Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Lauren Daigle, and Biblical Clarity

Lauren Daigle has been on the scene for several years as an extremely talented (and now accomplished) contemporary Christian singer.  Her first songs a couple of years ago were immediately attention grabbing because she has a voice that is so unique and of such a high quality that it’s hard to ignore when she comes on.  She’s drawn some comparisons to Adele, and I think these are warranted comparisons. (Note, a comparison isn’t an equivocation – it just means that there are similarities.)

Daigle has come under fire recently for her statements regarding whether or not homosexuality is a sin.  In an interview with iHeart radio, she said

“In a sense, I have too many people that I love that they are homosexual. I don't know. I actually had a conversation with someone last night about it. I can't say one way or the other. I'm not God. So when people ask questions like that, that's what my go-to is. I just say read the Bible and find out for yourself. And when you find out, let me know, because I'm learning, too."

It is hard to imagine that she really doesn’t know what the Bible says about homosexuality.  But since no one has omniscience, one could say that it is fair to give her the benefit of the doubt.  Perhaps she doesn’t know.  After all, she did say to read the Bible and let her know, since she is apparently still learning.  But maybe she does, and she doesn’t want to give an opinion that could lose fans (although, this opinion has lost her some fans as well.)

Let’s consider the two possibilities: Either she does know and she’s afraid to take a definite stand, or she doesn’t know, being a Bible-belt-raised Christian who doesn’t know the basics of Biblical sexual ethics.  Either option provides somewhat of a snapshot of problems with American evangelicalism. 

Maybe she knows

The former possibility (that she knows Scripture and won’t take a stand) snapshots the problem of Christians claiming the Christian name but not being committed to the authority of the Christian sacred text, which we call the Bible.  Instead, one of the primary teachings of the sacred text (love) has grown to usurp the authority of the very text from which it came.*  Since love is the authority (as a listener to Christian radio, Lauren Daigle’s workplace, may conclude), propositional truth concepts that could be potentially challenging to another person’s lifestyle or beliefs quickly become no-nos.  

This is why Daigle said elsewhere, 
“I think the second we start drawing lines around which people are able to be approached and which aren't, we've already completely missed the heart of God.”  

But no one is saying a homosexual can’t be approached.  In fact, Christians think that all people – homosexual, heterosexual, etc. – need Jesus.  But embracing Jesus means embracing His opinions about what is right and wrong.  “Why do you call me Lord but don’t do what I tell you?” (Lk. 6:46)  If Daigle knows what the Scripture says and is afraid to confront what Scripture confronts, then she apparently doesn’t understand how one can simultaneously love someone and disagree with them.  

The real issue, as it appears to me, is that there is some other authority over our cultural conscience, and perhaps there are many varying authorities over our own personal consciences, instead of God’s truth as He has revealed it in His Word.  Daigle is not the first professing Christian who has publically claimed that she can’t say one way or another whether something is wrong because she’s not God, implying that we need to leave all judgments to God.  

But to imply this is to say that we therefore should stop reading the Bible, because it so emphatically confronts and condemns so many things as wrong and in need of forsaking.  Perhaps this is the greater reason for Biblical illiteracy in the 21st century church: Fear of becoming as judgmental as God is.  After all, Jesus said that we shouldn’t judge because we’ll be judged with our own standard, right? (Matt .7:1-6).   But in the same passage Jesus said to remove the log from our eyes (judge ourselves) so that we can remove the speck from our brother’s eyes (judge others rightly)!  Further, Jesus very clearly told His followers that they need to learn to judge rightly (Jn.7:24).  In short, where does Jesus stand on being judgmental?  Learn to judge rightly, but be careful because it’ll be turned around on you in the end.  And we need Scripture to straighten out our standard so that we can discern what is righteous and what isn’t.**  Therefore Paul says that only by being transformed in our minds can we learn to discern what pleases God (Rom. 12:2).

But maybe she doesn’t know 

The latter option – that Daigle doesn’t know what the Bible says – snapshots a problem I’ve already alluded to: Christians today don’t know the Bible.  And this apparently applies to Christians in the public sphere as well.  It just seems like the church is at an post-Reformation all-time low when it comes to Biblical illiteracy

But if this is so, it begs a question: What then makes a person a Christian?  
-Is it “believing in Jesus”?  Then what does it mean to believe in Jesus – just in his existence, or even further, in his power?  That qualifies us as demons (Jms. 2:19, cf. Lk. 4:34).  Or is to believe in his life, death, and resurrection, and what it means for me?  Most Christians would say, “That’s the one.”  But you can’t have this without the Bible, which you can’t have without the Bible’s morality, too. 
-It is having grown up in the church?  It can’t just be that – the Bible quite clearly says that one isn’t a child of God just by being born as a human.  One must be reborn as a Christian (see John 1:12-13).  Again, we need the Bible to understand this. 
-Is it being an American?  Does being an American make a person a Christian?  No, and it never has.  A Christian is a citizen of heaven first(Phil. 3:20).  One must embrace the Biblical message of Jesus, His Kingdom, and His atoning work at the cross.  Further, Jesus’ kingdom is to intentionally span across every tribe, tongue, and nation (Rev. 5:9).

