Resource Saturday- Unwrapping the Temple of God

July 11, 2009

In my experience, most American Christians tend to have a rather limited view of the temple of God.  They would probably be able to tell you that the Temple was in Jerusalem, that it was destroyed at some point, and that your body is a temple (cf. 1 Corinthians 6.19, which, in my opinion, is the second most misused verse in the Bible behind Revelation 3.20).  However, over the year and a half the Spirit has lead me into studies which show a much deeper importance to the Temple, an importance which drives me to believe the Temple should be the focus of all our eschatalogical dreams as Christians.

Of course, to make sense of this requires first a proper understanding of what the Temple is and second enough time to go from cover to cover in the Bible seeing what God has revealed about the Temple to us.  For my part I will tell you that the Temple, properly understood, is the place where the presence of God dwells with man.  Thus we see that in the physical temple, the presence of God dwelt in the Holy of Holies, and today the presence of God dwells in the church and the individual believers which make up the church.  But what about at all other points?  What about before the Temple was built in Jerusalem?  What about after it was destroyed?  What about in the end time?

This truly is a rich subject, so rich in fact that I just recently finished reading a 400-page book on it.  Now, I know that not everyone has the time (or patience) to read a book this long, but if you ever want to give it a try, G.K. Beale’s The Temple and the Church’s Mission is well worth it.  When I first found this book sitting on the shelf in Southern’s LifeWay I immediately bought it and nearly skipped class just to start reading.  In fact, I was a little disappointed when I found this book because I had decided myself that I would right a treatise on the Temple for my Ph.D (should I ever go for one) and now I know that someone has beaten me to it.

If the sound of that book is a little too intimidating for you (and honestly, 400-pages scares me as well) then at least take a listen to this sermon from Sojourn Community Church a few weeks back.  It is on 1 Kings 8 where Solomon prays over the Temple in Jerusalem and in it Daniel Montgomery offers an introductory glance at this very deep, very rewarding theme in Scripture.

Sunday Devotion- Psalm 13.1 and Resting on the Lord

June 28, 2009

How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever?
How long will you hide your face from m
e?” -Psalm 13.1

Would it be in us to pray this anymore?  Up against the thought that God had abandoned us forever, would we think to pray anyways?  Our culture celebrates self-sufficiency, autonomy, ‘pulling yourself up by your bootstraps’, but this is not where Scripture takes us.  Our hope is only in the Lord and coming to him in humble request is the only way we are given to overcome whatever ails us– even if it seems like he’s not there.  As James tells us, “the prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working” (5.16b).

How should we then take this?  How much is faith and how much is action?  We must not attempt to replace the power of God working through prayer, but we also must not be completely passive.  How do we discern the boundary here?  Where is the line at which we are depending too much upon human strength and not enough upon divine power?  No matter where we decide that it is, and I believe it will be different for different people and different situations, we best not forget that in all circumstances, “[God's] grace is sufficient for [us]” (2 Corinthians 12.9b).

To Be Free of the Flesh, part 3- The Second Purpose of the Final Resurrection

April 22, 2009

Last time we stated that a first purpose in God’s plan of a final resurrection for all people is that he had always intended for the spirit and body to be married, and thus it is to this that he returns his creation in the end.  Today we will examine a second reason for the final resurrection of all people, believers in particular, to immortal, physical bodies.  To do this, let’s begin in Genesis 28.

Genesis 28.1-5 gives us an account of Isaac’s sending of Jacob to find a wife in Paddan-Aram at the house of his mother’s father, among the daughters of his uncle Laban.  Seeing him off, Isaac commissions Jacob with the blessings that have been passed down through the generations since Abraham, saying specifically, “May [God] give the blessing of Abraham to you and to your offspring with you, that you may take possession of the land of your sojournings that God gave to Abraham!” (v.4).  With this Jacob pictures the life for believers who are also labelled as “sojourners and exiles” (1 Peter 1.1, 2.11), a people whose citizenship is said to be in heaven, though they still live upon the earth (Philippians 3.20).

