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Jesu, Juva

Archive for the ‘Essays’ Category

Vindicated

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René Girard has incredible insight into human nature, conflict, and the cross of Jesus. Although his understanding of Jesus’s atonement is incomplete, he has a great deal to teach us about the atonement. I must confess I haven’t read Girard yet, but I’ve gotten a bit of him indirectly through others. For an excellent introduction, you should watch this five-part interview with Girard now.

Given my small exposure to Girard, I have always assumed that a Girardian understanding of Jesus’s transcending human conflict and sacrifice operated primarily at a human level. This is the assessment of Caiaphas in John 11:50, who at this stage almost appears to recognize Jesus’s innocence along with Girard. But now I think the human plane is just a small piece of the Girardian puzzle. I am sure this is an elementary insight, but it was new to me this weekend.

God designated Israel to serve as priests to the nations. They failed to represent God to the nations: both in reaching out to the nations and more generally in upholding God’s law and righteousness before the nations. But however great their failure to represent God, they could not help but represent the nations to God, for good or bad. So just as Adam was the true and best representative we had to stand before God under the covenant of life, Israel was the true and best representative we had to stand before God under the curse.

As our representative, Israel and her leaders were not merely envious of Jesus at a human level, putting him to death to vindicate themselves in some human conflict. Rather, Israel very clearly put God himself on trial, on behalf of the whole world. Jealous of God’s greatness, holiness, truth, righteousness, wisdom and beauty, and seeking to establish their own, they put God on trial, declared him to be guilty, and executed him. Therefore, even in purely Girardian terms, Jesus’s death is not simply a transcendence of human conflict and sacrifice by the death of an innocent man, but it is actually an attempt by all of humanity to render judgment for mankind and against God.

It is a failed attempt: Jesus’s resurrection vindicates God decisively in the conflict between God and man. All mankind is shown to be condemned because of the actions of Israel their representative.

The truly amazing thing is that we who are thus condemned can be vindicated — through Jesus’s death and resurrection! In a sense, simply by agreeing with and rejoicing in Jesus’s vindication, God extends to us the great gift of Jesus’s own vindication and resurrection. This is where our understanding of the atonement as sacrificial and substitutionary comes into play, as John goes on to explain Caiaphas’s unwitting prophecy in verses 51-52. Jesus died for the sins of the world at the very moment the world’s sin and rejection of God had become total and complete. Our mediator is no longer Israel, but Jesus himself, the true Israel. Both Israel and all nations are invited to feast in God through him.

Written by Scott Moonen

April 18, 2011 at 1:38 pm

Sweeter than honey

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My pastors are preaching through Jesus’s sermon on the mount. It’s refreshing to be reminded of the rightful place of God’s law in the Christian life. Sometimes it is easy for us to dismiss the place of law for the Christian; after all, we are not under law, but under grace. And since the law cannot save us, is there any use for it other than to condemn us and drive our miserable souls to Jesus?

If we were to stop there, the godly sentiments of Psalm 119 are left sounding completely foreign to us. How then are we to understand the law as a source of blessing and delight?

Protestants have historically recognized three uses of the law: to restrain our wickedness, to reveal sin, and to direct and guide the lives of Christians. We might say that this third use, often called the “rule of life,” is to be led in the pleasant “paths of righteousness.” It is in this way that the law brings us life and joy rather than condemnation. And in fact God always intended for his people to relate to his law this way. We can see this in the very giving of the law: he introduces it by emphasizing that “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery” (Exodus 20). Israel was to obey God as those who were already saved, whom God had already chosen to dwell among — not as those who were trying to earn God’s favor and salvation in the first place. It is true that God is holy, that none of us is without sin, and we cannot approach him without suffering the curse of the law. But God knows our frame; he understood that we would sin. He made temporary provision for sins in the sacrificial system, and made permanent provision for our sins in Jesus, who became a curse for us.

Judicially the law does accuse us, and we must deal judicially with the law through Jesus or else suffer condemnation and wrath. But as Trinitarians we know that there are always complementary facets. Relationally God’s people deal with the law as those who are adopted sons. God is the father who puts a dollar in our grubby little hands to buy him a birthday present, and then delights in our present! Calvin puts it this way:

When God is reconciled to us, there is no reason to fear that he will reject us, because we are not perfect; for though our works be sprinkled with many spots, they will be acceptable to him, and though we labour under many defects, we shall yet be approved by him. How so? Because he will spare us; for a father is indulgent to his children, and though he may see a blemish in the body of his son, he will not yet cast him out of his house; nay, though he may have a son lame, or squint-eyed, or singular for any other defect, he will yet pity him, and will not cease to love him: so also is the case with respect to God, who, when he adopts us as his children, will forgive our sins. And as a father is pleased with every small attention when he sees his son submissive, and does not require from him what he requires from a servant; so God acts; he repudiates not our obedience, however defective it may be.

Because the law comes to us from a wise and loving father, a wise and good king and shepherd, and a life-giving helper, we ought to count it as a delight — and we can be confident that patient trust and persistent obedience will bring us true blessing. And because we are sons, we ought also to be growing in the law, seeking to imitate our father by meditating on his law and obeying it.

