Wednesday, November 20, 2013

On Bashing the Middle Ages...

For those who still stick to the old paradigm that humanism of the Renaissance and Enlightenment brought the light of reason upon the so-called "Dark Ages" consider:

"Reassessment of medieval thought and culture have clearly indicated that humanism was not only a product of the the intellectual culture of the Middle Ages, but also that it arose, not only as a successor to scholasticism, but as a parallel development in the university faculties of the thirteenth century." 

Richard Muller Calvin and the Reformed Tradition p.20

Thursday, October 17, 2013

The Wardrobe of Grace

"All spiritual good things are purchased by the blood of Christ for them; as Justification, which comprises remission of sins and acceptance of our persons by God: Rom. 3:24 "Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ." Sanctification is also purchased for them; yea both initial and progressive sanctification: for of "God, he is made unto us not only wisdom and righteousness but sanctification also, 1 Cor. 1:30. These two, viz. our justification and our sanctification, are two of the most rich and shining robes in the wardrobes of free grace. How glorious and lovely do they render the soul that wears them!" --John Flavel vol 2, p.192.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Tweet of the Week -10/12/13

This week's Tweet of the Week goes to Burk Parsons:

"Reformed theology humbles a man without degrading him and exalts a man without inflating him. HT: Charles Hodge" --@BurkParsons.

Indeed. Because in Reformed theology glorifies in God alone when it comes to salvation, man is left to boast only in God. One of my favorite Jonathan Edwards' sermons (God Glorified in the Work of Redemption) brings this out.

But Reformed theology also exalts man because human beings have value. They are created in God's image. What is more, Reformed theology is structured around the covenant and the 1st Adam/2nd Adam theology we find in Paul and the Bible. So man is the apex of God's creation and is given the inheritance of the New Heavens and the New Earth.

All this beautifully captured in a short tweet.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

There is Always a Free Offer of the Gospel

Q. Is the gift of salvation a perpetual offering to those who continue to reject and revile it?

1. I wholeheartedly believe in the free offer of the gospel. When the preacher proclaims the gospel, he should make clear that if anyone believes they will be saved.

2. Everybody has the gospel veiled to them (1) by virtue of their own heart and (2) by virtue of the god of this age blinding people's heart in unbelief. The gospel is always foolish to those who are perishing. It is the power of the gospel that causes people to see and believe. God breaths new life. The preacher should continually offer and plead to the listeners, if God is pleased, he will open hearts and they will receive and believe. But the offer can always be made.

3. Two passages that might be worth considering here are (1) 2 Thes. 2:11, the questions would be what is the delusion, and when does it happen? Hebrews 6:4-6. The questions are what is the nature of the impossibility? I tend to think that it relates to rejecting the New Covenant. I think it means if you fall away from Jesus and his Covenant you have no other options for repentance whereas Old Testament Israel breaking the Old Covenant was promised the New Covenant to deal with her apostasy. But I'm not going to tease this out in a short blog post. These passages do not negate the free offer of the gospel in preaching.

My point is: the offer never changes [at least until Christ returns or the person dies], especially in the preaching of the word. It is a dangerous thing for the preacher to think he can discern when the heart is beyond coming to repentant faith. It can lead to arrogant failures to proclaim and share the gospels. Who are we as human beings to dictate when God cannot work? Indeed, the whole point of the gospel is that it is the power of God and we were all dead in our heart and unable to come, but God opened our eyes to see the light of the glory of the gospel in the face of Christ and without fail we, because of God's power and will, responded and trusted Christ.

Keep making the offer, who knows what the Holy Spirit is doing in people's heart.

What about reprobation, specifically in Romans 1:28ff?

Being given over to a reprobate mind is the description of every sinner. Consider the list of sins in Romans 1:28ff. This description of sinners both Jew and Gentile continues in Romans 3:9-18. In fact the mind set on the flesh (e.g. reprobate) cannot submit to God's law, and cannot please God (Romans 8:7-8). So the reprobate mind is blinded in unbelief with a veil over their heart but God causes light to shine in their heart 2 Cor. 4:6. Also 1 Cor. 6:9-11 describes people who were living in sin/reprobation as being washed, sanctified and justified. 