Continuing in Genesis 28.10-22 we find Jacob, freshly departed off to Paddan-Aram to find himself a wife, stop in the night to rest.  While sleeping he experiences the dream most of us know as the dream of Jacob’s ladder.  Among the things God says to Jacob in this encounter is, “The land on which you lie I will give to you and to your offspring” (v.13), which is serves in reiterating the promise which Issac had just passed along to him.  The curious thing  is, that in looking back now, we see biblical testimony that this inheriting of the land never actually happened (cf. Hebrews 11.13, “These [the patriarchs, including Jacob] all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth“).  Moreover, this inheritance was not accomplished later by any if the succeeding generations of Israel, not Joshua (cf. Joshua 13.1), not David (cf. Hebrews 4.5-8), no one (cf. Hebrews 11.39).  Thus, we are left asking the question, “Did God lie?”  The answer to this is “No” and comes to us from Hebrews 11.16 and 13.14:

But as it is, [the patriarchs] desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city. (Hebrews 11.16)

For here we [believers] have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come. (Hebrews 13.14)

So, the promise is of a heavenly city yet to come.  But what does this even mean?  Is it further described in Scripture to us?  Gloriously yes!

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. (Revelation 21.1-3)

In Revelation 21, following the return of the conquering Christ in chapter 19 and the Great White Throne judgment in chapter 20, we see the picture of the final resting place for believers, and it is delivered to us as a holy city that comes from heaven down to a new earth (one that has been “set free from its bondage to corruption,” cf. Romans 8.19-22).  This is not a spiritual place in the sense of disembodied spirits inhabiting it; this is an earthly place within the physical creation made to be inhabited by physical bodies.  And just what physical bodies will inhabit it?  Why, immortal, sinless, glorified bodies of course!

Therefore, we see that a second, and  greatest reason for the final resurrection is because God’s ultimate plan of eschatalogical salvation for those called according to his name is a heavenly city on a regenerated planet where he may dwell freely with his people having no need for sacrifices or veils or priests.

Tomorrow we will spend one last day in this thought, working out what our response to the hope of a final resurrection should be in our everyday lives as believers.

When Heaven is Not Good Enough- A Look at the Desires of Israel in Exodus 33

April 4, 2009

As we have discussed several times over the last year or so, it is clear that the focus of many evangelicals in meditating on and sharing their Christian faith is towards the eschatalogical reward of heaven, which they have a “deep theology” on how it will look and what they will be able to do in it.  Of course I say “deep theology” since as we have acknowledge most of it is simply Christian mythology or misunderstandings of actual Scriptural teachings on heaven.  Well, for those of us who want to view heaven in this way, as a place with streets of gold that you can run down all day without getting tired and with a crystal lake that contains all the best fish, I find the interaction between God and Moses in Exodus 33 to be of particular interest.

Picking up in context, we had in Exodus 32 the Israelites sans Moses forming a golden calf image of God to worship.  When Moses finds this out it infuriates him to the point that he destroys the freshly minted law and sends out the sons of Levi to slay 3000 men from among the people of God.  Then in Exodus 33.1-3 this is what God has to say:

The LORD said to Moses, “Depart; go up from here, you and the people whom you have brought up out of the land of Egypt, to the land of which I swore to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, saying, ‘To your offspring I will give it.’ I will send an angel before you, and I will drive out the Canaanites, the Amorites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites. Go up to a land flowing with milk and honey; but I will not go up among you, lest I consume you on the way, for you are a stiff-necked people.”

A lot of people struggle with Old Testament interpretation, but I think what this says is pretty clear.  God tells the people that they will still get to go to heaven (the “promised land”) and enjoy the blessings of being there, but he will not be there with them.  How’s that sound?  How many of us would truly be okay with this?  Heaven with all the amenities but without God, does that work for you?  Here is the response of Moses:

And [Moses] said to [God], “If your presence will not go with me, do not bring us up from here. For how shall it be known that I have found favor in your sight, I and your people? Is it not in your going with us, so that we are distinct, I and your people, from every other people on the face of the earth?” (Exodus 33.15-16)

So apparently this is not an okay setup for Moses.  As it is, the people are in an exodus from Egypt trying to make it to the Promised Land, the land God covenantally promised to their fathers. That’s their goal.  Yet, when faced with the reality that they could have that but that it would be absent of the presence of God, the Israelites mourned.  Heaven was not enough for them without God.  

