Saturday, December 3, 2011

The Word of God, Written and Incarnate: How Men Can Know God

How can men know God? Where should we look to find Him?

The answer, humbling as it is to finite and sinful humankind, is that, on our own, we can't. Without his revelation to us, he can't be found. We are dependent on Him to reveal Himself to us. This is for two reasons. First, that God is infinitely beyond us: He is infinite, and transcends the created order. Second, because He is holy, and we are sinful rebels whose ability to know and understand Him has been broken by our sin.

First, God is transcendent. That is, He is not part of the created order, but is the Personal Source of all other being. Since He is outside the created order, created things can only know Him in the ways He chooses to reveal Himself. Failure to grasp the truth of God's utter transcendence will result in the denial that there is a God at all (atheism); or the conception of God as being identical with the cosmos (pantheism); or the conception of God as being coextensive and coeternal with the cosmos but everywhere present within it (panentheism); or the conception of God as being only a part of the created order (paganism, idolatry).

In coming to understand that God is transcendent over creation, though, we must also know that God is immanent within His creation. That is, He is not an absentee Creator who does not interact with the created order, and about Whom nothing can be known except His existence. Rather, He is active in providential care for His creation: he enters freely into it, revealing Himself to His creatures in the ways that He chooses. Failure to grasp the truth of God's immanence will result in the concept of a God Who may exist, but Who cannot be known.

Because He is transcendent, it is only as He reveals Himself within the created order that those within can know Him. Because God is immanent, He has revealed Himself.

So where has God revealed Himself? God is not a natural object that we come to understand as we do with created things, through scientific or rational observation and investigation. We also do not learn to know Him by searching for Him within our own minds and hearts. He comes to us from outside our sin-darkened minds and speaks a revealing and redeeming Word. He is the speaking Subject Who speaks all created things into being, Whose Word comes to us from outside ourselves and effectively accomplishes the revealing and redeeming purpose for which It was spoken. And God's Word comes to us in three forms: the spoken creation, which testifies to God's eternal power and divine nature, the written record of His revelation to the prophets and apostles, and the Living Word who God spoke into history and who continues to reveal Himself through the written Word to God's people. That is, God has spoken in creation, Scripture and in Jesus.

In Creation:
"For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made." Romans 1:18-20, ESV
"The heavens declare the glory of God,
and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.
Day to day pours out speech,
and night to night reveals knowledge.
There is no speech, nor are there words,
whose voice is not heard.
Their voice goes out through all the earth,
and their words to the end of the world." Psalm 19:1-4, ESV
In Scripture:
"But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work." 2 Timothy 3:14-16
In Jesus Himself:
"In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made ... and the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth." John 1:1-3, 14 ESV
"He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities - all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross." Colossians 1:15-20, ESV
"Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power." Hebrews 1:1-3, ESV
"He is clothed in a robe dipped in blood, and the name by which he is called is 'The Word of God.' Revelation 19:13, ESV
How do we know the Scripture as God's Word? And how do we recognize Jesus as God's living Word? Because God authenticates it to us. God's Word, when spoken, requires no authentication beyond itself. Since God is God, His speech is recognized as His speech by those to Whom it is directed. Moreover, there is no higher authority to appeal to if one were to ask God to authenticate that is in fact Him speaking. God Himself is the highest of all authorities. God's word is effective and is always recognized by those to whom it is spoken:
"For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and spirit, of joints and marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all things are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account." Hebrews 4:12-13, ESV
"For as the rain and the snow  come down from heaven
and do not return there but water the earth,
making it bring forth and sprout,
giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater,
so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth;
it shall not return to me empty,
but it shall accomplish that which I purpose,
and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it."  Isaiah 55:10-11 ESV
"My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father's hand." John 10:27-29, ESV
This Christmas, as you remember the birth of the Savior, take time to reflect on His identity as God's unique and final incarnate Word to His people. And, if you know Him, worship and thank Him for the indescribable gift He gave in taking on human nature, dying to reconcile us to God, being raised as the proof of God's acceptance of His sacrifice, continuing with us through the Spirit, and for the promise that the day will come when we will see Him face to face and be able to worship Him as He deserves.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

A Prayer at the Beginning of a New Week

Eternal, Infinite, Transcendent God and My Father, You know all things.

You know past, present, and future exhaustively. From the statistical motions and state transitions of subatomic fields to the slow spinning of galactic clusters. You know every thought and every inclination of every person you have made. There is nothing that will happen in this week that will be a surprise to You.

