Upcoming Posts

With exams coming up next week and J-term classes starting in the latter half of January, I have begun to think about some topics for posts that have recently caught my attention.  Thus, Lord willing, December and January posting will consist of a chapter by chapter review and critique of “The Shack,” an idea that originated and is currently being carried out by Patrick Harmon on his site.  To read his reviews go here.  This book is taking America by storm, and the church is unwisely and uncritically accepting it into its fold.  Its uncritical (i.e., measured by the standard of Scripture) reading has led many close to my own heart to accept it is something generally good and helpful, while others have declared it transformative (?).  With concerns for the state of authentic Christianity, I will also be in examination of the Beatitudes in Matthew 5.  Along with these two topics, I am sure that there will be the normal spattering of posts that will be the fruit of those things that have captured my heart.  I hope that these things will be a blessing to anyone who might grace this humble domain.  May God bless your time with family and friends in these last days of the year.  Know that if you be a Christian, you are sent, each to his or her own family and friends as missionaries for the sake of Christ.  I pray that God will be pleased to accompany you with boldness and verifiable fruit.  In Jesus’ name.  Amen.

Return and Remain in the Molding of Scripture: A Burden and a Plea

With a deep sense of humility and dependency upon the Holy Spirit’s role in the life of every believer, I write to express a great burden that God has troubled me with in the last couple of days, and to encourage all who would call upon the name of Christ to take a moment of personal examination.  Upon my return home, itself a missionary endeavor, I have discovered a profound movement away from the Bible as the ultimate, and authoritative food for the daily sustenance of the Christian, and thus violently severed from the tasks, words, thoughts, and breaths of the day.  Whether this is intentional, the fruit of actual unbelief, or the resultant of biblical sloth, I do not know; nor do I know whether this is the fruit of poor and unfaithful ministry, or the sin of the individual who shuns biblical and spiritual disciplinary responsibility, or a mixture of both.  It appears that one Christian has known nothing different but a segmented Christian life, the Bible for church but not for life; another would readily cast it aside for the undiscerning and unwise intake of ungodly teachings, though it seems they perceive it not; another speaks of searching for a church that preaches the deep things of the Bible, hungry for spiritual food but he has not found it.  Others give no thought to it; still others consider it a taxing thing to reflect or to meditate upon God’s Word as if it were not God’s Word, but rather the dull musings of a long outdated, wordy treatise on a subject or an object that were of only temporal importance and no true relevance.  I wonder, I sit perplexed at how this could be so, realizing the apathy of my own affections.  

So it is with a heavy heart that I write, dear church, the Bible is the womb from which we were born, the revelation of the living God to sinful man regarding Himself, His gospel, and the means of salvation, namely, Jesus Christ, and how we – being regenerated – should live on the basis of this union with Jesus Christ.  The nature of this inconsistency is, perhaps, better apprehended by the thought of non-existence, that is, the hypothetical thought that the Bible had never existed or that God would in a day take it away from the church – what then?  We would be in utter lostness, depravity of being, hellish carnality, loving torment, having the knowledge of nothing salvific in nature, none of the beauties of God, of His Christ, of the being of the world, of creational order, of reconciliation with God.  No one would be saved.  The Bible is an indescribable mercy of God unto man.  How would we be shaped without it?  Oh church, why this abnormal Christianity?  Our Lord, the Word which put on flesh, studied the Scriptures, loved and lived in the Scriptures, fulfilled the Scriptures.  How, then, can we not live in and by these objective words of truth?  How can this not be the basis, the foundation, the center, the standard of everything we think, say, do, breathe?  How can the Bible not be the vitality of our relationship with Christ?  Indeed, if we do not cast ourselves here moment by moment, we shall surely fall into great terrors and deceptions and falsehoods.  Our blood must be Bibline.  

The insanity of this current plight may be illustrated by marriage:  one says that he is married; this implies a kind of relationship; but if this same one, having told you that they were married then continues to say that they never talk with one another, they never eat with one another, nor sleep, nor dream one with the other, nor love, or care for the maintenance of their marriage, then one would rightly conclude that the notion supplied that these two people are married would be insane – there is no relationship, no vitality, no life, no communication, no maintenance, no marriage.  The Bible is the Word of God to us about Himself and our relationship to Him – to set this aside, and never to feast upon its inexhaustible richness, is to become like many who having been professed Christians for 65 years can yet say “I have never read or heard that before,” as a recent loved one told me after reading Scripture with them – it was in Romans!  It was never intended by God that one, having been converted, should remain forever in a spiritually adolescent state, and yet the appearance of contemporary evangelicalism evidences an almost unfathomable infancy in the sweet wonders of God’s revelation to man.  The Bible points us to Christ (John 5:37-40) – how can any man say with confidence that he is a Christian, or (if he truly be saved) without conviction – “I have not read my Bible even this day,” not this week, not month, nor year, “but even this day!”  If you are not steadfast and mighty in the Scriptures, then you are not steadfast and mighty in Christ, for the Scriptures bear witness of Christ, and Christ is the Word of God.  How then can you say, “I believe,” or “I know Him,” when, like the “married man”, you have no true relationship with Him?  It is eternal insanity!

