30 June 2006
Well I just finished my first week of probation and it's time for my tri-annual post on Pyromaniacs.
I want to thank everyone for their prayers and kind words. It really meant a lot to me while I was going through the Academy. We'll see you back at the (some what) new and (not even close) improved I Drank What?.
We enjoy, in America, a degree of freedom unknown throughout most of the history of the world. It formally started with the Declaration of Independence, July 4, 1776, in which the 13 colonies declared themselves independent of Great Britain, and which ended with the words “for the support of this declaration…we mutually pledge to each other our lives, our fortunes and our sacred honor.”“…and from Jesus Christ, the Faithful Witness, the Firstborn over the dead, and the Ruler over the kings of the earth. To Him who loves us, and loosed us from our sins by His blood; and He made us a kingdom, priests to His God and Father — to him be the glory and the might unto the ages of the ages! Amen!” (Revelation 1:5-6, my rendering)
Was that just big talk, or flowery rhetoric? Well, the 56 signers were marking themselves as traitors to the Crown. “By the end of the war, almost every one had lost his property; many had lost wives and families to British guns or prisons; and several died penniless, having given all to the Revolution” (Larry Schweikart and Michael Allen, A Patriot’s History of the United States [Sentinel: 2004], p. 81).
Americans enjoy freedom today because of the blood spilt by thousands of men and women from before 1776 until this very day. But our freedom, as Americans, is not free. If it hasn’t cost us, it surely has cost someone else!
But my mind turns today to a far deeper bondage, however, and an infinitely greater freedom — and to the far more dreadful price that was paid for that freedom.
It is found in Revelation 1:5b: “To Him who loves us, and loosed us from our sins by His blood.”
I'd like to focus on two aspects only of that text: the love of Jesus, and the cost of that love.
As to the love of Jesus, we can discern four aspects here:
First, Christ's love is FREE. God is, by definition, the one and only truly free Being. He is under no external controls, subject to no overrides, or limitations. He can will and do anything in according with His nature. Therefore, He was under no external nor moral compulsion to love guilty rebels. No committee or authority had petitioned or ordered Him, and it was provoked by nothing in us -- no foreseen faith, no anticipated holiness, as if the ultimate cause lay in us.
More accurately, He loves in spite of the continued rebellions, treacheries, and unbelief of the objects of His love. When He loves, He loves because He loves. It is the only satisfactory and Biblical answer.
Second, Christ's love is DISTINGUISHING. The text says that He loves "us.” The context defines "us" as “His servants" and "his servant John” (1:1; cf. v. 4), as “the seven churches” (1:4), and as people who were “loosed …from sins… made… a kingdom, priests to his God and Father” (1:5-6). They are contrasted with false, pretend-Christians (chapters 2—3)
ii. Those who try to hide “themselves in the caves and among the rocks of the mountains, 16 calling to the mountains and rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who is seated on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb, 17 for the great day of their wrath has come, and who can stand?” (Revelation 6:15-17).
Third, Christ's love is ETERNAL. John calls Jesus “Him who loves us.” The verb is present in tense, but it is a participle, not a finite verb. It marks no starting point, it erect no terminal point. It isn't “Jesus loved us," no "Jesus will love us.” Being a verbal noun, it is a characteristic of Jesus'. It was true when John said it, it is true as we read it, it will be true through all the centuries and millennia and ages of eternity. Before a world began, He set His love on His own. When the last rebel fist has been shaken, and judged, still He will love His own.
This characteristic trumps all of the fears of God’s people. “But I am unworthy!” So are we all; yet Christ is He “who loves us.” “But I sin!” So do we all; yet Christ is He “who loves us.” “But I am going through a dark, awful time!” So have we all; yet Christ is He “who loves us.”
There is no “use by” date, no expiration, no sunset provision. Because it is eternal, it is invincible; nothing can separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus.
Fourth, Christ's love is revelatory of HIM, not of US. If ever you find yourself starting a sentence, “Well, I think God loved me because I…” — bail out! Step away from the stupid statement! The only true and Biblical way to finish that is, “God loved because God loved." And the fact that God loved, and the wretches whom God loved, and the invincible fierceness with which God loved all say a great deal about God -- and nothing about me.
Away with all self-help pop-psychologizing, that tries to find self-esteem in the Cross. Many say, “God loved me so much that He gave His Son to die for me — so I must be worth a lot! I must be worthy! I must be special!” I can’t easily imagine a more perverse line of reasoning. What the Cross says about us is that we’re helpless, we’re hopeless, we’re lost and doomed, and only the most extreme, radical, outrageous act on the part of God could redeem us from the wreck and ruin in which we’d buried ourselves!
The Cross says horrible things about us, as we are in ourselves, as Christ finds us! But it says wonderful things about God!
In fact, as a brief aside, to speak of loosing is to assume binding. That is, only those who are bound are interested in deliverance from their bonds. So what is it that binds us? The world, the flesh, and the Devil -- mighty, ubiquitous, tireless forces. [Sheerly because of the length of this post, I expand on this point elsewhere.]
Now let's turn to the COST undertaken by Jesus, because of His love: He freed us from our sins “by His blood.” We'll focus on three aspects.
First, Christ's blood is PRECIOUS blood. It is precious because of whose blood it is. It belongs to God’s Messiah, the Anointed One, the Faithful Witness, the ruler of the kings of the earth. It belongs to the blood of God incarnate; the Bible calls it the blood of God (Acts 20:28). This blood is of infinite worth. Dare anyone set a limit on the value of this blood? I would not! (It is a great misrepresentation of the Calvinist position to think that we do. We see its value as limitless, and its aim as specific.) Thus could Christ shed it on behalf of, and actually accomplish the redemption of, countless scores of multitudes of sinners from every nation, tribe and language.
Second, Christ's blood is PURE blood. The blood that looses us from our sins is itself sinless. This is the blood of the one Man who did not share Adam’s guilt, and did not replicate Adam’s sin. It is the blood of one who never violated God’s law in thought, word or deed, who kept every bit of God’s law in thought, word and deed. Can the contrast between the Lord Jesus and those for whom He died be any starker and more immense?
Third, Christ's blood is POWERFUL blood. The apostle John does not say that Jesus made it possible for us to loose ourselves from our sins by His blood. Nor does He say that Christ made loosing from our sins available by his blood. Rather, Jesus Christ actually loosed us from our sins by His blood!
Christ's blood is powerful, and it is effectual. Can any imagine that a drop of that blood would be wasted, would fall to the ground defeated and impotent? I cannot.
Notice the wonders He accomplishes by His blood (vv. 5b-6). Before, we were lost, rebellious, hopeless, impure slaves. After, we are a kingdom, and we are priests. We need no mere man to rule us. We need no man to stand for us before God. We are members of Christ’s kingdom, and priests to God through Him.
This, my brothers and sisters, is freedom!
But at what a cost!
Now, it's beyond us to know who reads our posts. So let me just say, Dear Reader, if your thinking is, “Oh, I don’t need such a drastic conversion; religion is all very well for weak men and old ladies, but I have a fulfilled and meaningful life. I must follow my heart. I don’t need fairy tales to brighten up my life,” then you are still a slave to the world, the flesh, and the Devil. The worst slave is the one who has grown accustomed to his chains.
What power on earth can save us from these things? No power on earth! Only Christ can — but at what a dreadful price! No mere example, or teaching, or method can save. Only the blood of God incarnate can loose us from our sins! Do you know that freedom?
If you do, praise and honor Him alone who loves you, and loosed you from your sins at such a staggering price!
If you do not, throw yourself on the mercy of God, believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, look to Him this day!
Today I'm answering an e-mail I received after making some comments about God's sovereignty and the origin of evil. I subsequently heard from a gung-ho ultra-high Calvinist who suggested that if God is truly Sovereign, He must be both the author and efficient cause of evil as well. Indeed, he insisted, citing the KJV rendition of Isaiah 45:7, "God created evil."