The person with the reprobate mind can be tracked from Romans 1:26 all the way back to Romans 1:18 where God's wrath is against all the ungodliness and wickedness of men.

One passage to consider is the warning that hearers of God's Word do not harden their hearts Heb. 3:7-19. There are strong warnings, serious warnings--but nothing in the passage does not say that they come to a point where there is no more public outward offering of the Word in public preaching.

Don't we do people a disservice when we let people think they are accepting Christ on their own terms?

We are not calling people to "cast a vote for Jesus" or "come on their terms" we are calling people to come before the Lord and trust Him. We are calling people to believe and repent. Even the idea of 'receiving Christ' or 'accepting Christ' while totally Biblical does not mean adding Christ to your life like you might add potatoes on a buffet line to your plate because it's convenient. The Christian submits and humbles himself to the Lordship of Christ. They are saved only by trusting Christ but out of that trust comes a new allegiance and new affections.

With the rich young ruler, we need to be careful about arguments from silence. Absence of evidence is not evidence to the contrary. But lets suppose he never was given another opportunity because he never encountered another preacher of the gospel. God never promises that we will constantly always encounter lost of preacher. A person may never hear the gospel preached, they may hear only one time, or they may hear multiple times--but these doesn't negate the free offer.

Had the rich young ruler encounter another preacher there is nothing that stops the cry of preaching from being: "Trust Christ." The offer always stands. The promise always stands: if you trust Christ, you will be saved.

What is your qualification for accepting Christ?

Consider one more thing everyone: what is your qualification for hearing Christ? What qualifies you to hear Christ's message? Nothing but your need is your qualification. The only thing you come to God with is great desperation. This is the Biblical argument, this is expounded in E.J. Fischer's classic: The Marrow of Modern Divinity, with Thomas Boston's notes.

If your great need is your only qualification or precondition in coming to Christ--then what can disqualify you? Nothing! Your heart is desperately wicked and dead in sin. The call is: "trust Christ! Flee to Christ! Believe and repent to Christ." You never disqualify yourself because you never qualified yourself in the first place: you only ever have and will have your great need of the Savior.

You never reach a point where the gift of salvation is not offered to you. The promise is come and find peace. Believe and receive salvation. You cannot disqualify yourself from a free gift because you have no qualifications for the gift in the first place. God's promise stands until death or Christ's return: if you trust Christ you will be saved.

Of course I'm not calling on people to test God or harden their heart. But in the preaching of the gospel: the free offer of salvation always stands to each and every sinner.

My thoughts on Calvinism and Arminianism.

There can be a lot of caricatures, especially of Calvinism. And of course, people think Calvinism isn't Biblical or it makes God harsh and unloving, but it is unfortunate that this portrait of Calvinism continues today, especially on the internet.

I'll be a little bold and just lay out an obvious irony here: it is the true Calvinist who will vigorously defending the free offer of the gospel here. [I'm not saying Armininians wouldn't]

In my opinion, this is also why the doctrines of grace are so important--and all this on the free offer is totally consistent within Calvinism. In fact, I'll just drop a bomb, stir up the hornet's nest, and say it: the Calvinist and only the Calvinist can be the most consistent in this defense because we believe in total depravity--in their depravity every person without the Spirit and in their natural state is "UNABLE to understand" the things of God's Spirit (2 Cor. 2:14). Total depravity is the reason the free offer is for all and equal to all--going out indiscriminately.

It is the sovereignty of God who hardens and calls not on the basis of anything inside the person (Romans 9), that can lead Paul to his passionate plea for preaching in Romans 10. 'How can they believe if they've never heard? How will they hear unless they are sent? ...Faith comes through hearing and hearing through the Word of Christ.'

