Friday, January 30, 2009

Jesus, the Son of God

Here is the sermon I am preaching tomorrow at the nursing home. Take a look!

Jesus, the Son of God
Mark 1.9-11; 10:45

In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And when he came up out of the water, immediately he saw the heavens being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.” (Mark 1.9-11)

For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Mark 10.45)

In life there are many important questions that we may ask ourselves. When we are younger some of us ask, “What will I do with myself or what career path will I choose?” This is an important question because depending on what we want to do with our life will determine what we will do with our time or what college/university we will attend. When we’re a little older another important question is, “Who will I marry?” For those people who want to get married this is a crucial matter. Obviously we won’t go out and marry anyone. We want to choose someone who is compatible with us, whom we love, and, in the case of a Christian, someone who loves the Lord Jesus Christ. Perhaps a question that older people have to deal with is, “What will happen to all my things after I die?” Some things we own are very precious to us and we want them to go to particular loved ones. This is why we have things like wills so that we can determine beforehand where our possessions will go after we die.

But although all these questions are important and necessary there is one question that rises above them all. There is one question that is most important. This question is, “Who is Jesus Christ?” This question is so important because it determines your relationship to God. Your confession of Jesus Christ will determine the outcome of your life. It is the “Sum” of your entire life.

When Jesus was on earth he did many mighty things. He healed the sick, raised the dead, and even exercised control over nature. Because of these things people asked, “Who is this man?” The Bible Says:

On that day, when evening had come, [Jesus] said to them, “Let us go across to the other side.” And leaving the crowd, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. And other boats were with him. And a great windstorm arose, and the waves were breaking into the boat, so that the boat was already filling. But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion. And they woke him and said to him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” And he awoke and rebuked the wind and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm. He said to them, “Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?” And they were filled with great fear and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?” (Mark 4. 35-41)

Jesus, talking with his disciples says:

And Jesus went on with his disciples to the villages of Caesarea Philippi. And on the way he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” And they told him, “John the Baptist; and others say, Elijah; and others, one of the prophets.” And he asked them, “But who do you say that I am?” (Mark 8. 27-29)

Today, in this nursing home, Jesus asks each and every one of us, “But who do you say that I am?” And that’s what I want to speak with you about. I want to look to the Bible, God’s word, and see what it says about Jesus and who he is. There are many opinions today about Jesus Christ. Some say he was a good man, an inspiring teacher or a good example. But, ultimately, all of these fall short and we must ask, “what does God have to say about Jesus?” And that’s what we will find out today.

1. Jesus is the Son of God, the Messiah, and the world’s true King

Where can we find hope? Our world is a broken world. Wherever we look there is sickness, poverty and death. We see it on the news and we see it in our own lives. Of course, there are wonderful things in this world. Things we can enjoy and things we can love. Some of us have families who we very much get along with and love to fellowship with. But then what happens when a family member suddenly dies in a car accident or develops a drug addiction? Or what about when a family is split up because of an adulteress relationship? It forces us to confess, “There is something deeply wrong with our world.”

Or perhaps we can think of our justice system. We can give thanks to God that we have police officers to protect us and judges who can execute justice. We can feel safe in our communities, in our homes, and know that people will be punished for their crimes. But what happens when one day we look out the window and see police cars and ambulances only to find out that our neighbors’ 5 year old girl was murdered while she slept. And worse, what happens when the murderer gets away with it? Again, we must confess, “There is something deeply wrong with our world.”

In Canada we are very blessed. We have healthcare, we have a government that values equality, we can get jobs, and we can buy homes. But then what happens when we wander through the streets of Toronto and see that there are many left without homes, people who sleep out in the cold and sometimes freeze to death. There are some women who cannot feed their children so they stand on street corners and sell their bodies to make a living. Again all of these things cause us to confess, “There is something deeply wrong with our world.”

So where do we find our hope? Do we find it in our families? NO! Do we find it in our government? NO! Do we find it in our money? NO! None of these things can give us ultimate hope!

The only true hope for this world is Jesus Christ, the Son of God. In the Old Testament God looked on his oppressed people and promised times of blessing, time of refreshment; it would be a time when there would be a new King who would make all things right. All evil would be judged and the earth would be filled with righteousness. There would be a new earth where there would be no more pain or tears and the lion would lie down with the lamb. The King would come with his kingdom and all evil would be judged.

In our passage, Jesus comes to John the Baptist and is baptized. As he comes up from the water there is a voice heard from heaven. It is God! And he says that Jesus is his Son. In Psalm 2:7 God says to King David, “You are my Son”. This points to Jesus. Jesus is the true king. Jesus is the Messiah who would put all things right.

He is the one who gives hope of a world, a new creation, where there will be no more sin and death. No more will there be any phone calls or knocks on the door reporting that a dear family member has just died in a tragedy. The world will no longer be plagued with injustice where guilty people get away free. There will be no more oppression. There will be peace. People won’t go hungry, they won’t be homeless and they won’t freeze to death.

People were expecting a Messiah to put things right. But they didn’t expect that the Messiah would die and rise again. They didn’t think that God’s king would be hung on a cross.

2. Jesus is the King who Dies for Sinners

Jesus was a humble king. He wasn’t born in a palace but he was born in a stable that probably smelled of animal dung. People rejected him. Even his own people sought to kill him. But Jesus’ death was no accident. Although men handed him over to be crucified, it was part of God’s age old plan to rescue sinners just like you and me.

