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Posts Tagged ‘The Gospel’

Do you ever wonder what people think about you? If they like you, or dislike you? If they’re mad at you, or happy with you? And sometimes we don’t have an indicator about these things and we are left uncertain and uneasy. If only we had a glimpse, maybe a smile, or a laugh. Or even better, a pleasant word.

Often times I can remember wondering what God really thought about me. Was he pleased with me? What would he say if I got a chance to talk to him? Oh, if only I could get some reassurance that he wasn’t upset with me, that I was doing okay, that he still approved of me.

I can also remember vividly thinking of how lucky the disciples were for this reason. They got to walk and talk with God every day. They could’ve asked him anything they wanted. If there was ever a pressing issue on their minds or a decision they needed to make, the Lord of the universe was at hand saying things like, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest” (Mat. 11:28). Sometimes I would wonder, Did those disciples have any idea how lucky they were?

Another character in the Bible is Jacob. He actually got to talk with God face to face — more than that, he even wrestled with God! That’s when Jacob said to the Lord, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.” And we can read in the account that the Lord then gave Jacob a new name and blessed him. What is interesting is how Jacob responds after this. We read, “So Jacob called the place Peniel, saying, “It is because I saw God face to face, and yet my life was spared” (Gen. 32:20).

Can you imagine? Getting to talk to God (let alone wrestle him) and then walking away thinking, “Not only did he not destroy me, he even blessed me! God just blessed me! That means he’s not mad at me. The greatest person in all the world, whose opinion about me means more than anything, just smiled upon me and declared his favor toward me. That means I’m not going to die. That means I’m going to live!” Although we can only tell a little from the narrative, it seems fair to assume that Jacob must have been beside himself with joy.

Luther comments on this passage,

Jacob was comforted by showers of blessings from God. he also received the benefits of the blessings that were given to his father, Isaac, and grandfather, Abraham. Nevertheless, he struggled with his weaknesses. You should say to yourself, “I am not alone when I’m afraid of God’s anger, when I wonder if God has chosen me, and when I worry about losing my faith. I am not alone!” All believers–every believer past and present who has ever believed in God’s son–experiences the same struggle. God uses these experiences to refine us. Eventually, like Jacob, you’ll be able to stand up and joyfully proclaim, “I saw God face to face, and yet my life was spared.”

Unlike Jacob, we don’t get to talk face to face with our Lord, let a lone wrestle with him. No, we’re left far away with seemingly so little to go on.

Wait a minute. Are we? When we hear God speak to us in his word; when we read of his promise of forgiveness and life everlasting; are we really left so alone and in the dark? When we hear the declaration of pardon every Lord’s day; when we see our baby brothers and sisters receiving the sign and seal of the covenant in baptism; when we taste the bread and wine in the Lord’s Supper; do we really have so little to go on? When we hear Christ’s words,

“The LORD bless you and keep you;
the LORD make his face shine on you
and be gracious to you;
the LORD turn his face toward you
and give you peace.”’

Are we really left with so little to go on? Oh, my friends, I think not. For all of these are Christ’s word to us. He has given us a new name and blessed us. Here, we are at a better place than even the disciples. For they could talk to Christ when he was on Earth. But he didn’t disclose nor explain everything to them. For he said it would be too much for them. They had to wait for the Holy Spirit to come. And Jacob, he may have been beside himself that the Angel of the Lord did not destroy him, but oh how we have even a greater word, a clearer promise, and the surest blessings as he ever received — eternal blessings in the heavenly realms, where we are seated presently with Jesus Christ.

What does that mean? Well, that means God is not mad at us! That means we’re going to live. That means we’re going to live forever!

Brothers and sisters, if you hear the word of Christ, his promise of eternal life, the forgiveness of your sins, and everlasting righteousness; If you have believed that word, if you are trusting only on that promise to save you, a poor miserable sinner, and you are not banking on any of your merit, works, or righteousness; then you can be comforted and assured that God is not mad at you. Instead of God coming face to face and seeing your ugly sins, he comes face to face and sees Christ’s beautiful obedience. Just like Esther who was robed in royal gowns so that her King found her pleasing in his eyes and adored her, so we also have found favor in God’s sight because of the righteous robes of Christ.

We don’t have to wonder what God thinks of us. We don’t have to worry whether he is mad, or upset with us. We know beyond a shadow of a doubt that he is well pleased with his son Jesus. And we are in his son. Thus we, too, are safe.

