Proof of Authenticity- Validating the Faith in 2 Corinthians 6.3-4

July 31, 2009

We put no obstacle in anyone’s way, so that no fault may be found with our ministry, but as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way.” (2 Corinthians 6.3-4a)

One of the toughest challenges in Christian apologetics is proving the truth and reliability of our message.  Men may agree that what we say is in line with Scripture, but then dismiss Scripture as being false and so leave us with nothing.  However, the power of a faithful Christian witness can defend us against this.

I am not talking about a witness in the popular evangelical way.  In this way it is just another word we have coopted to mean yelling a cold, lifeless, ineffectual spiel at someone.  No.  By witness we should mean a life lived.  It is not the evangelist who is witnessing; it is the lost who are witnessing him!  They witness how what he does backs up what he says.  They witness a breathing example of the message being fulfilled.  Paul stakes the whole call upon his faithful witness, knowing that the commendation of his life will only give that much more evidence for the gospel that in 2 Corinthians 6.2 he claims is so urgent.

How and Why- Evangelism Cues in 2 Corinthians 5.20

July 30, 2009

Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.” (2 Corinthians 5.20)

Two things stand out to me here: “God making his appeal through us” and “On behalf of Christ.”

First, we hear that the evangelism of Paul and his partners is not the words of a man trying to get people saved.  It is God’s appeal through human instruments.  God has chosen to make his message known by the preaching of the gospel (cf. Romans 10.17).  Thus, our preaching is of necessity while at the same time being guaranteed.  God will get his message heard, his appeal made, and it will be by human messengers.

But, this preaching is neither man powered nor solely obedience.  Once again, return to Galatians 2.20:

Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.

The man that is crucified to self, living in the flesh by faith in Christ and Christ through him, willbe moved to evangelism.  Nothing is sheer will, everything is by the heart.  And God will guarantee the making of his appeal by controlling the heart of his evangelist.

Second, the call to reconciliation is made “on behalf of Christ.”  By the power of God I may love my neighbor and weep, if necessary, over his lostness, but the drive to evangelize him is not wrought of my own benevolence and love but of the will of Christ to reconcile them to God.  I alone dictate nothing.  God works sovereignly, either sovereignly with me or sovereignly against me.  Whichever way, it gets done, even is this may be by way of exposing my own pride.

A Wizard with Words – Placing 2 Corinthians 5.11 within Context

July 28, 2009

Therefore, knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade others.” (2 Corinthians 5.11a)

This is a difficult verse which is often used by those of a non-Calvinist mindset to justify highly produced and/or overly dramatic “gospel calls” from the pulpit.  And taken without context one may seek to have as much liberty with the idea of ‘persuasion’ as seems right to a man.  However, approached in context, or at least with an eye to what has been said before, this liberty must be restrained.

Recall that in 2 Corinthians 2.17 Paul remarks,

For we are not like so many, peddlers of God’s word . . .

Therefore, though in chapter 5 he admits “persuad[ing] others,” this must be properly balanced by his earlier statement.  The key to this is what remains in 2 verse 17,

. . . but as men of sincerity, as commissioned by God, in the sight of God we speak in Christ.

So, three things:

First, they speak “as men of sincerity.”  Their persuasion is not a show; it is a desperate plea from an earnest heart which lives to fulfill the Great Commission and see Christ glorified in the salvation of the lost.

Second, they speak “in the sight of God.”  Since it is knowledge of “the fear of the Lord” that motivates their persuading, so is it the knowledge of standing in the presence of God that motivates their restraint.  At no time should our actions attempt to steal away God’s glory– for that is the definition of sin– but even more in the presence of God should our concern be in honoring him appropriately.

Finally, they speak “in Christ.”  Though it is Paul who speaks we must not forget that he is the same man who wrote, “the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God” (Galatians 2.20).  Thus, when he speaks, Christ comes out.  And when it is Christ the focus cannot be upon glorifying Paul or utilizing Paul’s power in conversion.  No.  The focus must surely be upon glorifying the cross and the great salvation which Christ earned there.

Persuasion must always be tempered with these thoughts, esle the preacher will rest too highly on his own presumed ability to “win souls” and fall into gross evangelistic sin.

