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.

Cynicism and The Sinner’s Prayer- Jesus’ Promise in John 14.14 and Conclusion

June 17, 2009

Jesus said, ‘You may ask Me for anything in my name, and I will do it.’ (John 14.14)

Therefore, if you pray sincerely, asking Him this:

“Lord Jesus, please come into my life
and be my Savior and Lord.
Please forgive my sins,
and give me the gift of eternal life.”

– He will do it now.”

(The Bridge to Life tract, by The Navigators)

Because it is what The Sinner’s Prayer claims itself as being the justification for using this means for response to the gospel, it is only fitting that we take a look at Jesus’ promise in John 14.14 before closing out this series.  We will begin looking at this verse as it is used (as a prooftext that is) and then look at it within its larger context of John 14.12-14.

Here is how John 14.14 actually reads in the version we use here, the ESV (the stated version above is the NIV): “If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it.”

So, the working assumption for the purposes of The Sinner’s Prayer is that this ‘you’ in this verse is a universal, ubiquitous ‘you’ meaning ‘anyone at anytime.’  But we must ask ourselves, can anyone at any time ask for something in Jesus’ name?  i.e. can anyone at any time pray to God and be heard?  Well, only a few chapters earlier in this gospel of John, and drawing off of a well established Old Testament understanding, we are told that, “We know that God does not listen to sinners, but if anyone is a worshiper of God and does his will, God listens to him” (John 9.31).  If this be the case, if a man who is a sinner, or as Psalm 66.18 puts it, who “cherishe[s] iniquity in [his] heart,” cannot pray to God, then how can someone pray for the forgiveness of their own sins?  If they are a sinner, “dead in [their] trespasses and sins” (Ephesians 2.1), then how can God hear them?  God does not qualify this remark, there is no exception saying, “God cannot hear your prayer unless you are praying for X.”  It just says he can’t hear the prayer of a sinner.  Period.

Moving further out into the context of John 14.12-14 makes this even clearer, proving that the ‘you’ in verse 14 is not a universal, unqualified anyone.  John 14.12-14 says, “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I am going to the Father. Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it.”  What was that?  ”Whoever believes in me . . .”  That is who Jesus is addressing here.  So, in verses 13 and 14 when he says “Whatever you ask . . . ” and “If you ask . . . ,” he is here talking to those who believe in him.  Those who have faith.  But, as we know, it is “by grace you have been saved through faith” (Ephesians 2.8) and that it is “with the heart [that] one believes and is justified” (Romans 10.10).  Therefore, the prerequisite to asking God for your salvation, if we take The Sinner’s Prayer as truth, is that you be saved.  Absurd.

So, in conclusion, after looking at the teachings of Jesus, Peter, and Paul, as well as the testimony of Paul, we have seen beyond the shadow of a doubt that the evangelical staple The Sinner’s Prayer, a prayer to God laying claim on a promise of Jesus in order to ask for and receive salvation, has absolutely no merit.  Does this mean no one has ever been saved through The Sinner’s Prayer?  Of course not.  God can use all means of foolishness for his purposes.  But does this mean that for the sake of all those lost and confused souls in our pews lacking genuine assurance we should abandon The Sinner’s Prayer as a method of response to the gospel and pursue a richer biblical understanding of what it means to have faith and to manifest that belief in a life “live[d] by faith in the Son of God” (Galatians 2.20)?  Absolutely!

Cynicism and The Sinner’s Prayer- Jesus’ Instruction

June 16, 2009

Jesus said, ‘You may ask Me for anything in my name, and I will do it.’ (John 14.14)

Therefore, if you pray sincerely, asking Him this:

“Lord Jesus, please come into my life
and be my Savior and Lord.
Please forgive my sins,
and give me the gift of eternal life.”

– He will do it now.”

