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Archive for the ‘grace’ Category

How do you think of judgement and salvation?

If you ask me – you shouldn’t think like this:

Judgement&Salvation1

Instead think like this:

Judgement&Salvation2

Or to be a bit more nuanced – like this.

Now I could take this observation in many directions.

Perhaps we could explore its significance for an infra versus supra-lapsarian debate.

Perhaps we could discuss the strong link that some make between penal substitutionary atonement and limited atonement.

We could think about how to preach warnings of judgement (for instance warnings of exile in the OT) given that judgement is a-coming.

But I’m going to take the observation in this direction…

I’m becoming convinced that when Jesus says ‘Take up your cross and follow me’ (Mark 8:34) He’s saying the same thingas Paul when he says ‘I was crucified with Christ and I no longer live’  (Gal 2:20).

Think of some of Jesus’ words:

“Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. 35 For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. 36 And a person’s enemies will be those of his own household. 37 Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. 38 And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. 39 Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.  (Matt 10:34-39)

So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple.  (Luke 14:33)

Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. 25 Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. 26 If anyone serves me, he must follow me; and where I am, there will my servant be also. If anyone serves me, the Father will honor him.  (John 12:24-26)

In the context of Jesus’ own judgement and salvation He tells His followers what it means to come after Him.  It means being caught up in that same path – the only path of life.  Seeds must die to live – so it is with The Seed so it is with themany offspring His death produced.  Judgement then salvation.  To be saved is to die with Jesus – to join Him for an early judgement day and pass through to find true life.

Compare this with some words from Paul:

I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.  (Gal 2:20)

Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4 We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. 5 For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his, etc, etc  (Rom 6:3-5 and following)

But far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.  (Gal 6:14)

Here Paul describes his history as utterly determined by the cross and resurrection of Jesus.  Judgement and salvationhave happened for Paul because he has died and risen with Jesus to new life on the other side of wrath, death, sin, law, old creation.  And (apart from his Adamic flesh that still clings to him) he is utterly dead to the world around him and utterly brought into ‘newness of life’.

Now.  Think of a sermon you’ve heard on the Jesus verses.  And think of a sermon you’ve heard on the Paul verses.  I imagine the tone of those two sermons was quite different.  I imagine that the Jesus sermons spent a lot of time presenting His words as moralistic exhortations and ‘if-then’ conditions before (perhaps) the preacher retracted the force of them and told you not to forget that you’re ‘saved by grace’ (‘grace’ understood along the lines of diagram 1 not diagram 2).   And I imagine the Paul sermon comforted you with the whole ‘union with Christ’, ‘newness of life’ stuff and encouraged you that ‘hey, you really are saved by grace.’ (again, probably ‘grace’ as understood according to diagram 1)

I wonder if the Jesus sermons should sound more like the best of the Paul sermons.  And the Paul sermons should sound like the best of the Jesus sermons.  In other words, Jesus, the Seed, dies and rises on your behalf.  If you are His rejoice that you are created, shaped and defined by this death and resurrection in which you are crucified to the the whole world, and the whole world is crucified to you.  This is your salvation because there simply is no other way to resurrection than through the cross.  ‘Come and die’ is not a fearful condition of life – maybe you’re up to it, maybe not.  It’s the description of how that life comes, wrapped up in the announcement that Jesus really has crucified the world to raise it up new – come on in.

If you are not dead to the world, this might well be a sign that you are not His.  Or that you have wandered far from Him.  So go to Him and take that easy yoke onto your shoulders (Matt 11:28-30).  Be constrained by the death and resurrection of Jesus, for this is salvation.  Or else be wearied and burdened by your own, much heavier yokes which cannot lead youthrough the judgement to come.

But for those who are yoked to Christ, know that you have begun, even now, to live that newness of life.  Even today as we walk together with Jesus, dying to sin and self and the praises and worries of this world, resurrection life is unleashed.  This mystical union with Christ (the best of the Paul sermons) is earthed in the daily discipleship of living for Jesus (the best of the Jesus sermons).  Let’s have both.

