Thursday, November 29, 2012

errors on human sexuality

John Piper on complementarian as a means of avoiding two lamentable errors on human sexuality.

Full message here.


heavenly matchmaker

The Spirit, we might say, is the matchmaker, the celestial marriage broker, whose role it is to bring us and Christ together and ensure that we stay together.

As the second Paraclete, the Spirit leads us constantly to the original Paraclete, who himself draws near through the second Paraclete’s coming to us (John 14:8). Thus, by enabling us to discern the first Paraclete, and by moving us to stretch out our hands to him as he comes from his throne to meet us, the Holy Spirit glorifies Christ, according to Christ’s own word.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

warren on gay marriage

There's so much here ...

I'm reading a lot of angry blogs about Rick Warren's comments. On the GLBTQ side, he's a homophobe because even with all his good will work, Warren hasn't bought into the complete agenda. Christian - do not be fooled into thinking that the issue is we have shown up hateful. While in some sense there has been hatred, the issue is you will be seen as hateful as long as you consider sin a sin.

On the other side, there are many, many Rick Warren haters for many, many reasons. One of those reasons I've read is that he's too compromising. Personally, I haven't seen that in him. What I've seen is a firm commitment to Christ, His Gospel, and true compassion for the lost. The latter leads to working alongside co-belligerents ... this causes some to get angry at him ... but I've seen him rightly delineate between co-belligerents and allies.

“Gay marriage is a very personal question… I have biblical views regarding what marriage is about. I am not in favor of redefining marriage, I’m not. It’s not illegal to have a gay relationship, so it’s not a big issue to me.”

“I happen to believe that life begins [at] conception – but that’s not the law. Nobody is leaving the country. We have a wide spectrum in America, and we have to work for the common good…”

“I don’t happen to believe in everything that my gay friends believe, but when they want to end AIDS, I’m a co-belligerent with them. We have given millions of dollars to fight AIDS from around the world, and we have worked with both gays and straights. I can work with an atheist, I can work with a Mormon, Muslim, Buddhist, Jew – and that’s one of the issues we have to work on.”

“The problem is that tolerant has changed its meaning. It used to mean ‘I may disagree with you completely, but I will treat you with respect. Today, tolerant means – ‘you must approve of everything I do.’ There’s a difference between tolerance and approval. Jesus accepted everyone no matter who they were. He doesn’t approve of everything I do, or you do, or anybody else does either. You can be accepting without being approving.”

dying and rising

Tony Reinke posts on Dying and Rising with Christ:

One of the more stimulating reads from 2012 was for me a short 130-page book written 45 years ago by Robert Tannehill, Dying and Rising with Christ. For its brevity the book punches hard and achieves a sketch of the sweeping eschatological structure in Paul’s writings, something I appreciate in the writings of G. K. Beale.

Tannehill seems to make a few points about the Christian life that are worth highlighting here. First, the book is strong on the large-scale eschatological framework of the Christian life in Paul, as you can see on page 30:
Christ’s cross puts an end to the dominion of sin, and so to the “old man.” It is an inclusive event, for the existence of men was bound up with this old aeon, and what puts an end to it also puts an end to them as men of the old aeon. When Paul speaks of dying and rising with Christ, and associates it, as he does here, with the end of the old dominion and the foundation of the new, it is clear that he is thinking of the death and resurrection of Christ as eschatological events. And because they are eschatological events, affecting the old dominion as a whole, they are also inclusive events.
But I think Tannehill’s work is especially valuable on the flip side of our entrance into the new aeon, in our battle with the tug and pull of the old aeon in the ongoing “eschatological discord” (Beale). Tannehill explains the discord on page 127:
The connection which we have noted between dying and rising with Christ and Paul’s eschatology provides the key to understanding the relation between dying with Christ as a past event and as a continuing aspect of Christian existence. Through dying with Christ the Christian has been released from the old world and has entered the new. If this were all that Paul wished to say about God’s eschatological act, he could only speak of dying with Christ as something which has already happened to the Christians. But the old world has not yet accepted God’s judgment of it and claim upon it, and the Christian is still bound to this old world through his present body.
This means that the Christian is still exposed to the powers of the old aeon. Therefore, the new existence which is based upon the past death with Christ takes on the form of a continuing dying with Christ. To be sure, Paul speaks of dying with Christ as a present process particularly, though not exclusively, in connection with suffering. However, he makes clear that the dying with Christ which takes place in suffering is also a dying to the old world, the world of “flesh” and of trust in self. It is because the decisive break with the old world must continually be maintained and affirmed that what happened to the Christian in the death of Christ also determines the present structure of his life, so that dying with Christ is not only the basis of the new dominion but remains a present reality within it.
Tannehill seems to be on to something here, and he’s not the only one to point this out. For a further discussion on this dual dynamic of our dying and rising with Christ, and how these twin realities shape our perception of our daily Christian lives, see the second half of my recent interview with Constantine Campbell in the Authors on the Line series (iTunes). And if you are looking for a brilliant chapter on the eschatological shape of the Christian life, see Beale’s A New Testament Biblical Theology, pages 835–870. 

jesus proclaimed

Continuing the series from Mark D. Roberts on the Kingdom of God:

How Does Jesus Proclaim the Kingdom of God?