The fact that law is instruction from our father means that it helps to make us wise and mature. That should come as no surprise: Solomon, who excelled all the kings of the earth in wisdom, gave us the book of Proverbs, which is itself an extended meditation on the ten commandments. Consider: it comes to us in the context of the fifth commandment (“my son”), and teaches us about the fourth commandment (work), the sixth commandment (anger), the seventh commandment (the forbidden woman), and others. Jesus, the one greater than Solomon, does exactly the same in the sermon on the mount, drawing wisdom from God’s law (“you have heard”) to teach us how we ought to tend the soil of our hearts and to warn us of the ensnaring and hardening effects of sin.

Paul speaks similarly of maturity in Galatians 4. The law is a guardian or tutor, under which we are indistinguishable from slaves. But in Jesus the Son we receive adoption as sons; we are no longer under the tutor but are heirs come into our inheritance. And yet clearly this does not mean we should put our tutor and lessons out of mind. True, there are some parts of our discipline and training (e.g., dietary laws) from which we are now set free, just as a child no longer drinks from a bottle, a runner in a marathon is no longer running sprints, and a pianist on stage is no longer playing scales and etudes. But God intends that even in the freedom of sonship we live out of all of our training; and there is a great deal of the law that we must still obey and build upon with patience and persistence. In fact, God now imprints his law on our minds and hearts (Hebrews 8-10).

Since we now deal with the law relationally, our obedience is not a matter of earning and keeping God’s favor but is a matter of loyalty and allegiance to God. And so the law may sober us but it cannot terrify us. In fact, we must follow the pattern of David, Solomon and Jesus: we should train ourselves to think of God’s expectations for his sons as a delight, as the path of blessing and protection; and we should labor to grow in wisdom and maturity through studying God’s law, meditating on it and disciplining ourselves to obey it.

Written by Scott Moonen

March 23, 2011 at 11:17 am

All that is gold does not glitter

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I was trying to articulate recently to a friend why I so deeply love the over-arching savor of Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings. I started to say that it was a world in which God was sovereign, but that doesn’t quite capture it.

Mark Horne has recently been posting on Proverbs and wisdom, and quoted Bilbo’s riddle of Strider:

All that is gold does not glitter,
Not all those who wander are lost;
The old that is strong does not wither,
Deep roots are not reached by the frost.

From the ashes a fire shall be woken,
A light from the shadows shall spring;
Renewed shall be blade that was broken,
The crownless again shall be king.

This made me think: Middle-earth is a world in which Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes and the Song of Solomon are all true. It is a creation subjected to futility, unwillingly, but in hope, with an end of maturity and glory. Patience, waiting, longing, work and groaning are all required; and there is a bittersweetness to most joy and victory, because life comes through sacrifice and death. Tolkien does an outstanding job of helping you to feel the passage of time. The length of the book, Bombadil, the scouring of the Shire — it is all necessary in this light.

Tolkien writes of a story’s having a “glimpse of Truth.” Death and life themselves in Middle-earth have the savor of God’s world.

Written by Scott Moonen

March 20, 2011 at 8:55 pm

Examine

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And [David] said, “Is there not still someone of the house of Saul, that I may show the kindness of God to him?” Ziba said to the king, “There is still a son of Jonathan; he is crippled in his feet.” The king said to him, “Where is he?” And Ziba said to the king, “He is in the house of Machir the son of Ammiel, at Lo-debar.” Then King David sent and brought him from the house of Machir the son of Ammiel, at Lo-debar. And Mephibosheth the son of Jonathan, son of Saul, came to David and fell on his face and paid homage. And David said, “Mephibosheth!” And he answered, “Behold, I am your servant.” And David said to him, “Do not fear, for I will show you kindness for the sake of your father Jonathan, and I will restore to you all the land of Saul your father, and you shall eat at my table always.” And he paid homage and said, “What is your servant, that you should show regard for a dead dog such as I?” Then the king called Ziba, Saul’s servant, and said to him, “All that belonged to Saul and to all his house I have given to your master’s grandson. And you and your sons and your servants shall till the land for him and shall bring in the produce, that your master’s grandson may have bread to eat. But Mephibosheth your master’s grandson shall always eat at my table.” . . . So Mephibosheth ate at David’s table, like one of the king’s sons. — 2 Samuel 9:3-11

Here’s a thought experiment. Imagine David saying to Mephibosheth: “You must eat at my table in a worthy manner.” Does David mean that:

  1. Mephibosheth should approach David at every meal, confessing “What is your servant, that you should show regard for a dead dog such as I?” Or that
  2. Mephibosheth should eat each meal with joy and congenial fellowship befitting the king’s sons.

We know that Mephibosheth never forgot he was undeserving of David’s favor, and continued to approach David with appropriate humility, respect and love (2 Samuel 19:24-30). But this is not incompatible with Mephibosheth’s living in the good of David’s favor. This is a meal, after all: my answer is #2. David made Mephibosheth his son and would have expected him to behave as a son.

