Sunday Devotions- Penitential Thoughts on Psalm 25

August 2, 2009

Remember your mercy, O Lord, and your steadfast love,
for they have been from of old.
Remember not the sins of my youth or my transgressions;
according to your steadfast love remember me,
for the sake of your goodness, O
Lord!” (Psalm 25.6-7)

When confronted with our ever-present sins, we quickly realize that our only hope is God’s steadfast love.  We know that the moment existed when God loved and forgave us of all our faults, but then in the wickedness of the flesh we go right out and commit the same atrocities against his grace that we were lost in before his appearance in our lives.

We sin against him, knowing fully that he has called us not to, and so our only refuge is in his memory of his love for us.  Earthly fathers would turn us out or grow disgusted at our rebellion, but God, when he comes in mercy to redeem us, does so fully that we may never be turned out again, though surely we would deserve it.

Turn to me and be gracious to me,
for I am lonely and afflicted.
The troubles of my heart are enlarged;
bring me out of my distresses.
Consider my affliction and my trouble,
and forgive all my sins
.” (vv.16-18)

I have heard it said that loneliness is God’s way of telling us that we have a relationship problem.  If we are lonely though he is always there, it is because we are trusting in something other than him to satisfy.  I recall the clarity of this in my own life, when stepping out of the darkness of insecurity God surprised me with his wondrous presence.  Truly he did “bring me out of my distresses” and freed me to be alive in the comfort of his arms.

The most freeing of it all is the knowledge that God has forgiven my sins.  That “on that cross as Jesus died, the wrath of God was satisfied” and this in my place did he stand, so that now I may be seen by God as sinless, righteous in standing, though I in no way have earned this myself (cf. 2 Corinthians 5.21).  Forever I may be in the presence of my God because Christ gave himself for me and by “his stripes [I was] healed” (Isaiah 53.5)

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.

Ringing the Man-Centered Bell Again- Jerry Vines and His Great Commission Caveat

June 4, 2009

If you keep up with anything in Southern Baptist news then you have heard about Dr. Danny Akin’s proposed Great Commission Resurgence (GCR) (I’ve even posted on it here already).   In the wake of Dr. Akin’s chapel message on this point there has been a document floating around which people within the SBC have been hemming and hawing over whether or not to sign.  Now, I’ll be honest, as much as I support what Akin said in chapel, I don’t necessarily think that I am all that in favor of a petition circulating our convention since all that does is bring a whole bunch of unneeded theological/opinion posturing to the table.  

Case in point, Dr. Jerry Vines.  Full disclosure: it is well known on this site that I am not the biggest fan of Jerry Vines’ ministry, particularly in light of last fall’s horrendous John 3:16 Conference.  That said, he has decided to interject himself into the GCR conversation by signing the document and then appending the phrase “with caveats” to it, which of course leads to the obvious question (and Internet hot topic) of, “What are his caveats?”  Thankfully we did not have to have another poorly named conference to flesh these out as he answered the question recently in an interview with the SBC’s own Baptist Press (here). 

So, what are his caveats?

In Article II ["We must be gospel centered in all our endeavors for the glory of God"], I understand Gospel-centeredness to include that Christ died for the sins of the whole world (I John 2:2).

In Article V [" We must affirm the Baptist Faith and Message 2000 as a healthy and sufficient guide for building a theological consensus for partnership in the gospel, refusing to be sidetracked by theological agendas that distract us from our Lord’s Commission"], I understand the Baptist Faith and Message 2000 to be a minimal guide, not a maximal one.

Good night!  This is exactly what I’m talking about!  First, neither one of these things is essentially to fulfilling the Great Commission (and thus shouldn’t be caveats at all!), and second, both of them are simply an attempt for Dr. Vines to further push his anti-Calvinist agenda within the SBC.  