Not only do You know all things, You rule all things. It is Your Will that governs and works all things together for good to those who love you.

For me, and for the rest of my fellow humanity, the events of the coming week (or day, hour, minute, or second!) are unpredictable and uncertain. But you already know what You have planned for me.

So in the face of this, where should I begin in my praying? What can I say to One knows what I will say before I even think it? To my infinite Father who is ordering all things for my good?

Let me begin by thanking You for the grace You've given me. And yet, please give me grace to love and trust You more each day. Teach me each day to hate sin more and to turn from it. When I fall, give me faith to rise again in the knowledge that You had already forgiven me. Help me to become increasingly consumed with the eternal treasure that You have given me in Jesus. Teach me to be wise in making use of the time. Show me those to whom you want me to extend Your grace. Teach me to see the world and my walk through it rightly and to be guided by the Holy Spirit and by Your Word.

In Jesus Name,


Saturday, October 1, 2011

Online Bible and theology training - for FREE

One of the most acute problems facing the church at large today is the critical lack of biblically trained elders and leaders. This problem has a severe consequence in the church's being less than effective in confronting false teaching and beliefs of all kinds both inside and outside our congregations.

In light of this, I am very excited about, which is a free website with a wealth of seminary level classes on a wide variety of subjects, including Bible, theology, and biblical languages.

I strongly urge all of you to take a look around the site, take some of the classes, and to consider supporting the ministry which is dedicated to training people prepared to "contend for the faith once for all delivered to the saints."

Sunday, September 25, 2011

A dead-on accurate warning of the dangers of watered-down evangelicalism

This evening I ran across this convocation sermon from Tim Tennent, given at Asbury Seminary.

A couple of key quotes to whet your interest:
"... brothers and sisters, we must recognize that our own kitchen is on fire and within one generation, the whole evangelical house will soon be engulfed in flames.  If liberalism is guilty of demythologizing the miraculous, we have surely been guilty of trivializing it. If liberalism is guilty of turning all theological statements into anthropological ones, surely we must be found guilty of making Christianity just another face of the multi-headed Hydra of American, market-driven consumerism.  "
"These examples all seem so small and insignificant.  Yet, that’s how all drift happens.  You see, liberal Protestants never woke up one morning and said to themselves, “Hey, let’s adopt an Arian Christology, shall we?”  No one said 'Wouldn’t it be just wonderful if we could devote the next 50 years to undermining the apostolic faith.'  No!  I’ve read their writings.  They were deeply concerned, as we are, to make the gospel relevant to modern people.  Evangelicals have not openly abandoned apostolic Christianity.  No one set out to cheapen the gospel, diminish God’s holiness or downplay the cost of discipleship.  It’s just happening." 

I sincerely and urgently recommend the whole article to your prayerful attention.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Reflections and resolutions on the occasion of another birthday

So it seems I blinked a couple of times and somehow another year flew by. And when I stopped and counted, I suddenly realized that without my being very aware of it happening, I've probably made it well past the midpoint of my life.

So it seems like a good time to thank God publicly for His grace in keeping me safe thus far, and to put in writing a few of the resolutions on which I'm focused on at this stage of my sojourning - and on which, by God's grace, I'm hoping to become still more focused.

So, without further ado, I offer the following notes to myself:

(1) Life goes by much faster than you think it's going to. Don't waste time with trivialities. Abandon yourself to the love of God. Live to know God's glory and to make it known.

(2) Life is not predictable or controllable. Stop trying to make it so. Seek to know and do God's will, and trust when things don't work out the way you think they should that He is good and is working all things for the good of those who love Him.

(3) Everything in this world is transient. Invest your transient possessions to build the eternal wealth of God's Kingdom.

(4) Life's too short to waste energy being different things to different people. Ask God to help you be the same person before God and all men.

(5) You will inevitably and constantly fail at doing these things. Remember that your eternal inheritance is secured not on the basis of your becoming all that you wish to be in this life, but on the basis of the perfect God-Man, Jesus the Messiah, who has already redeemed you from all your sin and will preserve you to the end.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Do We Really Believe What We Say We Believe?

I've been thinking this week about what I really, truly believe. Which is not at all the same thing as what I kinda sorta believe, or wish I believed.  I'd stake my life on what I really, truly believe, but probably wouldn't on the things I only kinda believe.

The martyrs of the early years of the Christian Church had to face this question in its starkest form (and many Christians in different parts of the world today still have to): they were told that they would be imprisoned, tortured, or killed if they confessed Jesus as Lord and Messiah, but could go free if they denied Him.