A Pillar of Truth 

The Apostle Paul said that the church is the pillar of truth in the world (1 Tim. 3:15).  This means that if the whole world continues to morph in its understanding of what is true and absolute or right and wrong (or, in our case today, in its recategorizing of ethics so that “right and wrong” is thought of as the wrong paradigm all together, being too “binary”), those worn out by the shifting shades of grey should be able to look at the church to find truth.  And if truth can’t be found in the church, the church is no longer the church.  Thus the apostle writes, “I rejoice to find you walking in the truth” (2 Jn. 4), and Jesus referred to the Holy Spirit as the Spirit of truth.  It is a sad day when people claim Christ but don't think Christ's thoughts after Him, especially when we are supposed to "have the mind of Christ" (1 Cor. 2:15).  But if we don't think the Bible is clear enough or trustworthy enough, how can we have the mind of Christ in the least? 

Post-modern Christian tension

You may notice by now that I don’t want to throw Lauren Daigle out as not being a Christian because of what she said.  Perhaps she doesn’t know what the Bible says. Or perhaps she does, and she, like many today, doesn’t understand how to love Jesus’ truth and love her friends well.  My prayer is that she’ll love Jesus enough to abide in His Word (Jn. 14:15, 15:5f).  In this way her love for her homosexual friends will be a love that shares with them the love and truth of Jesus, saying, “This is the way, walk in it,” (Is. 30:21).  She may then add, “If you don’t walk in Jesus’ way, I still love you, will pray for you, and will be there for you. But if I have to choose between you and Jesus, I’m going to choose Jesus, because He loved me, and gave Himself for me.  And I’m only really being your friend if I want you to know him, too.  But I only really know Him if I accept His standard of righteousness.  So come, let’s repent and follow Jesus together.” 

This tension – how to slay sin and follow Jesus while loving our friends who aren’t slaying sin and following Jesus – is a difficult place for the Christian.  But this is what it means to be the church, the pillar truth: In the midst of the shifting opinions of men, we are to stand firm on Christ’s word, prayerfully seeking to radiate Christ’s warmth to a cold world that is dead in sin, and totally unaware of it.  And in being steadfast and faithful this way, we’ll be fruitful too. 

*Further, the Bible defineslove:
-1 Corinthians 13: Love is patient, kind, slow to anger, hoping all things, etc.  See there.
-John 14:15: obeying Christ, which, extrapolated, means treating a person how they should be treated, like Jesus, being the Son of man, should be obeyed.
-1 John 5:1-2: we only love others when we love God and walk in His way (2 Jn. 6)
-Matthew 22:34-40 Jesus says that to love God with your whole self and love your neighbor IS the Law, whereas at Matt. 7:12 He says treating others how you’d want to be treated is the Law.  Apparently love for others means treating them how you’d want to be.  And since Jesus speaks in Matt. 7 during the sermon on the mount to Christians who are striving for perfection (5:45), love does not exclude sharing God’s standard so people will know what He wants from them.
Thus, our definition of love today is significantly different than God's.

**For the record, I believe this to be the singular cause when any branch of Christianity veils or forsakes the absolute authority of the Bible over all of life. 

Friday, November 30, 2018

Old/New American Gospel vs. Gospel

I recently saw on a Southern Baptist Facebook page a David Platt meme where he is quoted as saying, "We desperately need to explore how much of our understanding of the Gospel is American and how much is Biblical." I thought it was a really good quote.  Nothing could be more Biblical than saying that the Word and the Word alone defines our Christianity. 

The challenge to this is in considering America’s fairly Christian history, which stems from a millennium and a half-long Christendom in the west.  It becomes very difficult to distinguish between "American" and "Biblical" in many peoples’ minds when the alternatives to "Biblical" seem to be either civil religion* (an Americanized Christianity where the church's mission is primarily to help make a great nation) or expressive individualism** (a post-modern development in thought where happiness is found in finding one's own identity by looking inward, and expressing it outwardly; so, no need for God).  Many old-school American Christians are tempted to take parts of the Bible that fit a civil religious grid, but leave others.  Many younger Christians (and younger Americans who don’t identify as Christian but are acquainted with the Bible) are tempted to do the same, as long as it fits their grid.  In the end a statement like Platt's can be taken as accusatory to one side, without rebuking the other.  

Should the other side - the post-modern side - be rebuked, though, since their side contains some who are not professing Christians?  Well in the west, Christianity has been so engrained that if one isn’t a Christian, there’s a good chance that they still have some kind of working knowledge of the Bible.  Therefore they are accountable to scrutiny with their view of the Bible - and their morality in general - the same as the Christians.  

The fact is that both sides can be accused of picking and choosing what to keep and what to discard based on what fits their own version of utopia.  Many who would “amen” Platt’s meme are those rightly opposed to an old Americanized version of Christianity.  But if opponents aren't careful, their opposition may only be in favor of a new Americanized Christianity.  They may be after a 21stcentury love-centered red-letter Christianity that is only hard-hitting to the old side.  And in that way, they may simply replace the old Pharisaism with a new one.  We always have to be careful not to simply replace one mode of Pharisaism with another.  Note I say, "we," because none are immune to this tendency. 