(The Bridge to Life tract, by The Navigators)

Finally after spending a few days perusing the teachings of the apostles in the New Testament as accords with salvation, we have come to consider the primary source of all instruction on the gospel, Jesus Christ himself.  Because the words from Jesus on this matter are numerous, we will only hit a few prominent teachings today (if you feel like I skip something important please let me know) and then close out with a look at the promise which The Sinner’s Prayer lays claim on made by Christ in John 14.14 tomorrow.

The first place I think we should look in considering Jesus’ instruction on receiving the gospel is the most obvious: John 3.  Here we find Nicodemus ask Christ explicitly, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?” (v.4), which is in reference to the being “born again” which is necessary to “see the kingdom of God” and thus for salvation (v.3).  Christ’s response to him is anything but telling him to pray a prayer:

Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”

Nicodemus said to him, “How can these things be?” Jesus answered him, “Are you the teacher of Israel and yet you do not understand these things? Truly, truly, I say to you, we speak of what we know, and bear witness to what we have seen, but you do not receive our testimony. If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you heavenly things? No one has ascended into heaven except he who descended from heaven, the Son of Man. And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. (vv.5-15)

Now, maybe it’s just me, but one would likely think that if Jesus wants for us to ask him for salvation then when Nicodemus asks him effectively, “How does one receive salvation? how is one born again?,” then Jesus might have responded, “Ask me for it.”  But he doesn’t.  Instead he tells him “that whoever believes in [the Son of Man lifted up] may have eternal life” (v.15).  Interesting.

What about another famous statement from Jesus concerning salvation, the Great Commission as found in Mark.  Here he tells the eleven, “Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned” (Mark 16.15b-16).  Notice how what he says here corresponds well with his further elaboration to Nicodemus (cf. John 3.18) and again seems to give the same instruction on how to properly respond to “the gospel” which the disciples are to “proclaim” “into all the world“: believe and be baptized.  To avoid confusion, know that I have handled whether baptism saves before (it doesn’t).  Nonetheless, conspicuous by its absence is any direction to lead people in praying a prayer that lays claim on a promise of Jesus.

One final place I think we should look in Jesus’ instruction on receiving the gospel is in John 6.  An aspect of The Sinner’s Prayer that I have mentioned but not dwelt on much is the implicit assumption here that man is providing the will to lay claim of this “promise.”  The quote of the prayer that we have been using says, “Therefore, if you pray sincerely, asking Him this . . . he will do it now.”  But what does Christ say in John 6.44?  ”No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day.”  If the salvation is gained through asking in prayer for Christ to fulfill his promise then anyone could do this, whether or not God has granted it (and we know he has not granted it to everyone, cf. John 6.64-65).  Maybe it is simply that caveat, “if you pray sincerely,” which gives the loophole here?  But still, does this not emphasize the sincerity with which we personally pray, while yet what Jesus says is that no one can muster that sincerity on their own?  This must be given by God.  So now we have to say, “If God has granted to you to pray this prayer, then do so and you will be saved.”  But is that Jesus’ conclusion here?  No.  What he says, once again, is “For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day” (John 6.40).  Look and believe.  Still no prayer.  Still no “Name it, Claim it” promise.  Only belief.

At this point we have shown through Peter, Paul, and now Jesus that no New Testament teacher instructs people to pray a prayer upon Jesus’ promise in order to be given salvation.  All we see is belief.  This then leaves us with one last question that we shall look at tomorrow, wondering, Does Jesus even have in mind salvation when he makes the promise of John 14.14, which is the backbone of all The Sinner’s Prayer rests on?

Cynicism and The Sinner’s Prayer- Initial Misgivings

June 9, 2009

Jesus said, ‘You may ask Me for anything in my name, and I will do it.’ (John 14.14)

Therefore, if you pray sincerely, asking Him this:

“Lord Jesus, please come into my life
and be my Savior and Lord.
Please forgive my sins,
and give me the gift of eternal life.”

– He will do it now.”

(The Bridge to Life tract, by The Navigators)

To start out this look at The Sinner’s Prayer I think it would be best for me to be upfront about what initially makes me uneasy here.  Simply put, I’m a Calvinist.  Not that I ascribe to a set of beliefs known as Calvinism, but that when I look at Scripture I cannot help but see the doctrine of salvation spoken of in the way that is popularly called Calvinism.