The consequences of confessing that we believe in Christ in the modern West may not be nearly as stark as those faced by persecuted Christians, but ultimately the question is the same: do we really believe what we say we believe? That is, that repentance and faith in Jesus as Savior from sin, and submission to Him as Lord and King, are the only way that people can be reconciled to the God against whom they've sinned? That unless people are reconciled to God before they die, that they face an eternity of suffering in separation from God?

If I really believe these things that I confess, wouldn't my life be ordered differently?

In short, my faith is too weak and my heart is too cold.
Thou God of all Grace,
Thou hast given me a Saviour,
produce in me a faith to live by Him,
to make Him all my desire,
all my hope,
all my glory.
May I enter Him as my refuge,
build on Him as my foundation,
walk in Him as my way,
follow Him as my guide,
conform to Him as my example,
receive His instructions as my Prophet,
rely on His intercession as my High Priest,
obey Him as my King. 
May I never be ashamed of Him or His words,
but joyfully bear His reproach,
never displease Him by unholy or imprudent conduct,
never count it a glory if I take it patiently
when buffeted for a fault,
never make the multitude my model,
never delay when Thy Word invites me to advance. 
May Thy dear Son preserve me from this present, evil world,
so that its smiles never allure,
nor its frowns terrify,
nor its vices defile,
nor its errors delude me. 
May I feel that I am a stranger and a pilgrim on earth,
declaring plainly that I seek a country,
my title to it becoming daily more clear,
my meetness for it more perfect,
my foretastes of it more abundant;
and whatsoever I do may it be done
in the Saviour's Name. 
- from "The Valley of Vision: Puritan Prayers and Devotions", The Banner of Truth Trust

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

To understand the Bible you have to submit to it ...

There's an interesting piece in First Things arguing in favor of more literal Bible translations because more "interpretive" translations can distort the meaning of the text.

Part of the author's argument depends on the Protestant doctrine of the perspicuity of Scripture. In doing so, he quotes Wycliffe as follows:
Likewise, Wycliffe, for all his faith in the power of boys who drive plows to know their Bibles, makes it clear that Scripture exhibits its clarity only to those who undergo the lengthy intellectual discipline of submitting to its authority: “The faithful whom he calls in meekness and humility of heart, whether they be clergy or laity, male or female, bending the neck of their inner man to the logic and style of Scripture will find in it the power to labour and the wisdom hidden from the proud.” 

The whole piece is worth reading. You can find it here.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Why baptism IS a big deal ...

Craig Blomberg posted a piece on why baptism is really important at Denver Seminary's blog. Here's a choice quote to whet your appetite:

"My concern here is rather the inordinate number of young adults (and a few older ones) I meet these days who seem to think baptism is just no big deal ...  What a striking contrast from believers out of Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, and other religions in various parts of the world today who are completely ostracized by their families, not if they show an interest in following Jesus but if they "seal the deal" by means of baptism! What a striking contrast from believers past and present who occasionally have become targets for martyrdom, not if they merely profess some kind of commitment to Christ, but only after their public testimony in baptism! What an insult it is to their sacrifices to take this ordinance of our Lord so lightly!"
The rest of the post is here:

Saturday, June 25, 2011

The Church's One Foundation

My most recent post got me to thinking ...

The foundations of human institutions are susceptible to erosion and collapse. But the church, which is the City of God, has eternal foundations and cannot be shaken (Heb 11:10, 12:27). In the words of the Apostle Paul, "For no-one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ" (1 Cor 3:11).

Or, in the words of the great hymn:

The Church’s one foundation
Is Jesus Christ her Lord,
She is His new creation
By water and the Word.
From heaven He came and sought her
To be His holy bride;
With His own blood He bought her
And for her life He died.

She is from every nation,
Yet one o’er all the earth;
Her charter of salvation,
One Lord, one faith, one birth;
One holy Name she blesses,
Partakes one holy food,
And to one hope she presses,
With every grace endued.

The Church shall never perish!
Her dear Lord to defend,
To guide, sustain, and cherish,
Is with her to the end:
Though there be those who hate her,
And false sons in her pale,
Against both foe or traitor
She ever shall prevail.

Though with a scornful wonder
Men see her sore oppressed,
By schisms rent asunder,
By heresies distressed:
Yet saints their watch are keeping,
Their cry goes up, “How long?”
And soon the night of weeping
Shall be the morn of song!

’Mid toil and tribulation,
And tumult of her war,
She waits the consummation
Of peace forevermore;
Till, with the vision glorious,
Her longing eyes are blest,
And the great Church victorious
Shall be the Church at rest.