I wonder if that’s why Peter finishes his first letter (which is all about this judgement then salvation dynamic) by saying ‘This is the true grace of God.’ 1 Peter 5:12.

 

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In 1738 John Wesley returned from the mission field convinced of one thing: He was not a Christian.  He wrote in his journal, “I am fallen short of the glory of God… my heart is altogether corrupt and abominable… alienated as I am from the life of God I am a child of wrath and heir of hell.”  (Arnold Dallimore, George Whitfield, vol 1, p179)

He was certain at this point that the only way of salvation was “by faith” – whatever that meant.  He knew he needed “faith” and he also knew he didn’t have it.

“I was strongly convinced [he wrote] that the cause of my uneasiness was unbelief, and that gaining a true, living faith was the ‘one thing needful’ for me.” (p181)

At this point the Moravians made a lasting impact on both John and Charles.  Yet the “faith” which they preached was oftentimes an internal religious experience rather than an outward-looking reliance on Christ.  This was the kind of “faith” which the Wesleys sought.

Arnold Dallimore comments “The views to which the Wesleys were led by these means became of historic importance, for these views influenced the beliefs they held throughout life.  They both spoke of ‘seeking Christ’, yet as one analyses the pertinent passages in their Journals it becomes evident that they were actuallly seeking faith more than they were Christ. Faith had become the great desideratum in their thinking, insomuch that they began to look upon it as an entity in itself.  Under [the Moravian] Bohler’s instructions they had forsaken their trust in personal endeavours and works, but faith had become a kind of new endeavour which they substituted for their former endeavours and a work which took the place of their former good works.  They had still learned nothing about receiving Christ in the fullness of His person and the completeness of His saving work, but were concerned about faith itself and what measure of it might be necessary for salvation.  Charles expected that the coming of this faith might be associated with some visible presence of Christ, and John looked for an experience which would be accompanied by an emotional response.  ‘I well saw’, he wrote, ‘that no-one could, in the nature of things, have such a sense of forgiveness and not feel it.  But I felt it not.'”  (p181-2)

They both embarked upon a tortuous spiritual path in order to discover this faith.  On the 24th May 1738, at a religious society meeting in Aldersgate Street, London, John heard someone reading Luther’s preface to Romans.  As Wesley described it, Luther’s writing was a “description of the change which God works in the heart through faith in Christ.”  That in itself is an interesting take on Luther’s concern!  But, understood in this way, Wesley found himself responding to these truths.  He famously wrote in his Journal:

I felt my heart strangely warmed.  I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone for my salvation; and an assurance was given me that He had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death.

This is considered by many to be John’s conversion.  Yet other factors cast doubt on it.

Within a week Wesley was, in his own words, ‘thrown into perplexity’ when a friend asserted that faith must be fully assured or it is no faith at all.  He took a trip to Herrnhut, home of the Moravians, to enquire about ‘the assurance of faith.’

But this gave no clarity.  As Dallimore writes, “since the Moravians formulated their beliefs to a considerable degree on personal experience, their answers to Wesley’s enquiry were many and vaious.  One preacher said that ‘the full assurance’ was a blessing received at the same time as justification, but another asserted that it was a separate experience to be entered into after conversion.  Another stated that it was the coming of the Holy Spirit subsequent to conversion… and still another claimed that it was no more than a rich Christian maturity and was attained simply by steady Christian growth.”

Dallimore lists the effects of this confused spiritual counsel on a perplexed Wesley:

First, it influenced him towards combining Scripture and experience in formulating doctrinal beliefs.  Secondly, it increased in him that introspective tendency.  Thirdly, it caused him to believe that the Moravians possessed something which he did not have, and therefore that (as some of them intimated) a second Christian experience was possible – an experience, he believed, which would accomplish in him that larger victory in which the experience at Aldersgate Street had failed.  By the time he returned to England, Wesley had become something of a Moravian himself.”  (p194)

And what was the result for Wesley personally?  Well in the short term he continued to be greatly perplexed about his spiritual state.  So much so that eight months after his Aldersgate Street experience, John wrote this in his Journal:

“My friends affirm that I am mad because I said I was not a Christian a year ago.  I affirm I am not a Christian now.  Indeed, what I might have been I know not, had I been faithful to the grace then given, when, expecting nothing less, I received such a sense of forgiveness of sins as till I then never knew.  But that I am not a Christian at this day I as assuredly know as that Jesus is the Christ.” (p196)

What an astonishing thing to say!  Completely assured that Jesus is the Christ.  Completely convinced he’s not a Christian.

