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Archive for the ‘grace’ Category

two-boys-workingThere is a slavery on the near side of sonship.  (Galatians 4:7)

And there is a slavery on the far side of sonship.  (Galatians 1:10)

On the near side it’s death.

On the far side it’s life.

On the near side it’s flesh.

On the far side it’s Spirit.

On the near side it’s your righteousness on show.

On the far side it’s Christ’s righteousness in you.

On the near side you don’t know who you are without it, so you step it up.

On the far side you do know who you are without it, and you keep in step.

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There is no way from slavery to sonship.

And there’s no way to true slavery except sonship.

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All of which means…

We must refuse to be slaves ascending to higher degrees of slavery.

We must look away from any schemes of progressive slavery.

We must proclaim sonship.

And not because we’re not into works.

If we want true works, we must strip away works.

We must be left bare in the presence of God with nothing but Christ for our justification.

We must know who we are without our works – sinners clothed in Christ.

We must know our sonship not in ourselves but in the Son.  This means by grace alone.

Having contributed nothing, we belong entirely.

And now, in Him, we can do no other than gladly take our place in the Father’s business.

But it is the Father’s business.

The only gateway to true work is sonship.

The only Gate is the Son.

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faith

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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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cartmanThis follows on from my series “Why be good?

Kath has been writing about obedience and asking what’s helpful in seeking to love an obedient life.  It’s a good question, because people in the Bible seem pretty thrilled by the idea. The Psalmist sees the law as eminently loveable (Psalm 119:97), Paul calls it “holy, righteous and good” (Romans 7:12). Jude, Peter, James and Paul all introduce themselves as “Slaves of Christ” in their letters.  They love obedience!  They have seen an awesomely attractive vision of life and they’ve submitted themselves to it with joyful abandon.

We don’t like obedience – as a rule. (If it were a suggestion, we’d be much more amenable).

Why don’t we like it?

  1. We’re not any good at it. I’m always inclined to hate something I’m bad at. (I’m afraid there’s no real solution to this one – we’ll always be really bad at obedience.  All of us.  Until we die. But it’s we who are bad, not the law).
  2. Obedience feels like it’s taking us away from the good life. We imagine that God has set up an arbitrary set of hoops for us to jump through. We imagine he’s not really interested in goodness, in justice, in flourishing, in cosmic shalom.  We fear that he just sets little tests for the world in order to sort out the pious wheat from the irreligious chaff.  It rarely occurs to us that God has laid out “The Good Life” for us.  We consider it to be merely “The Hard Life.”
  3. Law sounds like the opposite of love. Somehow someone convinced us that law and love are on opposite sides of an unbridgeable chasm.  They must have had their bibles firmly shut at that point because law and love go together everywhere you look in Scripture. But, according to the caricature, over there are law people obsessing over irrelevant duties, but over here, we’re just liberated lovers, leading with our big, warm hearts. In this world, the word obedience definitely belongs over there. But notice too – in this world, both sides of the supposed chasm are far from self-forgetful gospel faith.
  4. Works seem like the opposite of faith (rather than the fruit). In our minds, we set up the difference between gospel faith and legalistic religion like this: YOU are faithlessly busy.  I am trustingly inactive.  God prefers my internal “faith” to your external “works”.  Notice though, that this understanding is actually Christless – it makes me the Saviour, through my cognitive contribution.  But the gospel is that we’re saved in spite of our inactivity and in spite of our busyness – we’re saved by Christ. It’s not really our faith that saves us (as though God prefers internal mental assent to external physical acts!) It’s Christ who saves us and sets us on our feet as children of the same heavenly Father.  Now that we’re in the family, how could obedience be a dirty word?  All of a sudden obedience makes sense.
  5. Obeying God seems besides the point, perhaps even Pharasaical. If, in the gospel, my goodness is irrelevant to my standing with God, we very quickly ask the question “Why be good?”  We rarely round on the question and ask an equally incredulous: “Why on earth be bad??” (We don’t react that way because we’ve bought into lie no. 2 – we think that badness is a kind of delightful naughtiness). Positively speaking, it rarely occurs to us to answer the “Why be good?” question with an emphatic: “Because goodness is good!”  Or “Because Father knows best”.  Or “Because the life of Christ works through us!”  Or “Because there’s a world out there to bless!”

