Archive for the 'God' Category

31
Jan
13

the glory of the cross

Est 6:6 (ESV) … the king said… , “What should be done to the man whom the king delights to honour?” 

The story is set in Susa, the Persian capital, during the reign of King Ahasuerus, better known by his Greek name, Xerxes I (486–464 b.c.). Some Jews had returned to Jerusalem, where they enjoyed a reasonable amount of control over their own affairs as described in the books of Ezra and Nehemiah. Others, like Esther and Mordecai, were still in exile. As a minority group, the Jews were viewed with suspicion and sometimes faced threats to their existence from people in a position to harm them. In this respect Esther and Mordecai’s situation was similar to that of Daniel and his friends a century or so earlier. (ESV Study Bible Intro to Esther).

Mordecai, by God’s providence, discovered and defused a plot to murder the king (Ahasuerus).  His loyalty provoked the king to bestow public honour on him.  The honour was gracious for the king was not legally obliged to honour Mordecai (no law said he must, nor was the reason for Mordecai’s devotion any law promising good to those who were loyal, for there was none, loyalty was their duty), however, he felt a moral obligation to honour someone who had honoured him in such an outstanding way; such honouring was an appropriate reward.  In this even a pagan king revealed the moral imprint of the divine image for God himself says, ‘he who honours me, I will honour’(1 Sam 2:20).  It is with this background informing us we read and reflect on the words of Jesus in John 13,

John 13:31-32 (ESV2011) When he had gone out, Jesus said, “Now is the Son of Man glorified, and God is glorified in him. If God is glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself, and glorify him at once.

now is the son of man glorified…

This text follows immediately from Judas leaving to initiate the betrayal.  The betrayal signals the beginning of humanity’s darkest hour, as John’s reference to ‘night’ suggests (13:30), which finds its culmination in the rejection of the cross.  Morally this is the world’s worst deed and its ultimate exposure.  The atrocities of the centuries (C20 holocaust included) are as nothing compared to the conspired murder of the Creator. The contrast could not be more vivid; the most depraved inglorious actions of men in counterpoint with the most devoted and glorious action of Jesus ‘the son of man’, for it is ‘the son of man’ who is glorified. Humanity may utterly shame itself in its defiance of God and indifference to his glory (Adam did, and his heirs are here merely demonstrating the same depravity, though more culpably so, for now defiance and rejection is not simply of a good Creator and Provider but of  the God of grace and truth revealed in Christ) but this backcloth of human depravity serves only to make more radiant the moral glory of the obedient ‘man’ on the cross.

It is the true glory of ‘man’ because human glory is ever founded upon obedience to God and here is obedience of the most exacting kind.  Man is a moral being, made in God’s image, created to obey God’s will and seek his glory.  He is glorious only when so doing.  The more demanding that will and the more obedience to it costs then the more man is glorified therein.  Just as a son is never more admirably son-like than when obeying a demanding instruction of his father, and a soldier is never more essentially soldier-like than when he obeys his commanding officer at the cost of losing everything, reputation and life itself, so too man, in Christ, is most glorious in the obedience extremity of the cross.  

The glory of man is perfectly displayed in Christ’s voluntary, God-honouring, self-sacrificing obedience to death; here is humanity at its most human. This is ‘man’ as he ought to be; surrounded by every conceivable reason to sidestep obedience and aware obedience will cost everything – the reputation of men to whom he is a worm and no man (Ps 22:6-8; Isa 53:3), the companionship of his own who forsake and flee (Ps 88:18; 38:11; 41:9), the sustaining of angelic beings who normally guard those who fear God yet here are absent (Matt 26:53,54), the fellowship and face of God in judicial abandonment (Ps 22), intolerable suffering in body and mind, so crushing he is unrecognisable as human (Isa 52:14; 53:10), the cruel feral hatred of his fellows seeking his blood like wild ravenous baying beasts (Ps 22), the unmasked fury of Satan whose hour has come (Lk 22:53),  and ultimately the ignominy and injustice of cross-death itself (Ps 69:4,19; 44:15)- yet he never wavers from the path of submission to the divine will, his food and delight remaining as ever, the will of him that sent him.

His supreme and unwavering desire is to bring glory to God in life or death.  He who knew no sin will willingly be made sin if this is God’s will and bring’s God glory.  He who is creation’s crown and rightful heir of all will gladly be cut off and have nothing if in this his God is obeyed and glorified.  The cup of unbearable aloneness (so contrary to nature… it is not good for man to be alone) will be freely borne if it’s God’s cup for him to drink.  He will be the kernel of wheat that falls into the ground and dies if this will be the means of much fruit to the glory of God (Jn 12:23,24).  He will submit to Satan’s worst if this is the only way he can be overthrown and he and his powers destroyed to the praise and glory of God and the blessing of man; he will be the serpent-crushing seed even if it means for him the bruising of death (Lk 22:53, Hebs 2:14).  The fulfilling and realising of God’s purposes is his consuming desire and delight and the cost of so doing he will despise (Hebs 12).

Here is man, under the severest test, the most adverse of circumstances, proving to be man as he essentially ought to be, as he was created to be – utterly devoted, utterly obedient, utterly submissive, utterly committed to God’s glory. The moral glory of man being what he ought to be to God is revealed fully in the cross.  This was indeed man’s glory, that God should be (as he was) glorified in Him.  Little wonder such a man will, when lifted up, draw all men (of faith) to himself. Here is a man for men to follow and revere, here is humanity at its most glorious and worthy, most intended, bringing perfect glory to God.

and god is glorified in him…

God is glorified in the first instance simply in the ‘son of man’s’ faith-obedience, obedience to death and that the death of the cross (Phil 2).  Man was not created for death but for privilege as the crown of creation.  The ‘son of man’, eschatologically expected to be crowned with glory and honour with all things subject to him (Ps 8; Dan 7:13)). Thus when Jesus submits to the cross and death and all that seems to contradict this destiny he does so believing he is the sin-bearer and will be saved out of death (Acts 2:24-28; Hebs 5:7)/  Such is the faith-affirmation of this very text. ‘If God is glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself, and glorify him at once’.   Here is man trusting in God’s faithfulness and righteousness when trusting costs everything and everything conspires to defy such trust; he trusts even as his agonized uncomprehending ‘why’ of loss echoes in the silent heavens (Ps 22).  How can God be other than glorified ‘in him’?

Yet God is further glorified ‘in him’.  Glory is the outshining of an essential worth.  The greater the essential worth of an object (or person) the greater its glory.  The obedience of Christ in the cross provides the context, the only context, whereby God can reveal fully who he is.  God acts in various ways throughout history and in so doing always reveals something of who he is and therefore an aspect of his glory.  In the life of Christ, he reveals himself as never before (he that has seen me…) but even in Christ, full revelation is only complete at the cross.  At the cross, all that God is, is revealed, and revealed according to that which He is consciously to Himself.  His nature is seen as it really is with each attribute revealed in relation to the other as it truly is without any one attribute hiding, or obscuring, or contradicting another.   Thus God’s heart of grace and love shines fully but in such a way that his wisdom, truth, holiness, power, righteousness and majesty are seen too acting in perfect harmony with it.  God’s heart, a heart of love, is displayed as it really is and his attributes unite in expression of it. Of his heart of love we read,

1 John 4:9-10 (ESV2011) In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.

Yet it is not a love that acts in conflict with his righteousness but in conjunction with it.

Rom 3:21-26 (ESV2011) But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.

Likewise his holiness is harnessed to a saving purpose,

Isa 52:10 (ESV2011) ​The LORD has bared his holy arm before the eyes of all the nations, and all the ends of the earth shall see the salvation of our God.

Likewise his wisdom and power.

1Cor 1:23-24 (ESV2011) but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.

All work in symphonic unison revealing the glory of his grace.

Titus 2:11-14 (ESV2011) For the grace of God has appeared… Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.

At the cross the ‘grace of God in truth‘ is revealed (Col 1:6).  Indeed, at the cross the truth of God is revealed as nowhere else. Not only God but all else is revealed as it really is: man’s rebellious heart is exposed as the nations rage and the peoples plot in vain, the kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the LORD and against his Anointed, saying, “Let us burst their bonds apart and cast away their cords from us.”and Satan’s naked hatred of God is seen in his dragon-like desire to devour the man-child.

That God is glorified in Christ at the cross is beyond dispute.