So why did Jesus die? The answer is quite simple really. Jesus came as the Messiah to put the world right and to judge all evil. But what happens when we are all sinners? What happens when we are all evil? Well the fact of the matter is that if God is going to judge all wickedness he will have to judge you and me too. We are sinner’s who have rejected God. We have chosen our own way and have gone astray. Just like God’s people were carted off to exile because of their sin, we are all sinners and are in the exile of death.

You need to hear this. Your fundamental problem is not that your neighbor is a sinner. Your fundamental problem is that you yourself are a sinner and deserve the judgment of God. But when Jesus Christ came he showed what kind of king he really was. He was a humble king who would take upon himself the punishment that we deserve. Our passage says this, “For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” Jesus would pay the price that our sinned deserved. He would bear God’s awful wrath so that we, sinners, could go free. Jesus died so that we could enter into the kingdom. He died so that we could come under his gracious rule and could experience life when Jesus puts all things right.

But Jesus was the King. He could not stay dead. The Bible says, “Brothers, I may say to you with confidence about the patriarch David that he both died and was buried, and his tomb is with us to this day. Being therefore a prophet, and knowing that God had sworn with an oath to him that he would set one of his descendants on his throne, he foresaw and spoke about the resurrection of the Christ, that he was not abandoned to Hades, nor did his flesh see corruption. This Jesus God raised up, and of that we all are witnesses. Being therefore exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he has poured out this that you yourselves are seeing and hearing.” (Acts 2.29-33). It also says, “[God promised the gospel] beforehand through his prophets in the holy Scriptures, concerning his Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh and was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord. (Rom. 1.1-4).”

Jesus was the suffering servant who bore our sins on the cross so that we might be forgiven. And through the resurrection of Jesus he was declared to be the true King of the entire world. He is the one who will make all things right, will take away all pain and all suffering.

Trust in him. Confess with your mouth that Jesus Christ is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead and you will be saved.

New City Baptist Church and the Unexpected Messiah

The church where I am a member, Grace Fellowship Church (in Toronto), is taking part in a new church plant downtown, New City Baptist Church. I was just listening to the first sermon preached at this new church and was greatly edified. Pastor John Bell presents Jesus as the unexpected messiah who dies for the sins of his people. Be in prayer for this work as there is a great need in Toronto for solid evangelical churches.

New City Baptist Church Website

Click Here to listen to the Sermon

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Doing Things Well for the Kingdom of God

Our Lord was not a lazy man. He was busy doing kingdom work. Sometimes things got so crazy that the crowds pressed all around him and he had to escape to a quiet place. Of course not all of us will be involved in ministries that will invite large crowds. Nevertheless, we ought to work for the kingdom with all our might.

Last night I read Don Carson’s, “Memoirs of An Ordinary Pastor” and I was greatly touched with the endurance of Tom Carson. Whatever he was doing, whether it was full-time ministry, being a civil servant, preaching, or taking care of his wife, he did it well, without complaining, except maybe about his own sinfulness. When his wife was sick he dropped mostly everything and dedicated most of his time to be there for his bride. He is an example for all husbands: “External ministry just about evaporated: Dad’s ministry was looking after Mum. And not once, not once, did any of his children hear a single note of self-pity or a muttered ‘This isn’t the woman I married’ or any such thing. We cannot recall a single time when he lost patience with her” (133).

This was true in every way he served the Lord. Yet, in my life, there have been many times that I have felt self-pity, have not done my job well or complained about my circumstances. But we ought to reflect Christ. We ought to do what God has given us to do for his Kingdom and do it well. Tom is helpful when he recounts the saying, “I am but one, but I am one; I cannot do everything, but I can do something; what I can do, I ought to do; and what I ought to do, God helping me, I will do” (143). Of course, we always need the cross and resurrection so that we remember that our acceptance with God is not to be found in ourselves but in King Jesus.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

What Do You Do?

So what do you do when you have a wife to support and no job? Remember that Jesus is the risen King and you have been bought with his blood.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Looking For a Job

I will be taking a break from blogging as I look for a new job! See you when I see you.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Hail to the Lord’s Anointed

“Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God, which he promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy Scriptures, concerning his Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh and was [designated] to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord” (Rom. 1.1-4).

For the apostle Paul a central facet of the gospel proclamation was the fact that through Jesus’ resurrection he was designated to be the Son of God (cf. Psalm 2.7), the world’s true Lord. For some of us we have trouble seeing what is so good about this news. Is this just the scary part of the gospel and then the good part is that we can have our sins forgiven? I don’t believe so. I think that the declaration of Jesus’ lordship and his substitutionary atonement are equally ‘gospel’! The gospel of Jesus’ lordship is good news because of the sort of king that Jesus is. He is the king that brings salvation. He is the king that rules justly. He is the king that bore the wrath of the father. Jesus’ lordship is terrifying if you reject him but when we see the kind of kingdom that Jesus’ brings it ought to make us want to ‘sell everything just to buy this treasure’. Read through Mark 5 and rejoice in the kind of King that we have as Christians. Here are some lyrics by The Welcome Wagon that can help us find great joy in the gospel of God’s Son:

Hail to the Lord’s Anointed

“Hail to the Lord’s Anointed, Great David’s greater Son!
Hail, in the time appointed, His reign on Earth begun!
He comes to break oppression, to set the captive free,
To take away transgression, and rule in equity.