Personally, I have been crushed with burden and conviction by the thoughts of such abnormal Christianity – even on my part.  The Christian is only as solid as He is steadfast in the Scriptures; only as sensitive to God, separated unto God, intimate with Jesus, wise, discerning, bold in this generation as He is daily yearning, praying through, meeting with God in, reflecting upon, applying to life, memorizing, singing, ministering with, living, breathing, suffering, toiling, dying in the everlasting Word of God alone.  There is a molding that is the Word of God; let us return to it and remain in it that our being may truly take its form in every conceivable way, for therein we shall be approved before God, overflowing with true joy, the production of God’s grace in our Lord, the Word, Jesus Christ.  “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.  Whoever does not love me does not keep my words” (Jn 14:23-24a).  “Whoever says ‘I know him’ but does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him, but whoever keeps his word, in him truly the love of God is perfected” (1 Jn 2:4-5).  Let us be mindful of these essential realities.

Father in heaven, pour out your grace and mercy upon your church; incline our hearts to You, and to Your Word that we may be so full of Christ that we overflow with a truly Christian, and holistic life informed by and conformed to the reality of You concealed and exploding therein.  In Jesus’ name.  Amen.

A Glimpse of My Depravity is a Glimpse of Christ’s Grace

I find that I am the most wretched man that I personally know.  For all of the grace, common and saving, that God has lavished me with; for all of His mercy, love, and light; for all of the understanding that the Spirit of God has granted my soul to cherish, yet in my flesh I often deny the reality of God’s salvation.  This happens in practical ways.  I’ll give you one example.  Typical of me, I adorned the nearest coffee shop and surrounded myself with mounds of theology books, secondary resources intended to aid in the understanding of the Book, God’s Word, to even direct me there to find true life; and in the Bible, to be led by the Spirit to Christ daily, more intimately, personally, practically, powerfully.  But what is theology if not a study of God, and in the Christian’s case, a true study enabled and maintained by God’s Spirit and Word; but true biblical theology should always result in true biblical religion, that is, the practice of truth and love, mercy and justice grounded in the gospel.  With that said, a small, but nevertheless massive opportunity presented itself – an opportunity to do with theology what it is intended to do.  A man with full arms was carrying a hot cup of water; in the process of setting his belongings down, he knocked over his water; it flood the floor; it was right next to me!  I could have gladly helped, grabbed some napkins or something – but what did I do?  I sat right there and looked at the guy as if he were some kind of rare, micro-evolved fish out of water (?).  And then, praise God, the Spirit checked me and awakened my conscience to the depravity of the situation:  There I sat, Bible, books, Hebrew, etc. on table – and a man who could have been helped in a simple way, in a gospel way, and yet there I remained while others helped who may not know Jesus from a coconut (?).  Some, perhaps, did in their darkness what I should have done with light (a discussion of this idea requires more depth and is tangential to this post).  Nevertheless, this is a great indictment against my grasp of biblical theology (I am errant; not the theology) – a great indictment.  In this particular case, the Hebrew that I was parsing had not waxed my heart white hot for God and thus for my neighbor.  This of course is a very great danger for me, and all Christians.  Theology is both the engagement of the mind by the Word of God and the waxing hot of the heart with true biblical affections for God and man that are quite active in everyday, practical and loving ways – all grounded in the Gospel of Christ.  Much knowledge has the tendency to make one practically paralytic.  But this is no true knowledge, much less biblical knowledge, or the knowledge of God through faith in Jesus Christ.  This knowledge is a knowing that is recreating the whole man, conforming him to Jesus Christ.  Today, I caught a glimpse of my depravity; I write to encourage you in the completion of saving knowledge, that is, love – love for God and for neighbor.  Today, I caught a glimpse of the beauty of Christ’s grace, and so I write imploring you to imitate Him, and to pray for me, and for the church that we all may grow to full maturity in Christ, progressively living in the vitality of His life in and through us, and thereby, to practice what we preach.

