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Friday, October 28, 2011

The Cross of Christ - Chapter 10

Stott enters the final section of The Cross of Christ by examining the benefits available to those who are "Living Under the Cross." Chapter 10 looks at the first advantage of being "in Christ" as a result of personal repentance and having trusted in God's work through Christ on the cross - becoming a member of "The Community of Celebration," i.e. the church, the body of Christ. 
"Jesus Christ 'gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good'. (Gal.2:20; Titus 2:14; Acts 2:40-42) Thus the very purpose of his self-giving on the cross was not just to save isolated individuals ... but to create a new community whose members would belong to him, love one another and eagerly serve the world." (2Cor.5:19-21; Rev.7:9)
"The Community of Celebration"

Our reconciliation includes the concepts of 'access' and 'nearness', which are aspects of our dynamic knowledge of God or 'eternal life' (Jn.17:3).  This intimate relationship to God, which has replaced the old and painful estrangement, has several characteristics.

First, it is marked by boldness. 
The word the apostles loved to use for it is parresia, which means 'outspokenness, frankness, plainness of speech' both in our witness to the world and in our prayers to God. Through Christ we are now able to 'approach God with freedom (parresia) and confidence'. We have parresia because of Christ's high priesthood to come to God's 'throne of grace', and parresia by Christ's blood 'to enter the Most Holy Place' of God's very presence. (Eph.3:11-12; Heb.4:16, 10:19-22)  ... due entirely to Christ's merit, not ours.

The second characteristic of our new relationship with God is love.
Indeed, 'we love because he first loved us'.  Previously we were afraid of him. But now love has driven out fear. Love begets love. God's love in Christ, which has in one sense liberated us, in another hems us in, because it leaves us no alternative but to live the rest of our lives for him, in adoring and grateful service. (1Jn.4:18-19; 2Cor.5:14-15)

Joy is a third mark of those who have been redeemed by the cross.
When the Babylonian exiles returned to Jerusalem, their 'mouths were filled with laughter' and their 'tongues with songs of joy'. The old alienation and humiliation were over; God had rescued and restored them. They likened their exhilaration to the revelries of harvest: 'Those who sow in tears will reap with songs of joy. He who goes out weeping, carrying seed to sow, will return with songs of joy, carrying sheaves with him.' How much more should we rejoice in the Lord, who have been redeemed from a much more oppressive slavery? The early Christians could hardly contain themselves: they shared their meals together 'with unaffected joy'.  (Ps.126:1-6; Acts 2:46, agalliasis (translated 'gladness') means 'exultation')

Boldness, love and joy are not to be thought of as purely private and interior experiences, however; they are to distinguish our public worship. The brief time we spend together on the Lord's Day, far from being divorced from the rest of our life, is intended to bring it into sharp focus. Humbly (as sinners), yet boldly (as forgiven sinners), we press into God's presence, responding to his loving initiative with an answering love of our own. ...The Christian community is a community of celebration. ...Holiness is to mark the Christian celebration, for Christ's ultimate purpose through the cross is 'to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation' (Col.1:22).

The cross is not just a badge to identify us and the banner under which we march; it is also the compass that gives us our bearings in a disoriented world.

[Excerpts: Chapter 1; Chapter 11]

Monday, October 24, 2011

Thoughts on Parenting & Humility

Following is an excerpt from a post dealing with leadership in the workplace. But I found these few paragraphs useful for self-examination in the area of training up our children. In particular, the author considers how a lack of consistent parenting actually contributes to our children's misbehavior. Usually our intention is to be consistent, but actual day-to-day execution can be difficult. May this be an encouragement for consistency and perseverance! How we view behavior problems has a great deal to do with whether we handle them proactively or whether we feel we're the victim of our children's behavior.
One of the best opportunities that I've found for being humbled is in my role as a parent. Some people might think I'm referring to the unglamorous work of changing diapers, cleaning up spilled milk and picking up dirty clothes. While those are certainly humbling experiences, I find that the most profound instances of parental humility occur for me when I am disciplining my children. Or more accurately, when I'm criticizing their behavior.
See, when I’m scolding any one of my four sons (it’s not that I’m unwilling to scold my daughters; it’s just that I don’t have any) I often find myself wondering why he acts the way he does. Being an extravert, I usually verbalize my thoughts and say something to the effect of “where did you learn to act like that?” And that’s when, if I’m being honest with myself, I realize that the answer to my semi-rhetorical question is that my son likely learned it from me...
Of course, I don’t really teach my sons to misbehave. It’s not like I sit down and give them instructions on how to provoke their brothers, break the dining room chairs or talk back to their parents. But I must have done something to give them the idea that it would be okay to do those things, or more likely, that the consequence for doing so wouldn’t be significant.
And it’s in that moment of realization that I have a choice: I can either be humble enough to acknowledge that the first person I need to be addressing if I want to change my son’s behavior is me, or I can go on venting about how ornery he is and watch the orneriness continue. 
[from "Humbled by Sins of Omission" by Pat Lencioni]

