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Jesu, Juva

Archive for the ‘Union with Christ’ Category

By faith, not by sight

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I read and enjoyed Gaffin’s By Faith, Not by Sight recently. I think that he could have gone a little farther towards finding multi-perspectival resolutions, but I am generally very appreciative of the book. Some choice quotes:

Since the goal of redemption is union with the risen Lord, there seems little doubt that, if Paul has a center to his order of salvation, it is this doctrine. When other applied blessings, such as justification or sanctification, are made central, there are inevitably deleterious consequences for the Christian life, whereby incipient forms of antinomianism and legalism creep in. For example, a certain Lutheran view that justification precedes sanctification, so that it causes union with Christ and sanctification, ends up attributing to justification a renovative/transformative element. The notion that one applied benefit can cause another applied benefit has always perplexed me. But when union with Christ structures the whole of applied redemption, the aforementioned errors are dealt with better. This has to do with the fact that Christ’s person, not simply his work or his applied benefits, must have the preeminence. Indeed, the gift of Christ’s person is a greater gift to us than his benefits. As many of our finest divines have vigorously argued, there exists a priority of Christ’s person over his work. Union with Christ helps us to keep this salient fact in mind. We are not simply recipients of his benefits; we also belong to him. (Mark Jones, Foreword, p. x)

One important methodological consideration is that, with all due attention being given to his immediate historical context, including relevant extracanonical texts and materials, in interpreting [Paul’s] letters the context that is not only primary but privileged is the canonical context. (10)

All along I have been speaking of Paul’s “theology” and referring to him as a “theologian.” For many, that will not be a problem, but this way of speaking warrants some clarification, since for some it is questionable at best. The perceived danger here is that we will, as it could be put, “drag Paul down to our level.” . . . What offsets this leveling danger is appreciating Paul’s identity as an apostle, at least if we understand apostleship properly. . . . Regarding [his] authority, the apostle is as Christ himself.

Paul the theologian, then, is Paul the apostle. That points to the God-breathed origin and authority of his teaching, its character as the word of God. It highlights the radical, categorical difference there is between his theology and post-apostolic theology. His teaching, along with the teaching of the other biblical writers, is Spirit-borne, canonical, and foundational. (14-15)

Increasingly over the course of the last century, to fill out this brief historical sketch, a new consensus concerning Paul emerged across a broad front in biblical studies. This happened in tandem with a reassessment of the kingdom proclamation of Jesus. It is now widely maintained that the controlling focus of Paul’s theology, as for Jesus before him, is eschatology—or what is equivalent for some, redemptive history (historia salutis). Specifically, the center of his theology has been recognized to be the death and resurrection of Christ in their eschatological significance.

In my view, this basic conclusion is sound and, by now, well established. (29)

The center of Paul’s soteriology, then, at the center of his theology as a whole, is neither justification by faith nor sanctification, neither the imputation of Christ’s righteousness nor the renewing work of the Spirit. To draw that conclusion, however, is not to decenter justification (or sanctification), as if justification is somehow less important for Paul than it is for the Reformers. Justification is supremely important; it is absolutely crucial in Paul’s “gospel of salvation” (cf. Eph. 1:13). If his teaching on justification is denied or distorted, it ceased to be gospel; there is no longer saving “good news” for guilty sinners. But no matter how close justification is to the heart of Paul’s gospel, in our salvation there is an antecedent consideration, a reality that is deeper, more fundamental, more decisive, more crucial: Christ and our union with him, the crucified and resurrected, the exalted, Christ. Union with Christ by faith—that is the essence of Paul’s ordo salutis.

At the opening of Book 3 of his Institutes of the Christian Religion and controlling all that he has to say about “the way” of salvation—that is, its personal, individual appropriation, including what he will eventually say about justification—Calvin writes, “First, we must understand that as long as Christ remains outside of us, and we are separated from him, all that he has suffered and done for the salvation of the human race remains useless and of no value for us.” (49-50)

[Some have observed] that Paul’s exhortations to the church as a whole, his ethics of the Christian life in their entirety, can be summed up in the epigram, “Become what you are.” This is helpful, but by itself it carries a liability that can render it decidedly unhelpful (suggesting some form of personal autonomy), unless it is read with an all-encompassing Christological gloss, “Become what you are in Christ.” (80)

The point here is that “the path of good works runs not from man to God, says Paul, but from God to man.” [quoting Berkouwer] Ultimately, in the deepest sense, for Paul “our good works” are not ours, but God’s. They are his work, begun and continuing in us, his being “at work in us, both to will and to do what pleases him” (Phil. 2:13). That is why, without any tension, a faith that rests in God the Savior is a faith that is restless to do his will. (88)

On the coherence between [faith and works], it is hard to improve on what J. Gresham Machen writes aphoristically, “As the faith which James condemns is different than the faith that Paul commends, so also the works which James commends are different than the works which Paul condemns.” (118)

Written by Scott Moonen

November 28, 2020 at 1:22 pm

Baptism exhortation (2)

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Amos,

In the New Testament, Peter and Paul speak of two great old–covenant baptisms: the baptism of the flood, and the baptism of the Red Sea crossing.