My correspondent, who remains anonymous, wrote the words in red italics:
It is common to hear men defend God against the charges of being arbitrary. Yet if these nervous brethren would but consult their English dictionaries as well as their theologies they would find that arbitrary is a most Scripturally appropriate adjective for the Almighty. Certainly the LORD is not capricious, but He and He alone may properly be arbitrary.
Let's see, shall we?
ar bi trar y (ar' bi-trer-ee) 1. determined by chance, whim, or impulse, and not by necessity, reason, or principle 2. despotic, tyrannical, ruling by whim, usually oppressivelyIt is that sense of the word that people usually mean when they say God is not arbitrary. He is not subject to fits of whimsy. He is a God of order and of lawa "principled sovereign"and though we may not always understand His ways, we know He is never irrational, erratic, or inconstant (James 1:17). He always acts in accord with His own consummate holiness and perfect righteousness. He cannot lie (Titus 1:2), and He cannot deny Himself (2 Timothy 2:13).
Of course, He is bound by no rule higher than Himself, but nonetheless, all that He does must be consistent with His own immutable character. Thus He cannot be "arbitrary."
You wrote: "Evil is neither substance, being, spirit, nor matter. That's why it is not proper to speak of evil as having been created. Sin is not itself a thing creatednot a substancebut the exact opposite. It's a want of moral perfection in a fallen creature." But I would point out that neither are souls, angels, nor evil "substances."
Human souls and angels are beings and thus can be created. Technically, even spirit beings have substanceeven though it is not material substance. (One of the dictionary definitions of substance is "essential nature; essence." It is in this sense that the Nicene Creed, for example, speaks of the Son as being "of one substance" with the Fathereven though God is a Spirit.)
Evil, on the other hand, is a defecta subtraction and deconstruction of what God created.
Scripture is quite clear in teaching that evil was no part of God's creation. When He finished creating everything, He looked at all His creation and pronounced it "very good." If you insist that God created evil, you contradict His own assessment of what He made.
To say God created evil would contradict a number of other Scriptures as well, including 1 Corinthians 14:33: "God is not the author of confusion." For if He is the author of all evil, then He must be the author of confusion as well.
Now look at Isaiah 45:7. There, God says, "I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I the LORD do all these things" (KJV). Does this mean what you suggest it means? Not to a Hebrew reader. Other translations capture the sense of the statement more accurately: "I make peace and create calamity" (NKJV). "I bring prosperity and create disaster" (NIV). "Causing well-being and creating calamity" (NASB).
The Hebrew word translated "evil" in the KJV is a word that means "adversity," or "affliction." It's talking about the calamitous consequences of sin; not ontological evil per se.
There is, of course, a true sense in which God decreed evil as part of His eternal plan. It did not enter the universe by surprise or against His sovereign will. He remains sovereign over it. He even uses it for good. But in no way is He the author or the creator of it.
"The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you" (2 Thessalonians 3:18).
29 June 2006
It would be awfully hard to pick the most frequently-abused and misused text of Scripture. That in itself may make a fun (?) post someday.
But surely well up on the list would have to be: "Where there is no vision, the people perish: but he that keepeth the law, happy is he" (Proverbs 29:18 KJV). That poor, hapless soldier has been pressed into the service of ideologically foreign masters beyond anything that the laws of kindness should permit. How many church building funds, bus contests, motivational seminars and the like have been launched under the mistaken aegis of this verse?
It's a classic example of anachronism. We have this word today, "vision," that means "An ideal or a goal toward which one aspires." This verse has that word in it. Conclusion: this verse must be talking about how important it is to have goals.
Well, the conclusion is true, but the text in this case is a pretext. No one will find the underlying Hebrew term chazon used in this way. It just isn't. But you will find a consistent use of the term to indicate prophetic revelation, such as we have today in Scripture alone (cf. Isaiah 1:1; Daniel 8:1, 15; Hosea 12:11; Obadiah 1; Nahum 1:1, etc.).
And so I render the verse, "Without revelation a people runs wild; But the [people] keeping the Law, happy is it." Similarly the ESV, "Where there is no prophetic vision the people cast off restraint, but blessed is he who keeps the law." It isn't at all about an individual, nor a group, gathering together and forming goals. It isn't about praying and "feeling led." It isn't about dreams (in the non-revelatory sense), targets, programs -- in fact, it isn't about any human endeavor at all.
The verse is about our need communally as well as individually for the Word of God. Any half-decent newspaper -- and I admit "half-decent" is setting the bar too high, these days -- illustrates the precise and almost technical truth of the verse. The more we cast off the absolutes of God's word, the more our culture plummets towards lawless chaos.
I say that to say this: I was struck in my reading today by a genuine statement of "vision" in the above sense, of ambition. It is in the apostle's words: "...I make it my ambition to preach the gospel, not where Christ has already been named, lest I build on someone else's foundation..." (Romans 15:20). To this, I append a few observations.
First, I'm struck by the responsibly task-oriented nature of this ambition. Paul aims at what he can normally control, not what he cannot control. Paul does not say, "I make it my ambition to win ___ souls," nor "to plant ___ churches," nor "to have ___ regular attenders within ___ weeks," nor "to build ___ buildings." All these goals vary in terms of worthiness, but they all have this in common: Paul controls none of them. His only way to "control" would be to engage in tactics, methods, manipulation, and we already know that the apostle will have none of that (2 Corinthians 2:17).
All these are effects, and they are in God's hands (Proverbs 16:1, 9). Paul may plant, he may water, but only God can cause actual life to spring up (cf. 1 Corinthians 3:5-9).
So Paul focuses on his part, the part of faithfulness (cf. 1 Corinthians 4:2). Even what he is, and what he does, depends on the Lord, and the Lord always retains veto-power and the right to redirect providentially. But it is Paul's part to plan (Proverbs 16:1 again), and plan he does.
Then I'm struck by the specificity of the plan. It isn't the sort of specificity that some motivational speakers urge, and in some contexts greater specificity is a good and necessary aim. But Paul's plan is specific enough that it excludes some goals, while targeting others. He can know, at any point, whether or not he is accomplishing what he aims at doing.
If you aim at nothing, you'll hit it every time. This is an axiom I've hammered out on the anvil of far too much experience. My beloved wife is very goal-oriented, and she's superb at setting terrific goals. I remember a day she engineered at Disneyland with our (then) two children, and it was like the most precise ballet, starting at 8am and ending at 2am. What we packed into those hours makes for a breath-taking memory. Well over a decade later, I still marvel.
I am, to be charitable to myself by vast understatement, less so than she.
Paul does not aim at nothing. He aims at something. It's a big goal, it's a lofty goal, it's a Christ-centered and Christ-honoring goal. It's a loving goal. It's a measurable goal. It is specific, and yet it is wide-open. It is set in time, but it has an eye on eternity. It allows for readjusting specifics (Africa? Spain? Australia?), yet also rules out other alternatives (not Jerusalem, not Judea, not Samaria).
Now let me conclude with a little end-run around myself. Does Proverbs 29:18 have nothing to say about forming goals? No; just not what it is commonly taken to say.
The verse is not talking about how important it is to formulate goals. However, it does apply to the absolute necessity of subordinating our goals, plans, methods, tactics, and values to the revealed Word of God.
Paul knew what sort of thing he should be doing from Jesus' words recorded in Matthew 28:18-20, and from His own words to him by special revelation (Acts 22:21). The specific methods and means were not spelled out; they were to be filled in by the apostle.
So you're a wife, and want to set goals for your family. Are your goals ruled and overruled by Ephesians 5:22-24? You, husband, are your goals formulated under Ephesians 5:25ff.? Likewise pastors, employees, bosses; politicians, writers, friends, children. Have you lined up all your goals consciously and deliberately under all the revealed Word?
Set goals, set specific goals, set adjustable goals; and do it within the framework and values laid down in the inerrant, abiding, sufficient Word of God.
28 June 2006
Brad, from Broken Messenger, posted a comment in reply to Dan Phillips's post from yesterday. I was going to reply to Brad in the comment-thread, but I decided to make a full post of it. Brad has raised a critical issue that I wanted to say something about anyway.