My hope is that our feelings are the same.  If God promised us heaven but said he was going to hang out somehwhere else I pray our response would not just be, “Okay,” but that our hearts would cry out for his presence above all else.  This is one reason why it really bothers me seeing Christians focus so heavily on “Where will you go when you die?”  Moses didn’t care about when he died.  Moses didn’t even show anger at the thought of God not being with them in the Promised Land.  No, Moses’ mind was set on the immediate situation: God be with us now!  

O that our hearts would care more about the presence of God being with us now and forever than they do about some stupid seeker-sensitive idea of heaven we’ve made for ourselves.

Taken Behind the Woodshed and Beat (part 2)- A Personal Review of “The Shack”

March 30, 2009

Yesterday we started into my review of the novel The Shack, with today being set aside to dissect what Young has written from a theological  side of things.  Now, it has been well documented that Young and his supporters are using the genre of fiction as a mask for any false teachings contained in this book, but since so many people think this story is of Pilgrim’s Progress standing I don’t think it is fair to evaluate the claims as anything less than what the author wishes for us to believe.  (And to be honest, I don’t know how comfortable I would feel attributing something to God, even God in my fiction novel, if I wasn’t pretty sure I believed it.)

First, I will say that not everything in this book is bad or disagreeable.  There are certainly points where the issues he raises or the statements he makes, though out of the evangelical mainstream, still carry more truth than not.  However, the sheer amount and magnitude of inaccuracy outweigh any positive that may exist.

So, let’s begin with the obvious, that being the author’s agenda in developing a Mother God (as well as a female Holy Spirit).  Of course it is true that God is neither male nor female, but that does little to change the fact that God is pretty much always presented as a father in Scripture.  Even taking the two places in the Old Testament where it is possible that God is represented as a mother (and not just being compared with a mother, which I think is more accurate), the overwhelming number of Scriptures about it, including the entirety of the New Testament, present God as father.  This is not just a product of male chauvinist society; it is biblical illustration.  Just because we have put so much value on feminism and egalitarianism does not mean that God gives a rip about being viewed equally as male and female.  Yet Young rides this image to death.  Again, in his elementary story writing technique, Young pushes this idea over and over and over until finally you want to yell “Enough!”  I mean, it’s almost too much constructing an excuse for calling a female God ‘Papa,’ but then to constantly remind us that the main character finds a female God hard to grasp is overkill.  Clearly this is in there for controversy, as a biblically defensible reason would seemingly fall on its face.

Next, consider the other image which Young beats to death in the book, that being the idea that both Jesus AND God the Father bear the scars from the cross.  There are two things wrong with this.  First, it is inaccurate.  It did not scar the Father to have his Son sacrificed.  In fact, it was the opposite.  Isaiah 53.10 says, “It was the will of the Lord (Father) to crush him (the Son).”  The Father was not tortured in doing this; through the sacrifice of his son, God was propitiated, which means that his righteous anger was satisfied.  God was satisified by the death of his son.  Obviously, this is not a popular message in the era of belief in the “divine child abuse” theory of the atonement, but it is Scriptural nonetheless.

The second reason why depicting scars on the Father and the Son is inaccurate is because this, along with the statement on page 101 that the whole Trinity made itself fully human and limited in the incarnation, advances an old, old, old heresy known as Sabellianism, or modalism.    This is the teaching that God exists in different modes as experienced by the believer.  It also historically teaches that God the Father suffered on the cross.  This heresy has been out of vogue for at least a good millenium and a half, but apparently is receiving a revival in the popular appeal of this book.  As a note, if a heresy is so false that it goes dormant for 1500 years, it is probably a good indication that it really is wrong.  Yet not only does Young present it, he goes back to it again and again by constantly retelling that the character of God the Father has scars on his wrists like Jesus.