Saturday, October 22, 2011

How to Articulate a Christian Worldview in 4 Easy Steps

As Easy as 1 .. 2 ... 3 ... 4

[Kevin DeYoung offers a 4 point synthesis of the Christian worldview based upon God's revelation...]

One God. We worship one, personal, knowable, holy God. There are not two gods or ten gods or ten million gods, only one. He has always been and will always be. He is not a product of our mind or imagination. He really exists and we can know him because he has spoken to us in his word.

Two kinds of being. We are not gods. God is not found in the trees or the wind or in us. He created the universe and cares for all that he has made, but he is distinct from his creation. The story of the world is not about being released from the illusion of our existence or discovering the god within. The story is about God, the people he made, and how the creatures can learn to delight in, trust in, and obey their Creator.

Three persons. The one God exists eternally in three persons. The Father is God. The Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, is God. The Holy Spirit, the Spirit of the Father and the Son, is also God. And yet these three—equal in glory, rank, and power—are three persons. The doctrine of the Trinity helps explain how there can be true unity and diversity in our world. It also shows that our God is a relational God.

For us. Something happened in history that changed the world. The Son of God came into the world as a man, perfectly obeyed his Father, fulfilled Israel’s purpose, succeeded where Adam failed, and began the process of reversing the curse. Jesus Christ died for the sins of the world. He rose again from the dead on the third day. By faith in him our sins can be forgiven and we can be assured of living forever with God and one day being raised from the dead like Christ.

[Kevin DeYoung's original post]

Friday, October 21, 2011

The Basis of Christian Unity

 God's truth is the basis for Christian unity. "God is spirit and 
those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth." (John 4:24)

A. W. Tozer, The Pursuit of God:
Has it ever occurred to you that one hundred pianos all tuned to the same fork are automatically tuned to each other? They are of one accord by being tuned, not to each other, but to another standard to which each one must individually bow.
So one hundred worshippers meeting together, each one looking away to Christ, are in heart nearer to each other than they could possibly be were they to become “unity” conscious and turn their eyes away from God to strive for closer fellowship.

[via Justin Taylor]

The Cross of Christ - Chapter 9

In this section of his book, The Cross of Christ, John Stott has been reviewing the achievements of the cross. Chapter 7 looked at "The Salvation of Sinners", Chapter 8 at "The Revelation of God" and this chapter explores "The Conquest of Evil." Understanding the magnitude and ramifications of Christ's victory in this area is crucial to Christian sanctification. These truths are for those who have repented of their sin against an infinitely holy God ("turned to God from sin") and placed their faith, their trust completely in Christ's work on the cross. Only by being spiritually united to Him, being "in Christ", can these four aspects of the
                                                      power of evil be broken.
"The Conquest of Evil" 

At the cross Jesus disarmed and triumphed over the devil, and all the 'principalities and powers' at his command. (Col.2:15) ... The victory of Christians, therefore, consists of entering into the victory of Christ and of enjoying its benefits.

Though the devil has been defeated, he has not yet conceded defeat. Although he has been overthrown, he has not yet been eliminated. ... Already the kingdom of God has been inaugurated and is advancing; not yet has it been consummated. Already the new age (the age to come) has come, so that we have 'tasted... the powers of the coming age'; not yet has the old age completely passed away. Already we are God's sons and daughters, and no longer slaves; not yet have we entered 'the glorious freedom of the children of God'. (Heb.6:5; 1Jn.2:8; Rom.8:21)

The 'reason why the Son of God appeared was that he might "undo" or "do away with" the works of the devil'. (1Jn.3:8, literally) ... The four 'works of the devil' from which Christ frees us ... are the law, the flesh, the world and death.