In summary, God is glorified in ‘the son of man’ for the cross occasions the greatest conceivable demonstration of human devotion to God and God is glorified in this.  Furthermore, ‘the son of man’s cross-devotion uniquely enables God to display fully all the attributes of his being integrated in the one great purpose of his heart, that is, to accomplish in Christ the reconciliation of all things to the praise of his glorious grace.  Eternity will never unveil a way that reveals and thus glorifies God more fully than the cross.  This is why at the centre of heaven’s throne John sees a freshly slain lamb; the cross will never diminish or dim, it will always be as yesterday for it is the glory of God par excellence.

the son of man glorified in god

What is the outcome of God glorified in man?  Man is glorified in God.  If God is glorified in him then he will glorify him in himself, and glorify him immediately…  If unrighteous pagan kings such as Ahasuerus recognise a moral imperative to reward those who serve them in outstanding ways how much more the King Eternal.  What will God do for the man who in honouring the divine will accepted the brutality and hatred of all, entered the dragon’s den, accepted the cup of divine wrath, undertook responsibility  for sin, agreed to be the atoning sacrifice killed on the altar and the scapegoat banished to the wilderness that God’s honour may be vindicated, his purposes of grace realized, and his righteousness upheld in so doing?  

What will God do for one who has so glorified him?  He will in turn glorify this man.  Indeed so great has been the debasement to which the son of man has submitted that God may be glorified that God will glorify him ‘in himself’.  That is, he will not simply glorify him but will share with him his own glory, that glory that he does not give to another*.  He who humbled himself to death for the glory of God will be raised from the dead and exalted for God will not allow this Holy One to see corruption (it would be unjust) but will raise him and will seat him at his own right hand in heaven.  He will share God’s throne and God’s glory.  He who went to the deepest depths of shame to bring to God the highest glory shall be himself rewarded with the highest glory.  God is no man’s debtor.  Such will be the reward, the just reward, of the man whom the King delights to honour.

In this way the eschatological promise of Ps 8 will be fulfilled.

Heb 2:5-9 (ESV2011) For it was not to angels that God subjected the world to come, of which we are speaking. It has been testified somewhere, “What is man, that you are mindful of him, or the son of man, that you care for him? You made him for a little while lower than the angels; you have crowned him with glory and honour, putting everything in subjection under his feet.” Now in putting everything in subjection to him, he left nothing outside his control. At present, we do not yet see everything in subjection to him. But we see him who for a little while was made lower than the angels, namely Jesus, crowned with glory and honour because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.

Notice, he is crowned with glory and honour because of the suffering of death.   We have a similar conclusion in Isaiah 53,

Isa 53:10-12 (ESV2011) Yet it was the will of the LORD to crush him; he has put him to grief; when his soul makes an offering for guilt, he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days; the will of the LORD shall prosper in his hand. Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied; by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant, make many to be accounted righteous, and he shall bear their iniquities. ​Therefore I will divide him a portion with the many, and he shall divide the spoil with the strong, because he poured out his soul to death and was numbered with the transgressors; yet he bore the sin of many, and makes intercession for the transgressors.

Philippians 2 makes the same point; God glorifies Christ ‘in himself’.

Phil 2:5-11 (ESV2011) Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

He has been seated on God’s own throne and all things once subject to God have been made subject to him (Ps 2).  He has inherited a name (and so a dignity) above every name including all angelic beings (Hebs 1:4).  He reigns not only over earth but over all things.   Thomas Kelly’s hymn expresses it well,

Behold the Lamb with glory crowned!
To Him all power is given;
No place too high for Him is found,
No place too high in heaven..

He fills the throne—the throne above,
He fills it without wrong;
The object of His Father’s love,
The theme of angels’ song.

Though high, yet He accepts the praise
His people offer here;
The faintest, feeblest lay they raise
Will reach the Saviour’s ear.

This song be ours, and this alone,
That celebrates the Name
Of Him that sits upon the throne,
And that exalts the Lamb.

To Him whom men despise and slight,
To Him be glory given;
The crown is His, and His by right
The highest place in heaven. 

But is this glory and position his alone?  The hymn speaks of ‘his people’.  Isa 53 speaks of ‘his offspring’ and ‘the righteous making many righteous’ and  of him ‘dividing the spoil with the strong’.  The express purpose of his death was that it would multiply others like him.

John 12:23-24 (ESV2011) And Jesus answered them, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. 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.

Thus in resurrection he says to God, ‘Behold I and the children you have given me‘ (Cf. Hebs 2:10:16).  He promises his disciples that if he goes away he will come again to receive them to himself so that where he is (the Father’s house) there they may be also (Jn 14:1-6).  He prays that his own (given to him by the Father) will with him where he is that they may see his glory (Jn 17:24).  Amazingly, while there is a glory that is entirely his own (his intrinsic glory as a divine person to which he is restored, and the glory that is uniquely his due as the sin-bearer for which he will be ever worshipped) and while he is always pre-eminent in glory, yet the glorious position that he has at the right hand of God’s majesty is one that we by grace, as his bride and his body, are called to share.  If God raised and exalted Jesus as an act of righteousness then he must also raise and exalt with him all those united to him – the offspring of Abraham, his brothers, for whom he died.  To do less than reward Christ’s obedience to death with the end it was undertaken to accomplish (the redeeming of his own) would be unjust such is the moral value and imperative of the cross. Thus we become ‘the righteousness of God in him‘. Christ’s exaltation and our exaltation with him (seated with him in heavenly places) is a demonstration that God is righteous.  In him has been won so much more than Adam lost**. We are accepted by God in the son he loves.  We are joint heirs along with Christ.   We with him are blessed with ever spiritual blessing in the heavenlies.  We, like him, are not simply justified but glorified.  We are the fulness of him who fills all in all (Eph 1:23).

By nature and by practice far, How very far from God!                                                                                  Yet now by grace brought nigh to Him Through faith in Jesus’ blood.

So nigh, so very nigh to God, I cannot nearer be;                                                                                          For in the person of His Son, I am as near as He.

So dear, so very dear to God, More dear I cannot be;                                                                               The love wherewith He loves the Son, Such is His love to me.

And so the complete mystery of God’s purposes  - suffering and glory – are revealed in these two pregnant verses from John’s gospel verses that we may wonder and worship.

GAZING on Thee, Lord, in glory,
While our hearts in worship bow,
There we read the wondrous story
Of the cross — its shame and woe.

Every mark of dark dishonour
Heaped upon Thy thorn-crowned brow,
All the depths of Thy heart’s sorrow
Told in answering glory now.

On that cross alone — forsaken — 
Where no pitying eye was found;
Now to God’s right hand exalted,
With Thy praise the heavens resound.

Did Thy God e’en then forsake Thee,
Hide His face from Thy deep need?
In Thy face, once marred and smitten,
All His glory now we read.

Gazing on it we adore Thee,
Blessed, precious, holy Lord;
Thou, the Lamb, alone art worthy,
This be earth’s and heaven’s accord.

Rise our hearts, and bless the Father,
Ceaseless song e’en here begun,
Endless praise and adoration
To the Father and the Son.

*  He can do so for the man with whom he shares it is himself the Son of God, a divine person (Jn 17:1-4)

**  It is sometimes claimed that had Adam continued in obedience he would have been rewarded with glorification.  This is sheer conjecture, and mistaken conjecture at that.  God’s intention was never glorification in Adam but glorification in Christ.  Furthermore, glorification was predicated on God being perfectly glorified in the cross.  What could Adam have done that equalled the cross?

Further, we should not equate this rewarding of Christ with mere law-keeping (though he did of course keep the law).  This is much more than law-keeping.  No law demanded the cross.  In fact, according to the law, Jesus should have lived and not died.  This is obedience of a different order.  It was initiated in heaven (outside of law) and demanded of the son of man what no law did or could (that he take the curse of a broken law upon himself).  It was, in fact, this obedience beyond mere law-keeping (the death of the cross) that was the basis of glorification.

09
Jan
13

the righteousness of god in the gospel (1)

This is the first of an intermittent series of posts that reflect on aspects of what is involved in the righteousness of God revealed in the gospel.  The subject of God’s righteousness is large and has been the focus of fierce debate in recent years.  These short posts can only hope to be snapshots of  some aspects that I hope will stimulate reflection and worship.
When the gospel speaks of ‘the righteousness of God’ the fact we should note before anything else, before any discussion about imputed righteousness in justification, is that the righteousness in the spotlight is God’s righteousness.  In this respect, Gospel righteousness exists in direct contrast to the righteousness of the Law (or the Sinaic covenant).  In the old covenant the righteousness that was ‘revealed’ was man’s righteousness and not God’s*.  The Law promised blessing of every sort to Israel if the people lived righteously.  It’s  focus was on human righteousness.   The Law revealed what human righteousness looked like.   It was human righteousness that was under the microscope and it was human righteousness that the law, if obeyed, displayed.   Had the law been kept then human righteousness would have been the object of praise and glory for it would have been human righteousness that would have been placarded and achieved life.

