Vacuuming and the Paradigms of Greek Grammar

What do these two things have in common?  Almost nothing is the quick and easy answer.  I say almost nothing because at an hour and half into my professor’s lecture on Greek Grammar the two collided and for a brief moment were simultaneously swimming about in my mind.  Thus, is their slight commonality.  And to press matters tangentially, the Lord knew the simultaneity of these two rather odd pairings before they entered my brain (so says Psalm 139:2).  Thus, we have another commonality: the amazing and meticulous omniscience of God.  But aside from these two things . . . 

Anyway, there is a point to be had here!  Vacuuming corresponds to a particular evidence of the greater ideal of loving my wife as Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her.  Thus, when the thought of vacuuming came to mind, it was propagated by the greater reality – loving Jenny; and the Word of God attested to it, as well as the Spirit upon my conscience, saying, “Ah, here is a tangible way to practice love for your wife and reflect the Gospel!”  Simple enough – unless, like me, the desires of your flesh are still operative (even while the Spirit in you is infinitely mightier in promoting the things you not only should but want to do as a new creation).  The temptation for me, and in this case it is a genuine temptation, is to put off vacuuming in order to memorize and recite the paradigm for Greek articles.  Now, I (as odd as it sounds) wholeheartedly recommend memorizing Greek articles, and learning Greek grammar, especially if you are going into the pastorate or some other Christian vocation.  Greek is good!  The temptation comes, however, in putting off that which most presses me as a Christian man who has the privilege of being a Christian husband: loving my wife, primarily.  The task is to do both without forsaking that which is primary – the mistake, I confess, I often make.  And mistakes are sins (or at least evidence of the pervasiveness of it; read Leviticus 5:14-6:7 lately?).  

So, fellow seminarians, and fellow Christian brothers: it is always better to love your wife than to devote yourself to hours of study under the guise of godliness – a supposed godliness by which we forsake our utmost privilege and in so doing prove ourselves to be less pious than we thought.  You will be more in line with Christ in forsaking your Greek for your wife than in forsaking your wife for Greek grammar – but if you can vacuum in love and recite Greek grammar simultaneously, well then, God bless you!

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.

Life Entry – “Ode to Jenny”

I can’t help but write about the sweet developments of marriage.  Recently, there has been a “next-level” sort of engagement.  Jenny and I have been in Louisville for just over two months now and the distance from other family members has served to deepen our love for one another.  I believe that it is a true statement in our marriage that we have grown more in love as time has passed, that we loved each other well enough in relationship to the season to be wed, but that it has intensified as the days have gone by for the last 27 and-a-half months such that the measure of that love seems to be but mere puppy love in comparison to the reality of our love for one another right now.  These past two months alone have served in a tremendous way to send our love through a “love warp” of sorts into something completely different than its initial onset.  By different I mean to be understood as implying “better”, much better in fact; indeed, much more dear and sacrificial and true; much more Christ-honoring and gospel-ordered I do believe.  It is this, this Christ-like consideration of one another, of ministering to one another, of looking at her as my main ministry unto Christ, and she unto me as that service of the church unto Christ, this particularity (particular love) seems to be coming to a beautiful fruition, and this moment, although increasingly great, is but the foretaste of what tomorrow holds, and that only a foretaste of the love and splendor of the next day.  For she is exceptional to me – a lover of Christ, of people, both the church and the lost, a diligent worker who by her sheer tirelessness often secures my own increased efforts in study, a wonderful wife, spectacular friend, an invitational hostess, a beautiful woman.  I write with all certainty that God has blessed me among men by giving her unto me, and unto me the task of presenting her back to Him spotless and blameless.  This is the sublime treasury of my marriage, the grace of life.  Accordingly I praise God, the author of every good and perfect gift.

