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Archive for November, 2012

Why does faith save? [repost]

Why is it that faith saves?  What’s so special about faith that it brings such benefits?

Because here’s how the whole deal is usually set up:

First we insist that God does not save us by our works.  No sir, we believe in ‘justification by faith alone.’  Therefore it’s not that God is armed with a clipboard and some binoculars waiting for an external moral act in order to flick the ‘justification’ switch.  How ridiculous.  No, no.  Instead we imagine God (with clipboard and brain scanner) eagerly seeking for a certain mental act within us.  And then He’ll zap righteousness into our account.

Yeah.  That’s much more reformed…

But honestly, for many, that is the doctrine of justification by faith alone in a nut-shell.

Yet for the thoughtful who’ve been reared on such teaching it raises big questions.  Like, why faith?  Is it just that ‘faith’ keeps us humble and God simply wants to remind everyone who’s Boss?  In which case why give us Christ’s righteousness at all?  Why not just leave us in a sort of righteousness limbo forever – that’d keep us humble right?  And what’s the link between this act of mental assent and that imputation of saving stuff??  It all seems so arbitrary.

And it would be completely arbitrary so long as we keep Christ out of the discussion.  But once Jesus is central – and by that I mean the Person of Jesus (not just the Provider of a Perfect Righteousness) – then things start to fall into place.

Because faith is receiving Jesus Himself (John 1:10-12).  He gives Himself to the world in life and death, He pledges Himself to us (marriage style) in the gospel.  When we hear the gospel rightly we are swept off our feet by such a proposal and find ourselves saying “Yes.”   That is faith.  And by faith we are united to Christ.  In that union we have our salvation because salvation is all in Jesus.

So there’s nothing at all arbitrary about the connection between faith and salvation.  Because there’s nothing arbitrary about the link between a marriage vow and marriage union. Once we are united to Christ by faith, then of course we instantly have His name, His wealth, His family connections.  Of course then instantly we have the righteousness of Christ imputed.  But it’s not an impersonal imputation in response to an impersonal faith!

Justification by faith alone does not mean “being zapped simply because of mental assent.”  But we’ll never get that unless we put union with Christ at the centre.

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This post is continued from here.

I’ve been pleased that, in the last month, the 321 video has been shared so widely.  It’s meant that I’ve been able to interact online with a handful of people who have raised questions about the presentation.  I’d say the reservation people have had is this: “Where’s repentance?”  In fact it’s pretty much the only objection I’ve heard so far.

I was bracing myself for Trinitarian discussions. I was gearing up to present robust defences of Adam’s historicity.  None of that has come up.  Yet.

But a good 8 or 10 times someone has said “This is a deficient gospel because there’s no summons to repent.”

There are a number of ways to respond to this.  One is simply to say “This is only a 5 minute summary.  You can’t say everything.”

Another is to say “the word ‘repent’ is not magic.  John’s Gospel, for one, gets along fine without it.”

Another is to say: “Repentance is not, properly speaking, a part of the good news.  The good news is the announcement of Jesus – His dying, rising, enthronement and return.  The gospel is not about us, it’s about Him.  Repentance is the response to the good news.”

Those things are true and they need saying at some point.  But in most cases I’ve responded with a question of my own.  Roughly speaking I’ve asked “Since 321 presents humanity as lost in Adam with no spiritual life in ourselves and no ability to produce life… and since the new life is presented as coming entirely from beyond us in Jesus… and since the new life of Jesus is presented as an all-embracing, marriage-like oneness with Jesus… what does the command to “be one with Jesus” lack which using the word “repent” would add?”

I’ve asked that kind of question many times but I’ve not yet received an answer.  So let me ask it more generally…

If we proclaim the renunciation of self in Adam and the receiving of new life in Christ, what more do we want in our definition of repentance?

I know that no-one in these discussions wants to question salvation by “faith alone.” But I do fear that – in wanting something more – ‘faith alone’ is exactly what’s in jeopardy.

In some evangelistic presentations I see a desire to present salvation as a discrete series of steps.  There tend to be a sling of synonyms made into stages.  The unbeliever is told to confess and profess and turn and surrender and trust and repent and submit and admit and believe and commit and do.  It’s not the seven sacraments of the Catholic Church.  It’s more stream-lined than that.  And it’s about internal, mental hoops to jump through.  But still, so often it’s a system we offer to people rather than the simplicity of offering the Son.

