration”
(HT: Jared Wilson)
What characterizes the redemption of Christ holds true for the redemption of the believer. As the justification, adoption, sanctification, and glorification of the former take place by and at his resurrection, so the justification, adoption, sanctification, and glorification of the latter take place in his having been raised with Christ, that is, in his having been united to Christ as resurrected.
This means, then, that despite a surface appearance to the contrary, Paul does not view the justification, adoption, sanctification, and glorification of the believer as separate, distinct acts but as different facets or aspects of the one act of incorporation with the resurrected Christ.
–Richard B. Gaffin, Jr., Resurrection and Redemption: A Study in Paul’s Soteriology (P&R, 1987), 130-31
(HT: Dane Ortlund)
The Bible is amazing. God has spoken to us in a book — a glorious story about his glory and grace centered on the God-man, Jesus Christ. But the life he saves us to — our life in Christ — plays out in this world beyond the pages of his word. What we learn about him is meant to serve how we live for him.
And Paul Tripp says this is dangerous for pastors and Christian leaders.
The temptation is, as Tripp aptly describes it, “to become more excited about the world of ideas [in the Bible] … than the loving worship of Almighty God and self-sacrificing love for the people of his church.”
Are you all about studying, but not serving? All lesson and no love? Paul Tripp helps us:
Some words are written down and are here for a day and then gone. Other words are so pointed, so perfect, that they stand for many years. J.C. Ryle is a man who wrote many books and pamphlets and sermons that are as powerful and relevant today as they were in the 19th century. His description of jellyfish Christianity could as easily have been written here in the 21st century.
“[Dislike of dogma] is an epidemic which is just now doing great harm, and specially among young people. It produces what I must venture to call a “jelly-fish” Christianity in the land: that is, a Christianity without bone, or muscle, or power. A jelly-fish is a pretty and graceful object when it floats in the sea, contracting and expanding like a little, delicate, transparent umbrella. Yet the same jelly-fish, when cast on the shore, is a mere helpless lump, without capacity for movement, self-defence, or self-preservation. Alas! It is a vivid type of much of the religion of this day, of which the leading principle is, “No dogma, no distinct tenets, no positive doctrine.”
We have hundreds of “jelly-fish” clergymen, who seem not to have a single bone in their body of divinity. They have not definite opinions; they belong to no school or party; they are so afraid of “extreme views” that they have no views at all.
We have thousands of “jelly-fish” sermons preached every year, sermons without an edge, or a point, or a corner, smooth as billiard balls, awakening no sinner, and edifying no saint.
We have Legions of “jelly-fish” young men annually turned out from our Universities, armed with a few scraps of second-hand philosophy, who think it a mark of cleverness and intellect to have no decided opinions about anything in religion, and to be utterly unable to make up their minds as to what is Christian truth. They live apparently in a state of suspense, like Mohamet’s fabled coffin, hanging between heaven and earth and last.
Worst of all, we have myriads of “jelly-fish” worshippers—respectable church-going people, who have no distinct and definite views about any point in theology. They cannot discern things that differ, any more than colour blind people can distinguish colours They think everybody is right and nobody wrong, everything is true and nothing is false, all sermons are good and none are bad, every clergyman is sound and no clergyman is unsound. They are “tossed to and fro, like children, by every wind of doctrine”; often carried away by any new excitement and sensational movement; ever ready for new things, because they have no firm grasp on the old; and utterly unable to “render a reason of the hope that is in them.”
Never was it so important for laymen to hold systematic views of truth, and for ordained ministers to “enunciate dogma” very clearly and distinctly in their teaching.
How much better that we should all strive to raise our drooping faith and to re-enrich our depleted experience up to the standard of those blessed periods in the life of the Church when the belief in Bible history and the religion of the heart went hand in hand and kept equal pace, when people were ready to lay down their lives for facts and doctrines, because facts and doctrine formed the daily spiritual nourishment of the souls.
May God by his Spirit maintain among us, and through our instrumentality revive around us, that truly evangelical type of piety which not merely tolerates facts and doctrines, but draws from them its strength and inspiration in life and service, its only comfort and hope in the hour of death.
—Geerhardus Vos, “Christian Faith and the Truthfulness of Bible History,” The Princeton Theological Review (1906): 289-305.
(HT: Justin Taylor)
This is not for the theologically faint-of-heart! Essentially, we are to see Jesus, in his eternal sonship, as the ultimate expression of relating to God, both as its perfect template (for creation) and practical example (in incarnation). Through union with him we share in that ideal filial relationship. Wonderful!
Tony Reinke posts:
J. I. Packer rather famously wrote, “were I asked to focus the New Testament message in three words, my proposal would be adoption through propitiation, and I do not expect ever to meet a richer or more pregnant summary of the gospel than that” (Knowing God, 214). Adoption is precious, and that line from Packer is worth memorizing.
But there’s a much broader historical-redemptive context for understanding our adoption as David B. Garner explains in his excellent chapter, “The First and Last Son: Christology and Sonship in Pauline Soteriology,” published in Resurrection and Eschatology (P&R, 2008).
Here is Garner’s thick-and-rich-like-dark-chocolate conclusion. Best enjoyed in small bites:
Behind the creation of the cosmos—and most relevantly here, behind the creation of man—exists the archetypal, eternal sonship of Christ. Man, made in the image of God, a finite replica (ectype) of the eternal, ontologial Son (archetype), is, at creation, necessarily a son of God.
While the fall skewed sonship and alienated the relationship of the created son with the Father, just as man did not completely lose the divine image, he likewise did not lose the broad sense of his sonship. Still sons, but alienated and depraved, the first man and his progeny stood under the curse of their Creator/Father, and were in need of the judicial declaration of God to rectify their sonship status, and the redemptive power of God to restore their sonship constitution, indeed to vouchsafe their eschatological familial telos.
In view of the failure of the first son of God, the realization of this declaration and redeeming power by God’s grace came through the Last Adam, the Son of God par excellence, whose redemptive work provided the reversal of the curse on man and the attainment of adoption for the fallen sons of Adam. In Christ, created sons of Adam become the adopted sons of God.
While the entire redemptive-historical development and realization of redemptive sonship organically derive from his messianic sonship, Christ’s pre-temporal constitution plays the prior, ultimate role. In fact, all biblical sonship flows from an anterior, ontological principium—the eternal Son of God, in whom the ectypal, typological, and antitypical sonships find their raison d’être.
This principium of christological sonship unites the sonships of Adam, of Israel, of the incarnate Christ, and of the eschatologically adopted believer in covenantal, redemptive-historical continuity. The first Adam finitely replicates the First Son; the Last Adam fulfills the telos of the first created son. In this way, Christ is not only the eternal Son, he is also the archetypal Adam. Further, by his covenantal obedience as the Last Adam, he became the glorious, exalted, eschatological Son of God in power (Rom. 1:4).
We see therefore in Pauline soteriology an exhaustively christological cast, wherein the filial, ontological, and redemptive-historical are securely tethered in Christ the Son of God, the Source, Epicenter, and Consummator of all reality. He is the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End, the First Son and the Last. (279)