The Church Being the Church

I witnessed something soberingly peculiar this past Lord’s Day.  A young woman who had been attending the same local church as Jenny and me was baptized.  But this was no ordinary baptism.  This of course needs qualification: no baptism is “ordinary”, but extraordinary testimonies of the work of God in saving sinner’s, an extraordinary declaration by Christ and His church concerning the status of the person baptized – of course baptism refers to the declaration, not the status before God.  Moreover, every conversion and every baptism is equally glorious – we simply have diverse testimonies of God’s redemptive work.  So, by no ordinary baptism I mean to say no ordinary testimony prior to the “dunking”. 

The testimony itself was a wonder of sin, grace, and mercy, and long-suffering.  This girl was in seminary this semester.  She had spent her life as a pastor’s daughter in churches where inauthenticity and hypocrisy reigned, and served to convince her all the more that whatever it was that was operative in these churches was the farthest thing away from the real deal.  I affirmed with a silent “Amen.”  She had also travelled in her studies and spent much time in Israel learning the likes of the biblical Hebrew language.  It was in pursuit of an advancement in this that she ended up in seminary.  While in Israel she had adopted a “more Jewish” approach to soteriology, that is, more merit based, which for her included cutting and asceticism. 

Attending our church had made matters worse.  And this is perhaps the aspect that was so sobering: when she walked through the doors of this church, mingled in this fellowship, kept a close watch on the members of this body, examined quite clearly a true authenticity amongst the people, one faith, one love, one Lord in our fellowship, a wise, discerning, biblical people who love the Bible, and love God and one another, and when she listened to the word of God, the gospel, heralded with compassion, passion, boldness, and sincerity – and the congregation would urge our preacher’s to continue in their exposition rather than sell short, she was miraculously converted. 

This, I say, was sobering for me, because it was the first time in my life that I had witnessed the power of a biblically ideal local church.  This, of course, is how the church should be in its life and character and mission.  If we love one another, the world is giving a witness to the saving power of the gospel.  They actually wonder, “What is this that I sense only here?”  Sadly, the majority of churches are not of this makeup.  This is not to discourage pastors in such situations, but rather to encourage them in their endeavors, to declare clearly that this can happen.  It was the beauty of the church being the church that led this person to conversion in Christ.  It is my solemn hope that this shall be a daily addition; that any church that I would be actively involved with would bear the same marks of our local church right now – the marks of a biblical church.  I can affirm with full assurance, now, that God has so ordained the identity and marks of the church in Scripture, that our obedience and energy towards these things in the strength of His word and Spirit, will produce a kind of body that impacts the world, and in this case, a young woman, directing them by our love for one another to Christ.  May God receive the glory in Jesus’ name.  Amen. 

A Brand Plucked From the Fire and Set in Christ – Zechariah 3

I have been drawn recently to Zechariah 3.  For the sake of space I will refrain from typing the whole chapter, but I would recommend it for obvious reasons.  The text provides an illuminating relationship between justification and the Old Testament, adding cohesion to the New Testament rendering of the doctrine.  The chapter refutes the notion that the Jews could have rightly ascertained from the law that just standing could be had with God on the basis of works, or, in light of newer positions on justification, that law-keeping could even maintain their covenant status.  The history of Israel provided in the Old Testament Scriptures bear witness to at least this reality: Israel was sinful and needed more than moral reform; they needed a true salvation.  In Zechariah 3, we see from God’s perspective exactly what needed to happen in order for one to be justified in His court – they needed the imputation of a righteousness that only God could provide; this of course resonates loudly with the New Testament conception of justification by faith.

Zechariah receives a vision of Joshua the high priest standing before the angel of the Lord, and Satan standing at his right hand to accuse him.  We have then a law-court scene.  The angel of the Lord will defend Joshua; Satan stands to accuse him.  It appears from the text that the angel of the Lord, that God Himself, has a hard case, for Joshua was standing before the angel of the Lord “clothed with filthy garments.”  There is an echo of Isaiah 64:6 in this picture, “We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment.  We all fade like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away.”  The point to make plain, then, is that Joshua’s filthy garments are a metaphor for his unrighteousness before God’s holiness.  This appears to be a difficult case to win.  