He comes with succour speedy, to those who suffer wrong;
To help the poor and needy, and bid the weak be strong;
To give them songs for sighing, their darkness turn to light,
Whose souls, condemned and dying, were precious in His sight

He shall come down like showers upon the fruitful earth;
Love, joy, and hope like flowers, spring in His path to birth;
Before Him on the mountains shall peace the herald go;
And righteousness, in fountains, from hill to valley flow.

To Him shall prayer unceasing and daily vows ascend;
His kingdom still increasing, a kingdom without end;
The tide of time shall never His covenant remove;
His name shall stand forever, His name to us is Love”

Monday, January 19, 2009

Romans 1. 16, 17: The Righteousness of God

The next passage in Romans that I am studying includes the controversial verses 16 and 17. Since I had some time this weekend, I wanted to do a little mini-study on these verses before I continued.

So what is the “Righteousness of God”? There are many answers to this question. Three possibilities are:

1) God’s faithfulness to his covenant (an attribute of God)
2) A gift of righteousness (a genitive of origin)
3) God’s saving activity (subjective genitive)

It is hard to make a choice because there seems to be good reasons for either one of these. One thing that we have to remember is that we must not anathematize people because they disagree with what we think it means. People can become quite passionate over this word, rightly so, but it can sometimes get ugly.

Perhaps I’m taking the easy way out but I think that when Paul speaks of ‘the righteousness of God” he has all three, or something close, in his mind. Frank Thielman says, “The most satisfying understanding of the phrase recognizes, however, that Paul uses it in more than one way”1. Doug Moo asks the question, “Do we have to choose between theology (God’s acting) and anthropology (the human being who receives) – as some have stated the dilemma? Could we not take ‘righteousness of God” here to include both God’s activity of ‘making right’ – saving, vindicating – and the status of those who are so made right, in a relational sense that bridges the divine and the human?”2.

There is good reason to think the phrase means something close to ‘God’s saving activity’. After all, it is frequently used in the OT in this way: “I bring near my righteousness; it is not far off, and my salvation will not delay; I will put salvation in Zion, for Israel my glory” (Is. 46.13). In this passage “righteousness” and “salvation” seemed to be used synonymously. God’s righteous is his powerful saving activity that will be displayed when God rescues his people from sin and exile.

However, we also need to note, the context that the term is used. In Romans “God’s righteousness” stands in close proximity to the righteousness that humans receive as a gift. Paul says, “…the free gift is not like the result of that one man’s sin. For the judgment following one trespass brought condemnation, but the free gift following many trespasses brought justification. If, because of one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ” (Rom. 5.16, 17). Moreover, in Romans 1.16, 17, the idea of the gospel revealing God’s righteousness suggests the subjective genitive whereas the quote from Habakkuk stresses that it is a status received by faith. The two go together.

Others see Paul’s use of ‘the righteousness of God’ as referring to God’s covenant faithfulness. Psalm 98 gives us insight:

“Oh sing to the LORD a new song, for he has done marvellous thing! His right hand and his holy arm have worked salvation for him. The LORD has made known his salvation; he has revealed his righteousness in the sight of the nations. He has remembered his steadfast love and faithfulness to the house of Israel. All the ends of the earth have seen the salvation of our God. Make a joyful noise to the LORD, all the earth; break forth into joyous song and sing praises! Sing praises to the LORD with the lyre, with the lyre and the sound of melody! With trumpets and the sound of the horn make a joyful noise before the King, the Lord! Let the sea roar, and all that fills it; the world and those who dwell in it! Let the rivers clap their hands; let the hills sing for joy together before the LORD, for he comes to judge the earth. He will judge the world with righteousness, and the peoples with equity.

When God acts in salvation, or righteousness, he is being faithful to his covenant with Israel. Through the good news of Jesus’ reign and the salvation it brings God is fulfilling the promise made to Abraham, namely, that he would be the father of many nations.

In Romans 1 the stress seems to be on God’s saving activity which, as a result, reveals his covenant faithfulness. Frank Thielman says, “[God’s righteousness and salvation] reveal his faithfulness to the covenant he made with his people”3. Michael Bird expresses the same thought, “In saving Israel, God is faithful to his covenant…”4.

So in light of these insights what would be a simple definition? Our decision should take into account all three possibilities. God’s righteousness is his powerful act of salvation to bring people into a right relationship with himself which, in turn, displays that he is faithful to his covenant with his people. This act of salvation includes the gift of a new status (see Phil 3:9) so that all those in Christ can be declared ‘righteous’ by faith in the crucified and risen Lord of the world. In short, we might say that God’s righteousness is his ‘righteous-ing”.


1. Thielman, Frank. Theology of the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2005), 346.
2. Moo, Douglas. J. The Epistle to the Romans (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1996), 74.
3. Thielman, 346.
4. Bird, Michael. F. A Bird’s Eye View of Paul (Nottingham: IVP, 2008), 94.

Friday, January 16, 2009

R.G. Mitchell Family Books

Here is a brief overview of my family's company that recently went bankrupt. Mitchell Family Books was a Christian book distributor and retail store that was in business for over 70 years. My grandfather was a godly man with a heart for Christ and his word. Perhaps, if my parents let me, I can post some of my grandfather's memoirs. He was a man who loved business, evangelism, the proclamation of God's word and, most of all, his Savior.