Of course, human righteousness did not triumph.  The Law, far from revealing human righteousness, revealed human sin, as God both knew and intended it should (Roms 3).  It could not be otherwise.  It could not be otherwise for human sinfulness is such that even privileged Israel, given every opportunity and incentive possible, could not live righteously; the human heart is inveterately given to rebellion and evil.  It could not be otherwise for God must be God and cannot allow any to glory in his presence.  It is unthinkable that humanity should bring about regeneration and a new heavens and earth and have  occasion to boast that it had been achieved by human righteousness, ingenuity and wisdom.  We do not know God if we have not grasped this elementary fact.  None may glory of their achievement in God’s presence, God alone must be glorious.  No flesh can boast before him; it would be morally incongruous, and repugnant to all right thinking.

1Cor 1:28-31 (ESV2011) God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are,so that no human being might boast in the presence of God.  And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption,so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.”

Humanity’s failure in righteousness is not only a given predicated on human sinfulness but predicated also on God’s own being and purpose.  No flesh shall glory before God. It cannot, must not, shall not be.  Thus redemption, renewal, and blessing, must come through the gospel for the gospel is a revelation not of the righteousness of man but of God.  God is the actor in the gospel.  It is what he is and does and provides that is in the spotlight.  It is his wisdom, his grace, his righteousness that is on display.  Thus Paul writes of the gospel,

Rom 1:16-17ESV2011 For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.”

In the gospel, righteousness ‘of God‘ is revealed’.   This is not in the first instance a righteousness from God (though it surely includes this) but God’s own righteous activity.  If I want to see God’s acting righteously (consistently with all he is in himself) then it is to the gospel pre-eminently I must look.  Under Law, God is seen to act righteously when he punishes disobedience (Roms 3:5) but such righteous action is not the kind of righteousness that most precisely reflects his nature.  God is righteous when he judges but judgement is his ‘strange work’.  His righteous judgments are glorious but he does not wish to be simply known as a God who punishes.  Punishment is not where his heart lies.  God has a heart of love that wishes to bless and to be gracious.  It is the glory of his righteousness in grace that reveals his righteousness most perfectly.  At the cross God acts righteously in grace and thus reveals the glory of his heart as it truly is.  He is a God who is slow to judge and quick to bless.  He is not keen to condemn rather he is keen to declare righteous.  He does not desire that any perish but that all come to him and live, thus it is his righteous saving action in the gospel that best displays his heart.  What was perhaps brief and abstract in Romans Ch 1 is unpacked and specified in ch 3

Rom 3:21-26ESV2011 But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it—the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction:for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus,whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins.It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.

Note the last lines, ‘This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins.It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just (righteous) and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.’  Twice we are told the gospel shows (reveals/proves/exhibits/demonstrates/displays) God acting righteously.  It shows he acted righteously in passing over sin in the past.  By his sin-bearing death we now see how forgiveness was possible in the past without God’s mercy compromising his righteous need to punish sin.  We see how ceremonial animal sacrifice was not simply a moral whitewash  but was acceptable because God saw in it a preview of the real sacrifice that would deal with sin – the sacrifice of Christ.  Furthermore, if God forgives in the present and declares a man righteous we see that this is not a fiction but is God acting righteously for it is the only righteous response he can make to the one who believes in Jesus since Jesus’ obedience in death was specifically to provide a basis for God to righteously declare righteous the ungodly. Indeed, in this text the sacrifice of Jesus is God’s doing.  Undoubtedly, Jesus came of his own volition and offered himself, but that is not the point here; the point is that ‘God put Jesus forward as a propitiation by his blood’.  The action is God’s.  He takes the initiative in the provision of righteousness, a righteous initiative.

We could look elsewhere and see how the gospel reveals God acting righteously at the cross in judging sin and in overthrowing Satan.  He acts righteously when he raises Christ from the dead and places him at his right hand in glory for how else could God righteously act when Christ had so glorified him in death (Jn 13:31,32).  Again and again the gospel reveals God acting righteously in blessing.  Thus the gospel glorifies God’s righteousness for it reveals it in action. The gospel is not only God acting wisely, powerfully, graciously, mercifully, and lovingly, it is God acting righteously; the consistency of God’s character to its true nature is seen fully in the confluence of of righteous acts at the cross and the subsequent resurrection to glory of Christ and those united to him, who in turn become ‘the righteousness of God in him’ (2 Cor 5:21). Thus God’s righteousness shines in unrivalled brilliance in the gospel and the eyes of faith see, live, wonder, and worship.

*  We often hear that the Law reveals God’s righteousness.  It doesn’t.  It reveals the standard of righteousness that God demanded of man.  It does not reveal anything about what righteous behaviour in God looks like.  It would be ludicrous to apply these commandments to God (whether the Decalogue or the wider covenant stipulations).  God is not called to love his neighbour as himself.  Righteousness in God is not abstaining from committing adultery or stealing etc.   These are meaningful demands upon the responsible creature (and a sinful one at that) but not the Creator.  Thus the Law reveals the behaviour that God demands of man if he is to be righteous (live consistently with all the relationships he is placed in by God) but it does not reveal God in righteous activity (except when he punishes disobedience), the gospel, however, does.  The law shows the righteous behaviour God demands of man but not what righteousness looks like in him.

31
May
12

preaching about suicide

First of all, a further apology for such a time between posts.  Productivity is likely to remain low over the next couple of months so apologies again in advance.

On a recent Sunday past, a group of students from a nearby Bible College were responsible for our Morning Bible Hour.  Their preacher was a young Dutchman who  spoke ably.  His topic was interesting, indeed arresting.  He spoke in a general and pastoral way on Psalm 23 and made a number of pertinent comments.  He related the Psalm to a very personal and moving account of his young, pregnant sister-in-law’s tragic suicide some three years previously.

The juxtaposing of Psalm 23 and the suicide of a confessing believer in Christ was startling and provocative.

Psalm 23 extols God’s providential care of his people.  David, a literal shepherd in his youth and in his adult life, as King of Israel, a shepherd of a different sort (for kings in Israel were regularly described as shepherds of God’s people), confesses rightly and humbly, ‘the Lord is my Shepherd’.  The Psalm extols the shepherding care of God in David’s life.  Whether in pleasant times (when led by still waters) or difficult dark times (in the valley of the shadow of death) the Lord is his protector and keeper.  David need fear no evil.  Indeed in the very midst of his enemies, when threatened on every side, David’s faith depicts the Lord seating him at a banquet; the Lord’s provision makes a mockery of his enemies and every fearful situation.  David is safe in the epicentre of the storm because the Lord provides abundantly.

The question hangs begging in the air.  Why then did the young Dutchman’s sister-in-law commit suicide?  If God protects his people then why did he not prevent this young mother (and mother-to-be) from self harm?  Where is the God who gives banquets to his troubled and beleaguered people?

It would be a foolish person who did not see that here we are in deep waters.  Deep waters for faith that is.  This kind of topic is neither easy (or safe) to preach or post on for not only is suicide a subject that sends a chill down the spine of most but, more pertinently, who knows whether those who hear or read are themselves contemplating suicide or have a relative who has taken this tragic course. Discoursing on suicide means we must be particularly conscious of our audience.

So what points ought preachers to make when grappling with the subject of suicide of a believer?  Let me suggest a few.

1.  Preachers should stress the need for those who feel suicidal to see their doctor, and soon.  Many suicides arise from clinical depression.  Clinical depression is an illness that drastically skews our thinking.  It is not merely the normal experience of being down in the dumps.    People who are clinically depressed are unable to raise their mood however hard they try.   For whatever reason something has ceased functioning as it ought in their brain or nervous system that results in a mind flooded with dark thoughts and a mood that is deeply depressed and perhaps anxious.  They have a sustained disturbance of mood that is tangible, abnormal, and profoundly affecting their sense of well-being.  Medical attention can help dramatically.  The depression and symptoms can be treated (and significantly alleviated) and the underlying cause diagnosed and tackled.  Clinical depression is pathological; it is an illness and should be recognised as such.

Preachers should stress that just as a heart condition or blood pressure or a broken leg requires medical treatment (and perhaps lifestyle change) so too does clinical depression.  The depressed person is as clinically ill as is the person with say angina.  And while there may be spiritual issues that the illness reveals or creates (as there may be in any illness) the whole story is not likely to be spiritual.  The advice to see their GP soon and speak openly must be clear and unambiguous.  Where symptoms of depression or anxiety are persisting and are moderate to severe in intensity a visit to the doctor is a must and preachers must avoid suggesting the whole matter is spiritual and must be handled at that level.

Let me say it once again, preachers who preach about suicide and depression and other depression related topics must impress, as part of their message, the value of visiting the doctor, to fail to do so is irresponsible.  Medical attention can help dramatically.