Yet she on earth hath union
With God the Three in One,
And mystic sweet communion
With those whose rest is won,
With all her sons and daughters
Who, by the Master’s hand
Led through the deathly waters,
Repose in Eden land.

O happy ones and holy!
Lord, give us grace that we
Like them, the meek and lowly,
On high may dwell with Thee:
There, past the border mountains,
Where in sweet vales the Bride
With Thee by living fountains
Forever shall abide!

Friday, June 24, 2011

If the foundations are destroyed, what can the righteous do?

I ran across this sad video today ...

Emerging Spiritualities in the American Church from Fuller Seminary on Vimeo.

The thing that saddened me was not the principals in the video, from whom I have learned to expect nothing more. Rather, the thing that disturbed me was the fact that the session was sponsored by Fuller Seminary.

It hasn't been so long since Fuller was a solidly evangelical seminary. It's a little shocking that things have so declined in the last 40ish years that this shallow, man-centered gabfest is supposed to pass for serious theological discussion.

Fuller's decline is testament to the fact that the church's most destructive enemies are always the enemies within. When the institutions in which we train our pastors loosen their grip on the faith once delivered to the saints in order to seek the approval of the wise of this present age, this is the inevitable result ...

A verse that comes to mind is "A little leaven leavens the whole lump ..." It's good to remember that the invisible church is still the Lord's and that He will preserve her until His coming despite all of the machinations of the Enemy.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Compelling evidence that the gospels were written by eyewitnesses

I ran across these videos on Justin Taylor's blog last weekend. Dr. Peter Williams presents some really interesting analysis of details like the names and geography in the canonical gospels as compared with non-canonical gospels. And presents a very compelling case for the gospels being (as Christians contend) written by eyewitnesses, as opposed to (as critics such as Bart Ehrman allege) being written decades after the fact by non-eyewitnesses in far-flung locations.

I highly recommend them to your viewing ...

Sanctification is inevitable ... but how is it experienced?

This is a follow-up to this post, made this past Sunday.

When the theological statement is made that the truly justified are being sanctified, it's fairly common for people to react in one of the two following ways:

(1) I continually fall into sin "X", therefore I'm not being sanctified, therefore I must not be justified.
(2) I'm a Christian, therefore I'm justified, and if it's inevitable that I'll be sanctified, then I won't make any effort - I'll just wait until it happens.

Both of these reactions have in common that they reason invalidly from a true theological statement to untrue experiential conclusions. Let's unpack that more slowly:

For reaction (1) above, the person is looking at their present state of imperfection and trying to conclude something about their state of justification on the basis of that state of imperfection. But this reasoning is invalid, because justification is by faith in Christ alone, independent of works (Romans 3:28). In this life we will always be in a state of imperfection, so if we were to reason solely from the fact that we still see ourselves sinning we could conclude that no-one is justified. We do need to be a little careful here, though, because we're told in many places (e.g., 1 John 2:3-6, 3:3-6) that the one who is born of God does not continue to sin. Doesn't this mean that we should use our works to assess our state of salvation? Well, yes and no. When we sin (which we will do often - some might say continually), we will have one of two reactions: either to excuse ourselves or to judge ourselves, repent, and to cling to Jesus in faith that His sacrifice covers all sin. The process of sanctification is principally the process of becoming increasingly dependent on Jesus in faith and love.

Reaction (2) above makes the invalid assumption that because sanctification is inevitable that it therefore requires no effort. Nothing could be further from the truth. We are to make every effort (2 Peter 1:5-10) to "make our calling and election sure". But to what end should we be directing our effort? Is our sanctification a matter of works but our justification a matter of faith? God forbid! Our salvation is a matter of faith in Christ from beginning to end. We must look to Jesus and away from our radical self-dependency and our addiction to self-justification. As we place Jesus always before our eyes in faith and love (this is where our effort should be spent -- but paradoxically, true faith and love can only be produced by God!) and renounce ourselves and our desires, the Holy Spirit will bring forth the fruit of holiness and obedience to God.

May the Lord sanctify our hearts to pursue Him and His righteousness alone, forgetting what lies behind and pressing on for the prize of the upward call.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Perfected For All Time ...

"For by a single offering He has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified." Heb 10:14

The doctrine of justification and sanctification are brought together in this remarkable verse. 

First, "He has perfected for all time ...". A single, definite, historical act has accomplished an eternal perfection.

But this act has accomplished this for "those who are being sanctified".  The verb tense here is present continual. Being sanctified is an ongoing process.

