Archive for July, 2009
For the next 48 hours the Listener’s Bible’s having a sale.
You can get the entire NIV, ESV or KJV read by Max McLean on mp3 CDs for $40 (£25).
Or how about this for a nifty little product. The GoBible is an mp3 player with the NIV preloaded on it. You can go directly to any verse and bookmark where you’re up to. There’s a topics index that’ll take you to relevant verses, a stories index with 225 preloaded bible stories and there’s also a Bible-in-a-year plan you can follow on it.
During the sale it’s $90 (£55).
I haven’t been asked to plug this, I just think they look like good resources.
For thawed-out Thursdays. First posted in Jan 2008…
How should we attain humility? Determine to think low thoughts of yourself? You’d be defeated before you began. Self-deprecation is still self-deprecation. No, to be humble we need to be humbled.
Daniel 4 gives us a great picture of this. Nebuchadnezzar, the most powerful man in the world, is humbled by the triune God who is ‘able to humble’ ‘those who walk in pride.’ (Dan 4:37).
As a young(ish) Australian male I know a little something about walking in pride. What can I learn from Daniel 4 about humility?
First, the hero of the piece, Daniel, accomplishes his work only in the power of the Holy Spirit.
“I know that the spirit of the holy gods is in you and that no mystery is too difficult for you.” Dan 4:9 (LXX has ‘Holy Spirit of God’ – translating the plural ‘gods’ as elsewhere in Scripture)
“None of the wise men in my kingdom can interpret it for me. But you can, because the spirit of the holy gods is in you.” Dan 4:18. See also 5:11,14 (LXX translates them all as Holy Spirit of God)
Without the Spirit, Daniel has nothing to offer. With the Spirit, Daniel is wiser than the wisest men on earth.
Second, the promised King of God’s Kingdom is described as the Lowliest of Men.
“the Most High is sovereign over the kingdoms of men and gives them to anyone He wishes and sets over them the Lowliest of men.” (Dan 4:17)
In the great inversion of all our human expectations, God’s choice for King is not simply a lowly man, but the Lowliest of men. The King of all kings is the One who says “I am gentle and humble in heart.” (Matt 11:29) How can Nebuchadnezzar exalt himself when the Chosen One of the Most High is the Servant of all?
Third, Nebuchadnezzar learns humility when he worships the Most High God:
34 At the end of that time, I, Nebuchadnezzar, raised my eyes towards heaven, and my sanity was restored. Then I praised the Most High; I honoured and glorified Him Who lives for ever. His dominion is an eternal dominion; His kingdom endures from generation to generation. 35 All the peoples of the earth are regarded as nothing. He does as He pleases with the powers of heaven and the peoples of the earth. No-one can hold back His hand or say to him: “What have you done?” 36 At the same time that my sanity was restored, my honour and splendour were returned to me for the glory of my kingdom.
With his eyes turned upwards, Nebuchadnezzar praises Him Who lives forever. The sovereign glory of the Omnipotent Father draws out of him awed worship. I’m told (and I can believe it) that the Grand Canyon will take your breath away – no-one stands on the rim with high thoughts of themselves. And no-one can confess the majesty of our Father and not be correspondingly humbled in the process.
So how do I fight pride? The doctrine of the trinity of course. I need to know that anything I have of worth in God’s service is a gift of the Spirit – “What do you have that you did not receive? And if you did receive it, why do you boast as though you did not?” (1 Cor 4:7).
I need to know that the Lord of Glory is Himself the Lowliest of men. His glory is His service. So how can I exalt myself above Christ?
I need to know that the Most High Father is awe-inspiring in His heavenly power. As I worship Him I find a grateful ‘nothingness’ by comparison which is, at that very moment, my restoration to honour.
To be enfolded in the life of these Three is to be well and truly humbled.
I’m starting a new intermittent series. Just some incidental acts or assumptions in the bible that make you think…
Here’s the first:
Hannah was praying in her heart, and her lips were moving but her voice was not heard. Eli thought she was drunk. (1 Sam 1:13)
The expectation was that Hannah would pray out loud. And even when Hannah prayed silently, she still mouthed the words.
Reading that recently made me feel a little less stupid about my practice of walking along the seafront praying with my mobile phone pressed to my ear. The phone is to stop modern day Eli’s thinking I’m drunk, because today expectations are reversed. Today we’re crazy if we do pray out loud!