1 John 2.2 says, “He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.”  That is a nice verse, divinely inspired and glorious in its revelation.  However it does not exactly say that “Christ died for the sins of the whole world.”  Besides, if we are going to use one verse to make a theology, why don’t we use John 10.11 (“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep”) or Matthew 1.21 (“She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins“)?  My point being, universal redemption (or unlimited atonement) is not a cut-and-dry doctrine, especially for consideration within the gospel.  

In his great book Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God, here is what J.I. Packer has to say about the extent of the atonement and the gospel:

It is obvious that if a preacher thought that the statement “Christ died for every one of you,” made to any congregation, would be unverifiable, and probably not true, he would take care not to make it in his gospel preaching.  You do not find such statements in the sermons of, for instance, George Whitefield or Charles Spurgeon.  But now, my point is that, even if a man thinks that this statement would be true if he made it, it is not a thing that he ever needs to say, or ever has reason to say, when preaching the gospel.  For preaching the gospel . . . means inviting sinners to come to Jesus Christ, the living Savior, who, by virtue of his atoning death, is able to forgive and save all those who put their trust in him.  What has to be said about the cross when preaching the gospel is simply that Christ’s death is the ground on which Christ’s forgiveness is given.  And this is all that has to be said.  The question of the designed extent of the atonement does not come into the story at all. (p.76)

Thus, this caveat definitely seems extraneous given its tenuous justification and lack of necessity as demonstrated by Dr. Packer.

Then on the second caveat, this is really just more of the same.  Why does Jerry Vines want to “caveat” that the BF&M 2000 is a minimal guide for building theological consensus?  Well, let’s look at the things that Danny Akin says are not covered in the BF&M and do not need to be held in agreement for us to unify within the GCR: 

  1. The exact nature of human depravity and transmission of the sin nature.
  2. The precise constitution of the human person.
  3. The issue of whether or not Christ could have sinned. (We all agree He didn’t!)
  4. The ordo salutis (”order of salvation”).
  5. The number of elders and the precise nature of congregational governance.
  6. The continuance of certain spiritual gifts and their nature.
  7. Does baptism require only right member (born again), right meaning (believer’s) and right mode (immersion) or does it also require the right administrator (ever how that is defined).
  8. The time of the rapture (pre, mid, post, partial rapture or pre-wrath rapture).
  9. The nature of the millennium (pre, amill or post)
  10. And, saving the best for last in our current context, we are not in full agreement about Calvinism and how many points one should affirm or redefine and affirm!

Now, of these, I wonder which of them Dr. Vines believes is necessary for building theological consensus?  I would highly doubt he is being strict over mind/body/soul issues (#2), the possibility that Christ could have sinned (#3), proper administration of baptism (#7), or eschatology (#8 and 9).  That leaves #1, #4, #5, #6, and #10.  Of these, at least three (and probably four considering the nature of polity issues) are related to Reformed theology.  Maybe Jerry Vines feels like he can’t be in cooperation with someone who believes in the possibility of speaking in tongues.  But what seems more likely the case based on precedent and the above statistics is that Jerry Vines would have trouble consensus-building with Calvinists.  I’m sorry Dr. Vines, but as a Southern Baptist, and particularly one who sat on the committee which wrote the BF&M 2000, that’s pathetic!  Again, caveat unnecessary.

Why does it have to be more of the same?  Like I said earlier, Dr. Akin’s message was grand, but now that it has made it into the hands of SBC “dignitaries” watch out.  The only thing likely to come of it now is more of the fabulous SBC infighting which the point of the whole freakin’ message was against in the first place!

Revolutionary Christianity- Living the Revolutionary Lifestyle in Accountability, Part 3

May 27, 2009

“As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.” – Genesis 50:20

“And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.” – Matthew 6:12

“For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins.” -Romans 3:23-25

So far in looking at how to live a revolutionary lifestyle in accountability we have discussed the need for transparency and admitting to the sins we commit and also have focused on how we can recognize Biblical repentance which leads to life versus false repentances which will lead to death. However, in this present culture of psychotherapy, antidepressants, and Dr. Phil, it is also necessary for us to discuss one last aspect of accountability, that being the avoidance of playing the victim.