What do we learn from this?  Class?

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gold

Maybe your earthly father had short arms and deep pockets.  Or long arms and shallow pockets.  Or crossed arms and closed pockets.

Your Father in heaven is different.

He’s rich beyond your wildest imaginings.  6 times Paul says it in Ephesians (1:7,18; 2:4,7; 3:8,16).

He’s rich – rich I tells ya.  And it’s just the normal word for wealthy. Loaded. Rolling in it.  Stinking, filthy rich.  Like Abraham (Gen 13:2), like Solomon (1 Kings 3:13), like ‘the rich man’ (Mark 10:25).  Your Father is no pauper.

And neither is He a miser.  He lavishes His children with every treasure at His disposal.  First, He commits all things into the hands of His Son (John 3:35).  The nations are His inheritance (Ps 2:8).  The whole creation is a love gift for Him (Col 1:15-16).  But for the sake of His Son, and so that He might be the firstborn among many brothers (Rom 8:29), the Father brings us into His inheritance. We become objects of the Father’s lavish philanthropy.

But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions–it is by grace you have been saved.  (Eph 2:4-5)

We weren’t just dirt poor, we’d bitten the dust – dead in transgressions and sins.  Yet even in that lowest of gutters God’s riches were lavished on us – His riches in mercy – to make us alive with Christ.  Not only this…
In Christ we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that He lavished on us  (Eph 1:7-8)
 Now in Christ we are lavished with freedom and forgiveness of our sins.  And we stand as witnesses to heaven and earth of how generous is our Father in bestowing such treasures:
  And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with Him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of His grace, expressed in His kindness to us in Christ Jesus.  (Eph 2:6-7)
 God is rich and will be known as rich.

But perhaps you don’t feel able to appreciate this wealth.  Maybe you’re not feeling the benefits of this incredible union with Christ?  Well God’s riches aren’t just for the bestowal of grace, they enable you to appreciate these blessings too:

I pray that out of His glorious riches He may strengthen you with power through His Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith  (3:16-17)

You know what this means?  God even has riches that awaken us to the riches He’s already bestowed!  Talk about grace upon grace.

And if we despair that we don’t already possess these riches in their fullness, Paul has another prayer:

I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which He has called you, the riches of His glorious inheritance in the saints (Eph 1:18)

What a day of sumptuous opulence and overwhelming prosperity when we are heirs of God, co-heirs of the cosmos with Christ and when God Himself inherits us His saints.

What can we do in the meantime except…

…to preach to the nations the unsearchable riches of Christ (Eph 3:8)

Christ is the storehouse of the Father’s overflowing bounty.  We beggars, who’ve gotten rich quick, tell the world where to find true wealth.

So rejoice.  Daddy’s rich.

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Click for source

Continuing the theme of turning the parables right-side-up again, here’s the latest from the King’s English on “The Pearl of Great Price”…

….

Recently a friend emailed me with a question.  He’s not yet a Christian but he’s been attending bible studies for a while.  The previous night they had used Christian-sounding language that he didn’t understand.  He wrote:

“They asked me if I had ever ‘given my life to God.’  I was unsure.  What does that mean?  Is it in the bible?”

I wonder how you would respond?

Every evangelical sinew in my body twinged: “Of course you need to give your life to God! What is a Christian if not someone who has given their life to God?? As it is written in the book of…”  Hmm.  That’s funny.  I’m usually pretty good at citing bible verses.  I can proof-text in my sleep.  But it took me a long time to come up with any “giving-your-life-to-God” language.

Eventually a couple of verses in Romans sprang to mind (6:13; 12:1).  But both of them assume that becoming a Christian has happened.  Even in these verses, “giving your life to God” is the response to salvation, not the way towards it.