First, through Christ we are no longer under the tyranny of the law.
It comes to many people as a surprise that the law, God's good gift to his people, in itself 'holy, righteous and good', could ever become a tyrant which enslaves us. The reason is that the law condemns our disobedience and so brings us under its 'curse' or judgment. But Christ has redeemed us from the law's curse by becoming a curse for us.... The law no longer enslaves us by its condemnation. (Gal.3:13)

Secondly, through Christ we are no longer under the tyranny of the flesh.
What Paul means by the 'flesh' (Greek sarx) is our fallen nature or unredeemed humanity, everything that we are by birth, inheritance and upbringing before Christ renewed us. Because our 'flesh' is our 'self' in Adam, its characteristic is self-centredness. ... Living this kind of life, we were 'enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures'. As Jesus himself said, 'everyone who sins is a slave to sin'. But he immediately added: 'if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed'. (Jn.8:34-36)  And freedom from our fallen nature and its selfishness comes through the cross. (Gal.5:19-21; Titus 3:3; Rom.6:6)

Thirdly, through Christ we are no longer under the tyranny of the world.
...the world is the means through which (Satan) exerts pressure upon us from without. (2Cor.4:4; 1Jn.5:19) The 'world' in this context means godless human society, whose hostility to the church is expressed now by open ridicule and persecution, now by subtle subversion, the infiltration of its values and standards. John declares outspokenly that love for the world and love for the Father are mutually exclusive. (1Jn.2:15)

It is when we believe in Jesus Christ that our values change. We no longer conform to the world's values, but find instead that we are being transformed by our renewed mind which grasps and approves the will of God. And nothing weans us from worldliness more than the cross of Christ. (Rom.12:1-2; Gal.6:14)

Fourthly, through Christ we are no longer under the tyranny of death.
Jesus Christ is able to set free even those who all their lives have been 'held in slavery by their fear of death'. This is because by his own death he has 'destroyed' (deprived of power) 'him who holds the power of death - that is the devil'. (Heb.2:14-15)

It is by dealing with sin that he has dealt with death. For sin is the 'sting' of death, the main reason why death is painful and poisonous. It is sin which causes death, and which after death will bring the judgment. Hence our fear of it. But Christ has died for our sins and taken them away... Now that we are forgiven, death can harm us no longer. (1 Cor.15:55-56)

What, then, should be the Christian's attitude to death? It is still an enemy, unnatural, unpleasant and undignified - in fact 'the last enemy to be destroyed'. Yet, it is a defeated enemy. Because Christ has taken away our sins, death has lot its power to harm and therefore to terrify. Jesus summed it up in one of his greatest affirmations: 'I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die.' That is, Jesus is the resurrection of believers who die, and the life of believers who live. His promise to the former is 'you will live', meaning not just that you will survive, but that you will be resurrected. His promise to the latter is 'you will never die', meaning not that you will escape death, but that death will prove to be a trivial episode, a transition to fullness of life.

[Challies' review of Chapter 9]
[Excerpts: Chapter 1; Chapter 10]

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Book Preview: "Parenting By God's Promises"

I hesitate to offer another book preview so quickly, but I thought Ligonier's review of  Dr. Joel Beeke's new book, Parenting By God's Promises, offered some really practical advice. I always have my eye out for biblical parenting advice because I can still remember the challenges of parenting well. At 350 pages long, I'm not sure how many will be interested in taking it on, but this looks too interesting for me to pass up. I've preordered a copy for the FBC Library. I'll let you know when it comes in. Here's one piece of advice from the book.

From the chapter, "Preventive Discipline"

We are leaving in fifteen minutes. Please clean up your room before we go.” That command sounds clear, doesn’t it?

Perhaps there are twenty items on the floor when the child walks into his room, and about ten more things out of place. He picks up five things and then comes downstairs. His parents ask whether he has cleaned his room. He says, “Yes.” The parents check the room and exclaim: “It’s a pigpen in here! You didn’t clean your room.” The child says, “Yes, I did!”