But I have to pray out loud or my brain wanders quicker than you can say ‘Our Father.’ Good to know that ‘out loud’ was the OT assumption.
People pray out loud. And even if they’re quiet, they mouth the words. If your brain is a wild wanderer (and whose isn’t?), then here’s a top tip brought to you by Bible by the bys.
Try saying that out loud!
Maybe your earthly father had short arms and deep pockets. Or long arms and shallow pockets. Or crossed arms and closed pockets.
Your Father in heaven is different.
He’s rich beyond your wildest imaginings. 6 times Pauls says it in Ephesians (1:7,18; 2:4,7; 3:8,16).
He’s rich – rich I tells ya. And it’s just the normal word for wealthy. Loaded. Rolling in it. Stinking, filthy rich. Like Abraham (Gen 13:2), like Solomon (1 Kings 3:13), like ‘the rich man’ (Mark 10:25). Your Father is no pauper.
And neither is He a miser. He lavishes His children with every treasure at His disposal. First, He commits all things into the hands of His Son (John 3:35). The nations are His inheritance (Ps 2:8). The whole creation is a love gift for Him (Col 1:15-16). But for the sake of His Son, and so that He might be the firstborn among many brothers (Rom 8:29), the Father brings us into His inheritance. We become objects of the Father’s lavish philanthropy.
But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions–it is by grace you have been saved. (Eph 2:4-5)
In Christ we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that He lavished on us (Eph 1:7-8)
And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with Him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of His grace, expressed in His kindness to us in Christ Jesus. (Eph 2:6-7)
But perhaps you don’t feel able to appreciate this wealth. Maybe you’re not feeling the benefits of this incredible union with Christ? Well God’s riches aren’t just for the bestowal of grace, they enable you to appreciate these blessings too:
I pray that out of His glorious riches He may strengthen you with power through His Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith (3:16-17)
You know what this means? God even has riches that awaken us to the riches He’s already bestowed! Talk about grace upon grace.
And if we despair that we don’t already possess these riches in their fullness, Paul has another prayer:
I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which He has called you, the riches of His glorious inheritance in the saints (Eph 1:18)
What a day of sumptuous opulence and overwhelming prosperity when we are heirs of God, co-heirs of the cosmos with Christ and when God Himself inherits us His saints.
What can we do in the meantime except…
…to preach to the nations the unsearchable riches of Christ (Eph 3:8)
Christ is the storehouse of the Father’s overflowing bounty. We beggars, who’ve gotten rich quick, tell the world where to find true wealth.
Friends, rejoice. Daddy’s rich.
Something I think the Lord has been teaching me recently is to prize both these truths:
I am in Christ
Christ is in me
I am clothed in an alien righteousness but also filled with an outworking Power. My standing before God is entirely outside myself – in Jesus. Yet my walk in the world is enabled by an energy that is no less heavenly in origin but that springs from a new core within – the new heart. Will’s sermon on the New Birth is a great help in this direction.
Here are some more thoughts from Watchman Nee’s little book on Ephesians – Sit, Walk, Stand. In this section he is moving from our ‘seated’ reality with Christ in the heavenly realms (Eph 1-3) to our ‘walk’ in the world (Eph 4-5).
God has given us Christ. There is nothing now for us to receive outside of Him. The Holy Spirit has been sent to produce what is of Christ in us; not to produce anything that is apart from or outside of Him…We have been accustomed to look upon holiness as a virtue, upon humility as a grace, upon love as a gift to be sought from God. But the Christ of God is Himself everything that we shall ever need… Our life is the life of Christ, mediated in us by the indwelling Holy Spirit Himself.
No wonder that this is Paul’s prayer as he transitions from the ‘seated’ reality to our earthly ‘walk’:
14 For this reason I kneel before the Father, 15 from whom his whole family in heaven and on earth derives its name. 16 I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, 17 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, 18 may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, 19 and to know this love that surpasses knowledge–that you may be filled to the measure of all the fulness of God. (Eph 3:14-19)
Thinking and preaching through 1 Corinthians recently, it’s so stark what a mixture the Corinthian church was. Successful and troubled. Their congregation contains former male-prostitutes, idolaters, thieves, drunkards and swindlers (6:9-11). What a work of grace to convert this lot from their dark past. As this motley bunch meet together, called saints by the Father (1:2), in fellowship with the Son (1:9), a temple of the Holy Spirit (3:16), they lack no spiritual gift (1:7). Paul always gives thanks for them (1:4). And yet they are foolish, divided, litigious, permissive, immoral, selfish, drunken and unbelieving. If your friend was moving to Corinth, would you recommend this church?