Have you ever heard a “close the deal” evangelistic talk in which Jesus Himself is not presented or offered? Perhaps the preacher has simply piled up illustration upon illustration – “There’s a line… cross the line.  Jesus has given you a cheque… bank the cheque.  In the Matrix there’s a red pill and a blue pill… which pill will you take?” What might begin as a call to “simply trust Jesus” becomes an exhortation to adopt this attitude or that, this resolution or that, and then…  Well the thing is, when repentance is this discrete thing then the sinner who repents is only really left with their discrete repentance.  They’ve “made the step”, or whatever, but they’re in great danger of leaving the meeting with a resolution not a redeemer.

All of which is to say – Offer Christ.  The new life is in Him.  And if a non-Christian hears this offer and says “I’m not sure I have it in me to repent”, tell them:

“You definitely don’t have it in you. But God has given it to you in Jesus. Have Him!”

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This is part of a series exploring the interaction of 321 and the four events which more commonly organise an evangelistic presentation.  We’ve had

—  321 and Creation

—  321 and Fall

—  321 and Redemption

Now we’ll consider 321 and Repentance.

You’ll notice that I’m not considering Creation, Fall, Redemption and Consummation.  More properly those are the four gospel events – all four resting in God’s hands.  I’m considering “repentance” rather  than “consummation” simply because the evangelistic presentations with which we’re familiar tend to finish with our work not God’s.  And perhaps that’s significant!  We’ll see.

Today we’ll examine repentance according to 3, 2 and 1.  Tomorrow we’ll draw out some implications…

How does 3 shape our understanding of repentance?

Trinity means that God is Giver (see here).  Therefore the Fall is a failure to receive from the giving God (see here).  What then will repentance involve?  Well it can’t involve a summoning up of religious resolve!  It can’t be the determination of the sinner to “get serious” and start making up the missed payments.  That kind of self-will is virtually the essence of sin!

No, repentance with the triune God means receiving the gift of the Son.  The Father has given Christ to the world (John 3:16).  The new life is not in us – it’s in Jesus (1 John 5:11).  Repentance – the new life we must have – is a gift of the Father, present in the Son, offered by the Spirit (Acts 5:31; Acts 11:18; 2 Timothy 2:25).

How does 2 shape our understanding of repentance?

Adam cannot repent.  Adam can only perish.  This is a vital point to grasp and Edward Fisher in The Marrow of Modern Divinity expressed it well in dialogue form:

— I conceive that repentance consists in a man’s humbling himself before God, and sorrowing and grieving for offending him by his sins, and in turning from them all to the Lord.

— And would you have a man to do all this truly before he come to Christ by believing?

— Yea, indeed, I think it is very meet he should.

Why, then, I tell you truly, you would have him to do that which is impossible.

According to Paul, the unbeliever is dead in transgressions and sins and bound to Satan (Eph 2:1-3).  No exercise of moral or religious effort can deliver such a person (Phil 3:1-9).  The law, even the law of God, is powerless to save (Rom 3:20; 8:3).  And so the unbeliever is sunk in sin and flesh, bound to Satan, under the law’s condemnation, without hope and without God in the world (Eph 2:12).  There is nothing within the unbeliever that will help them.  Asking Adam to repent is like asking a corpse to ‘get fit’.  There needs to be a new life.  But the unbeliever is in no position to summon it.

How does 1 shape our understanding of repentance?

When I married my wife, “single Glen” died.  That old existence was put to death in our covenant union.  In this sense “old Glen” did not contribute to the marriage, “old Glen” was killed by the marriage.  I became new in one-ness with my wife.  And this newness was a radical, all-of-life revolution.  Nothing remained the same.  Every aspect of my life had to be rethought according to my married identity.  But I didn’t earn any of this.  It was all a gift that came part-and-parcel with the marriage.

In the same way, sinners are offered covenant union with Christ.  In this oneness they are killed and given a new existence.  Everything is different.  Nothing remains untouched by this unbreakable oneness.  The sinner does not (and cannot) earn it.  But in Jesus there is, suddenly, a new creation, the old has gone, the new has come (2 Corinthians 5:17).

So then, what kind of “repentance” does 321 preach?