Besides, I still have admin authority on this blog, and this is one of the prerogatives of that power. Might as well wield it:
Brad: "Many Reformists simply deny Christ daily by their actions, and yet their doctrine is sound. Which of these is worse? Ignorance or willful disobedience?"
OK, let me start by saying I'm baffled about how DJP's post prompted such a reply. It seems to me the point Dan was making does indeed apply equally to a "Reformist" (or anyone else) who practices hypocrisy. What such people do is just another way of giving lip service to "faith, grace, and the glory of God" while actually denying itand then denying that their denial is a denial.
(Note, by the way, that Dan's post was arguing in favor of a contented heartnot merely an orthodox creed.)
For the record, we're not in favor of hypocrisy here, especially when a practical denial of Christ (Luke 6:46) is masked behind the facade of a truly sound statement of faith.
So in answer to Brad's direct question: willful disobedience is worse than mere ignorance. Much worse. And the point Brad is making therefore underscores the actual point Dan was making; it doesn't detract from it.
In other words, I don't think there's any real disagreement here.
However, as long as Brad brought it up, and while we're on the subject, let's acknowledge that what Brad is saying is all too true on a disturbingly frequent basis. Way too many "orthodox" thinkers are heterodox doers. The Reformed community's admirable stress on the importance of being hearers of the Word is vital and necessary, especially in an era where many ears are itching for anything but the Word of God.
But it's no more vital or necessary than our duty to be doers of the Word (James 1:22).
We ought to highlight that truth more than we do.
A profession of faitheven with the most thorough, biblically informed, and accurate doctrinal statement backing it upis no substitute for actual obedience. Such a profession will be of no value whatsoever when it really counts (Matthew 7:21-23).
Is hypocrisy really more common among Reformed types than elsewhere? I don't know, because there are no hard statistics to measure by. But:
- When secret sin surfaces (or when overtly bad behavior is manifest) in the life of a sound believer, it's certainly more shocking and more evil than when a badly-taught Christian stumbles.
- Because there's a higher ratio of talk-to-action within the Reformed community, it may well be easierand a bigger temptationfor Reformed types to mask their sin with erudite-sounding theological discussions. (Drunk-in-the-Spirit-type charismatics aren't given to such discussions and aren't particularly impressed by them. So their hypocrites tend to mask their sin by other means.)
- But this elevated focus on academic theology is not entirely a point in favor of Reformed theology. Theology should never be merely academic. We need to be less impressed with mere talk and debate (without giving up our legitimate concern for sound doctrine), and more concerned about putting feet to our doctrines.
- No one's doctrine is truly "sound" if he or she doesn't believe it enough, and fear God enough, to obey Christ (John 15:14). "The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom; A good understanding have all those who do His commandments" (Psalm 111:10).
- My gut feeling tells me that if Reformed people in this postmodern era have a serious besetting sin, it is precisely the kind of hypocrisy Brad has put his finger on. Not to compare Brad to Shimei or anything :-), but if David could hear a legitimate admonition from the Lord in the taunts of a drooling, rock-throwing maniac (2 Samuel 16:10), we also ought to pause and listen when both friends and critics keep saying the same thing.
- I'd count Brad in the former category, for anyone who wonders.
I blogged today at my home blog about John 5 and the particular nature of Christ’s earthly work in that passage, but that topic always gets me stirred up about the nature of the work of Christ.
Let me give you an example of what I mean, by way of what I do not mean:
How can a person have God's forgiveness, heaven and eternal life, and Jesus as personal Savior and Lord? By trusting in Christ and asking Him for forgiveness. Take the step of faith.That’s an invitation from a church blog which will remain nameless, but it’s a standard invitations which they lifted from one of a library of such invitation provided by their denomination. I have blogged elsewhere about the backwards Gospel, so I won’t get all out of joint here about the mistakes some people make when presenting the Gospel to all people. The point of this example is to show that the major mistake a lot of people make when thinking about Jesus’ work and talking to others about it is that they see Jesus’ work as a consequence of man’s consent.
After you have received Jesus Christ into your life, tell a Christian friend about the important decision you have made. Follow Christ in believer's baptism and church membership. Grow in faith and enjoy new friends in Christ by becoming a part of His church and attending the Sunday School class a church has just for you. You'll find others who will love and support you.
Jesus’ work is not a consequence of anything but God’s intervention to save men who will otherwise be lost. You know: for example, God didn’t give the prophecy of the resurrection in Psalm 16 because he thought it sounded good and let’s see what will happen. God gave that prophecy because it was what He intended to happen in order to demonstrate and reveal the Messiah to men. He wasn’t rubbing heads with David to see what might play well in Jerusalem: He was revealing His eternal plan of salvation.
That’s such a great word! Salvation. Any dictionary you might find says this word means, “deliverance from danger or difficulty” – and think on it: “salvation” is not “making possible the escape from danger or difficulty” but in fact “deliverance”. You are not saved if you can now find your own way: you are saved if you are actually taken out of the way of danger. Standing outside a burning building and shouting the names of those trapped inside does not make one a savior; even running through the halls of that building shouting names and “follow me!” does not make you a savior: going into the flames, and breaking down the doors, and searching under the bed for the scared child who doesn’t know how to save herself, and then carrying her out through the flames makes you a savior. A savior is who who actually saves, who does the saving and has saved someone when it’s all over.
Whoever you are, and wherever you are, Jesus is not waiting for you to make a choice. He’s not a deal-maker. He’s not trying to negotiate a contract with you. Jesus isn’t the one who will call the ambulance if you can only dial the ethereal 9-1-1. Jesus is God Almighty, and if you can hear this word today, Jesus has been made Lord and Christ – Savior!
Jesus Christ saves. Jesus isn’t fretting about the Earth while Satan is like a lion going here and there devouring anyone he wants: Jesus closes the mouth of the lion and snatches the victims of the lion – who put themselves in harm’s way, and will die without Christ’s intervention; people who have placed themselves in danger and deserve the consequences – out of the jaws of death. He saves. He takes us out of harm’s way even if we are too wicked and too conceited to want to be out of harm’s way.
Our faith is not in some consultation with the Holy Spirit which gives us a Ben-Franklinesque list of pros-and-cons from which we can then make a rational choice. It is in the mighty hand of God which reaches down and takes us out of the filth and disease of our choices and washes us clean by the blood of Christ, and dresses us in the blinding white cloth of His righteousness.
Jesus is not waiting for you to make a choice: Jesus is saving right now. The call is not “do you accept Jesus as your personal Lord and Savior”: the call is “Jesus is Lord and Christ! Be baptized and repent in His name!”
It is a proclamation of fact, not a question to be debated. I cannot trick you into hearing it, either – because a savior is not a trickster or a con-man who makes you think you’re getting cotton candy when in fact you are getting your teeth drilled even if you need your teeth drilled.
Listen to me: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs that God did through him -- this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, was crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men. But God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it.
This Jesus God raised up, and there are many witnesses of this fact. Being therefore exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he has poured out this that you yourselves are seeing and hearing.
Let everyone therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus who was crucified. And therefore, repent and be baptized for the sake of your forgiveness!
You! Jesus will not save you because you confess – confess because Jesus is a Savior: admit it! This is the Gospel – the Good News to men!
There will be no organ music during which you can mull this over. You are dismissed. Do the right thing.
27 June 2006
Salesmen depend upon discontentment. Contentment = No Sale.
Think about it. Why buy anything, if you're happy with what you have? Why even shop? A salesman either has to find you discontented, or make you that way, if he wants to make a sale.
Now, sometimes the discontentment is legitimate and undeniable. Your washing machine broke, you need a new one. Your roof leaks, your car keeps breaking down, your clothes are becoming too revealing. You're "discontented" with being smelly, wet, stranded, and indecent. Nobody needs to talk you into looking for something new. For that matter, our conversion to Christ springs from a God-given "discontentment" with being lost, under sin, separated from God.
But what if what you have is really okay? What does the salesman do then? He has to convince you, somehow, that it is not okay. He has to persuade you that you'd be a lot more productive with a faster computer, that you'd be a lot more attractive if you bought his line of clothes/cologne/shoes, that you deserve a better car. Then what you thought was pretty decent doesn't look so hot anymore. You're discontented, and now you're vulnerable to a good sales pitch.