Is it possible this boy really believes he has cleaned his room? Because a child thinks very differently from an adult, often what the adult says by implication does not get through to the child. The child may interpret an order in a way not intended by the parent. In the above example, perhaps the parents are to blame for not making their request perfectly clear. It would be better for them to say: “Pick up everything lying on the floor and put it where it belongs. Remember, in fifteen minutes we have to leave, so you should work fast.” Do you see the difference? We must be specific and leave nothing to the imagination. When we ask a child, “Did you get everything off the floor?” he should understand what we mean.

Give children clear instructions. You will not have to employ corrective discipline as much when both of you understand what is expected.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Book Preview: "Forever: Why You Can't Live Without It"

Paul David Tripp has a new book out called Forever: Why You Can't Live Without It which examines the Christian life lived out in view of eternity. Certainly in the West our focus tends to be upon enjoying this earthly life, to the extent that having a "full life", a "satisfying life" becomes our expectation, our perceived right. We surround ourselves with everything we think we need to bring it to pass, yet remain so dissatisfied. Always seeking and never finding. And when things like illness and disability intrude, we feel we've been short-changed. We may even find ourselves questioning and challenging God because He has not delivered "the life" we've come to expect. Even the minor vagaries of life are considered road blocks keeping happiness just out of our reach. In contrast, when my son spent a summer ministering in Uganda he was surprised to discover that eternity was their main topic of interest. At the time he was there life expectancy in Uganda was 47 years old. Wherever he traveled in the country to preach and teach, men asked to hear what the Bible teaches about eternity.

Tripp takes a different approach than the one we might expect. Instead of viewing eternity as something that intrudes into our earthly lives, he explores the biblical revelation that this life is, in fact, our preparation FOR eternity. In his review of the book, Stephen Witmer [The Gospel Coalition] writes,
The book hangs on two key pastoral insights, First, God calls Christians to live with a preparation mentality rather than a destination mentality. This life is not intended to be our final destination. Rather, it is God's intended means of preparing us for eternity in His presence. This preparation occurs in and through the imperfections and disappointments of this present life. We often miss God's grace because we're expecting it to show up as deliverance from troubles rather than the character-refining troubles themselves.
Second, God's promise to believers of an eternal future in heaven carries with it the implicit guarantee that He will guard us until we arrive safely at the future He has promised. In Tripp's  moving penultimate chapter ("My Forever Story") he shares the major importance of this realization in his own life. "When I realized that the promises of forever meant guarantees for me along the way, my life began to change."
[The entire review can be found here.]

Sunday, October 09, 2011

The Cross of Christ - Chapter 8

Last week, Stott introduced a new section outlining the achievements of the cross in his book, The Cross of Christ. The most obvious achievement, "The Salvation of Sinners," was presented in Chapter 7. Chapter 8 looks at another result, "The Revelation of God." Stott writes, "Just as human beings disclose their character in their actions, so God has shown himself to us in the death of his Son." In short, this chapter investigates the "way the cross was a word as well as a work." What has the cross of Christ revealed to us about God? Which of mankind's most frequently asked questions were answered at the cross?
"The Revelation of God"

The Justice of God
Men and women of moral sensitivity have always been perplexed by the seeming injustice of God's providence. ... It is one of the recurring themes of the Wisdom Literature and dominates the book of Job. Why do the wicked flourish and the innocent suffer? ...

The Bible responds ... in two complementary ways, first by looking on to the final judgment and secondly (from the perspective of NT believers) by looking back to the decisive judgment which took place at the cross. As to the first, this was the standard OT answer to the problem, for example in Psalm 73. Evil people prosper. They are healthy and wealthy. In spite of their violence, their arrogance and their impudent defiance of God, they get away with it. ...The psalmist admits that by envying their freedom to sin and their immunity to suffering, he had almost turned away from God ... but then he 'understood their final destiny'. The place on which they stand so self-confidently is more slippery than they realize, and one day they will fall, ruined by the righteous judgment of God.