Douglas J. Moo on Google Books

For those of you who don't know, Google Books offers great previews of a variety of books. You can actually read quite a large chunk of Douglas J. Moo's commentary on Romans. Click here.

Romans 1.8-12: Paul’s Longing

I just realized that I barely commented on verse 7 in my previous post. What is interesting there is that Paul refers to the Christians as ‘beloved of God’. This was a way of referring to God’s chosen people, Israel. In light of the Christ event Paul feels quite free to speak of God’s new covenant people in the same way. I think that’s pretty interesting!

Well I’m a pretty indecisive person so I have changed my mind on the whole NET bible thing. Instead I will be using the ESV. However, later on I might go a little King James on you. I don’t know; we’ll just have to see. If you’re reading this just remember that these are my personal ‘devos’ so I won’t be dealing with everything in the text.

First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you, because your faith is proclaimed in all the world. For God is my witness, whom I serve with my spirit in the gospel of his Son, that without ceasing I mention you always in my prayers, asking that somehow by God’s will I may now at last succeed in coming to you. For I long to see you, that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to strengthen you- that is, that we may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith, both yours and mine (Rom. 1.8-12)

Paul is always thanking God for other Christians because of the fact…well, that they are Christians. God’s is doing his work through his gospel. As we will see in v.16, the gospel is God’s power. Through this gospel God had saved, and was saving, people from Rome and people were talking about it. Paul doesn’t just thank God for their faith when he prays but he asks God for an opportunity to see these Christians.

He wants his reader’s, for whatever reason, to know that he is very serious about this so he calls God as his witness (the God whom he serves in spreading the good news of Jesus’ reign). Paul was a missionary and he was passionate about those who had come under the lordship of Jesus. Christianity isn’t about ‘I’; it’s about Jesus and the ‘us’ that he is creating. We ought to long for the fellowship of other believer’s just as the apostle does himself. Why did Paul long to see these Christians? His desire is that he may impart to them some spiritual gift so that they might be strengthened. How would they be strengthened? By being mutually encouraged by each other’s faith. Paul probably didn’t know what sort of spiritual gift he would impart to them; he would have to wait to see what their needs were. But what we can learn from the apostle is that we ought to constantly be seeking to bless other Christians. Perhaps we can practice this exercise by choosing a particular member from our congregation, praying for them, and then telling them how you’ve been praying for them. In this way we can bless others and encourage them, just like Paul.


Last night I was reading Doug Moo on Romans; in reference to the spiritual gift in this passage he comments, "...we should think...of an insight or ability, given Paul by the Spirit, that Paul hopes to 'share' with the Romans. What gift Paul may want to share with the Romans cannot be specified until he sees what their needs may be." In light of that, Tim Challies has a helpful post on spiritual gifts.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Trevin Wax on His Interview with Wright

A few days ago Trevin Wax posted an interview he conducted with N.T. Wright. There is some great discussion going on over at the Kingdom People blog. Here is a comment that Trevin made in response to some questions and comments that I find helpful:

"First, responding to BJ…

Your question about Wright and Piper’s view on the “grounds for salvation” is actually not what this discussion is about. Keep in mind that Wright and Piper are using the same terms in different ways.

Wright is using the term “justification” in an ecclesiological sense. That is… he is saying that what marks us out as being part of the kingdom of God is our faith - not circumcision, Sabbath-keeping, etc. In other words, justification is concerned with “who is in the covenant.” He seeks to uphold this definition by putting passages like Ephesians 2 in context (after the “by grace you are saved through faith” section follows an extended passage on God bringing together Jew and Gentile). Also key for Wright is Galatians 2. When Paul confronts Peter, what is it over? Ecclesiology. Peter won’t sit with the Gentiles. He is waffling on “the mark” of the covenant, which is now faith in Jesus - not the Jewish Law.

So when Wright says one is justified on the Last Day by works, he is NOT saying that one is saved by works. He is not using “salvation” and “justification” as synonyms. In fact, he caught me doing this in my first interview with him (Nov. ‘07). I asked a question about justification by works, switched over to talking about salvation, and he said I was equating them… He was right. I was. But he’s not and he wants to be emphatic about that. Salvation is by grace alone.

So part of this discussion is about how to frame the doctrine of justification. Is it merely an ecclesiological doctrine (that is, it speaks to who is part of God’s people) or is it also a soteriological doctrine (that is, it solves the problem of how one gets to be part of God’s people)? Piper and many in the Reformed tradition see it as the latter. Wright and others in the Reformed tradition (including Baxter and a few others it can be argued - Michael Bird is the expert on this) see it as the former.

In answer to Tim, who wants me to peek my head up and give a verdict… I enjoy the works of Piper and Wright and have benefited greatly from both. I feel indebted to Wright for his work on the historical Jesus, which helped me to see how Jesus actually fit his historical context. I am indebted to Piper for his God-centered theology that focuses on the glory of Christ.

To see where I line up, take a look at my extensive commentary on “The Future of Justification” and also a series I did about a year ago called “New Perspective Positives,” where I demonstrate a few places that the New Perspective provides a healthy corrective to evangelical theology. I believe there are some key points made by the NP that can be incorporated into a conservative theological framework that leaves intact the traditional categories of historic Protestant theology.