The free offer is made in preaching and in the outward proclamation God sees fit to call people inwardly. No heart is outside the ability of God to regenerate and effectively call. The free offer is for everyone no matter how they reject and revile because the 'word of the cross' is always foolishness to those who are perishing.

God Bless. Soli Deo Gloria.

I tweet at @tim_bertolet and welcome followers.
This blog post was cross posted at Christians in Context.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Ministers are to Seek Souls

Christ’s ministers must take all occasions of doing good to others, in regard of the work which they are about—which is saving of souls. What a precious thing is a soul! Christ takes, as it were, a pair of scales in his hands and he puts the world in one scale and the soul in the other—and the soul outweighs! (Matthew 16:26). The soul is of a noble origin. It is a flower of eternity; here, in the bud; in heaven, fully ripe. The soul is one of the richest pieces of embroidery which God ever made—the understanding bespangled with light, the will invested with liberty, the affections like musical instruments tuned with the finger of the Holy Spirit. Now if the souls of men are of so noble an extract and made capable of glory, oh how zealously industrious should Christ’s ministers be to save these souls! If Christ spent his blood for souls, well may we spend our sweat! It was Augustine’s prayer that Christ might find him at his coming—either praying or preaching. What a sad sight is it to see precious souls, as so many pearls and diamonds—cast into the dead sea of hell!

Thomas Watson, The Beatitudes

HT: Aaron Armstrong

Blog Update

New things! Visit the blog if you haven't been their recently or subscribe in an RSS. I've updated the look a bit. The sidebar is stream lined and uncluttered.

So along with my own new look of a beard (see also my updated profile picture), my blog also has a new look. It's a simple blogger template with the backdrop of J.J. Abrams' movies Enterprise in warp. Hopefully the font and style are easy to read.

I'm starting to write again Lord willing. Up until a week ago, I had only two posts for the year and had slowed down considerably at the end of August 2012 (maybe even before that). Things were happening in life that I won't go into right now. I feel like I again have some mental energy to blog a little again and hope to become more active here. At least that's the plan for now.

If you subscribe to the RSS, I'd invite you to pass along good posts. Feel free to tweet, FB and G+ them. I cautiously think I'd enjoy a little more traffic around here. (Although maybe that is selfish and comes with downsides).

Also if you have a good system of following blogs, I'd love to have a recommendation because I was using iGoogle but that is shutting down with the google reader. 

If you're a reader, I'd love to connect with you via Twitter. Send me a tweet. @tim_bertolet
Add me in a Google+ circle... or whatever.

Hoping to have some theology and Biblical studies posts in the future.
Also, I'm considering putting up some short notes from my sermon preps or previous sermons.

Looking forward to the rest of 2013 and into 2014, Lord willing.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Let us Exalt God Alone

 Let us be exhorted to exalt God alone, and ascribe to him all the glory of redemption. Let us endeavour to obtain, and increase in, a sensibleness of our great dependence on God, to have our eye to him alone, to mortify a self-dependent and self-righteous disposition. Man is naturally exceeding prone to exalt himself, and depend on his own power or goodness; as though from himself he must expect happiness. He is prone to have respect to enjoyments alien from God and his Spirit, as those in which happiness is to be found.-- But this doctrine should teach us to exalt God alone; as by trust and reliance, so by praise. Let him that glorieth, glory in the Lord. Hath any man hope that he is converted, and sanctified, and that his mind is endowed with true excellency and spiritual beauty? that his sins are forgiven, and he received into God's favour, and exalted to the honour and blessedness of being his child, and an heir of eternal life? let him give God all the glory; who alone makes him to differ from the worst of men in this world, or the most miserable of the damned in hell. Hath any man much comfort and strong hope of eternal life, let not his hope lift him up, but dispose him the more to abase himself, to reflect on his own exceeding unworthiness of such a favour, and to exalt God alone. Is any man eminent in holiness, and abundant in good works, let him take nothing of the glory of it to himself, but ascribe it to him whose "workmanship we are, created in Christ Jesus unto good works."

