The Father’s Love in Adopting (Part 3)

FathersLove
In the first post on the Father’s love I introduced both the challenge and the importance of seeing God the Father as loving. As we meditate on the biblical truths of the depths of his love and begin resting in that love we will be refreshed with newfound freedom and security to keep drawing near. Therefore, thinking rightly of God our Father is not just a matter of having our theological ducks in a row but it’s a game changer in living the Christian life. We will consider seven NT examples of how God puts his love on display for us, wanting us to know about it and be wrapped up in it.

1) The Father’s love for us is nowhere more clearly seen than in the sending of his only Son—freely, unprompted, undeservedly—to reconcile us back to himself.

2) The Father’s love for us is seen in that Jesus is sent to reveal the Father to us. The Father desires to be known and understood.

3) God the Father’s love can be seen in the friendly and familial vocabulary describing a believer’s relationship with God. He is called our Father, an endearing term unlike the formidable Deity of other religions. We are known as God’s children, sons and daughters, beneficiaries of adoption, and heirs. J.I. Packer writes, “What is a Christian? The question can be answered in many ways, but the richest answer I know is that a Christian is one who has God as Father.”

Before Christ we were enemies of God, separated and condemned because of our sin. God is holy and will not let wrongdoing go unpunished. However, when we believe in Christ—the one who God did not spare so that he might take the full punishment of our sins—we are no longer enemies but children. Consider the following three verses as examples.
“See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are.” (I John 3:1)
“But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.” (John 1:12)
“For in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith.” (Gal. 3:26)

The longing in every person’s heart for a father who cares, loves, and protects points us to the perfect Father. Our greatest earthly examples of fathers are but a tiny glimpse of the goodness of God. Here again we must let the Scriptures speak for God and refuse any seditious thoughts Satan or self might project on God. God holds himself out to us as a Father who will always love his children. This love is unconditional, free, eternal, and undeserved. It is not won or kept by performance but is given as a promise. We should embrace him as sons and daughters, not fear him as servants. God wants to be known and seen in this way which is why he uses intimate and familial language of Father and children. “But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying ‘Abba! Father!’ So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God” (Gal. 4:4-7). Paul was well aware how quickly we retreat back to fearing God as slaves so he presses the truth we can trust him like children.

Here’s one way I think about it. Imagine two people in your mind’s eye. First, imagine someone you feel comfortable with because you know how much you’re loved and accepted. Maybe that’s a spouse, parent, best friend, or a person at church. When you’re with them you don’t ever have to worry about being anything other than yourself. Imagine a second person you feel like you always have to measure up for, or who you don’t ever really feel at ease with because it seems you always have to impress them or be on your best behavior. You think if they saw the real you or you don’t do things just right then they wouldn’t like or accept you. Maybe this person is a parent, an employer, or a “friend”.

Now, think of the difference if you were just sitting in your living room with the first person either watching TV, reading, or talking. How free do you feel? Now imagine the second (intimidating) person is hanging out in your living room? How do you feel? You probably feel fearful or anxious, like you have to be on. Unfortunately, many of us think about God as if he’s this second person. We relate to him as if we’ve got to impress him or convince him we’re good. We don’t think he loves us and accepts us. This changes our relationship and how we act.

The Bible describes our relationship with God differently. “For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’” (Rom. 8:15). Because of our justification in Christ, the Bible describes God the Father as the person in the room we should completely trust and therefore find rest with—awake to the fact we are truly known and yet fully loved and accepted. The Father doesn’t hold back love until we do change or earn it. It’s a full stream of love that is unconditional.

Imagine if we thought of and related to God on these terms. How different would your daily Christian life be if you believed and experienced that God is completely for you? This freedom puts oxygen back in our lungs that had been sucked out by fear. It’s the difference of practically living according to the gospel and living according to works. God is a Father who sees us and knows us, yet still loves us. He doesn’t put up with us, instead, he loves us and even likes us. This releases us from anxiously keeping up a façade or toiling to attain his love. We can rest in the way he delights in us. We don’t have to dress up before him in our nice clothing like we’re entertaining a guest. Instead, since he’s family, we can put on our jeans and enjoy the company. “The LORD your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save; he will rejoice over you with gladness; he will quiet you by his love; he will exult over you with loud singing” (Zephaniah 3:17).

Additional Resource:
One book I would recommend in this area is Scotty Smith’s Objects of His Affections.

The Father’s Love in Sending (Part 1)

FathersLove
Loving God is hard. That’s a strange thought in light of the fact God is the only perfect being with boundless love and unending goodness, untainted by even the tiniest spot of evil. And yet, our experience proves that loving God is in fact curiously hard for us. Even more remarkable is how difficult it can be to let ourselves be loved by God. There is no richer, more desirable and comforting place for the Christian than in the love of the Father. But, there is no more alienating and lonesome place than to feel estranged from His love.

For many Christians, the love of Jesus comes through loud and clear, but God the Father often seems distant and looming. Unfortunately, many of our perceptions of God have been distorted by earthly shadows. Usually topping the list are experiences of fathers who failed, dealt with us according to our performance, or were a figure invoking more fear than freedom. Coming in at a close second might be religious leaders or other authority figures heavy on the “truth” and light on the “grace. Because of those inadequate human representations of God and because of performance-driven tendencies assuming God relates to us according to what we deserve, we must hit the refresh button on our false notions with the truth of God’s Word. Not just once, but we need to go back to the Scriptures repeatedly to let God’s priceless promises silence our false fears. Rinse and repeat.