It's also Satan's favorite tool. Imagine your challenge is to approach a sinless woman who literally has everything she needs, and convince her that she needs this one thing that will in fact kill her, make her miserable, and devastate her world. How do you do it? But of course this is precisely what Satan did in Genesis 3. He presented himself as the woman's best friend, looking out for her best interests, wanting only her fulfillment, her actualization, her self-realization. She just needed this one more thing.
And she fell for it, hook, line and sinker.
And so has every natural-born child of Eve ever since. Why should Satan even imagine changing his tactics when we, gullible fools that we are, have fallen for it again and again for thousands of years?
So how can anyone counter this appeal to discontentment?
When I was preparing, years ago, to preach/teach through Colossians, I was struck with how Paul responded to incipient heresy in that congregation.
The apostle Paul was quite capable of being brutally frontal, as we see in his correspondence with the Galatians and the Corinthians. However, here he takes a somewhat different tactic.
The approach of the false teacher in Colosse (the references to him are all in the singular: 2:4, 8, 16, 18) was the same then as it is today: he was a charismatic individual who came in with special, personal, private revelation, special truths, special methods, all of which were must-have's for the person who really wants to have a top-grade spiritual experience. He excluded the "mere Christians" in Colosse as not having fully arrived.
How does Paul counter this? In Colossians the apostle mostly makes sidelong allusions to the false teaching. Paul does not get into a point-by-point explication and refutation of the Colossian heresy, as it has been called. Rather, he focuses on Christ, His person and work, His fullness. In my study, I found that Christ is mentioned in 53 of the 96 verses in Colossians. In some of these, He is mentioned two and three times. Therefore, some 55% of the verses mention Christ at least once. Or, put another way, every other thing Paul says in this letter is something about Jesus Christ.
Not only does Paul lay down solid teaching about the person and work of Christ, but he dwells on ways to make personal use of the truth. Chief among these is thankfulness. Again and again Paul either expresses gratitude, or says that all believers should be grateful, should give thanks. We see it at least in 1:3, 12; 2:7; 3:15-17; and 4:2.
Thankful people are people conscious of, and glorying in, the riches they possess. Thankful people are contented people. Contented people are immune to salesmen, whether they be peddlers of baubles and trinkets, or of false doctrine.
And so, Paul's centering on, and glorying in, the supremacy and all-sufficiency of the Lord Jesus Christ would have to flush out the false teacher. If the letter left believers rejoicing in Christ alone, grounded solidly in apostolic teaching, and uninterested in all the false teacher's supplements and additions, he was sunk. He'd have to expose himself more fully, speak more plainly. He'd have to put Christ and His work down, and put up his own additions more. He has to convince folks that what they have is not good enough.
And so it is today. "Merely" false teachings and damnable heresies alike depend on the same method. Regular readers will notice that, whenever one of us exults in the sovereignty of God in salvation, in the monergistic nature of saving grace, in the glories and sufficiency of God's eternal and inerrant word, the "But-but-but" crowd is activated. If God is truly sovereign in salvation, then where is the room for our "contribution"? If Christ's atonement actually atones, and not just theoretically, then where is the place for our "free will" on the throne?
And if God's word is everything the triune God says it is, then where is the rationale for endowing our emotions, our hunches, our intuitions, our peculiarities, with sacred and canonical status? Our feelings become mere feelings, our hunches mere hunches. We are "stuck" with having to study, work, pray, think, analyze, reason, explain, take accountability, shoulder responsibility. We have no more holy trump cards hidden up our sleeves that no one else can see. We can't pull out our cherished "the Lord told me" cards, or our "I just feel led to" cards, and end the debate. All we have is that Bible out there, that everyone else can see, study, learn, and meditate over just as surely as we. We have to agree with the Holy Spirit that it is what He said it was: sufficient (Deuteronomy 29:29; Psalm 119; 2 Timothy 3:15-17, etc. ad inf.), and we study it to know His mind (2 Timothy 2:7). We're on a level playing field; we have no mystical "gotcha" from God.
While itself a very liberating truth (John 8:31-32), to some it is threatening. It signals a sea-change, a paradigm-shift. It engenders panic, and panicky measures and expostulations.
But I'd point out to any and all the common factor in all of these.
Every teaching that denies Christ's divine glory begins by praising Him, and denies that it is a denial.
Every teaching that denies God's grace starts by praising it, and denies that it is a denial.
Every teaching that denies God's word starts by praising it, and denies that it is a denial.
Roman Catholics and Mormons believe in Christ, faith, grace, and the glory of God. It's the "alone" that separates Biblical doctrine from Romish doctrine. With Christian leaky-canon pop-off-ets, Roman Catholics and Mormons believe in the Scripture. It's the "alone" that distinguishes the one from the other.
And it's the "but" and the "and" that are the problem. And only the discontented are vulnerable. Why give up your steak for a plastic banana -- unless you really don't savor fully what you already have?
The answer is believingly to relish what God has given us, make much of it, and just say "No thanks -- really don't need it" to supplements and substitutes.
24 June 2006
posted by Phil Johnson
The PyroManiacs devote space at the beginning of each week to highlights from The Spurgeon Archive.
This excerpt is from "The Fainting Warrior," a sermon preached January 23rd, 1859, at the Music Hall, Royal Surrey Gardens. I chose this excerpt today because Spurgeon's text here was Romans 7:24-25, and I'm preaching on Romans 7 this weekend.
Of course, one of the tough questions people always raise about that passage is whether Paul was describing his experience as a mature apostlebecause if he struggled with sin the way he describes here, there's little hope any of us will attain any kind of perfection in this life. If Paul was calling himself "wretched" as a believer, this text more or less deals a death-blow to perfectionist doctrine of every kind.
Anyway, I like the way Spurgeon basically brushes aside the suggestion that Paul was above struggling with sin and temptation:
IF I chose to occupy your time with controversial matter, I might prove to a demonstration that the apostle Paul is here describing his own experience as a Christian. Some have affirmed that he is merely declaring what he was before conversion, and not what he was when he became the recipient of the grace of God.
But such persons are evidently mistaken, and I believe wilfully mistaken; for any ample-hearted, candid mind, reading through this chapter, could not fall into such an error. It is Paul the apostle, who was not less than the very greatest of the apostlesit is Paul, the mighty servant of God, a very prince in Israel, one of the King's mighty menit is Paul, the saint and the apostle, who here exclaims, "O wretched man that I am!"
Now, humble Christians are often the dupes of a very foolish error. They look up to certain advanced saints and able ministers, and they say, "Surely, such men as these do not suffer as I do; they do not contend with the same evil passions as those which vex and trouble me."
Ah! if they knew the heart of those men, if they could read their inward conflicts, they would soon discover that the nearer a man lives to God, the more intensely has he to mourn over his own evil heart, and the more his Master honors him in his service, the more also doth the evil of the flesh vex and tease him day by day.
Perhaps, this error is more natural, as it is certainly more common, with regard to apostolic saints. We have been in the habit of saying, Saint Paul, and Saint John, as if they were more saints than any other of the children of God. They are all saints whom God has called by his grace, and sanctified by his Spirit; but somehow we very foolishly put the apostles and the early saints into another list, and do not venture to look on them as common mortals. We look upon them as some extraordinary beings, who could not be men of like passions with ourselves.
We are told in Scripture that our Saviour was "tempted in all points like as we are;" and yet we fall into the egregious error of imagining that the apostles, who were far inferior to the Lord Jesus, escaped these temptations, and were ignorant of these conflicts.
The fact is, if you had seen the apostle Paul, you would have thought he was remarkably like the rest of the chosen family: and if you had talked with him, you would have said, "Why, Paul, I find that your experience and mine exactly agree. You are more faithful, more holy, and more deeply taught than I, but you have the self same trials to endure. Nay, in some respects you are more sorely tried than I."