The second part ... is to declare that the judgment of God has already taken place at the cross. ... The reason for God's previous inaction in the face of sin was not moral indifference but personal forbearance until Christ should come and deal with it on the cross.
But now apart from the Law the righteousness of God has been manifested, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets [i.e. OT Scripture], even the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all those who believe; for there is no distinction;  for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,  being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus; whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation in His blood through faith. This was to demonstrate His righteousness, because in the forbearance of God He passed over the sins previously committed;  for the demonstration, I say, of His righteousness at the present time, so that He would be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.  [Romans 3:21-26]
If God does not justly punish sin, he would be 'unjust to himself' ...He would cease to be God ... He would destroy himself by contradicting his divine character as righteous Lawgiver and Judge. ...And he has done this publicly ... in order not only to be just but also to be seen to be just. ...The cross demonstrates with equal vividness both his justice in judging sin and his mercy in justifying the sinner.

The Love of God
Personal tragedies, floods and earthquakes, accidents which cost hundreds of lives, hunger and poverty on a global scale ... disease and death, and the sum total of the misery of the centuries - how can these horrors be reconciled with a God of love? Why does God allow them?

Christianity offers no glib answers to these agonized questions. But it does offer evidence of God's love, just as historical and objective as the evidence which seems to deny it, in the light of which the world's calamities need to be viewed.
We know love by this, that He laid down His life for us... [1 John 3:16]
Most people would have no difficulty in telling us what they think love is... John would disagree with them, however. He dares to say that, apart from Christ and his cross, the world would never have known what true love is. Of course all human beings have experienced some degree and quality of love. But John is saying that only one act of pure love, unsullied by any taint of ulterior motive, has ever been performed in the history of the world, namely the self-giving of God in Christ on the cross for undeserving sinners. That is why, if we are looking for a definition of love, we should look not in a dictionary, but at Calvary.
In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins. [1 John 4:10]
John takes the propitiatory nature of the cross ... as the manifestation of God's love. Because we were sinners, we deserved to die under the righteous anger of God. But God sent his only Son, and in sending him came himself, to die that death and bear that wrath instead of us. It was an act of sheer, pure, unmerited love.

The Wisdom & Power of God
But by His doing you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification, and redemption, so that, just as it is written, "LET HIM WHO BOASTS, BOAST IN THE LORD."  [1 Corinthians 1:30-31] message and my preaching were not in persuasive words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith would not rest on the wisdom of men, but on the power of God.  [1 Corinthians 2:4-5]
By human standards not many of them were wise or powerful. In fact God deliberately chose what the world regards as foolish and feeble people, in order to shame the wise and the strong; he chose even the lowly, the despised ... to nullify what exists. His goal in this was to exclude human boasting. Boasting was entirely out of place, because it was God who had united them to Christ, and Christ who had become their wisdom (revealing God to them) and their power (bringing them justification, holiness and the promise of final redemption). The gospel of the cross will never be a popular message, because it humbles the pride of our intellect and character. ... For the cross is God's way to satisfy his love and justice in the salvation of sinners. It therefore manifests his power, too, 'the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes' (Rom.1:16).

[Challies' review of Chapter 8]
[Selections from Chapter 1; Chapter 9]

Wednesday, October 05, 2011

Joni Eareckson Tada: "A Purpose in the Pain"

Few have ever experienced the ongoing physical trials of Joni Eareckson Tada. Her long testimony of a life lived resting in Christ in the midst of unrelenting pain and disability has been an inspiration to many. Tabletalk recently interviewed her. [The complete interview on the Lignonier site can be read here.] We can learn from fellow pilgrims who deal with adversity and pain every day of their lives, yet never lose joy in their union with Christ. She offers the following practical advise concerning how application drawn from God's dealings with His people Israel is able to encourage her daily. ["All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable ... so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work." 2Tim.3:16-17] Here's an excerpt from the interview. I recommend reading her entire interview at the above link.
Tabletalk: Which passages of Scripture have given you encouragement during your struggles with disability and cancer?

Joni: Psalm 79:8 says, “May your mercy come quickly to meet us, for we are in desperate need” (NIV). Basically, I wake up almost every morning in desperate need of Jesus — from those early days when I first got out of the hospital, to over four decades in a wheelchair, it’s still the same. The morning dawns and I realize: “Lord, I don’t have the strength to go on. I have no resources. I can’t ‘do’ another day of quadriplegia, but I can do all things through You who strengthen me. So please give me Your smile for the day; I need You urgently.” This, I have found, is the secret to my joy and contentment. Every morning, my disability — and, most recently, my battle with cancer — forces me to come to the Lord Jesus in empty-handed spiritual poverty. But that’s a good place to be because Jesus says, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven”. (Mt.5:3).