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Happy Birthday Jonathan Edwards!

Today is Jonathan Edwards birthday. In celebration of Jonathan Edwards, I am going to invite you to read my two favorite Edwards' sermons.

I am not an expert on Edwards, but I have read a few of his sermons. Of course everyone is most familiar at least with the name of "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God". Sadly many people think that this is the summation of Edwards' preaching--hell fire and brimestone. But Edwards preached this doctrine (1) because it was in Scripture and (2) Edwards was concerned with the glory of God and exalting God.

My two favorite sermons of Edwards are his "The Excellency of Christ" which he preached from the text Rev. 5:5-6. This is not only a wonderful reflection on Christology but also leads the heart to worship. Edwards compares how Christ is both the most high being over all (by virtue of being God) but also how he is the most lowly of all (by virtue of being the Lamb).

You can read the sermon here.

A quote to wet your appetite:
In Christ do meet together self-sufficiency, and an entire trust and reliance on God, which is another conjunction peculiar to the person of Christ. As he is a divine person, he is self-sufficient, standing in need of nothing. All creatures are dependent on him, but he is dependent on none, but is absolutely independent. His proceeding from the Father, in his eternal generation, argues no proper dependence on the will of the Father; for that proceeding was natural and necessary, and not arbitrary.But yet Christ entirely trusted in God: -- his enemies say that of him, "He trusted in God that he would deliver him," Matt. 27:43. And the apostle testifies, I Pet. 2:23. "That he committed himself God."

He also offers exhortation to accept Christ. He has words to the weak and distressed soul. I'd encourage you to read this sermon.

My other favorite sermon is his GOD GLORIFIED IN THE WORK OF REDEMPTION, BY THE GREATNESS OF MAN'S DEPENDENCE UPON HIM IN THE WHOLE OF IT. Quite the long title but it is often shorted just to "God Glorified in Man's Dependance."

This sermon is preached on 1 Corinthians 1:29-31. He moves from a Calvinist soteriology where God does all the work, to argue that the Christian can only ever boast wholly in the Lord. It is extremely practical--and Christian today need to be exhorted to boast only in the Lord.

You can read the sermon here.

" The redeemed have all their inherent good in God. Inherent good is twofold; it is either excellency or pleasure. These the redeemed not only derive from God, as caused by him, but have them in him. They have spiritual excellency and joy by a kind of participation of God. They are made excellent by a communication of God's excellency. God puts his own beauty, i.e. his beautiful likeness, upon their souls. They are made partakers of the divine nature, or moral image of God, 2 Pet. 1:4. They are holy by being made partakers of God's holiness. Heb. 12:10. The saints are beautiful and blessed by a communication of God's holiness and joy, as the moon and planets are bright by the sun's light. The saint hath spiritual joy and pleasure by a kind of effusion of God on the soul. In these things the redeemed have communion with God; that is, they partake with him and of him."

"Hence those doctrines and schemes of divinity that are in any respect opposite to such an absolute and universal dependence on God, derogate from his glory, and thwart the design of our redemption. And such are those schemes that put the creature in God's stead, in any of the mentioned respects, that exalt man into the place of either Father, Son, or Holy Ghost, in any thing pertaining to our redemption. However they may allow of a dependence of the redeemed on God, yet they deny a dependence that is so absolute and universal. They own an entire dependence of God for some things, but not for others; they own that we depend on God for the gift and acceptance of a Redeemer, but deny so absolute a dependence on him for the obtaining of an interest in the Redeemer. They own an absolute dependence on the Father for giving his Son, and on the Son for working out redemption, but not so entire a dependence on the Holy Ghost for conversion, and a being in Christ, and so coming to a title to his benefits. They own a dependence on God for means of grace, but not absolutely for the benefit and success of those means; a partial dependence on the power of God, for obtaining and exercising holiness, but not a mere dependence on the arbitrary and sovereign grace of God. They own a dependence on the free grace of God for a reception into his favour, so far that it is without any proper merit, but not as it is without being attracted, or moved with any excellency. They own a partial dependence on Christ, as he through whom we have life, as having purchased new terms of life, but still hold that the righteousness through which we have life is inherent in ourselves, as it was under the first covenant. Now whatever scheme is inconsistent with our entire dependence on God for all, and of having all of him, through him, and in him, it is repugnant to the design and tenor of the gospel, and robs it of that which God accounts its lustre and glory."