The LORD’s words that follow are breathtaking – “And the LORD said to Satan, ‘The LORD rebuke you, O Satan!  The LORD who has chosen Jerusalem rebuke you! Is not this a brand plucked from the fire?” (3:2).  Romans 8:33 rings in our hearts at this point, “Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies.”  Insofar as God has rebuked Satan, Satan is rebuked; insofar as God justifies, Satan may accuse but only without effect – the ungodly is justified.  God is the highest court, and His decision is irrevocable, for God does not change.  Nevertheless, Joshua still stands before the court in filthy garments; it is not pointless to consider the implications of Joshua being the high priest and yet being in filthy garments, but that is tangential (though worthy of meditation).  How can God justify the unrighteous like Joshua?  This is a huge problem.  If God justifies Joshua without Joshua being righteous before God, then God is unjust and He ceases to be God.  We must admit that Satan is not wrong in his initial accusation; and God, in part, concurs with a qualification saying, “Is not this a brand,” – that is, a stick in the fire – but He continues, “plucked from the fire?”  As such, Satan has no more accusation, no more hold, for God has redeemed Joshua in His grace.  Joshua is out of the fire and being justified by God.  This ought to well up within our hearts a deep, deep silence of wonder concentrated on the grace of God.  How, then, is God right to justify Joshua?

Imputation.  Gracious imputation!  The angel of the Lord commanded those who were standing before Joshua, “Remove the filthy garments from him.”  This is the remission or forgiveness of sin.  Notice the angels subsequent words and how he attaches the meaning upon what has just been done, “Behold, I have taken your iniquity away from you.”  But this is only half of the operation.  The angel’s imperative continues, “and I will clothe you with pure vestments” (v. 4).  Moreover, they placed a clean turban on his head.  Joshua’s sin was removed from him, and a new and saving righteousness given to him in its place.  Gracious imputation!  Hear the echoes of Romans 8:34, “Who is to condemn?  Christ Jesus is the one who died – more than that, who was raised – who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us.”  

Redemptive historically, this is a beautiful inversion of Christ Jesus.  Has God just willed a righteousness?  Does He just close His eyes and wave the wand of free justice apart from penalty in some measure?  No, the Judge judges justly.  God does not abstractly justify the ungodly.  A penalty must be paid for sin, indeed, a perfect penalty, a sacrifice.  How did Joshua’s righteousness come about?  The answer is found in the Branch of verse 8.  “Behold, I will bring my servant the Branch. . . . In that day, declares the LORD of hosts, every one of you will invite his neighbor to come under his vine and under his fig tree” (vv.8, 10).  While Joshua was given pure vestments, Jesus Christ, the final High Priest, put on the humiliation of flesh, and bore our filthy garments.  When Joshua was given a clean turban, Jesus Christ was tortured with a crown of thorns.  Joshua was restored to service, because Jesus was stripped and beaten.  Joshua had his iniquity taken away from him, because Jesus Christ was crucified in his place.  For our sake God made Christ to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God (2 Corinthians 5:21).  There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus (Roman 8:1).  This was Joshua’s experience; this is every believer’s reality.  We who stood in unrighteousness with the expectation of a just condemnation, are for no inherent reason, given a perfect righteousness.  It is a worthy note to take, that this passage presents Joshua as dead, a brand in the fire; but God plucks the brand out of the fire, clothes it with pure vestments, and restores it to life (denoted by the reinstatement of Joshua to proper service (vv. 6, 7), for this service only comes through the vitality of Christ’s life, a life here given to Joshua). So we too were dead in sin and trespasses, but in Christ were made alive to walk in newness of life.

Shall we marvel at the grace of God?  Yes, we must!  It is precious in our sight.  God has justified the ungodly because His Son paid our penalty of death, wrath, and hell, but He was raised and thereby vindicated as Lord.  Satan’s accusations fall back to hell ineffectual, and in the new analysis, wrong, for Joshua and Christ (that is, in union), they are perfectly righteous in God’s judgment.  No charge may stand; no appeal can be heard.  So we are brands – brands plucked out of the fire by God’s merciful hand, and more, we are clothed in Christ’s royal garments, and still further, on the basis of this justification, God (finding no fault against us) embraces us as His own children, loves us as a perfect Father, and pours the vitality of Christ’s life into us by the Holy Spirit.  By the Branch’s vitality, we, like Joshua are restored to service, to walk with God in His ways (He has written them on our hearts), and to invite our neighbor also to come under His vine, His fig tree and thus to taste of the forgiveness of sin, and life everlasting with God.  Salvation belongs to the Lord in Christ; this is our only boast.  May we exult in it.  Amen.

Precious Truth in 1 John 1:9, Romans 6:1-14

1 John 1:9, in the words of my good friend, Eric Schaefer, is a precious verse.  It could not have been stated any better.  Today, this verse was very precious to me.  I do not attempt to consciously hide sin from brothers with whom I draw up accountability and encouragement and reproof – this only eats away at the soul (Ps 32:3).  A combination of texts, Romans 6:1-14 and 1 John 1:9 have been balm for my heart this past week.  