So far I’ve shown that the central message of Jesus was: “the kingdom of God has come near” (Mark 1:15). This kingdom was not a place where God reigns, but rather the reign of God itself – God’s rule, authority, and power. The reign of God, Jesus says, is at hand.

But how does Jesus proclaim the kingdom of God? What are his means and methods?

Basic Statements of Fact - As we’ve already seen, at times Jesus simply and bluntly proclaims the presence of the kingdom without exceptional art or artifice. You can’t get much simpler than “the kingdom of God has come near” (Mark 1:15).

Explanations - Although the New Testament gospels never provide a thematic outline of Jesus’ teaching – such as I’m providing in this blog series – at times Jesus does explain some features of the kingdom of God. In Mark 10:14-15, for example, he says:
“Let the little children come to me; do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs. Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.”
Although we might debate what exactly Jesus means here, his point – that one must receive the kingdom in a childlike manner – gives us a bit more information about the kingdom of God. Notice that the kingdom is not something we create by our own efforts, but rather something we receive. Christians sometimes speak of God’s kingdom as something we produce by our own efforts, as in: “It is our duty to bring in the kingdom” or “Our vision is to usher in the kingdom of God.” This misses the biblical point, which emphasizes the agency of God as that which inaugurates God’s own reign. Whatever our relationship to the kingdom, we don’t bring it or produce it or inaugurate it. I’ll say more later about how we live in this world in light of the reign of God. [see What You Can and Can't Do With the Kingdom]

Parables - Some of Jesus’ explanations of the kingdom take the form of parables, which at times seem more like riddles than clarifications. For example, at one point Jesus says,
“With what can we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable will we use for it? It is like a mustard seed, which, when sown upon the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth; yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes the greatest of all shrubs, and puts forth large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade” (Mark 4:30-32).
This parable, an animated simile, tells us about the kingdom of God by supplying a vivid picture of its paradoxical size. It begins as a tiny seed, but ends up as a giant plant. Whereas many Jews in the time of Jesus expected the reign of God to appear in its full grandeur, Jesus reveals that it begins as the smallest of seeds. The full extent of God’s kingdom will only be revealed later.

Notice, once again, how Jesus’ parable of the mustard seed coheres with Old Testament prophecy. Through Ezekiel God once said,
I myself will take a sprig from the lofty top of a cedar; I will set it out. I will break off a tender one from the topmost of its young twigs; I myself will plant it on a high and lofty mountain. On the mountain height of Israel I will plant it, in order that it may produce boughs and bear fruit, and become a noble cedar. Under it every kind of bird will live; in the shade of its branches will nest winged creatures of every kind. (Ezek 17:22-23)
Whereas Ezekiel spoke of a tiny cedar sprig that grew into a noble cedar in which birds would nest, Jesus used the mustard seed to make a similar point about God’s kingdom. Though it begins humbly, in Jesus’ own ministry, it will someday be gloriously large, a resting place for all creation.

To sum up what we’ve seen so far, Jesus announces the presence of God’s reign through basic statements, explanations, and parables. Yet his words, as important as they may be, do not exhaust Jesus’ means for proclaiming the kingdom. Alongside the words of Jesus we find his works, his actions that announced dramatically the coming of God’s kingdom. To these actions I’ll turn in my next post. 

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

marriage law

Amy Hall posts this short piece on marriage law (it's well worth the time to read the posts referenced in ethics category and separately Reason and Compassion in the Marriage Debate by RJ Snell):

Ryan T. Anderson (an author of the paper “What Is Marriage,” published in the Harvard Journal of Law and Public Policy) is one of the clearest writers on the issue of marriage that I know of, and I’m looking forward to the release of the book What Is Marriage next month.

Today, I came across this concise summary by Anderson of why we ought not to change our legal definition of marriage from the “conjugal” view to the “emotional bond” view:
Our marriage law should reflect the truth about what marriage is: a pre-political institution springing from human nature itself. Government should not redefine or recreate marriage, nor should it obscure the truth about what marriage is. Recognizing same-sex relationships as marriages would weaken marriage as a social institution. It would redefine marriage as essentially an emotional bond, thus rendering marital norms arbitrary and less intelligible. It would further delink childbearing from marriage and deny, as a matter of law, the importance of a mother or a father in a child’s life. The outcomes associated with such absence are far from promising.
While this brief statement obviously doesn’t explain the full argument for each of these points, it’s helpful to have a list of the categories of arguments that need to be considered before we take the drastic measure of fundamentally changing marriage as a culture. To research more detail on each of these points, you can start by searching our website or scanning the ethics category on this blog. A few examples:

This is the most difficult subject to discuss with people. I don’t know anyone who doesn’t have a friend or loved one who thinks changing the definition of marriage will be in his or her best interest, and nobody enjoys saying no to them. But there are serious consequences to tampering with a naturally occurring institution like marriage. The view that we can endlessly remake ourselves into whatever we like is false. Male and female are real categories. The differences—biological, emotional, psychological—are real. The need for both is real. The union of the two, complementary sexes is unique, with unique public consequences.

Civilization is much more fragile than we realize, and marriage—the male–female union that builds our society—is much more central to civilization than people understand. If we decide to thumb our nose at reality, reality will not be forgiving. 

presence of god

" ... the presence of God precedes the proclamation of the gospel. It is interesting that the missions folks ... have also been leaders in the increase of spiritual formation ... At the same time, the true presence of God always overflows into mission - both next door and around the world." ~ Phil Strout

scripture, scripture, scripture

I've noted before (example here and here) that the postmodern innovator is hellbent on undermining the power of Scripture. This of course is not a new phenomenon. Michael Patton posts Early Church Fathers on Sola Scripture. Note that these warnings are to address errors which were precipitated by an attitude of questioning man's ability to understand the truth of Scripture and that being our final authority.

