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Archive for August, 2012

Michael Bird recently blogged about using a regula fidei (Rule of Faith) in church.

He quoted Tertullian’s regula fidei from the early second century AD:

[T]he Creator of the world, who produced all things out of nothing through His own Word, first of all sent forth; that this Word is called His Son, and, under the name of God, was seen “in diverse manners” by the patriarchs, heard at all times in the prophets, at last brought down by the Spirit and Power of the Father into the Virgin Mary, was made flesh in her womb, and, being born of her, went forth as Jesus Christ; thenceforth He preached the new law and the new promise of the kingdom of heaven, worked miracles; having been crucified, He rose again the third day; (then) having ascended into the heavens, He sat at the right hand of the Father; sent instead of Himself the Power of the Holy Ghost to lead such as believe; will come with glory to take the saints to the enjoyment of everlasting life and of the heavenly promises, and to condemn the wicked to everlasting fire, after the resurrection of both these classes shall have happened, together with the restoration of their flesh. This rule, as it will be proved, was taught by Christ, and raises amongst ourselves no other questions than those which heresies introduce, and which make men heretics. (Prescriptions Against Heresies).

Michael Bird then attempts a “faithful restatement… in our own contemporary language.”

God the Father, the maker of the universe, who, through Word and Spirit, made all things out of nothing, planned all things for the demonstration of his love and the satisfaction of his glory. He created Adam and Eve in his own image and after their rebellion, He also revealed himself as the Lord in diverse ways to the patriarchs, to Israel, and in the prophets, to call to himself a people worthy of his name, among and for the nations. When the time had fully come, He sent his Son, born of a woman and born under the Law, a Son of David, enfleshed as a man in the womb of the Virgin Mary through the Holy Spirit, and who came forth as Jesus of Nazareth. Jesus was baptized and in the power of the Holy Spirit he preached the hope of Israel and the kingdom of God, he proclaimed good news to the poor, did many miraculous deeds, was crucified under Pontius Pilate, he was buried and rose again on the third day according to the scriptures. Then, having made purification for sins, he ascended into the heavens, where he sat down at the right hand of the Father, from where he shall come again in glory to judge both the living and the dead, and after the great resurrection, he shall take his people into the paradise of the new creation, and condemn the wicked to everlasting fate. The church now works in the mission of God, in dependence upon the Father, in the power of the Holy Spirit, bearing testimony to Jesus Christ, to preach good news and to show mercy, until the day when God will be all in all.

Did you spot the difference?  What is being said about the Old Testament in these two statements?  We go from language of “the Son” being “seen” and “heard” to language of the Father merely “revealing himself as the Lord” in diverse ways.

I’m not even sure the switch of Person was a deliberate decision.  (I’ve asked).  I wonder whether the modern theologian is simply blind to what the early church held self-evident: that the Son is the eternal Word through Whom the Father always acts and reveals.

I’m not saying it’s rank revisionism, but I am saying it’s a revealing shift and one we should try to undo.

The Son is not the best Word – He’s the Word.  He’s not the clearest Image – He’s the Image.  He’s not the Seal of a series of improving revelations.  He is the Revelation of God.

Let us indeed get back to such a rule of faith!

 

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Happy Friday

One of the true greats, Harry Hill:

See the whole show here.

A previous Harry Friday.

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Here’s a reboot of an older post…

Mike Reeves talks about Adam and Christ in these great audios on sin and evil.  Once we frame creation and salvation as the story of two men we see things much clearer.

For one thing we’re able to honour Christ not only as Substitute but also as Representative.  And we need both.

You see Christ drinks the cup so that – in one sense – we don’t have to (Mark 10:38).  But in another sense we do drink the cup He drinks and are baptised with the baptism with which He is baptised (Mark 10:39).  He does die for us so that we do not face that same judging fire – this is His substitution.  But we also die in Him, hidden in our Head and taken through the flames – this is His representation.

We tend to be good at ‘substitution’ talk but not so good at ‘representation’ talk.

I can think of a very prominent preacher who I greatly admire. Ordinarily he’s excellent at preaching Paul.  But I’ve noticed that every time Paul speaks of “us being crucified with Christ”, this preacher translates it as “Christ pays off our sins for us so completely, it’s as if we ourselves died on the cross.”