You are the Gospel!- Rob Bell and the Anathema of “The Resurrection Rescue”

July 27, 2009

Clicking a link to something called “the Good News according to Rob Bell” is like hearing an episode of Friends is on TBS– you’ve already seen the show a hundred times but you watch anyways just in case.  So, I clicked it, pretty sure what I’d get, but attentive to see if there was anything redeemable.  Alas, it’s the one where he says Rachel’s name at the wedding again.

The video opens with Bell doing what he does best: standing still in Weezer-glasses, giving a “history lesson” on Judaism and the Roman Empire, denying all of the things evangelicals say and playing the tune of oppression of the poor and powerless.  Actually, it ends pretty much the same way too.  However, I did grab a bit of the transcript just for us to look at:

The gospel is the good news that God hasn’t given up on the world, that the tomb is empty and that a giant resurrection rescue is underway and that you and I can be a part of it. And so yes, this has a deeply personal dimension to it. Jesus is saving me. He’s saving me from my sins, from my mistakes, from my pride, from my indifference to the suffering of the world around me, from my cynicism and despair. The brokenness I see in the world around me is true of my own soul, and so he’s rescuing me, moment by moment, day by day, because God wants to put it all back together—you, me, the whole world. And so he starts deep inside each of us with our awareness that we need help, that we need saving, that we need rescuing. And then he begins to show us step by step what it looks like to put flesh and blood on this gospel. Because we all fall short, and that’s the beautiful part. Broken, flawed, vulnerable people like you and me are invited to be the hands and feet of a Jesus who loves us exactly as we are and yet loves us way too much to let us stay that way.

I believe. I believe because I see. I see the resurrection all around me. If people only had your life and they were asked the question, “Has Jesus risen from the dead?,” how would they answer? Has he? May you be a “yes” to the question, “Has Jesus risen from the dead?” And may you come to see, may you understand, that you are the good news. You are the gospel.

Where to begin?  Well, let’s start at the beginning.  ”The gospel is the good news that God hasn’t given up on the world, that the tomb is empty and that a giant resurrection rescue is underway and that you and I can be a part of it.”  I wonder where he got that from?  Empty tomb?  Okay.  God hasn’t given up?  Sure.  Resurrection rescue??  No atonement??

Rob Bell amazes me.  In a day when everyone wants to attack the atonement and what was accomplished on the cross, he just avoids altogether.  Honestly, I have listened to Bell enough to know that to him Jesus’ death on the cross was just a way to get him dead.  Nothing else.  At times he tries to add some sort of atonement in there, but it’s never very sincere.  Nope.  For Bell, the rescue is accomplished at the resurrection, and now that Christ is resurrected, “[he] is saving me.”  That’s funny, since Hebrews 10 tells us that,

And every priest stands daily at his service, offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, waiting from that time until his enemies should be made a footstool for his feet. For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified. (vv.11-14)

So, who’s right?  Is it Bell who tells us that Jesus is raised from the dead to go around saving us “step by step”, or is it the Bible which says that Christ offered “a single sacrifice for sins [and then] sat down at the right hand of God” waiting for the second coming?  Is our salvation is “moment by moment, day by day” rescue, or is it the case that “a single sacrifice has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified“?

Clearly for Bell there are only two options: either he out and out denies what the Bible says about the atonement and Christ’s completed work of redemption, or . . . wait, I guess there’s only one option.  If our rescuing requires Christ’s continual work, then Hebrews is false and salvation is not secured by the cross.  Is that a bet you wnat to take?

Which of course leads into my other issue, namely that “You are the gospel.”  Really?  Is that what we’re told to do?  Are we supposed to be pointing to ourselves to lead people to God?  Are the claims of the Bible only as good as my witness?  I’ll concede that there may be good intention here, but the execution is very poor.  Right from the beginning the point is to minimize ourselves and point to Christ (cf. John 3.30), so to place the final emphasis on the believer and not somewhere more biblical, like say, Christ on the cross (cf. Galatians 2.20), is probably a bad course of action.

But like I said, what do you expect?  Everyone knows they we’re on a break, and everyone knows that each new Rob Bell production brigs us one step closer to universalism.  At least he looks cool distorting the gospel though.