Another anchor is Deuteronomy 31:6, where God tells me, “Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified [of quadriplegia, chronic pain, or cancer], for the Lord your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you” (NIV). I’m convinced a believer can endure any amount of suffering as long as he’s convinced that God is with him in it. And we have the Man of Sorrows, the most God-forsaken man who ever lived, so that, in turn, He might say to us, “I will never leave you; I will never forsake you.” God wrote the book on suffering and He called it Jesus. This means God understands. He knows. He’s with me. My diving accident really was an answer to that prayer to be drawn closer to Him.

Monday, October 03, 2011

Cross of Christ - Chapter 7 (Part Two)

In Chapter 7, Stott examines God's salvation of sinners by focusing upon four key terms which look at salvation from four different aspects, utilizing four different images: propitiation, redemption, justification and reconciliation. Much confusion arises when we don't have a clear understanding of how Scripture uses these terms. In Part One we looked at "propitiation" and "redemption". In this post we'll look at the other two terms. Keep Stott's warning in mind, that, "We must not deduce from this that to have understood the images is to have exhausted the meaning of the doctrine."

 [Mosaic from ancient Pompeii, featuring chance (Fortuna’s wheel), divine justice (right angle & plumb-bob) and mortality.]
"The Salvation of Sinners" (Part Two)

Justification   [Eph.2:8-9; Gal.2:16; Titus 3:5]
The third image...will take us into the law court. For justification is the opposite of condemnation (Rom.5:18; 8:34), and both are verdicts of a judge who pronounces the accused either guilty or not guilty. ...Justification bestows on us a righteous standing before God. ...Justification (God declaring us righteous through his Son's death) is instantaneous and complete, admitting no degrees, while sanctification (God making us [practically] righteous through his Spirit's indwelling), though begun the moment we are justified, is gradual and throughout this life incomplete, as we are being transformed into the likeness of Christ 'from one degree of glory to another.' (2Cor. 3:18)...

There is no cooperation here between God and us, only a choice between two mutually exclusive ways, his and ours. Moreover, the faith which justifies is emphatically not another work. To say 'justification by faith' is merely another way of saying 'justification by Christ'. Faith has absolutely no value in itself; its value lies solely in its object. Faith is the eye that looks to Christ, the hand that lays hold of him, the mouth that drinks the water of life...

Justification is an external, legal declaration that the sinner has been put right with God, forgiven and reinstated. As Leon Morris has pointed out, 'when we speak of justifying an opinion or an action, we do not mean that we change or improve it. Rather we mean that we secure a verdict for it, we vindicate it'. (Cross in the New Testament, 242) Similarly, when Luke says that everybody, on hearing Jesus' teaching, 'justified God', what he means is that they 'acknowledged that God's way was right'. (Lk.7:29)...