I am a victim of my circumstances. Everyone has heard this, and if we’re honest, most of us have probably said a similar thing at some point in our life. These days everyone is a victim of what they don’t have. If you are poor then you’re a victim of not having the right clothes or living in the right neighborhood. If you’re rich then you are a victim of not having the right Coach purse or the right limo at prom. If you are married then you are victim of not having enough freedom to flirt with the new girl at work. If you have kids then you are victim of having to go to Disney World instead of Vegas on vacation. We can all claim some kind of victimization in our lives.

Moreover, in claiming this status of being a victim we seek some sort of compensation. This is what leads to school shootings and divorce and abortions. We feel slighted by our classmates or our spouse or by condoms and it is up to us to take care of getting retribution for the pain we have been caused. And so, the big question about all of this is “Is it Biblical?”

Is it Biblical to seek retribution for “wrongs” done against us, be it physical wrongs such as abuse, emotional wrongs likes neglect, or perceived wrongs like our upbringing? The straight-talk answer is a resounding “No!” It doesn’t take much studying to realize this either. Starting in Genesis 3, at the time when sin first enters the world, we see Adam and Eve caught up in the original blame game. God accuses Adam of sin, Adam blames Eve, Eve blames the serpent, and God curses them all! Why? Because none were holy. Even though the temptation was initiated by the serpent, Eve sinned in her pride to seek the wisdom from the Tree of Knowledge in disobedience to God’s command, and Adam sinned first in his lack of spiritual leadership over his household and secondly in partaking of the fruit as well. All were guilty and as such all had to bear the consequence.

Similarly for us, irregardless of what may have happened to us, and I don’t want to seem incompassionate because some people have terrible things happen to them which should never be done to any person, but we are nonetheless not holy either. David says in Psalm 58:3, “The wicked are estranged from the womb; they go astray from birth, speaking lies.” Here the wicked applies to all of us, for as we recall from Ephesians 2:1, we are all dead spiritually prior to God’s gift of regeneration.

Thus, as we see in Romans 3:23-25 and in 1 John 4:10, we are sinners separated from God, deserving of His wrath. We have sinned against God, and because He alone is holy, then He would be just to punish us for this sin. Yet that is the wonderful gospel! God’s wrath was averted by Christ’s atoning death on the cross. He was our propitiation, which literally says that His death was the means by which God’s wrath towards us was satsified. God took all of the horrors that were rightly ours because of our sin and executed them upon the Son, who stood as our substitute so that we may live. So, in light of this, what right do we then have to crucify someone else for the sins they commit against us?

This teaching couldn’t be anymore clear, and yet we quickly fall into the mindset of deflecting our own shortcomings onto others in attempt to make ourselves look or feel better. But, in order to exercise revolutionary Christianity we must reject this way of thinking. We must be accountable to our sins and not get caught up in playing the blame game to try and portray a false piety in front of the world. If we truly desire to be a revolutionary like Christ we must be accountable for our own sins and quick to forgive the sins of others against us, for as has long demonstrated, God is powerful enough to take that stuff which is meant by man to be purely for evil and use it for His greater purpose in the salvation of the elect.

Steps to the Dark Side, part 2- Some Theological Abuses that Lead to Christian Universalism

May 7, 2009

Yesterday we began laying out some of the doctrinal errors that are contributing to evangelical churches moving closer and closer to the idea of Christian Universalism (CU) and today we will continue in this work, covering numbers two and three out of the four I named.

The second error that I believe is putting our churches at risk for turning to CU is a misunderstanding of salvation by grace alone.  Now please, hear me out on this.  Obviously the idea of sola gratia is foundational to Protestant Christianity and this is not at all a claim which I wish to dispute.  Ephesians 2.8 makes it perfectly clear that it is “by grace you have been saved through faith,” and if any question remained, Romans 3.23-24a tells us that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift.”  So, salvation is surely by grace alone.