Biblical Christianity 

Without tossing out Platt’s statement all together, because I think he makes a good point that should especially be considered by the older side, I’d pear it down and restate it as thus: “We need to explore whether or not our understanding of the Gospel is Biblical.”  That’s all.  And that requires knowing the Bible.  Biblical illiteracy among professing Christians in the Christian west is bafflingly low.
I think there are a couple of reasons for this: 
1. Church attenders don’t want to know the Bible.  So they don’t listen when it’s preached, but are only in church to ease their conscience, and not to hear from Jesus as He speaks through His anointed preachers who expound His word. 
2. Pastors don’t preach the Bible.  They either preach series based on the latest bestsellers, never expounding entire books of the Bible which would lead their people through an end-to-end completion of thought based on an occasion of sacred writing.  Or they preach based on their own opinions and angry passions regarding what they see as wrong with the world.  
3. Churches and denominations are often only committed to the Bible in name only.  I remember hearing in college of something called Bibliolatry, which is the worship of the Bible instead of the worship of the God of the Bible.  The point is that we shouldn’t make too much of the Bible, and this is true.  But it’s also true that we don’t want to make too little of the Bible. If we don’t let Scripture define the church’s mission, right and wrong for the individual and the world, and everything else, we’ll define these things somehow, based on some other criteria.  In my experience, most of those talking about bibliolatry are those who aren't prepared to let the Bible define our standards for us.  If the church were to get serious about the Bible’s message, believing that it gives a clear message that if followed would lead us into the Promised Land, the church would be more unified than it is.  But instead, the visible church is divided because the Bible’s message isn’t heralded, and that is because the Bible’s message isn’t pursued, and therefore it is neither heard nor understood.

The Story 

I was a youth pastor in my early 20s who was a cultural Christian from the time I was a teen. When a church in my home state brought me on post-college to work with youth and lead the music, they graciously gave me time to study God’s word so I could teach God’s word.  Even in my cultural Christianity I just had a sense that the Bible was true.  As I worked in this church and read the Bible, I came alive, because the story gave rise to certain clear conclusions about God, man, sin, the world, etc. etc.  
Each book of the Bible has a unique genre and setting, but they all contribute to the same story, displaying a rather impressive unity even in the midst of the Bible’s complexity.*** In essence, and this is what I’ve been preaching now for the last 7 years in the pulpit, the story is this: 

-God made man for Himself, to rule over His creation.
-Man ran away from God, in sin, following Satan’s temptation and his own reasoning. Now he has an innate rebellious nature in both thought and action. 
-The Old Testament bears out this rebellion in detail through Israel’s history, while also establishing patterns for the coming redemption.
-Jesus is the God-man who came on a rescue mission to live a perfect life so as to be a perfect Lamb who, in his dying, reconciles men to the God from whom they’ve run.  God is justly angry at sin, and yet merciful in offering His Son for the salvation of men. Through Jesus, men are brought into a just state with God as Jesus bore their sin and the punishment earned therein. In Jesus’ rising from death, He brings about a new creation where righteousness dwells (2 Pet. 3:13).
-People who listen to Jesus and follow Him have, in the Holy Spirit, His presence with them until He returns to earth a second time to fully establish His new heavens and new earth.
-Until that day, they walk together in love, spurring one another on in love and good works, sharing His love with their neighbors, in hopes that they’ll repent and embrace Jesus, who to know is eternal life (Matt. 5:17).  They can't fix every problem in the world, but they try to shine Jesus' light into their world, to effect change for good.


When this story grips you, your prior agendas are shaken off (though you may at times fall back into those old patterns of thinking) and replaced by a better story.  America isn’t God's Zion.  And conversely, while the poor and marginalized in society need to be loved and cared for, more than anything they need Jesus.  Rich, poor, man, woman, black, white, etc. etc., all need the real Jesus, because Adam's fallen pride is an innate fatal flaw in each one of us.  
When you see this as the story, you see Jesus as the answer to life’s problems, because now you can see clearly to discern what are the real problems.  The problems are not just in “them” (whoever "they" are), but in me.  And just like Jesus is renewing me, He can renew all others if they’ll listen and consider the claims of the Bible in it’s clarity (which may require my sharing it).

Therefore you don’t think old-school American fundamentalists are the only ones with a propensity to get the gospel wrong.  You assume all people can get the Gospel wrong.  And the only way to get it right is to put yourself before Jesus and ask Him to cut the lines straight and set your feet on the true path.  Fighting the tendency to spend all your energy calling out the problems, you begin offering the solution, because you know the solution.  And His name is Jesus, who lives today, has spoken loud and clear, and is in the business of leading people into light.

Platt was making a good point that confronts many old-school American Christians.  My prayer is that not only they but also all those who don't fit into that category will consider the point, because all of us have a propensity to miss the Bible’s message and get the Gospel wrong.  Let’s listen to Jesus and follow Him into the truth.

*Robert Bellah, “American Civil Religion,” 1967, quoted in Mark Driscoll, Call to Resurgence, 10.
**Bellah, ed. Habits of the Heart, 2008 edition, 142f.
***See Graeme Goldsworthy, Preaching the Whole Bible as Christian Scripture, 22.

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

The church, life with God, and history

Even faith, Paul says, is not from us.  For if the Lord had not come, if he had not called us, how should we have been able to believe?  “For how,” Paul said, “shall they believe if they have not heard?” (Rom. 10:14).  So even the act of faith is not self-initiated. It is, he says, “the gift of God” (Eph. 2:8c).                                                                 John Chrysostom, late 4thc. A.D.

My last post was written in celebration of the 16thcentury Protestant Reformation, where people of my theological ilk hold that the Biblical gospel was recovered to the church.  This idea requires qualification, though: We do not hold that the Gospel was all together lost throughout the ancient church and the so-called Dark Ages.  Rather we hold that the Roman Church had so progressively apostasized (that is, they had progressively run from God’s Word to the point of no return), that there was a theological revival needed in order for the Gospel to not be lost.  In came Luther and Calvin, following closely behind their forerunners Wycliffe, Tyndale, and Savonarola.  All Protestantism traces its lineage to and through this movement from the 16thcentury. 