Throughout Scripture, God reveals himself in relationship (covenant) through his words and actions. These demonstrate his character, motives, purposes, and attributes. God being the perfect being that he is, his attributes aren’t like human traits that strengthen or weaken nor are they like moods that come and go. God is all his perfect attributes perfectly, all the time. One of those attributes is love. God is love and therefore expressions and illustrations of his love fill the Bible.

Those are the facts, but unfortunately our experience doesn’t often beat to the drum of those facts. We might read the Bible and yet struggle to see the Father’s love. We find it hard to believe it can be true. We resist and keep God at arms distance. Sometimes we do this because we don’t feel his love on a day to day basis like we desire and so walls of doubt begin to shut him out. Other times we unwittingly read his word not through the lens of God’s love and grace to us in Christ but through tinted lens of condemnation and fear.

For some then, it takes work and careful reading so as to not misread the Scriptures with their assumptions of God—based on past experiences or personal feelings—but to read and see beautiful ways God expresses his care, compassion, and kindness to us. Rest assured, the work required and the patience you might need to keep at it in the midst of discouragement are worth it in the end. Growing in both believing and feeling the Father’s love leads to the warm embrace of assurance and the joy that it brings. My hope is that our grasp of God’s love will move from a general and vague idea to a sweet and personal experience. God desires as much and once the fountain of the Father’s love is opened we’ll find ourselves stepping into new streams of gratitude, contentment, joy, and safety.

The examples in the story of the Bible proving and picturing God’s love abound. Here are seven such examples—one at a time—from the NT of how God clearly and convincingly conveys his fatherly love to his children.

1) The Father Gives His Only Son To Gain Adopted Sons and Daughters
The Father’s love for us is nowhere more clearly seen than in the sending of his only Son—freely, unprompted, undeservedly—to reconcile us back to himself. We love Jesus for his sacrificial suffering on the cross to rescue us from sin. No question about it, Jesus deserves every ounce of gratitude and love we possess. But, don’t miss that the same Scriptures showing us Christ’s love in dying also reveal the immense love of the Father in sending and sacrificing. “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16). He so loved us that he gave his only begotten Son. No verse has been placarded in more places than John 3:16 and yet somehow we miss the particular and pursuing love of the Father as the dispatcher. The Father is the fountain of the love and Christ is the stream that carries it to us. Every time we return to the cross and find ourselves awash in the love of Christ be amazed at the Father who sends.

The Lie
Whether from the lies of the accusers or deception from our own minds, Christians can act as if Jesus is the good guy who convinces the fear-inducing father to show mercy. It’s as if we think the NT story is that God wants to bring down the gavel because he’s fed up with our unrelenting bent to ruin things. So, to patch things up, the Son sneaks away from heaven and shows us love by dying in our place. Now the Father is compelled to become a tad bit gentler with these new and unwanted family members Jesus brought home. Of course, we wouldn’t say we believe anything close to that but that’s how all too many people unconscientiously view God the Father.

The Truth
In reality, this couldn’t be further from the truth. The Father dearly wants to be in a loving and intimate relationship with us so he sends the Son to bring us back. Both the Father and the Son stagger us in the way the cross expresses their love. The Bible reminds us that the Father sent Christ for us with a full awareness of how sinful, broken, and messy we were. “But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8). Isn’t that the point of grace? We certainly didn’t deserve it before receiving Christ nor do we earn or keep it because how we act as Christians. The all-encompassing work of Christ covers our sins from the past, our sins today, and our sins in the future. There are no exceptions. No “but you don’t understand what I’ve done” and no “my case falls outside the lines.” There is no sin too filthy to outmatch the purity of Christ’s blood. There is no one who has sinned so often or to such a degree that they’ve exhausted the infinite grace Christ purchased for them.

This unmerited and unprompted love of God shines even brighter against the backdrop of our dark and ill-deserving condition. That’s why John erupts into saying, “Here is love!” when he thinks about the Father giving Jesus to get wayward children into his family. “In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins” (I John 4:9-10). God knows all things fully and so make no mistake, he knew better than you how undeserving you are, but he still sent Jesus to save us from our sins because he loves us and he wants us back.

John Owen called this the great discovery of the gospel.[1] Without the gospel we can only think of God as offended and angered by our sin—and rightly so—but through the gospel our relationship is reconciled and changed so that we can now know him as love. In the gospel God offers some amazing benefits of salvation but none are greater than the gift of himself. It is a gift of communion with God as our Father, full of an affectionate love our hearts ache for.

Every day we have vivid reminders of our sin and so we return to the gospel to find grace that justifies us not because of what we’ve done but because of what Jesus has done for us. This glorious and free grace comes to us through Christ but finds its initiating source in the Father. In his wonderful book The Bruised Reed, Richard Sibbes pushes us to not only see the beauty of Jesus in willingly taking the commission of Savior, but also to “see the sweet love of God [the Father] to us,” in commissioning his Son for the work of our salvation. “This saving object [Jesus] has a special influence of comfort to the soul, especially if we look not only on Christ, but upon the Father’s authority and love in him”[2]. The cross is the exclamation and the evidence of how much the Father loves us.