And far, far more, the Scriptures speak of Christ giving His life for me! That’s the great theme of the bible. Whatever offerings we make to God, the good news is the other way around.  He offered His life for me!

With that in mind, let’s read a couple of parables that Jesus told.  And let’s see how to understand them:

“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like unto treasure hid in a field; the which when a man hath found, he hideth, and for joy thereof goeth and selleth all that he hath, and buyeth that field. Again, the kingdom of heaven is like unto a merchant man, seeking goodly pearls:  Who, when he had found one pearl of great price, went and sold all that he had, and bought it.”  (Matthew 13:44-46)

Here is how I usually hear these stories explained:

The ‘treasure’ / ‘pearl of great price’ is Christ.  There He is – precious but passive.  Inert.  Waiting.

The ‘man’ / ‘merchant’ is us.  We are the spiritual seekers.  Active.  Adventurous. Sacrificial.

And – well done us! – we sell everything to gain the treasure of Jesus.

But I wonder whether such an interpretation misconstrues all the literary clues of the passage.  More worryingly, I fear it misconstrues the very nature of “the kingdom”.

“Treasured possession” is a famous way of describing the people of God (Exodus 19:5).

“The man” who is active throughout the parables of Matthew 13 is not us but Christ.

At the same time we are consistently represented by impersonal and passive objects (i.e. the soils).

If these were two parables about us finding Christ they would be the only parables of their kind.  Elsewhere it is always we who are lost and Christ who seeks and saves.

Given these facts, surely the most natural interpretation is this:  Christ is the Man who gives everything to purchase the world so as to possess His church.  He is the great Seeker and He is the great Treasurer.  He is the great Rejoicer and He is the great Sacrificer of all.

“For the joy that was set before him, [Jesus] endured the cross.”  (Hebrews 12:2)

We are the purchased treasure, not valuable in ourselves but only in our Redeemer’s eyes.  He is the Glorious Giver, we are those bought at a price.  This is what the kingdom of heaven is like!

And yet… what happens when we opt for the first interpretation?

We become the great seekers.  We are the ones who treasure.  We are the great rejoicers and the ones who sacrifice all.  The weight is thrown back onto our shoulders.

What do we say to this?

Well, first, we ought to read the parables in context.  Shouldn’t our first assumption be that the main Actor of the chapter remains the same?

Second, we ought to understand the fundamentals of the gospel.  Isn’t it Christ who seeks and saves what is lost?  (Luke 19:10)  And don’t we love only because He first loved us?  (1 John 4:19)

Third, we ought to think about the nature of kingdom living.  Sustaining joy is a wonderful thing, but it flows from receiving Christ’s electing, sacrificial love.  There is a great danger of over-burdening the Christian when we insist that they play the role of the electing, rejoicing, sacrificing Seeker.  I learn my true place in the kingdom when I realise that I am not Chooser but chosen.  I am not Lover but beloved.  I am not Redeemer but purchased.  I am not Seeker but found. Then my heart is won, then I treasure Christ, then I rejoice, then I consider all things as loss for His sake.  But such a reaction is always just that – a reaction.  Christ is always the self-giving Actor.

So what did I say to my friend?

I told him that every Christian ought to say “I belong to God.”  If my friend couldn’t say that, then he probably wasn’t a Christian.

But here’s how we belong to God.  Not by “giving our lives to Him.”  Instead we look to Jesus on the cross and there we see the most incredible truth: He has purchased me at an incredible cost.  Keep looking there until you are won by His love.  Whatever response we make at that point is belated.  The ultimate and eternity-defining truth is this: He gave His life for meOf course I belong to Him.

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Sermon Audio

Powerpoint

We love to judge.

George Carlin once noted a universal rule of the road: Everyone who drives slower than you is an idiot.  And everyone who drives faster is a maniac.

To the speeding driver, everyone’s an idiot.  To the slow driver, everyone’s a maniac. But one rule applies to all:  My speed is just right.