Into Church History 

In the spring I graduated from RPTS in Pittsburgh with a masters degree in church history and theology.  I grew up assuming (based on not thinking about it much) that church history jumped from Jesus’ day to Billy Graham’s day and so on down to my day.  Then as I came to Biblical Theological convictions, I learned of church history back to the reformers of the16thcentury.  But when I got to RPTS I learned of church history that fills the gap between the reformers and the apostles.  Truly, there is no gap.  Jesus was always building His church, as he said he would (Matt. 16:18).  The Reformation was not a putting forth of new ideas, but a recovery of Biblical ideas that people had held throughout history, ideas which had been buried under centuries of increasing man-made tradition.  Therefore, Calvin, in his Institutes, wrote that if Protestants and Romanists had a fair and objective comparison of each of their doctrinal convictions with the church fathers, the victory would side decidedly with the Protestants.* 

The Gospel For All Peoples

The doctrine of justification by faith alone is the issue for the church at all times.**  It separates the true church from the false church, and the church from other religions.  Our pluralistic society assumes that since no one can know what is the right religion, therefore they’re all equally legitimate.  This notion sounds tolerant and good, but in the end it insults each of the religions, all of which claim exclusivity.  The church’s doctrine of justification by faith alone holds that one is reconciled to God and brought into His new creation through Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection, received by faith.  That is, we are saved not by our own good works, but by Christ’s good works (cf. Matt. 3:15, Jn. 4:34; Eph. 2:8-9; Tit. 3:4-6).  We can contribute nothing, save the need to be saved.  Even our faith in Christ is worked in us by God’s effective grace (see Ac. 18:27, Phil. 1:29), as the Holy Spirit opens our eyes to the truth of God’s Word, and what it says about God, ourselves, and the world (Jn. 6:63, 1 Pet. 1:23).  

All of this is to say that every other religion or worldview in the world holds a performance-driven redemptive narrative, where we have to change our own behavior in order to be saved and/or save the world.  This is true of every single religion, as well as secularism and anti-religious social concern (however sincere and well-intentioned as may appear). Biblical Christianity answers this and says that we can’t do what we must nor can we rightly define for ourselves what we must do.  So Jesus did it for us.  And if we put our trust in Him, He’ll bring us to God, and do it in us today.   Thus the prophet Jeremiah says that Jesus will be called “The Lord is our righteousness” (Jer. 23:6).   Eternal life is life in Jesus Christ the righteous.  

As I learned the Biblical Redemptive narrative of salvation in Jesus, I came alive.  And this Protestant-Reformed theology, as I’ve been describing it, has been labeled as Christ-centered theology, because it anchors Biblical doctrine in His Person and work.  But did the ancient church hold this, or was it invented in the 16th century by men named Luther, Calvin, Bucer, and Zwingli?

The Gospel in the Ancient Church

The quest for the gospel in the church led me into further reading, and it’ll probably never stop. Recent reads include Nate Busenitz’ Long Before Luther and Steven Lawson’s Pillars of Grace.  These books are studies in the distinctives of Protestant theology as they were in fact taught and upheld between the time of the Protestant Reformation and the New Testament days.  While the early church fathers wrote much that can, quoting various independent texts, be used as proof texts by a Romanist, the fathers also wrote a lot that can be used the same way by Protestants.  This calls into question the fathers’ consistency and leads one back to the absolute authority and clarity of the Bible alone (which is what the Protestant Reformation was all about, and which is what the ancient church fathers held).***  It also begs the question, "Have we understood the fathers rightly?"  I've come to believe, with Calvin,^^ that the fathers were more Protestant than Romanist, though there are caveats.  But the point is that the teaching of the Scriptures is where the conversation is to begin and end.  

Therefore the quote above from John Chrysostom, the greatest preacher of the ancient church, helps illustrate that he knew the doctrine of justification by faith alone, apart from any works.  That is, he seems to have known that baptism doesn’t save and that the Lord’s Supper (or the Eucharist) was only grace-giving in the sense that it encourages us and reminds us of our salvation.  This, by the way, was Augustine’s view.^*  Many other examples could be given, but I’ll just commend you to Busenitz’s Long Before Luther, pages 165-90, or just listen to his talk from the 2018 Shepherd’s Conference.

A Divided Church?

Conservative Internet superpersonality Matt Walsh has recently tweeted that Protestants shouldn’t celebrate the Reformation on October 31 because, by it, the church is more divided than ever.  This would be a legitimate critique but for the Protestant conviction that prior to the Reformation (and even more so after) the unreformed Roman church forsook the risen Christ and His finished work.  Thus the Reformation was about gaining back the truth of the Risen Christ and what it means for our salvation today.  In short, we’d rather have a divided church than a Christ-less church.  According to the apostle Paul, a church that adds any kind of works to Christ and how His work effects us is not only confused, but bewitched (Gal. 3:1), having forgotten the gospel it once knew.  This isn’t to say that good works don’t follow saving faith in Jesus’ merits.  But the good works don’t contribute to one’s merit.  And the ancient church, including men like Origen, Irenaeus, Ambrosiaster, Tertullian, etc. etc. etc. knew it.   They knew it because it was indeed what Jude called “the faith once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3).  The reformers were laboring to recover it.  Now I am too, even if it means division among those who profess Christ.

And even if the ancient church was confused on justification, the important point is that Jesus himself made it clear: “Whoever believes in me has eternal life.  He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life” (Jn. 5:24).  

This is indeed the faith once for all delivered to the saints.  Therefore, let the true saints listen to God’s voice.  All others can be content with a man-centered wish-dream. But let them do so with the warning of the Lord, that if you deny Him, He’ll deny you before His Father (Matt. 10:33).  And let us all prayerfully consider the warning, and simultaneously follow and bow the knee before Jesus together.  He'll receive us, for "He lives to make intercession for us."

