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Jesu, Juva

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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

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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

Ontological Argument

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Anselm’s Argument

  1. God exists in the understanding but not in reality.
  2. Existence in reality is greater than existence in the understanding alone. (premise)
  3. God’s existence in reality is conceivable. (premise)
  4. If God did exist in reality, then He would be greater than He is. [from (1) and (2)]
  5. It is conceivable that there is a being greater than God is. [(3) and (4)]
  6. It is conceivable that there be a being greater than the being than which nothing greater can be conceived. [(5) by the definition of “God”]
  7. Therefore, it is false that God exists in the understanding but not in reality. (by contradiction)

pp. 87-88. Plantinga, Alvin. God, Freedom, and Evil. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1978.

Objections

Transitivity

Anselm makes the implicit assumption that his definition of greatness is transitive, without demonstrating this to be true. Without transitivity, a set does not necessarily possess a greatest element. Consider, for example, a chess club consisting of three players: A, B, and C; for which A consistently defeats B, B consistently defeats C, and C consistently defeats A. There is in this case no greatest chess player.

Upper Bound

Anselm also assumes that his set under consideration (all entities existent or conceivable) contains its upper bound, without demonstrating this to be true. Without an upper bound, one can always produce an element greater than any other element. Consider, for example, the set of natural numbers: 1, 2, 3, . . ., with the traditional greater-than metric. This set has no greatest element, because it does not contain its upper bound, which is infinity.

Reality as Greater than Thought

Anselm makes the assumption that an entity that exists in reality is implicitly greater than one that exists in thought. Though a plausible assumption, I believe Anselm should spend more time defending it. Consider, for example, the proposition that the greatest entity is a thought about a thought. (Or a thought about a meta-thought, . . . and once again we see the problem of upper bounds.) This, too, is a valid assumption, one that is also quite tempting to assert.

Anselm also fails to adequately define a metric for the differentiation between reality and thought. While he assumes a God in reality is greater than a God in the imagination, would a worm in reality also be greater than a God in the imagination?

Attributes of God

Anselm assumes, without any prior explanation, that the greatest entity must necessarily have those properties which he attributes to God, such as omnipotence and omniscience. This is an entirely arbitrary assumption.

By changing these assumed properties, one can manipulate this argument to say the exact opposite. Consider this reasoning:

  1. Clearly the greatest conceivable evil should be that which can triumph over the greatest conceivable good.
  2. Follow the steps of Anselm’s argument to prove the existence of a being so evil that it can utterly destroy God.

Or consider the following “proof”:

  1. The maximally great square is necessarily round, since roundness is an attribute of perfection.
  2. Follow the steps of Anselm’s argument to prove the material existence of a maximally great square which is round.

Infinite versus Greatest

Anselm also assumes that, for each of the properties he attributes to God, the notion of greatest automatically entails total. His proof claims to demonstrate that God exists, possessing the greatest power, knowledge, etc.; but then he jumps to the conclusion that God possesses exhaustive power, knowledge, etc.

Time Invariance

Anselm’s argument assumes without prior cause that the greatest entity is itself invariant with respect to time, and is never superceded by some other greatest entity over time.

Conclusion

I believe that Anselm has at most succeeded in proving that the universe (as a whole greater than any portion thereof) exists.

I believe that his primary mistake is in trying to subject God to physical reality, rather than realizing that reality and logic are themselves reliant upon God for their existence. He assumes that God exists in reality, whereas reality, in a sense, exists in God. Thus, his argument fails in that it is circular; by assuming God’s existence, he has claimed to prove it. Sadly, though the God of his assumption is the glorious and transcendent God that is the author of reality, the God of his proof is a lesser God, subject to and entirely contained within material reality.

Written by Scott Moonen

May 24, 2004 at 5:18 pm

Posted in Commentary, Essays

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