So, those who are being sanctified have been perfected for all time. This might appear at first to be a kind of contradiction. How can one be simultaneously perfected and still "being sanctified"?

A couple of possible answers:

(1) The end state is certain for those who are being sanctified. That is, Jesus initiated an inevitable process for those who are being sanctified. Said another way, "For those whom He foreknew He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, in order that He might be the firstborn among many brethren. And those whom He predestined He also called, and those whom He called He also justified, and those whom He justified He also glorified." (Rom 8:29-30). Jesus will ensure that all of His people will persevere until the end.

(2) In this life, the fact of justification (i.e., the fact that a person has been made perfect) is made evident through the ongoing process of sanctification. That is, only those who are being sanctified are justified. That is, "if anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me." (Luke 9:23). The process of sanctification is the daily process of self-denial and the setting apart or dedication of the entire self to the use of our Lord.

In fact, these two explanations are related. The daily act of will that denies the self is rooted in a real faith that it's inevitable that God will complete the process that He's already begun. "And I am sure of this, that He Who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ." (Philippians 1:6).

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Outside the Camp

"Therefore let us go to him outside the camp and bear the reproach he endured.  For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come."  Hebrews 13:13-14

We are to go to Jesus outside the camp.  Why?  

To be with Jesus.   

We don't seek to avoid reproach by staying inside the camp.  But we also don't seek out reproach for its own sake.  We bear the reproach for the sake of being with Christ.  

"Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.  For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish in order that I may gain Christ" Philippians 3:8

The first sign of the new birth, and the first step of discipleship is the recognition of the infinite value of gaining Christ.  When we see that Jesus is the pearl of great price and the treasure hidden in the field (Matt 13:44,46), we will willingly surrender everything we have for the sake of the surpassing value of knowing Him and being His.

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

Yes we renounce all that we have -- but we renounce it for the sake of Christ!  

The desire to be with Christ is very direct.  We don't pursue Jesus in order to gain salvation as something separate.  We pursue Jesus because knowing Him is salvation.  We don't pursue Jesus in order to gain eternal life.  We pursue Him because He is eternal Life.

Jesus is not a means to attain other goals.  He is the goal.  When we are asked to bear reproach for the sake of Jesus it strips away our self-deception and allows us to see any ways in which we are still seeking to use Jesus to attain other goals.

We also don't bear reproach as a means of paying for the privilege of knowing Christ.  The value of Christ is so high that no sacrifice or reproach can even weigh in the balances.  Rather, it's the height of foolishness to seek to avoid reproach if doing so will keep us from Christ.
What is this, Lord Jesus, that Thou shouldst make an endOf all that I possess, and give Thyself to me?So that there is nothing now to call my ownSave Thee; Thyself alone my Treasure.Taking all, Thou givest full measure of ThyselfWith all things else eternal --Things unlike the mouldy pelf by earth possessed.But as to Life and godliness, all things are mine,And in God's garments dressed I am;With Thee an heir to riches in the spheres divine.Strange, I say, that suffering loss,I have so gained everything in gettingMe a friend who bore a Cross."-- Jim Elliott's Diaries, Oct 9, 1948 
Lord, give us this day eyes to see your surpassing greatness and goodness.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Friday, February 4, 2011

Thabiti Anyabwile nails it ...

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Completely Clean!

Christian, have you been reminded today that God has forgiven all of your sin? 

If you're anything like me, it's easy in the daily battle against sin to forget that despite your constant failures and rebellions, you've been forgiven.  

And not just "kind-of" forgiven.  

Jesus has carried the penalty for all sin from those who trust Him for salvation.  "All" is a really big word, and there's a messed-up part of my thinking that refuses to completely accept the fact that I've been completely forgiven.  Not just barely forgiven, or grudgingly forgiven, or "You're-off-the-hook-for-outer-darkness-but-you-don't-really-belong-with-me" forgiven, but completely and joyfully accepted by God as clean.

And not only am I clean, but because I'm united by faith to Jesus, I was crucified with Him (Galatians 2:20) and so the penalty of my sin has been paid and I stand before God not only free from the penalty of my sin but also accepted as beloved!  

So even in the ongoing grief at offending God that I experience as part of this life of repentance that I now lead, I am stirred to ever deeper humility and gratitude that He would have done such a thing for me.

May God bless you today, Christian, as you continue to trust in Jesus' sacrifice of Himself on your behalf for the forgiveness of your past and future sins.  And may God give you joy as you look forward eagerly to the day when He will complete the work He started, removing not only the penalty of sin but also the ongoing presence of sin in our lives.