I watch the following video often as a reminder of the “mega-love” (Piper) of God.

Footnotes:
[1] John Owen, The Works of John Owen, ed. William H. Goold, 24 vols (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, republished 1997),II:19. Owen says we have communion with the Father in his love that is free, undeserved, and eternal. We are to eye it, to receive it, and to return it as we are delighted in it. “This is the great discovery of the gospel…here he [Father] is now revealed peculiarly as love, as full of it unto us; the manifestation whereof is the particular work of the gospel.”
[2] Richard Sibbes, The Bruised Reed (Carlisle: Banner of Truth, Reprinted 2008), 2.

Remember Remember

V
If you’re like me, when you read those two words “remember remember,” your mind runs to the movie V for Vendetta. Referencing Guy Fawkes and the failed Gunpowder Plot on November 5, 1605, the character known only as V quotes the famous poem: “Remember remember, the fifth of November…” As I much enjoy the movie and would recommend reading about the Gunpowder Plot in England, this post has little to do with V for Vendetta or Guy Fawkes.

I bring up the idea of remembering because I came across the word as I read I Corinthians 11. A section in this text deals with the Lord’s Supper—also known as Communion or Eucharist—and verses 23-26 are often quoted by pastors as they administer the bread and the cup. I love participating in Communion and find it to be one of the most spiritually enriching and faith-rebuilding gifts God has given us. Unfortunately, most churches downplay both its significance and its force, which is why so many evangelicals place such little value on it. The combination of its neglect and my appreciation for it tempt me to write more here than I should, which is why I’m restricting myself to writing about the aspect of remembering.

What it means to remember
In I Corinthians 11:24-25 (see also Luke 22:17-20) Paul recounts the instructions Jesus gave the disciples as he shared the inaugural new-covenant meal with them. Jesus says as we swallow the broken bread (his body) and as the wine (his blood) pours down our throats, we are to remember Christ. Verse 26 lets us know that each time we eat and drink from the Lord’s Table we are proclaiming his death. It is the visible gospel. The Word preached is the gospel we hear with our ears, but Communion is the gospel we see with our eyes and taste with our mouth. The Sacraments (Baptism and Communion) are the God-given visual aids for the church.

So then, what does it mean to remember? Does it simply suggest don’t let it slip out of your mind? Does it mean remember the suffering of Jesus so I feel really thankful or really awful—depending on your church’s view? I would guess that when most evangelicals hear the words “remember” or “in remembrance” during Communion we have a limited and rather low understanding of the word. To “remember”, for us, seems like a small mental activity with little force behind it. But, in the Bible, a call to remember—especially when tied to a covenant sign or ceremony—is a vibrant, powerful, and a participatory concept where we reapply and recalibrate our lives according to what’s being remembered.

“In our Western (Greek) intellectual heritage, ‘remembering’ means ‘recollecting’: recalling to mind something that is no longer a present reality. Nothing could be further from a Jewish conception. For example, in the Jewish liturgy, ‘remembering’ means participating here and now in certain defining events in the past and also in the future.”[1]

Here are two brief examples from the OT of how remember is used in an active way of bringing past realities into present living. To read other passages on remembering see the following: Psalms 25:6-7; 105:8; Lev. 36:42, 45; Jer. 14:21; Ezek. 16:60.

After the flood, God tells Noah the rainbow is the covenant sign that he will not cover the whole earth with water again. Each time the sign of the rainbow can be seen the covenant is remembered. “When the bow is in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is on the earth. God said to Noah, ‘This is the sign of the covenant that I have established between me and all flesh that is on the earth.’” (Gen. 9:16-17)

The preeminent picture of redemption in the OT is the exodus of Israel from Egypt. This event is tied to its celebration in the memorial meal of Passover. Every year on Passover the Israelites would again participate in this meal to remember who—or whose—they were. The remembrance meal isn’t simply a nod of the head to something from generations ago but it is a visible and lively memorial that God rescued Israel out of Egypt and established them as a people of his own possession. They participate in the meal because they are in fact participants in the reality of this redemption as Israelites. “This day shall be for you a memorial day, and you shall keep it as a feast to the LORD; throughout your generations, as a statue forever, you shall keep it as a feast.” (Exodus 12:14)

In his book on Paul’s theology, theologian Herman Ridderbos gives us some great insight into the term remember (anamnesis).
“The anamnesis [remembering] intended in the Supper is something different from and more than keeping in remembrance one deceased….It is not a question here only of the commemoration of what has once taken place in the past, but no less of its abiding, actual redemptive significance. Christ’s self surrender is now…the new and definitive fact of redemption which in the eating of bread and in the drinking of the wine the church may accept as such again and again from the hand of God.…It is not merely a subjective recalling to mind, but an active manifestation of the continuing and actual significance of the death of Christ.”[2]

The Puritan John Flavel provides a practical distinction in two ways one could remember Christ’s death. The first is speculatively and transiently, but the second is affectingly and permanently. Here’s a clue, the second is much better! “A speculative remembrance, is only to call to mind the history of such a person, and his sufferings: that Christ was once put to death in the flesh. An affectionate remembrance, is when we so call Christ and his death to our minds, as to feel the powerful impressions thereof upon our hearts.”[3] If you want to be enriched in your view of Communion, read some of the sermons by John Calvin or the Puritans. You’ll be delighted by the depth and warmth with which they celebrated it.