I believe that man is totally depraved, wholly unable to do anything (anything!) to reconcile himself to God outside of God’s merciful work of regeneration.  I believe that God chose all that he would save from before time, not according to any merit of their own but solely through his electing love.  I believe that Christ then came to die for the atonement of those elect and that through this sacrifice the Trinity works to justify all and only the elect, preserving them eternally for the inheritance of salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.

So, why does that matter?  Because, as a Calvinist, I cannot see any grounds upon which The Sinner’s Prayer is justifiable for use in the salvation of men.  The whole premise of The Sinner’s Prayer is that through some cute illustration we have recognized that we are separated from God, but not so separated that we can’t grab a hold of Jesus’ “promise” in John 14.14 (or other places) and ask God into our hearts to save us.  In fact, we are guaranteed by the prayer that if we ask for this, or at least if we ask for it “sincerely,” then Jesus will certainly do it.  Thus, we are told that salvation is not about God’s will but about ours, that we would will for Christ to come into our life, and so he does.

How disgusting!!!!

The picture that this idea paints of Christ is absolutely appalling!  In it Christ is no more than an impotent by-stander, totally bound by the whim of sinful humanity to choose him and wholly dependent upon the power of men’s cunning to convince sinful humanity to make such a leap.  Christ’s brutal death guarantees the salvation of no man and our assurance comes not from the Spirit of God testifying within us, but from our own sincerity in asking!

Paul says in Romans 1.16, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.”  The gospel is “the power of God for salvation,” the ‘dynamis‘, the thing bearing the strength to save men.  Even more, in 1 Corinthians 1.18 we see that, “For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.”  Again, the ‘dynamis‘ is in the word of God.

But The Sinner’s Prayer teaches that our asking for salvation is the power for salvation!  The ability to save rests fully upon our asking for it!  Clearly there is a contradiction here.  This is not a fine tuning issue or an exegetical misconstruing.  This is a fundamental disagreement about the source of our salvation.  Either it is birthed by God’s power through His word or it is granted by our “sincere” petition upon Christ’s “promise.”  For what it’s worth, I think we should go with the Bible on this one!

Next time we will begin to look further into Scripture to see what it has to tell us about the conversions of the early Christians and the teachings about salvation delivered by those who knew Christ personally.

The Wind or Me?- John Piper and the Clarity of Calvinism in the Gospel of John

May 31, 2009

The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes.  So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” -John 3.8

Awhile back I did a series called “Calvinism Really is the Gospel!” where I argued in favor of Charles Spurgeon’s famous quote.  A few weeks ago John Piper did the same thing, though not nearly as explicitly as I attempted here.

What went on was simply Dr. Piper’s walk-through the Gospel of John eventually leading him to the passage at the beginning of chapter 3 where Nicodemus comes under cover of night to question Jesus.  I response to Nicodemus Jesus makes several cryptic/philosophical remarks about the wind and being born which Bible readers have fought to accurately understand ever since Nicodemus heard them the first time.  So, as a faithful minister of the Word, John Piper went to work and unpacked the glorious theology behind these statements.  In the process of doing so Piper gave Scriptural arguments for at least 4 of the 5 points of Calvinism (he may or may not have covered Perseverance), however at no point did he argue for “Calvinism.”  He just tackled what was there with the logical conclusion being a reformed soteriology.  He even at points grappled with the non-Calvinist arguments, successful putting them to rest (at least as far as I’m concerned).

The thing which impressed me the most was Piper’s even-handed yet direct rebuke of the non-Calvinist’s desire to be the final determining actor in his own salvation.  Whenever I talk to my non-Calvinist friends (I use that term loosely . . . j/k!) this is what the argument always boils down to.  They even admit it sometime, saying things like, “At the end of the day I just have to believe that man has the freedom to choose God or not.”  I really want to put this message in their hands and see how they respond!