Let me break it down into some propositions that I tweeted earlier in the year:

  • Adam cannot repent. Adam can only perish.
  • True repentance must be done to us (as faith is done to us) since the greatest sin is to imagine that we can ‘do penance.’
  • There cannot be impenitent faith (if it’s true faith) or unbelieving repentance (if it’s true repentance).
  • Repentance and faith are not two separate stages of salvation. They are two sides of the same coin. But note – this is a coin God gives to us!
  • Repentance is given to us because Christ is given to us – and that’s the direction of travel, from Him to us.
  • We do not offer repentance to God as our part of the bargain. We’re summoned to repentance in the gospel because this is the life of faith.

And as we offer Christ, we tell the unbeliever exactly what a life of one-ness will look like with Jesus.  Just as ‘marriage prep’ unveils the good and the bad of the union on offer, so we prepare people for the radical, total-life-change which Jesus brings.  But at the end of the day we offer Christ.  And we say as Spurgeon did:

Do not attempt to touch yourself up and make yourself something other than you really are, but come as you are to Him who justifies the ungodly. …The Gospel will receive you into its halls if you come as a sinner, not otherwise. Wait not for reformation, but come at once for salvation. God justifieth the ungodly, and that takes you up where you now are; it meets you in your worst estate. Come in your disorder. I mean, come to your heavenly Father in all your sin and sinfulness. Come to Jesus just as you are: filthy, naked, neither fit to live nor fit to die. Come, you that are the very sweepings of creation; come, though you hardly dare to hope for anything but death. Come, though despair is brooding over you, pressing upon your bosom like a horrible nightmare. Come and ask the Lord to justify another ungodly one. (From “Justification of the Ungodly” by C.H. Spurgeon.  A sermon on Romans 4:5 – found in “All of Grace“)

For more on preaching repentance in evangelism, see this paper I wrote a few years ago.

And stay tuned for part two where we’ll tease out some more implications…

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Happy Blogday to Me

Nearly 2000 posts.

Over 10 000 comments.

Close to a million words.

Almost a million hits.

And if you’re googling “Trinity sermons”, “Adjectives for God” or “Santa is Anti-Christ”, I’m your blog!

5 years ago life was pretty tough. Emma wasn’t quite at her worst but she was far from her best. Blogging was a way of ministering (and being ministered to) when life was hugely constrained.

It’s continued to be a blessing in my life, and now in Emma’s.  And, praise God, I don’t think either of us would or could be doing what we’re doing without the platform it’s provided.  I’m usually very blasé about blogging, but looking back it’s been very significant.

Thank you to you guys for making it so enjoyable.  I always say the commenters are the best thing about blogging and I mean it.  Bless you!

For old times’ sake, here’s my first ever post: The Cruciform God.

And if you’re interested, here’s an interview I did at the start of the year about my hows and whys of blogging…

1. How did you get into blogging?
I got into blogging the way Aaron got into idolatry.   I just clicked some buttons at WordPress and “out came this blog.”   I wasn’t thinking about a long-term ministry at all.   At the time I’d been pestering Bobby Grow with lengthy comments and he suggested that I rant on my own site rather than everyone else’s.   Of course he didn’t say it like that, but I got the message.

This was four years ago when my wife was quite ill.   I think the Lord was kind in giving me an outlet and a ministry beyond the home when I wasn’t always able to get out.   The examples of Charles Wesley and BB Warfield have inspired me in this.   Both their wives struggled with illness and yet actually, as they cared for their wives, the Lord opened up incredible ministries for them where they were.   On a vastly smaller scale I’ve seen the Lord do something similar through blogging.

My first and main blog has been Christ the Truth.   But last year I also blogged at The King’s English which was my attempt at a daily devotional based on King James phrases.

2. Why do you blog? What is, if you like your ‘Mission Statement’ as a blogger?
Some people have an irenic tone and serpentine wisdom.   I have a nasal tone and bark like a dog.   Blogging suits me like that.  I’ve had the same strap-line since the beginning and it really has been the conviction that’s driven me: “Jesus is the Word of God.”  My mission is to keep that thought uppermost in all our minds – my own included.   It’s so easy to drift into a deistic view of God, a mechanical view of salvation, a moralistic view of the Christian life – even within evangelical circles.   I’m always trying to think about what it would mean if Jesus Himself defined God and salvation and daily living.   It should be unthinkable to even imagine Christ-less conceptions of these truths… and yet I encounter them all the time.   In myself and in others.   My blogging is a faltering and feeble attempt to shout “JESUS” on a website.