Do you hear what’s happened?  Paul uses representation language, the preacher translates it into substitution language. Paul says “We died in him”, the preacher doesn’t seem to have a category for that, so he simply re-iterates the substitution motif: “He died for us.”

Those two things are not the same.  And our lack of a category for “representation” thinking is a great loss.

Consider this fairly common way of conceiving salvation and judgement…

salvation-judgement1

Here the key players are the saved and the damned.  Christ is not in the picture.  But of course once we’ve set things up like this, Christ becomes extremely necessary.  Yet He’s necessary in that the cross becomes the accounting tool required to balance the justice books.  Without the cross the system doesn’t work.  So in that sense Christ is central.  But in effect, He’s a peripheral figure only required because other factors are calling the shots.

When things are viewed like this, Christ is very much thought of as ‘substitute’ but not really ‘representative’.  And, when the details are pressed, even His substitution will start to look very unlike the biblical portrait.

We need a better formulation.  We’ll think of 1 Peter 4 and then tie this back to Adam and Christ.

In 1 Peter 4:17 it says that judgement begins with the house of God.  It doesn’t say ‘Judgement avoids the house of God.’  It begins there.  It begins with Christ, the true Temple of God.  It continues with the church, the temple of God in another sense.  But then it flows out to the world – God’s house in yet another sense.

salvation-judgement2

Here humanity is judged.  And this is where Adam and Christ will be so helpful for us.

The LORD pronounces His curse on Adam.  And all humanity is in him.  “Sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned.” (Rom 5:12)  It is a universal judgement.  No exceptions.  The only path to salvation is the path through judgement.

But Adam is a type of the One to come (Rom 5:14).  He was only ever setting the scene for Christ to take centre stage.  And He does so, assuming the very humanity of Adam as substitute and representative.

salvation-judgement31

Here centre stage is not occupied by the two groups of people (the damned and the saved).  What’s driving everything is the two humanities (Adam and Christ).  The former is expressly a type of the Latter.  And the Latter expressly assumes the fate of the former.  So that in all things Christ will have the preeminence! (Col 1:18)

These diagrams were originally used in a blog post on judgement and salvation in Isaiah and for a sermon on Isaiah 2:6-22 (listen here).

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Below I’ve listed 10 verses on union with Christ in His death.  Meditate on these verses – and reckon yourself dead to Adam, to the flesh, to sin, to wrath, to the law, the principalities and powers and to the world.  For the living, those powers exact a terrible penalty.  But you know what a corpse owes these things?  Absolutely jack squat.

#EnjoyYourDay:

All of us who were baptised into Christ Jesus were baptised into his death We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.  (Romans 6:3-4)

In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin… (Romans 6:11)

Our old self was crucified with him so that the body ruled by sin might be done away with.  (Romans 6:6)

You died to the law through the body of Christ, that you might belong to Another.  (Romans 7:4)

I was crucified with Christ and I no longer live.  (Galatians 2:20)

I belong to Christ and thus my flesh has been crucified.  (Galatians 5:24)

The world has been crucified to me and I to the world.  (Galatians 6:14)

 In Christ you were also circumcised with a circumcision not performed by human hands. Your whole self ruled by the flesh was put off when you were circumcised by Christ, having been buried with him in baptism.  (Colossians 2:11-12)

You died with Christ to the elemental spiritual forces of this world (Colossians 2:20)

You died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. (Colossians 3:3)

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No?

Seriously, why not!?

It’s not just her hubby, check out any of these reviews.

Mark Meynell

Anita Mathias

Ruth Field

Kath Cunningham

Admiral Creedy

Emily Paterson

 Matthew Currey

Not to mention the latest by Steve Jeffery.  It finishes like this:

A New Name is subtitled Grace and healing for anorexia. But it’s about far more than that. It’s for anyone who wants to know how broken people tick – regardless of exactly where the breakage is – and how, by God’s grace, they can be put back together again.

This book is not only for anorexics and dieticians, or even just for “counsellors.” It’s for anyone who cares about badly messed-up people and is willing to live through a tiny taste of the pain they experience in order to help them deal with problems far too big for them to handle alone. It’s for anyone who thinks they might not be a perfect friend or parent or sibling or Pastor, and who wants to avoid making some potentially life-wrecking mistakes (other people’s lives, as well as their own) before it’s too late.