Sometimes people get the idea that sola Scriptura (the belief that the Scripture is the ultimate authority for the Christian), was a 16th-century invention. While it was definitely articulated a great deal through the controversies during the Reformation, its basic principles can be found deep in church history. Take a look at some of these early church fathers who seemed to believe in the primacy of Scripture.

Hippolytus (170-235)

“Some others are secretly introducing another doctrine, who have become disciples of one Noetus, who was a native of Smyrna, and lived not very long ago. This person was greatly puffed up and inflated with pride, being inspired by the conceit of a strange spirit. He alleged that Christ was the Father Himself, and that the Father Himself was born, and suffered, and died….But the case stands not thus; for the Scriptures do not set forth the matter in this manner….the Scriptures themselves confute their senselessness, and attest the truth…The Scriptures speak what is right; but Noetus is of a different mind from them. Yet, though Noetus does not understand the truth, the Scriptures are not at once to be repudiated….The proper way, therefore, to deal with the question is first of all to refute the interpretation put upon these passages [of scripture] by these men, and then to explain their real meaning….For whenever they wish to attempt anything underhand, they mutilate the Scriptures. But let him quote the passage as a whole, and he will discover the reason kept in view in writing it….if they choose to maintain that their dogma is ratified by this passage [of scripture], as if He owned Himself to be the Father, let them know that it is decidedly against them, and that they are confuted by this very word….Many other passages [of scripture], or rather all of them, attest the truth. A man, therefore, even though he will it not, is compelled to acknowledge God the Father Almighty, and Christ Jesus the Son of God, who, being God, became man, to whom also the Father made all things subject, Himself excepted, and the Holy Spirit; and that these, therefore, are three. But if he desires to learn how it is shown still that there is one God, let him know that His power is one….What, then, will this Noetus, who knows nothing of the truth, dare to say to these things? And now, as Noetus has been confuted, let us turn to the exhibition of the truth itself, that we may establish the truth, against which all these mighty heresies have arisen without being able to state anything to the purpose. There is, brethren, one God, the knowledge of whom we gain from the Holy Scriptures, and from no other source. For just as a man, if he wishes to be skilled in the wisdom of this world, will find himself unable to get at it in any other way than by mastering the dogmas of philosophers, so all of us who wish to practise piety will be unable to learn its practice from any other quarter than the oracles of God. Whatever things, then, the Holy Scriptures declare, at these let us took; and whatsoever things they teach, these let us learn; and as the Father wills our belief to be, let us believe; and as He wills the Son to be glorified, let us glorify Him; and as He wills the Holy Spirit to be bestowed, let us receive Him. Not according to our own will, nor according to our own mind, nor yet as using violently those things which are given by God, but even as He has chosen to teach them by the Holy Scriptures, so let us discern them.” (Against the Heresy of One Noetus, 1-4, 7-9)

Irenaeus (175)

“They [heretics] gather their views from other sources than the Scriptures…We have learned from none others the plan of our salvation, than from those through whom the Gospel has come down to us, which they did at one time proclaim in public, and, at a later period, by the will of God, handed down to us in the Scriptures, to be the ground and pillar of our faith….It is within the power of all, therefore, in every Church, who may wish to see the truth, to contemplate clearly the tradition of the apostles manifested throughout the whole world; and we are in a position to reckon up those who were by the apostles instituted bishops in the Churches, and to demonstrate the succession of these men to our own times; those who neither taught nor knew of anything like what these heretics rave about. For if the apostles had known hidden mysteries, which they were in the habit of imparting to ‘the perfect’ apart and privily from the rest, they would have delivered them especially to those to whom they were also committing the Churches themselves. For they were desirous that these men should be very perfect and blameless in all things, whom also they were leaving behind as their successors, delivering up their own place of government to these men; which men, if they discharged their functions honestly, would be a great boon to the Church, but if they should fall away, the direst calamity….proofs of the things which are contained in the Scriptures cannot be shown except from the Scriptures themselves.”  (Against Heresies, 1:8:1, 3:1:1, 3:3:1, 3:12:9)

Ambrose (330-397)

“For how can we adopt those things which we do not find in the holy Scriptures?” (On the Duties of the Clergy, 1:23:102)

“The Arians, then, say that Christ is unlike the Father; we deny it. Nay, indeed, we shrink in dread from the word. Nevertheless I would not that your sacred Majesty should trust to argument and our disputation. Let us enquire of the Scriptures, of apostles, of prophets, of Christ. In a word, let us enquire of the Father…So, indeed, following the guidance of the Scriptures, our fathers [at the Council of Nicaea] declared, holding, moreover, that impious doctrines should be included in the record of their decrees, in order that the unbelief of Arius should discover itself, and not, as it were, mask itself with dye or face-paint.” (Exposition of the Christian Faith, 1:6:43, 1:18:119)

Clement of Alexandria (150-215)

“But those who are ready to toil in the most excellent pursuits, will not desist from the search after truth, till they get the demonstration from the Scriptures themselves.” – Clement of Alexandria (The Stromata, 7:16)