Suffice it to say that the spiritual disciplines are under duress amidst the grinder known as seminary.  It seems, for me at least, that the first things to go are serious times of Scripture contemplation, and of remote prayer.  Although I seek to “devotionalize” my studies, my conscience has testified against me that this is not the same.  Combined with this, temptations seem to be at an all time high – certainly Satan would have me fall before I ever get going.  God is faithful.  And as He is faithful, so His faithfulness and mercy found me wallowing in the wretched conspiracies of my mind, for I would find my mind planning to sin, to indulge, to deviate from the Lord, and to do this with great precision and mastery.  But, I say, the Lord is faithful and merciful, and He helps His children – praise His grace that I am one of them – and thus, He opened the eyes of my heart to see the sinfulness of my flesh, and the necessity of a very great and God-given repentance.  For I have sought repentance much like Esau (Hebrews 12:17), and found no chance to repent, though I sought it with tears.  But my mind deceived me such that I thought that I had turned unto God, and though the very next day I would continue in the same pattern of thought, yet I seemed not to grasp that I had not found true repentance.  But, again, I say, God is merciful and gracious, and He supplied me with a battle mentality – I shall no longer plan to sin, but plan not to sin, and more than that, plan to honor God in righteousness and holiness of life; I would slay sin in me and once it has fallen in battle, I will strike it again and again until it dies altogether or until the Lord takes me away from its presence.

Here, Romans 6:1-14 was medicinal.  The occasion was church; the means was a glorious sermon.  The relationship between law, sin and grace was laid bare.  Sin was exposed not merely as an activity, but as a king, a master, for the context of Romans 6 gives a great theology of sin, namely, that sin is in fact a king to whom we fall before and bring gifts.  I was immediately directed in my heart to Genesis 4:7 – God speaking to Cain says, “If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door.  Its desire is for you, but you must rule over it.”  This was a statement of penetration – God knew, as well as Cain, that he could not, would not, did not rule over sin, but rather that sin had mastered him (Genesis 4:5-6, 8).  The redemptive historical focus of this text, despite its grave plight, is that we must master a king which masters us – how is this to happen?  The answer of Romans 6 is union with Christ.  For Christ lived under the law, was tempted in every way yet without sin, and died with our sin imputed to Him, whereby He crucified it, tasted it, suffered God’s wrath because of it, but was buried, but was raised and thereby justified – He defeated sin; Christ mastered sin, and in so doing, He did what no human has or can do.  It is, then, a glorious transaction that takes place in conversion, when the sinner who is mastered by sin is set free from sin, granted the remission of sin, united to Christ, and as such is now mastered by sin no longer, but by Christ who is the Lord.  In Christ, guilt for sin is taken completely away at once forever (Romans 8:1, 33-34); in Christ, the power of sin, this most wicked tyrant, has met a rival power, a triumphant power, a greater Master, a Master who has defeated by sin and death; via union with Christ, so it is for the Christian – by the Spirit we put to death the deeds of the body, that is, we too (in Christ) move towards a mastery of sin as we move towards conformity to Christ.

What of 1 John 1:9?  Roman 6:1-14 sounded its battle cry on Sunday.  1 John 1:9 was sounded today.  In between, the battle has raged on.  Thus, 1 John 1:9 was very precious to me today.  “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”  I took a walk today specifically to confess to our High Priest, Jesus Christ, whose blood speaks a better word than Abel’s, my many sins and sinful inclinations.  1 John 1:9, as Al Mohler has said, is the voice of Jesus, our Priest, to us.  Let us read it carefully then and allow it to minister health to our souls – “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”  This is not a plea for licentious living – notice, it is an admission of sin – this is always an embarrassing occasion, and if done truly it ought to be.  It is a plea for help and for joy, for release from the wasting away of bones (Ps 32:3), and comfort – not in sin, but from sin.  But the medicine gets stronger – Christ is faithful and just, that is, He is right to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.  How can this be?  Because Christ has already been judged by God for your sin on the cross and was found by God to be justified in His resurrection from the dead – from the dead proving His sinlessness, for where there is sin, death will most certainly hold down.  He is just then, God is just to forgive sin, your sin, my sin, on the basis of our union with Christ.  This is, indeed, precious, and power to live a life pleasing to God.  This forgiveness is the foretaste of Christ’s cleansing – indeed, He is cleansing His Bride, the church, sanctifying her with His Word and with the vitality of His life.  It is from all unrighteousness that our Savior is cleansing us.  This is His right, His mastery over sin at work within us, and it is precious hope for me, for the church that we will at long last be as He is, for we shall see Him face to face.  No guilt.  Full forgiveness.  Daily cleansing.  New mastery.  One Lord.  Great Master.  Gracious God.  Christ be praised.  Amen.  