The final issue that I would like to raise is the confusion in the book over salvation, how its accomplished, and who receives it.  Basically, from reading the passages on pages 161 through 166, page 184, page 194, and page 227, one must at least declare that Young is teaching to a very Arminian view of universal reconciliation, and is probably even promoting universalism.  In fact, on page 227 it says,

In Jesus, I have forgiven all humans for their sins against me, but only some choose relationship. . . .  When Jesus forgave those who nailed him to the cross, they were no longer in his debt, nor mine.

And then, a few paragraphs lower it says,

When you forgive someone you certainly relaease him from judgment, but without true change, no real relationship can be established.

Now, in reading that, there is no way left that a person could find to say this book promotes a biblical view of judgment as is portrayed in places like Matthew 25, 2 Thessalonians 1.9, or Revelation 20.  The worst someone can end up with is not being in “real relationship” with God.  However, no judgment, no separation, means that these people would be allowed into heaven, the New Jerusalem.  But this is a place where “God himself will be with” the inhabitants, so how can a person be there and not be in “real relationship” with God.  Honestly, I think the author is so confused in trying to be hip and tolerant, but only succeeds in leaving us with a completely impotent, indecisive, and inconsistent God.  It’s surprising how whenever we try and help God, we wind up only making him look weaker; Young demonstrates this to a tee.

So, let’s revisit Eugene Peterson’s quote once more:

[The Shack] has the potential to do for our generation what John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress did for his.  It’s that good!

Really?  Do we believe this looking back over all we’ve just said?  Now, I haven’t read Pilgrim’s Progress myself, but I had always thought it was supposed to be a pretty solid work done by a theologically-sound Calvinist.  Maybe, and I believe this is actually the case, Eugene Peterson has absolutely no idea what is good literature and even moreso what’s good theology.  Of course, keep in mind, he is the guy who wrote The Message, so . . .

Anyways, I’ll close with four words: don’t buy the hype.  This is not a life changing book, unless of course you read it and embrace all that it teaches, in which case you have just become a heretic.  Maybe that is strong language, but when I see a wolf like this coming in and devouring sheep the way it has I can find no better word.  Well, maybe one: pathetic.  Try reading the Bible instead.  It has a lot more to say than this glorified dollar bin crap.

Taken Behind the Woodshed and Beat (part 1)- A Personal Review of “The Shack”

March 29, 2009

Every once in a while something comes along which every Christian has an opinion on, even if it is not really based on any first-hand knowledge.  So it is with The Shack.  Some people love it, some people hate it, but regardless of if you have read it or not, you probably have an opinion about it.  Because I was among one of those who had not read it and yet had already formed my own opinion, and because the author is preparing to do two speaking engagements in my city, I decided it was probably time that I actually went through the book myself.  The following is my personal reaction after doing just that.

First, for those of you who don’t know, The Shack is a recent work of Christian fiction which follows a mourning father through an encounter with the Trinity in a shack in the Oregon woods over the course of a wintry weekend.  God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit are all three represented by unique persons who spend time both together and alone with the main character, Mackenzie “Mack” Philips, revealing to him the “true nature of God.”  Eugene Peterson says about it that, “This book has the potential to do for our generation what John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress did for his.  It’s that good.”  (More on that comment later.)

So what did I think?  Well, just to get it out of the way now, I think as a piece of literature this book was horrible.  The author lacks all understanding of subtlety, choosing instead to beat you over the head with certain images he deems important and completely missing the concept of foreshadowing.  Things like God’s dislike of Mack’s gun (cf. p.90) or the scars on God the Father’s wrists (cf. p.97) are repeated shamelessly and with the same words, making it perfectly obvious that the author wanted to make a point through them.  And even if you were interested in what was going to happen next, there never was much anticipation because the author continually short-circuited himself by giving way too much information or using “suspenseful” sentences eerily reminiscent of the ones my 8-year old daughter uses in her 2nd grade stories about evil elves.  