We are as undeserving of God’s favor as Mephibosheth and the prodigal son. And yet in Jesus we do receive God’s favor; we been made not merely servants, but beloved sons and fellow heirs. Both David and the prodigal father are types of our Father in heaven, who by his grace now names us not sinners but saints. This shapes even our fear of the Lord: we fear the Lord not as impostors hanging by a thread, but as sons who have a responsibility to be loyal. He has made it fitting for us to approach his table as sons: he has given us the proper attire (Matthew 22:1-13) and has made his feasts a time of joy and not sorrow (Nehemiah 8:9-12).

Obviously I have 1 Corinthians 11 in mind in this thought experiment. There, Paul commands us (1) not to eat of the Lord’s supper unworthily, (2) to examine ourselves, and (3) to discern the body. It is common to read Paul as saying that (1) our sin — whether in general or only unconfessed — is what makes us unworthy for the supper; (2) therefore we examine ourselves and confess sin, (3) discerning that Jesus’s own body and blood offered on the cross are our only hope. Is this what Paul is saying? This is roughly the interpretation that Calvin, the Westminster catechisms, and others take. But it is to say the opposite of what I concluded in my thought experiment above, and to make the Lord’s supper into something different from a family meal.

Certainly we should not approach the table with unconfessed sin, or lacking appreciation for God’s great mercy to us. But there is a better way of understanding Paul’s warnings. Throughout 1 Corinthians, Paul is concerned for unity in the church. Beginning in chapter 10, he names the church as the body of Christ, and he continues without interruption to emphasize the unity, interconnectedness and interdependency of the body through chapter 12. In this context, his overwhelming concern for their practice of the Lord’s supper (chapters 10-11) is that it must reflect their unity and love as the body of Christ. Reading Paul’s warnings in light of all this, it becomes clear that (1) to eat unworthily is actually to eat without consideration of one another; (2) we therefore examine ourselves to ensure we are including, loving, preferring one another; and (3) we do this because we discern that we are Christ’s body, and Christ’s body is not divided. Considering this, and considering Mephibosheth and the prodigal son, we should not eat the Lord’s supper reservedly, but joyfully, as fellow sons and daughters.

Wayne Grudem concludes this as well. In Systematic Theology, he writes:

In the context of 1 Corinthians 11 Paul is rebuking the Corinthians for their selfish and inconsiderate conduct when they come together as a church: “When you meet together, it is not the Lord’s supper that you eat. For in eating, each one goes ahead with his own meal, and one is hungry and another is drunk” (1 Cor. 11:20-21). This helps us understand what Paul means when he talks about those who eat and drink “without discerning the body” (1 Cor. 11:29). The problem at Corinth was not a failure to understand that the bread and cup represented the body and blood of the Lord — they certainly knew that. The problem rather was their selfish, inconsiderate conduct toward each other while they were at the Lord’s table. They were not understanding or “discerning” the true nature of the church as one body. This interpretation of “without discerning the body” is supported by Paul’s mention of the church as the body of Christ just a bit earlier, in 1 Corinthians 10:17: “Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of one bread.” So the phrase “not discerning the body” means “not understanding the unity and interdependence of people in the church, which is the body of Christ.” It means not taking thought for our brothers and sisters when we come to the Lord’s Supper, at which we ought to reflect his character.

What does it mean, then, to eat or drink “in an unworthy manner” (1 Cor. 11:27)? We might at first think the words apply rather narrowly and pertain only to the way we conduct ourselves when we actually eat and drink the bread and wine. But when Paul explains that unworthy participation involves “not discerning the body,” he indicates that we are to take thought for all of our relationships within the body of Christ: are we acting in ways that vividly portray not the unity of the one bread and one body, but disunity? Are we conducting ourselves in ways that proclaim not the self-giving sacrifice of our Lord, but enmity and selfishness? In a broad sense, then, “Let a man examine himself” means that we ought to ask whether our relationships in the body of Christ are in fact reflecting the character of the Lord whom we meet there and whom we represent. (997)

Grudem goes on to cite Matthew 5:23-24 as an example of making relationships right before coming to worship.

God could have chosen for this sacrament to take any form. It is highly instructive that he chose for it to take the form of a meal, with all the rich imagery that carries. He intends for us to enjoy it in fellowship with him and one another.

Written by Scott Moonen

November 11, 2010 at 8:58 pm

Eat

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Two years ago I wrote “They preach,” of the Lord’s supper, but it could be improved by turning the comparison on its head. Fellowship over a meal is a much clearer picture of how God relates to his people than preaching, so that preaching is itself a bit of both setting out the feast and also table talk (John 21), and evangelism is an invitation to the feast (Luke 14, Revelation 19). The Lord’s supper is not merely a picture of how God relates to us, but one of the ways that he actually, presently relates to us. It is the family meal, and we eat it in fellowship with him.

Even in Genesis 2 Moses makes much of the fact that God provided Adam and Eve with food to eat. Adam’s sin involved eating, and God’s curse after the fall meant not only that fellowship with God was broken, but also that eating would require pain and toil (Genesis 3). As God’s plan of redemption unfolds in his covenants with man, food and table fellowship are not far, so that we often speak of a covenant meal.

God gave Adam the plants of the field, and to Noah he added living things (Genesis 9): God’s covenants keep getting better! Melchizedek, who we know is a type of Christ, set before Abram a meal of bread and wine (Genesis 14). Later Abraham prepared a meal for the three strangers who visit him (Genesis 18).