Scripture Entry – Hebrews 9:27 and a Christ-Centered Context

I have come to appreciate context.  This is especially true when it comes to Hebrews 9:27.  It reads, “And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment . . .”

If this were the only bit of Scripture that what could ever lay their hands upon, I submit it would be a terrifying bit, albeit sufficient to turn one Godward.  The question may first be asked, “Whom has appointed such a set of dramatic events?”  It is not man, for he is the one with appointment drawing nigh.  He has neither set the appointment himself, nor can he suspend or change it.  Inevitably, he is but a man.  Inevitably, man will die.  

And why die?  It cannot be imagined that a man would die as the consequence of goodness.  Death is almost universally viewed as being bad.  For some, the word death brings much pain, others hopelessness, and still others anger, bitterness, and for most everyone else sighing, crying, a sense of helplessness, and wonder.  We execute people because they are bad people.  We murder because we hate.  Death is generally thought of with negative connotations, a thing to be avoided at all costs, and yet an event that is absolutely certain to come to pass.  The Bible teaches us that death is the wages of sin (Romans 6:23).  This text teaches us that death brings us to a seat of judgment.  The question may be asked, “Who is the judge, and how will he judge me?”

The judge is not man either.  Therefore, the judgment will not be by the standards of men.  The judgments of men would be good news to most, if only for the reason that they are partial, unjust, and subject to judgment themselves.  Men like to hide amongst other men as guilty as they.  It is probable, indeed, the Bible teaches us that it is the same One who appoints that also judges, and that the individual is subject to Him.  So all men are on a crash course.  God has appointed a day when the wages of each man’s sin will result in death – this has been the pattern since Adam, but God be praised it is not perpetual.  God has also appointed a day when the one who has died because of sin will be judged on account of it.  This is horrible news; the worst kind of news.  God, perfect in holiness and in justice, has appointed a day for the judgment of every man, and no man knows the minute or the hour of these events, and nothing can prevent them from coming – but God knows them, has ordained them, and will bring it to pass.  He will judge the earth with perfect righteousness.

As I mentioned, context is important.  Let’s set it in context then: “Christ has entered, not into holy places made with hands, which are copies of the true things, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf.  Nor was it to offer himself repeatedly, as the high priest enters the holy places every year with blood not his own, for then he would have had to suffer repeatedly since the foundation of the world.  But as it is, he has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself.  And just as it has been appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment, so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him” (Heb. 9:24-28).

Perhaps, now one can sigh with delight and assurance; perhaps, some may not.  But there is an infinite reality that surrounds this appointment of death and judgment for every man, and it is Christ the Mediator, Christ the Sin-Bearer, Christ the Savior.  

I said that the decree of death was not perpetual; indeed, Christ is the reason that death’s reign shall end; and what of sin?  Christ is the reason that sin is defeated and shall be put away, having lost its sway.  Jesus has done for us that which we could not do for ourselves.  Jesus has entered into the presence of God because He was sinless.  Jesus is perpetually in the sight, in the community of the Godhead as the ascended, anointed, Savior King, and God-man, and He, as such, appears before the Father as perfect humanity on behalf of all of who have believed in Him for salvation.  Jesus Christ has “put away sin”; how?  “By the sacrifice of himself.”  The sin which will bring about our death, the sin which stood to condemn us to hell, the sin which still jabs at us, which still abides in the hearts of many unbelieving, many who even now stand condemned before God, Jesus Christ has “put away by the sacrifice of himself.”  The sinless Savior died in the place of sinners in order to put away the sinner’s sin in the sinlessness of Himself.  He bore the penalty for sin on the cross.  He absorbed and suffered through the wrath and hell of God whose infinite weight should have rightly fallen on us, on me.  Jesus Christ was raised from the dead, sin could not hold Him, death was thus defeated, and our Lord was justified by God; and so sin and death are dealt with and so too may our day of appointment be dealt with already through repentance towards God and faith in Jesus Christ.  Having appeared once to deal with sin, Jesus will appear a second time to save his church – a body of believers characterized as those “who are eagerly waiting for him.”  What a difference the context makes!

Now the appointment of every man to death is an act of mercy on God’s part.  He subjected us to it in hope of redemption from sin in Christ Jesus.  Such redemption results in a testimony like that of the apostle Paul when in Philippians 1:21 he writes, “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.”  Oh, blessed Jesus, that death should be deemed a gain!  Moreover, because of Christ’s redemptive work, we shall only die once, whilst there remains another state of perpetual dying without annihilation.  The saved man shall die but once and then glory.  The rebellious man shall die one, and then again forever in the tortures of hell.  Oh, but Christ has come to deal with sin so that the sinner should not face the final dealing at the judgment, for just as God has commended Christ to judge (John 5:22), so if anyone is in Christ, Christ shall rule in his favor.  Sin has been dealt with; it has already been judged in Christ, and thus it need not be judged again in the believer – indeed, in Christ there is no sin to judge (let us be warned, however, against antinomianism – using grace as a license to sin – this man surely knows not salvation).  