Augustine (354–430)

“In order to leave room for such profitable discussions of difficult questions, there is a distinct boundary line separating all productions subsequent to apostolic times from the authoritative canonical books of the Old and New Testaments. The authority of these books has come down to us from the apostles through the successions of bishops and the extension of the Church, and, from a position of lofty supremacy, claims the submission of every faithful and pious mind….In the innumerable books that have been written latterly we may sometimes find the same truth as in Scripture, but there is not the same authority. Scripture has a sacredness peculiar to itself.” – Augustine (Reply to Faustus the Manichaean, 11:5)

“Every sickness of the soul hath in Scripture its proper remedy.”  (Expositions on the Psalms, 37:2)

Cyprian (248)

“Let nothing be innovated, says he, nothing maintained, except what has been handed down. Whence is that tradition? Whether does it descend from the authority of the Lord and of the Gospel, or does it come from the commands and the epistles of the apostles? For that those things which are written must be done, God witnesses and admonishes, saying to Joshua the son of Nun: ‘The book of this law shall not depart out of thy mouth; but thou shalt meditate in it day and night, that thou mayest observe to do according to all that is written therein.’ Also the Lord, sending His apostles, commands that the nations should be baptized, and taught to observe all things which He commanded. If, therefore, it is either prescribed in the Gospel, or contained in the epistles or Acts of the Apostles, that those who come from any heresy should not be baptized, but only hands laid upon them to repentance, let this divine and holy tradition be observed.” (Letter 73:2)

Cyril of Jerusalem (313-386)

“For concerning the divine and holy mysteries of the Faith, not even a casual statement must be delivered without the Holy Scriptures; nor must we be drawn aside by mere plausibility and artifices of speech. Even to me, who tell thee these things, give not absolute credence, unless thou receive the proof of the things which I announce from the Divine Scriptures. For this salvation which we believe depends not on ingenious reasoning, but on demonstration of the Holy Scriptures.” (Catechetical Lectures, 4:17)

“This seal have thou ever on thy mind; which now by way of summary has been touched on in its heads, and if the Lord grant, shall hereafter be set forth according to our power, with Scripture-proofs. For concerning the divine and sacred Mysteries of the Faith, we ought not to deliver even the most casual remark without the Holy Scriptures: nor be drawn aside by mere probabilities and the artifices of argument. Do not then believe me because I tell thee these things, unless thou receive from the Holy Scriptures the proof of what is set forth: for this salvation, which is of our faith, is not by ingenious reasonings, but by proof from the Holy Scriptures.” (A Library of the Fathers of the Holy Catholic Church, Oxford: Parker, 1845, The Catechetical Lectures of S. Cyril 4.17).

Dionysius of Alexandria (265)

“Nor did we evade objections, but we endeavored as far as possible to hold to and confirm the things which lay before us, and if the reason given satisfied us, we were not ashamed to change our opinions and agree with others; but on the contrary, conscientiously and sincerely, and with hearts laid open before God, we accepted whatever was established by the proofs and teachings of the Holy Scriptures.”  (cited in Ecclesiastical History, Eusebius, 7:24)

Gregory of Nyssa (335-394)

“we make the Holy Scriptures the rule and the measure of every tenet; we necessarily fix our eyes upon that, and approve that alone which may be made to harmonize with the intention of those writings…And to those who are expert only in the technical methods of proof a mere demonstration suffices to convince; but as for ourselves, we were agreed that there is something more trustworthy than any of these artificial conclusions, namely, that which the teachings of Holy Scripture point to: and so I deem that it is necessary to inquire, in addition to what has been said, whether this inspired teaching harmonizes with it all. And who, she replied, could deny that truth is to be found only in that upon which the seal of Scriptural testimony is set?” -  (On the Soul and the Resurrection)

Basil the Great (379)

Enjoying as you do the consolation of the Holy Scriptures, you stand in need neither of my assistance nor of that of anybody else to help you comprehend your duty. You have the all-sufficient counsel and guidance of the Holy Spirit to lead you to what is right (Letter CCLXXXIII, ANCF, p. 312).

Hilary of Poitiers (300-368)

“Their treason involves us in the difficult and dangerous position of having to make a definite pronouncement, beyond the statements of Scripture, upon this grave and abstruse matter….We must proclaim, exactly as we shall find them in the words of Scripture, the majesty and functions of Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and so debar the heretics from robbing these Names of their connotation of Divine character, and compel them by means of these very Names to confine their use of terms to their proper meaning….I would not have you flatter the Son with praises of your own invention; it is well with you if you be satisfied with the written word.”  (On the Trinity, 2:5, 3:23)

Jerome (347-420)

“When, then, anything in my little work seems to you harsh, have regard not to my words, but to the Scripture, whence they are taken.”  (Letter, 48:20)

“I beg of you, my dear brother, to live among these books [Scriptures], to meditate upon them, to know nothing else, to seek nothing else.” (Letter, 53:10)

“When Paula comes to be a little older and to increase like her Spouse in wisdom and stature and in favour with God and man, let her go with her parents to the temple of her true Father but let her not come out of the temple with them. Let them seek her upon the world’s highway amid the crowds and the throng of their kinsfolk, and let them find her nowhere but in the shrine of the scriptures” (Letter, 107:7)

Justin Martyr (100-165)