Please take the time to listen to it (I have posted it below).  Honestly this is one of the best sermons I have ever heard Piper deliver, and probably the best argument for Calvinism as plain biblical theology you will ever find.  Glory be to God!

John Piper- The Free Will of the Wind

What We Believe- Article XVI, Peace and War

May 13, 2009

After last weeks mammoth paragraph on Christians and the Social Order and before the coming weeks treatises on Religious Liberty and The Family, we have a short blurb on how Baptists should handle conflict among peoples:

XVI. Peace and War

It is the duty of Christians to seek peace with all men on principles of righteousness. In accordance with the spirit and teachings of Christ they should do all in their power to put an end to war.

The true remedy for the war spirit is the gospel of our Lord. The supreme need of the world is the acceptance of His teachings in all the affairs of men and nations, and the practical application of His law of love. Christian people throughout the world should pray for the reign of the Prince of Peace.

Isaiah 2:4; Matthew 5:9,38-48; 6:33; 26:52; Luke 22:36,38; Romans 12:18-19; 13:1-7; 14:19; Hebrews 12:14; James 4:1-2.

Because evangelical Christians, and Baptists in particular, tend to align ourselves heavily with conservative politics, at least in this present day, then we often inherit some of the charges laid against these parties in matters that should not actually be a criticism of the church.  The issue of peace and war is one possible example.

Should Christians be war-mongers?  There certainly is sufficient testimony of God’s people at war in the Scriptures as well as in the last 2000 years since the creation of the church.  There are even times when God explicitly called his people into conflict (cf. Joshua 6).  But, among Christ’s last words to the disciples prior to his trial and execution was the command to Peter to “put [his] sword back into its place. For all who take the sword will perish by the sword” (Matthew 26.52), which pictures for us a kingdom that is to be won without conflict because it is a kingdom “not of this world” (John 18.36).  

So then where do we fall?  The article says, “In accordance with the spirit and teachings of Christ they should do all in their power to put an end to war.”  I believe this to be right.  Christians should not desire war, but if the time comes when it is unavoidable then we have freedom to defend ourselves.  Of course, this takes great discernment.  

I read recently from John Piper that he does not own a gun, even to protect his house, citing the same reason given by Jim Elliot for not using guns to protect their missionary group in Ecuador: “The natives are not ready for heaven. We are.”  This is a convicting thought, but we must also view it in light of other types of conflict, namely conflict that occurs between countries and acts of terrorism.  At what point must we stand up to defend our person and our families from senseless violence?  Does “turn the other cheek” always apply?

Looking into the OT we see an account in Judges 20 where the tribe of Benjamin drew their swords against the rest of Israel and the remainder of the nation went to God to receive instruction on how to proceed in defending themselves in battle against this attack.  Innocent people had been hurt and more were in danger and so God commanded his people to take action, which meant entering into war.  Similarly 1 Samuel 23 pictures for us David being led by God into battle in order to protect the city of Keilah.  Now, I realize these are Old Testament stories, but is there any place in the NT where a new law prevails?  It is not quite fitting to transpose the words about personal conflict (i.e. “turn the other cheek”) into matters of familial and national security.  As much as God is a God of peace he is also a defender of the weak, and so, as I stated before, we need to be able to use discernment in fleshing this reality out when it comes to war and peace. 

To close our look into this article, let’s peak a little into its history, namely the inclusion, removal, and then readdition of the declaration that “Christian people throughout the world should pray for the reign of the Prince of Peace,” as we go from the 1925 to the 1963 to the 2000 versions of this text.  It surely is an interesting sentence, as my first reaction hears it as an implicit ode to premillenialist eschatology.  But if this is the case it would make no sense for it to disappear during the 60′s when men like W.A. Criswell who were well-known for their premillenial dispensationalism were in their stride.  On the same token, if this is not a wink towards premillenialism then why is it here.  If all that is being viewed is the second coming of Christ then this would be a better fit in Article X on Last Things.  Alas, the only sensible explanation then would seem to be that it is simply a call for Christians to pray for the second coming, but even that I question if it is a good teaching.  Oh well, “The secret things belong to the LORD.”