Jesus Christ is the main character here; His work the great news.  Yes, we shall die; yes, judgment shall come and these at the hands and knowledge of the omnipotent God.  The question is, shall you die only once?  Shall you be judged in Christ or apart from Christ?  The answer of the writer of Hebrews is that Jesus Christ lives and intercedes on our behalf to save us.  How glorious is this Jesus!  How wonderful His salvation!  Though we die, yet we shall live – in Christ!  Though we approach judgment, we come near in the full assurance of the spotless sacrifice, our Savior, Jesus Christ.  Let us rejoice in His salvation; let us move to persuade men who even now sit squarely under the omnipotent gavel, pleading with them to turn and be saved before it falls forever.

Thinking Through “The Invitation”

In responding to some good and biblical points on the issue of the invitation, I thought it better to simply write another post.  This post is mainly for clarification of the point that I was trying to make in the previous post.  It has come to my attention that I, perhaps, did not qualify my point, or go far enough with the implications of such a move, i.e., what happens after the sermon if one does not follow exactly the traditional model of “the invitation”.

My friend, Bryan Barley, brought to the surface some areas of qualification.  You can see his comments under the my initial post.  He is absolutely biblical in what he states.  The normative pattern in Scripture is the sermon followed by a time of response for and from the audience.  This pattern is established very early in the life of the church.  Moreover, this is absolutely necessary for the immediate application of the Word of God.  I agree, therefore, that there needs to be a time of response.  For the sake of clarity, I am not arguing that we should refrain from having a time of specific and immediate application of the Word of God.

I am arguing that I would refrain from that time in what is deemed the traditional model of “invitation” for the sole concern of deception, and sensitivity to the temptable nature of the flesh which so desires to attach salvation to a moment and so to have both salvation and the assurance thereof tied to an experience rather than the reality and solidarity and exclusivity of the truth and merit of Jesus Christ alone.  

Therefore, I am arguing that the time of response is more than a momentary shuffling of feet, whether they are well-intentioned or not.  The time of response is throughout the service, specifically, the sermon, and that that responsiveness deserves more time, more thought, more application than what can be had during the playing of one stanza.  God is continually pleading with sinners to be reconciled to God.  So the herald of His Word should also be constantly pleading with sinners to be saved in Christ.  The mighty preacher, George Whitefield is well known to have pled with sinners to embrace the Savior with multiplicity.  The invitation should not be primarily regulated to its traditional model.  

Just in case you hear me only arguing for the negation of the invitation, I would like to now add what may be more helpful both for the sustenance of the body, the assurance and authenticity of the responding soul, and the glory of Christ.  Instead of the traditional model, I would advocate an elongated time of response following the service, which, personally, I would end with the sermon so that it might be ringing freshly in their hearts.  This may take several forms or models.  I will offer three:

First, have a meeting room in your church.  Call it the “Room of Response” if you want to.  Let it be known that response to the Word of God is an essential aspect of worship and edification.  The pastor(s) can wait in this room, previously designated for such an activity, and make him(them)self(ves) available for quite some time afterwards where members of the congregation can come as they please to ask questions, to repent, to confess sin, to apply the Word of God, to grow in Christ-likeness, but specifically related to the text of Scripture exposited.

Second, (with the insight of my friend, Eric Schaefer) if this sort of room is undesirable, then in order to keep solemnity, there may be an area designated for fellowship, mingling, and general conversation, that at upon dismissal from service may be occupied with those who have no immediate response, leaving the sanctuary quietly, and allowing it to be the area where those who have desired to respond to the sermon may do so without the distraction of muddled (albeit joyful) fellowship.  

Third, and perhaps better, is the idea of home groups after the service where, according to the assignment of the pastor(s), members are designated for a home group (or whatever you want to call them) and they discuss the sermon together very specifically as a body.  The pastor should provide questions of applicability that they can discuss and work through together.

If more individual attention is needed, this may be designated and set up in a number of ways:

Counseling (with at least 2 leaders) may be set up, or immediately attended to if need be. 