Soli Deo Gloria! 

*Calvin, Institutes, Prefatory Address, 4; in Beveredge's translation, xxv.
*Ibid, 3.11.1, 3.15.7.
**see Roger Beckwith. The Old Testament Canon of the New Testament Church and It’s Background in Early Judaism, 386-90.
^^Calvin, Institutes, xxvi-xxvii.
^*Augustine, On Christian Doctrine, Robertson's translation, 87, 93.

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Reformation Day 2018

When I was in my early twenties, working as a youth and worship pastor in a mid-sized church in Indiana, my struggle with depression drove me into hours and hours of Bible study. I coupled the personal Bible study with listening to preaching from good teachers and preachers who seemed to be trying to communicate Scripture in a clear way.  As I studied, I came to realize that growing up and even entering Bible college, I was a cultural Christian – Christian by being born in the Midwest, raised in a believing family, and well-connected in the youth group of my home church.  But I had no idea what the Bible actually said.  Instead, I assumed what it said.  And I assumed it said whatever I and all the people around me believed.  While Bible college was full of godly men and women who taught well, I wasn’t listening close, and I eluded the truth then.  Thankfully, the truth was resilient.

I read Scripture not only because I was responsible for Bible lessons for my youth group kids, but also because I just had the conviction that God’s truth was found there. I had never before taken the Bible seriously enough to find out what its message was, if it had one.  But emotional and spiritual concerns drove me into it.  

Finding Truth

As I read, I came to see certain doctrines emerge.  First, the radical fallenness of man.  I saw Moses saying man is evil in his intentions from childhood (Gen. 6:5, 8:21), the Psalmist saying no one apart from God’s grace seeks him (Ps. 14:2-3), Paul saying that the mind set on the flesh hates God and therefore can’t submit to him (Rom. 8:7-8), and Jesus saying that if one is a sinner, and all are, they are a slave to it until He sets them free (Jn. 8:34-36).  

I also saw that even in a rebellious world, God has a remnant, chosen by grace (Rom. 11:5), the remnant being chosen from before the foundation of the world (Eph. 1:4-5, 2 Tim. 1:9).  Further, when a believer comes to embrace Christ by faith, two things have happened: First, they believe because they have been given to Jesus by the Father (Jn. 6:37, 17:2, 6) as no one comes to him unless the Father grants them to come (Jn. 6:65); and second, they’ve been justified, or declared righteous, in spite of their own fallenness, simply because they embrace Jesus (Ac. 13:39, Rom. 3:24-25).  This justifying is the crediting of God’s righteousness – which is found in Jesus alone, who has the only “A” of any man who’s ever lived in God’s classroom – to the sinner who has no righteousness.  God can work this transaction because the sinner’s sin was punished on Jesus, so that Jesus’ reward would be enjoyed by the sinner. Indeed this is why Jesus went to the cross: the joy of Jesus, the God-man, reconciling God and men together in Himself, though God and men used to be enemies (2 Cor. 5:21, Heb. 12:2).  I saw this as really good news, because all of the other religions in the world, including American Christian Religiosity, teaches that we save ourselves by our good works.  But here I was finding that God saves sinners by Christ’s good works, received by faith.  While we can say Biblically that we’re not saved by good works, we actually are in one sense saved by good works: Christ’s good works, on our behalf: His obedience, His perfect life, His righteousness, received by faith, for the fallen and undeserving in Adam (see Rom. 5:12-21).

Finally, I found that when one embraces Jesus by faith, something has so radically changed inside them that they are going to be secure in Him.  Jesus has become their Savior and Lord, so that while sin still wages war against their soul (1 Pet. 2:11), they, having heard the voice of Jesus the Shepherd (Jn. 10:27), are going to continue to listen to Him.  Therefore, while the warning of the New Testament is to not let sin overtake you so that you make shipwreck of your faith (Rom. 6:12, 1 Tim. 1:19), those who belong to Jesus will hear the warning and endure until the end, promised that, by enduring, they’ll conquer (Rev. 2:7).

A “System” Emerges

As I came to see this set of doctrines emerge from the pages of Scripture, historical study led me to see that the Protestant Reformers of the sixteenth century labored to articulate these doctrines as the core of Biblical Christianity.  The so-called “Five Solas” of the Reformation (Sola being Latin for “alone”) are: 
-Sola Scriptura– The Bible alone is the ultimate authoritative rule in all matters of life and faith.
-Sola fide (faith alone) – Man is justified before God by faith alone in Jesus.
-Sola Gratia (grace alone) – This justification by faith is by grace alone, apart from one’s own works or goodness – one brings nothing to Jesus except their need for Him to save them.
-Solus Christos– The sinner is saved by grace through faith, because Christ alone has upheld the Law in His own person and work; and therefore, a sinner, united to Christ by faith, can be received by a holy God into the family.  Salvation is only in Jesus, the God-man, alone.
-Soli Deo Gloria– This salvation, being wholly of the Lord (Jonah 2:9), is wholly to the glory of the Lord.