Scripture Entry – “The Preeminent Christ and His Cross”

As I meditated on Colossians 1:15-22 I caught something of the immensity of the Divine irony in this text and I am thankful to God for it.  The slant on this time of meditation was the word “peace” (Colossians 1:20).  This can be both a beautiful word and a word of warning in the Bible.  It is peace with God that the Scriptures speak of so often.  It is beautiful when one has it, that is, peace with God.  It is, however, a word of warning to those who do not know it.  Peace may be had with God, but if one is not at peace with God, then there is nothing left but enmity and a sure judgment of holy wrath.  

What captured my soul was how this peace was attained.  In this I found something of majestic irony.  Notice the Person who accomplishes peace with God; it is none other than the Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God.  But this text seeks to portray Him in an exquisite manner in part to remind us of the cost of this peace.  Paul writes several things of Jesus intended to illicit our praise – “He is the image of the invisible God.”  Moreover, He is “the firstborn of all creation,” yes, and thus what of creation but that “by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities – all things were created through him and for him.”  Yes, indeed, for Him!  As if this isn’t enough majesty Paul continues, “[He] is before all things,” still more, “in him all things hold together.”  What of the church?  “[He] is the head of the body, the church.”  What of eternity? “He is the beginning.”  What of that which is to come? “[He is] the firstborn from the dead,” and to what effect but “that in everything he might be preeminent.”  These treasures being so, what more can we say?  Paul answers with a purpose, “For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell.”  The fullness of the eternal God was happy, elated, delighted, pleased to dwell in Jesus.  This fullness dwelt with a goal in mind, namely, that “[all the fullness of God was pleased] through him to reconcile to himself all things.”  To what expanse?  “Whether on earth or in heaven.”  To which we must bow in adoration.  

Christ Jesus, the King of God (v. 13-14), the invisible God fleshed out (v. 15), the Author of creation through whom all things glorious, all things which in this life captivate our senses, all things in this life which cause us to tremble, and bow, all things He made, and He made them for Himself, such that He is both the beginning and the end goal, Lord and Master, the rightful King of all creation (vv. 15-16).  He sustains all things because He is before all things (v. 17).  He is the glorious King of the church, and He rules its members with justice, grace, and love (v. 18).  He is the Victor over time, and death, He is the undefeated Glory (v. 18).  God the Father was pleased to dwell in Him – oh, what manner of man, then, was He?  He is the agent of reconciliation; Jesus brings sinner to God, and God to sinner when no one else can (v. 19-20).  Marvel, oh church, at Jesus Christ.  Muster up all of the collective praise that we possibly can for a million years and it would fall infinitely short of that which is due Him, of which He is most worthy of.

Oh church, do not miss what follows!  Capture the Divine irony!  How did this great Savior reclaim His own universe?  How did the great Savior make peace with God?  Oh, how the text turns – He is the King, the Lord God, the Author of all creation, the Head of every power, the Source and Binding of all things, the Head of the church, the Beginning, the Firstborn from the dead, the One in whom the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and for what?  Why?  How did He reconcile all things to Himself?  By “making peace by the blood of his cross.”  

Not by human or military force; not by religious violence (on his part); not by the eloquence of his sermons; not by his athleticism, fame, or fortune; not by the state, but by. . . the blood of his cross.  Pause here and ponder it, I pray.  This mighty God, this sinless Savior, the One whom we should know by creation because by Him were we created and yet we did not know Him, but rejected Him, and nailed Him to a tree.  This Savior, this eternal Warrior, this undefeated Champion of Glory made peace “by the blood of his cross.”  It was his cross!  

God incarnate, without sin, spotless, without blemish, perfectly obedient to the Father, perfect keeper of the law of God laid down His life for His sheep, that is, we who are properly called sinners against God, stained, rebellious, evil at heart, holding the nails and the hammer, hocking our saliva in the face of Him who gave it to us, our rough words upon Him who formed us in the womb of our mother.  Yes, Christ bled and died on his cross for sinners, that the ungodly might be declared righteous by God and reconciled to Him and brought into this peace that I now write of.  And it is brilliantly lavished upon us as the children of God through faith in this Jesus.