The Mosaic covenant is full of covenant meals. Passover commemorates God’s deliverance from Egypt, and Israel was commanded to celebrate it throughout their generations (Exodus 12). God provided water, meat and daily bread for Israel in the wilderness; both the bread and the rock that gave the water are types of Christ. Through Moses God also established Sabbath days and years for feasting and refreshment, and a calendar of other covenant feasts throughout the year. These holy feasts were such times of rejoicing before God that grief and weeping in conviction over sin was to be put aside (Nehemiah 8). Even tithing seems to have been not simply handing things over to the Levites, but also feasting with them before God (Deuteronomy 14). “Whatever you desire” — oxen, sheep, wine, beer. Finally, sacrifices regularly involved the priests’ eating the sacrifice, and sometimes the worshipper’s eating as well (Leviticus 7, 1 Chronicles 16). Covenant meals and feasts are not merely gifts from God, but a real part of regular fellowship with God.

Even among the covenants of men we find covenant meals. Jacob and Laban established their covenant with a meal (Genesis 31). David kept his covenant with Jonathan not simply by preserving Jonathan’s crippled son Mephibosheth, but by ensuring his food was provided for and furthermore bringing him to eat perpetually at his table (2 Samuel 9). David is certainly a type of Christ here.

Jesus was falsely accused of sin over who he shared meals with and how he ate (Luke 7). He declared that “whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life” (John 6). Many turned away at this; I wonder if they were offended not so much by the suggestion of cannibalism as by the implication of human sacrifice. John certainly intended for us to connect Jesus’s statement here to the Lord’s supper, which Jesus also explicitly relates to his sacrifice in the new covenant (Luke 14).

Feasting is a deep picture of how God relates to us. Peter Leithart has this to say about covenant meals and the Lord’s supper:

[T]he rite for animal offering ends, in most cases, with a communion meal. Priests and sometimes the worshipper receive a portion of “God’s bread” to eat. Eating together is a way to make a covenant or have fellowship. Throughout the Bible, when people conclude treaties, they eat a meal together to show that they are now friends. Jacob and Laban ate together after they had made a treaty of peace between them (Genesis 31:44-55). so also, when men draw near to God, they eat with Him. The elders of Israel eat and drink in God’s presence, and He does not stretch out His hand against them (Exodus 24:9-11). The end—the goal and the conclusion—of Israelite worship is a fellowship meal with God, and this renews the covenant. Our worship in the church is the same: After we have confessed our sins, heard God’s word, and praised Him, He invites us to His table to share a meal. We don’t eat the flesh of an animal, but the flesh and blood of the perfect sacrifice, Jesus. — A House for My Name, pp. 91-92

In a way, the old debates over “where is Christ in the Lord’s supper?” are asking the wrong question. Where are we in the Lord’s supper? We are feasting together in the presence of the one who clothes us and prepares a table before us.

God welcomes all of us to table fellowship with him, and this means we ought to welcome one another in the same way. Paul is concerned that we do not exclude one another from the Lord’s supper (1 Corinthians 10-11), and that our table fellowship does not become an occasion for despising or judging one another (Romans 14, 1 Corinthians 8-10). He even admonished Peter in this (Galatians 2).

Jesus invites and welcomes you to eat and drink at his table. Take, eat!

And Nehemiah, who was the governor, and Ezra the priest and scribe, and the Levites who taught the people said to all the people, “This day is holy to the Lord your God; do not mourn or weep.” For all the people wept as they heard the words of the Law. Then he said to them, “Go your way. Eat the fat and drink sweet wine and send portions to anyone who has nothing ready, for this day is holy to our Lord. And do not be grieved, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.” So the Levites calmed all the people, saying, “Be quiet, for this day is holy; do not be grieved.” And all the people went their way to eat and drink and to send portions and to make great rejoicing, because they had understood the words that were declared to them. — Nehemiah 8:9-12

Written by Scott Moonen

June 24, 2010 at 9:27 pm

Baptized

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Or, as Asher says, “bathtized.”

I was sprinkled as a baby and dunked at the age of 14. I expected that to be a pretty powerful spiritual experience but ended up feeling unchanged. Partly because of that, and partly because I kept coming to a better understanding of the good news, I often wished I had waited longer to be baptized. Several years ago I read something from John Piper that changed my thinking:

Many of us came to faith and were baptized at a point when we did not know very much. This is good. It is expected that baptism happens early in the Christian walk when you do not know very much. So it is also expected that you will learn later more and more of what it means. Don’t think, “Oh, I must go back and get baptized again. I didn’t know it had all this meaning.” No. No. That would mean you would be getting re-baptized with every new course you take in Biblical theology. Rather, rejoice that you expressed your simple faith in obedience to Jesus and now are learning more and more of what it all meant.

This is very comforting: God accepts us in our immaturity, and maturity is not at all what will secure our salvation. But why didn’t baptism seem to change anything? Perhaps it did, in a different way than I was expecting? What is baptism and what does it do?

I married Lisa ten years ago this month. I expected it to change me and I was not disappointed. Sandy Young pronounced us man and wife, and we became man and wife! What did that pronouncement do?

