Sunday, August 25, 2013

grace for the entire journey

"The Christian ought to rely on divine strength because this plan results in the greatest of advancement of God's own glory (Eph. 1:4, 12).  If God had given you a lifetime supply of his grace to begin with and left you to handle your own account, you would have thought him generous indeed.  But he is magnified even more by the open account He sets up in your name.   Now you must acknowledge not only that your strength comes from God in the first place, but that you are continually in debt for every withdrawal of strength you make throughout your Christian course.

"When a child travels with his parents, all his expenses are covered by his father-- not by himself.  Likewise, no saint shall say of heaven when he arrives there, 'This is heaven, which I have built by the power of my own might.'  No, the heavenly Jerusalem is a city 'whose builder and maker is God' (Heb. 11:10).  Every grace is a stone in that building, the topstone of which is laid in glory.  Some day the saints shall plainly see how God was not only the founder to begin, but benefactor also to finish the same.  The glory of the work will not be crumbled out piecemeal, some to God and some to the creature.  All will be entirely credited to God."   

 (William Gurnall, The Christian In Complete Armour)

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

today's quotes

Niebuhr's definition of liberal Protestantism may be applied to today's revisionist Christianity: “A God without wrath brought men without sin into a Kingdom without judgment through the ministrations of a Christ without a Cross.”  (Richard Niebuhr, The Kingdom of God in America, 1937)

The "love of God" can be used in the Bible in different ways: "God loves with a love of benevolence (John 3:16) and with a love of delight (Zeph 3:17)." (Thomas Manton)

C. S. Lewis on applied science, which we could call "technology": "There is something which unites magic and applied science [=technology] while separating both from the 'wisdom' of earlier ages.  For the wise men of old the cardinal problem had been how to conform the soul to reality, and the solution had been knowledge, self-discipline, and virtue.  For magic and applied science alike the problem is how to subdue reality to the wishes of men; the solution is a technique."  (C. S. Lewis, The Abolition of Man)

We must begin with the nature of truth"Without a thorough and deeply rooted understanding of the biblical view of truth as revealed, objective, absolute, universal, eternally engaging, antithetical and exclusive, unified and systematic, and as an end in itself, the Christian response to postmodernism will be muted by the surrounding culture or will make illicit compromises with the truth-impoverished spirit of the age. The good news is that truth is still truth, that it provides a backbone for witness and ministry in postmodern times, and that God's truth will never fail." (Douglas Groothuis)

Monday, August 5, 2013

why a narrow gate?

"Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many.  For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few."  (Matthew 7:13-14 ESV)

Why does Jesus say that the gate to life is narrow?  Which leads to some related questions: why is Christianity so exclusive?  Will only a few ultimately be saved?  Doesn't God want all, or at least lots of people, to be saved?   Is he making the way more difficult than it needs to be?

First of all, we should underscore the truth that God does not delight in the death of the wicked (Ezekiel 18:23; 33:11).  It is not that God intends to make the way of life difficult for difficulty's sake.  He's not being cruel, or miserly, or hard to please. The way and the welcome is open to all.  However, then as now, many people find the exclusive claims of Christ, and of Christianity, to be deeply offensive.  I believe the narrowness of Christianity comes from the extreme condition in which we exist as fallen, sinful creatures, and from the only solution that can truly help us.

Jesus' ministry was rejected by many in Israel (John 1:11).  Much of his popularity stemmed from the miraculous blessings he gave, whether healing, deliverance or food.  His teaching was enjoyed by many until it became difficult to understand (John 6:60-66).  The leadership of the nation, by a great majority, would finally condemn him to death for blasphemy. 

So, why is the gate narrow?  Here are a few reasons, I think…

First, the gate is narrow because truth is narrow -- or at least, truth is narrow when placed against the backdrop of widespread deceit.  Jesus described Satan as the father of lies (John 8:44).  All roads do not in fact lead to the top of the mountain (John 14:6; Acts 4:12), but "lead to destruction", according to Jesus.  He comes as the true Light into a very dark world.

The gate is narrow because a person must come to understand his desperate condition before God.  We come to Christ as a terminally ill person comes to a physician (Luke 5:31-32).  There's a humbling that takes place in salvation. This is very difficult for people who believe the widespread lie that they are basically good (or that they're "not all that bad.")  

The gate is narrow because one must understand that it is not by works, or by self-generated effort or sincerity or good intentions that we enter God's kingdom.  Again, most religions and worldviews hold that we can be good enough to attain life.  We are given a list (which may be short or long) as to how we might achieve this.  We are like the rich young ruler who asks "what good thing" he might do to merit eternal life (Luke 18:18ff).

The gate is narrow because only Jesus can do what needs to be done to give us eternal life.  His life is the only one that pleases God with its perfection.  Multitudes find this hard to swallow.  And his death is the only work that can restore us to friendship with God.  Many people, then and now, find this offensive.  (1 Corinthians 1:22-25).