Well perhaps you wouldn’t recommend moving to Corinth full stop. Here’s a sailor town full of all sailor town vices. Here’s an overwhelmingly pagan culture that not only has no Christian memory, but never had one to begin with. Yet here Paul planted the gospel seed, Apollos watered it and God grew a church (3:6) right there in the midst of a culture about as unChristian as you could possibly imagine.
But what a reflection of the gospel that Paul proclaimed to them. Here are unwashed heathen who are now washed, sanctified and justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God (6:11).
In line with his gospel, Paul is able to address them as dearly loved brethren and to deliver stinging rebuke. The Corinthians really are genuinely loved and they really are genuinely wrong, foolish and sinful. And the intensity of this dual reality is increased by the very success of their church.
I heard Tim Keller say in a 1 Corinthians sermon that we don’t experience the degree of trouble they did because we’re not as successful as they were. It’s the churches that really confront the culture and really grow in the midst of opposition that will produce these kinds of problems. If we don’t know these kinds of discipleship issues in our own churches it’s probably because we’re not reaching the people the Corinthians did and/or not growing or seeking to grow like them.
Of course this made me think of our friend Mark Driscoll. And how I need to be far more public in saying ‘Thank God for Driscoll’. And far more praiseworthy of the gospel ministry that seems to be happening through Mars Hill and Acts 29 .
The gospel means we are simultaneously righteous and sinner. And it means gospel communities and leaders can be critiqued and critiqued harshly (just read 1 Corinthians) without ever implying that they’re not a gospel community. No, because they’re a gospel community there will be sin (just as there is deep and dark sin in me). But there is also much to give thanks for and much to praise.
I thank God for Mark’s incredible gifts, his passion for Jesus, his gospel-focussed preaching and his mission-mindedness. Which is quite a list! I wish those things could be said of me with even a fraction of the same intensity.
On the other hand I’m very uneasy about his macho-christology, his macho-manliness, and what I perceive to be a major lack of humility. These things are problems. I happen to think they really need pointing out and cautions raised, especially given his popularity.
Now I know I have a whole bagful of my own problems. In fact if I had a hundredth the gifting and a thousandth the success of Driscoll I’d be just as proud, probably much more so.
But what I get a bit tired of is the all-or-nothing approach to Driscoll. Either he’s Satan himself, leading thousands astray, or he can do no wrong – any criticism justified immediately by his success or explained away as an understandable reaction to a wicked culture or liberal Christianity. Paul never said to the Corinthians ‘Yes you’re getting drunk at communion, but I understand your missional context and great giftedness so I’ll forget about it.’
Please, let’s believe the gospel. We are simultaneously righteous and sinner. Mars Hill can be successful and troubled. Driscoll can be loved and critiqued. And we don’t have to collapse one into the other.
‘Isn’t it wonderful that we’re now under grace?’ they enthuse.
‘Sure is,’ you say.
And then they explain what they mean by ‘grace’ and you wonder what it is they’ve really found themselves ‘under’.
Here are 8 common misconceptions.
1. Wahey! Isn’t it great that God has lowered the bar? He used to care about loads of stuff. Now it’s just a few things. You know, important stuff. So now we don’t have to sweat the small stuff.
2. Wahey! Now we obey God out of gratitude for what He’s done, which is an entirely new concept. The law was only ever about duty, apparently. Now that we’ve got gratitude it means all legalism is a thing of the past (just so long as we’re grateful).
3. Phew – now we don’t have to get hung up about the laws of the land. If you ask me to pay my parking ticket, you’re a legalist.
4. Isn’t it great – it’s not about duty-bound works, it’s all about love. As long as we stress love we’re avoiding all forms of legalism.
5. I’m so glad that God used to be fierce and judgemental but now He’s just sweet and nice
6. I’m so glad that God used to be about pragmatics, now He’s just interested in dogmatics. He used to be interested in my physical state, now He’s just interested in my mental state (my faith).
7. Discipleship used to be important but now it’s about grace. Which means… you know. Not really discipleship. More… you know… grace.