3. What do you see as the strategic benefits of Christian blogging?
Maybe it’s just me, but some of my deepest theological convictions have been shaped by a single conversation – even a single phrase.   Perhaps that exposes me as shallow!   But I think it’s easy to poo-poo blogs as a poor substitute for books and journals.   And in many ways they are.   But we’re not always shaped by digesting lengthy treatises.   We can be changed profoundly by deep truths, simply put. I hope that my blogging is a drip-drip of gospel thinking that – cumulatively, or even as a one-off – can open eyes to the glory of Christ.

4. What are some of the problems and weaknesses you see as you survey the Christian blogging scene?
I wish there was more theological wrestling on Christian blogs.   Too many sites strike me as theology-lite pastoral epistles – full of ministry philosophy and best practice.   But where’s the meaty discussions of doctrine of God and christology, etc?   I guess it’s a reflection of a broader evangelical anaemia.  But I often find more substantial Jesus-shaped theology on non-evangelical blogs.   Maybe I’m missing all the great evangelical sites though, I don’t really keep up with ‘the scene’.

5. Is there a gap in the scene; an area of Christian life or ministry that is not being adequately addressed?
I’m going to sound petty or ranty or both but… I think the way that question is framed is part of the problem!   If you ask me, “Christian life and ministry” is not where the “gap in the scene” lies.   There’s all too much about Christian life and ministry.   All the while, radical Christ-centred reflections on God and the gospel are thin on the ground.   More of those please.

6. What advice would you give to someone considering starting blogging?

There’s loads of good advice out there but one thing I’d highlight is to love and serve your commenters.   It’s fantastic to interact with people from all over the world and to get to know them in a bloggy kind of way. So   answer questions, take their points seriously and try to write in a way that opens up discussion rather than shuts it down.   I’m not very good at any of that.   And with time pressures I’m becoming even worse.   But interact with your commenters – that’s my big tip.   It’s the most fun aspect of blogging and if you’re not going to do it – don’t open comments!

7. What are your favourite 5 Christian blogs?

My wife’s blog is gob-smackingly good.   Not just saying that: A New Name

Theology Network is the very best antidote to the evangelical anaemia mentioned above.

The 48 Files by Dave Kirkman is a proper blog – doctrinal, pastoral, deeply gospel-ly

Peter Leithart will always provoke thought and take you deeper into Scripture and trinitarian reflection.

Dan Hames is blogging rich, trinitarian, Christ-centred fare at High Over All.

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I received my copy in the post on Saturday and spent a very enjoyable half an hour pouring over Jason’s “graphic guide to the life of Jesus.”  The book takes you from the birth of Jesus through His encounters with the religious, the irreligious, sin, sickness, storms, Satan and death.  It finishes with an offer of Christ.

The best thing about the book is the towering, constant, kind presence of Jesus.  On every page He topples our oppressors and lifts up the bowed down.  There’s something about the boldness of a comic format that can uniquely portray the “heroic” to Jesus.  And when we turn to the cross – ah – glory!  Very moving indeed.

In the words of the publisher, here’s a book for “non-booky people of all ages… particularly teenagers and students. Faithful, fun and imaginative, it gives a fresh, innovative twist to the greatest story ever told. Great for giving away at evangelistic events or as a gift.”

Get it here!

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Purchase these quarterly devotionals in time for 2013.

And coming very soon – an all-year version.  365 readings in one volume – a great Christmas gift.

Stay tuned for more details.

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Just guest-blogged on A New Name.  Here’s the opening…

Picture an evangelist.  What are you imagining?  Perhaps a motor-mouth with the enthusiasm of a labrador pup, the skin of a rhinoceros’s hide, the social skills of a barge pole and the patter of a “Phones 4 U” sales rep.

Now picture a pastoral carer.  What are the images now?  Surely it’s endless cups of tea, frowns of concern, shoulders squeezed and pained benedictions: “Aw bless” they say with an empathy perilously close to patronising.

In the popular Christian imagination, these are two different species.  One of them we’re very happy to send off to “The Mission Field.”  Then, with the wild-eyed enthusiasts out of the way, the pastoral people can settle down to their head-cocked expressions of condolence.  And never the twain shall meet, right?

Read the whole thing…

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Happy Friday

Here’s a diverting half an hour from Tarvu.com.  This is how we look to the world people.  Enjoy!