“And now, if I say this to you, although I have repeated it many times, I know that it is not absurd so to do. For it is a ridiculous thing to see the sun, and the moon, and the other stars, continually keeping the same course, and bringing round the different seasons; and to see the computer who may be asked how many are twice two, because he has frequently said that they are four, not ceasing to say again that they are four; and equally so other things, which are confidently admitted, to be continually mentioned and admitted in like manner; yet that he who founds his discourse on the prophetic Scriptures should leave them and abstain from constantly referring to the same Scriptures, because it is thought he can bring forth something better than Scripture. The passage, then, by which I proved that God reveals that there are both angels and hosts in heaven is this: ‘Praise the Lord from the heavens: praise Him in the highest. Praise Him, all His angels: praise Him, all His hosts.’” (Dialogue with Trypho, 85)

Theodoret (393-457)

“I shall yield to scripture alone.” (Dialogues, 1)

Here is a good quote from J. N. D. Kelly:

The clearest token of the prestige enjoyed by (Scripture) is the fact that almost the entire theological effort of the Fathers, whether their aims were polemical or constructive, was expended upon what amounted to the exposition of the Bible. Further, it was everywhere taken for granted that, for any doctrine to win acceptance, it had first to establish its Scriptural basis (Early Christian Doctrines, San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1978, pp. 42, 46). 

Monday, November 26, 2012

understanding justification

On October 31, 1517, Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses  concerning clerical abuses and indulgences on the church door at Wittenberg. This famous event is often considered that launching point for the Protestant Reformation.

The chief concern for Luther and the other reformers was the doctrine of justification. It was, to use Calvin’s language, the “main hinge on which religion turns.” And the doctrine of justification is no less important today than it was 500 years ago.

There are five key concepts every Protestant should grasp if they are to understanding the reformer’s (and the Bible’s) doctrine of justification.

First , the Christian is simul iustus et peccator . This is Martin Luther’s famous Latin phrase which means “At the same time, justified and a sinner.” The Catechism powerfully reminds us that even though we are right with God, we still violate his commands, feel the sting of conscience, and battle against indwelling sin. On this side of the consummation, we will always be sinning saints, righteous wretches, and on occasion even justified jerks. God does not acquit us of our guilt based upon our works, but because we trust “him who justifies the ungodly” (Rom. 4:5 ).

Second , our right standing with God is based on an alien righteousness.  Alien doesn’t refer to an E.T. spirituality. It means we are justified because of a righteousness that is not our own. I am not right with God because of my righteousness, but because “the perfect satisfaction, righteousness, and holiness of Christ” has been credited to me. “Nothing in my hands I bring, simply to thy cross I cling; naked, come to thee for dress; helpless, look to thee for grace; foul, I to the Fountain fly; wash me, Savior, or I die” wrote August Toplady in the old hymn. We contribute nothing to our salvation. The name by which every Christian must be called is “The Lord is our righteousness” (Jer. 23:6 ).

Third , the righteousness of Christ is ours by imputation , not by impartation. That is to say, we are not made  holy, or infused  with goodness as if we possessed it in ourselves, but rather Christ’s righteousness is credited  to our account.

Fourth , we are justified by faith alone . The Catholic Church acknowledged that the Christian was saved by faith; it was the alone part they wouldn’t allow. In fact, the Council of Trent from the 16th  century Catholic counter-reformation declared anathema those who believe in either justification by imputation or justification by faith alone. But evangelical faith has always held that “all I need to do is accept the gift of God with a believing heart.” True, justifying faith must show itself in good works. That’s what James 2 is all about. But these works serve as corroborating evidence, not as the ground of our justification. We are justified by faith without deeds of the law (Rom. 3:28 ; Titus 3:5 ). The gospel is “believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you shall be saved” (Acts 16:30-31 ), not “believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and cooperate with transforming grace and you shall be saved.” There is nothing we contribute to our salvation but our sin, no merit we bring but Christ’s, and nothing necessary for justification except for faith alone.

Finally , with all this talk about the necessity of faith, the Catechism explains that faith is only an instrumental  cause in our salvation. In other words, faith is not what God finds acceptable in us. In fact, strictly speaking, faith itself does not justify. Faith is only the instrument by which we embrace Christ, have communion with him, and share in all his benefits. It is the object of our faith that matters. If you venture out on to a frozen pond, it isn’t your faith that keeps you from crashing into the water. True, it takes faith to step onto the pond, but it’s the object of your faith, the twelve inches of ice, that keeps you safe. Believe in Christ with all your heart, but don’t put your faith in your faith. Your experience of trusting Christ will ebb and flow. So be sure to rest in Jesus Christ and not your faith in him. He alone is the one who died for our sakes and was raised for our justification. Believe this, and you too will be saved. 

what is the kingdom of god

Continuing the series from Mark D. Roberts on the Kingdom of God:

In my last post in this series, I began to clarify the core message of Jesus: “The kingdom of God has come near” (Mark 1:15). Our word “kingdom,” it turns out, misses the precise sense of Jesus’ own language. What he proclaimed was not the approach of a place where God rules (our typical sense of “kingdom”), but rather the dawning of God’s kingly authority on earth. Thus, when we read the phrase “kingdom of God” in the Gospels, we need to think in terms of God’s reign, rule, authority, or sovereignty. This, according to Jesus, is what has come near.