8. It used to be about my works. But now it’s about my faith.
No, no, no.
In the flesh it was about your work. In the Spirit it’s about Christ’s work. That’s the difference. Him. His work. His redemption. His Person in Whom all the promises of God are yes and all the laws of God are fulfilled. He defines the realm of grace. Not abstract qualities like gratitude or lovingness or certain mental states – all of which might be worked up quite apart from Jesus. Neither is it about God’s own disposition softening in His old age. And neither is it about the absence of certain obligations, from the state or Scripture or conscience or Christ or wherever.
It’s about the kingdom of the Beloved Son in Whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins, and over to which we have been delivered apart from any merit of our own. It’s the position we find ourselves in – hidden in Christ at the Father’s right hand - lavished with mercy and honour and kindness, our old man crucified and put away, His Spirit put within us. A new realm, a new Master, a new Power, a new freedom, a new destiny and we’ve done nothing to deserve it. And it’s all real and it all holds true not by my own workings but by the Almighty Father’s, who raised Jesus from the dead and raised me up with Him.
Grace is not like a new and improved religious programme that’s a bit nicer, a bit less draconian – less duty, more love and groovy vibes. Grace is the blood, sweat and tears of Jesus expended on your behalf while you do nothing but cause His death. It’s the mighty resurrection of Christ in which you are swept up to glory entirely apart from your own efforts and merits. Grace is where you find yourself – in Christ – and you’re in Him not because but in spite of yourself. Now compare with the 8 misconceptions above.
How do we get it so wrong?
Perhaps my favourite verse:
I was crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body I live by faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave Himself for me. (Gal 2:20)
Here’s an older post on grace. Or just click the ‘grace’ tag for more.
From Watchman Nee’s Sit, Walk, Stand.
“An engineer living in a large city in the West left his homeland for the Far East. He was away for two or three years, and during his absence his wife was unfaithful to him and went off with one of his best friends. On his return home he found he had lost his wife, his two children and his best friend. At the close of a meeting which I was addressing, this grief-stricken man unburdened himself to me. ‘Day and night for two solid years my heart has been full of hatred,’ he said. ‘I am a Christian, and I know I ought to forgive my wife and my friend, but though I try and try to forgive them, I simply cannot. Every day I resolve to love them, and every day I fail. What can I do about it?’ ‘Do nothing at all,’ I replied. ‘What do you mean?’ he asked, startled. ‘Am I to continue to hate them?’ So I explained: ‘The solution of your problem lies here, that when the Lord Jesus died on the Cross he not only bore your sins away but he bore you away too. When he was crucified, your old man was crucified in him, so that that unforgiving you, who simply cannot love those who have wronged you, has been taken right out of the way in his death. God has dealt with the whole situation in the Cross, and there is nothing left for you to deal with. Just say to him, ‘Lord, I cannot love and I give up trying, but I count on thy perfect love. I cannot forgive, but I trust thee to forgive instead of me, and to do so henceforth in me.’
The man sat there amazed and said, ‘That’s all so new, I feel I must do something about it.’ Then a moment later he added again, ‘But what can I do?’ ‘God is waiting till you cease to do,’ I said. ‘When you cease doing, then God will begin. Have you ever tried to save a drowning man? The trouble is that his fear prevents him trusting himself to you. When that is so, there are just two ways of going about it. Either you must knock him unconscious and then drag him to the shore, or else you must leave him to struggle and shout until his strength gives way before you go to his rescue. If you try to save him while he has any strength left, he will clutch at you in his terror and drag you under, and both he and you will be lost. God is waiting for your store of strength to be utterly exhausted before he can deliver you. Once you have ceased to struggle, he will do everything. God is waiting for you to despair.’
My engineer friend jumped up. ‘Brother,’ he said, ‘I’ve seen it. Praise God, it’s all right now with me! There’s nothing for me to do. He has done it all!’ And with radiant face he went off rejoicing.”
The Sunday School teacher asked:
What do you need to do in order to be forgiven by God?
Billy piped up:
Got it in one Billy.
Are you a sinner? That’s all you need to bring. Jesus will do the rest.
Given discussion about Lutheran influence on the UK, here’s a Thawsday repost…
John Richardson (whose excellent blog is here) adds his voice to this discussion on Stand Firm in Faith. He writes about the place of repentance in the communion service. It chimes with a lot of what I wrote here:
I have long felt Anglicanism (specifically Thomas Cranmer) to be good at driving us to our knees in repentance, but not so good at letting us get up again.