Remembering today
Even in our culture we have some parallels to this active concept of remembering. Renewing marital vows is becoming increasingly popular. Basically, people renew their vows with an understanding that they are remembering what they originally vowed to one another, taking in those commitments once again, and realigning their love, commitment, and marriage based upon the vows that are in place but sometimes forgotten. The first time a couple makes those vows they actually make a covenant to one another and enter marriage. I don’t see the renewal of vows as re-establishing a covenant already in place. Instead, they are reminding themselves in a dynamic way what the covenant vows entailed and how that shapes their marriage relationship each time they remember and live in accordance with them.

One of the things that encourages me is the current resurgence in churches of understanding the ongoing application of the gospel. Christians regularly hear from the pulpit and read from the pen that the gospel is believed once for salvation but is reapplied daily as we can confess our sins and receive fresh grace in Christ. This growing awareness of what it means “to preach the gospel to ourselves daily” or to “apply the gospel” might give us some insight as to how we believe in Christ and again receive his grace as we eat the bread and drink the cup of the Lord’s Supper. Every time we take Communion the gospel is proclaimed and we believe and embrace it again—in other words, we remember. It is mystical, but not entirely different from the mysticism involved in the reapplication of the gospel daily for a fresh receiving of Christ’s grace and a renewed vigor from gratitude for such grace.

That, in part, is how Communion is a gospel proclamation. It’s not just that we explain the gospel as we give communion or that the elements themselves picture the gospel, though both are true. But, even more, the gospel is proclaimed because when I partake of the bread and blood of Christ it is an act of faith where I’m again believing in Jesus, taking in him and the gospel promises I get with him, remembering the new covenant benefits that are given to me in Christ, and receiving fresh grace from him. My hope in writing this is that we come to the Lord’s table with eagerness and expectancy, believing this is not a dull religious ceremony but a dynamic and Spiritual gospel experience.

Footnotes
[1] Michael Horton, The Christian Faith (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2011) 799.
[2] Herman Ridderbos, Paul: An Outline of his Theology (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1975) 421-22.
[3] John Flavel, Sermon XXI in The Fountain of Life (Carlisle: Banner of Truth, 1968) 1:262.

Stephen Charnock on God’s Eternality & Immutability: It Matters

CharnockI get it. Thinking about the attributes of God can be tough work, but it is work with a payoff. As our minds do the heavy lifting our hearts reap the benefits of bigger affections. We often think of God in small, bland, and largely insignificant terms. We bring God to our level as we construct our view of him by tiny, often misguided thoughts. Thinking biblically—i.e., theologically—quickly leads to our view of God being shattered as we see him getting larger and larger in immensity, glory, and holiness.

Thinking through God’s attributes also helps us know how God relates to us. A firmer grasp on who God is directly relates to who God is for me. Most of God’s self-revelation in Scripture is relational, or covenantal. God explains himself in the context of how he relates to his creation, especially his own people. The fact that God reveals himself not primarily in philosophical or scientific terms but in relational terms should convince us he wants our theology about him to directly influence our relationship with him.[1}

I’ve started slowly reading A Puritan Theology: Doctrine for Life.[2] Is there any other way to read the Puritans than slowly? Chapter 4 concentrates on Stephen Charnock’s (1628-1680) Discourses upon the Existence and Attributes of God. Charnock, like any good theologian, doesn’t talk about God’s attributes in isolation from each other as if sometimes God is more of one attribute than the other. Instead, God is all of his attributes to their fullest extent at once. Furthermore, these attributes are actually God’s essence. God isn’t simply loving, but he is love. “For though we conceive the essence of God as the subject, and the attributes of God as faculties and qualities in that subject, according to our weak model…yet truly and really there is no distinction between his essence and attributes; one is inseparable from the other. His power and wisdom are is his essence.”[3]

God’s eternity teaches that there never was a time when he was not. There is no beginning or end to God. “His duration is as endless as his essence is boundless.”[4] Here is one description Charnock provides.

“[God] is not in his essence this day what he was not before, or will be the next day and year what he is not now. All his perfections are most perfect in him every moment; before all ages, after all ages. As he hath his whole essence undivided in every place, as well as in an immense space; so he hath all his being in one moment of time, as well as in infinite intervals of time….He is what he always was, and he is what he always will be.” [5]

As the quote indicates, there is a clear synthesis between God’s eternality and God’s immutability. God always has and will exist (eternal) and he always has and will exist in the fullness of his perfections (immutable). There is no change in God because he eternally exists as the whole essence of all his perfections which are “most perfect in him every moment.” Beeke and Jones quote Charnock to explain how these two attributes of God relate. “Immutability in God is a ‘glory belonging to all the attributes of God.’ God has attributes and perfections that are different, but ‘immutability is the center wherein they all unite.’ What God is, He is eternally and unchangeably.”[6]

Doctrine for Life
Let’s briefly consider how God’s eternality and immutability are what the subtitle of the book suggests, doctrine for life. If God is all of his perfections perfectly—all the time—then I never have to pit his attributes against one another. Nor should I worry if at any given moment he is acting out one of his attributes more than the other. Because every person I know is the opposite of this, unless I intentionally remind myself God is not like us I will think of him in finite and false terms. For example, how I treat you might depend on not only the day but the moment you run into me. If I had some great coffee and an easy drive into work, then I’ll probably be in a good mood and so I’ll act with more grace and patience than normal. However, if my morning gets off to a rough start or the day goes south quickly, then you’re more likely to get the impatient and graceless me.