Then what do I mean in saying that a misunderstanding of the doctrine of salvation by grace alone puts the church on the path to CU?  I mean that we must not confuse the fact that it is by grace alone that we gain our salvation with the fact that it took so much more than grace for our forgiveness to be granted.  We must not ever forget that though we pay nothing to receive adoption as sons that does not mean that no price has been paid.  Indeed the greatest price was paid for our salvation, the cost of Jesus’ life!

What happens when we forget that the sacrifice of Christ was necessary for our forgiveness and for us to have the ability to be justified by grace is that we forget just how offensive our sinfulness is to God.  When we begin to replace the truth of the penal substitutionary death of Christ with lies like Christ died on the cross to identify with our sufferings then we begin to minimize the severity of our rebellion against God.  And the moment our rebellion does not look so bad then any God who would eternally condemn someone over something as inconsequential as sin becomes a cruel despot and must be rejected by our refined sensibilities.  Therefore, it is crucial not to forget that though we play no part in obtaining our salvation, it is purely by grace, there still was a tremendous price paid by Christ as a result of our sin.  As the full context of Romans 3.23-24 tells us, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith.”

The third error which tempts evangelicals towards Christian Universalism is the teaching of Free Grace theology as it pertains to perseverance.  The reasoning behind this is somewhat the mirror of the reasoning for the previous point.  Free Grace theology teaches people that they receive salvation the moment they accept Christ, either through some prayer or verbal declaration or what not, and that no subsequent action of their life following this can jeopardize that standing.  Whereas a misunderstanding of salvation by grace alone views our salvation as not needing any price to be paid for it, the error of Free Grace theology is to believe that our salvation does not need any price to be paid to sustain it.  I have argued elsewhere why I feel this view to be inaccurate (see here and here) and so you may refer to those as to why I call this an error.  

As far as why Free Grace theology tempts towards CU, I base this on the fact that it does not take much of a wiggle to go from believing that on either side of salvation God never requires anything more from a person than faith to believing that in salvation God simply never requires anything of a person.  If the New Testament commands from Christ and the Apostles to Christians are simply the steps recommended for those who want to go deeper, then who’s to say that the command to faith is not also among those things which are nonessential?  To most of you this probably sounds ridiculous, but parse it out.  Why is “take up your cross daily” a suggestion but speaking with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believing in your heart that God raised him from the dead a requirement?  Not so cut and dry, is it?  Therefore, for those who are totally sold out on Free Grace theology, how much will it take to move them along to Christian Universalism?  From where I stand it doesn’t seem like a lot, which is not acceptable.

Why His Stripes Healed Us- Daniel Montgomery on the Old Testament Sacrificial System

March 16, 2009

(Note: If you like what you have read on this blog, please go here and vote for it in the 2009 Blog Madness competition.  I am listed as the 15th ranked blog in the West Division.  Thank you for your support.)

As some of you may know from talking with me or reading in the Author tab, this coming fall my family and I are headed to Louisville, KY in order for me to start attending The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.  And looking towards Louisville we are also looking ahead to what church we plan on joining while there.  Of course, knowing my interests and what is happening in that city right now, the most obvious front runner for us would be Sojourn Community Church.  Thus, in preparation for visiting there in the coming months I have already begun listening to their weekly sermon podcasts on iTunes.

Let me first say that I am very impressed by the ambituous task that Sojourn’s pastor, Daniel Montgomery, has embarked upon this year.  He has felt led to take his church through a sweeping tour of the entire Old Testament, hitting the major themes and events along the way, during the 2009 calendar year.  I love that they are pursuing that idea since there seem to be so few Southern Baptists that I think have a firm enough grasp on what exactly is in the Old Testament and why that content is important for us to know in light of New Testament revelation about Christ.