I hope that you will read and enjoy these sermons.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Grace, Love and the Trinity

"The end of the dispensation of grace being to glorify the whole Trinity, the order fixed on and appointed wherein this is to be done, is by ascending to the Father's love through the work of the Spirit and blood of the Son. The emanation of divine love to us begins with the Father, is carried on by the Son, and then communicated by the Spirit; the Father designing, the Son purchasing, the Spirit effectually working: which is their order. Our participation is first by the work of the Spirit, to an actual interest in the blood of the Son; whence we have acceptation with the Father."
-John Owen Communion with God Works Vol. 2 pp.179-180.

Just a few thoughts in relationship to this quote:

1. Many evangelicals today do not have this conception of the Trinity shooting through their veins with respect to their relationship with God. The Trinity could fall away into the dust bin of obscure doctrines for them and it would make little difference in how they conceive their faith in God, their love for God and more importantly God's love for them. Yet, to read Owen, and indeed many of the Puritans, is to be pricked by men who have the Trinity flowing in their veins. It is behind the gospel, redemption, the covenants and their spiritual lives. 

This is not to say that theologians don't have a conception of the Trinity or that pastors and pew don't believe in it but rather to say it makes little functional difference. Many Christian today would probably consider a doctrine "fight" over precision in our language of the Trinity to be akin to debating how many angels can dance on the head of a pin. Or you say tomato [toe-may-toe]; I say tomato [toe-maw-toe].

2. Owen sees an ordering of the Godhead that flows in both directions. So that Father plans, the Son accomplished and the Spirit effects or applies. Yet in our drawing close to God--i.e. our ascent to communion with God--there order flows the opposite direction: The Spirit regenerates, this applies the blood of the Son so that we have an interest in it and faith in Him and then we are accepted by the Father.

We see this working out in Titus 3:4-7.

4 But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, 5 he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, 6 whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, 7 so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life. 
Thus there is an ordering to the accomplishing of redemption that is reflected in the ordering of the persons of the Godhead. The Father pours out His love, which he has had for his elect from the before the foundation of the world. The Son comes, dies and His resurrection. The Father and Son pour out the Spirit.

Yet in this sending of the Spirit, the believer experiences in the application of redemption first a washing of regeneration. This leads to us being justified, adopted and sanctified "in Christ" with respect to a union to him that is experienced by faith. Finally in this justification we are "right with God" the Father and have peace with Him.

3. There is no communion with one person of the Godhead without there being equal communion with the other remaining persons. So that we address God the Father as our father but not without the reality of Jesus Christ, his shed blood and our union with Him, and the presence of the Holy Spirit as our sealer and enabler to cry out "Abba, Father." Similar things could be said about our relationship to the Son and the Holy Spirit.

Yet, it also says something about the unity of the Godhead. We do not have relationships with three gods but only with three persons who are one God.

Thus, the Trinity is absolutely integral to my "relationship" with God.

Finally, just a couple of practical questions. I asked this early today on my Twitter feed: 

Agree or disagree?- Too many evangelical would see little change in their faith in/love of God if the doctrine of the Trinity was dropped.

I think its a fair question to ask but not in an abstract way. Rather make it more personal: in your relationship to God is it fundamentally important to you that God really is Triune?

Even more: Pastors does the Trinity make a difference to the what and the how of your preaching?

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Tweet of the Week

I thought I'd try something new for the blog by doing a "Tweet of the Week". It's a little to soon to know for sure if this will be a regular feature, but we're gonna give it a shot.