Yes, we can be sure that God smiles upon us. He has given us his word.

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How does the kingdom of God actually come to us? How does it advance in the world? This is an important question, I think. And it raises the following questions as well: Can we see signs of the kingdom’s coming? Ought we to look for them?  Will they come through the news headlines?

In Scripture we are told to pray, “Your kingdom come, your will be done.” But can we have any evidence, any tangible sign, of God’s kingdom actually advancing in the world? Can we even have a small glimpse of its coming? If so, where are we to look?

Michael Horton offers ever-helpful insight into how we should understand and anticipate the coming kingdom of God and its advancement in this presently dark and evil age. In the latest edition of Modern Reformation, Horton writes:

The manner in which the demons respond to Jesus shows his authority over them, but it is not just a raw power: it is his coming in his kingdom of grace and forgiveness that they fear most. Satan and his emissaries are busiest not with plotting wars and oppression–these are symptoms of the sinful condition that human beings are capable of generating on their own. However, Satan knows that if the Messiah fulfills his mission, the curse is lifted, his head is crushed, and his kingdom is toppled.

All of Satan’s forces are deployed in this last battle for “all authority in heaven and on earth.” all of Jesus’ miracles are pointers to this saving announcement; they are not ends in themselves. The kingdom comes with words and deeds. In the miracles, it is said that Satan has bound these people. Christ is breaking into Satan’s territory, setting history toward a different goal, bound to his own rather than to demonic powers. This is why Paul’s call to spiritual battle in Ephesians 6 identifies the gospel, faith, the Word, and Christ’s righteousness as the armor and weapons. Satan’s energies are now directed against the church and its witness to Christ. The devil knows his house is being looted and his prisons are being emptied as the gospel is taken to the ends of the earth.

So then, the Kingdom of God advances with the very proclamation of the gospel into all the world.  Where the word of forgiveness and grace is uttered, by the power of the Holy Spirit, souls bound by sin are freed and Christ’s kingdom is established.  It isn’t through pomp and circumstance that we observe the battlefield change, but rather with these foolish words: “Your sins are forgiven… Your faith has saved you, go in peace.”

Broken sinners leap for joy at these words while all hell’s angels flee in terror. And they must flee because in these words is announced the demise of their master. Christ has crushed the serpent’s head and the gospel merely announces this reality so that the whole world  can hear of it. And we who hear these words rejoice that Christ our saviour and king is the victor and that our blessed inheritance in his eternal kingdom is now a most certain and glorious reality.

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Before commissioning the church with the task of evangelism (making disciples, baptizing, and teaching), Christ first gave these interesting (and assuring) words:  “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me” (Mat. 28.18b).  John Calvin comments quite helpfully:

Before relating that the office of teaching was committed to the disciples, Matthew says that Christ began by speaking of his power; and not without reason. For no ordinary authority would here have been enough, but sovereign and truly divine government ought to be possessed by him who commands them to promise eternal life in his [name] to reduce the whole world under his sway, and to publish a doctrine which subdues all pride, and lays prostrate the whole of the human race. And by this preface Christ not only encouraged the Apostles to full confidence in the discharge of their office, but confirmed the faith of his gospel in all ages. Never, certainly, would the Apostles have had sufficient confidence to undertake so arduous an office, if they had not known that their Protector sitteth in heaven, and that the highest authority is given to him; for without such a support it would have been impossible for them to make any progress. But when they learn that he to whom they owe their services is the Governor of heaven and earth, this alone was abundantly sufficient for preparing them to rise superior to all opposition. As regards the hearers, if the contemptible appearance of those who preach the gospel weakens or retards their faith, let them learn to raise their eyes to the Master himself, by whose power the majesty of the Gospel ought to be estimated, and then they will not venture to despise him when speaking by his ministers. – Calvin’s Commentaries: Harmony of the Evangelists.

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How important is the concept of the justice of God? Is it possible we emphasize it too much in Reformed circles? What about the relational of filial aspects of God’s character?  Don’t those come to bare against a strict legal/justice understanding of the way God relates to his children?