When I’m not thinking rightly about God I start believing his relationship with me and how he treats me must be similar. Maybe God’s had enough of my failings and is tired of me not getting it—and so I imagine I’m in danger of God deciding to give up or lash out on me. When trials or seemingly avoidable pains are placed on my path I can quickly conclude God is not as good or caring as he used to be. Our faith operates from our theology, and unfortunately our theology often starts to err as it’s built upon false thoughts from our own minds instead of truthful thoughts from the mouth of God (Bible). This is why theology is vital for all Christians. We study the Bible so we can know God better and more rightly.

The truth is it takes work on our part to think of God rightly and not piece together a view of God based upon how fallen people act and upon my own thinking and assumptions. Studying God’s eternality and immutability does me good because it reminds me God is not like me or anyone else I’ve come across. He doesn’t relate to me according to up and down moods he’s in but according to his unchanging and perfect character. If he is perfect in all his attributes and is them perfectly all the time, then I can trust he always deals with me according to his goodness, care, and love. In the midst of either frustratingly confusing circumstances or unbearable pain I might not have answers as to the why but I know the Who. During seasons of life where things seem trivial, or where “darkness hides his lovely face,” or even when our hearts are bursting with gratitude, I can know that God has not changed and he is not being anything other than the fullness of God. As James tells us, there is no variation or shifting shadows in God (James 1:17). In you and I, yes; but not in God. That type of theology not only evokes adoration in the moment but it sustains us for a lifetime.

For Christians who tend to shrink because of weak hearts, doubting minds, troubling fears, or soft consciences, we would do well to commit ourselves to studying God’s attributes—especially his love, grace, compassion, and care. As we start to grow in our theology of what God is really like it becomes an immense encouragement to know he is all those attributes all of the time to their fullest extent. God is always all of his perfect perfections.

Footnotes
[1]. This of course isn’t to suggest God’s self-revelation doesn’t involve philosophy or science, and it certainly doesn’t suggest God is not accurate in his revelation. It simply conveys that God’s revelation comes in the context of relationship. He reveals Himself as Maker, Sovereign, and Redeemer.
[2]. Joel R. Beeke and Mark Jones, A Puritan Theology: Doctrine for Life (Grand Rapids: Reformation Heritage Books, 2012).
[3]. Stephen Charnock, Discourses upon the Existence and Attributes of God (London: Thomas Tegg, 1840), 242. Found in A Puritan Theology, 65.
[4]. Charnock, Existence and Attributes, 175-76. Found in A Puritan Theology, 63.
[5]. Charnock, Existence and Attributes, 178. Found in A Puritan Theology, 63
[6]. A Puritan Theology, 64. Emphasis mine.

John Murray on Active Roles in Sanctification

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One of the reasons why I appreciate reading John Murray is because how succinct he writes. He’s not like the Puritans in that he doesn’t add extra paragraphs answering every objection or to fill in multiple applications. But he’s also unlike present day authors who use three pages to explain something where one substantive paragraph would have been sufficient. He simply states precisely and in matter of fact manner one logical sentence upon another without the compulsion to defend or expand. It’s not perfect and maybe at times there’s a loss because of the things I mentioned he doesn’t do, but overall it’s great to read deep theology that doesn’t have to be long winded.

Here are some of his thoughts on God’s role and our role in sanctification. I think he provides good perspective. He doesn’t steer into a ditch of passivity nor does he overcorrect in the opposite way by making sanctification a moralistic, self-driven pursuit. In an evangelical culture filled with rampant legalism and maturity by spiritual disciplines on one hand and grace without obedience on the other, Murray’s chapter on Sanctification from Redemption Accomplished and Applied upholds God’s role and our role.

I think the last few sentences from the chapter frame a healthy understanding of sanctification. “Sanctification involves the concentration of thought, of interest, of heart, mind, will, and purpose upon the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus and the engagement of our whole being with those means which God has instituted for the attainment of that destination. Sanctification is the sanctification of persons, and persons are not machines; it is the sanctification of persons renewed after the image of God in knowledge, righteousness, and holiness. The prospect it offers is to know even as we are known and to be holy as God is holy. Every one who ahs this hope in God purifies himself even as he is pure (I John 3:3)” (150).

God’s role and our role together
“It is imperative that we realize our complete dependence upon the Holy Spirit. We must not forget, of course, that our activity is enlisted to the fullest extent in the process of sanctification. But we must not rely upon our own strength of resolution or purpose. It is when we are weak that we are strong. It is by grace that we are being saved as surely as by grace we have been saved. If we are not keenly sensitive to our own helplessness, then we can make the means of sanctification the minister of self-righteousness and pride and thus defeat the end of sanctification. We must rely not upon the means of sanctification but upon the God of all grace. Self-confident moralism promotes pride, and sanctification promotes humility and contrition” (147).