Sinners need peace with God and they do not have it.  Christ has accomplished it for all who would repent and believe in Him for the forgiveness of sins and the basis of eternal life with God.  You see, our text continues to thwart our efforts at self-righteous piety which is really more unrighteousness and rebellion against the merit of Jesus Christ.  In v. 21 Paul writes that we are or were once “alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds,” and therefore that, “he has now reconciled [this ungodly people] in his body of flesh by his death.”  Peace could not be attained any other way.  God is holy; we are “doing evil deeds.”  Our deeds cannot give us peace with God – perhaps with fallen man, but not with the Righteous God.  Only Him who was always at perfect peace with God because of His perfect sinlessness, can make peace with God for sinners albeit by demonstration of those very sinners (we included) violence.

In this text, Paul means to say, “Look – look at Him, this Savior…who died on his cross, the death of sinners for sinners!”  “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29)  We desperately needed peace with God, and while it is impossible to find it within ourselves, Christ died for the unrighteous, so that through faith in this King, God would impute to us His perfect sinlessness, and on that basis alone we are at peace with God.  “Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ,” Romans 5:1.  

How shall this apply?  

First, by the mention of peace it is implied that peace is necessary with God, and thus that we in our natural state do not have it.  Rather, the converse is true – God’s wrath abides on us still if we have not believed in His only Begotten Son (John 3:16, 36).  We are a people in need of peace with God, but this peace cannot be accomplished by natural or inherent means.  God demands perfect righteousness with Him, the perfect Judge of righteousness.  If we are not in Christ, then we do not have peace with God.  As such the most pertinent question for you, if you be an unbeliever, is how can I be saved from the wrath of God?  And if you be a child of God who has tasted of this peace, then the most pertinent endeavor that we have is to make this peace known.  

Therefore, behold the means of peace once more – the Jesus of Colossians 1:14-19 is the one who made peace by the blood of His cross in v. 20.  This is the greatest of means.  Nothing and no one else could have accomplished this peace with God.  It took the Jesus of Colossians 1:14-19 to accomplish what God demanded for perfect peace.  How short we fall?  Infinitely, I do not hesitate to write!  Ah, but Christ!  This King of kings, this gentle Savior, this mighty Warrior, this Son of God has finished the work!  He cried out from his cross, “It is finished!” (John 19:30).  And, indeed, it is!  Jesus is the captain of peace eternal with God.  

Then, lastly, behold the duty of the church, those who know this peace with God in Christ.  What is this duty but to make the means of peace with God known to our home towns and to the nations.  We must preach Christ and Him crucified and live holistic lives before God and men.  We must be peacemaker’s (Matthew 5:9a), for we are the sons of God in Christ (5:9b).  Shall we lie with ease?  Shall we sit back in laziness?  Shall we live it up?  I write to my shame!  This was not the way of the majestic Savior.  This Jesus of Colossians 1:14-19, to whom all creation should have immediately recognized as Lord and worshipped, did not embrace the life of ease – no, He made peace by the blood of His cross.  And so it must be for His disciples!  I do not mean that we can attain what Christ attained in the way that He attained it, but rather that we deny ourselves in order to hold up this Christ to a world in need of Him, pleading earnestly with them to repent and to trust and embrace the truth as it is in this Jesus.  The blood of the martyrs one thousand years ago and that of the persecuted today suggest that this is the way of making peace with God in Christ known to the world.  In America, it may not be a sword, or a gun, or torture chambers, but rather, a word, a scoff, a heavy sigh, a pressurized job atmosphere, a satanic attack – nevertheless, behold Him who died on His cross to make peace for you with God.  Only by our own crosses will the Gospel of peace press forward to those, who like we before them, are currently at war with Christ.  In other words, if by sacrificial love demonstrated on a torturous cross, this awesome Savior attained peace with God, so by our sacrificial love the peace attained with God by Jesus Christ will be made known.  It is good for us to think upon this irony – the cross is the glory of Him in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge, the glory of Him whose beauty words cannot hardly communicate.  For by His cross, Jesus made peace with God for we who were and are at war with Him.  Let us then put on the shoes of readiness – given to us by the gospel of peace (Ephesians 6:15), that many may be salvaged and made willfully captive to the glory of Jesus Christ, and in Him have wrath averted and peace eternally lavished.  Oh, capture the wonder of this Jesus, Him whose name is “Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6).