Regarding the debate over justification… Think of Wright’s theology as a movie camera that focuses in on the background instead of the foreground. (You’ve seen movies or TV shows where the background is brought into focus and the foreground is fuzzy.) I think Wright is correct to see the ecclesiological ramifications of justification that are often absent from Reformed expositions. The ecclesiological question is bigger than we’ve made it out to be in the past. So in that sense, I think it is a help to look at the ecclesiological background.

But when we take Wright’s approach, the foreground gets fuzzy. The foreground is the soteriological dimension of justification that (agreeing with Piper) I believe is part of Paul’s view. In other words, Wright is helpful in focusing our attention on the ecclesiological dimension of justification and unhelpful in that he too often reduces it to that dimension alone.

But let me again say… I enjoy the works of both these men. And though I would be more aligned with Piper on the issue of justification, I would actually be more aligned with Wright & Goldsworthy (and others) on Paul’s definition of “the gospel.” So… I’m one of these guys who is grateful for the opportunity to read and learn from both these men.

Wright is not as dangerous as Piper makes him out to be; Piper is not as bad as Wright makes him out to be. Once you keep that in mind, you can read both these guys and appreciate their collective strengths and weaknesses.

That’s my two cents."

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

An Appreciation and Criticism of the “New” Reformers

1) A Stress on the Importance of Penal Substitution

Man is guilty. God is holy. Jesus lived a perfect life. Jesus died in the place of sinners, bearing the wrath of God. Although this isn’t all that the Bible has to say about the work of Christ it is central to what Jesus accomplished on the cross. In fact, the early church saw Jesus’ substitutionary death as an important facet in the gospel they preached. Paul said that the fact that Christ died for our sins was a matter of first importance. Certainly substitution is in view in that passage. For Paul, along with the ‘New Reformers’, penal substitution was an integral part of the gospel he preached.

2) An Emphasis on Systematic Theology and Practical Living

I went to a reformed seminary where there was a heavy emphasis on systematic theology. I remember one day during a book sale a group of students rushed over to the systematic theology section in hopes of some good finds. There are ups and downs to systematic theology. A particularly beneficial ‘up’ is that is helps us understand what the bible says about a given topic and allows Christian’s to apply biblical truths to their lives. In the new reformed camp there is a heavy emphasis on practical theology (i.e. C.J. Mahaney, John Piper, Joshua Harries, etc.). True Christian living is grounded in the truth of God (i.e. because this is true, do this).

3) An Appreciation for History

One of the greatest gifts the ‘reformed’ tradition has given us is its stress on church history. There is a mark of humility in their willingness to look to those who have gone before them; they use men and women from years past to teach them how to live for Christ and gain insight into the written word of God.

4) The Importance of Heart Religion

John Piper, perhaps more than any of the reformers, shows from God’s word that the triune God doesn’t just want us to perform our ‘duty’. Rather, he desires that we seek our true everlasting joy in the God who created us and saves us through his Son. The illustration of a man giving flowers to his wife and saying, “honey this is my duty” shows the foolishness of trying to serve God without a heart for God. Holiness is truly a matter of the heart.

5) Delight in the Sovereignty of God

Many people find the doctrine of election offensive. But reformers truly delight in the grace of God in drawing dead sinners to himself and redeeming them from the slavery of sin. In eternity past each individual Christian was chosen by God out of his sheer grace, not based on anything they have done. The God of grace simply loves sinners and awakens them from their dead state. Why? Because he loved them.

6) The Importance of Justification by Faith

How are sinners made right with God? By Works? No. They are made right with God through their faith in Jesus Christ. In reformed theology the doctrine of Justification is seen to be central to the theology of the apostle Paul. Because of what Christ did we can have everlasting fellowship with God. We no longer need to fear judgment because there is no longer any condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. God looks at all those who have placed their faith in Jesus and declares, “Righteous!”

There are many more positive things that could be said about the ‘new’ reformers; however, there are some criticisms that should be raised.

1) Incomplete Gospel

This is one of my serious concerns for the Reformed tradition. While they rightly stress the fact that a gospel preached that excludes the death of Jesus on behalf of our sins is incomplete they tend to error in that they don’t emphasize the Resurrection of Christ and the Lordship of Christ as much. They are good at looking to 1 Corinthians 15. 1-3 but sometimes fail to emphasize Romans 1.1-4. I’m not saying that they don’t emphasize this at all. But it seems to me that their Gospel tends to be a statement of the doctrine of penal substitution. “God is Holy. Man is a sinner. Jesus lived a perfect life. Jesus died for our sins so that we could be forgiven. Jesus rose from the dead.” However, one is hard pressed to find the gospel laid out this way in the bible. Penal substitution is central to the gospel but it is not the sum of the gospel. The gospel is about the fact that although Jesus was killed on a cross God raised him to life; he has been designated as the Messiah (or the true Lord of the world). By believing in this Jesus we can have forgiveness of our sins. This too needs unpacking but both the resurrection and death of Christ need to be stressed. The Gospel is a statement about Christ and what he has accomplished. These things also need to be seen in the context of God’s relationship to Israel. Too often the gospel begins at Eden and then skips ahead to the cross. However, a significant portion of the bible is written about God’s chosen people. Although it may seem tough we need to get serious about the fact that what Jesus did was the climax of Israel’s history. People like N.T. Wright make a similar error; however, he has it the other way around. He stresses cosmic facet of the gospel (i.e. Christ’s lordship) but de-emphasizes the forgiveness of sins as part of the proclamation. This is how a person can appreciate both the reformation and N.T. Wright. Both have good things to say but both fall short in some respects.