Of course, all these questions operate under the assumption that God’s justice is somehow at odds with his relational dealings with man. It construct a false dichotomy which is neither right nor safe.  But perhaps one of the most powerful ways to avoid this false-dicotomy is to realize the beauty in Christ’s fulfillment of God’s justice.  Charles Hodge, that great Princeton Theologian, speaks of this glorious truth:

This is the corner-stone, and the whole fabric falls into ruin if that stone be removed. That God cannot pardon sin without a satisfaction to justice, and that He cannot have fellowship with the unholy, are the two great truths which are revealed in the constitution of our nature as well as in the Scriptures, and which are recognized in all forms of religion, human or divine. It is because the demands of justice are met by the work of Christ, that his gospel is the power of God unto salvation, and that it is so unspeakably precious to whose whom the Spirit of God have convinced of sin. – Hodge, Systematic Theology, 2:492, cited in The Law is Not of Faith, p. 64.

That this justice is “revealed in the constitution of our nature” is an outstanding statement and a most penetrating observation. It is only then, when the law of God (written on our consciences and in Scripture) comes to bear with its mighty weight upon our souls through the convicting power of the Holy Sprit, that the beauty of God’s justice fulfilled on our behalf breaks upon us. It is only then that the concept of justification begins to mean something to us. It is only then that we are awakened to the beauty of Christ’s suffering upon the cross and no longer want to put confidence in the flesh. It is only then that we can truly worship and glory in Christ.

Accordingly, the chief design of Christ’s satisfaction “is neither to make a moral impression upon the offenders themselves, nor to operate didactically on other intelligent creatures, but to satisfy the demands of justice; so that God can be just in justifying the ungodly.” – D.G. Hart, quoting Charles Hodge, in The Law is Not of Faith, p. 64.

Do we need the concept of God’s justice? Why yes we do. It is absolutely good, true, and beautiful.

And this is why we must boldly preach both the law and the gospel.

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Reposted from an earlier entry. Here is an excerpt from a Ligonier interview with Michael Horton discussing the theology of N.T. Wright.

[Q] Considering Bishop N.T. Wright’s doctrine of justification, do you believe he is teaching another gospel?

[A] J.I. Packer has a great line: Tom Wright foregrounds what the Bible backgrounds, and backgrounds what the Bible foregrounds–but Wright does more than that; he denies a crucial component of justification, namely imputation. So, in answer to your question, yes–in denying imputation, Wright is preaching another gospel.

There’s a kind of fundamentalist approach to Scripture that Tom Wright seems to want to confront. And while he does a wonderful job of highlighting the fact that justification in Paul’s writings is understood within a broader redemptive-historical framework, something not all presentations and defenses of justification do, he is not confronting historic Reformed theology. Reformed theology always has understood justification within a broader redemptive-historical framework. If he were to read the Reformers and more recent Reformed writers, such as Geerhardus Vos and Herman Ridderbos, he would clearly see that justification is placed in its proper context with the believer’s union with Christ and within the whole history of redemption. Reformed writers speak of Paul’s treatment of justification being inseparable from the inclusion of the Gentiles. Then, when you read Tom Wright he makes it seem as if he’s the first person who saw these emphases of Paul, and that everyone else before him sort of taught the four spiritual laws. It’s an incredibly naïve view.

I know Tom Wright–not well, but we had a few conversations in my Oxford days; we’ve gone back and forth about these issues, and he simply doesn’t know historical theology. He’ll actually admit that when you catch him at a few points; he’ll say something along the lines of “well this really isn’t my area of expertise.” Well, if your thesis is that the Reformation fundamentally misunderstood Paul, it better be your area of expertise to at least know what the Reformers said–and he doesn’t. So, Wright creates a straw man. And the people who are swayed by him, who are enamored of him, are also in many cases ignorant of what the Reformers actually taught, what Reformed theology has taught on these matters. And let me offer an impassioned plea to folks: There are Reformed presentations of the doctrine of justification that include some of the very salient points that Tom Wright has raised and incorporated, without denying the very crucial component of imputation as Tom Wright does. Without imputation, justification isn’t good news. When he says that the Gospel is “Jesus is Lord,” I reply, there are many passages that tell me “Jesus is Lord” isn’t good news. There are many passages that tell me “Jesus is Lord” means to a whole lot of people “the great Avenger on the white horse with a sword in His hand, bringing the last judgment.” “Jesus is Lord” means that He will be your judge. On Mars Hill in Athens, Paul said there is a judgment coming, a last judgment coming, and God has given proof of this to everyone by raising Jesus from the dead. So Jesus is Lord is not necessarily good news. Only when God assures me that I am in Christ by grace alone through faith alone and kept by grace is the announcement “Jesus is Lord” good news rather than the worst possible news.