Linguists call something a performative utterance if its accomplishment is wrapped up in the declaration of that accomplishment. If I say “I promise I will pay you,” my speaking is my promise. If Queen Elizabeth declares someone to be a knight, so they are! Declaring is part of a performative utterance, but so is authority: you cannot promise anyone my money; and no one but Queen Elizabeth can dub a British knight.

This is what happens in a pronouncement of marriage: a minister of God’s church, under God’s authority declares a couple man and wife, and this declaration itself accomplishes the marriage. Neither the declaration nor the exchanging of rings or vows actually causes the marriage, but altogether they do accomplish it. This, too, is what happens in baptism: a minister of God’s church, under God’s authority declares a person to belong to God and to be part of God’s family. Baptism doesn’t cause anything; we have a risen Savior and King who does that! But baptism is normally part of how God visibly accomplishes joining us to Christ.

In one sense, baptism is something we do — part of submitting ourselves to Christ. But baptism is much more God’s declaring and doing than our declaring and doing. Consider:

  • Baptism takes place in the Triune name; it is done under authority.
  • Baptism is done to someone. The one being baptized is not the subject but the object.
  • Baptism is spoken of as accomplishing something or bringing us somewhere, in terms that seem very bold to us: it kills us, buries us, washes us, puts on, unites us, saves us. We are baptized into Christ, into his church.
  • Finally, if baptism unites us to Christ (Romans 6), and if God declared over Christ that “you are my beloved son; with you I am well pleased” — at his baptism, no less — then our own baptism is certainly God’s declaration of his acceptance of and pleasure in us, in Christ.

Surely a dip in the water cannot cause all this! No, but it accomplishes it, since God has ordained to use baptism to speak and do through his church.

Are you baptized? God wants you to remember and believe and live in this truth: God loves you as his child and is pleased with you. Our Father has finalized our adoption by publicly announcing it. That is a powerful experience!

Written by Scott Moonen

June 11, 2010 at 3:23 pm

Posted in Essays, Union with Christ

Tagged with ,

They preach

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We shared the Lord’s Supper on Sunday morning.

When we speak scripture to one another, and when our pastors preach, we know that, by the Holy Spirit, Christ himself is speaking to us and preaching to us. We listen intently and we search our hearts because we long to hear our Lord. He comforts and strengthens us with promises and sends us out with commands.

When we take the Lord’s Supper it is easy to be aware of what we ourselves are doing — examining, remembering. But, no less than in preaching, Christ is speaking to us in the Lord’s Supper, comforting and strengthening us with promises and sending us out with commands. The Lord’s Supper preaches to our hungry hearts. What are some of the promises that we will hear our Savior saying if we are attentive?

  • Are you condemned? You are forgiven! I have washed and cleansed you with my blood.
  • Are you ashamed? You are accepted! You come before God in me.
  • Are you afraid or anxious? I drank the cup of God’s wrath so that you can enjoy mercy and grace and peace.
  • You are adopted. I have made you a part of God’s family.
  • I love you. Receive my lavish gifts of bread, wine, my body, and my blood.
  • You belong to me; I bought you with my own blood.
  • I have provided for your greatest and most costly need, and I will surely provide for all of your needs.
  • I will keep you safe to the end; we will feast like this together in heaven.

And what commands is he giving to us?

  • Believe in me!
  • Find your satisfaction in me. You will not find lasting satisfaction anywhere else.
  • Find your joy in me. You will not find lasting joy anywhere else.
  • Hear my great promises, receive my great gifts, and then give thanks, celebrate, feast and rejoice!
  • See, you are all my body. Love one another, care for one another, provide for one another.
  • You belong to me, and you feed on me for your life. Become more like me.

The elements preach to us. Hear our Savior speaking to you.

Crossposted to Reflections on Upchurch.

Written by Scott Moonen

January 8, 2008 at 6:21 am

Posted in Christ is Lord, Essays

Christ is Lord

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Christ is Lord of all. He is great beyond our understanding, and he is greatly to be feared. But he is also good, and he deserving of the deepest love and trust.

Christ is Lord of our salvation.

Christ is Lord of the whole of Christian life and of his church.

Christ is Lord of our children.

Christ is Lord of our family life.

Christ is Lord of our vocations.

Christ is Lord over all spheres of life; such as politics, science and art.

Christ is Lord of the convinced atheist.

Christ is Lord of the unbeliever, and his compassion toward unbelievers compels us to love them as well.

Christ is Lord over all his enemies.

The Christian conversion is not an event; conversion is an ongoing way of life that ”sees” Christ’s lordship over all, rejoices in it, continually entrusts oneself to him, and embraces his people. The Christian’s life of faith is not an exercise merely of the mind and will, but of the whole man; it covers all of the human existence, involves every human faculty, and shapes every vocation and relationship. The Christian hope is not a mere future hope that sees this world as nothing; it is a hope that desires this world to enjoy the fruit of Christ’s redemptive lordship as much as heaven. The Christian mission is not merely a mission to save individuals but one to redeem an entire people.

The Christian life is all-encompassing. But by embracing and transforming ”all” of life, the Christian life thus becomes ”ordinary”.