2.  Preachers should not pronounce whether the person who has committed suicide is presently in heaven or hell.  They should avoid this for reasons both theological and pastoral.  They should avoid pronouncements for the simple reason that they do not know.  Preachers simply do not have the authority to pontificate for the Bible gives no sure word on this. Preachers have no theological mandate.

At one time the almost uniform view was that no suicide has eternal life.  Nowadays the opposite view prevails.  Preachers tend to fall over themselves to assure those who grieve that their loved one is in heaven. Such diametrically opposing views exist because pastors go beyond what Scripture reveals. On the one hand those in Scripture who commit suicide (like Saul and Judas Iscariot) are hardly comforting company.  It is those faithful unto death who are promised the crown of life (Rev 2:10).  Scripture affirms that it is those who stand firm to the end who are saved (Matt 24:13).  Endurance in faith is a hallmark of the redeemed (Hebs 6:11; Cf Rev 13:10). At the same time, God is not unrighteous and will not forget their work and love (Hebs 6:10).  More could be said here but for brevity’s sake I shall say no more.

Save this…

Pastorally it is disastrous to affirm those who commit suicide will be in heaven.  For the believer in the audience with suicidal thoughts such cavalier assurances act like green lights.  For some, the only brake on suicide is the worry that they may end up somewhere worse.  This is a healthy fear and is no bad deterrent and preachers should not undermine it by pronouncing where they have no word from the Lord.

Where the Bible remains silent we should remain silent.  In this way we avoid encouraging possible suicides or devastating grieving relatives and we stay within the bounds of ‘it is written’.

3.  Preachers should make clear that suicide is always an expression of a collapse of faith.  I imagine I hear shocked protest.  However, we must be blunt and unambiguous.  It is never faith that leads to suicide.  Faith trusts God.  It never gives up.  It never despairs.  It never loses hope.  Faith endures.  Suicide results from a loss of hope.  It flows from despair.  It happens when the pain (emotional or physical) is so great that the person no longer believes the resources are available to cope with it. When pain exceeds pain-coping resources, suicidal feelings are the result.  To believe we have no resources is the essence of unbelief.

Now it may be that the mind which commits suicide is so overwhelmed and distorted that all personal responsibility is gone.  None of us knows – only God knows.

I speak about this subject with some personal insight.  I have known deep depression that created suicidal thoughts.  I know others who have similarly suffered from depression and experienced suicidal thoughts.  In my case, profound and deep though the depression was, insistently mind-altering though it was, I did not lose completely the sense of personal responsibility and accountability. Indeed it was faith asserted when I did not understand and when my mind was screaming otherwise that preserved me.   To have succumbed to suicidal thoughts would only have been possible had I finally (however briefly) abandoned faith.

Perhaps there are depths of depression where such abandonment is inevitable and leave the person without any responsibility for their actions.  I do not know… and neither do you.  What we can say, is whether faith is abandoned knowingly (and so culpably) or otherwise, it is nevertheless abandoned and it is this that frees the person to commit suicide.  Where there is clinging faith there is hope and no suicide.

Of course, the person who commits suicide may have such distorted thinking that he believes he is doing the best/right/believing thing.  He is convinced he is a burden on others etc.  We should be clear (and preachers should make clear)that such ‘convictions’ are not true faith but a deception of Satan.  Again, true faith clings to God and what Scripture has revealed even when the mind and spirit are being swamped by all kinds of deceptive lies.

Again, I ask, is there a point at which the lies become so overwhelming, so compelling, that all personal responsibility is gone?  Only God knows.  But one way or another, either culpably or otherwise, faith has collapsed and the preacher, let me repeat, should make clear that this is the case.  We do none any favours by shielding them from this harsh reality.

This collapse of personal faith by the suicide is what helps us make sense – at least to some extent – of the tension that seems to exist between the announcement of Psalm 23 that God is the shepherd who protects his people and the suicide of a believer.  Why does David feel secure when threatened on every side?  Is it because he is super-brave?  No.  It is because of his faith.  It is because David believes that the Lord is his Shepherd that he is strong in spirit and stands firm.  It his resolve to believe and trust that gives him strength and resilience.  If his faith were to collapse then David would be overwhelmed and crushed.

Yes the Lord keeps his people but he keeps them through faith (Roms 11:30).  It is faith that gives us victory (1 Jn 5:4).  It is the shield of faith that defends us against the fiery destructive darts of Satan (Eph 6).  It is faith that enables us to endure (Hebs 11:27, 12:3; Rev 13:10).  Where there is faith there is endurance and divine keeping and protection.  It is those who trust the Lord promises to keep.  Not those who trusted in the past but those who trust now.  While we trust we are invincible.  When we trust we shall never be put to shame.  It is when we cease to trust we fall and sometimes catastrophically.

Of course, this does not answer all questions.  We are still left asking why the Lord allows faith to collapse.  Why did he allow the Dutch preachers sister-in-law to commit suicide or for that matter the preacher who married my wife and I?  But that question is but one of a whole parcel of such questions.  Why did he allow the young child prayed for and loved to die?  Why did he allow the cancer that took away a loving and needed father?  Why did he allow the pastor to commit adultery?  Why the genocide in Rwanda, the killing fields of Cambodia, the WW2 concentration camps?  Why did he permit Job to lose all that he had?  Indeed the most basic question of all – why did he permit Adam to sin?

To these questions no answer is given.  Such questions are too wonderful for us.  We are but creatures and God alone is the Creator.   In him alone are found the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.  Like Job we may in our confusion and pain question God and even, fools that we are, impugn his righteousness.  But like Job we will finally need to learn that God is God and we are but men.  We will need to hear the Lord say to us tenderly but firmly,

Job 40:1-8 (ESV)
And the Lord said to Job:  “Shall a fault-finder contend with the Almighty? He who argues with God, let him answer it.” … “Dress for action like a man; I will question you, and you make it known to me. Will you even put me in the wrong? Will you condemn me that you may be in the right?

Like Job we will need to humble ourselves and discover that what faith really requires is not answers but a fresh vision of God himself, a fresh realization that God is trustworthy even when we are in the dark, that God is righteous and every man a liar and unrighteous.  Then like Job we will confess,

Job 42:3-6 (ESV)
‘Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge?’ Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know. ‘Hear, and I will speak; I will question you, and you make it known to me.’ I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you; therefore I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes.”

In Christ, we have a far greater grasp of the ‘godness’ of God than Job had.  We have far more reason to trust unconditionally. And faith does this; it trusts Christ because of all he is and is content to forego understanding in a host of other areas.

The preacher who discusses suicide will want to make this point, and the previous ones, and perhaps others that I have not considered.  Are there any you feel ought to be included?

05
Dec
11

our extravagant god

To recognize the fulfilment of his [God's] promises, you must base your expectations not on the minimal but maximal interpretation of their terms’ 

David Gooding An Unshakeable Kingdom (Pg 30)

David Gooding’s small commentary on Hebrews ‘An Unshakeable Kingdom’ is among the finest of its kind on this book.  And it is free for download here along with others he has written!

06
Apr
11

letting god be god

Rom 9:14-24 (ESV)
What shall we say then? Is there injustice on God’s part? By no means! For he says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy. For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, “For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I might show my power in you, and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.” So then he has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills.  You will say to me then, “Why does he still find fault? For who can resist his will?” But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, “Why have you made me like this?” Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for dishonorable use? What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory- even us whom he has called, not from the Jews only but also from the Gentiles?

The ultimate truth about God is that he is sovereign.  He acts according to his will and does all, according to his own wisdom, for his own glory.  He is glorified in the display of his power,wrath and mercy, all proclaiming his righteousness, and those who are wise and of faith bow before this and worship.  I repeat, he is God and so does as he wills.  Much could be said about this (including noting that in the text above the emphasis is on his willing to be compassionate), but whatever is said, the bottom revelatory line remains the same – God is God and is answerable to no-one, least of all you and me; he judges us we do not judge him.  God’s ultimate Godness is rooted in his sovereignty and nothing else (not even his love).

To deny God his sovereignty is to deny him his majesty.  It is to deny him his rights as God, the very essence of the sin and unrighteousness that provokes his just wrath (Roms 1: 18-24).  When God awakens us to his majesty, our sin becomes immediately obvious and desperately sinful, his judgements and wrath immediately just, and we throw ourselves upon him for mercy.

If we fail to grasp this is who God is, and a response in fear, awe and self-abasement, before him is absent, then we do not really know the God of the Bible and we will be susceptible to many of the destructive evangelical myths and monsters mentioned in the previous post.

If we are wise, we will ponder this text deeply, and believe.