A Historic Faith

Being an American Christian who didn’t know that there was any church history between my day and the first century (Billy Graham's heyday excepted), it was life changing for me to see that the core truths that I saw in Scripture were articulated so clearly by the Protestant Reformers.  I later found that, though there were some doctrinal anomalies, the early church fathers also held to these truths (e.g. for Justification by Faith Alone in the early church, see Nate Busenitz’s Long Before Luther, pp. 165-90; for Salvation by Grace Alone in the early church, see titled sections of Steven Lawson’s Pillars of Grace; and for the authority of the Scripture alone in the early church, see Roger Beckwith’s The Old Testament Canon of the New Testament Church, pp. 386-90).  A quick perusal of 1 Clement, written by Clement likely in the early second century will yield every one of the Solas above.*  Therefore I was convinced then, and am still convinced now more than ever, that this is "the faith once for all delivered to the saints" (Jude 3).

Without accusing any one person in church history of purposely stirring up doctrinal confusion, it became clear to me that the time leading up to the Reformation was a time where a spirit of worldly pursuits had taken over the church.  And the labors of men like Wycliffe, Luther, Calvin, and Bucer were orchestrated and used by God to recover the truth on which the true church has always been built.  As I came to embrace this truth, I saw myself as a recipient of grace like multitudes before, which no man can number.  Even the cultural Christianity which I critiqued earlier was a means of grace, God using it to keep me until He worked true saving faith in my heart.  Then Jesus saved me, and I’m secure in him because He promises to “sustain me until the end” (1 Cor. 1:10) and “keep me” until the day of his return (Jude 24).  

Or to borrow from Karl Barth, when asked to summarize his theology, my testimony became what every Christian's testimony throughout time is: “Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so.”

Is this your testimony?  I pray it is.  To know Jesus in truth is eternal life.  Embrace Him, now!  He’s willing.

Happy Reformation day! 

*As read in Early Church Fathers, Cyril Richardson, ed., pp. 43-73.  See also Richardson's inclusion of the Letter of Diognetus, written in the second century, where on pp. 220-21 (Diog. 9:1-3), a clear example of justification by faith in Christ's work alone is seen.

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

October, and Grace

“If you, oh Lord, should mark iniquities, who could stand? But with you there is forgiveness, that you may be feared” (Ps. 130:3-4).

Here the Psalmist gives us an overview of why sin is the main problem in the world:  If God were to justly hold people accountable for their sins, no man would survive.  Biblically, we are sinners by representationin Adam (Rom. 5:12ff), and we are also sinners by nature and choice ourselves (Rom. 3:23).  Since all are sinners, and the wages of sin is death (Rom. 6:23), man is desperate for a Savior and Mediator.

And that’s why Jesus is the fulfillment of the Law (Matt. 5:17), and, ultimately, He to whom the Law points (Jn. 5:39-46).  He lived life in the same fallen world in which we do, but maintained a sinless record, so that, while everyone else has an “F,” he alone had an “A.”  If one sees their own problem first and foremost as sin, and embraces Jesus by faith, they’re forgiven and, by Jesus’ “A,” are put into a state of grace before the same holy God before whom they were formerly condemned.  In essence, they are no longer condemned, but adopted, because Jesus the true Son of God took their condemnation at the cross – their sin and the punishment for sin.  He took their “F,” with it’s consequences, and gives them His “A” with it’s reward.

Being forgiven, the believer is then, in Jesus, made a worthy vessel of God’s Spirit.  This is why Jesus gives the Holy Spirit to His people who believe: so that they can follow Him, serve Him, and look like Him (Jn. 14:16, 16:13; 2 Cor. 3:18; Gal. 5:22ff).  Living with Jesus, they love God and fear God at the same time.  And that, as the Psalmist said above, is the point of the grace of God in Jesus: that God would be feared, which means reverenced and loved for who He is.


This Reformation month, I’m so thankful that this – the true Gospel – was recovered by faithful 16thcentury men and women who believed, in a time when it was unpopular to do so, that the Scripture is the ultimate court of authority when it comes to truth.  In their day, they heralded the Scripture up against a culture that was all about tradition and the authority of those in positions of power.  Today, the Scripture is to be heralded up against a culture that is all about the feelings of fallen people and the fleeting opinions of the fickle and guilt-driven populace.  It doesn’t matter what people think about what is right and wrong.  What matters is what God the Creator thinks.  And God looks down from heaven on men and women and concludes, “No one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one” (Rom. 3:11-12, cf. Ps. 14:2-3).  

Therefore the Apostle Paul’s aim in life was to labor that men would be reconciled with the God they hate and who is angry at them.**  So Paul says, “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” (2 Cor. 5:20-21).  Paul couldn’t be clearer here that our main problem – regardless of what the modern day “theologians” say – is that we stand before a holy God who not only knows more than we do about our own hearts, but is perfectly righteousness in every sense, and expects the same perfect righteousness from us, because we’re made in His image.  But since we’re fallen in Adam, we need another righteousness.  And that righteousness comes from the last Adam, Jesus of Nazareth, who bore our sin and drank the cup of wrath dry, so that we can find grace and mercy in Him, that God would be feared.  In essence, the God who is justly angry at sin (like you would be if a drunk driver drove their car into your living room), extends His hand of reconciliation to the guilty, if they’ll lay down their vain self-confidence and trust in human reason.

Not Really Believers 

I read something recently from a Martyn Lloyd-Jones sermon, circa 1930, where he claimed that the reason this gospel was being rejected by much the church (even in his day)  is that people within many of the churches don’t even believe in God, but in a God who is little more than a figment of their unrepentant imagination.  They, like Israel (Numbers 15:39), were prone to listen to their own hearts when it came to God and His truth, instead of listening to God's Word.