Of course, the coup-de-gras of insanity was the author’s diatribe (through the Holy Spirit) about how God’s “very essence is a verb” (p.206), with the example being that God is not about ‘expectation’ but ‘expectancy.’  Unfortunately for the author, who apparently was not an English major, even if it does sound cooler, ‘expectancy’ is also a noun.  That really should have been picked up somewhere, by the author or an editor or someone, and the fact that it wasn’t only serves to exemplify that this is not a book concerned with accuracy or understanding but only with causing problems.  I say all this not to berate the author, but to point out that those Christians who try and avoid the theological implications of what Young writes by claiming its just a good book don’t really have much of a leg to stand on.

Enough about literary theory however, what about the content?  Well, I think to begin with that it is awfully telling of the authors cowardice that he wastes no time in trying to distance himself from the claims of the book in case they are not taken too kindly by the evangelical community (pp.14-15).  He also did this at the end, just for good measure (p.249).  I do not have any patience for this.  If you are going to go out there and put something on the market which purports to be “Christian,” don’t do it just to cause dissension and controversy.  Either write in a theologically responsible way (which his disclaimers clearly indicate he was not) or label it as a secular novel.  Don’t put stuff out there that will easily confuse and mislead weaker believers, which is at the least what this book does.  There was never a time that I know of in CS Lewis’ writings that he tried to use the cloak of fiction to distance himself from the theological claims he made, yet today with people like Young and Brian McLaren, this has become the vogue way to be a heretic and not have to wear that moniker.

Come back tomorrow for the second half of this review where we will discuss what Young says about the Trinity and God’s purposes in his novel, The Shack.  Plus, on Tuesday or Wednesday I will be posting a review of William Paul Young the speaker and what he has to say about his novel when put on the spot.  This should also include an audio file of the event, so make sure to check in for further information about The Shack and William Paul Young in the days to come.

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).

Just to Forgive?- John Piper on the Sufficiency of Christ’s Sacrifice

December 14, 2008

Currently I am reading the book The Pleasures of God by John Piper. It is an interesting read, basically serving as a systematic for understanding God’s pleasures and purposes in his actions and decrees, all laid out in the easily readable nature of Piper’s more popular works like Don’t Waste Your Life (Note: if you are curious to see Piper the PhD in action I suggest reading his two works on justification, The Justification of God and The Future of Justification; it is incredible how versatile this man is). Because I have found this book to be so interesting then, I think the next two or three posts will be my reflections on a couple of comments that Piper makes in this work.

The first comment I would like to share with you guys is found in the chapter entitled “The Pleasure of God in Doing Good to All who Hope in Him,” and has to do with what happens when we take refuge in Jesus’ name:

This is what the little word “just” means in 1 John 1.9: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just, and will forgive our sins, and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” This text says God would be unjust (not merely unmerciful) not to forgive us if we confess our sins. Why is that? Why is forgiveness now a matter of justice and not merely a matter of mercy? The answer is that Jesus had shed his blood (1 John 1.7) to make a just recompense for all who confess their sins and take refuge in him. Thus God would be unjust not to forgive them, not because they have honored him by their sinless lives, but because they take refuge in the name of Jesus. The death of Jesus so honored the Father and so vindicated the glory of his name that God is bound by justice, not just his mercy, to forgive all who stake their lives on the worth of Jesus. “Your sins are forgiven for the sake of his name,” John says (1 John 2.12). [The Pleasures of God, p.194]

This is such an amazing thought. That Christ’s sacrifice was so honoring, so glorifying to God, that we can take refuge under it in order to have our sins forgiven. To know that it is not just mercy that has granted us justification, but that it is the full and complete payment of our debts by the only one who could have paid them, the God-man Christ Jesus.

This knowledge that our debts are sufficiently paid off is absolutely freeing to us. If it were simply mercy that allowed us to be forgiven and justified then there may remain a fear that the pains caused by our sinning may be too great even for mercy; or that mercy, though merciful to an extent, may not be merciful enough to forgive and forget all of the wrongs we have committed. But it is not simply mercy; it is also a total payment. Once payment has been made then no debt can remain, and therefore all of our sins, all of our burden, has been expiated and we are free to “walk in the newness of life” afforded us by the death, burial and resurrection of Christ (Romans 6.4).