The vocabulary of justification and condemnation occurs regularly in the Old Testament. Moses gave instructions to the Israelite judges (Deut.25:1; Prov.17:15) ...The prophet Isaiah pronounced a fierce woe against magistrates who 'acquit the guilty for a bribe, but deny justice to the innocent'. (Isa.5:23) ...Paul must have shocked his Roman readers when he wrote that 'God...justifies the wicked' (Rom.4:5)... In order to summarize Paul's defense of the divine justification of sinners, I will select four of his key phrases...
The source of our justification: justified by his grace (Rom.3:24), that is, by his utterly undeserved favor. Since it is certain that 'there is no-one righteous, not even one' (Rom.3:10), it is equally certain that no-one can declare himself to be righteous in God's sight. (Ps.143:2) Self-justification is a sheer impossibility (Rom.3:20). Therefore, 'it is God who justifies' (Rom.8:33); only he can. And he does it 'freely' (Rom.3:24, dōrean, 'as a free gift, gratis'), not because of any works of ours, but because of his own grace.
The ground of our justification: justified by his blood (Rom.5:9). Justification is not a synonym for amnesty, which strictly is pardon without principle, a forgiveness which overlooks - even forgets (amnestia is 'forgetfulness') - wrongdoing and declines to bring it to justice. No, justificaiton is an act of justice, of gracious justice. Its synonym is 'the righteousness of God' (Rom.1:17; 3:21), which explained as his 'righteous way of righteoussing the unrighteous'. ...When God justifies sinners, he is not declaring bad people to be good, or saying that they are not sinners after all; he is pronouncing them legally righteous, free from any liability to the broken law, because he himself in his Son has borne the penalty of their law-breaking.
The means of our justification: justified by faith (Rom.3:28; 5:1; Gal.2:16; Phil.3:9) Grace and faith belong indissolubly to one another, since faith's only function is to receive what grace freely offers. ...God's grace is the source and Christ's blood the ground of our justification; faith is only the means by which we are united to Christ. ...If faith is only the means, it is also the only means. ...The point of his writing 'by faith apart from works of law' was to exclude law-works altogether, leaving faith as the sole means of justification.
The effects of our justification: justified "in Christ" (Gal.2:17; cf. Rom.8:1-2; 2Cor.5:21; Eph.1:6) To say that we are justified 'through Christ' points to his historical death; to say that we are justified 'in Christ' points to the personal relationship with him which by faith we now enjoy. This simple fact makes it impossible for us to think of justification as a purely external transaction; it cannot be isolated from our union with Christ and all the benefits which this brings. The first is membership of the Messianic community of Jesus. ...Secondly, this new community... is to be 'eager to do what is good', and its members are to devote themselves to good works. So there is no ultimate conflict between Paul and James.

Reconciliation  [Rom.5:9-11; 2Cor.5:18-21; Col.1:21-22]
The fourth image of salvation, which illustrates the achievement of the cross, is 'reconciliation'. ...We have left behind us the temple precincts, the slave-market and the law courts; we are  now in our own home with our family and friends. True, there is a quarrel, even 'enmity', but to reconcile means to restore a relationship, to renew a friendship. So an original relationship is presupposed which, having been broken, has been recovered by Christ. ...Reconciliation with God, then, is the beginning. This is the meaning of 'atonement'. It alludes to the event through which God and human beings, previously alienated from one another, are made 'at one' again. ...Reconciliation is our personal relationship with our Father in the home.

Two other NT terms confirm this emphasis that reconciliation means peace with God, namely 'adoption' and 'access'. ... Access to God ... denote(s) the active communion with God, especially in prayer, which his reconciled children enjoy. ...Thus reconciliation, peace with God, adoption into his family and access into his presence all bear witness to the same new relationship into which God has brought us.
All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.  [2Cor.5:18-21]
The first truth this passage makes clear is that God is the author of the reconciliation. ...Eight verbs...have God as their subject. They describe God's gracious initiative - God reconciling, God giving, God appealing, God making Christ to be sin for us. ...Therefore, no explanation of the atonement is biblical which takes the initiative from God...The initiative is certainly not ours. "All is of God; the only thing of my very own which I contribute to my redemption is the sin from which I need to be redeemed." [William Temple]
"'God was in Christ reconciling' (2Cor.5:19), actually reconciling, finishing the work. It was not a tentative, preliminary affair ... Reconciliation was finished in Christ's death. Paul did not preach a gradual reconciliation. He preached what the old divines used to call the finished work ... He preached something done once for all - a reconciliation which is the base of every soul's reconcilement, not an invitation only." [P.T. Forsyth, Work of Christ, 86]

[Previous Post: Chapter 7, Part One; Chapter 8]
[Challies' Review of Chapter 7]

Saturday, October 01, 2011

The Cross of Christ - Chapter 7 (Part One)

The Cross of Christ by John Stott is the current Challies' choice for his "Reading Classics Together" series. As I read through the book, I thought I'd share highlights from each chapter with you and include a link to Challies' full review. After having a taste, I hope you will want to spend time in this influential book yourself! 

Just as Scripture adopts various images to describe different aspects of a believer's relationship to God [e.g. Gentiles grafted into the vine, adoption by the Father as adult sons with certain rights & responsibilities,  slaves/servants (same Greek word) owned by our "Lord"), so it uses various images to describe different aspects of an individual's salvation.