Written by Scott Moonen

January 24, 2007 at 12:35 pm

Immanuel

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Christ our Immanuel (God with us)

In the year 325, the first council of Nicea gathered to condemn Arius for his teaching that Jesus was not fully God. Nicholas of Myra attended this council, who you may know as Saint Nicholas, the inspiration for Santa Claus. At this council, Nicholas rebuked Arius for his heresy, growing so upset that he slapped him in the face! So there you have it — Santa Claus the valiant defender of the divinity of Christ! From this we get such Christmas classics as “Deck them all for all their folly” and “Santa Claus is coming to town.”

Like Nicholas, it is vital that we see that Jesus is both fully God and fully man. Most importantly, this is the only way that he can serve as our mediator, and bear the wrath of God in our place. But there are other ways that this brings comfort to us. Jesus is our Immanuel, God with us (Isaiah 7:14, Matthew 1:22-23). This doesn’t simply mean that he showed up in person once, two thousand years ago. God’s word is full of encouragement that he is God-with-us here and now.

First, Jesus is our Immanuel because he is the image of God our Father. John says that “no one has ever seen God,” but that Jesus, “the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known” (John 1:18). Jesus says that “whoever has seen me has seen the Father” (John 14:9). Paul writes that “in [Jesus] all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell” (Colossians 1:19). Even though we have never seen God, when we see Jesus on display in the word—his love, his kindness, his demand of our complete loyalty — we are seeing God himself. Through his word, we see God! Jesus is God with us.

Second, Jesus is our Immanuel because he is God “become flesh” (John 1:14). He identified with us and understands us. Paul reminds us that Jesus stooped low to become a man — “though he was in the form of God, [he] did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:5-8). Hebrews encourages us that Jesus’s becoming flesh means that he can “sympathize with our weaknesses,” since “in every respect [he] has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.” Not only does he sympathize with us, but since he also served as a perfect substitute in our place, he is able to give us “mercy and grace to help [us] in time of need” (Hebrews 4:15-16). As John writes, he is “full of grace and truth” (John 1:14) to us.

Third, Jesus is our Immanuel because he gave us the “Spirit of [God’s] son” (Galatians 4:6). Jesus promised that he would “send to you from the Father [the Helper], the Spirit of truth” (John 15:26). John says that Jesus “gives the Spirit without measure” (John 3:34). Through the Holy Spirit, Jesus fulfills his promise to be “with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 8:20). The Holy Spirit is the very presence and power and comfort of God in our lives. The Spirit is near to us in a much greater and better way than Israel ever experienced as God dwelled with them in the Old Testament. Through his life-giving Spirit, Jesus is God with us.

Finally, the most precious way that Jesus is near to us is that we are united to him in our salvation. This is the root of our very life. Our salvation isn’t dispensed from afar, like a mail-order pharmacy. When we are saved, we are joined to Jesus our savior. Paul declares that “in him we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28). Jesus says that “I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5). And in a powerful passage in Romans, Paul declares this:

We were buried therefore with [Christ Jesus] by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. For one who has died has been set free from sin. Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. We know that Christ being raised from the dead will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus. (Romans 6:3-11)

From this we know that in Jesus’s own death, we died with him to sin. And in Jesus’s own resurrection, we are raised to life. His death is our death, and his life is our life. In our salvation, we are joined to him and receive his very life! What comfort and power and assurance there is in this nearness to him!

Because of this nearness that we enjoy in Jesus, we experience adoption as God’s own children (Galatians 4:4-5), and Jesus becomes our refuge and protection (Isaiah 8:10, Psalm 46:7, Zechariah 8:23). In fact, scripture says that we receive “every spiritual blessing” (Ephesians 1:3-5) in Jesus. And in turn, he uses us as his people to bring himself near to others (John 20:21-22).

Thanks be to Christ our Immanuel!

Written by Scott Moonen

January 3, 2007 at 4:59 am

Common grace

with 3 comments

Introduction

There is a danger when engaged in any argument, even a just one, that we become so entranced with the rightness of our position and the wrongness of others, that we lose sight of our own unique tendencies to error. I believe the doctrines of grace to be true — I am, as Piper puts it, as 7-point Calvinist. But when we approach God’s sovereignty in a purely systematic or argumentative fashion, we can be at risk of forgetting things such as God’s love and kindness, or failing to allow God’s sovereignty to produce the worship and adoration that he deserves.

Perhaps this is a problem only for me. But I see in me a tendency to understand God’s sovereignty in such a way that his personality, emotion, and love are diminished in my mind, and this is not good. This particularly shows up in how I think of unbelievers. I believe God is sovereign in both election and reprobation. But if God predestines the reprobate to disobedience and destruction, can we honestly say that he truly loves them? After all, 1 Peter 2:7-8 says that:

for those who do not believe, “The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone,” and “A stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense.” They stumble because they disobey the word, as they were destined to do.

Approaching Scripture with this kind of wooden philosophical presupposition can cause us to do damage to the text, to our understanding of God, and to our application of his word. With this in mind, I will briefly visit the topics of common grace, the love of God, and the cross; and touch on several related points in conclusion.