Instead of a Show- What God Seeks and Has Always Sought from His People

May 1, 2009

In my lessons for Sunday School I have finally come to the end of Isaiah (no, I didn’t teach the whole thing.  We’re on the LifeWay plan which only covers about 10 chapters) and this week will be teaching out of Isaiah 66.  As I read through this I was immediately struck by the first four verses and decided that was where I would camp out for the week.  Here’s what it says:

Thus says the LORD: “Heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool; what is the house that you would build for me, and what is the place of my rest? All these things my hand has made, and so all these things came to be,declares the LORD. But this is the one to whom I will look: he who is humble and contrite in spirit and trembles at my word.

“He who slaughters an ox is like one who kills a man; he who sacrifices a lamb, like one who breaks a dog’s neck; he who presents a grain offering, like one who offers pig’s blood; he who makes a memorial offering of frankincense, like one who blesses an idol. These have chosen their own ways, and their soul delights in their abominations; I also will choose harsh treatment for them and bring their fears upon them, because when I called, no one answered, when I spoke, they did not listen; but they did what was evil in my eyes and chose that in which I did not delight.”

The first thing we need to remember in looking at this passage is the context.  It is being delivered as a prophecy through Isaiah to a collection of Old Testament Jews.  These were Jews who both had the temple in front of them and were fiercely committed to the Levitical law.  Then armed with that information, standing in the sandals of 8th century B.C. Israelites, to hear God say, essentially, that the temple is foolishness and those who make sacrifices are wretched must come off as quite a shock.  It doesn’t take much searching to find the places in Scripture where God actually ordained these things in the first place (cf. 2 Samuel 7.12-13 and Leviticus 1-7 resp.).  So, what gives?  Why do we now find the same God who instituted the temple and the sacrifical offerings calling them out as inadequate and evil?

The key of course comes in what is said at the end of verse 2:

“But this is the one to whom I will look: he who is humble and contrite in spirit and trembles at my word.”

In this verse God is giving us the (new?) criteria by which he judges the works of our hands.  He will not accept them unless proffered by those coming in humility and contrition (specifically in light of their personal sin and unrighteousness).  We see this same thought echoed elsewhere in the Old Testament:

For you will not delight in sacrifice, or I would give it; you will not be pleased with a burnt offering. The sacrifices of God area broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise. (Psalm 51.16-17)

Still, in light of the fact that we understand why he says this now (in Isaiah 66), the question remains over the seeming about face from earlier in his commands.  Does God now (in the Old Testament) not only seek offerings but also seek the right spirit in offering them?  Well, yes and no.  To some extent this is new, but to another it is the way things were always meant to be and through God’s progressive revelation of the truth it just took time for it to be expressed physically, even though it was always expected.

Most importantly, it points them forward to the New Testament and the final sacrifice for sins that will eternally satisfy God– that being the sacrifice of Christ on the cross.  Hebrews 10.1-7 speaks loud and clear about this event and how it was shadowed by the instructions for the Old Testament period.  Thus, it is an abomination for us to perform sacrifices for iniquity by our own hands since “it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins” (Hebrews 10.4), yet this is exactly what the offering of Christ on the cross accomplished.

But still there is something remaining.  Christ satisfies the sin and guilt and peace offerings (cf. 1 John 2.2, Colossians 2.13-14 and Romans 5.1-7 resp.), but there is one sacrifice which is left for us to perform: the thanksgiving sacrifice (Leviticus 7.12-15).  This is our responsibility to offer as mentioned in Romans 12.1, “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.”  Of course, the same restriction applies.  We must bring forth our offering in humility and contrite spirit for it to be acceptable to God; yet this is exactly what we can and will do “by the mercies of God,” who gives us hearts which can see beyond the darkness of ourselves and into the light of his glory.