So, for the first ever "Tweet of the week" the prestigious award goes to this tweet by Nick Batzing:
"If Paul need a thorn in the flesh to keep him humble after having been stoned, whipped and beaten, how much more do I! (2 Cor. 12:7-10)."

This says a lot about the importance of humility and the working of our God to keep us humble. So often in ministry it is easy to think that because of our skill, our dedication or our love for God success should be automatic. God often uses suffering and struggles to purify us, work his glory in us, keep us humble and make sure that the only one we boast in is the Lord.

So hats off for the tweet of the week.

Be sure to follow me on twitter @tim_bertolet.
If you have a suggestion for tweet of the week, feel free to tweet the recommendations over to me.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Is the OT Law "no good"?

While working my way through Preston Sprinkle's new book "Paul & Judaism Revisited," I ran across Ezekiel 20:25--which along with the context says as follows:

Ezekiel 2023 Moreover, I swore to them in the wilderness that I would scatter them among the nations and disperse them through the countries, 24 because they had not obeyed my rules, but had rejected my statutes and profaned my Sabbaths, and their eyes were set on their fathers’ idols. 25 Moreover, I gave them statutes that were not good and rules by which they could not have life, 26 and I defiled them through their very gifts in their offering up all their firstborn, that I might devastate them. I did it that they might know that I am the LORD. 

What do we make of this? I the Law of God, in and of itself really no good? What about Psalm 119 and other OT and NT verses where the Law is praised. I mean, the Old Testament Law is the Word of God.

To interpret this passage, my mind immediately jumps to Romans 7 and 8. Specifically:
Romans 7:10 The very commandment that promised life proved to be death to me. 11 For sin, seizing an opportunity through the commandment, deceived me and through it killed me. 12 So the law is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good. 13 Did that which is good, then, bring death to me? By no means! It was sin, producing death in me through what is good, in order that sin might be shown to be sin, and through the commandment might become sinful beyond measure.  
Romans 8:3 For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, 4 in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.

Ezekiel is foreshadowing what Paul would say more clearly at a later time. This raises the question: was Paul reflecting on aspects of the Old Testament in his critique of the Law rather than merely understanding the Law in light of Christ? If we reflect on Ezekiel's critique of the Law and Israel's sin (as well as Jeremiah's critic of the nation of Israel) it would seem that the answer is yes [although we could certainly debate and tease out to what degree various influences play on Paul].

Preston Sprinkle concludes:
"Regardless of the meaning of the no-good statues and rules, it is clear that Ezekiel 20:25 was written in response to the threefold repetition of the Leviticus 18:5 quotation. The structure of the no-good laws statement (Ezek 20:25) and the Leviticus 18:5 citations (Ezek 20:11, 13, 21) is nearly identical, showing that the prophet is correlating the former to the latter. In other words, the giving of no-good laws declares that the laws of Moses cannot give life to the nation. Wickedness is etched into Israel's bones, and this prevents torah from giving the life it offers for obedience." (Paul & Judaism Revisted, p63).

Given Paul's theology of the Law as well as his use of Lev. 18:5, it seems that we have a pretty good cause for an instance of intertextuality. Even if Paul does not quote Ezekiel directly, he has absorbed the critique of the prophets to some degree. [it is perhaps plausible that only in his conversion did he fully understand the implications of this OT critic].

The point remains that the problem is not the law per se. But rather the Law when combined with the human condition apart from the work of Christ and the work of the Holy Spirit. The Old Covenant is insufficient without the eschatological climax of the working of God in the New Covenant. The OT Law is 'no good' in the sense that in itself it cannot get the job done. But in the plan and purpose of God, that was never the intent of the Law in itself.

