Knowing God

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In the Men’s Bible Study I’m a part of, this week we talked about “Knowing God.” In the midst of a series about the basics of growing in Christ we must see our relationship with God at the center of discipleship and sanctification. We are created and redeemed to know God, commune with God, walk with God, and grow in intimacy with God. This is what it means to have a “personal relationship with God.” It is through knowing and enjoying God that we actually then begin to image him in the world we live in.

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Seven Elements of Biblical Repentance

I know, repentance isn’t your favorite word. It’s not mine either. No doubt it conjures up something like an angry turn-or-burn “preacher” (either pounding the pulpit or screaming in the streets) letting people have it or an ultra-fundamentalist family member unhappy with your choices of what’s right or wrong. Despite the bad taste that might be lingering in your mouth for words like “repent” and “repentance”, let’s together seek to move past those barriers and rediscover what God actually says about repentance. It might never be for your favorite word or your favorite part of being a Christian, but as we look into God’s Word I think we’ll see that repentance is meant to be a life-giving, sin-replacing, gospel-rooted posture of the Christian life. Easy? No. Good? Yes.

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Three Identity Struggles

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Discipleship is essentially following Christ for the purpose of maturing in Christ-likeness. Disciples rediscover and then faithfully live in light of their identity in Christ. Or to say it differently, discipleship is the process whereby we’re remade and we regain who we were created to be as image-bearers of God by being transformed into the image of Christ.

If believers have a new identity in Christ why don’t we live it out? Obviously layers of answers could be offered here related to doctrines of sin, sanctification, and glorification so let me narrow the question. What are a few identity issues that keep Christians from understanding and living out the reality of who we are as a new creation in Christ?

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Do Your Doctrine & Culture Clash?

As a church, does our culture match our doctrine? As an individual or as a family, does our culture match our doctrine?

Gospel doctrine – gospel culture = hypocrisy
Gospel culture – gospel doctrine = fragility
Gospel doctrine + gospel culture = power”[2]

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Imputation

impImputation. Not a word you use very often I would guess. Don’t give in to the temptation to skip over words you don’t know instead of learning words that open up new worlds. Imputation is one of those words. It’s important not just because it will impress everyone at the Scrabble table, but imputation is the only hope a Christian has for grace and salvation. Now, and when it’s our turn to be judged by the just and holy God, you better have a perfect, impeccable righteousness that will result in a verdict of “justified,” or “accepted.” God will welcome with a warm embrace all those with such a righteousness to live with him on a restored earth forever.

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Communion Meditation: Signs & Symbols

(This post is a communion meditation shared at my own local church.)

The Lord’s Supper deals in the realm of symbols and signs. Signs and symbols are visible, tangible representations pointing us to something behind the symbol. The thing itself is a signpost reminding us of something bigger and grander than the symbol. Let me give a couple examples.

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A Few Links

Here are the links to a few recent things I’ve written for other websites.

Our church is hosting Dr. John Piper this weekend for our THINK|14 conference. To start tilling the soil of our hearts I provided two blogs.
Why Theology Matters…For Everyone
A Primer on Philippians

Here was an article giving three reasons the ascension matters for us right now. The Ascension: What’s Jesus Up To?

On this blog I did seven individual articles on ways God the Father loves us. I condensed them into a summary article for Gospel-Centered Discipleship.

Calvin on the Spirit and the Word

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A portion of Calvin’s Institutes was written with “the fanatics” in view. These people were claiming direct revelations from the Spirit of God, often incompatible with God’s Word. Calvin’s response was a pastoral and theological defense of the inseparability of the Word and the Spirit.

“Therefore, the Spirit, promised to us, has not the task of inventing new and unheard-of revelations, or of forging a new kind of doctrine, to lead us away from the received doctrine of the gospel, but of sealing our minds with that very doctrine which is commended by the gospel.” (I.9.2)

“From this we readily understand that we ought zealously to apply ourselves both to read and to hearken to Scripture if indeed we want to receive any gain and benefit from the Spirit of God…But on the contrary, if any spirit, passing over the wisdom of God’s Word, foists another doctrine upon us, he justly deserves to be suspected of vanity and lying (Gal. 1:6-9).” (I.9.2)

“For by a kind of mutual bond the Lord has joined together the certainty of his Word and of his Spirit so that the perfect religion of the Word may abide in our minds when the Spirit, who causes us to contemplate God’s face, shines; and that we in turn may embrace the Spirit with no fear of being deceived when we recognize him in his own image, namely, in the Word. So indeed it is. God did not bring forth his Word among men for the sake of a momentary display, intending at the coming of his Spirit to abolish it. Rather, he sent down the same Spirit by whose power he had dispensed the Word, to complete his work by the efficacious confirmation of the Word.” (I.9.3)

“…Certainly a far different sobriety [than forsaking the Word for private revelations] befits the children of God, who just as they see themselves, without the Spirit of God, bereft of the whole light of truth, so are not unaware that the Word is the instrument by which the Lord dispenses the illumination of his Spirit to believers. For they know no other Spirit than him who dwelt and spoke in the apostles, and by whose oracles they are continually recalled to the hearing of the Word.” (I.9.3)

The New Creation Kingdom

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[This is the final post in a series on the present aspect of the kingdom of God.]