In both of these, God rained water on his people, and drowned his enemies. Psalm 77 tells of God’s rain at the Red Sea crossing, and Psalm 68—the great battle Psalm of the Huguenots—tells of rain in the wilderness:

O God, when You went forth before Your people,
When You marched through the wilderness:
The world shook;
Indeed, the heavens dripped at the presence of God, the One of Sinai,
At the presence of God, the God of Israel.
A rain of gifts You showered, O God;
Your inheritance, though it languished, You Yourself established.
Your beasts dwelled in it;
You prepared it in Your goodness for the lowly, O God. (Psalm 68:7–10, James Jordan)

So you see that the waters of baptism are a rescue from judgment and death, and they are a source of life and refreshment. But they are also a commissioning, into a priesthood and into an army! As soon as Israel had crossed the Red Sea in battle array, they fought the Amalekites. Likewise, Psalm 68 continues:

My Master gives the word;
The messengers are a great army.
Kings of armies flee; they flee;
And those remaining at home divide the spoil,
Those remaining with the sheepfolds:
A dove’s wings covered with silver,
And her pinions with green–gold.
When the Almighty scattered kings there,
You made it snow on Black Mountain.
O mountain of gods, mountain of Bashan,
O mountain of ridges, mountain of Bashan,
Why your hostility, you mountains of ridges,
Toward the mountain God delighted for His dwelling?
Yes, Yahweh will dwell there endlessly.
The chariots of God are twice myriads,
Thousands upon thousands,
My Master among them,
At Sinai, in the holy place!
You ascended on high;
You captured a captivity;
You took men as gifts—
And even rebels—
In order that Yah, God might dwell. (Psalm 68:11–18, James Jordan)

The same thing happened when Israel crossed the Jordan into the promised land. God brought them safely through waters, circumcised them, and formed them into his own army to conduct a holy war.

Amos, God still has an army that wages holy warfare with the sword of the Spirit: the word of God. God has commissioned you into his service today. You are and will always be a soldier of Jesus. You belong completely to him, and it is good to belong to him. I charge you to serve him faithfully and fearlessly!

See also: Baptism exhortation

Written by Scott Moonen

November 16, 2020 at 3:50 pm

Metábasis eis állo génos (8)

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A week at the beach with cousins:

This afforded some time for Solzhenitsyn:

But there is a limit, and beyond it one is no longer willing, one finds it too repulsive, to be a reasonable little rabbit. And that is the limit beyond which rabbits are enlightened by the common understanding that all rabbits are foredoomed to become only meat and pelts, and that at best, therefore, one can gain only a postponement of death and not life in any case. That is when one wants to shout: “Curse you, hurry up and shoot!”

It was this particular feeling of rage which took hold of Vlasov even more intensely during his forty-one days of waiting for execution. In the Ivanovo Prison they had twice suggested that he write a petition for pardon, but he had refused.

But on the forty-second day they summoned him to a box where they informed him that the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet had commuted the supreme measure of punishment to twenty years of imprisonment in corrective-labor camps with disenfranchisement for five additional years.

The pale Vlasov smiled wryly, and even at that point words did not fail him:

“It is strange. I was condemned for lack of faith in the victory of socialism in our country. But can even Kalinin himself believe in it if he thinks camps will still be needed in our country twenty years from now?” (The Gulag Archipelago, Vol. 1, 455)

After all, we have gotten used to regarding as valor only valor in war (or the kind that’s needed for flying in outer space), the kind which jingle-jangles with medals. We have forgotten another concept of valorcivil valor. And that’s all our society needs, just that, just that, just that! That’s all we need and that’s exactly what we haven’t got. (The Gulag Archipelago, Vol. 1, 462)

I haven’t found a video with all three verses, but isn’t this deeply wonderful:

Thanks to Uri Brito for the find. I must say, this is far better than Toto’s version, which unfortunately is making the rounds of my household.

Isn’t it interesting that we love the beginning of Psalm 139 but not so much the end?

