Monday, December 31, 2012

you are accepted

"Only a fraction of the present body of professing Christians are solidly appropriating the justifying work of Christ in their lives. Many… have a theoretical commitment to this doctrine, but in their day-to-day existence they rely on their sanctification for justification… drawing their assurance of acceptance with God from their sincerity, their past experience of conversion, their recent religious performance or the relative infrequency of their conscious, willful disobedience. 

"Few know enough to start each day with a thoroughgoing stand upon Luther’s platform: you are accepted, looking outward in faith and claiming the wholly alien righteousness of Christ as the only ground for acceptance, relaxing in that quality of trust which will produce increasing sanctification as faith is active in love and gratitude… 

"Much that we have interpreted as a defect of sanctification in church people is really an outgrowth of their loss of bearing with respect to justification. Christians who are no longer sure that God loves and accepts them in Jesus, apart from their present spiritual achievements, are subconsciously radically insecure persons…"  

--Richard F. Lovelace, quoted by Tim Keller in Center Church.  

Friday, December 28, 2012

on the incarnation

Below is a lightly edited excerpt from the second section of Athanasius' writing, On the Incarnation, written about AD 320.  

"The Divine Dilemma and Its Solution in the Incarnation"

Now He [the Word] entered the world in a new way, stooping to our level in His love and Self-revealing to us. 

He saw the reasonable race of men that, like Himself, expressed the Father's Mind, wasting out of existence, and death reigning over all in their corruption.

He saw that corruption held us, because it was the penalty for the transgression. 

He saw how unthinkable it would be for the law to be repealed before it was fulfilled. 

He saw how unfitting it would be for the very things which He Himself made should disappear.

He saw how the surpassing wickedness of men was mounting up against them. 

He saw their universal bondage to death. 

All this He saw.

And He pitied our race.  He was moved with compassion for our limitation, and was unwilling that death should have the mastery. Rather than have His creatures perish, and the work of His Father for us come to nothing, He took to Himself a body, a human body even like our own.

He did not choose merely to become embodied or merely to appear.  Had that been so, He could have revealed His divine majesty in some other and better way.

No, He took our body, and not only so, but He took it directly from a spotless, stainless virgin, without the agency of human father.

He, the Mighty One, the Maker of all, Himself prepared this body in the virgin as a temple for Himself, and took it for His very own, as the instrument through which He was known and in which He dwelt. 

Thus taking a body like our own, and because all our bodies were subject to the corruption of death, He surrendered His body to death instead of all, and offered it to the Father. 

This He did out of sheer love for us, so that in His death all might die, and the law of death thereby be abolished. Having fulfilled in His body that for which it was appointed, death was emptied of its power for men from that time onward. 

This He did that He might make incorruptible those who had turned back to corruption, and make them alive through death by the giving of His body and by the grace of His resurrection. 

Thus He would make death to disappear from them as utterly as straw from fire.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

the cradle, cross, and crown

At the center of the history of redemption is a cradle, a cross, and a crown.  

All of the Old Testament, from creation to the fall of the first Adam, from the calling of Abraham and God's purposes for Israel, and including all the prophets, spoke in preparation and in foreshadowing of the Coming One, the last Adam, the God-man who would make all things right.  

"When we could not come to him, he came to us."  The truth of the incarnation is vital to the gospel: unless the Messiah would be both man and God he could not accomplish what he needed to accomplish.  He must be infinitely strong to save (God) and he must be a perfect Substitute for us (fully human).  Then his death could be a full atonement, a completely gracious redemption.  We could not come to him unless he came to us.

This is the center of history: the life, death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus. An accomplished salvation at his initiative.  A Savior in every sense of the word.  

Now in the New Testament the Apostles proclaim that Jesus is risen and ascended with all authority.  And they explain all that this means for us who believe.  This gospel announcement is proclaimed now to all nations until Christ returns.  And he will visibly establish his glorious reign in the new heavens and new earth. 

Lack of understanding all these implications of the gospel leads to so many of our problems.  Tim Keller writes, 

Most of our problems in life come from a lack of proper orientation to the gospel. Pathologies in the church and sinful patterns in our individual lives ultimately stem from a failure to think through the deep implications of the gospel and to grasp and believe the gospel through and through. Put positively, the gospel transforms our hearts and our thinking and changes our approaches to absolutely everything. When the gospel is expounded and applied in its fullness in any church, that church will look unique. People will find in it an attractive, electrifying balance of moral conviction and compassion. D. A. Carson writes the following: The gospel is regularly presented not only as truth to be received and believed, but the very power of God to transform (see 1 Cor 2; 1 Thess 2:4; [Rom 1:16–17])… One of the most urgently needed things today is a careful treatment of how the gospel, biblically and richly understood, ought to shape everything we do in the local church, all of our ethics, all of our priorities. (--Tim Keller, Center Church)

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

the first rejection

"And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn." (Luke 2:7)

In my reading recently I pondered this passage in 1 Peter...

"As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. For it stands in Scripture: 'Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone, a cornerstone chosen and precious, and 
whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.' So the honor is for you who believe, but for those who do not believe, 'The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone,' and 'A stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense.'  (1 Peter 2:4-8a ESV)

Being born in a stable was just the first of many rejections.  Jesus was born in a barn, and born into poverty.  This is part of the humiliation that the Son freely accepted as he left his Father's side and emptied himself of glory to enter our world. 