Do not look upon the ancient saints as being exempt either from infirmities or sins, and do not regard them with that mystic reverence which almost makes you an idolater. Their holiness is attainable even by you, and their faults are to be censured as much as your own.
I believe it is a Christian's duty to force his way into the inner circle of saintship; and if these saints were superior to us in their attainments, as they certainly were, let us follow them; let us press forward up to, yea, and beyond them, for I do not see that this is impossible. We have the same light that they had, the same grace is accessible to us, and why should we rest satisfied until we have distanced them in the heavenly race?
Let us bring them down to the sphere of common mortals. If Jesus was the Son of man, and very man, "bone of our bone, and flesh of our flesh;" so were the apostles; and it is an egregious error to suppose that they were not the subjects of the same emotions, and the same inward trials, as the very meanest of the people of God. So far, this may tend to our comfort and to our encouragement, when we find that we are engaged in a battle in which apostles themselves have had to fight.
I think Romans 7 is a pivotal passage, and I have never quite understood the difficulty some people have with the idea that Paul was describing his own daily experience. If you think the battle with temptation in Romans 7 is something mature Christians shouldn't have to face, your ideas about sanctification probably need an overhaul.
23 June 2006
I was having a discussion with my pastor, and I related it to my wife (who is the greatest blogger who never typed 1K of bandwidth). The discussion was about church leadership, and whether the metaphor of the shepherd was useful in a society like America where 95% of the people have never seen one sheep, let alone a flock, let alone a person who was herding sheep.
Now, before any of you start the “perspicuity of scripture” organ up and set your monkey to dancing, this was not a discussion questioning the sufficiency of Scripture. Tad’s an inerrancy & sufficiency guy, and in case you haven’t noticed, so am I. The question was whether you could just open up this metaphor and have it stand up on its own in today’s society without a pretty significant amount of back-fill.
So, for example, is there a 21st century American equivalent to the shepherd which we could say, “look: most of you have never seen a shepherd, so rather than try to unpack what a shepherd does, let’s think about [Profession X] which is just like being a Shepherd.” My opinion is that there is no equivalent, and we have to unpack the metaphor Scripture has for us. But we took away the challenge to think about the matter and report back.
So, I took the matter to the Holy Spirit, which in my house is manifest most often in my wife. She slept on it, and she came up with two great conclusions.
Men would probably like it if the Shepherd metaphor translated into “staff sergeant” or “General” or “CEO”. It would make Macho sense to them. But they would be wrong: a Shepherd is much more like a Kindergarten teacher than like a Sergeant or a CEO. Of course, you can’t sell a lot of books to men in business if your thesis is, “Jesus really is a lot more like a good Kindergarten teacher than a superhero or a king when it comes to dealing with us stupid sinners.”
The biggest separation, however, between the good shepherd metaphor and the CEO is that the Shepherd lives with his sheep in every way. That is, the shepherd has to get dirty and do distasteful and even degrading things to make sure he takes proper care of his sheep. I don’t know a lot of CEOs who are ready to degrade themselves, for example, by working in the same conditions as the hourly single parent who has to work on the line. “But cent,” you might say, “the CEO does a pretty radically different kind of work than the hourly employee,” and I’d agree with you. Christ does a pretty radically different work than I do, but you know something: though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.
If you are looking for the model of leadership demonstrated in Christ, look there at the dirty sheep-herd who lives with his sheep, and sleeps with his sheep, and has to personally stand between his sheep and the wolves.
Good luck with that this weekend.
Oh. while I’m here,
OFFICER PECADILLO! WOOO!
22 June 2006
It's funny/sad how some false notions are like movie monsters.
It doesn't matter how many times or how utterly Freddy Krueger, Michael Myers, Jason Voorhees, or countless other baddies are decimated. If the box-office is good enough, they'll be back again for another round of bloody cliches.
I recently read the solemn remark that Christianity is not a relationship with a book, it is a relationship with God. The writer further said that he did not believe that Jesus rose from the dead because he read it in the Bible, and he expressed the hope that this was true also of every reader.
Ah, it's back again. Calvin killed it, Luther killed it, Owen killed it, Machen killed it, Clark killed it, Henry killed it, Schaeffer killed it. Yet here it is, and as sure as squash is yucky -- surer, some will say -- many will "discover" and embrace this notion anew today, as if it had never been decisively and utterly killed over and over again already.
So, let me say first that I'm perfectly happy to be a disappointment to the writer, in this regard. You ask me how I know He lives? The Bible tells me so.
One of my heroes, the great J. Gresham Machen, was asked to write on "My Idea of God," and these were his opening words:
If my idea of God were really mine, if it were one which I had evolved out of my own inner consciousness, I should attribute very little importance to it myself, and should certainly expect even less importance to be attributed to it by others. If God is merely a fact of human experience, if theology is merely a branch of psychology, then I for my part shall cease to be interested in the subject at all. The only God about whom I can feel concerned is one who has objective existence, an existence independent of man.This is the point at which genuinely Christian theology parts company from everything else. Whence comes your knowledge of God? What is its basis? What is your authority for anything you say about Him?
But if there be such a really and independently existent Being, it seems extremely unlikely that there can be any knowledge of Him unless He chooses to reveal Himself: a divine Being that could be discovered apart from revelation would be either a mere name for an aspect of man's nature – the feeling of reverence or loyalty or the like – or else, if possessing objective existence, a mere passive thing that would submit to human investigation like the substances that are analyzed in the laboratory. And in either case it would seem absurd to apply to such a Being the name of "God."
When a writer or speaker fills the air with God-statements bespattered with "I think" and "I feel" and "I just have to/can't believe," you can be fairly sure he's not doing Christianity. He is not telling us about God. He is telling us about himself.
I don't say that he or she isn't a Christian. There are frames of mind in which the holiest saint doesn't "do" Christianity very well. But whether or not the person is Christian, that way of "doing" theology isn't. It is a frame from which no good, and no God, can come.
It should be beyond argument that Christianity should have something fundamental to do with Christ. If so, there is no doubt that Christ-religion is a religion of the Bible first and foremost.
To start with the most forehead-slappingly basic touchstone, I'd ask this: Tell me something about this "Christ" you say you believe in.
If even one intelligible word is offered in answer, two things will necessarily be true about it: (1) it will be a doctrinal statement; and (2) it will either be directly from the Bible, or it will be false at worst, or trivial at best.
Was your "Christ" virgin-born, God incarnate, come in fulfillment of prophecy to effect atonement for His people? Did He live a sinless life? What did He teach, what did He say, what did He do? What did He command, promise and threaten? How did He die? What happened then? What happens next? What does any of it mean? What should it mean to me?
Any truthful, consequential answer to any of those questions will come from the Bible.
Suppose we have dealt with that fact, and are ready to concern ourselves with what Christ actually taught. What do we learn?
We learn that Jesus Christ never spoke disparagingly nor disdainfully of the written revelation of His Father, nor of His own words, nor of the future words of His apostles. Quite and radically to the contrary, none spoke more highly of God's verbal, then enscripturated, revelation. It was the very word of God (Mark 7:13). It was not capable of being broken (ou dunatai luthenai he graphe, John 10:35).
He spoke just as highly of His own words, which were spirit and life (John 6:63), and would stand for all eternity (Matthew 24:35). In fact, it is most instructive to see the connection between close study and retention of His words and a vital relationship with God. Did Jesus bifurcate the two? On the contrary, He hinged the one upon the other:
Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me. And he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him." 22 Judas (not Iscariot) said to him, "Lord, how is it that you will manifest yourself to us, and not to the world?" 23 Jesus answered him, "If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him. 24 Whoever does not love me does not keep my words. And the word that you hear is not mine but the Father's who sent me" (John 14:21-24)
This cannot surprise anyone whose concept of Christianity comes from Christ, rather than religious tradition, cultural fads, or personal vapors. After all, Christ said that the distinguishing mark of a genuine disciple, or student, of His was continuing in His word (John 8:31). Only thus can one know His freeing truth (v. 32).
(An aside: surely at this point someone would want to burst out, "What?! What about love? Love is the distinguishing mark of a Christian!" To which I'd respond, "How do you know that?" And I hope the reply would be, "Because I read it in the... oh.")