That was the issue in the Reformation.  The church had shrink-wrapped God into manageable terms where his grace could be bought off by subjecting one’s self to the Catholic system, and staying in it all the way up until they finished their time in purgatory.  But the Reformers, reading and applying Scripture, saw that one isn’t saved by the things they do.  They’re saved by what Jesus has done.  And in repenting “from dead works” (Heb. 6:1), they come to embrace that, while they are saved by works, it is not by their works, but by Christ’s works: His performance, His good deeds, and His obedience. Therefore, Peter says during the Jerusalem council, “We believe we’ll be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus” (Ac. 15:11).  This is why Jeremiah said that the city of God will be called, “The Lord is our righteousness” (Jer. 33:16): No one gets into the city unless God Himself, in the person and work of Jesus, is their righteousness.  That is why He came: to save a people who need Him.  

Rebirth doesn't happen in any other way than by realizing that even one's best deeds are tainted with Adam's proud flesh, and thus they need all of Christ.  So they embrace Him.

Eternal Life

When one embraces this offer, they, like Luther, “enter into paradise” here and now.  Seeing that at the cross, the wrath of God and the mercy of God meet in the person and work of Jesus our Mediator, the believer sees how the fear of God (2 Cor. 5:11) and the love of God (Rom. 5:5) can coexist inside of their own heart:  At the same time that they fear Him, they love Him.  In other words, they worship Him because they delight in Him, and, they being in the Son, know that He delights in them.

And that is eternal life.

**Jn. 3:36: “Whoever doesn’t believe in Jesus, the wrath of God remains on Him.”  “Remains” = Gk. Menei, present active.  This means the wrath was already there before the one who rejected Jesus rejected Him.

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

The Attitude Required to Hear God's Truth

“Speak, Lord, for your servant hears” – young Samuel (likely 10-12 years old), 1 Samuel 3:10

I gave a talk on this text the other day at our local Christian school’s chapel, telling the kids, aged K-8th, that we can learn to hear God’s voice as we submit ourselves to the Scriptures like Samuel submitted himself to God’s audible voice. I told the kids that God doesn’t usually speak audibly today, but He speaks in the Bible, and as we behold Jesus’ glory as our Redeemer and High Priest, He gives us His Spirit who guides us into truth (Jn. 16:13), as He Himself leads us by His perfect providence (Phil. 2:14).  Just like Samuel had to learn to listen to God, we learn today to listen to God through repentance, humbling ourselves, and saturating ourselves with God’s truth in the Bible.  “Oh how I love your law!  It is my meditation all day” (Ps. 119:97).

But there’s something to be further gleaned from Samuel’s prayer here.  To say, “Speak Lord, for your servant hears,” is to, in essence, pray, “Lord, say whatever you want to say; I’m all ears.”  It is an attitude where the one speaking is putting himself under God’s authority to say whatever He wants to say, regardless of how well it fits with the pray-ers own personal assumptions or the cultural assumptions that surround him. Samuel’s ultimate goal is to have God speak, and to receive whatever He says.

A New Testament example of this attitude is Nicodemus.  He’d been living his life trying to climb the ladder to heaven, only for Jesus to come and tell him that even with how good a guy he (thinks he) is, he can’t even reach the first rung because of Adam's sin in him.  Thus He needs God to do a work in him which he can’t do for himself (John 3:1-8).  Nicodemus then responds, “How can these things be?”  (3:9)  I’ve always thought that this was him stubbornly refusing to accept what he’s hearing.  When preparing to preach this passage last week I came to the conviction for the first time that Nicodemus was actually hearing what Jesus was saying, and asking for help to understand how this works.  In saying, “How can these things be?” he isn’t saying, “It can’t be,” but rather, “How does this happen, then, Lord?”  He’s doing the same thing that Samuel did earlier: sitting within earshot of the very voice of God, and putting himself under God’s authority to reveal reality, however uncomfortable and paradigm-shattering it may be.**

I pray for and long for this attitude of submission to God’s Word in the church again.  The promise from Scripture for this attitude is this: Humble yourself before the Lord, and he will exalt you (James 4:10).  Required is an attitude that, like Samuel and Nicodemus, a) doesn’t assume one is correct in what or how they think (for, “whoever trusts in his own mind is a fool,” Prov. 28:26), and b) doesn't assume the current cultural sensibilities are correct (for we are to not be conformed to the world around us, Rom. 12:2).  Instead what is required is a hunger for God’s righteousness, and a belief that what He has spoken is clear, true, and coherent.  This is exactly the attitude which Jesus described when He repeatedly said, "He who has ears to hear, let him hear" (Mark 4:9). 

How are your ears? 

**I realize many commentators disagree with this view of Nicodemus’ question, choosing instead to view it as a rebuke from a hardened skeptic.  But it seems to me to be the case, in light of the fact that his attitude has shifted from cutesy rebuke in verse 4 to a simple question in verse 9.  In any event, Nicodemus is wrestling.  I think he’s hearing and praying, like Samuel did.