In conclusion (for now), we must remember that many of the accounts in Acts define sermons to an unbelieving group of people wherein immediate invitation for salvation is absolutely biblical; the invitation in the church however is not primarily of this type, although it is not to be excluded, put away, or shunned.  It is to be expected, however, that unbelievers have come in amongst the body, and so I understand the need for such pleading, indeed, I have practiced it. With that said, the sermon in the local church is intended to equip the saints for the work of ministry, and to persuade believers to respond to their Lord; this is not to say that the sermon on Sunday should not be evangelical – all true sermons should be, and should call for repentance towards God and faith in Jesus Christ.  Thus, the invitation is biblical; it is the traditional model that I am weary of right now.  

All things considered, I am grateful that God is constantly whipping my tail, and laying my face in the dust as I seek to work these things out with the knowledge of my own inadequacy and the complete adequacy of Jesus Christ.  Thus, I contend that we should maintain the invitation, while being mindful of human tendencies for experience, and therefore, that we should rethink how we do “the invitation” today.  We are after real conversion, real edification, and passion for the Great Commission.  I think this kind of invitation promotes and gives consideration to these things.  As always, interaction and comments are desired as we seek in Christ and by His Spirit to grow closer each day to the Divine ideal as it is in the authoritative Word of God.

The Invitation

In the Southern Southern Baptist church, the invitation has become the highlight of the sermon.  By invitation I mean the final cataclysmic moment when people are enticed to move down the isle towards the alter on the basis of an obscure offering that does not have much to do with the text that has just been preached.  Often, it is the only time that any shell of the Gospel or the name “Jesus” is mentioned, and even then they are subject to the tunes of the piano playing something like “I Surrender All”, and a preacher falsifying the number of people who actually looked up when he asked something like, “If you want to be saved, just look up at me and nod…” (I know its falsified because I’ve looked when everyone else wasn’t).  I must quickly interject that it was such a gospel invitation that in God’s providence He was pleased to use in regenerating me.  Moreover, it is not just a stereotype of the Baptist churches that I’m most familiar with. . . after all, most churches (regardless of denomination) are under the temptation to “make” the church grow in numbers – a pragmatic methodology seems quite appropriate under such temporary goals.  I also applaud those brothers who call the lost to personal repentance and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ – this is preeminently biblical.

The issue that I have thought about recently, however, deals more with the mode of invitation – what is the invitation and when does it occur?  More importantly, how does the church steer clear of inadvertently granting to the lost the assurance of faith – an assurance that they base upon an isle, or a prayer, or a singular moment in time?  

My answer to this is to do away with the invitation as we typically think of it.  Now before someone accuses me of being a hyper-Calvinist or something equally untrue, allow me to work this out.  

In order to avoid the confusion of the invitation, we simply must not do it the way that we normally do it.  I heard recently that when we should lead someone in the sinner’s prayer, that the sinner’s prayer is biblical (Luke 18 – the tax collector), and that to make sure that they aren’t trusting in the words that they are praying but really and truly in the merits of Jesus Christ in His Gospel for salvation with God, that we have to really clarify the issue for them – it’s not the words; it’s Jesus Christ!  Let me be clear – I see this point. . . . and am fine with it – in other words, I would surrender it if under persecution.  However, what is commonly called the invitation is equally, if not more dangerous in how it assures those who need not be assured yet.  Here is what I’m saying. . . I am not arguing for less of an invitation when I say that we need to rethink the final invitation; rather, I am arguing for more of an invitation – that we make plain to the church that the whole sermon, indeed, the whole service itself is an open invitation to embrace Christ with faith.

2 Corinthians 5:17-21 teach us many things, one of which is the reality that God is pleading with sinners constantly to come in repentance and faith towards God in Christ.  There is something more going on in a service than a final invitation to surrender all.  The veil is being lifted up in the service of the local church; we are seeing behind the veil via Christ; we are entering the holy of holies, and indeed, have entered through faith in Christ.  The service is a manifestation of Christ’s reign in the church, a celebration of His victory, a declaration to the principalities and powers that Christ is Lord, and we are His church.  The sermon, thus, stands as both a word of judgment and a word of invitation to salvation – and so it has always been.  For some it is the aroma of death, and to others the aroma of life.  So, I say, the invitation is always open – in the introduction, in the reading of the text, in the prayer before exposition, in the exposition itself – through and through, the invitation is open, and people need to hear the word of the Lord in this way, as a continual call to repentance and faith in Jesus Christ – to the church and the unbeliever, one to sanctification, the other to salvation – “come, come, come to Christ and be saved!”  “Repent of your sin and trust in the truth as it is in Jesus Christ alone, and be saved! – right now…and now…and now!”  

So I say again, I argue for more – that the invitation is not reserved for a final push upon the weak sensitivities of hungry people, a juicy steak before the famished that disappears before their eyes and they taste it not due to its lameness – indeed, the invitation is always – God pleading with us to be reconciled to Him through faith in the person and work of Jesus Christ.