But, even all that aside, how does the mystics' favorite apostle, John, see Christian worship and spirituality? What he says is too often overlooked, or over-glanced:
That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life-- 2 the life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us-- 3 that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. 4 And we are writing these things so that our joy may be complete. (1 John 1:1-4)First, the foundation is the apostles' own abiding knowledge of Christ (v. 1). They verbally transmit that knowledge to others (v. 2), in writing (v. 4). By those words, readers have "fellowship" with the apostles and, through that fellowship, they have "fellowship" with the Father and the Son (v. 3).
Therefore, "fellowship" with the First and Second Person of the Trinity comes by means of "fellowship" with the verbal revelation which the apostles passed on, in keeping with Christ's promise (John 14:26; 16:13; cf. 1 Corinthians 14:37; 2 Peter 3:2, 15-16).
Thus we know what we know of the Father and the Son, and we enjoy the fellowship we have with the Father and the Son, by means of the words of the apostles.
Nor was Paul's thought any different. To single out but one example, have you ever noticed how the great apostle describes conversion in Romans 6? How would you describe it? Repentance, coming to faith in Christ, coming to Christ, being born again -- all true. But notice how Paul describes conversion, almost in passing, in Romans 6:17 -- "But thanks be to God that you were slaves of sin, but you submitted from the heart to the pattern of teaching to which you were committed" (my literal rendering). Conversion is, among other things, submitting to a pattern, an example, a standard of teaching, of doctrine. And how do we, in our day, encounter the pure doctrine Paul had in mind? We have no apostles.
But we do have their writings.
So do we have fellowship with writings, or with God?
It's a false dichotomy.
God tells us that we have fellowship with Him by means of the words that He moved men to write.
To the degree that something else, some other method or direction, entralls us -- to that degree, we are no longer "doing" Christianity.
21 June 2006
I'm back from my weekend trip. We got back early Monday, but I have been too busy to read the blog, much less make a post explaining where I was over the weekend. Sorry to have been so mysterious.
Darlene and I were in Florida. My best friend for almost 35 years is Steve Kreloff, who is celebrating his 25th anniversary as senior pastor of Lakeside Community Chapel in Clearwater. (Incidentally, Steve is now podcasting. I'll add a permanent link in the sidebar when I get a minute.) The Lakeside elders graciously asked me to come and preach as part of Steve's anniversary celebration. My coming was supposed to be a surprise. Steve figured it out anyway. It was still a great day, capped by a long reel of bloopers and comic moments from Steve's preaching career.
Anyway, now I'm back, with an even more hectic week on deck. The illustrious Pecadillo will graduate from the LAPD Academy Friday morning, and hordes of relatives are coming to town for the event. So don't expect me to be very prolific this week.
However, James Spurgeon reminded me today that I began a series on 2 Corinthians 5:21 several weeks ago, and the "series" seems to have stalled right out of the gate.
To tell the truth, I almost forgot I started that. Let's get back to it:
Why put so much weight on the doctrine of justification?
In a post last month, I argued that justification by faith is the marrow of the gospel message. The apostle Paul said something similar in 2 Corinthians 5:21where he gives a simple, succinct statement of the essence of evangelical truth, with the principles of substitution, imputation, and propitiation all printed in bold type and highlighted.
In other words, justification by faith is no optional second- or third-tier truth. On the contrary, I'd put it at the head of any list of fundamental, non-negotiable doctrines.
Why give such prominence to this one doctrine? After all, there are many other, more widely-agreed-upon doctrines that are absolutely essential to true Christianity. The deity of Christ, His incarnation, His bodily resurrection, and the promise of the second comingall of those are explicitly named in Scripture as nonnegotiablesessential to true Christianity and essential to authentic faith. Not to mention all the key doctrines of Trinitarianism. Deny any of those and you have in effect departed from the Christian faith. Or the doctrines of the inspiration and authority of Scripture. Abandon your confidence in Scripture, and you have opened the door for every other kind of error.
So why put justification by faith at the head of a list like that?
Justification by faith is unique, I believe, precisely because it distills the pure essence of everything else that is fundamental to and distinctive about Christianity.
Here's what I mean: A person can affirm the deity of Christ, give lip service to the authority and inerrancy of Scripture, be very sound in all the basic points of Trinitarian doctrineand still come under the curse of Galatians 1:8-9 because he preaches a different gospel.
Someone could also affirm the virgin birth of Christ, have a solid grasp on the incarnation, believe in the bodily resurrection of Christ, and yet be one of those described in Romans 4:4 and Romans 9:32 and Romans 10:3 whorather than trusting in Christ alone for justificationare seeking to establish a righteousness of their own by works.
In other words, you can be basically sound on Christology or theology proper and unsound on the gospel. If so, believing the wrong gospel will damn you without remedy, regardless of how well-tuned your Trinitarianism is.
The converse is pretty hard to imagine. I've never met anyone who had a sound belief about justification by faith but who was unsound on Christology or Trinitarian doctrine.
After all, if you affirm the principle of imputed righteousness, then you are almost certainly going to affirm the deity of Christ. Because the imputation of righteousness requires a perfect Substitute, with perfect righteousnessas perfect as the heavenly Father is perfect. The only Substitute who qualifies is a Christ who is also God. So the necessity of Christ's deity is practically built right into a sound understanding of justification by faith.
I realize there are probably exceptions to that rule, but it is a plain fact that every major denomination and creed that affirms sola fide also affirms the deity of Christ and all the other doctrines generally referred to as "fundamental."
That's because all the fundamental doctrines of Christianitythe incarnation, substitutionary atonement, the death and resurrection of Jesus, the truth of a Trinitarian Godhead, the doctrine of original sin and the fallenness of all humanity, the freedom of divine grace, and the authority of Scriptureare all linked in one way or another so that the better you understand this doctrine of justification by faith, the more sound you will be in all of your theology.
That's why if you were to ask me to name the one principle in all of theology that is most vital; the one doctrine that carries the most weight; the one conviction to hold most tightly; the one precept most important to handle with care and most vital to proclaim accurately; the one article of faith you need to master wellit would not be a difficult choice. It's the doctrine of justification by faiththe Reformation principle of sola fide. This one doctrine encompasses the heart and soul of everything that is essential to Christianity, everything that is fundamental to our faith.
The doctrine of justification by faith is the very life and nerve of the gospel itself.
That is, I believe, one of the inescapable implications of 2 Corinthians 5:21.
We'll look more closely at the text itself in some upcoming posts. Hang on; this series is far from over.
19 June 2006
The quality with which one engages in some endeavors can be gauged by its effects.
For instance, concerning karate practice, you could say, "If you don't end up sore and achey, you're not doing it right." Or consider cooking: "If it doesn't make your mouth happy, you're not doing it right." Smooching your loving wife: "If it doesn't feel good, you're not doing it right."
Similarly, concerning Biblical scholarship: "If it doesn't increase your passion, and your love for God, you're not doing it right" (Psalm 119:138 [HCSB]; Jeremiah 23:29; Romans 12:11). When Christ is the teacher, the hearts of His listening students are set on fire (kaiomene) within them (Luke 24:32).
James White well said what I tried to put into words earlier:
...I write as a pastor/theologian/apologist who believes firmly that man is a singular whole--you cannot divide man's mind from his heart, his soul. I am passionate about theology, passionate about the faith. I honestly do not understand how anyone can say "I believe the Bible is the Word of God" without being passionate about that confession. I love the Trinity, justification by faith, the Resurrection, and sola scriptura. I do not pretend to be dispassionate about these things, and, as such, I stand firmly on this assertion: Christian scholarship that lacks passion about the truth is not worthy of the name Christian to begin with. If dispassion and detachment are necessary attributes of scholarship, then I do not seek the appellation. I cannot comprehend dry faith, arid confession, or mere mental assent. (Scripture Alone [Bethany House: 2004], p. 10.)Amen!
16 June 2006
posted by Frank "li'l Phil" Turk
The PyroManiacs devote space each week to highlights from The Spurgeon Archive.