In his proclamation of the reign of God, Jesus echoes the language and hopes of the Hebrew prophets. I have known this for over 20 years, but it was strongly impressed upon me three years ago as I was writing my book, Jesus Revealed. In preparation for this project, I re-read the Hebrew prophets, beginning with Isaiah and ending with Malachi. Time and again, I ran into the language of God’s kingdom as the Lord promised that, someday, he would return to rule over his people.
Consider, for example, the following passage from Zephaniah, who prophesied in the latter half of the seventh century B.C.:
Sing aloud, O daughter Zion;
shout, O Israel! . . .
The LORD has taken away the judgments against you,
he has turned away your enemies.
The king of Israel, the LORD, is in your midst; . . .
a warrior who gives victory;
he will rejoice over you with gladness,
he will renew you in his love; . . .
I will deal with all your oppressors
at that time.
And I will save the lame
and gather the outcast,
and I will change their shame into praise
and renown in all the earth.
At that time I will bring you home,
at the time when I gather you;
for I will make you renowned and praised
among all the peoples of the earth,
when I restore your fortunes
before your eyes, says the LORD. (Zeph 3:14-20, emphasis added)

According to this prophecy, at the right time the LORD himself will be the “king of Israel.” In this role, he will give victory to his people, removing their oppressors, gathering their scattered exiles, and restoring their fortunes.
Consider one other passage from the Hebrew prophets, this one from Isaiah:
How beautiful upon the mountains
are the feet of the messenger who announces peace,
who brings good news,
who announces salvation,
who says to Zion, “Your God reigns.”
Listen! Your sentinels lift up their voices,
together they sing for joy;
for in plain sight they see
the return of the LORD to Zion.
Break forth together into singing,
you ruins of Jerusalem;
for the LORD has comforted his people,
he has redeemed Jerusalem.
The LORD has bared his holy arm
before the eyes of all the nations;
and all the ends of the earth shall see
the salvation of our God. (Isaiah 52:7-10, emphasis added)

In this prophecy, God’s reign includes peace, the return of the LORD to Jerusalem, joyful singing, comfort and redemption for Judah, and the impact of God’s salvation upon the whole earth. The announcement of God’s reign will be, indeed, “good news.”
Now, with Zephaniah’s and Isaiah’s prophecies ringing in your ears, listen again to Mark’s summary of Jesus’ message: “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news” (Mark 1:15). The prophetic echoes are unmistakable. But there are differences too. Whereas the prophets looked ahead to an undetermined time in the future when God would return to rule over his people, Jesus says, “The time is now. The reign of God has now come near. So turn your life around and live in light of this truth.”
Now that we’ve identified the core message of Jesus – the proclamation of the kingdom – and clarified the basic meaning of this proclamation, we should pursue a bit further the means by which Jesus delivered his message. Yes, upon occasion he stood up and said, simply, “The kingdom of God is at hand.” But that was just the beginning. In my next post I will answer the question: How did Jesus proclaim the kingdom of God?

the witness of the holy spirit

Herman Bavinck on the witness of the Holy Spirit:

The witness of the Holy Spirit has been all too one-sidedly applied, by Calvin and the later Reformed theologians, to the authority of Holy Scripture. It seemed that it had no other import than the subjective assurance that Scripture is the word of God. As a result this testimony came to stand by itself… Scripture, however, teaches very differently.

Generally speaking, the Holy Spirit was promised by Jesus as the Comforter, the Spirit of truth, who leads first the apostles, then, by their word, also all other believers, into the truth. He witnesses of Christ to them and glorifies him (John 14:17; 15:26; 16:14). To that end he convicts people of sin (John 16:8-11), regenerates them (John 3:3), and prompts them to confess Christ as Lord (1 Cor. 12:3). He further assures them of their adoption as children of God and of their heavenly inheritance (Rom. 8:14f.; 2 Cor. 1:22; 5:5; Eph. 1:13; 4:30), makes known all the things believers have received from God (1 Cor. 2:2; 1 John 2:20;; 3:24; 4:6-13), and in the church is the author of all Christian virtues and all spiritual gifts (Gal. 5:22; 1 Cor. 12:8-11). It is evident from all these passages that the testimony of the Holy Spirit is of a religious-ethical kind and intimately bound up with people’s own faith life. It does not bypass people’s faith; it is not a voice from heaven, a dream or a vision. It is a witness that the Holy Spirit communicates in, with, and through our own spirit in faith. It is not given to unbelievers but is the portion only of the children of God. Episcopius therefore raised the objection that the testimony of the Holy Spirit cannot be a ground of faith because it is something that only comes later (John 7:38; 14:17; Acts 5:32; Gal. 3:2; 4:6). But from the very beginning faith itself is the work of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 12:3) and receives its seal and confirmation in the Spirit of adoption. Believing itself is a witness of the Holy Spirit in our hearts and through our spirit.

Sunday, November 25, 2012


Heman Bavinck on remaining dualism:

Opposition to and resistance against this faith of theirs is rife, [in revelation as the Word of God] not just from without, but even much more from within. However much their will has been bent and their intellect enlightened, there remains much in believers that resists the obedience of faith. Faith, since it is the conviction of things not seen, is a continual struggle. The sins of the heart and the errors of the mind gang up on faith and often have appearance in their favor. As long as believers are on earth, there remains in them a dualism, a dualism not of the head and the heart, but of the flesh (σαρξ) and the spirit (πνενμα), of the “old” (παλαιος) and the “new” (καινος) person (άνθρωπος).