However, beyond that initial respect I have for his series, Daniel recently came upon a topic which I was flat excited to here someone preach on– that being the issue of the Old Testament sacrificial system.  Because he is going straight through the Bible, when he got to the opening chapters of Leviticus there was really nothing else to do but to deal with all of the sacrifices that are laid out for the Israelites to perform.  I can honestly say I have never heard this precahed on before in any church I have attended or downloaded, and was so ecstatic to hear Pastor Daniel go through it from the pulpit.  It really was a great message and I want to recommend it to all of you as a sermon of supreme importance in terms of where we come from and just why it was necessary for Christ to pay the penalty that he had to in order for us to be redeemed by his blood.  There is so much confusion on the meaning of the atonement these days, and unless we place everything back in the light of God’s Levitical requirements for sin we can not truly understand why a bloody, beaten Savior is what was needed for the fulfillment of the law.  Please, take the time to listen to this wonderful exposition of God’s Word.

Daniel Montgomery- Leviticus 1-6, 16: Sacrifice

Confronted by Glory- What Isaiah 6 Teaches Us About the Process of Salvation

March 8, 2009

People are always curious what we Christians mean by salvation.  And by this I don’t mean the gospel– though surely they are curious about that as well– but genuinely what do we mean by salvation?  What does it look like?  How does it proceed?  How does it begin (ah, the Calvinism question)?  

When faced with this question, my gut reaction is always to turn them to Romans 8.30– “And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.”  This seems about as straightforward as possible, but in reality it leaves many more questions to be answered.  Specifically we are left with what all these terms like “predestined,” “called,” “justified,” and “glorified” mean themselves, and so, unless the person is well read already, this isn’t actually the most illuminating of verses.  

However, another place I am learning to turn to is in Isaiah 6, verses 1 through 7:

In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him stood the seraphim. Each had six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one called to another and said:

“Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!”

And the foundations of the thresholds shook at the voice of him who called, and the house was filled with smoke. And I said: “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!”

Then one of the seraphim flew to me, having in his hand a burning coal that he had taken with tongs from the altar. And he touched my mouth and said: “Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for.”

Though Isaiah 6 leaves much shrouded in mystery (at least at the time of its writing) about who made the atonement, I do not believe we have a more vivid depiction of the process of salvation anywhere else in Scripture.  

So, how does it begin?  Well, we aren’t really told.  We are introduced to this vision rather bluntly: “Someone died and I saw Lord on his throne.”  Not much information there.  Is this a waking vision or hallucination? a sleeping vision (dream)?  was Isaiah physically there or spiritually?  Not much is really offered.  But, in the end, I don’t think it matters.  

What we should focus on instead is what he sees, namely the glory of God.  There is the Lord (pre-incarnate Christ?  Again, not really important for what we are looking at), and he is seated on his throne, “high and lifted up.”  He is wearing a robe and “the train of his robe filled the temple.”  And he is surrounded by six-winged angels, all singing his praises to one another.  There is smoke and there are earthquakes caused by a calling.  This is the glory of God.  The angels sing, “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts.”  The Lord is holy, and the visible manifestation of his holiness is his glory; this is what Isaiah is confronted with in this great scene.

So then, how does Isaiah respond to this glory which now stands before him?  ”Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!” (v.5).  Isaiah is so overcome by what he sees that he pronounces condemnation on himself.  ”Woe is me.”  This vision of God’s glory makes Isaiah supremely aware of the fact that he himself is not glorious, that he is filthy, that he is “a man of unclean lips” from “a people of unclean lips,” and thus only deserving of death.  Yet this is his confession.  He is not worthy to be here.  He has great sin in his life which should force God, who he recognizes as Lord, to separate from him.

But what does happen?  It tells us that one of the seraphim carried a coal from the altar to Isaiah and pressed it to the prophets lips to remove his guilt and atone for his sin.  Check that.  Isaiah repents of his sin, confesses that the Lord (Christ) is Lord, and the atonement earned by a sacrifice which was already made is now applied to his sin, cleansing him from it, making him acceptable to God. This IS salvation!