Sunday Devotions- Struck by “How Deep the Father’s Love for Us”

July 26, 2009

I’ll admit it, there are many times that I simply sing along during worship without focusing very much on the words of substance of what I’m belting out.  This is wrong.  I know.  And I’d even be the first to speak against it, but I confess, I struggle with it to.

That said, this past Sunday I was paying attention to the words of a very familiar hymn that we were singing on Sunday morning and for the first time the words really struck me deep.  The song was “How Deep the Father’s Love For Us” by Stuart Townsend and the lyrics are as follows:

How deep the Father’s love for us,
How vast beyond all measure
That He should give His only Son
To make a wretch His treasure

How great the pain of searing loss,
The Father turns His face away
As wounds which mar the chosen One,
Bring many sons to glory

Behold the Man upon a cross,
My sin upon His shoulders
Ashamed I hear my mocking voice,
Call out among the scoffers

It was my sin that held Him there
Until it was accomplished
His dying breath has brought me life
I know that it is finished

I will not boast in anything
No gifts, no power, no wisdom
But I will boast in Jesus Christ
His death and resurrection

Why should I gain from His reward?
I cannot give an answer
But this I know with all my heart
His wounds have paid my ransom

The entire song is solid, drawing from numerous passages of Scripture and painting deep, harrowing pictures of Christ that carry much more emotion than the flamboyent, fuzzy Savior of The Jesus Film.  I especially am drawn by that final stanza however.

Why should I gain from his reward?  I cannot give an answer

How true is this?  Knowing what I do of my own depravity, both from the revelation of Scripture and the Spirit within me, the possibility that I would receive anything more from God than hell is unthinkable.  God had already given me life and look how I had screwed that up.  Yet by his grace– what a pathetically weak word that is– he gave me what I do not and could not deserve.

But this I know with all my heart, his wounds have paid my ransom

With all my heart.  God did not simply forgive me.  A sacrifice was required.  My sins could not just be overlooked.  They have not been merely forgotten.  My sins killed Jesus.  How many of us really dwell on this?  Is the glory of the modern gospel nothing but that God loves me and so turns a blind eye to my transgressions?  In America we often say, “Freedom isn’t free,” but nowhere is this more apparent than in the death of Christ.  Our sins carry a cost, but for those of us who have been freed by the grace of God, that freedom was made possible because the cost of our sins was paid by one who came before us, living the life we couldn’t live, dying the death we should have died, so that we could gain the reward we could never have gained.

Resource Saturday- Two Great Books on Biblical Theology

July 25, 2009

Right interpretation of God’s Word is probably the most crucial aspect of our faith.  Without a proper understanding of the Scriptures we can never know the truth that they reveal.  Because of this many Christians pour over commentary upon commentary and systematic upon systematic gaining deeper and better knowledge of the things which God has said.

Yet so much time is spent in trying to unwrap the individual books and topics of the Bible that its easy to lose track of another important level of interpretation, namely biblical theology.  This is the point at which we interpret the Bible as a whole, the Bible as a story, from front to back, in light of its focus and intent.  As I said, this is another level of interpretation and so has obvious overlaps with the others already mentioned, but still has its own distinct purpose.  One such purpose is gaining a fuller grasp of the relationship between the Old and New Testaments, the Old and New Covenants, Israel and the Church.

When considering biblical theology there are two books that I have found most helpful.  The first one is According to Plan by Graeme Goldsworthy.  Dr. Goldsworthy is a retired Australian professor and in this book he sets out a template for placing the various themes of the Scriptures together as they arise in order to make the separate books of the Bible fit together into one coherent image.  I first picked up this book on recommendation of a friend during John Piper’s Desiring God Conference last year and had it most of the way read before I even arrived back home.  This is a well organized, easy to follow text that carries you step-by-step through deciphering and connecting biblically relevant information and, judging by its prevelance in the classes at Southern Seminary, it really is as good as I found it to be myself.

The second book, or actually set of books, is Mark Dever’s sermon collections The Message of the Old Testament: Promises Made and The Message of the New Testament: Promises Kept.  This set contains a sermon on each book of the Bible which describe both the book itself and its place in the greater canon of Scripture.  I have found this set to be very nice to use when I move into new books in my personal study time.  They are nice introductions to the book and wonderful reminders of how all of God’s Word reveals the truth of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

If you are looking for great resources to build up your interpretative library, please consider these as foundational texts every serious student must have.