I look forward to continuing to work through Preston Sprinkle's new work.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Book Review: Chester & Woodrow on The Ascension

This was a very helpful introduction to the topic of the ascension of Jesus Christ. The entire book can be read in one or two sittings at most. It is short and a light read but with significant content. The three man chapters focus on Christ's Ascended Priesthood, His Ascended Kingship and His Ascended humanity. Throughout the emphasis is on Christ's true bodily ascension for us and for our salvation.

The authors briefly survey various texts including Old Testament texts that serve as the basis for ascension and Christ's priestly ministry. They discuss the new Testament fulfillment and significant. A lot of time is spent looking at Hebrews, but attention is also given to places in Luke-Acts, Ephesians, Daniel 7 and others. Lay persons and pastors will benefit from this brief work. Each chapter ends its discussion with implications. For example, in the chapter on Christ's kingship the discussion turns to how the kingdom advances through missions.

This book is theological fresh water without drowning the novice. In some quarters of the evangelical church today the ascension goes unnoticed as to its reality and its importance. This book is a helpful correction. Most of all the emphasis on Christ as "our man" in heaven standing both as representative and as reigning king should shift our thinking to higher thought of God and Christ our Mediator. A welcomed read. Highly recommended.

Some of my favorite quotes:

  • "[Jesus] is the sign, the reminder, the pledge, the guarantee that we belong in the presence of God.”

  • "Jesus is the new Adam, the new David, the new King, the Saviour of the world whose rule will bring peace & prosperity." 
"What the [OT] priest did when they entered the tabernacle was a kind of pre-enactment of the ascension." 
  • "Atonement was not complete until Jesus stood before God on our behalf."
"If Christ is not in God's presence on our behalf then we are not in God's presence." 
"Jesus is…our man in heaven…I can no sooner be removed from God's presence than Jesus can"
  • "The ascension is the foundation for global mission; mission is the logic of ascension." 
  • “We should not reduce the kingship of Jesus to a private affair for a ghetto people."

Friday, February 1, 2013

The Real Radical

Over at the "The Blazing Center," Stephen Altrogge has a post entitled "Jesus Doesn’t Want Your Risk, He Wants Your Life." He says a number of things that I've been mulling over for a couple of years.

In all our evangelical emphasis in doing great things for God, being bold, taking risks, etc., I think, we have more often appealed to an idol of youth: the glamour of adrenaline filled risk taking. Admittedly I am more of a cautious introvert so my thoughts might be skewed the other way. But the emphasis on doing "big" things for God can play into idols that the heart has to be big.

Obviously if God calls you to be a missionary, to go overseas, to do something that is beyond your comfort zone, you should do it. But how many young people get fired up to do "the big" but haven't first had a life habit of faithfulness in the little things? It seems to me, Jesus tells us to be faithful in little before we are faithful in much.

Let me illustrate with a story. When I was a young man in youth group, I knew of some individuals who would go on "missions trips" through these high adventure programs that involved boot camp like training followed by a work trip to some exotic place with a real need. I cannot judge these individuals hearts, but by their own admission they did it at least in part to "get away for the summer." It seems the lure of excitement was primary and secondary was "oh I get to serve God too." I, on the other hand, spent a number of summers working as a camp counselor at your average run-of-the-mill Bible camp. I loved this ministry. On occasion at college mission rallies and other venues people in my situation, were subtle berated or looked down upon because we we're being bold with our summers by going overseas or taking risks for God. What was our fear? Why wouldn't we take a bold step of face for God? Didn't we love the lost? Apparently we weren't radical or adventurous enough. It was always "you need to get out of your comfort zone" by implication if you didn't not you weren't really following God.

With this, there comes into our Christianity this sort of two tier structure of average Christians verses those who "really sacrifice." It happens all the time. The missionary who gives it all up to go overseas--they are bold. But the quiet wife who sacrifices day in and day out to stay with her drunkard husband and slowly sees God's grace change him... well she wasn't bold for God. The person who takes the wild crazy adventure: they are really living for God. But the quiet Sunday School teacher who shows quiet love and long term patience with that group of rowdy boys... well that's good for them but they aren't taking any bold risks.