Well, Coyote has beaten me to the punch, as they say, and has prepared a dose of Spurgeon for Sunday which frankly is in continuity with the rest of the stuff going on here at the teamPyro blog, so I'll let him have his fun. I have a mere snippet which I will post here today, and if you like it, think about it on Sunday. Unlike Phil, I am not completely immersed in the great preacher’s works, and that is a terrible short-coming on my part. However, I have a few favorites from CHS which I turn to from time to time, and one of my favorites is The Eccentric Preacher.
In his own words, Spurgeon says he published this volume in “self-defense”. However, what he was defending himself against was not something he did, but something he in fact didn’t do, due to sloppy reporting by an American publisher. Spurgeon had preached on the topic of eccentric preachers, and a reporter took some notes on that sermon, and butchered it badly. Spurgeon thought at first merely to publish the corrected version, but in reviewing the notes for his own words thought the topic worthy of expanding into a booklet, for which he said, “I hope the reader will not be a loser by my resolution.”
As if. The booklet is, of course, a gem with so many high points that it’s hard to pick which is the best. It is a keen resource for those who want to improve their blogging, among other things. However, since you will go to church on SUnday (right?), and you at least read blogs about the Christian life (well, you read this blog), it would probably do you good to read this brief excerpt from Spurgeon’s intro to this volume, which has to do with the fact that God’s word is drawn out in earthen vessels.
Read for yourself:
I desire by this little volume to plead against the carping spirit which makes a man an offender for a word, and the lying spirit which scatters falsehood right and left, to the injury and grief of the most zealous of my Master's servants. Many hearers lose much blessing through criticizing too much, and meditating too little; and many more incur great sin by calumniating those who live for the good of others. True pastors have enough of care and travail without being burdened by undeserved and useless fault-finding. We have something better to do than to be for ever answering every malignant or frivolous slander which is set afloat to injure us. We expected to prove our ministry "by evil report and by good report," and we are not therefore overwhelmed by abuse as though some new thing had happened unto us; and yet there are tender, loving spirits who feel the trial very keenly, and are sadly hindered in brave service by cruel assaults. The rougher and stronger among us laugh at those who ridicule us, but upon others the effect is very sorrowful. For their sakes are these pages written; may they be a warning to wanton witlings who defame the servants of the Most High God.Have a care today as you think about your Pastor, your church, and God’s word.
As ministers we are very far from being perfect, but many of us are doing our best, and we are grieved that the minds of our people should be more directed to our personal imperfections than to our divine message. God has purposely put his treasure in earthen vessels that the excellency of the power should be ascribed to himself alone: we beseech our hearers not to be so occupied with the faults of the casket as to forget the jewel. Wisdom is justified of her children, and grace works by such instruments as it pleases. Reader, be it yours to profit by all my Master's servants, and even by Yours truly,C. H. SPURGEON.
15 June 2006
Our friend Kevin D. Hendricks at "Church Marketing Sucks" is now eight posts into his series on Church growth, and he is still dealing with the issue of "numbers" while blithely ignoring the actual problem most critics of contemporary "Church Growth" strategy have complained about: pragmatism.
It's almost as if we never had this conversation.
Meanwhile, here's something closely related to my concerns about pragmatism and the dumbing down, cheapening, and trivializing of our churches in the name of pragmatic populist man-pleasing. It's a fine post by the enigmatic "Dissidens" over at Remonstrans. He introduces us to Reptillia, the "worship leader; shares some thoughts about teaching children about beauty; and reflects on why the typical contemporary evangelical church is utterly absent anything truly glorious these days.
Anyway, I can't write much. It's 9:30 AM PDT as I write this. I'm in an LAX departure lounge about to board a long flight to an undisclosed location. When I get back, I'll tell you where I've been, but I'm clocking out for the weekend.
To keep from posting quickly on top of James Spurgeon's more important post, I'm going to have him post this item for me this afternoon. Hopefully, James or someone will also post the weekly dose of CHS. See you Monday.
14 June 2006
The relationship of the holy, infinite-personal God of Scripture to evil is a theological conundrum, but it's far from merely theoretical. We confront it daily. Evil's thriving presence makes itself felt with every glance at the news media, with every surf of the internet, with every human encounter, and, most dishearteningly, in every succession of thoughts and desires in our own souls. We see its baleful fruit in physical evil such as cancer; we see it more devastatingly in moral evil such as the Cross.
Man has always tried to solve the problem of evil, and he's always failed. He's tried denying the existence of God; but with that denial, he loses his right to call anything "evil." He's tried denying the sovereignty of God; but with that denial, he loses his right to call the God he has created "God." (See further God and Evil: A Brief Theodicy.)
You might truthfully say that evil is a problem precisely because God is who He is. If He were not good, or if He were not sovereign, evil would be no surprise -- but, in that case, neither would God be God, by any Biblical explication of the term. But God is good, and He is sovereign, and evil is a reality.
One of the most suggestive and meaning-laden texts about the relationship of God to evil is Genesis 50:20. It unveils realities about this area that we'd not otherwise know, and is worth careful unpacking.
We all know the background. Joseph had revelatory reason to believe he'd have ascendancy over his brothers. Possibly boastfully, certainly unwisely, he shared his dreams with his family. That, with his tattletale ways and his daddy's-favorite zoot suit, combined to make him the object of his brothers' hatred. They meant to kill him, then changed their minds and merely sold him into slavery in Egypt, concocting a cock-and-bull story that broke their father's heart and (they hoped) rid their family of Joseph forever.
Evil acts? Beyond a doubt: evil in intent, feeling, design, and execution. Not a shred of charity or holy intent in what they did.
And we also know that, while progressively bad things happened to Joseph (enslaved, entrapped, imprisoned, forgotten), God nevertheless exalted him from the very depths to the very heights. Through Joseph God preserved the nation of Israel, thus saving the human line of the Messiah, thus making possible the salvation of the world.
And here is what Scripture says about that whole complex of events, plot-twists, conspiracies, surprises, and happenstances: "As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today." This relatively brief assertion fairly bursts with meaning. Let's come a little closer and examine the details.
The Hebrew text. The ESV "As for you" indicates what the NIV (natch) misses, that the Hebrew has an emphatic pronoun; thus "You, you intended." Joseph stresses his brothers' personal involvement, their ownership of this evil intent.
But what is interesting is the fact that the next clause is an asyndeton, which is to say there is no conjunction. Though the ESV supplies "but," there is no such word in Hebrew. The two facts are simply laid out side-by-side: "And you, you planned evil against me. God planned it for good...."
Also significant is the repetition of forms of the same verb, chashab, meaning to think, plan, devise. Both actors shared the same activity, but with different intent, and to a different end. The brothers planned, God planned.
One complex event. Note that Joseph does not split the recent events of his life into many events, and say that the brothers meant something for their parts, while God meant something for His. Rather, he encompasses and speaks of the many disparate events as one: "God meant it," the event, viewed as a single complex whole. The same event.
Two wills. In this same, single event, two intentions confluesced.
One was the brothers' intention, and make no mistake: their intention was evil. The goodness of God's intent does not make their intent moral, nor does the sovereignty of His intent make theirs insignificant nor robotic. Their intent is spoken of as their intent, and emphatically so, as noted above. Though good resulted, they did not intend good to result. They intended evil, and only evil.
But the other intent was God's intent, and His intent was wholly good. Notice that this intent takes in the same complex of events, the unambiguously evil actions of the brothers: "God intended it." In, above, through, and overriding the evil intention and action of the brothers was the good intention of God.
It would be saying too much to say that God Himself did those actions, but it would be saying too little to say merely that He used those actions -- as if they were so many Lego's He merely found lying on the floor, and tried to make something of them. He meant those actions, those evil actions, for good.
One act, two intentions. Which intention overruled? Which intention was ultimate?
The question is not too difficult to answer, if one is concerned with preserving the teaching of Scripture rather than a particular doctrinal scheme. Some will try to find a way to evade the Biblical doctrine of God's sovereignty even here, though. I can imagine one trying to find refuge by saying, "Ah, yes, there it is: man's free will, and God's sovereign will, both independent of each other!"