In regard to this, I would point out the contrast between what the Book of Common Prayer says about our preparation to receive Holy Communion and what Luther said. The Exhortation in the BCP says in effect that if we are to receive Communion worthily we must first put ourselves right with God.
Contrast this with Luther. First, he says, “There must be faith to make the reception worthy and acceptable before God, otherwise it is nothing but sham and a mere external show.”
And what is this faith? It is “a firm trust that Christ, the Son of God, stands in our place and has taken all our sins upon his shoulders and that he is the eternal satisfaction for our sin and reconciles us with God the Father.”
But what does this mean for our ‘worthiness’? “This food demands a hungering and longing man, for it delights to enter a hungry soul, which is constantly battling with its sins and eager to be rid of them.”
Therefore those with the right faith are those, “who suffer tribulation, physical or spiritual … spiritually through despair of conscience, outwardly or inwardly, when the devil causes your heart to be weak, timid, and discouraged, so that you do not know how you stand with God, and when he casts your sins into your face.” (emphasis added)
I don’t think the BCP reflects this. Rather, the BCP urges communicants first: “search and examine your own consciences … that ye may come holy and clean to such a heavenly Feast, in the marriage-garment required by God in holy Scripture, and be received as worthy partakers of that holy Table” and so, “examine your lives and conversations by the rule of God’s commandments; and whereinsoever ye shall perceive yourselves to have offended, either by will, word, or deed, there to bewail your own sinfulness, and to confess yourselves to Almighty God, with full purpose of amendment of life” (emphasis added).
The Anglican way is ‘be cleansed, then come’. The Lutheran way is ‘come and be cleansed’.
Are you aware of Mike Reeves’ new book on the reformation, The Unquenchable Flame?
Mark Dever says about it:
‘With the skill of a scholar and the art of a storyteller, Michael Reeves has written what is, quite simply, the best brief introduction to the Reformation I have read.’
How about that?! You can check out all the wonderful resources surrounding it on Theology Network.
Anyway, in the book Mike makes the point that there were no Lutherans among all the refugee theologians who came to England (something still felt today in the almost total lack of Lutheran flavour to English evangelicalism, which has always been much more Zwinglian and Calvinist). p129
That seems to me to be a very great loss. Take for instance Luther’s advice to a friend, Jerome Weller who suffered great bouts of depression:
Whenever the devil pesters you with these thoughts, at once seek out the company of men, drink more, joke and jest, or engage in some other form of merriment. Sometimes it is necessary to drink a little more, play, jest, or even commit some sin in defiance and contempt of the devil in order not to give him an opportunity to make us scrupulous about trifles. We shall be overcome if we worry too much about falling into some sin.
Accordingly if the devil should say, “Do not drink,” you should reply to him, “On this very account, because you forbid it, I shall drink, and what is more, I shall drink a generous amount.” Thus one must always do the opposite of that which Satan prohibits. What do you think is my reason for drinking wine undiluted, talking freely, and eating more often if it is not to torment and vex the devil who made up his mind to torment and vex me? Would that I could commit some token sin simply for the sake of mocking the devil, so that he might understand that I acknowledge no sin and am conscious of no sin. When the devil attacks and torments us, we must completely set aside the whole Decalogue. When the devil throws our sins up to us and declares that we deserve death and hell, we ought to speak thus: “I admit that I deserve death and hell. What of it? Does this mean that I shall be sentenced to eternal damnation? By no means. For I know One who suffered and made satisfaction in my behalf. His name is Jesus Christ, the Son of God. Where he is, there I shall be also.”
Compare Luther with Zwingli – here’s Mike on p69:
Luther believed that when Adam sinned and was declared guilty, the entire human race became, as it were, ‘clothed’ in his guilt; but when we turn to Christ we are ‘clothed’ in his righteousness. Zwingli, on the other hand, believed more that we each become guilty when we actually sin, but that Christ makes us righteous in ourselves. Luther’s idea that believers are at the same time righteous (in status before God) and sinful (in heart), did not really figure in Zwingli’s mind.
Where can I get me some sweet draughts of Lutheran liberty??
The first human emotion after the fall was fear – Gen 3:10
The first human emotion after birth is fear.