Common Grace

John Murray defines common grace as “every favour of whatever kind or degree, falling short of salvation, which this undeserving and sin-cursed world enjoys at the hand of God.” This is the sun and the rain that all the world enjoys in Matthew 5, which reads:

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect. — Matthew 5:43-48

The text commands us to love unbelievers in the same way that God does. But if we hold to the doctrines of grace in a wooden way, as a hyper-Calvinist, then we will be inclined to say that this common grace is not a mark of God’s love, since he plans to punish unbelievers in the end.

In fact, there is a frequent hyper-Calvinist argument (see, for example, [1]) that common grace, rather than being a token of God’s love and compassion, is nothing more than an entrapment by which God hardens unbeliever’s hearts and gradually builds up an overwhelming judicial case against them. Now this is true in one sense — God’s kindness is often lost on the unbeliever, and often serves to harden hearts. And certainly an unbelieving response to God’s kindness is storing up future judgment. But can we say that God has no love for the unbeliever?

The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance. — 2 Peter 3:9

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. — John 3:16

And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world. — 1 John 4:14

Now it is true that not all the world is saved. But these and other verses speak powerfully of God’s heart, not just to mankind in general, but even to individual unbelievers specifically. It can be tempting to look at all the world through the lens of God’s eternal decrees, peering into questions whose answers are not given to us — who is saved and who is not? But then we will see God’s love only as it relates to salvation and destruction. We will be forced to interpret words like “world” in stilted ways, and we will miss an important aspect of God’s loving disposition toward the lost. God’s eternal decree of reprobation does not lessen his goodness, kindness, and love in giving gifts to unbelievers, individually, and to mankind in general. God is sovereign and God is holy, but he is also love; all of his attributes and perfections are in complete harmony.

Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. — 1 John 4:8

Mark Horne writes:

Did God love Adam and Eve? Were His good gifts to them a revelation of His love for them, or were they snares meant to hurt them?

The answer must be that, though God foreordains whatsoever comes to pass, and ultimately causes all things, God’s gifts and offers of future reward are all genuine expressions of a genuine love. It may be difficult to conceive of how this objective revelation in history is to be reconciled with God’s eternal decrees, yet it is perverse to use the decrees to deny that God’s gifts and promises are motivated by love. The fact is, just as without God’s love there is no ground for God’s jealousy, so without God’s good gifts there is no ground for holding ingrates accountable for how they abuse and pervert these gifts. It was Satan’s strategy, after all, to deny that God loved Adam and Eve. If our inferences from God’s decrees put us in Satan’s camp, we need to rethink our position.

The Love of God

D. A. Carson addresses God’s love in his book, The Difficult Doctrine of the Love of God. This book is an outstanding treatment of God’s love and I highly recommend it. It is a short and accessible read. Carson distinguishes 5 major aspects of God’s love. This is certainly not an exhaustive list:

  1. God’s intra-Trinitarian love, between the members of the Godhead.
  2. God’s providential love for all his creation.
  3. God’s compassionate love toward fallen mankind.
  4. God’s particular, elective, saving, transforming love toward his people.
  5. Finally, Carson speaks of a sort of conditional love God has for his people, being careful to distinguish this from saving love. While our salvation is secure, our disobedience nonetheless grieves God and brings his fatherly discipline.

Carson is concerned that we embrace the full counsel of God concerning God’s love. Neglecting any one of these aspects of God’s love, or emphasizing some at the expense of others, will lead us into various errors. His chief concerns for us as reformed believers are, first, that we do not deny the reality of God’s love as a genuine and personal emotion; and second, that we do not deny the reality of God’s compassion for the lost.

The Cross

Calvinists hold to limited atonement, also definite atonement or particular redemption — the idea that Jesus’s death accomplished salvation for specific, elect individuals. We hold to particular redemption for several reasons. First, the benefits of Jesus’s atonement are frequently described in definite terms, suggesting that Jesus’s death was in itself wholly sufficient to accomplish and secure forgiveness, propitiation, righteousness, redemption, salvation; therefore his death cannot have been effective for those who perish in the same way that it is savingly effective for believers. Second, Jesus is often described as having died specifically for his people or his church. While he is also described as having died for the whole world, it is clear from this that believers benefit from his death in a way that the whole world does not. Lastly, and of less importance, John Owen made a famous reductio ad absurdum argument for the doctrine of particular redemption.

But again, if this doctrine is understood woodenly, we can fall into error. While Jesus’s death secured the atonement only of the elect, it is not true that Jesus did not die for all men. Again, it is wrong in many cases to artificially read “world” to mean only those who are saved. Charles Hodge writes of Jesus’s death:

In answer to this question, it may be remarked in the first place that Augustinians do not deny that Christ died for all men. What they deny is that he died equally, and with the same design, for all men. He died for all, that He might arrest the immediate execution of the penalty of the law upon the whole of our apostate race; that He might secure for men the innumnerable blessings attending their state on earth, which, in one important sense, is a state of probation; and that He might lay the foundation for the offer of pardon and reconciliation with God, on condition of faith and repentance.