Scripture Entry – I Do Not Nullify the Grace of God

“I do not nullify the grace of God, for if justification were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose,” (Galatians 2:21).  This text has grabbed my attention recently.  When I wake up, it is with me; when I lie down, the Lord reminds me of it.  As I think upon an impending position paper on justification by faith, this is the verse that continues to present itself to my soul.  

Paul’s declaration is no doubt a defensive and resonating sentence intended both to rebuke and bring about repentance Godward.  The simple reading is yet profound.  Shall we move away from grace as the source of justification?  Shall we seek another way of right standing with God than by faith alone in Christ and His merit alone?  Then Jesus died for no purpose.  

This is a word for many.  The unbeliever in the world who imagines all manner of means to save himself from what he denies is coming – he would contrive of human means no less.  The unbelieving person steeped in religious tradition in India or Iraq or an unknown land or in our local church choir – his tradition gives him comfort at the prospect of God’s accountability.  Evangelicals who have in these days sought to redefine many things in an attempt to restore “circumcision” as an aspect of saving righteousness – these no doubt have invented many words to cover the brightness of God’s grace.  Luther conjectured the decline of this most precious doctrine and gave many reasons for thinking it would be so.  He was right.

Men seek their own havens, ironically, from Him who is our only Refuge.  Indeed, we need to give a steady attentiveness, and a weighty thought to Paul’s words.  If we seek to add something to the perfect work of Jesus in order to secure salvation, or if we seek to attain a right status with God on the basis of human merit, then, in fact, Christ died for no purpose.  For did not Christ fulfill the law in our place when we could never.  Did not Jesus Christ die, sinless though He was, in our ungodly place as the predestined ground of our justification before God?  God chose one way, and He is Jesus Christ.  Insofar as we move away from His righteousness as the sole basis of our standing before God, there, we move away from God’s provision for salvation, and there is no other way.  Christ is the Way!  

Christ came to redeem us from the law; would we go back to it on a daily basis as our boast before God?  Perhaps then we have not been delivered from it at all!  No, God demands sinlessness from sinners!  It is not possible that we might save ourselves.  Why do we contrive such?  Why do we endeavor such?  All the while grace beckons us by faith to embrace Christ – for faith sees Christ truly, that is, as our perfect Righteousness and Standing before God.  Indeed, if we have been united to Christ, then alone does God declare us justified.

But this verse says much more.  Justification by faith in Jesus Christ is the doctrine that encompasses many treasured truths.  Paul writes that Christ died for no purpose if we deny such gracious justification in and through Christ.  So then, the cross, the blessed atonement is at stake in our denial or embrace.  Our Lord Himself is at stake – indeed, why be born (virgin birth; Incarnation), why live wholly unto God (sinless life), why humble Himself to the tortures of men, to the cross of His passion, to the obedience unto death, to the wrath of God, indeed, unto hell on account of our sin?  And what of God’s plan of salvation?  We say “let us do away with it in favor of our own!”  That certainly sounds in keeping with Adam!  If we live by the law, we shall die by the law, for if in one point we fail in the law, we have transgressed the whole of it, and the God whose holy and infinite character it refers unto.  If we set aside this doctrine, this truth, this glorious reality, then we kill all hope of salvation from God.  All of this is wrapped up in Christ’s death, a death that we say is of no purpose if we reject such a great justification.