On and on it goes. We rank things not by how people are being faithful to God's calling and being obedient but rather by 21st century appeals to adventures. Yes, God calls people to those type of things too--and if it's God's call, good, go for it. But let's not let the world's rating system of risk, glamour and adrenaline junky become the measure of what a "radically submissive Christian" must look like.

As a pastor, I have counseled people who want to run away do something bold for God. But when you talk to them, you find out they really just want to retreat and run from the battle God has called them to fight. The bold thing is a glamorous escape, the mundane fight is boring and hard, with little notoriety. God often calls us to fight our Christian life in the trenches, and their is nothing glamorous about the trenches. The gritty work of discipline and sanctification God produces in us is the fruit of real sweat, tears and anguish. It is never sexy just messy and painful. The "glamorous, bold and risky" has a sort of Hollywood movie star appeal. 

In Mark 8:35, Jesus said, “For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it.” To be a Christian, we must lose our life for the sake of Jesus. We must be willing to give up everything for the sake of Jesus. This at the heart of what it means to be a Christian. Jesus gets all of my life. Jesus gets all of me. Whatever he says goes. I am no longer my own. That’s crazy, radical, risky talk.  
What does this look like practically? What does it look like to be radical for Jesus every single day? Well, it actually looks pretty ordinary. At least in the world’s eyes. Being radical for Jesus means fighting against our sin aggressively, and being willing to do whatever it takes to cut sin out of our lives (Matt. 5:29). It means blessing those who hate you, and giving your possessions to your enemies (Matt. 5:39). It means being poor in spirit, meek, and hungering and thirsting after righteousness (Matt. 5:2-11). 
The Bible’s description of the radical Christian life is not particularly sexy or glamorous. Being radical for Jesus means being subject to the authorities (Rom. 13:1). It means being patient in tribulation, constant in prayer, contributing to the needs of the saints, and showing hospitality (Rom. 12:12-13). These aren’t particularly exciting things, but I think we need to realize that these are radical! The world does not operate this way. Those who don’t know God curse in the midst of tribulation, never pray, indulge their sins, curse their enemies, and despise righteousness. If we seek to obey the Bible, we will be radical. If we seek to follow Jesus, that will inevitably lead to crazy love.
Sometimes "losing our life" means sticking in the hard unglamourous fight for years, without any renown or recognition. The spouse who stays with their difficult partner. The sick person who endures a long illness with not much to show for it. The older woman who can barely get out of the house but becomes a private prayer warrior and makes it to church. The young person who takes an afternoon to visit the elderly and shovel their snow. The father who works two jobs to put food on the table and still sacrifices sleep and "me time" to play with his kids and make their sporting events because he knows God's high calling upon fathers. These are all "unglamorous" and by most standards hardly get points for being radical--but doing them may involve you putting down your selfishness. The latter should be the aim.

Especially for my generation and younger, seeking the glamorous, the exotic, the adventurous, or the radical may [although not always] be more of a way for some to feed their selfishness rather than actually deny yourself and put self to death. Do we ask the probing heart questions to root this out? Or are we more captivated by the intoxication of 'doing big things for God.'  

My advice would be worry about being faithful and obedient. If that is your goal, you will find plenty of places in your daily life where you have to be bold or do radical things that are not set by the world's standards of bold and radical (true forgiveness is radical by the world's standards). Out of that, if God calls you on a "wild adventure" in the traditional sense of that phrase then you have been faithful where you are and follow the open door.

One final thought: watch out for pride and the lust for celebrity. Sometimes these things are the very reason the bold and glamorous appeal to us, we just cover it with the excuse "think of what I could do for God." Do you want to follow God because you love Him and you are just honored to serve him, even if all you ever do is clean up puke in a rescue shelter, or do you want to follow God because you know "I can do really big things for Him, he could really use me in a mighty way."
"The Voyages..." Forays into Biblical studies, Biblical exegesis, theology, exposition, life, and occasionally some Star Trek...