There are several things worth mentioning in that quote but here’s one. After reading this I’m reminded how often I begin with spiritual disciplines as a means or grace that are avenues between God and I (or the corporate body). Over time I shift from these disciplines as an avenue to thinking they are sufficient in themselves, as if the Bible reading or prayer itself sanctifies me rather than them being God appointed means of God speaking and acting in my life. Yes, the Word itself is inspired by God but Word and Spirit must come together for me to hear what God has to say to me in His Word. I must at one and the same time increase my commitment to God’s graciously provided means of grace and also be cautious not to become prideful in my exercise of them or shortsighted in relying upon them as ends instead of means. We are, as Murray writes, completely dependent on the Holy Spirit and yet our activity is enlisted to the fullest extent.

“While we are constantly dependent upon the supernatural agency of the Holy Spirit, we must also take account of the fact that sanctification is a process that draws within its scope the conscious life of the believer. The sanctified are not passive or quiescent in this process…And no text [Phil. 2:12-13] sets forth more succinctly and clearly the relation of God’s working to our working. God’s working in us is not suspended because we work, nor our working suspended because God works. Neither is the relation strictly one of co-operation as if God did his part and we did ours so that the conjunction or coordination of both produced the required result. God works in us and we also work. But the relations is that because God works we work. All working out of salvation on our part is the effect of God’s working in us, not the willing to the exclusion of the doing and not the doing to the exclusion of the willing, but both the willing and the doing. And this working of God is directed to the end of enabling us to will and to do that which is well pleasing to him…The more persistently active we are in working, the more persuaded we may be that all the energizing grace and power is of God” (148-49).

Whether or not you agree with his dislike of the word cooperation, I think his point is valid. Cooperation might get across to others what you mean, that both God and the person are involved. But the point he makes should be noted, that we should not suggest it’s a 50/50 work where both sides do the same thing. God works in us and we work with his help. It’s both the order, the relationship of cause and effect, and the right motivation.

I started to put a list together of verses emphasizing God’s role and our role. Hopefully this leads us back to God as the source and help in our sanctification, but also jolts us into renewed energy towards pressing on after Christ. Here are just a few of those verses.

God’s activity
“May the God of peace himself sanctify you wholly.” (I Thess. 5:23)
“God is at work in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” (Phil. 2:13)
“Mow may the God of peace…equip you with everything good that you may do his will, working in you that which is pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ; to whom be glory for ever and ever.” (Heb. 13:20-21)
“…the God of all grace…will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you.” (I Pet. 5:10)

Our activity
“so now yield your members to righteousness.” (Rom 6:19)
lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely.” (Heb. 12:1)
strive for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord.” (Heb. 12:4)
abstain from immorality.” (I Thess. 4:3)
“Let us cleanse ourselves from every defilement of body and spirit.” (2 Cor. 7:1)
make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue…” (2 Pet. 1:5)

The Corporate Dimension of Our Sanctification
John Murray doesn’t deal with this in his short chapter (so maybe that’s a weakness) but I thought I would mention it. It’s talked about more often today but we must intentionally remind ourselves that our maturity in Christ isn’t solely a “me and God” thing. The NT provides numerous verses that paint a picture of the corporate role, or the role of the church, actively involved in our sanctification. Just the “one another” verses themselves would give ample evidence of how important the community of faith is for my individual growth. Here’s a sampling of verses on this aspect of being sanctified that we won’t want to miss.

“let us stir one another up to love and good deeds.” (Heb. 10:24-25)
“encourage one another and build one another up.” (I Thess. 5:11)
“teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom.” (Col. 3:16)
“care for one another.” (I Cor. 12:25)
“Bear one another’s burdens” and “you who are spiritual should restore him [others].” (Gal. 6:1-3)

Three Creeds Every Christian Should Know

creed
This morning our church recited the Apostles Creed. There are at least two reasons why I’m glad we do this. First, the Apostles creed is accepted by the Roman Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant churches so it has been affirmed by Christians for over 1600 years (at least). Second, it’s the most simple of all creeds and formed the base of later creeds, such as the Nicene creed. It’s simplicity is both its weakness and its strength. Later creeds would expand upon the Apostolic creed, but they would not deny anything it contained. The church fathers named heresies because they believed a heresy was  a departure of the Christian gospel, and where the gospel was distorted or lost the Christian faith was distorted or lost. We would be well served by regularly reading and reciting these three creeds, both for our doctrinal orthodoxy and for right worship of our Triune God.

The Apostles Creed
I believe in God the Father Almighty
[Maker of heaven and earth;
And in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord; Who was conceived by the Holy Ghost, born of the Virgin Mary; Suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead and buried;
[He descended into hell (Hades)]
The third day he rose from the dead; He ascended into heaven; and sits on the right hand of God the Father Almighty; From thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Ghost; the holy catholic Church; [the communion of saints]; the forgiveness of sins; the resurrection of the body; [and the life everlasting]. Amen

The clauses in italics are those not included in the “Old Roman Creed” from around 340, but was included in the final accepted version. Compare this to the Nicene Creed (381 version), which simply amplifies the Apostles Creed.

The Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed
We believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible;
And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the Only-begotten, Begotten of the Father before all ages, Light of Light, Very God of Very God, Begotten, not made; of one essence with the Father, by whom all things were made:
Who for us men and for our salvation came down from heaven, and was incarnate of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary, and was made man;
And was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate, and suffered and was buried;
And the third day He rose again, according to the Scriptures;
And ascended into heaven, and sits at the right hand of the Father;
And He shall come again with glory to judge the living and the dead, Whose kingdom shall have no end.
And we believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, and Giver of Life, Who proceeds from the Father, Who with the Father and the Son together is worshipped and glorified, Who spoke by the Prophets;
And we believe in one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church.
We acknowledge one Baptism for the remission of sins.
We look for the Resurrection of the dead,
And the Life of the age to come. Amen.

Whereas the Apostles creed summarized the most basic beliefs of the early Christian faith, the Nicene creed took a stance on upholding the deity of Christ and the Triune God. The Chalcedonian Creed (451) outlines the orthodox view of the two natures of Jesus Christ.

The Chalcedonian Creed

We, then, following the holy Fathers, all with one consent, teach men to confess one and the same Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, the same perfect in Godhead and also perfect in manhood; truly God and truly man, of a reasonable [rational] soul and body; consubstantial [co-essential] with the Father according to the Godhead, and consubstantial with us according to the Manhood; in all things like unto us, without sin; begotten before all ages of the Father according to the Godhead, and in these latter days, for us and for our salvation, born of the Virgin Mary, the Mother of God, according to the Manhood; one and the same Christ, Son, Lord, only begotten, to be acknowledged in two natures, inconfusedly, unchangeably, indivisibly, inseparably; the distinction of natures being by no means taken away by the union, but rather the property of each nature being preserved, and concurring in one Person and one Subsistence, not parted or divided into two persons, but one and the same Son, and only begotten, God the Word, the Lord Jesus Christ; as the prophets from the beginning [have declared] concerning Him, and the Lord Jesus Christ Himself has taught us, and the Creed of the holy Fathers has handed down to us.

I’ve not read any of the articles but I feel comfortable recommending The Resurgence’s series on The Concise History of Creeds & Confessions to learn more.

Sanctification is a Thing of the Past

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Don’t get confused by the title. I’m not one more 20something Christian ditching the importance of personal growth in the name of authenticity or liberties. I’m referring to the fact that there’s a definitive aspect of sanctification that takes place at a person’s conversion. And unfortunately, in our concern to keep Christians focused on growing, evangelical theology (or to the degree there is such a thing) has so focused on progressive sanctification that we’ve nearly lost the doctrine of definitive sanctification. Don’t get me wrong, progressive sanctification—which means our ongoing growth in Christ through this lifetime—is essential and needs to be taught. But, my contention is that progressive sanctification detached from its definitive aspect takes the firm foundation of God’s action on our behalf out of the equation.

In my opinion, one of the reasons why in our fight against sin we feel like it’s a battle too big to be won is because we don’t realize what actually happens to us and for us at salvation. We’re not only justified when we believe in Jesus (and we are justified at that moment) but we’re also set apart as holy. Definitive sanctification refers to the initial act of sanctification that occurs at the moment of salvation when we’re united to Christ and thereby made holy and freed from sin’s power.

NT Texts
The New Testament emphasizes the work of Christ for us and how he accomplishes what we need for holiness. It teaches that sin has already been conquered for us so there’s no reason to let it rule us. We can obey the command to be holy because we have been made holy. We can put to death the deeds of the body because we participated with Christ in his death. We can progress in sanctification because of the definitive sanctification that took place.

In 1 Corinthians 6 Paul reminds the church that they’re no longer characterized by past sins because of what happened at conversion. Well what is it that happened? “And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God” (I Cor. 6:11; see also Heb. 10:10). Paul states that we were sanctified, pointing to the fact that at the moment of salvation God sets us apart as his own possession and purifies us from our uncleanness.

The main subject of Romans 6 is our death to sin in Christ and why this means we don’t have to continue to walk in sin. We’re no longer slaves to sin because sin’s hold on us was broken when we died and rose with Christ. Whereas in Adam we were plunged into corruption and sin, in Jesus (the second and final Adam) we spring forth with new hearts and an imputed righteousness. Paul foresees the question arising of whether our status of righteousness means we can go on sinning and Romans 6 answers this question by saying how can we continue in sin if we have died to it. What he means is that the power of sin has been broken and we live as new creatures. When a slave is set free from a horrible master he would not continue to live under his rule. For us to continue to walk in sin is to choose to serve an awful, murderous master who we have been freed from. For this reason Paul asks, “How can we who died to sin still live in it?”

Romans 6 highlights our union with Christ, which entails us participating in his death and resurrection. We are participants not in the sense that we helped complete the task but that we receive the full benefits because in a very real sense when Christ died we are reckoned as having died in him and when he rose we also rose with him.
John Murray summarizes the meaning and effect of this wonderful truth. “This means, therefore, that not only did Christ die, not only was he buried, not only did he rise from the dead, but also all who sustain the relation to him that baptism signifies [union with Christ] likewise died, were buried, and rose again to a new life patterned after his resurrection life. No fact is of more basic importance in connection with the death to sin and commitment to holiness than that of identification with Christ in his death and resurrection.”

We’ve only looked at a few instances but they point to the reality that sanctification conveys in Christ we are freed from sin’s power, cleansed from its defilements, set apart as God’s treasured possession, and made holy. There is no sin too great to be overcome and Christ has won the victory for us over sin. The hope resides in our real identity in Christ which we simply strive to live out by the power of the Holy Spirit. Sanctification is not about becoming something new or doing something new but living in light of what Christ has done for you. When sin seems like too great a foe or you’re struggling to walk in holiness remember your true identity in Christ. He has already equipped you by setting you free from the pollution and power of sin.