How precious is the death of our Lord to us?  If we neglect such a basis of salvation, then we shall cast aside the notion of Christianity altogether – it will not stand; there is no church.  However, Paul says that he does not nullify this grace of God.  What grace?  Justification.  How do we speak of justification?  Through union with Christ (2:20), God declares the ungodly right before Him, forgives us of our sin, and freely sets us at peace with Him who is Holy, granting to us favor, and familial status in His household – all this is owing to the cross of Christ where He dealt with our sin once and for all and was there judged on our account such that by grace through faith in Christ, God rejoices to impute Christ’s perfect righteousness to us, the ungodly.  Amazing grace!  Amazing Savior!  Amazing Gospel!  Jesus saves sinners!  Christ died for a purpose, yes, and was raised and ascended to the right hand of power.  As He is accepted by the Father so our Father accepts us in Him alone.  Yes, Christ died for a purpose – let us rejoice in it as we are in it, and let us take it to the nations – rest from your labors, by faith embrace the sufficient Savior, and there be justified in Him.  Amen.

Life Entry – Infinite Comfort in “Whatsoever Comes To Pass”

It is an infinite sort of comfort to know that God has ordained whatsoever comes to pass.  In these days of transition and uncertainty, both generally and personally, I have found peace in God’s Sovereign will.  Moreover, I have gained much joy from His New Covenant promises purchased for me by my Lord Jesus Christ.  

Time and time again our plans are met with failure.  They do not come to pass as we intended that they should.  We are thus reminded of our finiteness, and our need for a vibrant trust in God.  Where this is not had, where one is not so invested in the Gospel, I do not know how they make it from day to day through the realities of failures, and the destruction of inflexible man-made plans.  Personally, I would dig a hole and live out my life in utter obscurity and nothingness, never planning or doing anything because I had the knowledge that not all things go according to plan – at least humanly speaking.

My wife and I have long sought a home in Louisville, Kentucky.  Every time we seem close to closing something quite drastic happens on the other end to prevent us from doing so.  Our inclination is to complain, or at least to sorrowfully sigh.  Tears have been shed as life appears to stall before us.  This is but a feather-light and momentary trial that does not compare to those far more weighty issues that many people, many Christians face from hour to hour for the sake of Christ.  However, where God has us right now, it is the trouble of the day.

I return to this infinite comfort.  I know that God has ordained whatsoever comes to pass by the testimony of Scripture.  On a practical level this means that if something has not yet come to pass, though I ask and pray and beseech God that it might believing that He will do what accords with His will, then I ought not to be presumptuous about it, saying, “we will do this or that tomorrow and set up shop here or there, etc.”  However, when something does come to pass we may say, “Ah, God has had His hand it; He has brought it to pass; even the evil of sin, He allows and turns for our good and His glory.”  But there is more comfort to be had in this reality.

For the believer, God has made this promise and ratified it in the highest manner.  This promise, and this manner of ratification, we may attach as a qualifier to His Sovereign acts insofar as they pertain to those of the promise, the children of God.  In Jeremiah 32, the Lord says, “I will make with them an everlasting covenant, that I will not turn away from doing good to them.  And I will put the fear of me in their hearts, that they may not turn from me.  I will rejoice in doing them good, and I will plant them in this land in faithfulness, with all my heart and all my soul,” (40-41).  I have found it to be an amazing thing that God is not impersonal or neutral in this promise – notice, God “will rejoice” in doing us “good,” and He will do this with all of His heart and His soul.  Moreover, He has ratified this at the highest cost to Himself.  This is the measure of His dealings with the Church, that “He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?” which is another way of saying, “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose,” (Rom 8:32, 28 respectfully).

In other words, the whole of God’s dealings with us to do us good – even in the midst of what we call trial or things that we dimly perceive as life struggles – is founded upon the infinite majesty of His faithfulness and the blood of His Beloved Son, our Lord Jesus Christ.  Whatever comes to pass involves this omnipotently grounded promise of God to His children, such that we know that in all things God is working for our good in that ultimate sense of glory.  This is the promise and Christ is the basis.  There is nothing more sure in all creation than this covenant, than God’s dealings with His people.