Two weeks ago the BBC, CNN, the Daily Mail, The Telegraph and many other news sites and blogs have reported a hoax as fact. The hoax was this: Internet Explorer users are less intelligent than those using other web browsers.

It is a lie that has spread like wildfire despite the thinnest of fabricated “evidence” produced by a website cobbled together in the last month. Why did this lie find such instant and universal acceptance (amongst the web-savvy anyway)? Because we love to judge.

David Cameron shortly after the riots said that pockets of our society are not just broken but sick.  Pockets?

Rioters; Politicians; Police; Media

We feel superior, but you know what they say?  When you point the finger at others, you have three fingers pointing back.

Jesus says:

37 “Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven. 38 Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.”

Jesus says there’s two realities you can buy into.  Either Judgement and condemnation; or Giving and forgiving.

Jesus tells us the currency that God deals in.  Verse 36:

36 Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.  (Luke 6:36)

He is in the forgiveness game.  What game are we in?

(more…)

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grace

‘Isn’t it wonderful that we’re now under grace?’ they enthuse.

‘Sure is,’ you say.

And then they explain what they mean by ‘grace’ and you wonder what it is they’ve really found themselves ‘under’.

Here are 10 common misconceptions.

1. Wahey!  Isn’t it great that God has lowered the bar?  He used to care about loads of stuff.  Now it’s just a few things.  You know, important stuff.  We don’t sweat the small stuff anymore.  Just the big stuff.  Yay.

2.  Hurrah!  Now we obey God out of gratitude for what He’s done, which is an entirely new concept.  Thank God we’re free from the law, which obviously was only ever about stoic duty and nothing to do with gratitude for past salvation (Ex 20:2).  Now that we’ve got gratitude it means all legalism is a thing of the past.  So long as we’re grateful.  Properly grateful mind you.  Grateful enough to empower a whole heap of obedience.

3.  Phew – now we don’t have to get hung up about the laws of the land.  So don’t you dare ask me to pay my parking ticket – you legalist!

4. Isn’t it great – it’s not about duty-bound works, it’s all about love.  Of course the law had nothing to do with love.  Nasty law.  Now, as long as we stress love we’re avoiding all forms of legalism.  Speaking of which – what is your love-meter reading today?

5. Grace is about treading that tight-rope between legalism and licence.  It’s getting the balance just right between celebrating our freedom and not indulging it too much.  Cos, you know, we’re forgiven, but let’s not go crazy.  Let’s live in grace which is the safe middle-ground between moralism and immorality.

6. God used to be fierce and judgemental now He’s chilled and sweet.

7. God used to be about pragmatics, now He’s just into dogmatics.  He used to be interested in deeds, now He’s interested in creeds.

8.  Legalism is all about obeying the law in my own strength.  Grace is about obeying the law in God’s strength.  Grace is the fuel for my car.  It keeps me going towards the destination.  It’s a heck of a long drive but, Praise Jesus, there’s fuel in the tank.

9.  Discipleship used to be important but now it’s about grace.  Which means… you know.  Not really discipleship.  More… you know… grace.

10. It used to be about my works.  But now it’s about my faith.

No, non, niet, nein!

In the flesh it was about your work.  In the Spirit it’s about Christ’s work.  That’s the difference.  Not so much “works versus faith” as “you versus Christ”.  It’s His work.  His redemption.  His Person in Whom all the promises of God are yes and all the laws of God are fulfilled.   He defines the realm of grace.  Not abstract qualities like gratitude or lovingness or certain mental states – all of which might be worked up apart from Jesus.  Neither is it about God’s own disposition softening in His old age.  And neither is it about the absence of certain obligations, from the state or Scripture or conscience or Christ or wherever.

It’s about the kingdom of the Beloved Son in Whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins, and over to which we have been delivered apart from any merit of our own (Colossians 1:13-14).   It’s the position we find ourselves in – sealed by the Spirit into Christ, hidden in Him at the Father’s right hand – lavished with mercy and honour and kindness, our old man crucified and put away, His Spirit put within us.  A new realm, a new Master, a new Power, a new freedom, a new destiny and we’ve done nothing to deserve it.  And it’s all real and it all holds true not by my own workings but by the Almighty Father’s, who raised Jesus from the dead and raised me up with Him.

