My pastor turned up this great quote from Herman Bavinck:
In short, the counsel of God and the cosmic history that corresponds to it must not be pictured exclusively—as infra- and supralapsarianism did—as a single straight line describing relations only of before and after, cause and effect, means and end; instead, it should also be viewed as a systemic whole in which things occur side by side in coordinate relations and cooperate in the furthering of what always was, is, and will be the deepest ground of all existence: the glorification of God. Just as in any organism all the parts are interconnected and reciprocally determine each other, so the world as a whole is a masterpiece of divine art, in which all the parts are organically interconnected. And of that world, in all its dimensions, the counsel of God is the eternal design. (Reformed Dogmatics, II:392)
This is a great perspective on how God relates to time and history. God is the painter to our painting, the composer and conductor to our symphony.
I want to consider how this perspective relates to the doctrine of regeneration. We generally speak of the regeneration of the Christian almost as though God reaches down and flips an invisible switch inside of us from death to life. For example, Wayne Grudem writes:
We may define regeneration as follows: Regeneration is a secret act of God in which he imparts new spiritual life to us. . . . Because regeneration is a work of God within us in which he gives us new life it is right to conclude that it is an instantaneous event. (Systematic Theology, 699-701)
This may be true as far as it goes, but it does not fully account for the way that God works with his creation and with us. Consider the example of Ebenezer Scrooge’s conversion-regeneration:
Best and happiest of all, the Time before him was his own, to make amends in!
“I will live in the Past, the Present, and the Future!” Scrooge repeated, as he scrambled out of bed. “The Spirits of all Three shall strive within me. Oh Jacob Marley! Heaven, and the Christmas Time be praised for this. I say it on my knees, old Jacob, on my knees!”
He was so fluttered and so glowing with his good intentions, that his broken voice would scarcely answer to his call. He had been sobbing violently in his conflict with the Spirit, and his face was wet with tears. (Dickens, A Christmas Carol)
In one sense, it is quite correct to say that something changed inside of Scrooge from death to life. But this is not the whole picture: it does not account for Dickens and his own steady resolve to make a new man out of Scrooge. In the same way, our understanding of regeneration should take into account how God works with his creation and how he imparts life to us. For our physical life we are dependent on God to sustain us at every moment; certainly we are equally dependent on God at every moment for our spiritual life. It is thus more proper to speak of regeneration as a settled determination on God’s part to continually fill us with life through his Spirit.
This perspective helps us in several ways. It reminds us that God is the source of regeneration, so that we are always looking to him rather than making a futile search into whether something invisible has happened inside ourselves. It reminds us that regeneration is an ongoing process. So, just as we cannot rely on past repentance and faith but must walk in new repentance and faith each day, neither can we rely on past regeneration. We must look to and ask for more help from the Spirit each day. Rather than asking “am I regenerate,” we ask “will God give his Spirit to those who ask him?” Yes (Luke 11:13), he will!
Another way to think of this is in terms of what we might call the tenses of salvation. There is a sense in which we can say we have been saved, we are being saved, and we will be saved. Likewise, we have been given new life, we are being progressively given more abundant life, and we will finally be fully given life.
Calvin speaks of regeneration as occurring progressively. In the Institutes, he refers to it as something “which [God] begins in us” (Method and Arrangement III). It will be “complete” at “the final resurrection,” (M&A III) which he refers to as “the day of regeneration or resurrection of the body” (M&A IV). Calvin identifies regeneration with the ongoing procession of the Spirit to us, saying that “we have nothing of the Spirit except through regeneration” (II.3.1). Interestingly, he identifies regeneration and mortification as two halves of repentance, to the point that he says “by repentance I understand regeneration” (III.3.9). He later speaks of the “commencement and progress of regeneration” (III.11).
This definition of regeneration also underscores that it is a change in our status and position before God at least as much as it is an internal change in our persons. We are grafted into a tree (Romans 11), into a vine (John 15); we are planted by streams of water (Psalm 1). This links it closely with other great changes in status like justification and adoption. Adoption in particular is how we come to receive the Spirit (Romans 8:15). In regeneration we enter into God’s new creation, which is to say that we are reconciled to God and made a part of his kingdom (2 Corinthians 5:17ff) — again, a change in status.