In the following quote, Thomas Schreiner unpacks some of the OT categories for the kingdom of God the Jews would have had in their mind, one of them being the new creation. “They understood him to be proclaiming the dawn of a glorious new era in which…The new covenant would be fulfilled, God’s people would keep his law, and the promised new creation would become a reality.”[1] For many Theologians an essential part of the New Covenant Kingdom is that it is also the New Creation Kingdom. American evangelicals have often exchanged the biblical promise of a new creation for the hope of escape from the world. For Israel, “God’s great future purpose was not to rescue people out of the world, but to rescue the world itself, people included, from its present state of corruption and decay.”[2] At the Fall, God’s good creation was corrupted and the process of de-creation began. With Jesus’ inaugurated kingdom we see the reversal of that process beginning through the lives of his people, but is a foretaste of the full reversal when the new creation will be fully realized on the new heavens and new earth. It is the resurrection and ascension of Jesus that brought about the inbreaking of that new creation. What he participated in through his resurrection is brought into our present existence.

In the New Testament, old creation and new creation categories again fall under the domain of this present, fallen world under Adam (old creation) and the coming, restored world under Jesus (new creation). In his resurrection, Jesus has already stepped through the doors of the old creation and entered the new creation. As those united to him, we therefore participate in this new creation and this is what the kingdom is all about. There is definitely a fulfillment to come when evil is eradicated and all of the earth and all God’s people are restored and resurrected, but this future fulfillment does not diminish its present existence. “That new creation has ‘already’ arrived in the dawning of the new covenant in individual Christians (2 Cor. 5:17; Eph. 2:8-10) and the church (Eph. 2:11-21) and it will be consummated when Christ returns and ushers in the new creation in its fullness (Revelation 21-22).”[3]

The clash of the kingdoms involves the overlap of time where the new creation kingdom is coming into the old creation. G.K. Beale sees this as a fundamental aspect of New Testament Biblical Theology. “These pivotal events of Christ’s life, trials, death, and resurrection are eschatological in particular because they launched the beginning of the new creation and kingdom. The end-time new-creational kingdom has not been recognized sufficiently heretofore as of vital important to a biblical theology of the NT.”[4] Because resurrection is so tied into the new creation, all of our life in Christ and the work of Christ through his church must be seen as the new creational-kingdom. Jesus’ kingdom is not about expanding physical borders through the power of the sword but rebirthing people’s hearts the power of the Spirit and the Word. Beale compares Isaiah 43:18-19 and 65:17 to 2 Corinthians 5:17 and highlights how the linguistic connections tie together the new creation with the “new things” that cause us to forget the “old things” that are passing away. That includes both the physical world that will day be remade and our old self in Adam that has been remade in Jesus.

The new creation we experience now in Christ’s kingdom is primarily spiritual, but we must also remember that since Jesus was physically resurrected the new creation itself is not without a physical element. Jesus’ resurrection is the first-fruits and assures us that we will one day experience the same. The new creation taking place in the kingdom and its citizens is also a down-payment of the new creation we will one day experience in its fullness. This should excite us to see God’s work in our lives not as a minor thing but as the re-creation He is beginning in his world. As we experience a transformation from our old self to our new self, and as we image our King, we provide the world with a taste of the world to come. As we experience the newness of the New Creation-Kingdom it also stirs the inner longings for the return of Jesus and the consummation of his kingdom on a new earth.

Footnotes:
[1] Schreiner, New Testament Theology, 45. See fn. 12 above for the whole quote.
[2] Wright, How God Became King, 45.
[3] Gentry and Wellum, Kingdom through Covenant, 607.
[4] Beale, A New Testament Biblical Theology, 19. Beale’s emphasis is consistent with a range of other biblical theologians in recent years: N.T. Wright’s The Resurrection and the Son of God; Thomas Schreiner’s New Testament Theology; Gentry and Wellum’s Kingdom through Covenant.

Pentecost and Kingdom

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[This post is part 8 of 9 on a series of the Kingdom of God in the NT.]