Saturday, September 29, 2018

Starving For Truth

“The world looks on the slaughtered Lamb with pity, disdain, and even abhorrence. Through the tinted glass of self-importance it views his sacrifice as a joke, or as the natural end of an outmoded ethic based in superstition.  But the world itself gives the lie to its own interpretation.  For had the Lamb provided such a senseless life and death, the remedy would be to leave it alone to fester and wither away.  But the Lamb would not go away.  Instead of a few bleached bones and the smell of putrefaction he left an empty tomb and His Spirit who so seared the truth of the gospel into the hearts and minds of his little band of followers that they began to turn the world upside down.  For this the world will not forgive him.  It rises up and lashes out at the Lamb while pretending that he isn’t real.  It does this because the one whose spirit pervades the world knows full well that the slain Lamb is his downfall.”
-Graeme Goldsworthy*

This quote from Graeme Goldsworthy’s Gospel in Revelation adequately summarizes why Jesus is the world's stumbling block today, even though said world is so positively effected by him.  What I mean is that Jesus of Nazareth is the most influential man who ever lived, and His imprint is all over the western world as we know it.  It’s similar to John 1:10, where John the apostle, describing Jesus’ coming into the world, says that though the world was made through Him, yet when he came, the world didn’t know him.  In a similar way, Jesus has profoundly transformed the western world and given it it’s entire ethical grid, yet said western world doesn’t realize it and won't acknowledge it.  
But we also have cultural and social sins that seem to mar our Christian past, and this past has an unavoidable effect on our present still.  So when one says, “We need to look to the Jesus who we used to follow,” the seemingly obvious response is, “Yeah but look where that has gotten us in the past and today!” 

But philosopher Charles Taylor has argued that our societal problems today are not the effect of applying Christian ethics as they come from Scripture, but from applying those ethics divorced from the God who first gave them to us.**  When we divorce the precepts of God from God Himself, which we’ve done in our scientific age (see Taylor), we replace Him as the precept’s reference point with ourselves, and the precepts are only thought of in terms of what it does for us.  No longer does it matter how practicing the precept glorifies Him, puts us in His will, and helps us to serve others how we’re made to serve others. 

So I submit that the real solution is not to run from Jesus who has destroyed us, but to get back to Jesus who offers us life.  And as we do, Jesus will change us and bring about good among us.   Practically, this means loving others as ourselves, but for Jesus’ sake, and treating others how we want to be treated, because of how good Jesus is to us.  He becomes the reference point for every ethic, and we move away from society’s fickle opinions as the reference point.


But getting back to Jesus isn’t as easy as it may sound.  Jesus said Himself that to come to him, one must hunger and thirst for righteousness (Matthew 5:6, John 6:36).  You can’t make yourself hungry directly.  It has to happen to you indirectly; the only way you can affect it is by seeing or smelling good food on purpose.  Similarly Jesus said one has to have this hunger and thirst for righteousness within them if they’d find the satisfaction that he offers.  One has to long for Him to bring healing.  And we only long because we are out of solutions. 

Paul the Apostle repeatedly referred to Jesus’ gospel as a mystery (eg. Rom. 16:25; Eph. 1:9, 3:3; Col. 1:26-27, 2:3).  He didn’t mean that the gospel is hidden from people intellectually, as though one has to have a certain IQ to understand it.  Paul meant that the gospel is only visible to the one who is hungry for it.  Just like one must be sick in order to go to the doctor's office for healing (Matthew 9:12), so one must need Jesus in order to come to him and receive him.

Proud Israel was told that if they humbled themselves and longed for God’s healing, he’d heal them (Deut. 30:2ff).  Therefore the prophets were constantly talking about the need to simply return to the Lord (eg. Hosea 6:1 – “Come let us return to the Lord … that he may heal us.”) The cultural problems might have seemed complex, but the confusion was only set in where people were outside of God’s truth.  Therefore, it was promised that the Christ would come into the world of grey, and ruled according to righteousness (Isaiah 11:3-5).  And still today, people must long for righteousness to be practiced according to absolute definitions of right and wrong; when they turn to Jesus, they see that he alone meets the need (Mark 10:14).  This is the spirit of the Psalmist in Psalm 18:30, who loves God’s truth because it cuts so clean and proves itself true.

Stumbling Block

Why is Jesus such a stumbling block to the world, as Paul says?  Because to get Him one must accept that there is such a thing as ultimate reality: truth, which must be faced, believed, and reoriented toward. Today we’re accustomed to dividing up into tribes and defining the world’s problems in terms of what the opposing tribe is doing and saying (or not doing and saying).  And there will likely be some level of truth to any accusation we make against fallen sinners in Adam.  But this will lead nowhere, because it doesn’t account either for our own problems or the good that the opposing tribe is fighting for.  Even talking about it this way seems to make the issues confusing.  But it isn’t as confusing as it may seem.  It’s only grey where we’ve rejected the idea of black and white, and I’m convinced relativizing truth to each person’s experience is an alternate reality man makes in rebellion to the God who is the ultimate reference point.  Jesus calls for us to see truth in Him.  And He not only promises to make known to us the way, but promises to love into us the change we need to reflect His glory back to Him.

I once read John Piper say that because Jesus is always out of sync with the world, he is thus always relevant.***  I think this is true, because we will always be out of balance in at least some aspects our cultural sensibilities.  And thus we always need to bow the knee and ask for help.  The question is simply this: Are we hungry for righteousness, as Jesus defines it?  If so, He has the track record to validate his truth claims:  One who rose from the dead must be taken seriously as an authority figure, perhaps (as I believe) the Authority figure;  and one certainly doesn’t lie to the very people He gave himself in loving self-sacrifice for.  He promises that if we seek His way, He’ll receive us, keep us, and lead us.  But we must hunger and thirst.

I don’t know about you, but I’m starving. 

*Goldsworthy, Gospel in Revelation, 322.
**Taylor, A Secular Age, 22, describing what he describes as “Subtraction Theory.” 
***I read this in Piper’s Seeing and Savoring Jesus Christ.  I can’t find my copy to give you a page citation! I recommend this book as a powerful study in how the gospels present Jesus as the perfect man who meets all of our needs.  Even if you don’t prefer Piper (many don’t!), look past that for this book.