Scripture uses the term regeneration to refer to a change in our status. In Matthew 19:28, Jesus refers to his kingdom and new creation itself as the regeneration. In Titus 3:5, our baptism is called the “washing of regeneration.” In The Priesthood of the Plebs, Peter Leithart demonstrated that baptism is a symbolic form of priestly investiture, hearkening back in all its imagery to passages like Leviticus 8:15. In terms of Titus, this means we can speak of baptism not only as our investiture into priesthood and sonship, but also our entry into the new-creation kingdom that is God’s church, our enrollment into an inheritance (Titus 3:7).
On the one hand, this serves as a warning to us that we are not meant to coast on yesterday’s experiences and accomplishments. But it also serves to remind us that God is near to us, and has a settled determination to provide all that is needed to complete his work (Philippians 4:19, 1:6).
It is rare to practice the Lord’s supper without reading from 1 Corinthians 11. There is certainly nothing wrong with this, but it is odd. We have plenty of other material to draw from for communion reflections; it would take a year alone to work through passages that reference bread (or grain) and wine, not to mention food and feasting in general.
I worry that we have come to believe reading God’s instructions discharges our duty to obey them. Jesus commands us to “do this.” Considering 1 Corinthians 10-11 together with Matthew’s and Mark’s accounts, what is it that we are to do?
- Use bread
- Give thanks to God for the bread
- Break the bread
- Use wine
- Give thanks to God for the wine
- Examine ourselves to ensure we discern one another’s membership in the body
Many evangelical churches are failing on all counts listed above, possibly with a sense that it is permissible to ignore these, but without the necessary conviction that it is better to ignore them.
The last point may be the least obvious. I have argued elsewhere that Paul’s use of discern and examine is generally misunderstood. I suggest that we are failing to do this not least in failing to recognize our young children’s participation in Jesus and their full welcome to his presence and his table. We therefore, with Peter, stand condemned and out of step with the truth of the gospel (Gal. 2:11ff). If we were to work through those many food and feasting passages, we would become more sensitive to this.
The result is that we have arrived at something unnaturally stilted, unfamilial, un-supper-like. It is not straining in every way to enact a foretaste of Jesus’s marriage feast, or to welcome all those here who would be welcome there if they were to die today.
See also: Unbelievers?
Jesus is Lord, and Jesus is not anxious.
Last year I read Edwin Friedman’s book, A Failure of Nerve. It is full of fascinating insights; sometime I hope to find time to write more about it. But as my pastors begin a series on anxiety, one particular insight jumps out at me.
Friedman talks about how anxiety in leaders is the fountainhead of individual and organizational breakdown and paralysis. He challenges leaders to see the importance of non-anxious leadership. This is not simply to say that effective leaders should be anxiety absorbers, taking it all into themselves and hanging on to it; rather, good and effective leaders are themselves free of anxiety.
Friedman makes a good case for his claims about the outcomes of chronically anxious leadership. Although I would want to temper and supplement some of what he has to say, I think his insight has great value for husbands, fathers, mothers, pastors, managers, team leaders, and more.
But let’s take things up a level. Christians are part of a kingdom and family.
Jesus is Lord, and Jesus is not anxious.
Think about that for awhile and let it sink in. If Friedman is right, this should calm and empower us profoundly.
See also: Free to carry more.
If Toby Sumpter is correct that the book of Job is a study in maturation, then we should consider Job 38-41 to be a dangerous but thrilling invitation to “dress for action” and join our Father:
“Can you bind the chains of the Pleiades
or loose the cords of Orion?
. . .
Can you send forth lightnings, that they may go
and say to you, ‘Here we are’?”
We have hardly begun to subdue creation.
Each year passes faster than the one before.
Each year is a proportionally smaller slice of your life when compared in the balance. The second year of your life covers half your experience to that point. Your fiftieth year is a mere drop in the bucket, occupying only two percent of your experience.
We begin by learning to feel the pace of a day, then a week, a month. Eventually we learn the pace of years and, if we are blessed, decades.
Imagine what it would have been like to learn to feel the rhythm of centuries.
And imagine how quickly time will fly in the resurrection.
The Bechdel test is interesting, but it is fundamentally flawed. It is flawed because it cannot account for the story of history itself: the story of a boy, a girl and a dragon.
I adjure you, O daughters of Jerusalem,
if you find my beloved,
that you tell him
I am sick with love.
History is much more than a chick flick, but it is no less.
If we printed red-letter Old Testaments, the pages of Leviticus would bleed redder than any of the gospels.
You cannot have King Jesus without also having his royal proclamations in the book of Leviticus.