Sally Lloyd-Jones in Thoughts to Make Your Heart Sing:


God tells us to glorify him. “Glorify” means “to make a big deal of.” When someone makes a big deal of you, it fills up your heart with joy.

But why does God need us to make a big deal of him? Why does he need us to get joy?

He doesn’t. In the beginning God the Father and Jesus, his Son, together with the Holy Spirit, were already there — a loving family, glorifying each other in this wonderful Dance of Joy.

No. God didn’t create us so he could get joy — he already had it.

He created us so he could share it.

He knows it’s the thing your heart most needs to be happy. When God says, “Glorify me!”, he’s really saying, “Be filled with Joy!”

He’s inviting us into his Forever Happiness.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

what is the kingdom of god

Continuing the series from Mark D. Roberts on the Kingdom of God.

In my last post in the series, What Was the Message of Jesus? , I explained that the core of Jesus’ preaching was the good news of the kingdom of God. This is summarized succinctly in Mark 1:15, where Jesus proclaims, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near ; repent, and believe in the good news.” Of course this summary leads to an obvious follow-up question: What is the kingdom of God? What is it that, according to Jesus, has drawn near?

The kingdom of God has been equated with all sorts of things in the last two milennia. Some have claimed that it is heaven , and that Jesus was saying, in so many words, “Now you can go to heaven when you die.” Others have understood “the kingdom of God” as referring to the Church . From their perspective, Jesus announced the beginning of the age of the Church. Still others have seen the kingdom of God as a world infused by divine justice . They have taken Jesus’ announcement as a call to social action. In recent times, “spiritually” inclined people have reduced the kingdom of God to inner awareness of one’s divinity. Like the ancient Gnostics, they understand the good news of the kingdom to mean “You are divine.”

None of these renditions of the kingdom of God hits a historical home run, although the first three are in the ballpark, at least. But all of them fail to take seriously both what Jesus actually says about the kingdom of God, and what his fellow Jews, especially the Old Testament prophets, had been saying about the kingdom for centuries. 

Before we analyze Jesus’ use of the phrase “the kingdom of God,” we need to pay close attention to his use of the word “kingdom.” When we try to understand Jesus’ message of the kingdom, we easily get tripped up by a language gap. In everyday English, “kingdom” means a place where a king reigns. The Kingdom of Jordan, for example, is the place where King Abdullah II rules. But when Jesus spoke of the kingdom of God, he did not think in terms of locality, but authority .

In the New Testament Gospels, Jesus uses the Greek phrase he basileia tou theou , “the kingdom of God.” The word basileia could sometimes refer to a locale over which a king ruled, but its primary meaning in the first-century was “reign, rule, authority, sovereignty.” (The same was true of the Aramaic term, malku , the word probably spoken by Jesus.) We see this meaning clearly in one of Jesus’ parables. He speaks of a nobleman who “went to a distant country to have himself appointed king and then to return” (Luke 19:12, NIV; the NRSV reads “to get royal power for himself”). The Greek of this verse reads, literally, “he went to a distant country to receive a basileia for himself.” He didn’t go to get a new region over which to rule, but rather to get new and greater authority over the place he already lived.
We see this same meaning of “kingdom” in the Hebrew Scriptures. In Psalm 145, for example, we read:

All your works shall give thanks to you, O LORD,and all your faithful shall bless you.They shall speak of the glory of your kingdom[malkuth in Hebrew; basileia in Greek],and tell of your power (Ps 145:10-11).

Here God’s kingdom is parallel, not to the place over which God reigns, but to his divine power. God’s faithful praise his sovereignty here, not the place over which God is sovereign.
So when Jesus proclaims that the kingdom of God has come near, he doesn’t mean that a place is approaching , but that God’s own royal authority and power have come on the scene. So, we could paraphrase Mark 1:15, which summarizes Jesus’ preaching, as follows: “God’s reign is at hand. God’s power is being unleashed. Turn your life around and put your trust in this good news.”

Of course Jesus’ announcement of God’s reign didn’t come in a vacuum. It was both consistent with and a fulfillment of a central theme in the Hebrew prophets. In my next post I’ll examine how these prophets spoke of the kingdom of God, and how this prepared the way for the message and ministry of Jesus.

radical depravity

RC Sproul on Total Depravity:

The doctrine of total depravity reflects the Reformed viewpoint of original sin. That term—original sin —is often misunderstood in the popular arena. Some people assume that the term original sin must refer to the first sin—the original transgression that we’ve all copied in many different ways in our own lives, that is, the first sin of Adam and Eve. But that’s not what original sin has referred to historically in the church. Rather, the doctrine of original sin defines the consequences to the human race because of that first sin.

We are not sinners because we sin. We sin because we are sinners. —R.C. Sproul Virtually every church historically that has a creed or a confession has agreed that something very serious happened to the human race as a result of the first sin—that first sin resulted in original sin. That is, as a result of the sin of Adam and Eve, the entire human race fell, and our nature as human beings since the fall has been influenced by the power of evil. As David declared in the Old Testament, “Oh, God, I was born in sin, and in sin did my mother conceive me” (Ps. 51:5). He was not saying that it was sinful for his mother to have borne children; neither was he saying that he had done something evil by being born. Rather, he was acknowledging the human condition of fallenness—that condition that was part of the experience of his parents, a condition that he himself brought into this world. Therefore, original sin has to do with the fallen nature of mankind. The idea is that we are not sinners because we sin, but that we sin because we are sinners.