2) Making Imputation the Center

Sometimes people talk as if imputation were the center of the bible. While I do passionately believe in the imputation of Christ’s righteousness (however I do prefer what Michael Bird calls ‘Incorporated Righteousness’) I don’t think that it is the center of the bible. I also believe that it can be stated in different ways (just like Michael Bird). One would be hard pressed to prove that the imputation of Christ’s moral righteousness is the central idea of the bible that the OT points forward to. The doctrine itself is not found in any single text. Some texts talk about being ‘reckoned’ righteous but this does not lay out the doctrine in its full form. In other words, nowhere in the bible does it say, “We are sinners, Jesus lived a perfect life, Jesus’ moral righteousness is imputed to us.” There are texts that come close but it is better to let the texts speak for themselves.

We constantly need to be shaping our beliefs by the word of God. There are many things that are to be learned about justification. We do know true things but we haven’t nailed it yet. We need to explore the fact that when Paul talks about justification it takes place in the context of Jew and Gentile relations. We need to avoid the idea that we have arrived and have said all there is to say about this great doctrine.

With that said Justification is incredibly important. God does declare us righteous by virtue of our union with Christ. This doesn’t happen by anything we do but by faith alone. What is true of Jesus is true of us. As important as this doctrine is, I think we can stand united with those who vary on their understanding of this doctrine. The central thing is that God declares us to be righteous by faith by virtue of our union with Christ. Some people preach a heretical justification, just like those Paul was facing off against in Galatians, but we need to be very careful in making this claim and our reasons need to be biblically grounded.

3) Skipping Over Israel

Not all of the reformers do this but there is a disturbing silence about Israel out there. As I said earlier, when presenting the story of the Bible, many just skip over Israel. However, what Jesus did is the climax of Israel’s history. Jesus is the messiah of Israel and the whole world. Even the great passage of the suffering servant is written in the context of Israel’s exile. This will help us understand why the fact that Jesus is the messiah is good news. This too needs further exploration if we are to be faithful to the biblical texts.

Romans 1.1-7: Paul, Set Apart for God’s Gospel

I am going to start some personal ‘devos’ on Paul’s letter to the Romans. I thought that it would be helpful if I posted my reflections so others can help me out. I don’t plan on giving a super detailed exposition of the book, just some thoughts. This is a hard book so sometimes I will probably get bogged down. Hopefully I won’t give up. I will be mainly relying on the NET Bible for my translation. Unfortunately I don’t know Greek, as I didn’t even finish second year, so I can’t translate myself. However, I will be looking at a whole bunch of translations on my own.

Romans 1.1-7

1:1 From Paul,a slave of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God. 1:2 This gospel he promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy scriptures, 1:3 concerning his Son who was a descendant of David with reference to the flesh, 1:4 who was appointed the Son-of-God-in-power according to the Holy Spirit by the resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord. 1:5 Through him we have received grace and our apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith among all the Gentiles on behalf of his name. 1:6 You also are among them, called to belong to Jesus Christ. 1:7 To all those loved by God in Rome, called to be saints: Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!

This letter is from the apostle Paul. He says that he is a ‘slave’ of Christ Jesus, that he is called to be an apostle, and that God has set him apart for the gospel. Paul was a zealous Jew before he was saved; he persecuted Christians and thought that by doing so he was doing God’s will. But the risen Christ revealed himself to this Jew and the man was never the same. Jesus enlisted him into the ‘army of apostles’ in order to preach that Jesus was the world’s true Lord.

Here Paul set’s forth the gospel he preaches. In this passage, but not in all, he focuses mainly on Christology, or the identity of Christ. This gospel reaches back into the promises that were made to Israel, God’s special people. As such Paul’s gospel is not abandoning Judaism but actually fulfills God’s purposes for his people.

Simply put, the gospel is about Jesus. Jesus is God’s son who is a human descendant of King David. This is important. It isn’t simply saying that Paul emphasizes Jesus’ humanity and then uses the term ‘Son of God’ to emphasize his divinity. Rather, Jesus is the true King that was promised: “When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever” (2 Sam. 7.12, 13 ESV).

When Jesus was raised from the dead by the Holy Spirit, he was designated as the Son of God. Not that he wasn’t God’s son before (see Douglas J. Moo’s commentary on Romans) but he is now the crucified, risen and reigning Messiah.

I asked my wife one day, as she was a classical studies major, what would the Romans think if Paul was telling them that Jesus was the true ‘Son of God’ and that he was ‘Lord’? These were titles that were given to Caesar. So they would have instantly thought, “Jesus is Lord and Caesar is not!” Jesus, the world’s rightful Lord, is taking the world back for himself. He was doing this by sending apostles out to announce the good news. When a person becomes a Christian they come under the gracious rule of the crucified, risen and reigning Messiah. They have pledged their allegiance to the true Lord of the world, Jesus Christ.

Monday, January 12, 2009

The Messianic Feast

I think it would be safe to say that many people, in their twenty-something’s, spend their Friday night looking to get drunk, or at least rely on alcohol as the source of ‘fun’. In my experience growing up, if there is no alcohol consumption taking place at a party it is considered boring and not worth ‘making an appearance’. Our culture is obsessed with alcoholism. But why? Most people probably simply enjoy the feelings they get from such experience. Not to mention if both sexes are together getting hammered something is ‘bound’ to happen. Simply put, our culture’s infatuation with drunkenness is pleasure seeking.