. . . and Light – A Reflection on 2 Corinthians 4.3-6, part 2

July 24, 2009

For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” (2 Corinthians 4.6)

To start understanding this verse we must first see the analogy Paul is making here with Genesis 1.1-3:

In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters. And God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light.

He we see that darkness is covering the earth and God, through the word that is Christ (cf. John 1.1-3), speaks light forth out of the darkness.  In the same way we are presented the blinded darkness which is unbelief and God who speaks light into hearts which is salvation.

This is seen in various ways elsewhere in the New Testament.  Ephesians 2.4-5 tells us that God takes those who are dead in their trespasses and sins and “[makes them] alive together with Christ.”  1 Peter 1.3 says that “[a]ccording to his great mercy, [God] has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.”  Titus 3.4-7 lets us know that because of God’s “goodness and loving kindness . . . he saved us . . . by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior.”

All of this points to two things.  One, it is God who both initiates and completes our salvation.  He takes us from darkness and into light, from death and gives us life.  Nowhere is any conditional offer mentioned.  Nowhere is God asking if we want this and then letting us decide.  God sovereignly works, and when he works he does it all the way.

Second, we see in this truth the statement of Acts 4.12 exemplified:

And there is salvation in no one else [but Jesus], for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.

Not only does God provide salvation, but the only means by which salvation is made known is “in the face of Jesus Christ.”

Darkness . . . – A Reflection on 2 Corinthians 4.3-6, part 1

July 23, 2009

And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled only to those who are perishing. In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.” (2 Corinthians 4.3-4)

I believe that this verse speaks well together with Hebrews 11.6,

And without faith it is impossible to please [God], for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.

God can only be pleased by the faith of those who believe in and seek him, and no one can do this who is “blind” to the gospel.  No one may reject the light of the gospel and serve God simultaneously, for those to whom the “gospel is veiled” are one who are perishing.

Similarly, this agrees with Ephesians 2.1-3,

And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.

Here we see that “the god of this world [who] has blinded the minds of the unbelievers” is the same as “the prince of the power of the air” that those “dead in [their] trespasses and sins” follow.  This is a hard word, but its reality makes the truth to be found in verse 6 of 2 Corinthians 4 all the more glorious!

Salesmen for Jesus? – Questions Arising from 2 Corinthians 2.17

July 21, 2009

For we are not, like so many, peddlers of God’s word, but as men of sincerity, as commissioned by God, in the sight of God we speak in Christ.” (2 Corinthians 2.17)

Let it never be said that I am a “peddler of God’s word.”  What an awful thought, that God’s word could be to me as some means of gain or as some gimmick to promote a human agenda!

Are there yet ways that I could be a peddler while still desiring to see men saved?  What of my theology of salvation?  Am I a peddler if I use persuasive means to “get decisions”?

Where is it that I stop and God starts?  Is that not right from the beginning?  If I am “speak[ing] in Christ,” then at no time is my dependence upon my own skills or means.  yet clearly methodology matters.  Peter spoke differently between Acts 2 and Acts 11.  So did Paul from Acts 13 to Acts 17.  How do I discern what is and is not appropriate?

How do I not become a peddler?

Pre-, Post-, A-? – Two Great Pastors Weigh in on the Millennium

July 20, 2009

For any of you who may have noticed, it has been a little over a week since I last posted on my blog.  Some of you may have thought that the rapture had come.  As far as I know that is not true and instead what’s been going on is a family vacation and a relocation of all our earthly possessions from Gainesville, FL to Louisville, KY.

However, while on the subject of eschatology– which I have mentioned is not exactly my favorite of theological topics– I thought it might be nice to pass along to sermons I have listened to recently.  Both of them are concerning the millennium as spoken of primarily in Revelation 20.

The first is by Pastor Thom Schreiner of Clifton Baptist Church in Louisville, KY and can be found here.  The second is from Mark Dever of Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington D.C. and is available for download at this location.  If you are curious about the millennium and want to see what some great minds have to say on it, I can imagine no better place to start than with these two men.  Enjoy!