I’ve read a few books on different “personal and pastoral issues” – depression and bulimia and bereavement and so on. Some of them have been pretty helpful. But none of them come close to this. Brutally honest, theologically acute and astonishingly insightful. Alternately heartrending and hilarious. And (for what it’s worth – though frankly it seems almost trivial to mention it) some of the most stylish prose I’ve read in years. Buy two copies, because by the time you’ve finished it you’ll have thought of at least one person who needs it, and yours will be so dog-eared and tear-stained that you’ll be embarrassed to let it be seen in public.

I can’t think of another book so consistently and lavishly praised as A New Name.  Get it!

Buy from IVPamazon.co.uk or amazon.com

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I’ve been thinking about blind-spots in typical evangelistic presentations.

First I considered the dangers of overlooking Trinity in evangelism.  Then I discussed the evangelistic importance of original sin (the doctrine, not the term).

Finally, let’s explore “union with Christ” (again, the doctrine, not necessarily the phrase).  Here’s why it’s crucial for union with Christ to be a major category of thinking as we evangelise…

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We offer a Person not a Package

The Gospel is God’s offer of Christ.  Whatever blessings God might have for the world, they are all to be had “in Christ” (Ephesians 1:3ff).  Fundamentally God’s gift is not a thing but a Him.  And what He desires from us is not stuff (we have no stuff worth offering anyway).  For some strange reason, God wants us. 

So the point of the gospel is not a transaction.  It’s not like getting a mobile phone contract… you know the deal…  God offers a decent package, some nice extras and an easy payment plan.  We reach into our pocket and dredge up what’s required…. no it’s not that.

Yet so often I hear the gospel offered in terms of its fringe benefits – eternal fire-insurance, freedom from guilt feelings, a sense of Purpose in life… all for the low, low price of “repentance and faith.”

In such presentations God’s love is portrayed in contractual not covenant terms.  Which means God’s love is not really portrayed.

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We can avoid licence and legalism

People are always saying “If you offer salvation freely it’s too dangerous, because people will just take salvation and then go off and sin all the time!”  I want to say, Wait, which salvation are you talking about?

So often people think of salvation a little bit like those old films set in the middle ages.  Imagine some Lord snootily throwing his bag of silver to a servant girl as payment for a job.  The servant grabs the money and runs off out of the palace to enjoy life with the silver – and without the Lord.

Now if that’s what salvation is, then of course its free offer will mean licence.  They’ll take the heavenly blessings and run away from Jesus to enjoy themselves.

But what’s the response?  Well the legalist feels they must rein in their gospel offers.  They refuse to offer a “blank cheque” willy nilly.  No, no, they only offer salvation to those who really, really are committed to turning their lives around and submitting everything to God. And probably they should mean it too.  Like, really mean it.

You can understand this approach.  It doesn’t sound very much like Jesus’ whole approach to gospelling, but you can understand it.  If you think that the gospel offer is stuff, then putting a price on it seems the natural thing to do.  But salvation is not a stuff!

Salvation is far more like the Lord who loves his miserable servant and marries her.  He gives her himself.  And now they are one forever.  That is a very free salvation isn’t it?  It’s a much more gracious salvation than the licentious have  dreamt of!  Immeasurably more is offered in this salvation.  And it’s offered completely freely.  The girl isn’t expected to pay a penny for the privilege.  But she’s not given some blessings which she can go and enjoy elsewhere.  She is given the Lord himself.

Does such an offer make the hearer more likely to sin?  Rubbish. It’s the only power to save someone from sin.  Give them Jesus.  And offer Him freely, because that’s the only kind of salvation He offers.

When we do, we’ll avoid both legalism and licence.  Because the offer is not a package but a person.  Therefore the response is, unmistakably, the receiving of a Lord and Saviour.

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“Repentance and faith” are considered properly

As believers in “faith alone”, do we have a place for “repentance”?

Is it some kind of pre-requisite for faith?  Or is it an obedience that we add to faith??  Do we call non-Christians to jump two hurdles, one called “repentance” and another called “faith”? That would be an odd position to adopt if we’re “faith alone” people.

We’ve already said that “repentance and faith” are not our payment for gospel stuff.   Well then, what is “repentance and faith.”