It may be a popular dodge, but it certainly is not the teaching of the text. If that were the case, then Joseph's situation could never have resolved. The evil intent of the brothers and the good intent of God would battle as equals, as yin and yang, bringing a chaotic and unsettled conclusion -- or none at all.
Is this what Joseph is saying? Clearly not. Clearly Joseph is saying that the whole mess has ended well, it has ended as "good." So whose will overruled evil for good? Whose will triumphed? From this text alone, we must say that it was Yahweh's will that triumphed. Then of course, when we bring in other Scripture, this answer is confirmed a hundredfold (Psalm 115:3; Proverbs 16:1, 4, 9; 19:21, etc.).
This is how we must understand evil committed by personal agents. The evil intent, the activity, is truly and genuinely that of the agents themselves. Yet behind that intent, and over it, and overruling it, is the good and holy plan and will of God. This has a very meaningful personal application, which I develop at length pastorally in a sermon titled God and Our Tragedies, delivered 9/11/05.
But it also has application to the discussion that arose over at Adrian's blog, about whether God killed Jesus. We set ourselves up for a false dichotomy if we demand an answer to the question as to whether God killed Jesus, or man killed Jesus. If we choose the latter to the exclusion of the former, we have to waffle and wiggle with texts like Isaiah 53:10. If we attempt the reverse, we will not be dealing honestly with verses such as Acts 2:23 and 5:30.
Of course men did all they could do to kill Jesus. All the betrayers and the persecutors and the lynch mob stand guilty and wholly responsible for their loathesome acts.
But in the final analysis,
"For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up again. 18 No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from my Father." (John 10:17-18)...and "the LORD was pleased To crush Him, putting Him to grief" (Isaiah 53:10). That verse is crucial in Isaiah, as we see better when we tie it back in with Isaiah 1:11 -- "What to me is the multitude of your sacrifices? says the LORD; I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams and the fat of well-fed beasts; I do not delight in the blood of bulls, or of lambs, or of goats." We Gentile Christians don't feel the awesome impact of this statement. It is really a crushing, devastating accouncement: if God does not delight in the blood of bulls, lambs, or goats, they're utterly sunk! That's all they had, to deal with their sin... and now God was saying that He did not delight in those sacrifices. That left them nothing!
Ah, but then in Isaiah 53:10, we learn what Yahweh will delight in, for it uses the same Hebrew verb root (ch-ph-ts), in saying that Yahweh "was pleased" to crush His Servant. You could just as well translated that He "was delighted" to crush Him. The good pleasure of the Lord, in achieving the redemption of His people in a way both just and graceious, was accomplished when Yahweh Himself crushed His dear Son.
Man meant it for evil; but God meant it for good, for salvation, for redemption. And His will always prevails.
After all, He is God.
12 June 2006
The murder of Jesus was a vast conspiracy involving Rome, Herod, the Gentiles, the Jewish Sanhedrin, and the people of Israeldiverse groups who were seldom fully in accord with one another. In fact, it is significant that the crucifixion of Christ is the only historical event where all those factions worked together to achieve a common goal. All were culpable. All bear the guilt together. The Jews as a race were no more or less blameworthy than the Gentiles.
This is very plainly stated in Acts 4:27, a corporate prayer offered in an assembly of the very earliest believers: "For of a truth against thy holy child Jesus, whom thou hast anointed, both Herod, and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles, and the people of Israel, were gathered together." So there is no justification whatsoever for trying to fix the blame for Jesus' death on any one people group. This was, in essence, a corporate act of sinful humanity against God. All are guilty together.
And yet even that does not exhaust the full truth about who killed Jesus. Scripture emphasizes from cover to cover that the death of Christ was ordained and appointed by God Himself. One of the key Old Testament prophecies about the crucifixion is Isaiah 53. Isaiah prophetically describes the torture of the Messiah at the hands of a scoffing mob, and then adds, "Yet it pleased the LORD to bruise Him; He has put Him to grief" (Isaiah 53:10).
God put his own Son to death?
That is precisely what Scripture teaches. Why? According to Isaiah 53:10, it was to "make His soul an offering for sin." God had a redemptive purpose.
The designs of those who killed Christ were entirely murderous. They are by no means exonerated from their evil, just because God's purposes are good. It was still the act of "lawless hands" (Acts 2:23). It was, as far as the human perpetrators were concerned, an act of pure evil. The wickedness of the crucifixion is in no sense mitigated by the fact that God sovereignly ordained it for good. The truth that it was His sovereign plan makes the deed itself no less a diabolical act of murder.
And yet this was clearly God's holy and sovereign plan from before the foundation of the world (Revelation 13:8). Look again at that prayer from Acts 4, this time in its full context:
Lord, You are God, who made heaven and earth and the sea, and all that is in them, who by the mouth of Your servant David have said: "Why did the nations rage, And the people plot vain things? The kings of the earth took their stand, And the rulers were gathered together Against the LORD and against His Christ." For truly against Your holy Servant Jesus, whom You anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles and the people of Israel, were gathered together to do whatever Your hand and Your purpose determined before to be done (Acts 4:24-28, emphasis added).Acts 2:23 echoes the same thought: "Him, being delivered by the determined purpose and foreknowledge of God, you have taken by lawless hands, have crucified, and put to death" (emphasis added).
God ordained the murder of Jesus. Or to put it starkly in the words of Isaiah 53:10, it pleased the Lord to bruise Him.
In what sense was God pleased by the death of his Son?
He was pleased by the redemption that was accomplished. He was pleased that His eternal plan of salvation was thus fulfilled. He was pleased with the sacrifice of his Son, who died so that others might have eternal life. He was pleased to display his righteous anger against sin in such a graphic way. He was pleased to demonstrate His love for sinners through such a majestic sacrifice.
For all the evil in the crucifixion, it brought about an infinite good. In fact, here was the most evil act ever perpetrated by sinful hearts: The sinless Son of Godholy God Himself in human fleshwas unjustly killed after being subjected to the most horrific tortures that could be devised by wicked minds. It was the evil of all evils, the worst deed human depravity could ever devise, and the most vile evil that has ever been committed. And yet from it came the greatest good of all timethe redemption of unnumbered souls.
The cross is therefore the ultimate proof of the utter sovereignty of God. His purposes are always fulfilled in spite of the evil intentions of sinners. God even works His righteousness through the evil acts of unrighteous agents. Far from making Him culpable for their evil, this demonstrates how all He does is good, and how He is able to work all things together for good (Romans 8:28)even the most wicked deed the powers of evil have ever conspired to carry out.
This article was excerpted John MacArthur, The Murder of Jesus (Nashville: W Publishing Group, 2002).
11 June 2006
So today was my 53rd birthday. They're less fun every year.
But some good stuff happened today. To start with, while I was getting ready for church, Jeff Williams phoned me from the Space Station to say happy birthday. He said he was passing over Indonesia at the time. I'm guessing the number of people who get birthday greetings from outer space is a pretty select fraternity. Not to gloat or anything.
Then this afternoon, I got another call from Edna Pearson, longtime friend who lives in Australia. Her birthday is June 12, and it was already Monday there, so we celebrated our different birthdays simultaneously over the phone. That doesn't happen every day, either.
Then Frank Turk sent me a hilarious birthday wish via an e-card from Dayspring that made me laugh out loud. (I'd give you the URL, but it was personal.) Frank also has a cool new t-shirt at his pawn shop. Check it out.
53. Thanks. It's all downhill from here.
Incidentally, on the phone, Jeff Williams reminded me that he started a blog at the end of last year: "Take Up and Read." When I last checked around the end of January, he had only 3 posts. But his reminder prompted me to check again, and I see he was posting more regularly, and still posting new stuff just days before his mission started.
I'm not sure if he can post directly to his blog from the Space Station, but he can send e-mail, so I don't know why not. I'm going to try to get him to guest-blog here at TeamPyro at least once before the end of his mission.
Meanwhile, be sure to keep Jeff in your prayers.