Looking at this I am excited by the language of the Old Testament and the pictures it leaves which now, on the other side of the cross, we can look upon and see what God had intended through their use all along.  There can be no doubt that God is sovereign over all creation and has divinely appointed all the times and seasons from before the foundation of the earth when one looks at how clearly God’s heart for his people in the New Testament was revealed to those under the law in prior days.  God is good!

I will close by leaving for you guys a video of Switchfoot frontman Jon Foreman singing a very appropriate song entitled “Instead of a Show.”

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.

To Be Free of the Flesh, part 2- The First Purpose of the Final Resurrection

April 21, 2009

In yesterday’s post we made the statement that all believers should be looking forward to a final glorification where the dead will be raised to life and all mortal flesh, either of the dead or of the living, will be exchanged for immortal flesh.  Today we will discuss one or two reasons why believers will be given “resurrection bodies,” but first I want to make a small note.  

Throughout yesterday’s remarks I mentioned the granting of “resurrection bodies” as something for the believer, and in the context of hope we will continue to speak about this in terms of the believer.  However, we want to make sure to acknowledge that the resurrection of the mortal and exchange into immortal is not just a promise solely for believers but it is something that will come about for unbelievers as well.  In their case it is not for eternal glorification, but instead for eternal condemnation.  We see this attested to in various New Testament passages:

[Jesus says,] Do not marvel at this, for an hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear [the voice of the Son of God] and come out, those who have done good to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil to the resurrection of judgment. (John 5.28-29)

But this I [Paul] confess to you, that according to the Way, which they call a sect, I worship the God of our fathers, believing everything laid down by the Law and written in the Prophets, having a hope in God, which these men themselves accept, that there will be a resurrection of both the just and the unjust. (Acts 24.14-15)

Thus, we see the truth of a final resurrection is not just for believers, it is a promise to all of mankind.  In the end there is not simply death, but there is a second life, an eternal one, in which judgment comes and people are either glorified forever in the presence of God or sentenced to a never-ending punishment away from him.  Either way, the grave is no persons the final stop.

So, back to the resurrection experience for believers.  We are curious to understand just why it is that our story ends not as disembodied spirits floating about in the ether, but instead God makes for us a new skin suit, one that will never die away? Just what is the purpose?  All our flesh has ever known is sickness and pain and death of all sorts, why would we ever want to take that on again?

The first answer I see is because God wants us to be in the flesh.  Think back.  God created us as we see ourselves now.  We were not already formed beings that God chose to claim for himself.  We were nothing and God made us.  But he didn’t just make us spirit (soul, mind, whatever you wish to think of it as), he made us both spirit AND body.  For whatever reason that was important to God.  It was part of his plan to give us physical bodies and to place us upon a physical earth.

Yet, even more than him making for us bodies, he made for us perfect bodies!  Adam and Eve existed in perfect bodies, free of pain and suffering, and, most importantly, free of death.  If they would have made it through the probationary period, the Tree of Life awaited them and they would have lived forever (cf. Genesis 3.22).  However, at the moment sin came into the world through their disobedience, death in its various incantations came along as well (cf. Genesis 2.17, 3.16-19), and from this point on all bodies have been subject to dying and the corruption of the flesh (cf. Romans 5.12-20).  Then at death, body and spirit part (cf. 2 Corinthians 5.6-8), and we no longer are connected with the flesh the way God had meant us to be.  

Therefore, God resurrects us into immortal bodies because that is what he wanted all along.  Adam and Eve were created to live forever, but through their sin they, and subsequently all people, lost this privilege.  But God, in his great power, returns us to life, returns our spirit to the flesh, that we may exist in the form he had intended us to.  It was never his plan to have people existing as disembodied spirits.  God created body and spirit in one and said that it was very good.

Tomorrow we will examine a second purpose for the final resurrection of believers that we find in reading through Romans 8, 1 Thessalonians 4, Hebrews 11, and Revelation 21.