Well think of union with Christ.  He offers Himself to us like a Bridegroom to a bride.  He says “Be one with me.”  If anyone receives Him, what have they done?  They’ve repented and believed.  Because they’ve received the LORD Jesus Christ as their Head in bonds of self-abandoning love.  There simply could not be a more all-embracing “repentance”.

If the preacher makes clear that salvation is belonging to Jesus (and He to us), then many errors are avoided.  Our hearers won’t be tempted to offer their repentance to Jesus as payment for salvation.  Nor should they despair that “they don’t have it in them to repent.”  They don’t have it in them to repent.  New life does not lie in their resolve.  It’s in Jesus.  And He’s offered to them, even in all their helplessness.  Yet clearly, to receive Jesus is to receive a new life.

 

We do not offer repentance to God as a condition of our salvation.  We are summoned to repentance in the gospel because this is the very nature of life “in Christ”.

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We have a gospel that applies to Christians as well as non-Christians

Think of the “Get out of hell free” gospel.  Imagine that you’ve been evangelised by this and coughed up the requisite response (walking down an aisle and resolving to believe in substitutionary atonement, or whatever).  That gospel is not particularly helpful to me day to day, is it?  At one point, it helped me to get off the judgement hook, but now, I’m basically left to myself until heaven.  Which means “the gospel” and day-to-day living have no real relationship.

I need the gospel to get saved, but I need wisdom and hard work to get by, day to day.

Maybe a little “gospel-law” preacher will come and remind me not to take the mick and to try and be godly.  But their exhortations don’t really arise from the gospel, do they?

Once I’ve trusted such a gospel, it has served its purpose.  It’s not for me any more.  It’s for unbelievers.

But if “union with Christ” is in view, that’s like saying “the wedding ceremony” was everything, I don’t need marriage day-to-day.  Bonkers.

The real gospel is Christ graciously given to me in the nitty gritty of my life, for better and for worse.  Which means it bears on everything.  

Which is good because the world rarely asks the question “What must I do to be saved?”  But our friends and family are constantly asking “How do I raise my kids?  How do I handle my anger?  What do I do about these panic attacks?  How could I possibly forgive that person?  Why is marriage so difficult?  What’s the way forward in this family breakdown?  How do I handle this bullying boss?  How can I cope when my dreams are shattered?  Why does food enslave me?  How can I be free of these addiction?  What’s wrong with me?”

The world is asking all of these questions all of the time.  These are the problems of a world that’s condemned already (see previous post).  This is part of the hell on earth that Jesus spoke about.  But Jesus also has a salvation for here and now.  The gospel also brings light and freedom into these pastoral situations.

Which means we can gospel people through pastoral problems and we can bring pastoral healing through the gospel.  The more we grasp this, the more effective we’ll be in gospelling.  Which brings us finally to…

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Ordinary Christians might just realise that they too can evangelise.

If the gospel is a package deal, then it needs sales people.  And, to be honest, the package that most evangelistic presentations offer is so unappealing it really would take a special class of Christian communicator to make it attractive.  You’ve got to have a very good patter in order to sell a package of heavenly blessings.  (Especially if that package is basically: Bow to the Big Guy or burn forever).

But what if, what if, what if…. we offer a Person.  Jesus.

This is what’s helped me most in my own evangelism:  realising I’m not selling some gospel benefits, I’m offering a Person.  Jesus sells Himself.  I don’t need a hundred illustrations and some cracking mother-in-law gags and the gift of the gab.  I just have to talk about Jesus and let His magnetism do the job.

We’re offering a Person, not a mechanism of salvation.  We’re saying – “This is Jesus, let me paint Him in biblical colours for you, let me tell you that I love Him and why, let me tell you what He has done for me, let me tell you my favourite things about Him.  This is Jesus – do you want Him?  He’s yours, have Him.  Receive Him, He’s offered Himself to you, take Him now.’  That’s evangelism.  In a deep sense, that all of what evangelism is.  Just. Talk. About. Jesus.

And if the words don’t come then guess what, it’s not because “you’re not a professional evangelist”.  Words often fail me too.  You know why?  Cos I’m weak.  Cos nothing good lives in my flesh.  Cos I’m a sinner.  And if I haven’t been receiving from Jesus, the Fountain of Living Waters, then of course the words will dry up.  Because I’m dry.