Once the incentive of heavenly reward is absent we seem to lose whatever interest in obedience we might have had.  But that’s not a sign that we’re too focused on the gospel.  The very opposite – it’s a sign that we haven’t allowed the gospel to properly re-calibrate our thinking.

It’s the legalist who sees obedience as an arbitrary set of hoops to jump through.  Legalists are like the older brother of Luke 15 – happy to prove themselves by jumping through the hoops. The licentious are like the younger brother of Luke 15 – happy to find themselves by casting such burdens away.  But both of them completely misunderstand obedience.  We should think of obedience as one way – a beautifully attractive way – of characterizing ‘the father’s house.’  Yes it is a place of love, blessing, security, celebration, joy, mercy, peace, etc, etc.  But it’s also a place where the beautiful will of the Father is done.

On this understanding, legalists are like the older son, self-righteous in the field. The licentious are like the younger son, lost in the far-country. The true position is to be a sinner robed, in the father’s household.  But just imagine that younger son, the morning after the feast.  With what eagerness he will serve his father now!  He’ll get it wrong.  He’ll have to learn. But obedience in the father’s house is not a dirty word, it’s the very atmosphere of home.

It’s true that there is a slavery on the near side of sonship and that is spiritual death.  But there’s a slavery on the far side of sonship and it is life and peace.

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Reading Acts 14 and 15 this morning. The interplay of mission, theology and grace really struck me.

Paul and Barnabas go throughout Iconium, Lystra, Derbe, Pisidia, Pamphylia and Perga, preaching “the word of God’s grace” (14:3); “the gospel” (v7); “good news” (v15); “the gospel” (v21); “the word” (v25).  When they return to Antioch they call the church together for a mission report: “they declared all that God had done with them, and how he had opened a door of faith to the Gentiles.” (v27)  Everyone’s thrilled.

But… you knew the next chapter had to begin with a but… “But some men came down from Judea and were teaching the brothers, “Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.”  (Acts 15:1)

Familiar pattern eh?  Good news of great joy is preached to all the people.  But the people of God are the biggest obstacle to the good news.

Paul and Barnabas are incensed and trace the rot right back to Jerusalem.  When they get there some believers of the sect of the Pharisees repeat the heresy “It is necessary to circumcise them and to order them to keep the law of Moses.” (v5)

Here’s my question: How long would these Judaizers have remained preaching their false gospel if it wasn’t for the missionary activity of Paul and Barnabas?  The Gentiles come in and force the Jewish believers to rethink what it means to be saved and belong to God’s people.  It stirs things up.

Now it’s true that once the matter is raised in Jerusalem, the council is quick to denounce this theology as “a yoke on the neck of the disciples that neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear.” (v10)  But before the agitation of missionary activity and new converts, it was a yoke they all seemed to be tolerating.  Legalism had become a comfortable yoke while-ever they remained ‘at home.’

But once the disciples saw the good news spreading and giving life they saw their anti-gospel living in a new light.  When they saw the nations rejoicing in the Lord – even these unwashed Gentiles – they were forced to see the radical simplicity of the Lord’s salvation.  In the light of a life-giving gospel their life-sapping theology was seen for the legalism it had always been.

Here’s an application that springs to mind… the best way to fight slave-making legalism within the church is to preach the life-giving gospel outside the church.  When those who are far from God come in, only the true gospel can cope.  The law can never handle the mess of radical conversions.  Evangelistic churches need to be gracious churches.  In this way theology is refined in the fires of mission.

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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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Check out this explanation of Mormonism.  What’s wrong with this picture?