Oh that you would slay the wicked, O God!
O men of blood, depart from me!
They speak against you with malicious intent;
your enemies take your name in vain.
Do I not hate those who hate you, O Yahweh?
And do I not loathe those who rise up against you?
I hate them with complete hatred;
I count them my enemies. (Psalm 139:19–22)

Something is out of balance if we struggle to find appropriate objects for this prayer, or, worse, struggle to see it as appropriate at all. Somewhat related, I was reflecting on Ruth this week:

But Ruth said, “Do not urge me to leave you or to return from following you. For where you go I will go, and where you lodge I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God my God. (Ruth 1:16 ESV)

Isn’t it remarkable that conversion and loyalty to God is inseparable from conversion and loyalty to God’s people? Ruth and Naomi remind me as well of of Jacob’s blessing Pharaoh in spite of the few and evil days of his life. Isn’t it equally remarkable that these testimonies of God’s faithfulness and purpose in suffering would result in robust conversion?

Sadly, in days when suffering and sacrifice are rare, a husband is not always a protection against this:

But refuse to enroll younger widows . . . They learn to be idlers, going about from house to house, and not only idlers, but also gossips and busybodies, saying what they should not. (1 Timothy 5:11–13 ESV)

Fascinating: the lost colony was never lost, just not found.

Way too many good tweets this week to do a practical roundup. You should follow: Hans Fiene, Michael Foster, Andrew Isker, Alex Berenson.

If a church sees new visitors during this season of rona, is it really wise to encourage them to return to their original home when it is all over? Why would you encourage someone to return to shepherds who practically abandoned them? Related, I wonder if the church is experiencing a rise in separations and divorces in this year of spiritual distancing. Body must body!

Also related, it seems to me that we have developed today a functional theology of the “real absence” of Jesus at his covenant meal. The Lord’s supper is no longer seen as an entry into the heavenly marriage supper, nor even a joyful and eucharistic foretaste of it. This explains why the supper is often so bland and solemn and infrequent. But it also explains how we have arrived at the conclusion that our own absence at that meal is a matter of little consequence.

Considering also how we arrive at the supper, I’m intrigued by the fact that the Lord’s prayer does not open with an early confession of sin. In fact, its appeal for forgiveness does not even really constitute a confession. Although repentance is a way of life for the Christian, and is liturgically appropriate, repentance is not the fundamental flavor of that festive life.

Speaking of the marriage supper, last week I mentioned Galileo. Considering the book of Revelation, and both our present worship and eternity, it is clear that in the most important sense of the word, the earth is the center of the universe.

Written by Scott Moonen

August 21, 2020 at 9:09 pm

Metábasis eis állo génos

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I mentioned previously Toby Sumpter’s phrase “cheerfully difficult.” This is another way of saying “happy warrior.” Crucially, the happy warrior is characterized by joy and laughter; he is not anxious.

Speaking of Toby, I reread Lewis’s space trilogy earlier this year. It occurs suddenly to me that the vision of dominion–maturity set for Tor and Tinidril and their generations is the exact picture of what Sumpter sees laid out for us in God’s wrestling with Job. I commend this reading of Job to you, as well as the Girardian reading.

Duane Garner reflects on the key differences between God’s law and the laws of tyrants. God’s law is limited and actually establishes freedom and agency. God is in the business of multiplying agency and authority and dominion. Godly leaders follow this pattern (this is the mission of parenting in a nutshell), while tyrants are in the business of limiting and collecting authority.

I’m sure you don’t need my encouragement to read Doug Wilson’s or Mark Horne’s latest.

May all our sons follow in the footsteps of this manly lad. I dare you to read it without getting a little misty eyed.

We took a trip to Pennsylvania and New York recently. It was fascinating to compare them with Wake County. From afar, we have only been aware of how draconian Pennsylvania and New York have been with their ‘rona restrictions, including the requirement for us to quarantine for two weeks upon arrival. But our observations on the ground were that compliance with these restrictions was far less than we see here in North Carolina’s capital county. To me this seems to correlate (hear me carefully) with red–county–blue–state and blue–county–red–state. Or, levels of affluence and their corresponding priorities and affordances. Not coincidentally, on our visit I learned of the widespread sanctuary county movement.

Also, the Pennsylvania firefly experience beats the North Carolina experience, hands down. We all know that our childhood houses are bigger in memory than in reality, but in this case childhood memories proved completely factual.

I’ve only caught snippets of Tucker the last couple months, and have been intrigued, so I watched an extended speech from last year. Very impressed; you should watch it too.