To read more, here are a few resources:
John Murray on Definitive Sanctification
J.I. Packer video on why union with Christ is essential to sanctification
Possessed by God by David Peterson

There’s Something About Mary…the mother of Jesus

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In my recent trip to Europe (hence the grainy pic above) where I visited several beautiful, historic Catholic churches there were several questions that came to mind. As a Protestant, one of them was why the big deal about Mary? My Catholic tour guide (he was fantastic) paralleled the current Pope to Michelangelo in their preference to pray to Mary over Jesus. I’ve heard that before but it still always strikes me as curious. Why the need to make Mary more than the biblical authors do and when did it all start?

Of course, to be a bit simplistic, I think part of the problem clearly lies in the fact that most people were illiterate in the church’s history, and the Bible was, unfortunately, kept away from the eyes and ears of the people. However, I still found something intriguing and wondered if any Catholics who once belonged to these ancient churches ever asked why Mary wasn’t in the story pictures. By story pictures, I’m referring to those paintings (usually on ceilings) that were meant to tell biblical stories–often the overarching biblical story–to people who couldn’t read and wouldn’t have Bibles even if they could read. What I noticed is that in these paintings of biblical stories (meaning stories actually based on the texts) is that other than the birth of Christ, Mary remains noticeably absent from the other paintings. Wouldn’t anyone in the church ever have wondered why Mary was being elevated when she’s clearly absent from the paintings retelling the biblical story? Yes, there were many paintings and statutes of Mary throughout the churches I went too, but these weren’t part of the paintings retelling the biblical story. I find this fascinating. My hope isn’t to offend Catholics but to really understand more of the history behind mariology.

After returning home, I was given the chance to read a bit of early church history in preparation of teaching a session at our church. Since I don’t do well with letting things go I thought I’d do a tiny bit of digging as to when references to Mary developed as something more than just the virgin mother of Jesus. I’m just scratching the surface on this and related issues so I’d appreciate any feedback or sources.

I’ve been reading a bit of Irenaeus since my talk focuses on the rise of bishops and why apostolic succession was so important for the church’s unity. Irenaeus was the first guy I came across who talks about Mary in detail, although I later found that he probably was reiterating what he read in Justin Martyr’s Dialogue With Trypho the Jew. [Note: Although Justin Martyr parallels Mary with Eve he seems to focus on what both of them conceived, not their merit or actions.] It seems like (from my limited reading) Mary was referenced early as the church combatted Gnosticism. Most forms of Gnosticism denied the genuine humanity of Jesus, so Mary the mother of Jesus was used to defend the humanity of Jesus. It seems this quickly progressed into something more. This is a good time to stop and remember that the earliest theologians (2nd-3rd century AD) were still grappling both with who Jesus was and what salvation actually meant. Unfortunately, many of these early church fathers had a theology of salvation or atonement that was quite under-baked. Once persecution settles down and Athanasius enters the scene we’re provided with a much more robust theology. Back to Irenaeus, who is known for how he sees the NT recapitulating the OT. In his Demonstration of Apostolic Preaching, he takes the biblical parallel between Adam and Jesus as the 2nd Adam (cf. Rom 6 & I Cor. 15) and stretches it so that Mary parallels Eve. Here’s one quote (thank you Google Books):
“And just as through a disobedient virgin[,] man was stricken down and fell into death, so through the Virgin who was obedient to the Word of Go man was reanimated and received life….For it was necessary that Adam should be summed up in Christ, that mortality might be swallowed up and overwhelmed by immortality; and Eve summed up in Mary, that a virgin should be a virgin’s intercessor, and by a virgin’s obedience undo and put away the disobedience of a virgin.” (Dem 33)

After this, other patristic theologians wrote similar things (Tertullian, Ambrose, Jerome) and it seems like Mary’s role and importance grew at different times in later history. Then, in the 19th and 20th century we can see how Roman Catholic dogma had progressed to not just seeing Mary as playing an important role in bringing Life through Jesus, but to actually playing a part in redemption with Jesus. In 1854, Pope Pius IX put into dogma via papal bull the doctrine of Immaculate Conception, stating that Mary was conceived without original sin. Then, in an Encyclical from Pope Pius XII in 1954, he states the following (there are several similar statements): “39. Certainly, in the full and strict meaning of the term, only Jesus Christ, the God-Man, is King; but Mary, too, as Mother of the divine Christ, as His associate in the redemption, in his struggle with His enemies and His final victory over them, has a share, though in a limited and analogous way, in His royal dignity.”

I was more interested in the historical factor of where an interest in Mary came from (and still am since this is only one factor among many). As a bible-thumping Protestant, I strongly uphold our redemption in the 2nd Adam, and since Mary is never mentioned or hinted at in regards to our salvation or paralleled as a 2nd Eve I strongly disagree with Roman Catholic theology in this regards. Not only is it a big stretch to making Mary a 2nd Eve because Jesus is a 2nd Adam, but it also seems to be a big stretch even to get from the quotes of the early church fathers on Mary being significant (because she conceived Jesus and therefore conceived life) to the later Roman Catholic teaching that she is an associate in our redemption.