I was mystified to recently read a comment on amazon critiquing MacArthur's new book, Slave. The reviewer boldly advised MacArthur should study his Bible more carefully, because he, the reviewer, was not a slave, but an adopted son! It was actually the reviewer who needed to study the Word more carefully! Both terms are used extensively in the New Testament to describe a believer's relationship with God. Each describes a different aspect of the same experience. They are not mutually exclusive! Stott also warns, "We must not deduce from this that to have understood the images is to have exhausted the meaning of the doctrine."

In Chapter 7, he examines God's salvation of sinners by focusing upon four key terms which look at salvation from four different aspects, utilizing four different images: propitiation, redemption, justification and reconciliation. In any conversation, whether face-to-face or when reading a book, definitions of key terms is absolutely crucial! It is not uncommon to perceive agreement where no actual agreement exists! A basic tenet to remember in any discussion is, "Define the terms." For a believer, it's crucial to define all terms on a biblical basis, which Stott takes great care to do. Also, keep in mind that Scripture draws these images from the 1st Century AD Greco-Roman world.

There is so much here to wrap our minds around, I have split this chapter into two posts.
"The Salvation of Sinners" (Part One)

Propitiation   [Rom.3:24-25 hilastērion; 1Jn.2:1-2; 4:10 hilasmos]
To 'propitiate' somebody means to appease or pacify his anger. ...Such concepts sound more pagan than Christian. Crude concepts of anger, sacrifice and propitiation be rejected. They do not belong to the religion of the Old Testament, let alone the New. ...What is revealed to us in Scripture is a pure doctrine (from which all pagan vulgarities have been expunged) of God's holy wrath, his loving self-sacrifice in Christ and his initiative to avert his own anger...

The reason why a propitiation is necessary is that sin arouses the wrath of God. ...God's anger is poles apart from ours. What provokes our anger (injured vanity) never provokes his; what provokes his anger (evil) seldom provokes ours.

In a pagan context it is always human beings who seek to avert the divine thought to placate the offended deity. But the gospel begins with the outspoken assertion that nothing we can do, say, offer or even contribute can compensate for our sins or turn away God's anger. (Isa.64:6; Rom.3:10-12; Mt.5:3) ...The initiative has been taken by God himself in his sheer mercy and grace. ...God's love is the source, not the consequence, of the atonement. ...God does not love us because Christ died for us; Christ died for us because God loved us. ...His character is unchanging. What the propitiation changed was his dealings with us. ...He forgave us and welcomed us home...

It is God himself who in holy wrath needs to be propitiated, God himself who in holy love undertook to do the propitiating, and God himself who in the person of his Son died for the propitiation of our sins. Thus God took his own loving initiative to appease his own righteous anger by bearing it his own self in his own Son when he took our place and died for us. There is no crudity here to evoke our ridicule, only the profundity of holy love to evoke our worship.

Redemption   [Mt.20:28; Mk.10:45; 1Tim.2:6]
In seeking to understand the achievement of the cross, the imagery changes from temple court to market-place, from the ceremonial realm to the commercial, from religious rituals to business transactions. For at its most basic to 'redeem' is to buy or buy back, whether as a purchase or a ransom. ...The emphasis of the redemption image is on our sorry state - indeed our captivity - in sin which made an act of divine rescue necessary. 'Propitiation' focuses on the wrath of God which was placated by the cross; 'redemption' on the plight of sinners from which they were ransomed by the cross...

The Greek words usually translated 'redeem'...and 'redemption' are derived from lutron ('a ransom' or 'price of release')...usually at a great cost. ...There was the cost of the incarnation, of entering into our condition in order to reach us. (Gal.4:4-5) ...Beyond the incarnation, however, lay the atonement. To accomplish this he gave 'himself' (1Tim.2:6; Titus 2:14) or his 'life' (Mk.10:45), dying under the law's curse to redeem us from it. (Gal.3:13) ...In addition to the plight from which, and the price with which, we are ransomed, it draws attention to the person of the redeemer who has proprietary rights over his purchase. Thus Jesus' lordship over both church and Christian is attributed to his having bought us with his own blood. (Acts 20:28) If the church was worth his blood, is it not worth our labor? The privilege of serving it is established by the preciousness of the price paid for its purchase.