Grace is not like a new and improved religious programme that’s a bit nicer, a bit less draconian – less duty, more love and groovy vibes.  Grace is the blood, sweat and tears of Jesus expended on your behalf while you do nothing but cause His death.  It’s the mighty resurrection of Christ in which you are swept up to glory entirely apart from your own efforts and merits.  Grace is where you find yourself – in Christ – and you’re in Him not because but in spite of yourself.  Now compare with the 10 misconceptions above.

How do we get it so wrong?

Perhaps my favourite verse:

I was crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me.  The life I live in the body I live by faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave Himself for me.  (Galatians 2:20)

I don’t know any better way of explaining biblical grace than the David and Goliath story – here’s an older post on it. Or just click the grace tag for more.

Which of those 10 misconceptions do you hear most commonly?  Any more to add?

 

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From the latest King’s English post:

God does not send His Son in order that He might love the world.  It is not that God can love the world once the Son has redeemed it a bit.  No, in all its darkness and unbelief God loves the world andtherefore He gives His Son.  We are not saved so that God might love us.  We are saved because God loves us.

Therefore when we see Jesus given to us, it is not the sign that we are, in principle, now loveable.  It is the proof that we are in fact loved.  The Gift doesn’t purchase the love, the Gift proves the love.

Do you feel that God loves you?  Look again at the Gift of the Son and you will see the Father – the Father of Jesus and yourFather.  See this Gift given to you and remember that He is yours not because you are good – you aren’t; not because you were receptive – you weren’t; but because of God’s own prior and indomitable love.  See His nature expressed in Jesus.  See Him spread His arms, though it cost Him His life, and know that this is the love of God for you.

For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son

For similar thoughts, see He rescued me because He delighted in me.

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There are two things that will really mess you up in life.  Getting married and becoming a Christian.  You can poodle along quite contentedly before either of these states.  But once you enter marriage, or once Christ enters you – life as you know it is over.

I know a good number of people who have developed and/or exacerbated serious emotional and psychological problems upon entering one or both of these states.

How come?  Well here’s one thought.  In both you have the unconditional presence of another.  Not even your sins can keep people at bay now.  In fact now sins just become the occasion for a much deeper engagement.  Conditionality used to keep your sins underground and your critics distant.  When things were conditional you knew that the presence of love in your life was directly related to your ability to keep unloveliness hidden.  Now you have unconditional – and therefore inescapable – presence.

Ironically it’s not law that shines a torchlight into our basements.  It’s grace.  There’s no hiding place from unconditional love.

Barth used to say ‘God’s grace shatters men.’  George Hunsinger wrote a book on Barth’s theology called ‘Disruptive Grace.’  That’s the true nature of covenant relationships.  Yes they are the context in which true growth and godliness occur.  But only because first of all they totally mess you up.

What do we expect in Christian discipleship? What do we expect in marriage?  I say prepare for massive disturbance – and I mean disturbance in the fullest sense of the word.

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For years I prayed for the fruit of the Spirit every day.  (Galatians 5:22f)  Yet, looking back, I prayed for the fruit in an altogether fleshly way.

How so?  Well basically my prayers were petitions for the moral character of ‘love, joy, peace…’ as abstract qualities. I would judge my own spiritual walk that week by how loving, joyful, peaceful… I had been. In short I had turned the fruit of the Spirit into a check-list of works which I either did or didn’t practice that week.

One morning, as I was praying for the fruit, I got an image of the Spirit coming to my door with a huge basket laden with choice fruits.  And my response was to say ‘Thanks for bringing the fruit.  Just leave them inside the door and I’ll see you later!’

I wanted the fruit not the Spirit.  I wanted the fruit apart from the Spirit.  Yet the fruit is fruit of the Spirit. It grows organically as the Spirit unites me to Christ, the true Vine.  Henceforward I prayed for the Spirit Himself – He communicates Christ to me as a sheer gift.  As I receive Him by faith, so the fruit grows.