Almost the entire book of Leviticus was dictated by Yahweh to Moses. Commentators and theologians widely agree that the appearances of Yahweh in the Old Testament are the pre-incarnate Jesus (consider John 1:18, 6:46 together with Exodus 33:11). We cannot read Jesus into every single occurrence of Yahweh (Psalm 110:1 refers to the Father); but in Israel’s exodus it is even clearer than usual that Jesus was present, since some of the imagery surrounding Sinai portrays it as God’s marriage to his people.
Leviticus was and is meant to shape the consciousness, speech and life of God’s people. It is among the books that Moses commanded Israel’s kings to copy and meditate upon (Deut. 17:18-19). It is among the books that all Israel praised so highly in Psalm 119. It constitutes part of the torah-law which, if Israel obeyed, God promised to make the envy of the nations (Deut. 4:6-8, Micah 4:1-2).
In Leviticus, Jesus speaks of animal offerings, priestly service, food, leprosy, uncleanness, sex, feasts and more. Leviticus is not Jesus’s final word on these things, but it is his word, and — we must confess — a righteous word, on these things.
Jesus speaks Leviticus, but Leviticus speaks of Jesus. All of these things have a corresponding symbolic purpose relating to Jesus and his creation. And because Jesus means to transform creation and cause his people to mature into his likeness, some parts of Leviticus have a built-in obsolescence, while other parts grow intensified and transfigured. Acts 15:28-29 gives us a brief and helpful summary of what has gone and what remains. Gone are most of the laws of food and cleanness; remaining are laws concerning idolatry and sex.
God meant for forbidden foods to symbolize the Gentile nations. It would take some time to fully develop this imagery, but there are parallels visible in the law, and God makes it very explicit in Acts 10. Fifteen hundred years of practice at being strictly separate from the world have prepared God’s people to sacrificially conquer and inherit it (Rom. 4:18); and, by the Spirit, to handle the greater responsibilities of a greater unity (Eph. 2). So now that (you might say) Jesus eats all nations into his body (pace Rev. 3:16), we as the members of his body may also take unclean animals into ourselves. Just as the nations are God’s gifts to the church (consider Eph. 4:8), bacon and shrimp are God’s gifts to his people. If you reflect on the nature of maturing, the food laws’ coming to an end is not a great surprise. We know that God’s purpose in history is to grow his church from infancy to maturity (Gal. 4, Eph. 4), and infants and adults appropriately have very different diets and boundaries. Maturity brings mature food.
Sex has symbolic potency as well. It is meant to symbolize Jesus’s union with his bride, his body, his church (Eph. 5:32). Sex and marriage were designed to point to something bigger: the one and only marriage that will survive into eternity. Even strange laws like the jealousy inspection of Numbers 5 teach us how Jesus relates to his church down to this day (consider the jealousy inspections of 1 Cor. 10-11 and Rev. 2-3). From the first Pentecost at Sinai to the last Pentecost at Jerusalem, Jesus has always related to his people as husband to bride. This has enduring implications for human marriage and sex that stretch “from the beginning” (Matt. 19, Mark 10) to the end. So unlike the food laws, restrictions on sexual relations only grow more intensified in history.
Similarly, the laws of offering and sacrifice remain in the new covenant; however, they are transformed and intensified from animal sacrifice to human sacrifice in the death of Jesus. The laws of feasts remain, but are transformed into a single feast: the Lord’s supper. The feasting is intensified as well: instead of presenting ourselves only three times a year to God (Deut. 16:16), God now summons us to dine with him every week. Israel had three annual furloughs that were a great celebration and refreshment (consider the Psalms of ascent, 120-134); we have a weekly furlough from our labor, trials and suffering as we show glad faces to our king (Neh. 8:9-12).
Jesus is king of the nations and the husband of his church, but he has established separate administrations of his rule in these realms. In the church, his kingdom is tended and guarded by the judicial binding and loosing (Matt. 16:19) of baptism and excommunication. In the civil realm, the church does not carry out Jesus’s ministry of the sword, but she is called to disciple nations and kings in Jesus’s law (Matt. 28:19-20).
While it requires deep kingly wisdom to apply this law rightly, such wisdom begins with the fear of God (Prov. 1:7, etc.) and the love of his law (Psalm 119). While we do not understand it perfectly, we confess it to be holy, righteous and good (Rom. 7:12). As in times of old, we must allow Leviticus to shape our consciousness and speech. God’s word — all of it — is still meant to be the envy of the nations, and the church has the privilege of leading the way in treasuring and proclaiming it.