Too much to mention right?

There’s the teaching of faith as a thing contributing towards salvation.  There’s the classification of Joseph Smith as a prophet. There’s the elevation of personal revelation to a position effectively superior to the Scriptures.  There’s our pre-existence, for goodness sakes!

Now all of these things are troubling and profoundly mistaken.  But there’s something else that towers above those heresies.  It’s their view of Christ.  There He stands – a benevolent well-wisher presiding over our path towards salvation.  This impotent, essentially irrelevant, Christ has been replaced by us.  We are the ones who exist with the Father, who come to earth, pass the test and ascend back to the Father.  We are Christ, working salvation in our own person.  And who is Christ?  An encourager, an example, an empathiser.  But essentially it’s all down to us.

Perhaps it’s easy to spot the errors of Mormonism, but what about our own Christianity?  What is it that makes our gospel any different?  Is Jesus for us the achiever of salvation?  Is He the One who, not only blazes the trail of salvation, but also carries His people with Him back to the Father?  Does Jesus merely make us save-able, or does He save us?  Does He unite Himself to our humanity and bring us on His heart back to God, or does He wish us well from a distance?

We might feel that we have rejected the Mormon gospel because we’ve streamlined the path of salvation.  For us there’s no belief in the prophet Joseph Smith or “the covenant in the house of the Lord” and yet we essentially believe salvation to be a path that we tread. 

Let’s not be reformed Mormons.  Let’s be Christians.  Let’s be those who believe in incarnation – the Lord Himself has come from heaven, taken our flesh, trod the path of salvation and ascended back to the Father.  He is the Way, the Truth and the Life.  And to have Him by faith is to have salvation.

Jesus does not preside over the path to salvation.  He is the path of salvation.  He is its beginning and end.  And we are not those who are on their way – we are in the Way.  That’s true Christianity.  Everything else is a cultish heresy.

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I’ll be using this illustration tonight…

Perhaps some of you remember the 1966 World Cup Final.  Bobby Moore lifting the trophy for England.  You might remember just before that moment.  Moore realizes he’s about to meet the Queen, wearing her immaculate white gloves.  And he realizes, probably for the first time that day, his hands are dirty.  Do you remember him, walking up the steps of Wembley, wiping his hands on his football shirt?  Then he wiped them on the velvet draping before shaking hands with the Queen.

If he wasn’t meeting the Queen he wouldn’t have given two hoots about his hands.  Who cares, he’s just won the world cup.  But in the presence of purity, that’s when his uncleanness mattered.

The King of kings comes to you and offers Himself.  Not just a hand of friendship – both hands nailed to a cross.  Not just to bestow a trophy, but to embrace you and bring you into the life and love of  God!  And maybe you never really thought about it before.  But when you see His outstretched hands, you realize, “My hands are unclean.”  Normally you don’t think about it, but when the King of Love moves towards you, you realize, “I’m not clean.  My heart is not pure. I live in a broken world with a broken heart and a broken life.”  If you don’t feel like that, you don’t really get who Jesus is.  He’s the King! And He’s pure.  And if you don’t realize that your hands are unclean, you don’t know yourself, and you don’t know Jesus.  But if you know Jesus, let me tell you – He wants to embrace you.

Bobby Moore’s efforts to clean himself up didn’t really work.  He just smeared the mud around a bit.  You know what saved the day?  Not Bobby Moore wiping his hands, but the Queen thrusting out her hand.  That was the really significant gesture.  The Queen didn’t flinch from Bobby Moore’s dirty hands and Jesus doesn’t flinch from you.  The Queen got her gloves dirty and welcomed Bobby Moore.  And a billion times more importantly, Jesus got Himself dirty to embrace you.  He opened His arms wide on the cross and He took your sin and shame.  That’s what this King is like.  He’s the King who the dirty run to.  Because through His death He gives us cleansing, forgiveness and a stunning welcome into the very life of God.

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