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What do I know but…

CALVIN:  Above all we must recognize that God stoops to reveal Himself.

BARTH:  Above all we must recognize that God stoops to reveal Himself.

CALVIN:  No but it’s a stooping revelation.

BARTH:  Yes but it’s a stooping revelation.

CALVIN:  But what we see is God in His condescension.

BARTH:  Amen!  We see God in His condescension.

CALVIN:  But we can’t know God except that He accommodates Himself to us.

BARTH:  Yes but we do know God as the One who accommodates Himself to us.

CALVIN:  In all humility we cannot presume to know God apart from His condescension.

BARTH:  In all humility we cannot presume that God is any other than the One who condescends.

CALVIN:  No but when He condescends He clothes Himself in a character foreign to Himself. (see here or here)

BARTH:  … And how do we know that it’s foreign to Himself?

.

By the way, I love em both.  I love Calvin when he sounds like Barth and Barth when he sounds like Calvin.  But on this issue – if I’ve understood them both (which I may not have!) – I’m with Karl.

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From Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn: The Gulag Archipelago

If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?

From Philip Roth The Human Stain:

“It is in everyone…Inherent. Defining. The stain is there before its mark. Without the sign it is there. The stain so intrinsic that it doesn’t require a mark. The stain that precedes disobedience, that encompasses disobedience and perplexes all explanation and understanding. It’s why all the cleansing is a joke. A barbaric joke at that. The fantasy purity is appalling. It’s insane. What is the quest to purify, if not more impurity?”
From the Minnesota Crime Commission, 1926:

“Every baby starts life as a little savage. He is completely selfish and self-centered. He wants what he wants when he wants it — his bottle, his mother’s attention, his playmate’s toy, his uncle’s watch. Deny him these wants, and he seethes with rage and aggressiveness, which would be murderous, were he not so helpless. He is dirty. He has no morals, no knowledge, no skills. This means that all children, not just certain children, are born delinquent. If permitted to continue in the self-centered world of his infancy, given free reign to his impulsive actions to satisfy his wants, every child would grow up a criminal, a thief, a killer, a rapist.”

Miroslav Volf, from Exclusion and Embrace:

‎”Forgiveness flounders when we exclude our enemies from the community of humans and when we exclude ourselves from the community of sinners.”

Russell Brand (thanks Simon)

“All addictions comes from the same root – an inability to cope with some sense of longing and yearning – whether chocolate, sex or drugs… I would say ultimately all addiction comes from the same root… We all have a yearning… All desire is the inappropriate substitute for the ultimate desire to be at one with God.”

Do you have some quotes? Share the wealth in the comments…

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Some more of those tweets

Today’s not the 1st day of the week. It’s the day after you’ve received a massive Raise and a stunning Promotion.   #EnjoyYourWeek

“We live in an age in which everything is permitted and nothing is forgiven.” Rev Alan Jones

The Spirit is a deposit, guaranteeing your full redemption. And God aint gonna lose His deposit. #EnjoyYourDay

‘The Christological interpretation of the OT is the claim that the OT is ‘cruciform’ in its theology and is Not a theology of glory.’ Forde

Your Aaron has entered the Holy Place, bearing your name over his heart as a continuing memorial before the LORD. Exodus 28:29 #EnjoyYourDay

There’s a realm of forgiveness and a realm of consequences. Aka grace and law. Aka heaven and hell.

Remember on Reformation Day: The fight’s not ‘Our faith vs Our works.’ It’s ‘Christ alone vs Us (a bit)’. His work &faithfulness alone saves

For Reformation Day read @mike_reeves “We are not saved by grace”  If we believed it we might have another reformation!

Another for Reformation Day: Why we must seek Christ and not “faith” – John Wesley’s experience:

Last 2 Reformation Day articles : Matt Jenson’s “Faith is nothing” And my “Faith is not a thing

Just seen three Christians approvingly tweet Aristotle: “You are what you repeatedly do.” And on Reformation Day! #NeedAnotherOne!

“Should Aristotle not have been a man of flesh and blood, I would not hesitate to assert that he was the Devil himself.” Luther #Reformation

Nothing a resurrection won’t fix. #EnjoyYourDay

The old self is “corrupted by deceitful desires” (Eph 4:22). What do you Want? What lies does it promise you? How is it corrupting you?

