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siftedThese are stunning verses from the night before Jesus’ death:

‘Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift all of you as wheat. But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.’ (Luke 22:31-32)

Notice these 10 contrasts:

  • Satan makes a fearful proposal. Jesus gives a fearful permission.
  • Satan treats Simon like an inanimate object. Jesus calls Simon by name – three times in one sentence.
  • Satan is ruthless with Simon. Jesus is personal.
  • Satan sifts Simon before the world. Jesus lifts Simon before the Father.
  • Satan is weaker than Jesus but Simon is weaker than Satan.
  • Simon thinks of himself as iron for Jesus (see v32). Jesus doesn’t call him Peter (‘Rock’), He considers Simon to be as ‘flaky’ as wheat.
  • Simon thinks his resolve will motivate his brothers (v32), Jesus knows it will be his weakness that strengthens his brothers (v31).
  • Jesus prays for Simon, but His support will include the need for Simon to turn back.
  • While Jesus prays for Simon’s faith not to fail. Simon fails big time.
  • It’s not Simon who “fail’s not”, it’s Jesus’ prayer.
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faith

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(55 mins!)

Statements people make about faith:

“I wish I had your faith”

“As you know I could never share your faith”

“Faith is believing something you know isn’t real.”

“You just got to have faith.”

John 1:10-13 – Faith is recognizing and receiving

John 2:11 – Faith is responding to the glory of Jesus

Dutiful Derek

Derek’s Father says: “We’re going to visit the Grand Canyon and you’ll be awestruck!”

Derek says: “Do I have to be awestruck??”

Derek’s Father says: “One day you’ll meet a girl and you’ll fall in love?”

Derek says: “Do I have to fall in love?”

Derek’s Father says: We’re going to church to hear about the glory of Jesus and we’ll believe in Jesus.

Derek says: “Do I have to believe in Jesus?”

That’s a funny question isn’t it?

Faith is like being awestruck or falling in love – it must happen if you’re recognizing the glory of Christ!

John 3:13-16 – Faith is looking away from self to Jesus (cf Brazen Serpent)

John 20:24-31 – Faith is meeting the risen Jesus

The Christian life is a life of continuing faith

Through the Bible.

Faith is not something in me that I need to drum up

Faith is not a leap into the dark – it’s stepping into the light

In fact it’s being in the dark and having someone switch the light on

Faith is not a hoop you have to jump through to get something else: salvation

Galatians 2:17-3:5

Faith is receiving Jesus – it’s a life-long love affair.

Galatians 5:6

It begins by being passive with God and bears fruit in love for others

1 Samuel 17       

Faithless, fearful Israel are saved by their Faithful, Fearless King.

Their unbelief turns to faith when they see His victory: they shout and advance

Every day we need to same: to look to our Champion, to shout and advance.

The life of faith is a continual looking to Christ.

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Taken from Mike’s series on justification here.

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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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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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