And what is our response?  Certainly it is not an arbitrary or inauthentic, almost insincere joy, as if we ought to “act” one way outwardly because we sort of think that we are a people of promise, while inwardly we are cursing the day we were born.  May it never be!  This insincerity we already have in abundance in modern evangelicalism.  No, God “rejoices” to do us good.  Think upon this reality – God…rejoices…to do us good…at the cost of Jesus Christ.  If we can stare into the daily refinery of suffering and trial, believing that God – in the midst of it – is rejoicing to do us good in and through it, and that this intention is omnipotently purchased and guaranteed by Christ’s love, should we not, with that measure of resolute faith in the promise, really, inwardly and outwardly rejoice in whatsoever comes to pass, that in that will we are drawing closer to Christ, closer to eternal bliss with God.  Ought we not to become bold, courageous, fierce with the Gospel of Christ in all things if we embrace with solidarity this covenant truth.  Let us therefore imitate Christ who submitted, “Abba, Father, all things are possible for you.  Remove this cup from me.  Yet not what I will, but what you will,” and after that will had been accomplished, looking outwardly horrific and hopeless, the Spirit writes, “this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men,” but, “God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death,” and thereby sinners may be reconciled to God through faith in Christ and His merit on our unworthy behalf.  So God is working with joy to do us good in Christ and in all things to bring us to glory.  Let us then rejoice in these awesome realities purchased for us by our Lord Jesus Christ, taking comfort in whatsoever God has ordained should come to pass in our lives, knowing with absolute confidence that God’s goal is our ultimate good in everything and that this goal is being carried out with Sovereign omnipotence in view of Jesus Christ.

A Life Entry on Idolatry and the God of Romans

This is an assessment of the response that I was hearing following dear Dr. David Platt’s sermon wherein he quoted the first eight chapters of Romans.  Hopefully, it applies to what we call a life entry.

I admit enjoyment in his quotation, and find in it an admirable quality.  There is no doubt that the grace of God is blowing feverishly upon that young man.  Moreover, there is no doubt that he did not intend the kind of response that I was hearing as a part of the background noise preceding class soon after.  This is – after all – the danger of such a display of grace.  Humanity is inclined to honor the man rather than the God who called him, converted him, made him usable, sanctifies him for His glory, and works through him so that the Scriptures properly teach us, “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure,” and again, “For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me,” (Philippians 2:12-13; Colossians 1:29; cf. 1 Corinthians 15:10).

Therefore, when I heard murmurings about the greatness of the man instead of the greatness of Romans 1-9:5, I became grieved in heart.  If we can hear Romans read or quoted to us, or if we can sit down with this pure Gospel itself and read it straight through, and glory in the messenger more than Romans 1:16, 17, or 18, or 3:21-26, or 5:1, 6-11, or 6:4, or 7:24-25, or 8:1-4, and 28-39, and more than this, in the God of Romans, then I say we have terribly missed the mark; we have sinned; we have then committed idolatry; we have shown forth our Romans 1:18-32 tendencies, and I no less than anybody else.

I am thankful to God for Dr. David Platt, just as I am thankful to God for John Piper and Al Mohler, John MacArthur and John Owen, Charles Spurgeon and Jonathan Edwards; and I’m just as thankful for Eric Schaefer, Patrick Harmon, David Lyles, Bryan Barley, Joe Keune, and Daniel Moore, my friends who constantly sharpen me.  But I am infinitely more thankful that I know the God of Romans through faith in Jesus Christ, and that He has made Himself known to me, the wretch.  I am infinitely more excited about knowing and enjoying God – oh, His glorious benefits, promises, and words I do love and long for, but these are but the infinite rays streaming from the Eternal Son.  Christ is preeminently beautiful.  God help me to always honor Him, while thanking You for faithful brothers and sisters in Christ.