The new self is given to you (Eph 4:24). It’s God-like in righteousness and holiness. That’s cos you’re clothed in Christ.

Jesus = salvation, grace, faith, assurance, election, atonement, Israel, eternal life. Divorce Him from any of these = Big Problems.

Did the sun come up this morning? Then God’s not going to break His covenant with your Royal Priest (Jer 33:14-22) #EnjoyYourDay

Ever heard some1 say “We’ve either got our message or our methods wrong. It’s Not our message, it Must be our methods”? #CouldntDisagreeMore

Unbeliever: I’m not sure I have it in me to repent. Evangelist: You Definitely don’t have it in u. But God’s given it 2u in Jesus. Have Him!

My future inheritance = Grandpa’s stamp collection. Oh, and the universe. Oh, and GOD! Yes GOD! (Romans 8:17) #EnjoyYourDay

We’ve already sent our Man to the seat of power. Just, Gentle, Wiser than Solomon, Beyond reproach and ONE OF US! #EnjoyYourDay

Salvation is not a matching fund and the cross was not Jesus’ voluntary contribution. He purchased us. In full. Forever.

My GP’s told me to rest my voice for 3 days. Emma’s just sent her a thank you note.

Evangelism in an internet age: a friend shared 321 with a mate. They chatted online. Next day he changed his facebook profile to Christian.

 

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“For you little child…”

This gets me every time.  From a French Reformed Baptismal Liturgy:

“For you, little child,
Jesus Christ has come, he has fought, he has suffered.
For you he entered the shadow of Gethsemane and the
horror of Calvary.
For you he uttered the cry, ‘It is finished!’
For you he rose from the dead
and ascended into heaven
and there he intercedes —
for you, little child, even though you do not know it.
But in this way the word of the Gospel becomes true.”
“We love him, because he first loved us.”

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Click for source: Mormon Website

I’ve been thinking about the three doctrines of 321 and how they interact with the four events of more traditional gospel outlines.  Previously I’ve discussed Creation and Fall.  Now we’ll look at Christ’s work of redemption.

How does 3 shape our understanding of Christ’s redemption

I don’t think I know any gospel outlines that begin with the Trinity.  (If you know of any, please tell me).  But if a presentation does not have the Son of God “in the beginning” it’s going to be awkward to crow-bar him in later.

How will Jesus be introduced as anything greater than a Prophet in a scheme that does not begin with His divine glory.  Instead, the introduction of Jesus into gospel explanations can only befuddle the non-Christian who is prone to ask “Who is this guy?  What’s he got to do with this creation and fall business you’ve been speaking of?”

In so many schemes Jesus comes late to fix a problem he’s not been involved with.  This has massive implications for the presentation of his Person – does he really come across as fully God?  And it hugely affects the presentation of his work – he looks for all the world like an innocent third party interposed into the God – man dilemma.

John Stott saw the desperate need for a trinitarian framing of the cross when he wrote:

At the root of every caricature of the cross there lies a distorted Christology…  In particular, it is essential to affirm that the love, the holiness and the will of the Father are identical to the love, the holiness and the will of the Son. God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself. (The Cross of Christ)

The doctrine of penal substitution – which I both affirm and love – has been attacked in recent years.  But the version of it that has aroused such scorn has often been the non-trinitarian caricature which Stott wrote against.  If we’re going to uphold the glory of the cross we must put it in its proper trinitarian context.

How does 2 shape our understanding of Christ’s work of redemption?

Why did Christ have to become a man?  Why couldn’t the Son have incarnated as a literal Lamb?  Or why couldn’t God have “zapped” the wooden cross, rather than his Son?  If redemption is simply about the just justification of sinners in the punishment of the Son – why does Jesus become our Brother?  Couldn’t God’s wrath have been poured out on a non-incarnate Son?

No, no, no!  The Son takes our flesh because he’s entering into our plight and transforming it from the inside.  As many church fathers have put it: He became what we are, so that we might become what he is.  Redemption is not simply the balancing of the punishment books.  It’s about our Maker summing up his creation in himself – taking responsibility for it.  His penal substitutionary death is absolutely vital.  On the cross he is “carrying the can” for his handiwork.  But that act is comprehended within a vast work of creation and redemption – moving humanity (and in humanity, the cosmos) through death and curse to life and glory.