Yet how quickly we turn gospel into law.
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There is no greater guarantee of a racist sentiment than the opening “I’m not being racist…”  And the louder the protest, the more we worry about the diatribe to follow.

But there’s a preaching equivalent.  Last week I listened to many online sermons by the great and good and I repeatedly heard this phrase:

“Now, I don’t mean this legalistically, but…”

I must have heard the saying about a dozen times in 5 sermons.  In one instance it was prefaced by this nugget of reformation gold: “Obedience opens up the channels by which God’s grace may flow.”

…But not in a legalistic way you understand.

Protests that “I’m not being a legalist” do not exempt you from the charge.  To my mind they only raise greater suspicion.

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There 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 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.

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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Given

The Father gave Jesus to us.

Jesus gave Jesus for us.

The Spirit gives Jesus in us.

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In Australia I heard a worship song that was new for me:  “There is no-one like you.”

Not the Dave Crowder one.  This one is, almost note-for-note, sung to the tune of “What if God was one of us.”  To the point where the urge to sing “…just a slob like one of us” became almost unbearable.

Do you struggle with other songs like this?  I find it difficult not to break out with “Go West” on the rare occasions we sing “Give thanks“.  Other examples?

But actually “There is no-one like you” and “What if God was one of us” is an interesting juxtaposition.  And quite a biblical one.

Since ancient times no-one has heard, no ear has perceived, no eye has seen any God besides you, who acts on behalf of those who wait for him. (Isaiah 64:4)

What is it that sets the living God apart from every other deity conceived by the imagination of man?  This God works while we wait.  That’s the difference.

Every other god waits while we work.  But this God works while we wait.  “His own Arm works salvation for Him” (Isaiah 59:16).  The Arm of the LORD (Isaiah 52:10) who is the Servant of the LORD (v13; 53:1) – He achieves our redemption for us.

When we think of the utter uniqueness of God, where do our thoughts take us?  When we conceive of the transcendent glory of God, what do we imagine? And how biblical are those conceptions?

From “There is no one like you” so often we take a left and descend a flight of stairs to “God is just really, really, completely and utterly different.”  Ok, but then we cross a barbed wire fence and enter a haunted wood… “He’s so totally other, we can’t even begin to relate.”  And we continue wandering down such darkened paths with the especially religious among us revelling in the murk.

People take a similar journey when discussing concepts of “glory” or “holiness” or “transcendence.”

Ah yes, now we’re talking about the real Godness of God.

Indeed.  But if God really is so different then it won’t be obvious what that Godness consists in will it?  Or don’t you believe in His difference after all?!

You can’t just take some bog-standard definition of deity, pump it full of steroids, and then call that “glory” or “holiness” or “transcendence”.  You’ll have to study how this utterly different God shows Himself to be utterly different.

And – surprise, surprise – even His difference turns out to be different to how we’d imagined it.  His difference is not in some alien detachment but in intimate engagement. His glory is not His self-obsession but self-giving.  His holiness is not His shut-off-ness but His committed devotion.  His transcendence does not keep Him from us, it’s a transcendent love that moves heaven to earth to save.

There is no-one like this God.  The God who comes as one of us.  Just a Slob like one of us.  Just a Stranger on the bus, come to bring us all Home.

That’s what makes Him really different.

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I’ve been listening to some thought-provoking lectures by Vishal Mangalwadi on how the bible has shaped the West.  This one entitled, “Why Are Some Rich While Others Are So Poor” speaks of how traditional cultures have handled wealth.  Those without the influence of the bible have only known two responses.  Either you horde it or you display it.  You either stock-pile it for a rainy day or you show-case it for prestige.  In neither case will your economy grow.

But, in the west, Christians did this new thing – they re-invested it.  Mangalwadi points to things like “the parable of the talents” or the injunction to “love thy neighbour” as giving Christians this new idea – to put wealth to work.  He also points to the impact of the priesthood of all believers, releasing believers to work at all things “as unto the Lord.”  This gives rise to the protestant work ethic and incredible wealth-creation.