23
Mar
11

romans, and the righteousness of god (2)

Rom 1:16-17 (ESV)
I am not ashamed of the gospel… for in it the righteousness of God is revealed…

A world that is right is what is needed.  Creation groans eager to birth a world right in every way,  a new world suffused with righteousness where righteousness is the plumb-line (Isa 28:17),  flows like the waves of the sea (Isa 48:18), ​​​​​​​and like an ever-flowing stream (Amos 5:24).   The yearning of the righteous is for a creation where the clouds rain down righteousness (Isa 45:8) and righteousness sprouts from the ground like a fruit (Isa 45:8), and where all the people are oaks of righteousness before the Lord (Isa 61:3).

But…  the reality is far from this.

Unrighteousness is the reigning paradigm.  Creation’s steward has despoiled it with unrighteousness and its fruits.  This anatomy of human unrighteousness Paul lays bare in Roms 1:18-3:20: absurd idolatry (1:18-22); unnatural sexuality (1:24-27); brutish behaviour (1: 28-31); permissive morality (1:32); and, perhaps worst of all, moral and religious hypocrisy, epitomised most clearly in the Jewish nation, God’s chosen people (2;1-29).

The Jewish nation believed themselves a cut above all other nations, and they were.  They were God’s chosen people.  They alone had been given God’s Law.  They were God’s chosen mouthpiece to the nations (2:17-20).  Yet Paul is unambiguous – they too have failed and failed abysmally (2:21,22).  The Law was of little value if they did not keep it; the unrighteousness of the supposedly righteous, is the greatest unrighteousness of all (2:23).

The conclusion is as inevitable as it is chilling; if  the most privileged nation on earth (Israel) was pervasively and incorrigibly unrighteous what hope had any other – every mouth is stopped and the whole world is guilty before God (3:20). Because of wilful unrighteousness, the wrath of God is announced from heaven and is inevitably coming (1:18, 2:5-11).  What humanity need fear is not its destructive self, nor even on-going tsunamis, earthquakes and famines awful though they may be, but the final, dreadful, terrifying cataclysmic judgement of a God whose patience has finally ended and who is determined to purge his creation of its moral filth, consigning the unrighteous to Gehenna, the eternal burnings.  Such righteous judgement is the only righteous way for a righteous God to act.

Or is it?  Is a vision of a righteous universe where all the people are ‘oaks of righteousness’ and ‘justice flows like rivers and righteousness like an ever-ending stream’ no more than a prophetic pipe dream?  Is it merely a Seer’s romantic fancy? Is God’s righteousness something we must inevitably fear for it means we must perish?  Thankfully, it is not.

The glory of the gospel is its declaration that God has found a way to be merciful in righteousness, a way to righteously declare the unrighteous, righteous,  a way to establish righteousness by saving not destroying.

The  previous post noted four points about this gospel righteousness implicit in Roms 1:17.  It is… eschatological righteousness … God’s righteousness… saving righteousness… and righteousness received by faith.  In Roms 3;21-26 Paul expands all four aspects.  In five key verses of compressed theology Paul explains the central elements of the saving righteousness of God.  Any attempt to understand what the Bible means by ‘righteousness of God’ must grapple with this text.  I shall comment on a number of its expressions hoping to unpack some of its meaning.

Rom 3:21-26 (ESV)
But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it- the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.

But now…

Paul’s ‘But now‘ signals a contrast.  The contrast is not simply a change in his exposition but more particularly a change in eras -  a change in God’s working in history.  The previous era of Law which condemned by exposing human unrighteousness  has given way to a new era of gospel which saves by exhibiting God’s righteousness.  The eschatological age of salvation-righteousness predicted by the OT prophets has now arrived.  As J R W Stott writes,

The ‘Now seems to have a threefold reference – logical (the developing argument), chronological (the present time), and eschatological (the new age has arrived).

Israel believed that its salvation and that of the world lay in the Law of God (2:17-20); in law-keeping lay righteousness and life.  It was a profound mistake.  The Law, even before it had properly embedded, was exposed as inadequate to establish righteousness.  Even as the tablets of the covenant were being given by God to Moses on Sinai, they were being broken on the plains below as the people worshipped an idolatrous golden calf (Ex 32).  This incident portended the future.  The Law would not keep the people from being just as depraved as the surrounding nations who had no such Law.  It was clear that the Law could not deliver righteousness or deliver from wrath, all it could do was expose sin.  As Paul writes,

Rom 3:19-20 (ESV)
Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God. For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin.

If righteousness (and so life) was to be established then it would need to be from another source than humanity.  And so the prophetic voice, informed by the Lord, announced a righteousness sourced not in man but in God (3:21).  It anticipated a time when God himself would act in salvation and righteousness and establish both.  It spoke of the ‘good news’ of God’s coming saving righteousness, this saving righteousness Paul says has now arrived, or ‘been manifested‘.  (Of course, God’s saving righteousness always existed.  From Adam sinners were always justified by God’s righteousness received by faith, but now this righteousness is ‘revealed’, that is, the death of Christ has accomplished and exhibited it.  The gospel, once anticipated, has now been realised and fully revealed.)

righteousness of God apart from law (without law)…

We should reflect deeply on this expression.

  • Paul does not say the Law is one example of God’s righteousness and the Gospel is another.  For Paul, the Law never reveals God’s righteousness, what it reveals (if kept) is man’s righteousness.  It is only and always the gospel that reveals ‘righteousness of God’.  We create a non-Pauline paradigm and so confusion when we speak of the Law as revealing God’s righteousness.  I repeat, for Paul, only the gospel does this.
  • Paul does not say, ‘In the gospel righteousness is established not by you keeping the Law but by Jesus keeping the Law in your place and on your behalf’.  If this is what gospel righteousness is then here would have been the ideal and obvious place for Paul to have said so.  But he doesn’t.  Instead he insists on the opposite.  He states unequivocally, that the ‘righteousness of God’ has nothing to do with law-keeping.  Indeed, it has nothing to do with the Law.   It is righteousness ‘apart from law’ or ‘without law’, that is, it is righteousness different in premise and principle, and in fact belonging to a different period of redemptive history altogether.   This is a critical point to grasp for failure to appreciate this contributes to mistaken ideas in justification that plague much Evangelical thinking, particularly Reformed Evangelical thinking.  Gospel righteousness is not simply law-righteousness gained for me by another (IAO). It is not merely law-righteousness by another route, by the back door.   It is righteousness of a different kind, of a different epoch, and of a different source altogether.  This is precisely why Paul emphatically refers to this righteousness as... ‘righteousness of God apart from law’
  • The old era of Law put the emphasis on human responsibility; it looked for righteousness in man.  The righteousness of Law was predicated on ‘do this and live’.  It promised life for righteous living.  Yet, though this was its promise it was not its intent.  God did not give the Law hoping to establish righteousness through fallen human beings but to prove conclusively the futility of such a route to righteousness; he gave it to expose sin (3:20).  Only when all human attempts at righteousness have been exposed as the abysmal and abject failure they are, establishing beyond doubt humanity’s incorrigible unrighteousness and moral bankruptcy (Roms 3:9-20), does God reveal the glory and grace of his own saving righteousness.  Only when it is  established in history that humanity cannot be the architect of its own salvation will God’s salvation-righteousness be revealed.  God will have it crystal clear that if there is to be a saving righteousness then it will be and must be his and not man’s, and that the only ‘righteousness’ celebrated and boasted eternally will be God’s; boasting and glorying in any other is anathema (2:23, 3:27, 4:1,2; 1 Cor 1:28-30).  The gospel reveals God’s righteousness and in it he is glorified and no other.

Of course humanity refuses to learn the lesson of Israel and the Law.  It still seeks to establish its own righteousness.  But it does so against the damning evidence of history.  If Israel failed under Law all have failed (3:20).  Humanity post-cross is pronounced ‘dead’ in trespasses and sins (Eph 2:1)  There is no hope in human righteousness; hope of averting God’s wrath (1:18) lies only in the gospel, in ‘righteousness of God’.

I would add one further comment here.  We should not confuse ‘God’s righteousness‘ and ‘Christ’s righteousness’.  When Romans speaks of ‘God’s righteousness‘ it means just that, ‘God’s‘ righteousness.  It does not mean the righteousness of Christ.  God’s saving righteousness of course intimately involves Christ as the text we are considering shows but we confuse Paul’s thought if we conflate Christ’s righteousness and God’s righteousness.  They are distinct and should be kept distinct.  That Paul means ‘God’s‘ righteousness is emphatic in the text.  Three times in five verses we read of  ‘God’s righteousness‘  (3: 21,22, 25. Cf. 1:17, 10:3; Phil 3:9; 2 Cor 5:21) and once of  ‘his righteousness’ , meaning God’s (3:26).

The text could hardly be more emphatic; in the gospel the eschatological age of salvation has dawned.  It is an age where God’s righteousness is the focus and no other (Cf 3:27).  When we have established that Paul’s focus is God’s righteousness, not man’s, not even Christ’s, we have established something profoundly important and we are thinking across the synapses of the gospel.

witnessed by the Law and prophets

I have already alluded to this expression above.  If there is discontinuity between the Law and the gospel (both different epochs based on different sources of righteousness) then there is also continuity.  The continuity lies in the predictive element of both the Law and the prophets (often a term that covers the whole of the OT).