Of course the Son had to become Man.  Man rules the world.  Adam – the pattern of the Coming One (Rom 5:14) – stood over creation, ruling and blessing it.  Through the fall, he failed and cursed it.  Christ comes to wrest humanity (and in humanity, the world) back to God.  In his resurrection, he takes us through death and into an immortal physical glory.  This is the cosmic dimension to salvation which will always be missed when we construe the gospel as, simply, the answer to ‘my sin’.  ‘Adam and Christ’ vitally connects Jesus’ work to this flesh and this world.  Without it, as Paul argues in 1 Corinthians 15, we have no gospel.

How does 1 shape our understanding of Christ’s work of redemption?

So 3 assures me that Jesus is God. 2 assures me that Jesus is Man. But you might well think – so what?  I’m still left on the outside of all this.  And at this point two questions become vital to ask and answer:

1) How do I benefit from the Person and work of Jesus?

2) What do I do once I have appropriated Christ’s salvation?

In answer to the first question, many gospel presentations put the task firmly into the sinner’s hands.  Jesus has “cleared the path” through his death and resurrection, now the sinner must “take the step of faith” and come to God.  The appropriation of Christ’s benefits happens through “the sinner’s prayer” in which we ask for – and God zaps into our account – forgiveness, righteousness, the Spirit and eternal life.  Jesus does not really mediate these benefits, he only pays for them.  And this leads to a problem in answering that second question: What now?

Now that I’ve stepped across Jesus – “the bridge” – what is the Christian life?  I’ve got forgiveness and eternal life, so how will the evangelist tell me to continue?  Probably they’ll tell me to go to church, read my bible, pray, try hard not to sin and hold on tight till heaven.  To which I’m liable to say “Why??!  What connection does any of that have to what you’ve described in your sales pitch?!”

But no.  We benefit from the Person and work of Christ because he is given to us in marriage union.  All that is mine is his – he takes my sin and shame and covers over it.  All that is his is mine – he gives me his status, his inheritance, his family connections.  Best of all he gives me himself.  And this is the Christian life: belonging to Jesus and he to me.

So of course the Christian now belongs to his body, of course they listen to him (in the bible) and speak to him (in prayer).  It’s all organically related to Jesus himself.  That’s a salvation – and a salvation message – that makes sense.

But without Trinity, Adam and Christ and union with Christ, the very heart of the gospel – Christ and his work – will be radically misunderstood.

 

 

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At Transformission Mike Reeves spoke of life “in the flesh” and “the spirit of slavery” that dominates those who are in Adam.

When you think of the realm of “the flesh” (or the “sinful nature” – NIV), what do you imagine?  So often our minds run to ‘the naughty things’.  Gross disobedience.  Licentious living.

That might be an outworking of the flesh.  But in Romans 8:15, Paul charactierizes life in the flesh as bound by a spirit of slavery.  This spirit is contrasted with the Spirit of adoption.  It’s whatever is opposed to our gracious adoption by a generous Father.  Similarly in Galatians 4, Paul makes the contrast between slaves and sons and the slavery is all about bondage “under the law”.  In Philippians 3 the horrific evil of “those dogs” – the circumcision sect – is that, through their legalism, they were “putting confidence in the flesh.” (Philippians 3:1-11).

Life in the flesh might be about sex.  But – even worse – it might be about circumcision!  Vain self-confidence can be found in the party animal.  But how much more can such vanity exist in the champion of temperance.  And with the added stench of self-righteousness!

We can be distracted from much bigger battles when our struggles with “the flesh” merely focus on “bad behaviours.”  As John Gerstner has said: “The thing that really separates us from God is not so much our sin, but our damnable good works.”

The devilish thing about religious carnality is that it doesn’t appear to us as carnality.  Instead the “spirit of slavery” makes us toil away at our “damnable good works”.  And just as the licentious sinner gets less and less of a kick out of their drug of choice, so the self-righteous prude finds less and less goodness to take pride in.

Take the example of 18th century moralist Samuel Johnson.  At Transformission, Mike read to us from his prayer journals.  Each entry is a window onto life “in the flesh.”  Here is the diary of a carnal man:

September 18, 1738 – Oh lord, enable me by your Grace to redeem the time which I have spent in sloth, vanity and wickedness, to lead a new life in your faith, fear and love; and finally to obtain everlasting life.

1757 – Almighty God, enable me, from this instant, to amend my life that I may not finally lose the things eternal.