Now I'm not saying that the inn keeper knowingly rejected this holy family and the long-awaited Child.  Joseph and his pregnant wife Mary were just one of the many displaced families looking for lodging during the hectic census.  But this humble beginning was the first of many rejections of the Messiah, whereby God's Son, who deserves first place, took last place.

The rejection and humiliation of Christ did not just take place at the cross, but by all that preceded it, as well.  Jonathan Edwards noted that Jesus' private life before his ministry was one of humiliation, given that he was the Son of God working as a common laborer...

“Christ's humiliation in some respects was greater in his private life than in the time of his public ministry. For in his public ministry there was many manifestations of his glory in the word he preached, and the great miracles he wrought. But the first thirty years of his life he spent among mean, ordinary men, as it were, in silence, without those manifestations of his glory or anything to make him to be taken notice of more than any ordinary mechanic, but only the spotless purity and eminent holiness of his life, and that was in a great measure hid in obscurity so that he was little taken notice till after his baptism.”   (--Jonathan Edwards, "History of the Work of Redemption, Sermon 16," Yale online)

Then he was rejected by his own people (John 1:11), by his siblings (John 7:5), by his home town neighbors (Lu 4:29), by the religious professionals (Lu 5:21), by disciples who found his teaching too hard (John 6:66), and by the political leaders of the nation (John 11:50).  All of this culminated in the ultimate rejection, the despised cross of public execution (Phil 2:8).

The humiliation of our Lord Jesus is a core part of the gospel that we embrace: the Cradle, the Cross, the Crown.  His incarnation is inextricably linked to his atoning death and to his resurrection and reign. We believe it, and we willingly go to him who is still outside the favor of this world, and we openly identify with him who was, and is, rejected...

"So Jesus also suffered outside the gate in order to sanctify the people through his own blood. Therefore let us go to him outside the camp and bear the reproach he endured."  (Hebrews 13:12-13 ESV) 

reflection on Newtown

I appreciate especially Pastor Joey Newton's comments about halfway through...
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Saturday, December 8, 2012

what brings the glory down

Finished reading James MacDonald's Vertical Church.  The church is first and foremost about God's glory and manifested  presence.  People should sense this, and even the outsider "...falling on his face, he will worship God and declare that God is really among you." (1 Corinthians 14:25)

The Pillars of a vertical church (what brings the glory down):

  • Unapologetic Preaching
  • Unashamed Adoration
  • Unceasing Prayer from God's people
  • Unafraid Witness by God's people

A couple of final quotes...

On relational evangelism: “The power of the gospel is not in the relational capacity of the witness but in the message itself.  Friendship evangelism, lifestyle evangelism, relational evangelism—all of it flows from our desire to avoid what cannot be avoided.  I will say it again, if you are not willing to be the aroma of death to those who are perishing, you can’t be the aroma of life to those who are being saved.  The idea of having conversations with a person for months or years to ‘earn the right’ to talk to him or her about Jesus betrays an elevation of the role of human persuasion in evangelism that just doesn’t square with the Gospels or the book of Acts.  Now, I’m not talking about enemy evangelism.  Of course we should be kind and live a life of integrity and be sensitive to the Spirit about when to speak up boldly, but bottom line, it’s not about you.”  (James MacDonald, Vertical Church, p. 248)

Summary and conclusion“The problem in the church today is that we treat God’s glory as a by-product and the missional activities of the church as the primary thing when the opposite is what Scripture demands.  We don’t proclaim the gospel and feed the poor and shepherd the flock in hopes that God’s glory will be the by-product of those activities.  We seek the revealing of the glory of God through the methods He prescribes so that His glory is revealed in the church.  When that happens, the lost are converted, the poor are fed, the saints live in unity, and much more, all as by-products of God’s manifest presence in the church.”   (James MacDonald, Vertical Church, p. 300)

Read Tim Challies' helpful review here, which points out some evident weaknesses of this book.  

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

theology as worship

We should only speak about God when we speak from and through him.  Theology should be formed as a fire within us...

"Religion, the fear of God, must therefore be the element which inspires and animates all theological investigation. That must be  the pulse-beat of the science. A theologian is a person who makes bold to speak about God because he speaks out of God and through God. To profess theology is to do holy work. It is a priestly ministration in the house of the Lord. It is itself a service of worship, a consecration of mind and heart to the honor of His name."

(--Herman Bavinck, Inaugural Address at the Free University of Amsterdam, 1902.)

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

the folly of the Lord

O Simplicitas 

An angel came to me
And I was unprepared 
To be what God was using.
Mother I was to be.
A moment I despaired,
Thought briefly of refusing.
The angel knew I heard.
According to God's Word
I bowed to this strange choosing.

A palace should have been
The birthplace of a king
(I had no way of knowing).
We went to Bethlehem;
It was so strange a thing.
The wind was cold, and blowing,
My cloak was old, and thin.
They turned us from the inn;
The town was overflowing.

God's Word, a child so small,
Who still must learn to speak,
Lay in humiliation.
Joseph stood, strong and tall.
The beasts were warm and meek 
And moved with hesitation.
The Child born in a stall?
I understood it: all.
Kings came in adoration.

Perhaps it was absurd:
The stable set apart,
The sleepy cattle lowing;
And the incarnate Word
Resting against my heart.
My joy was overflowing.
The shepherds came, adored
The folly of the Lord,
Wiser than all men's knowing.

By Madeleine L'Engle