How did the Law predict the gospel?  Principally and specifically, the gospel is predicted in the sacrificial system of the Law.   Thus the following verses speak of redemption, sacrifice and the mercy-seat as the means by which God’s righteousness is revealed and administered (22-25).  The prophets, as we have already seen, regularly anticipated the Age of Salvation when the righteousness of the Lord would be revealed (  E.g. Isa 46:13; 51:5,6,8).

And so, in 3:21 Paul begins to put in context the ‘righteousness of God‘.  In the verses which follow he unpacks the meaning of the expression.  We shall consider these verses in a further blog.  For now let me re-assert we have understood nothing of the rationale of the gospel if we have not grasped this fundamental truth – the gospel is nothing if it is not ‘righteousness of God’.

23
Jan
11

Christ is new creation

Our thoughts about Christ leave a lot to be desired.  All too often they are inadequate and demeaning.  Two notions I have been disputing over the past few months illustrate this well.   I have been inveighing against a rising tide that seems to suggest that new creation is simply Eden restored.  Christ takes us back to a pre-fall Adam.   At the same time I have been decrying the notion that Adam was created with the promise that if he obeyed he would gain eternal life for himself and his posterity; he failed, however, where the first Adam failed, Jesus, the second Adam, succeeded and by his law-obedience gained eternal life for himself and his posterity.

Both notions reveal a disturbingly low view of Christ.  They place far too small a gap between the humanity of Adam and Christ.  All agree that Adam and Christ are heads of two humanities, indeed of two creations.  All agree there is real continuity between Adam and Christ.  In a real sense Christ is the son of Adam (Lk 3:38).  ‘Since… the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil and deliver all those who l through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery… it is not angels that he helps, but… the offspring of Abraham’ (Hebs 2:14-16).  For the purposes of salvation, ‘… he had to be made like his brothers in every respect’ (Hebs 2:17).  Thus he is truly ‘the seed of the woman’.  His humanity is neither false nor phantom.  There is real continuity, real organic union with the race.  However, there is also real  discontinuity, or, perhaps better, distinction, and all too often this discontinuity or distinction is downplayed.

We must understand that  Adam and Christ are contrasted as much as they are compared, perhaps more so (Cf. Roms 5:12-20).  At the very least we must say Adam (before sin) was humanity in a state of infancy while Christ (even before resurrection) is humanity in maturity.   We may put it another way.  Adam (pre and post fall) was humanity as ‘flesh’ while Christ (pre and post resurrection) is humanity ‘in Spirit’.  Or, in the language of 1 Cor 15

1Cor 15:45-49 (ESV)
Thus it is written, “The first man Adam became a living being”; the last Adam became a life-giving spirit. But it is not the spiritual that is first but the natural, and then the spiritual. The first man was from the earth, a man of dust; the second man is from heaven. As was the man of dust, so also are those who are of the dust, and as is the man of heaven, so also are those who are of heaven. Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven.

Let me express this difference in a specific example: Adam was morally vulnerable, Christ was not.   We must never think that there was any possibility that Christ would fail to realise a new creation beyond sin.  He was not Adam trying to achieve new creation; he was in himself new creation.  The OT itself had asserted the certain triumph of his mission.  Hear the ringing confidence God has in Christ in Isaiah,

Isa 42:1-13 (ESV)
Behold my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights; I have put my Spirit upon him; he will bring forth justice to the nations.  ​​​​​​​​He will not cry aloud or lift up his voice, or make it heard in the street;  ​​​​​​​​a bruised reed he will not break, and a faintly burning wick he will not quench; he will faithfully bring forth justice.  ​​​​​​​​He will not grow faint or be discouraged till he has established justice in the earth; and the coastlands wait for his law.  ​​​​​​​​Thus says God, the Lord, who created the heavens and stretched them out, who spread out the earth and what comes from it, who gives breath to the people on it and spirit to those who walk in it:  ​​​​​​​​“I am the Lord; I have called you in righteousness; I will take you by the hand and keep you; I will give you as a covenant for the people, a light for the nations,  ​​​​​​​​to open the eyes that are blind, to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon, from the prison those who sit in darkness.  ​​​​​​​​I am the Lord; that is my name; my glory I give to no other, nor my praise to carved idols.  ​​​​​​​​Behold, the former things have come to pass, and new things I now declare; before they spring forth I tell you of them.”  ​​​​​​​​Sing to the Lord a new song, his praise from the end of the earth, you who go down to the sea, and all that fills it, the coastlands and their inhabitants.  ​​​​​​​​Let the desert and its cities lift up their voice, the villages that Kedar inhabits; let the habitants of Sela sing for joy, let them shout from the top of the mountains.  ​​​​​​​​Let them give glory to the Lord, and declare his praise in the coastlands.  ​​​​​​​​The Lord goes out like a mighty man, like a man of war he stirs up his zeal; he cries out, he shouts aloud, he shows himself mighty against his foes.

The servant is invincible.  It is an invincibility borne of the fact that he is anointed by the Spirit of the Lord (I have put my Spirit upon him) and upheld by the Lord himself (I will take you by the hand and keep you); the Lord who is ‘mighty against his foes’ is with his servant.

When we turn to the NT we see that Christ is the one to whom the Spirit is given without measure (Jn 3:34).  He is not old creation in the flesh but new creation in the Spirit.  He is sustained by the Spirit in all he does.  He is born (conceived) of the Spirit (Lk 1:35, Matt 1:18)  He is led and filled by the Spirit (Matt 4:1; Lk 4:1).  The Spirit of the Lord anoints him and remains on him in his baptism (Jn 1:32,33) appointing him as the Spirit-empowered Messianic Redeemer who would bring salvation  (Lk 4; Isa 49, 61).  His Kingdom revealing miracles are miracles of the Spirit (Matt 12;28) and his words are words of the Spirit (Jn 6:53).   He is the Messianic Son who not only was himself baptised in the Spirit but would baptize others into this new covenant, new creation, life in the Spirit (Jn 1:33).   The Spirit who indwelt him he would sent to indwell his own new creation people (Jn 15:26).   As flesh can only give birth to flesh so only One who is ‘Spirit’ can give birth to ‘Spirit’ (Jn 3:6).  It is the Spirit who gives life, the flesh is no help at all, and the words of Christ are Spirit and life (Jn 6:63).   ‘Flesh’ never produces ‘Spirit’, old creation never produces new creation, only that which is already Spirit can produce Spirit, only new creation can produce new creation.  Again, in the words of  1 Cor 15, Christ is no mere Adam, of the earth and mere dust, he is ‘a life-giving Spirit’ (1 Cor 15).

Isaiah’s Servant had the promise that the Lord himself would take him by the hand and lead him.  When we come to the NT this translates into the Father and Son relationship that John’s gospel particularly develops.  Christ cannot fail because he can do nothing of his own accord, he can do only the things he sees his Father doing (Jn 5:19).  He and his Father are One (Jn 10:30).  He lives in the bosom of the Father (Jn 1:18), he is in the father and the Father in him (Jn 10:3, 14:10).  He dwells in the Father and the Father dwells in him (Jn 14:10).   All that the Father has he gives to Christ (Jn 16:15).   He lives by the Father, is consecrated and sent by the Father (Jn 10:36), does the works of his Father (Jn 10:37), speaks the words of the Father (Jn 12:49, 50), and follows the commands of his Father (Jn 14:31).   He and the Father work side by side (Jn 5:17).   To see and know Christ is to see and know the Father (Jn 14:9).  He had come from the Father and would return to the Father (Jn 16: 28, 13:1).  He had come from God and would return to God (Jn 13:3).  His origin is heaven not earth.  The first Man is of the dust of the earth, the second Man is the Lord from heaven (1 Cor 15).   In fact, he is a divine person.

Christ, the man,  is no mere Adam, he is no mere ‘Son of Adam’ trying to find the reward of eternal life through obedience and trying to rise from the humanity of flesh (old creation) to the humanity of Spirit (new creation).  Such ideas are woefully inadequate.  Christ has life ‘in himself’ (Jn 5:26).  In him was life (Jn 1:4).  He gives life to whomsoever he will (Jn 5;21).  His words are life ( Jn 6:63).  He is the resurrection and the life (Jn 11:25)  No-one takes his life from him.  He has authority to lay it down and to take it up again  (Jn 10:17,18).   He is the bread of Life (Jn 6:35).  He is the light of life (Jn 8:12).  He not only brings light, he is ‘the light’ (Jn 8:12). the ‘true light’ that lightens every man (Jn 1:9).  Language like this cannot be used of Adam.  This can only describe someone substantially different from Adam (pre or post-fall).  This is not simply a description of a new sinless Adam seeking to gain eternal life.  This language can only describe someone who is and brings others into a new order of humanity; Christ is not Adam restored, he is Adam reconfigured.