The most common biblical command is ‘Fear not’.
Which gives you the idea that fear is a major part of our emotional life as fallen creatures. But of course, we hide it under a thousand pseudonyms. Here are a few phrases we say all the time. In italics is what we really mean.
I’m not mechanical/sporty/mathematical
I am insanely threatened by this challenge to my competence
I’m not really a people person
The thought of others getting close terrifies me
I’m not much of an admin person
Facing up to daily responsibilities fills me with dread
I’m not that tactile
I’m terrified of human touch
I don’t like people making a fuss over me
It feels intolerably dangerous to have attention
I’m more of an ordered person
I must protect myself from the chaos
I’m just shy, that’s all
One wrong step in public and the embarassment could kill me
I don’t go for flashy clothes
I’m petrified of having the eyes of others on me
I like to look good
I’m afraid of being invisible
I’m quite competitive
I can’t bear to be a loser
I don’t like all that competitive stuff
I can’t bear being appraised
I like to chew over my decisions
I’m petrified of doing it wrong
I tend to decide on the spot
I’m petrified good things will be taken away
I’m just a practical person
I fear mystery
I’m not really a practical person
I’m terrified of being shown up in the ‘real world’
I’m gay – it’s just the way I am
I’m terrified of entering a woman (on many levels)
I’m lesbian – it’s just the way I am
I’m terrified of being entered by a man (on many levels)
Corrections and/or additions welcome
For Thawed-out Thursdays – this one from 18 months ago
Three pictures of how we are loved from the upper room. The waterfall, promotion, God’s compass. They all deserve reflection as we immerse ourselves in the love of the triune God.
First, the waterfall:
“As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you.” (John 15:9)
Here the love of the Father for His Son cascades over to us. We stand in a beginningless, limitless torrent of love. Think about it. Take the word ‘as’ with utmost seriousness.
Then there’s promotion to Jesus’ side:
The Father Himself loves you because you have loved me and have believed that I came from God. (John 16:27)
Here, in loving Christ we are raised shoulder to shoulder with the Son. Think how highly we have been raised. Anointed ones alongside the Anointed One. Sons and daughters alongside the Son. Receiving the same love from the Father that Jesus does. Promoted into the Godhead!
Then there’s God’s compass placed within us:
…in order that the love You [Father] have for Me may be in them and that I myself may be in them. (John 17:26)
The Father’s own ‘true north’ of love for His Son is placed within the Christian. Now we have the Father’s love for His Son in us. The Christian loves the Son with the love the Father has placed within us. That beginningless, limitless waterfall is not only something we receive, it’s something that now flows from within us (John 7:38f).
How He has loved us! How He has caught us up in His love! Meditate on these things
Enquirers into Christianity often have difficulty with the concept of appropriating grace. And given how we often present it, that’s understandable. Often we tell the enquirer simply to receive grace as a free gift. They, naturally, wonder what on earth that looks like. So we reply with greater vigour ‘Just receive the free forgiveness and trust that you have been forgiven.’ When that draws a blank we revert to a series of cliches, each more abstract than the last – “The door has been opened, walk through the door… You’ve got the cheque marked ‘forgiveness’ - cash the cheque.”
But this is not the way the Bible presents it. In John 3:16 – the gift we are to receive is Jesus. Grace is not basically a concept or property. He is a Person. Doesn’t this (literally) put flesh and bones on the concept of receiving grace as a free gift. We’re really asking the non-Christian to receive Jesus – the gift of His Father.
Rev 3:20 – There’s not a ‘free gift’ standing at the door, waiting to be unwrapped. There’s not a gift certificate to be opened saying “IOU 1 eternal life”. There is Jesus standing at the door. And when you let Him in He doesn’t just hover in your lobby assuring you of your forgiven status, He eats with you in intimate fellowship. THAT is what saving faith looks like. That is how a person becomes a Christian – not by assenting to a concept of forgiveness or vicarious atonement but by receiving the Person in Whom forgiveness, atonement and life is offered.
The same point is made in Colossians 1:13, 14. It is the Son in Whom redemption is offered – which is the forgiveness of sins. Forgiveness is redemption – the transference of a person (who is still a sinner!) from the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of Christ. This deliverance is offered IN Jesus. We must be introducing people to the person of Jesus not the concept of change (or even of redemption or deliverance). We don’t believe in redemption per se – we believe in the Redeemer.