The Measure of a Man- Spurgeon on Proper Perspective in Ministry

October 17, 2008

When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with the humble is wisdom.” -Proverbs 11.2

One of my biggest problems, a concern I am reminded of most every time I present a Bible study lesson or special message before a crowd, is an unholy preoccupation with the responses of men. My own pride and desire to see myself elevated has many times gotten in the way of my ability to advance the cause of Christ in my circumstances, and it seems that, as someone who has recently received the call into pastoral ministry, this is an issue I will have need to focus on for the remainder of my ministry on earth.

Of course, this problem goes beyond just a desire for people to like me, extending out into areas such as innovation and uniqueness of my work. It is here that the words of God to an Elijah who thought much too highly of his own importance should be heard:

And when Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his cloak and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave. And behold, there came a voice to him and said, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” He said, “I have been very jealous for the LORD, the God of hosts. For the people of Israel have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword, and I, even I only, am left, and they seek my life, to take it away.” And the LORD said to him, “Go, return on your way to the wilderness of Damascus. And when you arrive, you shall anoint Hazael to be king over Syria. And Jehu the son of Nimshi you shall anoint to be king over Israel, and Elisha the son of Shaphat of Abel-meholah you shall anoint to be prophet in your place. And the one who escapes from the sword of Hazael shall Jehu put to death, and the one who escapes from the sword of Jehu shall Elisha put to death. Yet I will leave seven thousand in Israel, all the knees that have not bowed to Baal, and every mouth that has not kissed him.” (1 Kings 19.13-18)

Another quote which I find helpful here is the following from Charles Spurgeon in his book An All-Round Ministry:

Let us not judge ourselves by others, and say, with deadening self-complacency, “We are getting on well as compared with our brethren. There are not many additions to our churches, but we are as successful as others.” . . . Let us measure ourselves by our Master, and not by our fellow-servants: then pride will be impossible, but hopefulness will be natural.

Elijah held himself in too high an esteem, Spurgeon warns against measuring by inappropriate markers, and the onus falls on me to take these thoughts to heart. Pride comes before the fall (Proverbs 11.2). This is certainly a lesson that I must learn if I am going to be able to execute a God-honoring ministry with my life. Maybe this will find you too.

How Dead is Dead?- Thomas Manton on the Ability of Man to Save Himself

October 16, 2008

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.” -Ephesians 2.1-3

The LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.” -Genesis 6.5

We have spoken here numerous times, and probably alluded towards a number more, that there is somewhat of a controversy over just how capable man is of “deciding” for God, i.e. if it is man’s choice to follow God or if God sovereignly leads man to following him.

As a personal apologetic, I often find myself referring to Ephesians 2.1-3 (above) as my key passage in favor of the view that, aside of the regenerating work of the Spirit in our hearts, man is utterly unable to do anything pleasing to God or decide to live in anyway for God.  However, this is certainly not the only passage in favor of this view.  It is because of that that I was so struck by a quote of Thomas Manton, taken from his sermon “Man’s Impotency to Help Himself Out of that Misery,” where he appeals to the shear bulk of evidences for this view.  Quote:

If the scripture had only said that man had accustomed himself to sin, and was not “born in sin;” that man were somewhat prone to iniquity, and not “greedy” of it; and did often think evil, and not “continually;” that man were somewhat obstinate, and not a stone,” and “adamant;” if the scripture had only said that man were indifferent to God, and not a professed “enemy;” if a captive of sin, and not a “servant;” “rebel;” then there might be something in man, and the work of conversion not so difficult.  But the scripture saith the quite contrary.

There is certainly something inside man which longs to be able to save ourselves, but Scripture is, in my opinion, overly clear on the fact that this is simply something that we cannot do.  As a result of Adam’s sin in the Garden, the whole lineage of humanity has been corrupted and there is not a person born (aside from the miraculous birth of Christ) who is not subject to a fallen, depraved nature which leads them “astray from birth” (Psalm 58.3).  This is such an enlightening doctrine, and to stubbornly hang on to “man’s ability to choose” puts us at risk of elevating man to the place of God, a place of worship, in violation of the second commandment.