Ivy asked me why I think the end is not near (courtesy Duane Garner for that phrase). In a nutshell: First, I say this because God promised to be faithful to thousands of generations, and if he owns the cattle on many thousands of hills and not just a thousand hills (Google tells me there are over a million mountains in the world), it seems we should think he intends to be faithful to at least a few thousand generations. Second, God intends for the leaven of the gospel to disciple the nations themselves. This is not just the conversion of the nations (Nineveh shows that he can accomplish this quickly), but their discipleship, their maturation. We expect the process of faith’s maturation to be slow because part of it is the acquisition of patience, of a long time sense (Hebrews 11). (Now put that in your eschatolegislative agency–multiplying pipe and smoke it.) Finally, and similarly, from 1 Corinthians 15, we know that Jesus will not return in order to reign, but rather that he is reigning now and will return only after his enemies have been subdued by the gospel, and then he will give the kingdom to his Father. It is not beyond him to accomplish this quickly, but if you compare this with Hebrews 2 and elsewhere, I think we should expect this spiritual warfare to be a long and sacrificial leavening process. See also: Parousia.

I previously suggested that Christians should normally think of ourselves as righteous. But, you say, “none is righteous, no, not one!” Well, Paul is actually making a pointed accusation against his contemporaries when he asserts this in Romans 3. He is quoting from Psalm 14, where David goes on to say that “God is with the generation of the righteous.” Paul is not making a universal statement as we so often assume, but rather arguing that the old covenant church was faithless to God and are therefore not counted righteous. Christians should think of ourselves as righteous, because God preserves us in the very covenant that makes sacrificial provision for our righteousness.

I recently revisited part of Calvin’s Institutes, book 1. I’m impressed with how boldly and unapologetically he speaks to the unbeliever, as if God dealt with rebellion in laughter and derision. Calvin is operating out of very psalmic categories; from the very first moment with him, you know that God demands the bending of your knee:

At this day, however, the earth sustains on her bosom many monster minds—minds which are not afraid to employ the seed of Deity deposited in human nature as a means of suppressing the name of God. Can any thing be more detestable than this madness in man, who, finding God a hundred times both in his body and his soul, makes his excellence in this respect a pretext for denying that there is a God? He will not say that chance has made him differ from the brutes that perish; but substituting nature as the architect of the universe, he suppresses the name of God.

Contra Calvin, I did find some evidence of Keller’s city–gospel at work! Perhaps if I read just a couple Bible verses I will know how to live as salt and light, and discover the exact pressure point to winsomely command the city’s repentance and obedience.

Andy Stanley is not reopening until 2021. The Summit still hasn’t announced their plans but remains closed through tomorrow at least. Now, work with me for a minute. Paul says that the law of muzzling an ox was written for our benefit rather than the ox (1 Cor 9:8ff), and links this not only to apostles but also to elders (1 Tim. 5:17–18). Looking back to Deuteronomy 25, we see that this command is juxtaposed to the law of the levir. Taking Paul into account, it seems plain to me that this law was not written for the benefit of the ox, but for the levir. Consider: treading is a readily understood metaphor for sexual relations, and therefore it is apparent that God wishes for the levir to enjoy the temporary use of the inheritance (i.e., eat the produce) until the child possesses it.

What this means is that Paul is building on this metaphor to identify the apostle and elder as a kind of levir. The elder is, quite unsurprisingly, a surrogate husband for the church while her Husband is in abstentia: appointed to care for the bride and raise up her offspring into their maturity and inheritance.

What will the Husband have to say to these men who have failed to gather His bride for her appointed feasts with Him? Are there not very few greater goods than His feasts, for which many Christians around the world still literally risk their lives each week to attend? And consider this: at least in the Corinthians’ case, the feasts were themselves a cause of death and the answer was to keep the feast aright (1 Cor 11), that is, with the utmost brotherly love. Thus: you should flee for the time being to the pure countryside air and its churches if necessary, but the feast will go on here for all who remain, and even if they wish to bring veiled faces.

Keep the feast! This is a crucial part of our being warriors full of joy and laughter.

Written by Scott Moonen

July 19, 2020 at 9:24 am

Christus regnat

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Happy whole burnt offering day, rather, ascension day!

Jesus now reigns where’er the sun does its successive journeys run.

(Although there is nothing outside his control, we do not yet see everything in subjection to him, but we see him crowned with glory and honor.—Heb. 2)

He now reigns in glory, crowned with grace and might. . . He now reigns forever with His chosen bride.

(We are seated with him in the heavenly places in Christ the head-and-body.—Eph. 2)

(Then comes the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet.—1 Cor. 15)

Written by Scott Moonen

May 21, 2020 at 6:21 am

The peace of God

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I sometimes wonder whether there is a nuanced difference in scripture’s use of “Jesus Christ” versus “Christ Jesus.” Paul uses both phrases, but is the only one to use the phrase “Christ Jesus.”