Pentecost and Christ’s Kingdom
One of the most famous passages in the NT is Matthew 28:18-20. A lot of attention—and rightly so—has been given to the mission to go, make disciples, and to do so by baptisms and teaching. However, what is talked about less often is why Jesus now gives us this mission, or at least why it’s possible. In verse 18 Jesus tells the disciples that as the resurrected (and soon to be ascended) Messiah and King “all authority in heaven and on earth has been given” to him. The authority here isn’t simply his inherent authority as the Son of God but the authority earned through his life, death, and resurrection. It is consistent with what we’ve seen in Acts 2 and the fact that Jesus is raised and exalted to the throne of David, meaning that he is the King over the world. The Davidic King comes to rule Israel but he does so with the mission of opening the gates of Israel so that all nations will come into his kingdom. The commission to go into all nations is tied to both Jesus’ authority as King over all the earth and Jesus’ authoritative mission to expand the kingdom of God to all nations.

This is important because when Jesus tells his followers to go into the world—a place where they have no power and will be persecuted by spiritual enemies and enemies from other religions or from the government itself—how in the world can they accomplish this impossible mission? The reason is because Jesus as King has claimed his sovereignty and rule over all creation, and he sends us into lands that he has authority over. This verse is also important, especially as seen in a parallel verse of Acts 1:8, because they will go into the world and make disciples only because the Spirit is with them. At Pentecost we see that the Spirit is sent by the King as both the proof that the King is reigning and as the power within the kingdom. “In particular, the coming of the promised Spirit at Pentecost is intended to be understood as evidence testifying to how Jesus was raised from the dead (vv.22-28)…Christ has begun to sit on the throne of the end-time kingdom, which he did not do in his ministry, though he was at that time inaugurating the kingdom.”[1]

It is the Spirit who works through the kingdom citizens to announce the gospel news that Jesus is King. It is the Spirit who leads, guides, and protects the citizens. It is the Spirit who uses the Word to convict, reveal, and change people so that the kingdom increases. It is the Spirit who brings glory to the King. The work of the Spirit through believers (citizens of the kingdom) is how Jesus’ exercises and expands his rule on earth.[2] In the gospels the kingdom is among them because the King (Jesus) is standing in their midst. In Acts, the kingdom of God is among us because the Spirit brings the presence of Jesus to us.[3] The Spirit doesn’t replace or take over for Jesus, instead, he is the presence and the power of Jesus is with us. “Jesus ascribes all the power involved in the establishment of the kingdom to the Holy Spirit as its source….If, then, in its very essence the power of the kingdom is the power of the Holy Spirit, it must extend as far as the latter’s operation extends and include the entire liberating, renewing, sanctifying work of grace in the hearts of men.” [4]

Thus, both the ascension and Pentecost are essential to Jesus’ purpose and to the very life and mission of the church because through them the King sends his powerful spirit to the people he is sending to the world. Pentecost is when the church is enlisted into the King’s army and is equipped by the Spirit for what lies ahead.[5] Pentecost is the launching and deploying of the citizens from the Kingdom of God into the kingdom of the world. Our mission isn’t self-imposed, self-governed, or self-generated. We take our orders from the King who rightfully reigns from his throne.

Hopefully you can already see why the ascension is good news in this point. Among the possible implications, we can see from Matthew 28:18-20 and Acts 1:8 that the ascension assures us that Jesus is the King with authority over all the world, that he is still with us through the Spirit he’s sent, that we’re participating with the King in the mission of the kingdom, and that we’re now to go to all peoples and all nations announcing the good news of an open invitation to the kingdom. The ascension propels us on the mission of bringing glory to Jesus and making disciples. It tells us that we are the empowered messengers, given the powerfully Spirit, sharing a powerful gospel, and serving a powerful King.[6]

Footnotes:
[1] Beale, A New Testament Biblical Theology, 239.
[2] “…the gift of the Spirit becomes ‘the key to the ongoing presence and intensification of the salvation/kingdom of God which the disciples, began to experience through Jesus’ ministry.’” Peterson, Acts, 62.
[3] To understand the relationship between the resurrected Jesus and the Spirit, see: Gaffin, Perspectives, 18-20.
[4] Geerhardus Vos, “The Kingdom of God,” in Redemptive History and Biblical Interpretation, ed. by Richard B. Gaffin Jr. (Phillips: P&R Publishing, 1980), 313.
[5] I think there is a connection between Pentecost and God’s commission in the Genesis account. At creation God breathed into Adam, his image-bearer and son who was supposed to rule over the earth and fruitfully multiply throughout it. At Jesus’ baptism, there might be a correspondence when the Spirit comes upon Jesus and the Father says this is my Son in whom I’m well pleased (both Adam and Jesus immediately face temptation; however Jesus obeys where Adam sins). At Pentecost, Jesus breathes the Spirit onto his church who is then to go represent the king (image-bearer) and bear fruit throughout the earth. God’s commission to his image-bearer Adam in the garden has thus led to the recommissioning of Christ’s image-bearers (the Church) to go multiply and fill up the earth.
[6] See my blog posts: “The Day of Ascension and the Great Commission” and “Ascension: What’s Jesus up To?”