– Michael Scott Horton, December 2009

Taken from Ligonier, here.

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As J. V. Fesko points out, understanding our “theology (proper) as it is realized in Christology, […] has a world of implications for our soteriology, especially the doctrine of justification.”

There are some who would argue that the concept of justification is just a metaphor. And since metaphors are merely meant to tell us something about how God relates to us, they are contextual and don’t necessarily signify an actual reality. And since justification is likewise a metaphor (they say), it is not essential nor necessary to our understanding of salvation and may be readily interchangeable with other metaphors — say theosis.

Fesko takes this idea to task in his book, Justification: Understanding the Classic Reformed Doctrine:

Scholars have long noted that Christ’s resurrection was his justification. Geerhardus Vos explains that “Christ’s resurrection was the de facto declaration of God in regard to his being just. His quickening bears in itself the testimony of his justification.” There is nothing metaphorical about the resurrection of Christ. It was an event that occurred on the plane of history and is a prophetic declaration of the church’s own resurrection on the final day. As Multmann observes, “The raised body of Christ therefore acts as an embodied promise for the whole creation. It is the prototype of the glorified body.”

Because soteriology, and more specifically justification, is inextricably bound with Christology in the concrete reality of the incarnation, one cannot make the claim that justification is but one metaphor among many other legitimate images of redemption. One can easily see the problems with construing justification as a metaphor when it is compared with its theological antonym, condemnation.

There was nothing metaphorical about Christ’s condemnation by the Pharisees and his subsequent justification by his resurrection. Likewise, there is nothing metaphorical about the condemnation that lies over the unbeliever. For the one who places his faith in Christ and is justified, the condemnation is removed–he is transferred from the kingdom of Satan to the kingdom of Christ, and therefore Paul can say, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 8:1). Or, glossed in parallel fashion, “There is therefore now justification for those who are in Christ Jesus.”

Prior to the believer’s justification, he is at enmity with God; after his justification, he is at peace with God (Rom. 5:1). If atonement and justification are merely metaphors that compete with other images such as union with Christ, then one must come to the conclusion that sin is also a metaphor: propitiation is God’s metaphorical way of dealing with a metaphorical problem. The glaring problems is, of course, that sin and death are not metaphorical, and neither is the wrath of God, which Christ placates by his crucifixion, which is a propitiation. To place justification, or any other element of the ordo salutis for that matter, into the category of the metaphor does violence to the message of Scripture and destroys the gospel. – Fesko, J. V., Justification: Understanding the Classic Reformed Doctrine, (P&R Publishing, 2008), pp. 64-66.

Oh man!

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Calvin’s Institutes 3.2.29
GOD’S PROMISE THE SUPPORT OF FAITH
We make the freely given promise of God the foundation of faith because upon it faith properly rests. Faith is certain that God is true in all things whether he command or forbid, whether he promise or threaten; and it also obediently receives his commandments, observes his prohibitions, heeds his threats. Nevertheless, faith properly begins with the promise, rests init, and ends in it. For in God faith seeks life: a life that is not found in commandments or declarations of penalties, but in the promise of mercy,and only in a freely given promise. For a conditional promise that sends us back to our own works does not promise life unless we discern its presence in ourselves. Therefore, if we would not have our faith tremble and waver, we must buttress it with the promise of salvation, which is willingly and freely offered to us by the Lord in consideration of our misery rather than our deserts. The apostle, therefore, bears this witness to the gospel: that it is the word of faith [Romans 10:8]. He distinguishes the gospel both from the precepts of the law and from the promises, since there is nothing that can establish faith except that generous embassy by which God reconciles the world to himself [cf. 2 Corinthians 5:19-20]. Thence, also, arises that frequent correlation of faith and gospel in the apostle, when he teaches that the ministry of the gospel is committed to him to further “obedience to thefaith” [Romans 1:5], that “it is the power of God for salvation to every believer;…in it the righteousness of God is revealed through faith forfaith” [Romans 1:16-17]. And no wonder! Indeed, since the gospel is the “ministry of reconciliation” [2 Corinthians 5:18], no other sufficiently firm testimony of God’s benevolence to us exists, the knowledge of which faith seeks.

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