I’m sure all those ideas should go into the mix.  But I wonder whether the Protestant Grace Ethic needs to have a hearing here.  The bible is always linking grace and money (see these examples in Ephesians for instance).  It is the peculiar “idea” of the gospel that heavenly wealth comes down upon us not so that we may boast, nor that we might keep it to ourselves.  (And not even that we should repay the Benefactor (some kind of spiritual feudalism?)).  We are given an overabundance of undeserved grace in order that we might overflow.  Isn’t this the most fundamentally liberating “idea” to grace the West?

 

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Short article.  Brilliant.  Read.

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For God’s Sake Grow Up For Your Neighbour’s Sake

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This is just a reflection on that saying of Luther’s: “God doesn’t need your good works.  Your neighbour does.”

And Dave K’s observation that, post-resurrection, no-one summarizes the law with “love God and love neighbour” but only with “love neighbour”.

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A friend recently told me of some “higher life” Christians he met who would chant together:

I refuse, I refuse, I refuse to come down from heaven to deal with earthly realities.

They were horrible people to be around.  Their marriages were a mess.  And it was impossible to get at their sins because they were supposedly “hidden” from it all at God’s right hand.

Well you do have to admire their sense of unbreakable union with Christ.  I will give them that.

But you’ve also got to question the kind of Christ they feel united to.

Isn’t the true Jesus exactly the kind of Person who does come down from heaven to deal with earthly realities?  Isn’t that His eternal glory?  And therefore, doesn’t Paul constantly take us from that secure union and then into those battles with the flesh?

Never for the sake of our union. But always from that union and in the power of it.  How can union with this Christ mean anything else?

Jesus said: “For their sake I sanctify myself.”  (John 17:19).

Our response should not be “And likewise, Lord, for your sake I sanctify myself.”  No.

But there is a response to Christ’s work.  And it does involve our sanctification.  We pass it on in costly ways – just as Jesus passed it on to us in the most costly way.

We do engage with the mess, not for God’s sake but for our neighbour’s.  Jesus doesn’t need my sanctification, but my wife does.  Desperately.  And the way I glorify the other-centred Christ is not to pay Him back with godliness but to pass it on in sacrificial love.  “Hidden in Christ” does not mean hidden from the battle.  Christ leads me into the battle because He’s adopted me into His kind of other-centred life.

So, for God’s sake, don’t grow up for God’s sake
But, for God’s sake, do grow up for your neighbour’s sake.

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On the King’s English I’ve been thinking about a triune creation.

In the beginning

Let there be light

Let us make man in our image

Be fruitful and multiply

Behold, it was very good

God rested

The Breath of Life

It’s really striking me how profligate is the triune God of grace.  The Father, Son and Spirit bubble over in love.  A unitarian god needs creation.  And all relations between such a creator and its creature are quid pro quo arrangements.  The triune God does nothing about of necessity.  It’s all about gift and free overflow.

We can genuinely say “You really didn’t have to.”  And the Lord will reply, “I know, but I wanted to.”

So my friend, whoever you are.  Know in your heart: You are entirely unnecessary.  Entirely.  Unnecessary.  You are a profligate extravagance, a superfluous addendum, a needless flourish.  The Lord, His universe, His church, His kindgom purposes could so easily do without you.  You are completely surplus to requirements.

And you say “I need to be needed!  If my children don’t need me, I’ll fall apart.  If my church doesn’t need me, I’ll crumble.  If my work doesn’t need me, who am I?”

But you don’t need to be needed.  You only think you need to be needed because you’ve forgotten you’re loved.  So let me remind you…

You are wanted.  You are desired.  And not for anything ‘you offer.’  You are surplus to requirements.  But our God doesn’t deal in requirements, He enjoys the surplus.  He delights in you.

Because of His great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions–it is by grace you have been saved.  (Eph 2:4-5)

You are entirely unnecessary, but utterly loved.

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From my sermon this morning (Isaiah 9:2-7).

UPDATE: This rant has since become this poem…

Sermon audio here.

Don’t have the spirit of Scrooge.

Don’t have the spirit of Winterfest.

Don’t have the spirit of Santa.

Look again to the manger.

Text below…

(more…)

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