The gate is narrow because it does not appeal to our ethnic pride, that each of us should have a way of salvation that is amenable to our culture.   But God has given one Mediator for all cultures, because humanity is one. (1 Timothy 2:5-6; Romans 5:12ff) 

The gate is narrow because the Christian life -- though involving great freedom and joy -- does bring restrictions in the way we live in this current world.  Given the prevailing flow of sinful humanity, the Christian life is hard.  It involves being shaped into the image of Jesus and being prepared for a new creation while living in the old (Luke 14:27-28).  It means bearing with persecution and hostility.  It means making choices that many would find strange.  Most people do not want to sign up for that.

So, does this mean that ultimately only a few will be saved?  Jesus does not quite say that.  He says those who are finding it are few.  "The ones finding it" is a present participle, which may refer to a timeless principle or it may refer to the current situation as Jesus is speaking.  One thing we know… multitudes will be saved (see Rev 7:9; 19:6). The size of the New Jerusalem is mind-boggling (Rev 21:15ff). 

It may be that what Jesus is saying is similar to what he said here:

And Jesus said to his disciples, "Truly, I say to you, only with difficulty will a rich person enter the kingdom of heaven.  Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God."  When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished, saying, "Who then can be saved?"  But Jesus looked at them and said, "With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible."  (Matthew 19:23-26 ESV)

Jesus is speaking these words before his death, resurrection and ascension; before the Holy Spirit is poured out upon the church.  I think the sense is this: given the utter estrangement of humanity from God, we would never find the door to life due to our blindness and hardened hearts.  But through God's grace and through the ministry of the Spirit out-poured, a few can become a multitude, a trickle can become a flood, and a tiny remnant can become a great nation:

After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands,  and crying out with a loud voice, "Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!"  (Revelation 7:9-10 ESV)

The engraving above is of the wicket gate from The Pilgrim's Progress, London, 1778.

Saturday, August 3, 2013

something suddenly has begun

I watched the film Les Miserables with my wife a few weeks ago.  The song that arrested me was "Suddenly", and specifically the line within it, "Something not yet here has begun."

Jean Valjean sings to the young Cosette...

Suddenly I see
Suddenly it starts
Can two anxious hearts beat as one?
Yesterday I was alone
Today you walk beside me
Something still unclear
Something not yet here has begun.
Suddenly the world
Seems a different place
Somehow full of grace and delight.
How was I to know that so much hope was held inside me?
What has passed is gone
Now we journey on through the night
How was I to know at last that happiness can come so fast?
Trusting me the way you do
I'm so afraid of failing you
Just a child who cannot know that danger follows where I go
There are shadows everywhere
And memories I cannot share
Nevermore alone
Nevermore apart
You have warmed my heart like the sun.
You have brought the gift of life
And love so long denied me.
Suddenly I see
What I could not see
Something suddenly
Has begun.

"Something not yet here has begun." This is true of love, true of conversion, and true of the new creation -- something now and not yet.

Friday, August 2, 2013

Jesus' kindness to Judas

After saying these things, Jesus was troubled in his spirit, and testified, "Truly, truly, I say to you, one of you will betray me."  The disciples looked at one another, uncertain of whom he spoke.  One of his disciples, whom Jesus loved, was reclining at table close to Jesus, so Simon Peter motioned to him to ask Jesus of whom he was speaking.  So that disciple, leaning back against Jesus, said to him, "Lord, who is it?"  Jesus answered, "It is he to whom I will give this morsel of bread when I have dipped it." So when he had dipped the morsel, he gave it to Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot.   (John 13:21-26 ESV)

Dwight Pentecost comments on this passage...

"We now come to an incident that reveals the depths of the love of Christ for sinners. Christ announced to the Twelve that one of them would betray him, and no one was able to identify who the betrayer would be. Peter is overcome with curiosity and gets the attention of John, who is seated at the right hand of Christ, the second place of honor, and asks him to find out who it is and relay the information to him. And John asked Christ who it was, and he said, the one to whom I give the bread. It was customary at the feast for the master  of the feast to take unleavened bread, which was like a soft pancake, and put bits of lamb in it and roll it up and put in it bitter herbs and then give one of those to each of the participants in the feast. Christ was portraying that which Messiah would do when he would come. He would provide salvation for sinners and offer that salvation to them through the death of a sacrificial lamb. And in accepting and eating that bread, the participant was signifying his willingness to accept the salvation that Messiah would provide. Christ made the first sop, and he gave it to Judas. That meant that he had placed Judas in the position of honor at his left hand. Even though Christ knew that Judas had already covenanted to betray him, Christ treated Judas as the honored guest at this Passover meal. In offering Judas that bread, Christ is, even then, extending a gracious offer of salvation to Judas if he will repent and put faith in himself. But instead of eating that bread to signify his acceptance of that offered salvation, he rushed out of the room. Judas rejected the grace that has been offered to him."  (J. Dwight Pentecost, The Life of Christ)