Adam was innocent, innocence implies an absence of sin: Christ was holy, holiness implies an abhorrence of sin.  Adam did not hate sin, he chose sin.  Christ loved righteousness and hated lawlessness (Hebs 1:9).  We are not encouraged to praise Christ because in moral vulnerability he faced sin and triumphed.  Rather we praise him because in the integrity of a humanity opposed to sin root and branch he bore all the opposition and grief that such a humanity would experience in a fallen and foul world to the extent of being made on the cross by God his Father what his holy humanity shrank from above all else , namely, sin.

Christ is invincible life, invincible new creation.  This is his great glory.  But this invincibility was at great cost.  He suffered being tempted.  Christ would not fail but the cost in not failing for him was enormous.  As new creation living in the hostile world of old creation he knew what it was to experience the opposition of sinners against himself (Hebs 12:3). He would not turn away from the Father’s will, he would drink the cup his Father gave him to drink, although that cup involved immeasurable suffering (Jn 18:11).  It was the cup drunk when through the eternal Spirit he offered himself without spot to God (Hebs  9;14), the cup of being the flesh in which sin was condemned (Roms 8:3).  His faith as a true man was tested to the utmost.  He made faith chart new territory (Hebs 12:3) for he never faltered or deviated from the divine will however demanding  or distasteful (Matt 26:39).  He may face great odds but he will do so with confidence and boldness; he is certain he will triumph and not be shamed for the Lord is with him.

Isa 50:4-11 (ESV)
The Lord God has given me the tongue of those who are taught, that I may know how to sustain with a word him who is weary. Morning by morning he awakens; he awakens my ear to hear as those who are taught.  ​​​​​​​​The Lord God has opened my ear, and I was not rebellious; I turned not backward.  ​​​​​​​​I gave my back to those who strike, and my cheeks to those who pull out the beard; I hid not my face from disgrace and spitting.  ​​​​​​​​But the Lord God helps me; therefore I have not been disgraced; therefore I have set my face like a flint, and I know that I shall not be put to shame.  ​​​​​​​​He who vindicates me is near. Who will contend with me? Let us stand up together. Who is my adversary? Let him come near to me.  ​​​​​​​​Behold, the Lord God helps me; who will declare me guilty? Behold, all of them will wear out like a garment; the moth will eat them up.

This is the Christ of Scripture.  This is the Christ I know, worship and serve.  Not a weak uncertain Christ but an invincible Christ.  A Spirit-empowered Christ.  A Christ filled with all the fulness of the Godhead.  A Christ who is the man from heaven. Man in perfect and holy communion with God.  The Christ of new creation, a new creation whose fulness he enters finally and forever upon resurrection.  We, united to him in his resurrection, share in this new creation which before and without his death and resurrection we could not, for, ‘unless a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die it abides alone but if it dies it brings much fruit’.

Let’s have great thoughts, biblical thoughts, of Christ.  He is God the Son who in incarnation not only introduced us to the Father but in becoming human introduced eschatological humanity, eternal life humanity, humanity in the Spirit, the humanity of new creation.

11
Jan
11

piper and christ as the image of God

What do you think of John Piper’s ‘imagining’ of what it means for Christ to be the image of God?  I believe he gets it from Jonathan Edwards.

… it would be totally misleading to say that the Son in whom God delights was made or created at the incarnation or at any time. “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God.” As long as there has been God, there has been the Word of God, the Son of God, who took on a human nature in Jesus Christ.

Now we can get a better idea of what the Bible means when it calls him the image or reflection or stamp or form of God who is equal with God.

From eternity past the one reality that has always existed is God. This is a great mystery, because it is so hard for us to think of God having absolutely no beginning and just being there forever and ever and ever without anything or anyone making him be there—just absolute reality that every one of us has to reckon with whether we like it or not.

The Bible teaches that this eternal God has always had

  • a perfect image of himself,
  • a perfect reflection of his essence,
  • a perfect stamp or imprint of his nature,
  • a perfect form or expression of his glory.

We are on the brink of the ineffable here, but perhaps we may dare to say this much: as long as God has been God, he has been conscious of himself, and the image that he has of himself is so perfect and so complete and full as to be the living, personal reproduction (or begetting) of himself. And this living, personal image or reflection or form of God is God, namely, God the Son. And therefore God the Son is co-eternal with God the Farther and equal in essence and glory.

12
Oct
10

reformed judaism!

Classic Reformed Churches house many godly Christians.  Some of the most able preachers of the gospel are found in their pulpits.   Yet running through this rich gospel lode is a streak of anomalous legalism that causes more than a little head-scratching and hair-pulling.   Some of these  C21 gentile believers seem almost as zealous for the Law of Moses as their C1 Jewish Christian (professing at least) counterparts.  The Law of Moses loomed large in the mind of C1 Jewish believers.  This was hardly surprising since it informed their whole religious and cultural background.  It seems less comprehensible that it should colour so greatly C21 gentiles who view the Mosaic Covenant from an objective  distance (historically, culturally, racially and geographically) and for whom Paul, the apostle, made herculean efforts to keep them free of the Law’s grip.  Yet many seem unable to place it in an appropriate redemptive-historical perspective.  All too often they give it significance it does not deserve.

And so, they speak of Scripture as ‘the Law of God’.  They refer to the Lord’s Day as ‘the Sabbath’.  They confess Christians are not under Law yet insist they are obliged to keep the Law as a rule of life,  an obvious  logical contradiction as well as being biblically unfounded.  They insist on a justification based on law-keeping to be accepted by God (and so Christ must keep the law on our behalf).  Indeed, the Law is so significant that it is, they say, a revelation of God’s character.

Now each of these claims is mistaken and when taken together create a legalistic climate of thought that is in danger of distorting the gospel.  At the very least the gospel becomes confused.  Let me focus on one point only.  Is it true to say that the Law is a revelation of the character of God, or, as many say,  a transcript of his character?

It is certainly true that the Law reveals something of the nature of God.  Everything God says and does reveals something about him just as everything we say and do reveals something about us.  But does the Law reveal the character of God?  The Law is just that, law.  It reveals what God demands of man if he is to be righteous.    It tells us what man ought to be but it hardly tells us what God is.   If a schoolteacher gives rules of behaviour to his pupils, does this reveal his character?  Read the Law in Exodus and Deuteronomy and see just how much it really shows of God.

What do we find when we turn to Scripture?  We find firstly that the Law far from revealing God was given by a hidden God.   The people do not see God.  He was hidden from them in thick darkness.

Exod 19:9,20 (ESV)
And the Lord said to Moses, “Behold, I am coming to you in a thick cloud, that the people may hear when I speak with you, and may also believe you forever… On the morning of the third day there were thunders and lightnings and a thick cloud on the mountain and a very loud trumpet blast, so that all the people in the camp trembled. Then Moses brought the people out of the camp to meet God, and they took their stand at the foot of the mountain. Now Mount Sinai was wrapped in smoke because the Lord had descended on it in fire. The smoke of it went up like the smoke of a kiln, and the whole mountain trembled greatly.

God spoke only through an intermediary (Moses).  Only Moses climbed the mountain and even he saw only the ‘back parts’ of God’s glory.  When he came down the mountain he veiled his face so that the people could not see the reflected glory.   All this reveals the nature of Law.  It tells us there is in God a holiness that cannot be approached or seen.  It does not reveal that holiness it simply informs us it is there.  Thus when we come to the NT we are told that the Law is a ‘shadow’.  Can a ‘shadow’ be a transcript of the divine character and nature?  We are told too, the Law is ‘obsolete and passing away’.  Is something transient properly a revelation of all God is in himself, his full glory?

The problem with claiming the Law is a transcript of the divine character is not simply that it gives the Law a significance it doesn’t deserve but that it detracts from the true revelation of the character of God which is Jesus Christ.  It is Christ who images the invisible God, not the Law.  It is Christ who is ‘the Word, eternally with God and himself God’ not the Law.  OT  Law was one part of a revelation that was at best piecemeal and fragmentary (Hebs 1:1) and stands in contrast to his revelation in his Son who is ‘the radiance of the glory of God and h the exact imprint of his nature’.  The Law, says John, in telling contrast, ‘ came by Moses, but grace and truth by Jesus Christ’.

It is in Christ and in Christ alone that the character of God is truly seen.  John says, ‘We beheld his glory, the glory of the only Son of the Father full of grace and truth’ (Jn 1).  Philip, in Jn 14 says,

John 14:8-10 (ESV)
“Lord, show us the Father, and it is enough for us.”