Now, let’s take it from the top once more: Isaiah is confronted with the glory of God, with the utter holiness of the Lord of hosts.  This in turn leads him to repent of his own sins– which are surely to damn him in light of the revelation of God’s holiness– and to confess the Lordship of the Lord of hosts.  Instead of being damned however, Isaiah is reconciled with God through the application of the atonement already made for his sins.  At the most basic level, without any idea of penal substitution or imputed righteousness or what not, this is what salvation looks like.

Then practically we are left with the following questions, which we will pick up on tomorrow.  First, notice how Isaiah is confronted with the glory of God and from there seems to be compelled to repent and believe.  Is this always the case?  Or is it possible that someone could be confronted by the glory of God and not be led to repentance and belief in him?  Second, is it possible that someone may exercise true repentance and belief without first having been confronted with the glory of God?  I believe these are both crucial questions to answer and play a large role in how we carry out the practice of sharing the gospel with nonbelievers.

What We Believe- Article II, God (part 2)

January 15, 2009

Following the prologue and general overview of God that we looked at previously the BF&M moves into a subarticle concerning God the Father:

A. God the Father

God as Father reigns with providential care over His universe, His creatures, and the flow of the stream of human history according to the purposes of His grace. He is all powerful, all knowing, all loving, and all wise. God is Father in truth to those who become children of God through faith in Jesus Christ. He is fatherly in His attitude toward all men.

Genesis 1:1; 2:7; Exodus 3:14; 6:2-3; 15:11ff.; 20:1ff.; Leviticus 22:2; Deuteronomy 6:4; 32:6; 1 Chronicles 29:10; Psalm 19:1-3; Isaiah 43:3,15; 64:8; Jeremiah 10:10; 17:13; Matthew 6:9ff.; 7:11; 23:9; 28:19; Mark 1:9-11; John 4:24; 5:26; 14:6-13; 17:1-8; Acts 1:7; Romans 8:14-15; 1 Corinthians 8:6; Galatians 4:6; Ephesians 4:6; Colossians 1:15; 1 Timothy 1:17; Hebrews 11:6; 12:9; 1 Peter 1:17; 1 John 5:7.

I do not believe that this statement could be improved upon. They accurately represent as God as sovereign over “human history,” directing things “according to the purposes of His grace.” I particularly like how they emphasize the nature of adoption, saying that “God is Father in truth to those who become children of God through faith in Jesus Christ.”

The final comment, that “[God] is fatherly in His attitude toward all men” is interesting in the fact that I think there is an increasing movement among evangelicals to include more here. Just look at all of the arguments around for “God the Mother,” drawing off of brief images and nuances of speech in certain OT passages (cf. Isaiah 49:14-15; 66:13; Psalm 131:2-3). Even supercool Rob Bell has a supercool Nooma video out entitled She which asks “”When we omit the feminine, are we missing a very fundamental part of [God's] nature?” However, what I think people are missing here is that the idea of God the Father is most prevalent from the way that Christ relates to him. Yes, God may and does have “feminine” characteristics, but in relating to his people, say for instance in “The Lord’s Prayer” (Matthew 6.9-13), God is portrayed as Father alone. There is a major difference between displaying feminine qualities and assuming a feminine role and when we overlook that or ignore it we begin to venture off into awkward, if not bad, theology. It is simply a symptom of our hyper-perverse and scatterbrained culture that we become so adamant to force this secular egalitarian philosophy into everything, even places were it clearly does not belong.

The second subarticle has do with God incarnated as Christ:

B. God the Son

Christ is the eternal Son of God. In His incarnation as Jesus Christ He was conceived of the Holy Spirit and born of the virgin Mary. Jesus perfectly revealed and did the will of God, taking upon Himself human nature with its demands and necessities and identifying Himself completely with mankind yet without sin. He honored the divine law by His personal obedience, and in His substitutionary death on the cross He made provision for the redemption of men from sin. He was raised from the dead with a glorified body and appeared to His disciples as the person who was with them before His crucifixion. He ascended into heaven and is now exalted at the right hand of God where He is the One Mediator, fully God, fully man, in whose Person is effected the reconciliation between God and man. He will return in power and glory to judge the world and to consummate His redemptive mission. He now dwells in all believers as the living and ever present Lord.