In the Reformed tradition, total depravity does not mean utter depravity . We often use the term total as a synonym for utter or for completely , so the notion of total depravity conjures up the idea that every human being is as bad as that person could possibly be. You might think of an archfiend of history such as Adolf Hitler and say there was absolutely no redeeming virtue in the man, but I suspect that he had some affection for his mother. As wicked as Hitler was, we can still conceive of ways in which he could have been even more wicked than he actually was. So the idea of total in total depravity doesn’t mean that all human beings are as wicked as they can possibly be. It means that the fall was so serious that it affects the whole person. The fallenness that captures and grips our human nature affects our bodies; that’s why we become ill and die. It affects our minds and our thinking; we still have the capacity to think, but the Bible says the mind has become darkened and weakened. The will of man is no longer in its pristine state of moral power. The will, according to the New Testament, is now in bondage. We are enslaved to the evil impulses and desires of our hearts. The body, the mind, the will, the spirit—indeed, the whole person—have been infected by the power of sin.

I like to replace the term total depravity with my favorite designation, which is radical corruption . Ironically, the word radical has its roots in the Latin word for “root,” which is radix , and it can be translated root or core . The term radical has to do with something that permeates to the core of a thing. It’s not something that is tangential or superficial, lying on the surface. The Reformed view is that the effects of the fall extend or penetrate to the core of our being. Even the English word core actually comes from the Latin word cor , which means “heart.” That is, our sin is something that comes from our hearts. In biblical terms, that means it’s from the core or very center of our existence.

So what is required for us to be conformed to the image of Christ is not simply some small adjustments or behavioral modifications, but nothing less than renovation from the inside. We need to be regenerated, to be made over again, to be quickened by the power of the Spirit. The only way in which a person can escape this radical situation is by the Holy Spirit’s changing the core, the heart. However, even that change does not instantly vanquish sin. The complete elimination of sin awaits our glorification in heaven.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

if not love?

If the core of Jesus' preaching is not love per se, then what exactly is it? Mark D. Roberts continues in part 2 (part 1 here).

In my last post I began a multi-part series that seeks to answer the question: What was the message of Jesus? I mentioned that many people would answer this question by saying something about love, because we rightly associate Jesus’ teaching with love. But, as it turns out, love is not the core of his message, though it is close and essential to that core. What Jesus actually proclaimed, first and foremost, was not that we should love, but something else.

We find a succinct summary of this “something else” in the first description of Jesus’ ministry in the Gospel of Mark:

Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news’” (Mark 1:14-15).

Here is Mark’s summary of the core of Jesus’ message. It is, in a nutshell: The kingdom of God has come near.

The phrase “kingdom of God” appears 53 times in the New Testament Gospels, almost always on the lips of Jesus. The synonymous phrase, “kingdom of heaven,” appears 32 times in the Gospel of Matthew. Throughout the accounts of Jesus’ ministry, he is always talking about the kingdom of God. Many of his parables explain something about this kingdom: it is like mustard seed, a treasure, a merchant looking for pearls, and a king who gave a banquet (Matt 13:44-47; 22:2). Jesus even defines his purpose in light of the kingdom: “I must proclaim the good news of the kingdom of God to the other cities also; for I was sent for this purpose” (Luke 4:43).

Given the centrality of the kingdom of God to the preaching, and, as we’ll see, the actions of Jesus, it’s strange that many Christians are relatively unfamiliar with what this phrase means. But if we want to understand the message of Jesus, not to mention his whole ministry, including his death and resurrection, then we must grapple with what he says about the kingdom of God. Gordon Fee, one of the wisest of evangelical New Testament scholars, once said in a lecture on Jesus: “You cannot know anything about Jesus, anything , if you miss the kingdom of God . . . . You are zero on Jesus if you don’t understand this term. I’m sorry to say it that strongly, but this is the great failure of evangelical Christianity. We have had Jesus without the kingdom of God, and therefore have literally done Jesus in.”*

If you’ve read this far, I’m assuming that you don’t want to be zero on Jesus, and that you don’t want to do him in, either. Neither do I. So we must work together to figure out what Jesus meant when he said “the kingdom of God has come near.” For this was, indeed, the core of his message.

I plan to structure the rest of this blog series around basic questions having to do with the kingdom of God in the ministry of Jesus. These questions will include:

  • What is the kingdom of God?
  • How did Jesus proclaim the message of the kingdom?
  • Where is the kingdom of God?· When is the kingdom of God coming?
  • What will life in the kingdom of God be like?
  • Who will bring the kingdom of God?
  • How is the kingdom of God coming?

Answering these questions could very well fill a big, fat book. But my intent is to offer relatively bite-sized answers. Later in this series, I’ll recommend some books, both fat and thin, that will provide further exposition of the meaning of the kingdom of God in the preaching of Jesus.

In my next post I’ll take on the question: What is the kingdom of God?


*Gordon Fee, “Jesus: Early Ministry/Kingdom of God,” lecture delivered at Regent College. Tape Series 2235E, Pt. 1. Copyright © Regent College, Vancouver, B.C., Canada.