The church has responded in different ways to the sins of our culture. Some have supposed that since people in our day use alcohol in such immoral ways we ought to avoid it altogether. Others see alcohol as a gift from God; for them Christians are free to enjoy it as long as it doesn’t lead to abuse and drunkenness.

Whatever your personal view on this, the bible frequently uses wine to depict the joy, delight and abundance of God’s people in the messianic age. The prophet Jeremiah said, “They will come and shout for joy on the heights of Zion; they will rejoice in the bounty of the Lord – the grain, the new wine and the olive oil, the young of the flocks and herds. They will be like a well-watered garden, and they will sorrow no more” (Jer. 31.12 emphasis added). God’s people were being punished for their sins against Yahweh. They were sent into exile but a day was promised when they would ‘rejoice in the bounty of the Lord’.

In the Gospel of John when Jesus first begins his ministry he attends a wedding feast. It is a popular story where the wine runs out, a social embarrassment in that day which could actually lead to lawsuits, and Jesus’ mother turns to Jesus because of his past resourcefulness. But Jesus responds to her with a rebuke. They have different agendas on their minds. Mary is thinking about the feast at hand but Jesus is focussed on a greater feast, the messianic feast that was promised to God’s people.

Throughout his entire ministry Jesus had the cross on his mind. Everything that he did must be seen in light of this. Jesus responds to his mother by saying, “my hour has not yet come.” His ‘hour’ was the time of his crucifixion when he would bear the wrath of his heavenly Father. Jesus would be nailed to a cross so that those whom he called to himself might have life, the life of the age to come (i.e. eternal life); we might say that the cross is the entrance-way into the messianic feast.

In a culture where satisfaction and delight are things that are earnestly sought after through drugs and alcohol Christ offers the world true everlasting joy and pleasure. The world knows it wants something but it looks in all the wrong places. Jesus says, “Come to me!” He is “the way, the truth and the life.” Jesus offers us the true wine, the true life. The alcoholism of our age is a tragedy but we can point people to the risen saviour who, by virtue of his death and resurrection, makes the messianic feast available to all who come to him in repentance and faith.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

10 Things Part 8: Justification

The other night my wife and I were lying in bed talking about our frustration with the fact that sometimes we feel so emotionally disengaged from God. It can seem really messed up sometimes because we are the very ones who God has chosen to save and yet we feel like it’s nothing.

Thoughts like these inevitably lead to imagining what God’s response will be like in the future judgment. “Look at all I’ve done for you and yet it means nothing to you!” However, this isn’t the God we serve. Yahweh is a God of unimaginable underserved grace. So how can we find confidence for the last day even though we can be so shallow in the present? The answer is, of course, Jesus!

In the apostle Paul’s day people looked to different things, “I’m Jewish, I’m circumcised” or “We have the law and follow it!” But Paul always says that trusting in those things is useless. They only bring God’s judgment as the past has shown over and over (i.e. the exile). But God has remained faithful to his promises to Abraham that one day he would, through him, bless many nations.

The promise today is that through Christ we become part of his true covenant family, the one’s who are ‘righteoused’. So when God looks at those who put their trust in Christ’s faithfulness, not their own faithlessness, then he declares them righteous, not guilty. And what’s even greater is the fact that we don’t have to wait until the end wondering if we will be justified. God makes this declaration in the present by virtue of Christ’s death and resurrection and the Christian’s unity to him. Just as Jesus was declared to be in the right when God raised him from the dead so does he of all those who are in Christ.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

My Girls and My Cryptic Wife

I am a daydreamer. And as such I frequently think of what it would be like if God so desired to bless me with daughters one day. Well in light of these 'dreams' I thought these lyrics by Animal Collective were pretty cool. Of course I would also want my daughter's to love Jesus!

"Is it much to admit I need
A solid soul and the blood I bleed
With a little girl, and by my spouse
I only want a proper house

I don't care for fancy things
Or to take part in a precious race
And children cry for the one who has
A real big heart and a father's grace

I don't mean to seem like I care about material things like a social status
I just want four walls and adobe slabs for my girls"

On another note. Last night I had this conversation with my wife as we we're driving home.

Nick: Hmmmm what does 'cryptic' mean?
Alicia: I know what it means; but I am not really good at defining things.
Nick: Ok...
Alicia: No, like I can use it in a sentence; like, "Man...that was cryptic"

Here's's defintion:

1. mysterious in meaning; puzzling; ambiguous: a cryptic message.
2. abrupt; terse; short: a cryptic note.
3. secret; occult: a cryptic writing.
4. involving or using cipher, code, etc.
5. Zoology. fitted for concealing; serving to camouflage.
–noun 6. a cryptogram, esp. one designed as a puzzle.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Jonathan Edwards on the Resurrection and Justification

I was just browsing through Adrian Warnock's blog and found this great quote from Jonathan Edwards on the Resurrection of Jesus and Justification:

So Christ, our second surety (in whose justification all whose surety he is, are virtually justified), was not justified till he had done the work the Father had appointed him, and kept the Father's commandments through all trials, and then in his resurrection he was justified. When he had been put to death in the flesh, but quickened by the Spirit, 1 Peter 3:18 , then he that was manifest in the flesh was justified in the Spirit, 1 Timothy 3:16 . But God, when he justified him in raising him from the dead, did not only release him from his humiliation for sin, and acquit him from any further suffering or abasement for it, but admitted him to that eternal and immortal life, and to the beginning of that exaltation that was the reward of what he had done.And indeed the justification of a believer is no other than his being admitted to communion in the justification of this head and surety of all believers: for as Christ suffered the punishment of sin, not as a private person, but as our surety. So when after this suffering he was raised from the dead, he was therein justified, not as a private person, but as the surety and representative of all that should believe in him. So that he was raised again not only for his own, but also for our justification, according to the apostle, Romans 4:25 , "Who was delivered for our offenses, and raised again for our justification." And therefore it is that the apostle says, as he does in Romans 8:34 , "Who is he that condemneth? It is Christ that died, yea rather, that is risen

Monday, January 5, 2009

Adam, Israel, Jesus and Humanity

Here's something I just threw together. What do you think?

Adam → Israel

Adam was God’s creation whom he made to live in fellowship with him and rule over his creation. He was to bear the image of God and glorify God in all that he did. When Adam failed God made Israel to be his ‘renewed’ humanity. They would be a light in a dark world through their obedience to the law. They were God’s special people. But, like Adam, Israel failed and became part of the problem. They fell into the sin of idolatry and were judged by God.

Israel → Jesus

When God acted to redeem humanity he called a people to himself. They were to be the bearers of the solution but they were sinful and were themselves in need of redemption. They were to be sons of God but gave into evil. Jesus was declared by God the Father to be his true son. Jesus would do what Israel could not do. He would remain faithful to God. Where Israel failed Jesus was victorious. He did not succumb to temptation and fall into sin but remained faithful to the will of the father. He bore the judgment for sinful Israel.

Adam → Israel → Humanity

Israel went into exile for their great sin against God (i.e. just like Adam). God promised that he would redeem them through the promised messiah. When Jesus came on the scene he was welcoming tax collectors and sinners. In response to the grumbling of the Pharisees he told the parable of the prodigal son. The story was one of exile and return but instead of Israel being the lost and returning is was those who were following Jesus. Thus, the story of Israel stands parallel to the story of every person. Humanity is in exile and through Jesus they can come home to God.

Jesus → Humanity

As Israel is sinful and in need of redemption so is all of humanity. Jesus is the true Israelite who remained faithful to God. He died on behalf of his sinful people bearing the wrath that they deserved. But what God did for Israel he did for all humanity. All those who will return from exile Jesus will welcome. All people, Jew or Gentile, can be in Christ so that what is true of him is true of them. He is their representative. Jesus has been declared righteous so that all those in him can be declared righteous. Jesus is the true son of God and all those in him are sons of God by virtue of their union with him.


I forgot to add the parallel between Adam and Jesus.

In the letters of paul we frequently find that there are two representatives for humans. 1) Adam - the old man and 2) Jesus - the new man. Adam was the representative head for the entire human race and , thus, all humans are under sin and it's condemnation. But for those in Christ they are the 'new humanity' being remade in God's image.

Friday, January 2, 2009

Delighting in God's Justice

When the most of us think of the phrase “the justice of God” it tends to carry negative connotations. Perhaps some of us think of fire and brimstone preachers whose favorite thing in the world to talk about seems to be hell and almost get some sort of twisted pleasure in thinking that some people are going there and they are not. Others may be so aware of their sin that “the justice of God” strikes a note of fear within.

Of course it is not a bad thing to have a healthy fear of God; it is, after all, a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God. But I don’t think the idea of God’s justice is simply ‘the negative side’ of God’s grace. There is something that is beautiful about God’s justice, something that should bring joy to all those who are called children of God.

One Wednesday I was at my church’s evening prayer meeting. Before the actual prayer begins we usually mingle, sing some songs, read some scripture, and then ask the children what they want us adults to pray for. Our elder read from proverbs and then asked the children, “What does the Bible mean when it speaks of God’s justice?” A couple children gave some really good answers but one in particular suggested something that really stirred my heart. He answered, “The justice of God means that God always does what is right.”

Wherever we look, whether it is our own personal lives or the evening news, injustice is rampant. People are taken advantage of, bullied, murdered and the worst part of all is that people are getting away with it. We instinctively know, “that’s not right.” We often know what is right but no one seems to do it, not even ourselves. But God is the one being who always does what is right. R.C. Sproul says, “Righteousness means doing what is right. Therefore, God’s justice has to do with His internal righteousness, His character, which defines everything he does. God never acts according to injustice. He never violates any of the standards or canons of righteousness. A simple definition of God’s justice is ‘His eternal, immutable commitment always to do what is right.’” (Sproul, R.C. The Truth of the Cross, Reformation Trust, 19).

This begs the question, “What happens to me if God always does what is right?” When I am what’s wrong with the world how will God deal with me. When I sin against God daily how can I stand? The fact of the matter is that we are evil. Even when God made a special people in response to sin (i.e. the nation of Israel) they sinned against God and were sent into exile. Like Israel being cast into exile we have all been exiled to sin and death. We are all guilty.

If God always does what is right then we are in deep trouble. But the glory of Christ’s atonement is that Christ went into exile for us. He set his face toward Jerusalem, the place where he would be hung on a cruel Roman cross, to bear God’s wrath so we wouldn’t have to. Now we can set our face toward the promised land, not Jerusalem, where God’ justice would be fully revealed and all things will be put right.