So then, return to the Source.  Get filled.  Receive again from Jesus, our Heavenly Husband, who loves us in spite of ourselves.  And then the words will come.  Feebly and falteringly.  But genuinely.  Because from the overflow of the heart the mouth will speak. (Matthew 12:34).

And as everyday people lift Him up in everyday circumstances, He will draw all people to Himself.  But it begins by realising this: the gospel’s not a package, He’s a Person.

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Those are some reasons why “union with Christ” is a vital component of our gospel explanations…

So there you have it.  Three blind-spots in modern evangelism: the trinity, original sin and union with Christ.  If only we had a gospel explanation that gave them proper attention… perhaps one that was easy to memorise and share with friends… And maybe there could be a snazzy video presentation.  And a website with further explanations.  Maybe some tracts.  Heck, why not a book?  A cheap and cheery paperback – a give-away for friends.  One that laid it all out simply… that’d be nice.

i f   o n l y  .   .   .     i   f      o    n    l     y    .        .          .

#StayTuned

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Here’s a seminar that Emma and I ran recently for a group of 20s and 30s.

Unfortunately the recorder ran out almost as soon as Emma began to speak!  Not to worry, soon we’ll have a couple of different videos of Emma giving her testimony – I’ll link as soon as we have them.

We began the seminar with perhaps the key verse on identity:

“Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” Matthew 10:39

We then kicked things off with my favourite 4 minutes of stand-up ever!

Death to the Me-Monster in Christ births a redeemed identity.

I speak a lot about Christ’s baptism, His identity and our sharing in it.  The stories of Jacob and Esau are very illuminating.  And Luther nails it with this quote:

The Christian lives far above themselves in Christ through faith
and far beneath themselves in their neighbour through love.

The one place we don’t live is in ourselves.  No we find our lives by losing them in and for Jesus.

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Audio

Powerpoint

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How do you think of God’s forgiveness?

The book of Colossians mentions forgiveness in three places.  Conveniently it’s in chapter 1:13f; 2:13 and 3:13.

Let’s work our way backwards.  In 3:13 Paul says:

Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.

We are to ungoingly forgive others in the present because the Lord has once and for all forgiven us in the past.  Forgiveness from the Lord Jesus is an event.  When did it happen?  Colossians 2:13 tells us:

When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your sinful nature, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, having cancelled the written code, with its regulations, that was against us and that stood opposed to us; he took it away, nailing it to the cross.  (Colossians 2:13-14)

Even as we were uncircumcised sinners we were forgiven.  When?  As Christ was crucified.  On Good Friday, all that stood against us was permanently taken away.  God has forgiven me.  It’s not something that hangs in the balance.  It has already happened.  Christ dying was God forgiving.

Forgiveness is not an act behind the cross.  It’s not as though the cross clears the way so that now God can forgive me.  The cross was God forgiving me.  It all happened right there at Calvary.  In Christ, me and my sin and my guilt and every accusation against me was put to death.  Decisively.  Irreversibly.

How am I meant to think of my forgiveness now?  That’s where Colossians 1:13 comes in:

For [the Father] has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. (Colossians 1:13-14)

Forgiveness is the essence of our redemption.  Like the Exodus of old, it is the promised land to which we’ve been delivered.  Our new Moses has taken us out of the dark Egypt of sin into a new Kingdom.  But in this new Exodus, Christ is not just the new Moses.  He’s also the destination.  The very essence of the Kingdom is Jesus.

Therefore the Christian has been transferred from sin and into the Father’s dearly loved Son.  This Father has been proclaiming “Behold My Son!” for all eternity and now we have come in on Him.  We are not merely forgiven.  We have been brought into Jesus in Whom we have  forgiveness.  Not just an event, but an ongoing status.

And since the Red Sea was one-way traffic, so now our forgiveness is an unloseable reality.  We do not fall in and out of forgiveness.  We have forgiveness because Jesus has us.  And He’s not letting go.

Is this how you think of God’s forgiveness?

In our preaching and liturgy I think it’s easy to give a different impression.  I’m always thinking of forgiveness as “God wiping the slate clean” (and me filling it back up again!)  But the Apostle Paul puts the emphasis where it should be.  It was an event accomplished at the cross.  And it’s a present status, enjoyed forever in Jesus.

Henry Lyte (reflecting on Psalm 103) gets it just right – it’s a past tense doing that is also an ongoing declaration:

Ransomed, Healed, Restored, Forgiven

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