Genesis 18:1ff.; Psalms 2:7ff.; 110:1ff.; Isaiah 7:14; 53; Matthew 1:18-23; 3:17; 8:29; 11:27; 14:33; 16:16,27; 17:5; 27; 28:1-6,19; Mark 1:1; 3:11; Luke 1:35; 4:41; 22:70; 24:46; John 1:1-18,29; 10:30,38; 11:25-27; 12:44-50; 14:7-11; 16:15-16,28; 17:1-5, 21-22; 20:1-20,28; Acts 1:9; 2:22-24; 7:55-56; 9:4-5,20; Romans 1:3-4; 3:23-26; 5:6-21; 8:1-3,34; 10:4; 1 Corinthians 1:30; 2:2; 8:6; 15:1-8,24-28; 2 Corinthians 5:19-21; 8:9; Galatians 4:4-5; Ephesians 1:20; 3:11; 4:7-10; Philippians 2:5-11; Colossians 1:13-22; 2:9; 1 Thessalonians 4:14-18; 1 Timothy 2:5-6; 3:16; Titus 2:13-14; Hebrews 1:1-3; 4:14-15; 7:14-28; 9:12-15,24-28; 12:2; 13:8; 1 Peter 2:21-25; 3:22; 1 John 1:7-9; 3:2; 4:14-15; 5:9; 2 John 7-9; Revelation 1:13-16; 5:9-14; 12:10-11; 13:8; 19:16.

Again I believe this is a wonderful description of the life and workings of Jesus Christ. The writers make sure to emphasize his virgin birth and full deity, two aspects of Christ which many Christians throughout history have felt were up for debate, particularly in our current period of modernity and “scientific enlightenment.” We are also treated to the triple picture of Christ as prophet (he “perfectly revealed and did the will of God”), priest (“He is the One Mediator . . . in whose Person is effected the reconciliation between God and man”), and king (“He ascended into heaven and is now exalted at the right hand of God”). As well, his second coming in glory, “to save those who are eagerly waiting for him” (Hebrews 12.28 ) among other things, is foretold.

One important addition that we find in the 2000 revision of the BF&M is in the passage that talks about Christ’s death. The 2000 version reads, “in His substitutionary death on the cross He made provision for the redemption of men from sin.” Where this differs from the 1963 version is in the inclusion of the word “substitutionary.” Such a small word but such a big deal. There are so many theories abounding today which proclaim Christ’s death on the cross as simply an example of suffering or as a mistake which God later turned to his good, all the while trying to deny a substitutionary atonement on claims that to necessitate Christ going through such a thing would be nothing more than “cosmic child abuse” by the Father. We can breath a sigh of relief then knowing that, at least on paper, the standard of orthodoxy in the SBC recognizes that not only did Christ die on the cross, but that it was foreordained and necessary for him to do so in order that he might be “made to be sin” on our behalf (2 Corinthians 5.21a) and so “the record of debt that stood against us” may be canceled (Colossians 2.13-14), allowing us to “become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5.21b).

The Reason for the Season- Celebrating Jesus’ Birth in Isaiah 53.12

December 28, 2008

Therefore I will divide him a portion with the many,
and he shall divide the spoil with the strong,
because he poured out his soul to death
and was numbered with the transgressors;
yet he bore the sin of many,
and makes intercession for the transgressors
.” -Isaiah 53.12

Isaiah 53 closes with one last reminder of why Jesus came: to “[bear] the sin of many” and to “[make] intercession for the transgressors.”

The child was promised to be king, and after doing what no other man could do, he was exalted as such by his Father in heaven (Acts 2.32-33, Ephesians 1.20-23).  The child given gifts by the Magi, is now given gifts by God, and in his majesty he has decided to share that gift, that royal inheritance, with those who are called by his name (Romans 8.12-17, Galatians 3.26, 1 Peter 1.3-5).

This is the good news.  This is the Gospel.  This is the reason for the season.