1759 – enable me to shake off idleness and sloth

1761 – I have resolved till I am afraid to resolve again. Yet, hoping in God, I steadfastly purpose to lead a new life.

1764 – I have made no reformation; I have lived totally useless, more sensual in thoughts, and more addicted to wine and meat. Grant me, O God, to amend my life. My purposes, from this time, to avoid idleness. To rise early. To read the Scriptures.

A few months later: I have now spent 55 years in resolving; O God, Grant me to resolve aright, and to keep my resolutions. I resolve to rise early, not later than six if I can.

1765 – I purpose to rise at eight, Because though I shall not rise early, it will be much earlier than I now rise, for I often lie till two.

1775. When I look back upon resolutions of improvement, Which have year after year been made and broken, Why do I try to resolve again? I try, because reformation is necessary. I try, in hope of the help of God.

It is pitiable, laughable and tragic.  This is what “the spirit of slavery” does to a person.  And it is every bit as fleshly as the debauched hedonist.  Only Christ can save.

Listen to Mike’s excellent talks here.

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Paul Blackham’s Men’s Weekend Talks for City Evangelical Church, Leeds:
Beginning With Jesus

Talk 1

Talk 2

Talk 3

Talk 4

Talk 5

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Mike Reeves:
The Difference Jesus makes…

To your view of God

To your self esteem

To your prayer

To the hard times

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Ben Myers
John’s Gospel.

Go here and download the row of files second from bottom

1. The Word Made Flesh (John 1)
2. The Coming of the Light (John 9)
3. The Triumph of Life (John 11)
4. The Doorway to Eternity (John 17)
5. The Way of Discipleship (John 21)

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A recent LTS conference:
The importance of Adam in the Bible, the Church and the World:

Introduction:  Garry Williams

Session 1: David Green: Adam in the Old Testament

Session 2: Lane Tipton: Adam in the New Testament

Session 3: Lane Tipton: Adam and Christ in Systematic Theology

Session 4: Stephen Lloyd: Adam, Where art thou?’

Session 5: Garry Williams: Adam in the Covenant of Works

Session 6: Steve Jeffery: Original Sin: Unbiblical, Unjust and Unreasonable?

Session 7: Michael McClenahanPreaching Adam to Adam’s Race

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Happy Friday

Kids = human nature in concentrate:

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James 2:14-26

As a teenager I approached a minister, full of doubts and struggles and a thousand misunderstandings.  My question was, Why doesn’t God seem to accept me?  I’ve prayed the prayer a thousand times, why does heaven seem to be silent?

He told me that I shouldn’t worry about whether I was accepted, I just needed to get on and really live the Christian life.

So I went off and tried that (or at least what I imagined the Christian life to be).  And I failed even by my own standards.  And, despondently, I slinked off from Christian things for a good few years.

What kind of faith did I have at that time?  I’d have probably articulated the gospel as something like:  God’s big.  You’re small.  Behave.

I didn’t have gospel faith.  I had demon faith (v19).  I believed God was one.  I believed Jesus was God’s Son.  But little more.

Now what would James counsel at this point?  Is James chapter 2 the encouragement to add good works to such rudimentary faith?  Is he exhorting those with demon faith to top up their merit levels until they hit salvific proportions?

No.  James is discussing the kind of faith that saves .  In v14 the word “such” (or “that” in ESV) is important.  James is not making a calculation: Demon faith plus good deeds equals salvation!  Instead this is about discerning what kind of faith is true saving faith.

And the answer is – true saving faith is the kind of faith that’s always being fulfilled in active service.  In other words, saving faith (Genesis 15 style) always leads to obedience (Genesis 22 style).

So what should that minister have said to me?  I wish he’d said this:

“Glen, I don’t think you really know the gospel.  I don’t think you could have the slightest understanding of Christ for you while harbouring these doubts.  I don’t think the kind of faith you have is really the active, life-giving, always-leading-to-loving-service kind of faith.  So let me tell you the gospel again, and drive it home to you until assured, authentic, vital faith is birthed in you.  Let me preach the gospel of faith alone to you once more, knowing that the faith that saves will never be alone.  Let me overwhelm you with the promise (Genesis 15) and then you’ll bear fruit in obedience (Genesis 22).”

I think that’s the approach to a dead faith: preach faith alone.  And I think it’s completely mandated by James chapter 2.

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