These are the universally admitted consequences of his satisfaction, and therefore they all come within its design. By this dispensation it is rendered manifest to every intelligent mind in heaven and upon earth, and to the finally impenitent themselves, that the perdition of those that perish is their own fault. They will not come to Christ that they may have life. They refuse to have Him to reign over them. He calls but they will not answer. He says, “Him that cometh to me, I will in no wise cast out.” Every human being who does come is saved.

This is what is meant when it is said, or implied in Scripture, that Christ gave Himself as a propitiation, not for our sins only, but for the sins of the whole world. He was a propitiation effectually for the sins of his people, and sufficiently for the sins of the whole world. Augustinians have no need to wrest the Scriptures. They are under no necessity of departing from their fundamental principle that it is the duty of the theologian to subordinate his theories to the Bible, and teach not what seems to him to be true or reasonable, but simply what the Bible teaches. — Charles Hodge, ”Systematic”, vol, 2, pp. 558-9.

So while Jesus’s death does not secure reconciliation for the unbeliever, it nonetheless has a gracious effect for the unbeliever. Jesus’s death will in fact secure the redemption of creation itself. And as an expression of God’s love and grace, our holy God is able to restrain the sin of unbelievers and temporally withhold his judgment. Even in the face of sin and rebellion, he is righteously able to pour out great gifts of common grace upon unbelievers and mankind. And most importantly, Jesus’s death secures the offer of salvation to all men. He is a sure and certain savior, and no one who comes to him will be cast out (John 6:37). While the hyper-Calvinist may deny that God’s offer of salvation to the lost is “well-meant”, it is clear from scripture that God lovingly invites and commands all men to believe and be saved.

We see this clearly in passages that describe the work of the cross in expansive terms. Jesus is described as one who takes away the sin of the world (John 1:29); one who brought salvation for all people (Titus 2:11); the propitiation for the sins of the whole world (1 John 2:2); the savior of the world (1 John 4:14); and as the savior of all people, especially those who believe (1 Timothy 4:10). Other scripture would forbid us from affirming universalism, so it is clear from this that unbelievers are beneficiaries of the cross in some sense short of true salvation.

Conclusion

So we see that the balance of Scripture requires us to affirm both the doctrines of grace, but also God’s genuine love toward the lost. Carson writes:

In recent years I have tried to read both primary and secondary sources on the doctrine of the Atonement from Calvin on. One of my most forceful impressions is that the categories of the debate gradually shift with time so as to force disjunction where a slightly different bit of question-framing would allow synthesis.

He is saying that we can come to understand the doctrines of grace in such a wooden way that God’s love for unbelievers is diminished in our minds. We ought to guard against this.

I have in mind three other concerns for us as reformed believers that I don’t have time to address at length, but I do want to mention them briefly.

The first has to do with God’s love for the lost. If God has such a loving disposition to unbelievers, as his people we are to have the same love for unbelievers! This ought to energize our evangelism and service to the lost. When we invite unbelievers to salvation, we do not invite them on the condition that they are elect. We invite them unconditionally. In Redemption Accomplished and Applied, John Murray writes that:

From whatever angle we may view [the offer of the gospel], it is full, free, and unrestricted. The appeals of the gospel cover the whole range of divine prerogative and of human interest. God entreats, he invites, he commands, he calls, he presents the overture of mercy and grace, and he does this to all without distinction or discrimination. . . .

When Christ is presented to lost men in the proclamation of the gospel, it is as Savior he is presented, as one who ever continues to be the embodiment of the salvation he has once for all accomplished. It is not the possibility of salvation that is offered to lost men but the Saviour himself and therefore salvation full and perfect. There is no imperfection in the salvation offered and there is no restriction to its overture — it is full, free, and unrestricted. And this is the warrant of faith. (107ff)

In his lectures on the Marrow controversy, Sinclair Ferguson makes the point that God does not offer salvation to sinners as some abstract and conditional transaction — we believe, and from a distance, God will deal with our sin and dispense to us the benefits of the gospel like some kind of mail-order pharmacy. Rather, Jesus himself is offered as a personal and loving savior to all men. The benefits of the gospel come only as we are united with him.

The second concern has to do with God’s immutability. God never changes, and systematic theologians describe him as impassible, or without passions. But this does not mean that God is without emotion, or that his love is impersonal and mechanical. Carson writes that God’s impassibility is best understood as “trying to avoid a picture of a God who is changeable, given over to mood swings, dependent on his creatures” (49). God is not fickle or temperamental. Carson labors to communicate that God’s impassibility does not diminish the reality and personality of his emotions, including his love. Carson talks of people who would make God’s love to be nothing more than an anthropopathism, a crude human picture of something that is not really true of God. Carson makes this memorable appeal: “Give me a break. Paul did not pray that his readers might be able to grasp the height and depth and length and breadth of an anthropopathism and know this anthropopathism that surpasses knowledge (Eph. 3:14-21)” (59). God’s love is a real and perfect love!

The third concern is that we must progress from understanding and even experiencing God’s love to gratefulness and worship. How amazing it is that a holy God would love us! And how more amazing still as we discover more and more the greatness and depth of his love!

Bibliography

See also Monergism‘s collection of links on grace.

Written by Scott Moonen

March 3, 2006 at 5:33 pm