Does Jesus point to the Law?  We read,

Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you so long, and you still do not know me, Philip? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own authority, but the Father who dwells in me does his works.

Such language could never be said of the Law.  The Law demanded righteousness but did not reveal it.  It promised life but could not display it.  The righteousness and life that lie at the heart of God are seen only in the face of Jesus Christ.  John says of Christ, the Word of life, ‘the life was manifested and we have seen it’ (1 Jn 1:1,2).  The OT Law was an administration of death.  Indeed what Law revealed was human sin (Roms 3).  Life and righteousness are revealed in Jesus Christ.

2Cor 3:7-11 (ESV)
Now if the ministry of death, carved in letters on stone, came with such glory that the Israelites could not gaze at Moses’ face because of its glory, which was being brought to an end, will not the ministry of the Spirit have even more glory? For if there was glory in the ministry of condemnation, the ministry of righteousness must far exceed it in glory. Indeed, in this case, what once had glory has come to have no glory at all, because of the glory that surpasses it. For if what was being brought to an end came with glory, much more will what is permanent have glory.

It is in the Gospel the righteousness of God is revealed.  In the Law the righteousness of man is revealed.  Had man kept the Law it is his righteousness that would have been displayed and the object of glory or boasting, not God’s.  That is why in deliberate contradistinction we read in Romans 1 that it is in the gospel ‘the righteousness of God is revealed’ (Roms 1:17).

Where do we look if we wish to see God’s righteousness in its perfection?  We look to Christ.  Christ is the righteousness of God (1 Cor 1:30).  Indeed we look to Christ especially on the cross.  It is in the cross that the true and full character of God is displayed.  It is there God is fully glorified for it is there he is fully revealed.  There his wisdom, righteousness, grace, kindness, power, holiness, kindness, and mercy are all revealed in their perfect proportions.  There God, as he really is in himself, is seen.   God’s righteousness is not properly the demands of Law it is a righteousness that functions in grace and mercy.  Righteousness in God, is God acting consistent with all he is in himself.  Yes God is revealed as righteous in his judgements and is glorified in them but his heart is love and the righteousness that most glorifies him is a righteousness that is married to grace. God’s righteousness is at root a giving righteousness rather than a demanding righteousness.  It is at Golgotha not Sinai that God is glorified in all that he is and in such a way as he responds righteously by glorifying the one who so glorified him.

John 13:31-32 (ESV)
When he had gone out, Jesus said, “Now is the Son of Man glorified, and God is glorified in him. If God is glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself, and glorify him at once.

It is not the Law that shares the throne of God it is a freshly slain lamb (Rev 5).  The glory of the New Jerusalem is the glory of ‘God and the Lamb’ (Rev 21).  The glory of the Law was passing, the glory of the Lamb is permanent.   We do neither the Law nor the Lamb any favours when we ascribe to one a glory that rightly and solely belongs to another; Christ and only Christ , is the way (to God), the truth (about God) and the life (of God).

11
Aug
10

the trauma of holiness

God is good.  God is kind.  God is love.  God is generous.  God is gracious.  When as Christians we reflect on these aspects of God He is approachable.  But God is also holy.  Ah, there is the rub.  He is infinitely majestic and pure and hates all impurity.  His goodness is a holy goodness.  His kindness is a holy kindness.  His love is a holy love.

And mere sinful creatures that we are this holiness crushes us.  It caused Israel to tremble at Sinai and to beg that no further words would be spoken for they could not endure what was spoken.  Moses too trembled with fear.  Isaiah when he caught a glimpse of this holiness, cried ‘depart from me’.  John lay as a dead man.  It frightens and intimidates any sane man.  Only a glimpse crushes us.  God’s holiness makes us run away… apart from the blood of Jesus.

The blood of Jesus cleanses us from all sin.  The blood of Jesus allows us to enter the Holiest.  It enables us to step into God’s presence without fear.  We can rest in his holy goodness, his holy kindness, his holy grace.  We call him Father.  We are his sons.  He protects us and supports us and listens to us and welcomes us and wonder of all wonders delights in us.

Praise God for the blood of Jesus.  Thank you Lord for your precious blood.

18
Jul
10

Carson and the God who calls for worship

Below is an extract of an extract.  That is, it is a section of a PDF from a book just published.  The book is ‘Holy, Holy, Holy: Proclaiming the Perfections of God’ by a symposium of writers.  The PDF is the chapter contributed by D A Carson.  Below is an extract from this chapter based on 1 Peter 2.

I have been doing university missions off
and on for about thirty-five years. About a dozen years ago, I started
stumbling across a question from university undergraduates that I never
received when I was a young man. This relatively recent question is put
variously, but it generally runs something like this: “Amongst human
beings, anyone who wants to have all of the attention and garner all the
praise, anyone who wants to be the focus of everyone’s constant admiration,
with everyone stroking that person and fawning all over him, would
be thought of as massively egocentric. The God you are trying to push on
us looks to me to be very egocentric. He keeps demanding that we praise
Him all the time. For goodness sake, is He insecure? Isn’t He, at very least,

morally defective?”

What do you say to that? The reason I never heard that sort of question
in the past, I suspect, is because until fairly recently most of the
unconverted people I met in university missions had been brought up in
the Judeo-Christian heritage, which held that there is a sovereign, transcendent
God, and that He is unique and deserves special attention. But
now things have changed. Thirty years ago, if I were dealing with an atheist,
at least he or she was a “Christian atheist.” That is, the God he or she
disbelieved in was the Christian God, which is another way of saying that
the categories were on my turf. But I can’t assume that now.
So it’s difficult to respond. Of course it’s true to say something like
this: “Yes, but God is so much more than we are. He’s not just another
human being, slightly ‘souped-up.’ He is God. He is the Creator. He is
to be cherished and revered. He is our Maker and our Sovereign and our
providential King and our Judge.” All of that is true.

But there is more. It is one of the themes John Piper likes to preach
about. It is this: Because we have been made by this God and for this
God, because our very self-identity when we are right with God is to love
Him supremely, to adore Him and to worship Him, it is a supreme act of
love on His part to keep demanding it—because it is for our good. What
conceivable good would it do for us if God were to say: “Don’t give
Me too much worship. I’m just One of you guys. Slightly ratchet it up
maybe, but don’t focus on Me too much.” That might satisfy some idolater’s
notion of humility, but the humility that I see in this King of kings
is on Golgotha. That He keeps directing attention to Himself is an act of
supreme humility and grace, precisely because He stoops to remind us of
what we ought to recognize, and because it is for our good.

There is no insecurity in this God. After all, He is the God of aseity.
He has no needs. In eternity past, the Father loved the Son, the Son loved
the Father, and They were perfectly content. God is not demanding that
we love Him so that we can meet the needs of His psychological profile
this week. His focus on Himself is not only because He is God, but
because, out of love, that is what we need. That is what we must see. That
is the point to which our adoration must come. If it does not, we wallow
in idolatry again and again and again.

10
Mar
10

god’s wrath is real and personal

The Bible teaches us God’s wrath is real and personal.  God is angry because he has been attacked.   The essence of human rebellion is an attack on God’s right to be God.  We have attempted to unseat him.  In our antagonism we would rather worship empty things rather than Him.  Consequently he is stirred to deep anger.

C H Dodd was one of a string of theologians who have attempted to dismiss the idea of God’s wrath and with it the need for a penal substitionary atonement.   Apparently when he came to translate the word ‘propitiation’ he was heard to mutter under his breath, ‘what rubbish’. So well known was his antagonism that one English Cleric wrote a ditty.  It ran like this:

There was a Professor called Dodd
Whose name was exceedingly odd
He spelt if you please
His name with three ‘d’s
While one was sufficient for God.

The argument is ad hominem.  The poem ridicules Dodd for his hubris; Dodd has ideas above his station.  He knew better than God and as a result has a wilful disregard for the staringly obvious; professing to be wise he became a fool.

Ps 75:9
For in the hand of the LORD there is a cup, with foaming wine, well mixed; and he will pour a draught from it, and all the wicked of the earth shall drain it down to the dregs.

Ps 7:11
God judges justly, and God is angry with the wicked every day.

Isa 13:9 (ESV)
Behold, the day of the Lord comes, cruel, with wrath and fierce anger, to make the land a desolation and to destroy its sinners from it.

2Thess 1:6-10 (ESV)
God considers it just to repay with affliction those who afflict you, and to grant relief to you who are afflicted as well as to us, when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might, when he comes on that day to be glorified in his saints, and to be marveled at among all who have believed.

If this is not real and personal, what is?




the cavekeeper

The Cave promotes the Christian Gospel by interacting with Christian faith and practice from a conservative evangelical perspective.

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