First, in the Lord’s Supper we ought to find some way of taking ‘This is my body’ seriously. Transubstantiation is not the answer but neither is memorialism – we don’t simply receive tokens of good stuff. We receive Christ in the supper. He Himself is the Bread of life who nourishes, not remembrances of grace.
Second, in personal chats let’s talk about Jesus. Not just our spirits, not just our blessings or struggles but Jesus. How it fortifies the heart to hear His name on another’s lips! He is received by us again and again as we hold out His word to one another.
Third, in preaching, we can be bold to offer a free salvation to sinners because we’re not offering a blank cheque but marriage to a Bridegroom. This will help us with the issue we thought about in my last post - I reckon we ought to hold out salvation to people who are hardened sinners, people who still love darkness and who don’t actually have a resolve to ‘Go God’s way’. Because, of course, without Christ how could they?? But then people object and say, ‘This will promote licence. You can’t offer forgiveness to people who don’t show signs of repentance.’ Here’s the thing though – we’re not holding out a ‘Get out of Jail Free’ card. We’re holding out Christ Himself to sinners. If we simply preached an abstract ‘forgiveness’ then licence is a distinct possibility. If we preach Christ it’s out of the question.
My great friend (and regular commenter here) Will Mackerras recently preached a cracker at Farm Fellowship (where Paul Blackham ministers).
Do we really believe that a person in Christ will naturally and organically produce righteous fruit – just as someone in Adam will naturally and organically produce wicked fruit? Do we have a proper understanding of our new nature? And of what will flow from it?
Will gets Rom 2:14 absolutely right to say yes. Even Gentile believers will do by nature the things required by the law, because they are born again – they have a new heart of flesh (Jer 31:33-34).
Then he discusses how to be born again. We do not contribute to the new birth. We are born again by faith (John 1:12). Will has a wonderful analogy for how Jesus does not dispense the new birth.
He asks us to imagine a super hero called Super Doctor. Super Doctor has the power to cure people of their sickness at will and even from distance. But Super Doctor’s one weakness is that he hates spending time with sick people. So he hatches a plan. He decides that he’ll wait until people come into his waiting room and then as soon as they walk through his office door he’ll magically heal them so that they won’t get any germs on him.
But then he thinks they won’t be very grateful for this because they’ll think they effected the cure by walking through the door. So instead he just magically zaps sick people in the community at random and trusts that eventually they’ll figure out what’s happened to them and turn up in his surgery to say thanks.
Of course both these scenarios are very different to Jesus’ healing methods. Sick people come to Jesus just as they are. It’s precisely the sick people who do come to Jesus – leperous warts and all. (Mark 2:17) ’If you are willing you can make me clean’ said the unclean man to the Holy Lord of Israel. (Matt 8:2). Jesus heals the way He saves. He encounters people in their unregenerate sinful mess and through the encounter He changes them.
One implication of this for preachers is that we should be far more invitational. We call on people to turn to Christ just as they are. They don’t need to clean themselves up but simply call on Christ even in their sins and love of darkness.
I spent some great time with Will a few weeks ago discussing how we love to hear invitational preaching. It is of the essence of the gospel to call on sinners to come to Christ right there and then as the sinners that they are. May our preaching reflect this precious gospel truth.
The Spirit and the Bride say, “Come.” And let the one who hears say, “Come.” And let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who desires take the water of life without price. (Rev 22:17)
1. Just as I am, without one plea,
but that thy blood was shed for me,
and that thou bidst me come to thee,
O Lamb of God, I come, I come.
2. Just as I am, and waiting not
to rid my soul of one dark blot,
to thee whose blood can cleanse each spot,
O Lamb of God, I come, I come.
3. Just as I am, though tossed about
with many a conflict, many a doubt,
fightings and fears within, without,
O Lamb of God, I come, I come.
4. Just as I am, poor, wretched, blind;
sight, riches, healing of the mind,
yea, all I need in thee to find,
O Lamb of God, I come, I come.
5. Just as I am, thou wilt receive,
wilt welcome, pardon, cleanse, relieve;
because thy promise I believe,
O Lamb of God, I come, I come.
6. Just as I am, thy love unknown
hath broken every barrier down;
now, to be thine, yea thine alone,
O Lamb of God, I come, I come.
Listen to the sermon here (unfortunately it misses the last few minutes).