Paul is the great apostle of totus Christus, from the very moment of his conversion (“Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?”). I think it is possible that he means the phrase “Christ Jesus” (over against “Jesus Christ”) in a totus Christus sense that encompasses both the head and the body of Jesus. Thus, we are properly in Christ Jesus only when we are both in Jesus and in his body the church.

If this is true, it lends an interesting layer of meaning to Philippians 4:

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:4-7 ESV)

Which is this: God’s peace guarding our hearts and minds is most fully available to us only as we are deeply connected to one another by his Spirit in his church.

Written by Scott Moonen

May 16, 2020 at 10:35 am

Keep in step with the Spirit

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Paul makes an interesting sustained argument throughout Galatians 5 and 6. He pits circumcision against Christ, law against faith, flesh against Spirit, and flesh against cross.

By abandoning the way of the Spirit, the Judaizers gave way to the works of the flesh (5:16ff). In fact, they boasted in the flesh (6:12–13), which is a subtle sin that is not so shocking as Paul’s earlier list. We see from this that even what is good or appears to be good can become a source of pride and destroy us. We are to repent not only of our sins but also of our merits, of every seemingly commendable way that we try to find life apart from Jesus. “Seemingly” is of course the operative word. Ironically, circumcision signified the cutting off of the flesh, a confession of its impotence; the Judaizers turned it into its opposite. There is no more need for circumcision because the Seed signified by circumcision has come. His once and for all circumcision at the cross (Col. 2:11–12) has inaugurated the new creation (Gal. 6:15). We enter into this circumcision, this new creation, through our baptism into Jesus (Col. 2:11–12).

The Judaizers were offended by the cross (Gal. 5:11) and ashamed of it (6:12). Paul boasted in the cross instead (6:14). Paul’s opposition of flesh to both Spirit (5:16ff) and cross (6:12ff) leads us to look for links between Spirit and cross. Paul himself directly links the fruit of the Spirit to the cross worked out in the life of the Christian: “And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires” (5:24 ESV). Part of our boasting in the cross should be to see and delight in how Jesus exhibits the fruit of the Spirit. Such love and kindness (John 15:13), joy (Heb. 12:2), peace and patience (1 Pet. 2:23), etc.! Beyond this, the cross is not only our great example, but also the very foundation of our own walking in the fruit of the Spirit.

Boasting in law–keeping is of course not the only possible kind of fleshly boasting. Just as circumcision was turned on its head, we can be tempted to turn the fruit of the Spirit to fleshly purposes. Consider how we do this by exaggerating the virtues of love, of winsomeness, and humility. It has become easy to wield these as fleshly weapons and thereby to mistake other virtues, such as godly confidence and courage, for fleshly boasting. Rene Girard has insight into how this humility competition is its own form of fleshly vaunting, and how it undermines the faith.

This is one reason why it is important to cultivate the fruits of the Spirit in totality rather than in isolation. We guard best against the flesh when we use all of our weapons; we need both a faithful love and a loving faithfulness; both a joyful self–control and a self–controlled joy.

Written by Scott Moonen

February 20, 2020 at 1:52 pm

Sacrifice

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This is the problem of Christianity, gentlemen. The whole honor of Christ is that He came when the times were fulfilled. And that is the new element of the Christian religion, compared to all other religions. That in Christianity, the criterion of righteousness is that by one man heeding the catastrophe in time, the catastrophe which is inevitable can be turned from a terrible thing into a blessing. The catastrophe, per se, gentlemen, is just terrible and inevitable. By human sacrifice, the catastrophe which is terrible and inevitable can be turned into a blessing. . . . The Christian problem is to recognize which catastrophe is indispensable, and then to go into it by voluntarily stripping yourself of the privileges of the old order, which make the break so much harder if the privileges still stand up.

Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy, Comparative Religion, 1954

Written by Scott Moonen

January 15, 2020 at 12:36 pm

Resurrection

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Love is a refreshment and almost a kind of resurrection.

—Peter Leithart, commenting on imagery in the Song of Songs, including patterns of seven that hint at new creation, and kisses that evoke, among other things, the breath of life.

Written by Scott Moonen

February 22, 2019 at 9:29 am

Second Person

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“That Second Voice, you know: he had me sent here; he said you had asked to see me. I owe it to you.”

“No. You owe it to the Second Voice,” said Niggle. “We both do.”

(J. R. R. Tolkien, “Leaf by Niggle,” The Tolkien Reader, 116)

 

Written by Scott Moonen

February 18, 2019 at 12:04 pm